Essay, Research Paper: Buddhism And Death


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“Does Anything Survive Death?” The Buddha, already enlightened and therefore
having reached the state of Nirvana, taught and explained many concepts and
principles to his students. He was released from the life cycle, which every
individual should seek to escape. He said that in order to be released from the
torture of reincarnation, one must cease to desire, for it is the failure to
fulfill one’s desires that causes one’s misery. He also explained that
possessions and material things are all a delusion. Since people are not born
with belongings and do not die with them, they are not really belongings, but
only burdens. Even the body itself is not owned by the mind inhabiting it,
because it dies and decomposes as the soul goes on. The body could be looked at
as the prison of illness, because there is a very fine line between health and
sickness. The mind however is eternal, with thoughts and feelings. In modern
society, the mind is not developed; it is polluted and requires training. Once
one attains control of the mind, one also attains control of the body and
speech. Then, the truth will become apparent. What becomes apparent is one’s
true essence. One’s true essence is Buddha: everyone has the potential to
become Buddha. In the present state of ignorance, however, people have developed
a false sense of self. “According to the teachings of the Buddha, the idea of
self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it
produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving,
attachment, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities, and
problems…”(Seven Dilemmas in World Religion) It is these unconscious
assumptions and false information about reality that cause people to become
selfish and self centered, therefore neglecting the fact that all people are
actually pure energy and pure awareness. People need to realize that they are
living in a state of constant mental evolution and should focus on achieving
egolessness. With the withdrawal from the normal concerns of worldly existence
and the elimination of “I” comes enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal
of every Buddhist. Buddhists believe there is no life and no death, however,
there is duality. When the body dies, the mind goes on. Consciousness, which is
always enlightenment, also survives the physical death. Everything is an
illusion and is going to disappear, whereas impermanence is reality. One’s
true identity is Buddha. “Buddha is a state of mind that has no obscuration of
the truth.” Buddhists tend to visualize the process of reincarnation, or the
life cycle itself as either a river or an ocean of birth and death. This river
is the unexplored aspect of life, which needs to be crossed in order to reach
the “incomparably wonderful”(The Hungry Tigress) enlightenment. The Buddha
is the vehicle by which this river is crossed. It transports one from dukkha, or
suffering to the other side “endowed with hundreds of virtues, full of such
qualities as trance and wisdom, immaculate, free from all substrata, changeless
and without sorrow.”(“The Hungry Tigress”) Since Buddhism stemmed from
Hinduism, the beliefs of the two religions concerning the cycle of life and
death are very similar. Hindus also look at the cycle of samsara as a river.
Hindus believe that when one reaches the river, one admits that there are some
things that are not yet understood. In contrast, a Buddhist says, “we dare to
go where others do not go”, upon reaching the river. Buddhists believe that it
is where people are afraid to go, is what suffering comes from. People are the
cause of their own suffering; however, they can control and manipulate their
karma. Hindus, on the other hand, accept karma as a given. Since it is both good
and bad karma that determines the quality of the next incarnation, this is an
important difference in the two belief systems. However, both Buddhists and
Hindus agree on the belief that the last thought at the moment of death
determines the character of the next incarnation. Buddhists and Hindus agree
that individuals who have lived virtuous lives will achieve Nirvana and
individuals who have developed a karmic pull will be drawn again to rebirth. An
opposite perspective on life and death can be found in Christianity as in most
other western religions. The belief in God as a creator and maintainer of human
life does not allow for reincarnation. Since God is also a judge, He is the one
who looks at one’s good and bad deeds and judges accordingly. With the
possibility of forgiveness of all of one’s sins, many people interpret this as
an excuse for wrongdoing. Whereas in Buddhism, one is responsible for one’s
own karma and is therefore responsible for one’s own future incarnation or
possible release from samsara. The Christian belief in heaven and hell is also
very contrasting to Buddhist belief. Although heaven is mentioned in relation
with Bodhisattvas, it is not such a clear interpretation of a physical place as
it is in Christianity. Christians believe that both their soul and their body
end up in either heaven or hell after death. In contrast, Buddhists believe that
there is an immense difference between the physical body and the soul, or
conscience in that body. There are very few similarities in these two religions,
especially with the question of what happens after death. In Buddhism, the
concept of reincarnation of the soul is difficult to grasp for some, however
karma is present in every religion, only in different forms. Since it is karma
that determines one’s ultimate destiny, it is very important to understand
what has to be done, not only to reach Nirvana, but also to become a better
person in this life. One very important lesson taught by Buddha is that
everything is guru. Life and everything in it should be used as a teacher to
attain control of mind, body, and speech. People are in a relationship with
everyone and everything and should therefore be calm, flexible, aware, and in
control of themselves. The Buddhist principles of reincarnation and what has to
be done to reach Nirvana are useful to anyone in the present and could make
anyone a better person altogether.
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