How to Enjoy Death - Selections

Preparing to Meet Life’s Final Challenge without Fear
 

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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.