«The understanding of death and dying as seen by different religions»
  Death and Dying in Buddhism



Buddhism has an especially close affinity with death. It emphasizes the principle of impermanence and the ceaseless transmutation of all existing beings and forces.

►Buddhism emphasizes
impermanence, the cycle or birth, death and rebirth, and suffering that accompanies impermanence.

►Religion must protect us from the terrors of finitude.
Mahayana Buddhism introduced the saving idea of nirvana, a form of being beyond change, time, space, form, death and suffering.

►Some Buddhists also believe that they will, after death, go to a blissful life in the
Pure Land of Lord Amitabha.

►A person's perceptions of and attachment to his or her "I" are at
the root of suffering. The "I" is as impermanent and illusory as anything else produced by the senses.

►A dream-like feeling of impermanence is most keenly felt by
Tibetan Buddhist and those from Ladakh (Vaijrayana or Tantric Buddhists) where the harshness of life causes many to seek liberation from the wheel of life by becoming monks.

Theravada Buddhists believe in instant reincarnation after death.

Vajrayana Buddhists believe in an intermediate bardö period (up to forty-nine days) between death and rebirth

►In contrast to the grandeur of limitless space and endless time the ego is small and transient.

►Behind vastness and change the pilgrim seeks the
Radiant Light of Pure Reality, the Mind that perceives change but does not change itself.

►Two forms of Buddhism are the Higher Buddhism of the monks and
Folk Buddhism. The latter includes belief in magic and countless "gods" and other invisible beings who help or harm humans. Many rituals are needed to placate them and to advance the person's security in this world and the next.

►All events are determined by the interaction of visible and invisible moral and natural causes. The transcendental world breaks through our normal consciousness in dreaming, meditation trances, the experience of inner light at the point of death and the two bardö by reading from the
Book of the Death (Bardö T'ödröl).

►Buddhism is the most psychologically oriented of the world religions and is open to interpretation in the contemporary languages of psychology. Thanks to the presence of Tibetan refugees it is one of the fastest growing religions in England, Germany and the USA.

►An elderly or dying Ladakhi Buddhist withdraws from the world of illusion to prepare himself for death. He prays for a better reincarnation. An abbot
(rinpoche) helps him to loosen the bonds of attachments to life.

►The spirit's progress after death is determined by his
karma, his emotional state, the emotional atmosphere surrounding him, and the prayers and ritual of the monks.

►When death occurs local monks, members of the family's
local society (phaspun) and an astrologer are called. His lama guides his consciousness (nam shes) and the astrologer prepares a death horoscope and prescribes prayers and ceremonies to ward off hostile influences.

rinpoche summons the nam shes back to the body before attempting to eject it a second time into the body of the Lord of Western Paradise (Opame). He is aided by the monks and phaspun. Relatives, friends and neighbours bring food and drink for the ceremonies, which continue fro several days.

►The bardö is divided into three phases. During the first the nam shes is in a swoon. The
rinpoche repeatedly its own Buddha nature. During the second bardö the nam shes recovers from its swoon and becomes aware, and frightened by, its own disembodied identity. It gradually becomes aware that it has died and perceives the dismantling of its life. Finally it enters the "illusory mental body" of a child, a dream-like state.

►Cremation is carried out a time determined by the astrologer as propitious. The body is carried in procession in a sedan chair by male phaspun friends to the site accompanied by musicians, monks, family and friends. The fire is seen as burning away attachments as well as sins. Clothes and personal belongings are the auctioned.

►Meanwhile the nam shes is experiencing overwhelming visions of archetypal Buddhas and wrathful deities. The Lord and Judge of the Dead (Shinje) pronounces his verdict. Some days later it meets the
six lights (lokas) who try to persuade it to become reborn in their negative realms.

►These and other dangers can be resisted and liberation from the wheel of life attained by enlightenment, but basic impulses of greed, hate and attachment to egoistic goals must be overcome by striving for one's own liberation and that of all other sentient begins. By recognizing and sharing universal sorrow, we overcome our egocentricity and become part of the ceaseless flow of life.

Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who, out of compassion, forgo their chance to enter Nirvana to become reincarnated in tulkus and rinpoches. In Vajrayana Buddhism the bodhisattva Chenrezig is the patron deity and model of perfection. He is reincarnated as the Dalai Lama. His female emanation, Tara, was formed as a crystal tear in Chenrezig's eye.

►Six weeks after death the nam shes is still buffeted by the winds of  karma; it searches for and finds the "lotus gate" of a woman in sexual congress, entering her womb to become her unborn child. Less "lucky" nam shes will become dumb animals, greedy ghosts or angry hell-beings.

►At death, humans assume their true identity. The only things of worth that we can take with us are the results of spiritual practice. But a person's destiny after death is not only determined by our self-created karma; it is also influenced by the positive energies emanating from the sincere prayers of loved ones and monks.

►Theravada Buddhists emphasize the importance of personal effort in achieving salvation, the followers of the
Pure Land sects of East Asia emphasize reliance on the grace of the Buddha Amitabha at the moment of death and Tibetan Buddhism strikes a middle path allowing both karma and the prayers of others to play a part.

►The Bardö T'ödröl proposes that the art of living well and the art of dying well are one and the same.

►Following bereavement family members are given much social support by neighbours and extended family who share their sorrow. They may also reassured by the rinpoche of the likely destination of the departed nam shes.