Death and Buddhism ~ Gudo Nishijima

Zen Priest Gudo Nishijima on death in Buddhism

Death and the impermanence of life (from Urdan Dharma)

In the teaching of the Buddha, all of us will pass away eventually as a part in the natural process of birth, old-age and death and that we should always keep in mind the impermanence of life.  The life that we all cherish and wish to hold on. 

To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life. Where they will be born is a result of the past and the accumulation of positive and negative action, and the resultant karma (cause and effect) is a result of ones past actions.

This would lead to the person to be reborn in one of 6 realms which are; heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell.  Realms, according to the severity of ones karmic actions, Buddhists believe however, none of these places are permanent and one does not remain in any place indefinitely. So we can say that in Buddhism, life does not end, merely goes on in other forms that are the result of accumulated karma. Buddhism is a belief that emphasizes the impermanence of lives, including all those beyond the present life.  With this in mind we should not fear death as it will lead to rebirth.

The fear of death stemmed from the fear of cease to be existent and losing ones identity and foothold in the world.  We see our death coming long before its arrival, we notice impermanence in the changes we see around us and to us in the arrival of aging and the suffering due to losing our youth.  Once we were strong and beautiful and as we age, as we approach our final moments of life  we realize how fleeting such a comfortable place actually was.

When I die my meager, little essence (in view of the larger reality.  I giggle at the insistence at “my essence”…still clinging) my weak “impersonal stream of consciousness” will flow on and continue compelled by the residual ignorance, attachment and greed that still lingered.  No immortal soul will continue or manifest itself in some conception of a heaven (Christian or otherwise) – just an essence that gets reformatted, recycled and reused.  The concept of a soul, like a tissue used too often, becomes useless, tattered, stiff and thrown away. 

In order to get past that, we realize the impermanence of the situation.  We realize that our world-view, our point of view is largely determined by external forces and horribly obscured.  “God” obscures of vision.  Beliefs (secular or otherwise) obscure our vision.  We obscure it; proclaim sight, without ever coming to terms with our own actual blindness.  When we turn and engage death and our own impermanence we can, finally, throw off that comforting blanket of control (as most blankets can both comfort and smothers us).  No relinquishing of control to a greater being, rather admitting that there is no controller and nothing to control.  

Like a person looking through a window of a house and insisting that this is the only vantage point – we instead stroll outside directly facing the elements.  Harsh, bitter and determined; the rain beats into us but we revel in the freedom and in the understanding.  That comforting blanket wrapped so tightly around us was really only serving to constrict us.  Warming us and feeding the need to attach to and suck from a nipple long since barren. 

We face death as an absolute rather than a mirage. 




One thought on “Death and Buddhism ~ Gudo Nishijima

  1. “Death, death; O amiable lovely death!
    Thou odouriferous stench! sound rottenness!
    Arise forth from the couch of lasting night,
    Thou hate and terror to prosperity,
    And I will kiss thy detestable bones
    And put my eyeballs in thy vaulty brows
    And ring these fingers with thy household worms
    And stop this gap of breath with fulsome dust
    And be a carrion monster like thyself…”
    ~Wm. Shakespeare, KING JOHN

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