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The Final Stage of Growth


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. It's the absence of presence. symbolized by the invocation of the original reached a consensus that he might reduce death to a harmless divine pair. On the large and human society. The earliest discover the means either to conquer death or to postpone its arrival as phase of Indian religion is recorded in a group of sacred texts known long as possible. . death is not anything . the universe is pictured as being a vast. . is presented in provocative terms by one of the J. It is as though modern man had and unified cosmos. . the endless time of The preceding selections in this chapter dealt mainly with ways of dying in never coming back. not as a substitute for our more familiar ideas. death is imagined as a chilling wind. generous journalism. death is pictured as an ancient enemy who. at a time when efforts of heroic proportions are being expended on all sides to A. The official practices constituting this religious tradition J. devoid of any sign of redemptive purpose. Second. It is a particularly fascinating historical account of the development of a stands out in bold contrast to this version of the modern view. Bruce Long. leaving for those who remain behind only a sense that life is an inexhaustible draught of ennui or anxiety. Bruce Long. I. Used by permission of the author. This essay was written especially for this volume. . drama and cinema. In those scriptures. in Hinduism and Buddhism This latter vision of death as total annihilation." It is our aim in this paper philosophy. involved the presentation of sacrificial oblations upon the fire altar. Father Sky and Mother Earth. but rather as a source of complementary ideas to be integrated with our own. a term that means "sacred knowledge. Death isn't romantic . there should occur such a pervasive preoccupation as the Vedas (or simply Veda). . dissociate death from life. two leading characters of Tom Stoppard's drama.D." by J. . existing in a perpetual nonentity merely by writing and talking about it to the point of state of embrace. This piece. death is . . © 1975 by fire-cult. by through it. Ph. two images of death which seem to inform a (gta) which exercises unyielding sovereignty over both the cosmos-at- large proportion of contemporary fiction. Conquest of Death through Sacrificial Offerings in the Vedas. Rosenerantz and Guilderstern Are Dead. The orderliness and regularity with which the exhaustion. 52 ." with the subject of death as has appeared in contemporary literature. Guilderstern comments upon the anticipation of his own death with painful irony: "No. no. nothing more . All man in his search for the recovery of a sense that death is an integral of you should find it an interesting contrast to our current Western tendency to and meaningful part of human life. Ph. blowing wherever it wills to snuff out the flame of life in The Death That Ends Death anyone who gets in its way. at least. At a time of increased interest in Eastern religion and coming back" or "the absence of presence. DEATH AND REBIRTH IN HINDUISM One of the most ironic facts about the present age is that. is a more purely philosophical view of the meaning of death in human The predominant vision of death in Hinduism and Buddhism existence. Some of you may fiiicl in the descriptions of death and inform these two Eastern traditions and to highlight a few of those afterlife as it relates to life here on this earth a more comforting explanation of the notions which we believe might serve some useful purpose for modern relationship between life and death than that offered in many Western religions. television." contrast. The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 53 one hand. is being brought under submission by man's scientific and technological ingenuity. Bruce Long. after centuries of fruitless struggle. . . . The religion of the Vedic peoples was organized around the "The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism. It's not like that. not. Hindus philosophy of life and death in a culture whose general development has differed in and Buddhists see death as anything but "the endless time of never many ways from our own. and cinema. it makes no sound. A gap you can't see and when the wind blows fferent cultural settings—attitudes and rituals surrounding death. this selection should provide you to investigate a few of the ideas about death and its aftermath which with much food for thought.D. cosmos functioned is epitomized in the concept of Universal Law There are.

the sun. he already ascends the balance in this world. they expected to enjoy in the next world and are recompensed according to their deeds. as a domain of universe by means of his nooses (pasas) and thereby enforced "lowest darkness" and "blind darkness" guarded by two vicious dogs. and protection from the attacks of enemies from the outside. who was believed to be "the first mortal to die and rituals an extremely healthy affirmation of the reality and goodness of enter that other world. In this supernatural realm. the Sun) were invoked for material bounty: abundance of food and offspring. showed no concern with the soul of the deceased is weighed in the balances and rewarded or post-mortem judgment of human deeds. far belief that after death. When the Vedic peoples spoke of the afterlife it was usually renders unnecessary a weighing in that world—his good works prevail. Varukia's primary concern was to promote the maintenance of law On only one occasion do the scriptures speak of the idea that the and order in the universe but. A degree of the consciousness of evil and sin in the world is expressed "that other realm" is pictured as a dazzling paradise. different in While the form and agency of post-mortem retribution is obscure in the quantity and duration but not in kind. the Vedic peoples prayed for mercy at the hands of Yama. both good and bad. a realm where Yama with the gods. beyond the boundaries of the cosmic law into a realm of nothingness. the gods could be expected to maintain the cosmos and living" (RV X.54 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 55 which itself symbolized the entire universe in microform dimensions. as "the house below. are born again removed from the domain of human life. it is clear that some form of rewards and punishments was equated with annihilation or non-being (asat). manifesting through its prayers. etc. "In that world. The gods sky or in the highest heaven where the eternal light (i. To die was to be taken person in performing religious rites and moral behavior. a person acted to drink from the waters of a magical river beside a celestial fig tree. orientation to the world. In more learned circles. Their overriding desire was have been a kind of contractual agreement between men and gods. Hence. deities believed to embody or to be closely related to the forces of beyond the use of hymns of praise and sacrificial offerings to postpone nature (viz.18). contrary to the demands of Universal Elsewhere in the Rig-Veda and in the later texts. enemies and spare both them and their families for a long life on But he who knows. abides and. pervaded by in the notion that either by neglecting the performance of required undying celestial light. which stands in contrast persons who transgressed the law of cosmic and social order. pleasures which were an extension of those on earth. the consequences are in accordance therewith. When the sages lay (good and bad deeds) on a balance. Whichever—whether good or mention the topic. obedience to the cosmic order. rains. We must note in passing the appearance of an important idea in . they There are few references to death in Vedic hymns. There were little or no signs of world-weariness or spiritual to the effect that Yama's realm was situated both in the midst of the melancholia which pervaded the Upanishads at a later time. hymns and the god of the dead." actions to Varuna for his judgment and bound with the nooses those inhabited by female goblins and sorceresses. who test the fitness of all who come that numerous spies who witnessed the actions of men. provide mankind with all the goods required to support a decent life. punished according as his deeds are good or evil. as yet. One hymn pictures a kind of Hell. long life. unrighteously (anarta) namely. There are few signs in the sacred texts that Vedic people experienced Hymns of praise and prayers of petition were addressed to various any profound apprehension or anxiety over the inevitability of death. The sacrifice seems to the advent of death as long as possible. Life was lived were meted out to the deceased and that the quality of the life after under the aegis of universal law and those who obeyed its dictates death was determined by the degree of faithfulness on the part of a could expect to prosper in the hereafter. winds. (and) earth.. all persons. at the same time. where the ancestors (pitrs) dwell. in return for the bestowal of generous amounts of praise and from the way travelled by the gods" and "keep its distance from the food-offerings. Varuna held together the entire presented in more sombre and even grotesque terms. imagined to take place in a realm to which those persons went who not his bad works. submitted those way. sits down sacrifices or the transgression of moral-social law. in the subterranean regions of the earth.e. to the heavenly realm of the gods.). In the early phase of the literature." The later ritual texts also make mention of the had pleased the gods while on earth. they usually make a plea that death overtake their bad—draws (down). that death should "travel by way of his own special route separated whereby. moon. The "binder" god. He also commanded the service of each possessing four eyes. death Vedic literature. Yama's world is Law (#ta). With regard to the eschatology or beliefs concerning the end of the Vedic religion shows itself to be practical minded in its general World Age." The Vedas contain contradictory statements this world.

by this time." land of the dead where it received the fruits of bliss or suffering But. Prajapati informs him: the body is mortal. incapable of experiencing true and lasting joy. 7th-6th centuries as "the Supreme Person. in that state there is no degree of self-consciousness. 7-12. 12. never to be repeated. The single. manifested in their sacred literature and religious rituals a vigorous cannot be the real self. Prajapati identifies the true self "re-death" in these early texts lies in the possibility that it may as the bodily self (i. understands it truly and. combined with a willing the sages of old to be "free from evil. in time. Yama. B. there appeared new and all desires. heaven and hell but later was divided to make provision for rewarding Sensing that Indra is prepared to receive the real truth concerning the righteous and punishing sinners. namely. and the self that perishes with the body. emissaries to call those who were about to die to join him in his bound by death and subject to alternation of pleasure and pain. Because of an recollection of the body. the Vedic peoples could be said to have and the pains of the body. Indra is then told that perhaps the Whatever part of the person survived after death was escorted to the self is the state of man when "asleep. Rising up from his body. of natural disasters which threatened to destroy their confidence in the One of the more provocative attempts to define the nature of this good intentions of the gods. Transcendence of Death through Esoteric Knowledge in the Upanishads. The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 57 56 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS principle of life and thought which would serve as a more adequate the later Vedic texts. the fate of death. Prajapati next informs Indra that "he who goes realistic and affirmative view of the world. The thirst. and deprivations of the bodily-self." freed from any completely altered the character of Indian religion.4-5) In this way. he reasons." ments or failures. obtains "all worlds overriding authority of the Brahman priests." (Chandogya 8. sporting with maidens. In order to process of dying again and again. laughing." the primary concern of which was to discover a to be freedom from the chain of rebirth. the belief in a second death discovery to emerge from this series of movements (epitomized by the (punarmrtyu) which is the painful fate of those who. or relations. serene. the god of the dead. it does appear that a profound awareness unchanging and indivisible essence of man is found in the Chandogya of the brevity and fragility of life and the certainty of death had Upanishad VIII. or the recurrence which not only supports but constitutes the nature of every living thing. playing. most creative and influential transmigration of the soul. then. the ravages of warfare with their enemies." In a word. grief. The other world was initially conceived to be both This "dreaming self" cannot be the real self. wherein Prajapati (the High God in late Vedic begun. hence. "he moves about. chariots. which was given added significance by the explanation of the nature of man and the world than the ideology appearance much later in the Upanishads of the notion of the surrounding the sacrifice. at least. attached to this body. The importance of the idea of test the knowledge of his two students. he gains immortality which is understood "schools of thought.) a series of dramatic innovations occurred which. "as an animal is hitched to a wagon. a quite pragmatic attitude about happy in a dream" is the immortal self. a person with the centrality of the Brahmanical sacrifice and with the finds the Self. sent the nature of the self. concealed beneath the constantly lifetime neglected to perform the necessary sacrifices. no according to its merits based on both ritual and moral accomplish." In this realm. dreamless. awareness that "I am he" and that person has "gone to annihilation. death. to place in doubt the permanence of post-mortem literature) instructs Indra (representing the gods) and Virocana well-being and to raise the specter of having to experience the grim (representing the demons) on the nature of the true self. But Indra again realizes toward the gods with a view toward maintaining a decent and that this teaching is inadequate. celestial kingdom where he might provide them with eternal welfare. a stoic resignation to. Whether because changing forms of existence which characterize both human beings of the migration of the Vedic peoples into alien and unknown and the whole universe.e. he reaches the world of highest light to appear in his own (essential) form B. The real self has been discovered by relatively comfortable life in this world. In general terms. The body is merely a support for the deathless self. Indra perceives the hidden error in this teaching by which involved an endless recurrence of births and deaths for those discerning the fact that the self which is subject to both the pleasures souls who were trapped by ignorance (avidyd). so life is increasing disenchantment with the existing religious establishment." whereas this 'dream-life' self shares in every way the sufferings life of each person was a single occurrence. the mind-body organism that forms the basis of represent an early preview of the doctrine of transmigration (samsdra) human existence).C. old age. changeless something territories. composed. hunger and acceptance of or. . Toward the latter phases of the Vedic period (ca. during their Upanishads) was the notion that. thereby. there exists an eternal.

of the gods of Prajapati. transforms it into another newer and to pain and back to pleasure. it undergoes all the changes and transitions from pleasure As a goldsmith." which undergirds and pervades the "gross" physical body in the person becomes divested of sense-perception little by little. The intelligence now departs into the search for sensual satisfaction within the physical world. consists of desires. and. For this self. (Brhadaranyaka IV.: `redeath') only by discovering and identifying himself with everything that exists but the precise form that it assumes at any given that deep down essential self which is free from evil. perhaps. the one following. according to this philosophy. intoxicated and confused by ignorance. and as he acts. The sage concludes this homily on the the true inner self (atman) is released from the bonds of rebirth and departure of the soul at death. i. it will "abide in the world results of those deeds realized during the same time-period but also the of the Brahman. Death can be nothing more than a "way-station" between Brahma or of other creatures. death is the ancestors or of the heavenly musicians. are victimized by all the vicissitudes. in taking the due to the organic connection with the body and with the physical next step. the teacher declares. understanding of the Hindu conception of death and the means at the doctrine of rebirth as a consequence of past actions. Even as a caterpillar. ad infinitum without relief or release to more beautiful form. Because this self is strapped together [for making the transition]. casting off this body and dissolving its which the body is subject. As a so does he will. even so this self. is the Brahman. man's disposal to deal intelligently with it. there follows immediately the presentation of two doctrines leaves it in a lifeless heap on an anthill." leaving the desires have been dissolved (especially the desire to perpetuate body behind as a heap of lifeless matter. 4 ff. That one goes to Brahman by becoming Brahman. immortal." and. becomes immortal." body for the last time is likened to a snake which sloughs its skin and Then. and body and having dissolved its ignorance. so does this self. "According as one acts.). It is this "subtle body" or "subtle all the "particles of light" ( = sense organs) concentrated in the heart. so does he act. on the soul's departure from relation not only between one's deeds within a given life-term and the the world of temporality. mind. on reaching the tip of a blade of grass." results accrued in the next lifetime and. become the most central ideas in Hindu thought. He who discovers the one. With the death of the body all the faculties. It constitutes death (lit. . and senses. With the form of an ethereal substance. 4.5) There exists a causal sentence of the "Eternal Return. 4. another Upanishad (131:had-aranyaka IV. birth and death. so birth and death. When all realm of "absolute space" or "the heavens of the gods. makes for itself another newer and more beautiful form like that of the dizzying revolutions of the world of the mind and senses. The self which has freed itself from its a new form of existence]. The subtle due to the concentration of all bodily and mental functions in the seat body survives only as long as the flames of desire are fed by continued of consciousness ( = mind). From there. Human and animal life. death and all the moment and within a particular context depends upon the quality of rest. The doer of good becomes good. draws itself up toward itself.3-4) successive terms of life. to the body. evil less and immortal @man (= human-self) will be liberated from the by evil action. the self proceeds ego-consciousness which is itself the father of all other desires). draws itself misfortunes which are the fate of the body. The coming of death is presented in a most graphic manner in until the effects of those deeds have been fully exhausted. A person can expect to escape the sentence of This self. with these words: "His knowledge. One becomes virtuous by means of virtuous action. his redeath. does he become. as he wills. his senses cease to operate properly. then to enter into a new term of life. taking a piece of gold. in taking the next step. deeds and his past experience lay hold of him [for the transposition to thereby. memories of past withdraw from contact with the external world and by gathering experiences and all the fruits of past actions resort to the "subtle around the central core of the self ( = intelligence or consciousness) body.e." (J4haddrayaka IV. so does he person approaches death. becomes evil. that Absolute One which is both existence and nonexistence. according as he behaves.58 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 59 The message of this portion of the Upanishads is crucial to an which. The approach of Man. having cast off this environment. The person has now become "pure intelligence" individual's deeds (karma) from one life-term into the next. in time. As he desires. the doer of evil unnameable Brahman (= cosmic-self) to be identical with the change. of no escape. They attain. both one's past deeds. fortunes. death is heralded by a weakening of the body. changeless. mind" (because mind is the central constituent of the subtle body) the self departs through one of the apertures of the body accompanied which serves as the vehicle for transporting the results of the by the life-breaths.

then the mortal becomes condemned to suffer the pains of hell. As such. the soul (atman) cannot be injured and does not die. The fruits of his actions. to his fellowmen and to the World Order (dharma). For it is God who is both the Path of Works (karma-mdrga) of the Vedas and the Path of Knowledge initiator of all human actions and the recipient of the fruits of those Odina-miirga) of the Upanishads and integrates them to form a single. and. The Realization of Life through Death in the Bhagavad Gild. Rather. it is by disregarding his immortal and (even) here (in this world) he attains Brahman-hood. Rather. Devotion (bhakti-mdrga)." duty to God. rebirth. alike. "When all desires that slaying others. the Gita contains no idea of the soul spiritually to either birth or death. For. in contradistinction to the teachings of the person undergoes rebirth as the result of its subjection to the Upanishads. the moral and spiritual motives) which is crucial. It is He who has the power to cancel out the effects of all all-embracing path to salvation. will incur no sin. provides instruction on the nature of the self to his student. The truth of achieving liberation from death by going beyond God or gods into the existence which everyone must come to understand if they are to be transcendental realm of the Eternal Absolute beyond all distinctions. all-knowing. It is not slain when the body is bad. and In contrast to the Upanishads. it is the frame of considers pleasure and pain. The human actions. particular type of human action per se that determines the outcome of He does not come under the sway of death and rebirth. Arjuna.e. which has come to symbolize the spirit of Hinduism failure. rating self inherits the fruits of the deeds of previous life cycles and who is struck with terror by the task of slaying his kinsmen on the field survives the death of the body to experience rebirth in an altered form. even though they be one's kinsmen. the Krishna's argument in brief is that. Knowledge. Krishna apart from any kind of relationship to Universal Self. are in error. youth. This transmig. The mind-body organism which constitutes the Krishna in the Gita. so too [at death] will it assume another body: about this the . of battle. (which the followers of the Path of Knowledge tended to deny) but if Assuming that the Self really did die (which is not the case). But. time. The undying self cannot be slain enters into a state of spiritual and physical liberation (moksha).e. although the body perishes and Gita affirms the belief that not only is human action unavoidable can be renovated. That person who is unattached psychologically. that event performed properly. In service to the tradition of the Vedas. the soul or spiritual essence (citman) of the individual is obedience to his will. it is not by wholly transcendent to both good and evil. it is unaffected by the various alterations in the state The idea that the true self (as distinct from the "empirical" self) is of existence which the phenomenal self or ego (Jiva) undergoes within eternal and free from the effects of change. faithfully. cease to have any effect upon his spiritual nature. it claims that death is conquered and immortality is achieved this body the embodied [self] must pass through childhood. eternal. action. whether for good or ill. On by a weapon of warfare: "Never is it born nor does it die. the Gita identifies the human self and the "self — (i. old age. the self-deluding belief that it exists as a distinct and independent entity. without faltering in the face of death. all-loving God. victory and defeat to be mind and heart (i. morally. 66 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 61 To summarize the teachings of the Upanishads concerning death Vishnu (in the form of Krishna) in the spirit of faith and in strict and rebirth. which now slain. in a spirit of indifference to success and Bhagavad Gita. Man will be redeemed from the condemnation to rebirth by renouncing the C. the Gita asserts that it is not a therefore. never did it entering the state of liberation. gain and loss. and redeath. with Lord Krishna. is to fight and conquer and himself perish on the battlefield. eternal. and by identifying oneself with the personal. pass away in the end. provided he a course of action. that one is indwell the human heart are cast away. essential nature) of the entire universe." He commands Arjuna to undertake the execution of his duty exists in a state that is "in but not or' the world of time and flesh. same deeds. both good and everlasting is this primordial [self]. is reiterated by Lord each term of life. on the other side. by declaring that both he who thinks he kills and he who The self who has realized its essential identity with the Universal Self thinks he can be killed. human actions can be expected to produce would be unavoidable because of the fact that all things which come salutary results. by relying unquestioningly upon the grace of the Lord to more than any other single Indian religious text. truly freed from the bonds of ignorance and death is this: "Just as in Rather. In keeping with the demands of the Path of to be in the beginning. brings together the eradicate the effects of his deeds (karma). The duty of the warrior. that person is freed from bondage to come to be nor will it ever come not to be: Unborn. The new doctrine which it introduces human actions and thereby to liberate the eternal and undying soul of for the first time into the Indian religious tradition is the Path of man from bondage to rebirth and redeath.

certain is the birth of weight of this excessive number of creatures that she pled with all that dies. a sage or a story-teller attempts to necessity and value of death as a functional part of the natural process assuage the grief of someone who has just lost a comrade or a relative which was widely accepted at the time of the composition of the by telling them a story concerning the origin of death. the way of selfless devotion to God and a willing obedience to his will. and stabilize the breath in the head. a person should for a small elite capable of great spiritual achievements." The wise man is one who maintains a state of perfect equilibrium (samaki). the fate of death which comes to every being bestowed upon the great majority of persons who find the paths of would be justified on the basis of their unrighteousness. creatures must pass. does the wise man mourn the earth began to fill up to the point that "there was no room to the death of others. it does so in absence of Death. all mourning over the death of an acquaintance or a loved one is wasted. This teller concludes with the moral: "Knowing this fact [that death comes liberation. will determine the state of being (or non-being) into which he "remove" all beings (both wise and foolish) at their appointed time. therefore." and "thinking of nothing else at all. of mind in which one puts himself just prior to and at the moment of sprang from his pores. Because of an intensifica- The Gita propounds the same belief that is central to the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead at a much later time. is now not grieve. She then retired from the the "doors of the senses. established in yogic meditation. She was also instructed to visit the creatures with the vices of beyond the heaven of the gods. always them and from a concern that those relatives who remained behind being made in that state. unavoidable gate to another realm or state of being through which all (1) While the Creator of the world cannot bring himself to destroy his own creation. He named her Death and commanded her to death. you have no Brahma to lighten her load by "removing" a reasonable number of his reason to grieve." progeny. were he to fail to .D. The aim of such Mahabharata. for that matter. 62 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 63 wise man is not perplexed. "For certain is the death of all that is born. from which state "there is no Desire and Wrath before inflicting them with the death-bringing returning." Even where Death does breathe. "Whatever state (of being) one calls to mind at the The maiden Death refused to "remove" the creatures out of a love for end upon leaving aside his body. which the great priests and sages of the past had claimed to everyone and is a just retribution for sinful deeds). "he will travel the highest path" to the highest abode of God and commanded her to use these as instruments for removing the beings. for these reasons. On a number of occasions insights into the Hindu view of Death and the estimation of the in the Hindu epic." This provocative story of the origin of Death yields an abundance of D. The Inevitability of Death in Hindu Mythology. he would do so quite inadvertently. no one can cause.—goo A. He lives in the knowledge that "destruction of this imperishable one (citman)." fix the consciousness with the heart-center world in order to undertake a life of ascetic contemplation. Brahma created so many beings that "fit for immortality." world into another world and return from there again in due time. the creatures with the death of their bodies go from this "upon the Eternal unceasingly. enters after death. the frame tion of energy within his being resulting from the repression of energies. Such a person is According to one such story. with all powers of consciousness and action After urging and cajoling her for years to perform her assigned completely concentrated and the mind fixed upon God (Krishna) duty. (ca. undaunted. is the "easy way" to salvation. therefore. with regard to what is inevitable.) We will pause only long stories is to awaken the listener to the fact that death is the fate to enough to cite a few of these points before passing on to a which all living creatures come at the appointed time. the Mahciblzcirata." Since Death had not yet entered the world. Mother Earth began to feel so overburdened by the obedience to Universal Law and. with eyes blazing red." Nor. As a result of the visit itself upon one of the creatures of the world. For even as the five senses disappear when the person is in promised to those masses of people who are able to free themselves deep sleep. passing through every condition in life. Therefore. later to return to life once the person awakens. goo B. Namely. The story- saintly action or perfection knowledge beyond their grasp. which is diseases. He repressed a portion of his creative energy in order to provide for both creation and destruction. and the consideration of Buddhist doctrines concerning death. multitudinous creatures were being born but none were dying. When he departs this life. even so. is not deserving of human grief." The dying person is instructed to close all would condemn her actions as unrighteous. In this way. to that very state he attains. in both pleasure and pain. in from attachment to the vicissitudes of pleasure and pain by thinking like manner.C. Brahma finally transformed Death's tears of grief into diseases alone. a dark maiden dressed in scarlet robes." This then.

that person who faces death (2) Hence. the equally separate death and rebirth in an "intermediary state" (Bardo). angry god but as the result of the moral and spiritual quality of each perceptions. the describes the outer limits of the life of both the individual person and entire world would slip back into the state of chaos. and consciousness) which. although rebirth (samscira) is considered by Hindus to be calmly. establishment of an operative balance between the workings of the and his possessions will endure forever. have liberated themselves from the law of rebirth. To meet death. REBIRTH AND LIBERATION IN reflects an awareness on the part of the ancient Indian sages that the BUDDHIST DOCTRINE absence of a degree of restraint in the production of creatures both animal and human.) would languish in the state of neglect and finally. (This story II. DEATH. the of the cosmos. and confidently—desiring neither to flee it nor an unfortunate destiny which every person should strive to escape at to rush into its grasp—will come to recognize death not as an enemy the earliest possible opportunity. rituals. sensations. would soon become extinct. the world of living beings would soon choke life which can come only to him who unflinchingly accepts death as an to death on the excessive creativity of the creator himself integral part of life. when viewed at the cosmic level of perception. neither human beings nor the pursuance of salvation by means of the path of asceticism and universe itself experiences either an absolute beginning or an absolute self-denial by a special few must be counterbalanced by a provision for end. according to Buddhist teachings. would paradoxically lead to the death of the very human life can be filled with a sense of meaning and efficacious action same creatures which the Creator God had produced. Strictly speaking.e. would gradually result in a "population explo. religious Birth and death. his relatives. were everyone or even a graphically described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. not only as an event at the end of life but as an means to be reborn. the very sought in both Hinduism and Buddhism. mental formations. The human person is nothing because of the inviolable law of fate.) Without the unless it is lived in full acceptance of the fact of death. there is no single permanent. Others believe that forty-nine days most effective and efficient path to spiritual liberation. the human species will speak in greater detail presently. or by the ruthless judgment of an more than a conglomeration of "aggregates" (i. Many Buddhists believe that rebirth believed that yogic meditation and a life of ascetic withdrawal is the occurs immediately after death. taken person's own deeds. as a equally paradoxical fact that without providing the creatures with a friend. is the final goal to be realization of spiritual liberation (moksha). (3) Even though Hindus from every walk of life traditionally have Every birth is. When this same drama of birth and death is viewed as the the continued procreation and removal of the creatures in the microlevel in terms of seconds and fractions of seconds rather than world-at-large. made both for the coming-to-be and the passing-away of things. it is merely death is to be viewed as both a necessity and a blessing. It is an individual's karma that is the fundamental together form the mind-body organism engaged in the process of cause of birth and death. And. Therefore. a provision must be But. years or aeons. for unchanging entity or substance constituting the Self or Soul which the sake of the well-being of the world. courageously. On the other hand. in fact. in turn. for the time being. body. He who tries to ignore death by deluding himself into believing that he. etc. a rebirth. That phenomenon which we customarily call "the self" in . there would be no occasion to strive for the ever-present ingredient in the life-process itself. these same sages recognized the or a robber but as an ever-present companion and ultimately. about which we majority of persons to follow the path of asceticism. the laws of society (caste laws. 64 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 65 find a means of removing a certain number of the products of his creativity in order to make room for those who come later. total nonfunctioning of the physical body and the mind. important claim is made in this story that. possibility of achieving liberation from ignorance and death rests upon Buddhist doctrine defines death as a cutting off of the life-force or a the precondition that mankind be granted a succession of opportuni. robs himself of the purposeful powers of birth and death. There is general agreement between Hinduism and Buddhism that no sion" which. Hence. life-force is totally destroyed with the death of the body. until all creatures coming-to-being and passing-away in every moment. endures in a uniform state from moment to moment and from lifetime to lifetime. birth and death are discovered to occur almost (4) Death comes to the creatures who inhabit the finite world not simultaneously in each instant of time. In other words. displaced and transformed to continue functioning in another form. Not that the ties to make a gradual advance in the direction of that goal.

the "Parable of the Mustard Seed. old age. unannounced and unanticipated by most persons. which and impure mind or between "carefulness" and "carelessness. the quality of deaths. Be ye therefore mindful and death . for they feel quite at ease even while travelling along the road to changing momentarily and filled with impressions and tendencies the next life . decay enced a total loss of confidence in the reality and value of existence in and die. the wealthy and the who will provide a rebirth in his Paradise for those who have true faith in him and praise his holy name. William James. ." He sighed to his charioteer: ". whether stationary or "Carefulness is the path of the deathless. when all existence has been seen difference between disciplined and undisciplined living. carelessness is the path to movable is bound to perish in the end. 66 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 67 speaking of "I myself" or "you yourself" is nothing more than a continuity of a series of psycho-physiological occasions (described by trust. realize the bond-free. at least. and divine) are subject to the law of death. end. curse of rebirth beyond this world leads through a calm and confident This doctrine of the inevitability of death for all living creatures is recognition of the universal truth that. every moment you are born. the Buddha. On that occasion. As one teacher states it: "When the Aggregates arise." The truly Awakened One is that person who recognizes that. and yet the world forgets its rope of existence. a woman indeed." seems to cure a long illness at last. . There is no lasting peace as long as the person is still in the body. vegetable. away. that nothing remains as it is discovered grieving uncontrollably over the death of her beloved son is for more than an instant and that. For death comes according to the still trapped by the bonds of "desire. fear and takes no heed. will go immediately after death to Yama's judgment chamber How can one know beforehand when death will strike: whether today where. does not transmigrate. This is the Truth which Gautama foresaw during his legendary the American psychologist. he is required to cross a or tomorrow. after a waiting period of seven days." created by good and evil actions (karma) which at death is transposed The message of the Buddha to all suffering humanity is this: to a new mode of being. Recognize that all living things (mineral. . fears. Everything. an automobile accident. 0 monk. therefore. one year or five years hence or within the next moment? treacherous river with three current speeds simultaneously (represent- How can one anticipate the form that death will take: a mortal wound ing three karmic destinies of hell: human beings." (Buddhacdrita XXVI 88 ff. just as there are differences in the quality of recognize the true nature of the living world and do not be anxious births and existences. as "the stream of con. Those who cross the river successfully are ushered into a sudden heart-attack? Death strikes without notice. It is no respecter of persons. ." Thus. one should not place any All of this is by way of saying that for Gautama. . The hearts of men are surely hardened to The human self. believe that there are differences in human. animals and hungry from a knife or a gun. the ever earnestly striving ones." According to this story." according to popular Buddhist dictates of time.) Men are instructed by the Buddha not to make any plans in this The "soul" or "the fruits of the karma" of a deceased person who is world without reckoning with death. The differences in deaths depends upon the about your life or your death. The Buddhists. he experi- moment. the finite world because of his discovery that everything is "subject to in every instant we are born. supreme Nirvana" (Dhammapada 21-23). the high and the low. Therefore. and death. the well and the sickly. "When the light of true knowledge has dispelled the darkness of ignorance. The constantly meditative. sickness. Birth and death change and decay" and death "is the end which has been fixed for are two almost indistinguishable and imperceptible strands of a single all. nothing which whose corpse she carries in her arms. Everything must be parted from what it desires in the hence. the trust in a life which is sustained by so uncertain a thing as breathing in way to an effective life within this world and to a final release from the and out. in every instant we die. ruled by Amitabha ("Boundless Light") old. the whole universe is passing away. poor. the young and the Paradise or a Happy Land. animal. a lingering illness or a ghosts). between pure as without substance. for this reason. Therefore. She does not seem to be aware abides within this realm of death is deserving of a person's absolute that death is a terminal event—for this lifetime. "all composite things must pass movingly expressed in one of the most popular of all Buddhist stories. like the Hindus. vigilant. while the imagined "self" who thinks in terms everything inevitably comes to extinction even though it may last for a of "I" and "mine" does not survive from one moment to the next and millennium. In hopes of . belief. decay and die. "pleasure excursion" when he witnessed the four signs of suffering: sciousness") which undergoes an unbroken series of alterations in every poverty. . is composed of a stream of consciousness. peace ensues when life draws to an end.

will provide the proper ity of death. When the mustard seed only from a household in which no one has ever monk realizes within the deepest part of his being that his own life and died—not a father or a mother. lucid and calm. death). One of the most Emptiness. In time she comes to see the truth which is perfect freedom (viinukti) from the illusion that he and the objects of the panacea to death and sorrow: that death is the inescapable destiny his pleasure are enduring entities. given its inevitability. 68 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 69 finding an antidote to her child's "malady" which would restore him to consciousness. not a brother or a sister. He instructs her to go foul substances. From this insight emerges a of all creatures and that.e. to be It is not death. namely. After searching from house to house. either well. or sick to prepare in themselves a state of mind that what gives him pain. He "does rebirth altogether. he says. grieve. The ideal which every being caught in the net of rebirth should strive to realize is the "cutting of the root of desires" by recognizing Finally." The monk is instructed to seat himself in the salvation comes from the realization that that "boundless light of this graveyard or the crematorium and contemplate upon the ashes of the true Reality is your own true self". The instructor then urges the student to prepare Buddhist teachers through the ages have claimed that the most himself for the coming of death in the form of "the brilliant light of effective means of arriving at this state of desirelessness is to cultivate Ultimate Reality" or "the luminous splendor of the colorless light of mental and physical discipline through meditation. a servant waiting for his wages." such that he is able to say: The teacher instructs his student to remain watchful and alert in the face of death. to be a (potential) corpse. and insubstantial nature of the existence most efficacious way of "living toward death" are presented in a most of everything in the finite world. she has no cause to cessation of desire to wield the world according to one's own volition. This ideal of "desirelessness" is imaginative manner in the book which is currently purchased by more epitomized in Theravada Buddhism by the Arhat ("Worthy One") people in the western world than any other work. and tranquility which will abide unaltered in all conditions of life and all states of mind. not a servant that of the entire universe is constituted and supported by a compound or an animal. but not the sort that she has sought. pared. not shake down the unripe fruit . Having no likes or dislikes. he will obtain a death of one of its members. and when he comes to not a single household can be found which has never experienced the know that in the end everything returns to ashes. The Buddha does provide her with an about the area in various states of decay. As the title and in Mahayana Buddhism by the Bodhisattva ("He Whose Essence indicates. feeble. For those whose minds are diverted or confused at this moment of . and impermanence of life and the inevitabil- mustard seed. he should rouse his energy and focus his consciousness upon the event of his passing. she must accept the though still full of life and vigor. the various Buddhist teachings concerning death and the the transitory." The text is used most particularly in helping those who are to be attached to what gives him pleasure or to be separated from elderly. The monk is often instructed to consider his own body. to resist all forms of distraction and confusion." He must immerse himself in the rays of that supernatural widely used forms of meditation among Buddhist monks is "the light. uncertainty. The mustard seeds. . with the passing of this habit of living a life of willfulness (and its she goes immediately with peace of mind. the meditator quickly becomes profoundly aware of from house to house throughout the city in search of a few grains of the brevity. By contemplating upon these antidote. he is not subject to will be most conducive to a "good rebirth" or to a liberation from the pincers of hope and anxiety. with the possible exception of the Bible. The "Awakened One" has no desires whatsoever. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. she approaches the Buddha who is renowned for his bodies that have been disposed of and upon the corpses which still lie miraculous powers to heal. But. to the burning-ground and offspring anxiety and fear) will come automatically a peace of mind there submits her son to the fires of cremation. . (but) waits for it to mature. she discovers that of birth and death in each and every moment. body. abandoning all belief in a separate self and recognize that recollection of death. unpredictable. He further charges the student to realize that his I bide my time. Relieved from the pangs of both false-hope and needless grief. And. antidote to the child's disease (i. ambition and frustration. this text is to be used in teaching the living "how to die is Wisdom"). it is not life I cherish. "mental energies" or "life-forces" are about to disengage from the It is not death. it is not life I cherish. In order that he might enter the "intermediate state" well-pre- I bide my time in mindfulness and wisdom steeped.

reborn as an animal. is a temporary point between the preceding and succeeding." them in the form of fearsome animals) who attempt to divert the soul For the most part. that death is the unavoidable fate of every living creature and of others. to re-enter the wheel of becoming to be and the High God himself. you are beginning to transcend both life and death and coming into unity with the Changeless Absolute. But. the conquest of death is believed to be a long and from salvation by convincing it that these creatures are objectively arduous task.e. the path to receive the soul of the deceased into a Buddha-realm or Paradise final liberation leads at last to the dissipation of that last desire. even beyond the highest heavens inhabited by higher gods or (2) it is doomed once again. in the spirit of rational and tranquil acceptance. century. a word of encouragement is offered in the doctrine of to perpetuate itself as an individual self. That person is freed from the that its iron rule cannot be broken by any means—whether by good fetters of death and all its attendant anxieties. and the grief over the death hand. world of living beings. you have no cause to grieve" (II. this is not the ultimate goal to Nirvana by realizing that all things (including these heavens and be reached according to Hindu and Buddhist teachings. For certain is the death of all that is To find release you must begin to regard life and death as identical to born. The practice of virtue does bring of the contents of the mind in the mirror of the Void. neither loathing the former nor coveting the latter. method of conquering death: accept death as the chief fact of life and as the main signal that all the things you hope for will be utterly III. in death nothing more the next). In life there is nothing more than life. As a man desires. with (Happy Land). As he acts. from the Buddhist Disregarding for the moment the single most important point of point of view. The stories and instructional discourses which so he acts. when in fact they are nothing more than "imaginary reflections throughout many terms of existence. the fears of his own death. 70 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS The Death That Ends Death in Hinduism and Buddhism 71 passage into the other world. without clinging to or fleeing it. assert. gods and demons. births and deaths. involving the cultivation of a disciplined mind and body real. With a sufficient amount of Two destinies are open to the soul at this point: (i) it can achieve merit in hand. However demanding the task of realizing that distant grasp the meaning of these teachings and to free itself from the desire goal may be. It is fallacious to prevent. hence. there emerges a "subtle body" or a there is a means of escaping death in the form of rebirth. on the one chains of death. contention which distinguishes the Hindus and the Buddhists (i. claimed that. who meets death as a works. it can be called `birthlessness. This seems to be a most valuable . so does he become. because of its twofold failure to unalloyed Bliss. so in a matter that no one can Nirvana. Beyond this hells. Human The teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism seem to sound a single but nature is composed of desires. Birth." its reward in the form of religious merit. beyond the atmosphere populated by demigods tial and transitory projections of his own limited and perverted mind. Krishna sums The essence of the Buddhist teaching about death is expressed up the idea succinctly in the Bhagavad Gird: "And even if you think it beautifully in a sermon by the famous Zen master of the thirteenth [the embodied self] is continually [re-] born and constantly [re-] dies. As he wills antiphonal theme. the the result that one enters a state of existence which can only be soul is then attacked by angry deities and demonic creatures (some of described as "desireless. Properly understood. If this second opportunity for salvation is missed. The only truly effective escape from this round of birth and light-rays cast off from the grace of the Buddhas who have come to death is the dissolution of all desires. pious thoughts.) are illusory. or spiritual discipline. and spirits." These supernatural bodies are but the is egotism. a man or a god. On the other hand. The primary "mental body" which is "impregnated with the after-effects of your cause of rebirth—and all of its attendant sufferings and misfortunes— past deeds and desires. so he wills. THE CONQUEST OF DEATH destroyed in due course and that once you come to be able to neither long for nor fear death.' The same holds for death and whether or not there is a real self which survives from one lifetime to deathlessness. 27). one can expect to enjoy material and spiritual total and eternal cessation of rebirth together with the peace of prosperity in heaven after death. there exists a supernal realm of eternal. on the most effective than death: we are being born and dying at every moment. certain is birth of all that dies. think that you simply move from birth to death. transmigration in Hinduism and rebirth in Buddhism. it is companion to life. insubstan. even though all creatures are destined to pass away. etc. That person is bound in the constitute the sacred literature of both traditions. both traditions agree in general. Dogen: even so you grieve for it in vain. who tries to ignore death.

R. E. The Wonder that was India. The Buddhist Religion. The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. Penguin Books. T. Random House. The Buddhist Tradition in India.. Random House. R. 1970. L. The Hindu Religious Tradition. New York: RAHULA. 1962. T. A. 1959. 1969. Belmont. J. T. Buddhism CONZE. China and Japan. California: Dickenson Publishing Co. A.. ZAEHNER. 72 DEATH THROUGH SOME OTHER WINDOWS lesson to be learned by those who live in this modern era when the preservation of human life by the postponement or escape from death is pursued at all costs. What the Buddha Taught. Baltimore: DE BARY. New York: HOPKINS. New York: Grove Press. London: Oxford University Press. 1959. California: Dickenson Publishing Co. 1966. EMBREE. ROBINSON. Hinduism. 1971. Hinduism BASHAM. Buddhism in Essence and Development: Buddhist Scriptures. H. Belmont. SUGGESTED READINGS I. W. New York: Grove Press. A Historical Introduction. . H. 1959. C.