How to Enjoy Death - Selections
How to Think about Death and Reincarnation WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH? Our Consciousness Continues after Death What happens at death and afterward is such an important subject, yet very few people seem to want to know anything about it. We will definitely die but we don’t seem willing to acknowledge that fact and so we ignore it. It is like we have all the symptoms of cancer but because knowing the truth might be frightening we never go to the doctor. Unless we face death with facts we will just be terrified for no reason. What does happen after death? We know what happens to the body. We can see how the breathing stops, the heart stops, the organs cease to function, and the body starts to decompose. Is that the end of us? If we did not have consciousness—a mind— that is separate from the body, that would be the end. But the mind is not the body: it is nonmaterial energy. The simple fact is that the mind connects with a body for a certain period of time, then when the person dies the mind continues, and because of karma—past actions done by the person that leave seeds in the mind that ripen as their future experiences—it goes to another body. This is what is called reincarnation. Even though the body completely disappears until not even a single atom of what we once called “body” can be found, the consciousness continues. Because of our deep craving for the physical we enter an “intermediate state”—a state between lives—and then take another body, pushed into whatever rebirth in samsara that our karma dictates. Before giving his explanations about what to do at the time of death, Chöden Rinpoche explained that “samsara” refers to the continuity of these aggregates—our body and mind—joining the next life aggregates, caused by karma and delusion. Another meaning, Rinpoche said, is circling from birth to death to the intermediate state, and again birth, death, and intermediate state: continuously circling like this. We have no control over where we are born, unlike highly realized beings, such as the arhats and higher bodhisattvas, who have completely ceased even the seed of the fundamental ignorance that holds the self and everything else as existing from its own side, which is the root cause of rebirth in samsara. Reincarnation Is Not Just Some Asian Superstition Western society does not have a culture that accepts reincarnation, so Westerners often presume it is an Asian superstition. Because it is not talked about they think it can’t be real. It is like the reluctance Westerners had to accept acupuncture, for example, when it was first introduced to the West. People found it impossible to believe that sticking a needle in one part of the body relieved the pain in another part, simply because they had no knowledge of the wind energies that control our body. These days, acupuncture is much more accepted, mainly because it is seen to be effective. In the same way, people in the West are hearing about reincarnation more and starting to accept it, or at least not write it off as primitive religious superstition. There is a meditation where you see that this moment of mind is the direct result of the previous moment of mind, that the previous moment of mind is the direct result of the moment of mind before that, and so on. Because there can be no result without cause and because the main cause of a moment of mind must be its previous moment, we can trace these moments of mind back to last week and last year and twenty years ago, right back to how the moment of mind at birth must be caused by the moment of mind at the last moment in the womb, and even further, to the first moment of life in the womb at the time of conception. The first moment of mind of this life must have had a cause, and that cause must have been the previous moment of that mind, the mind of the last moment of the intermediate state; and that can be traced back to the last moment of the previous life. And so forth. Reincarnation Hasn’t Been Disproved We can’t remember our previous lives because our minds are too clouded. It is not because there have been no previous lives. In the West this is not studied. There are degrees in university on how organisms function, but the process of death and rebirth is like a big black hole about which there is no clarity. Scientists can explain how the cells break down and the brain stops functioning but can never seem to go beyond that, and they can never address the question of what actually happens to us at death. They can show that we were once in a womb—but what caused us to enter our mother’s womb? They explain things on a physical level, but there is no scientific explanation of the mental experience, the cause of the mind leaving one body and taking another. They have no mechanism that can measure and determine the mental life we lead in this life, so of course they cannot deal with past and future lives and how they are connected. This is something we need to really investigate, because by accepting karma and reincarnation we are going against a lot of contemporary scientific thinking. If a consciousness that is separate from the body doesn’t exist, what experiences pleasure and pain, what creates the cause of happiness and suffering? If this consciousness doesn’t exist, what is the base of this sense of self that is so strong within us? If we deny the mind we deny the universe because it is only through the mind that the universe exists. If nothing exists, nothing matters. We are skeptical when we shouldn’t be and not skeptical when we should. What we need to do is escape from ignorance in order to be free from suffering, and skepticism of past and future lives does nothing to help us do this. Without fully seeing mental evolution it is extremely difficult to understand physical evolution. They are not one but are nevertheless related. That’s why what is explained in science books is incomplete. Science explains about the first conscious entities coming from the oceans and slowly evolving into animals, one of which is the human being, but there is no understanding of why this was happening. It is a wonderful account of the physical aspect of the evolution of life, but it ignores the mental aspect—and the mental aspect is primary. The explanation of evolution is incomplete without recognition of mind The deeper explanation of life on this planet needs the explanation of karma and how suffering is created by nonvirtue and happiness by virtue. Even if the scientists could photograph and record the various realms of existence—the higher realms of the gods, the lower realms of the hell beings, and so forth—how could they understand that the mind caused them? To avoid suffering and achieve happiness we need to see and accept this explanation, but it is very subtle and beyond our current capacity to know other than superficially.