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Thread: Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VII (Life After Death?)

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  1. #1

    Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VII (Life After Death?)

    Hi,

    Today's questions in our "BIG Questions" series are a matter of life and death:

    What happens when we die? Some say that death is an illusion. How so? Why is it said that Satori destroys the fear of death?- Buddhism says that Ignorance and delusion bind us to the cycle of birth and death. As such, when one who hasn’t realised his/her true nature and remains in ignorance dies, they are subsequently reborn. But what happens to one who has realised their true nature in life, attained enlightenment , Satori...? What happens to a Buddha when their physical body disintegrates, if they are not reborn and they are egoless?
    I don't know for sure (although I have some darn good suspicions arising from this practice). Frankly, I do not think that even those other folks claiming to "know for sure" truly "know for sure" that they "know for sure" ... (it's even unclear if the Buddha himself claimed to "know for sure" or just was said to "know for sure" by later folks who didn't know for sure if he knew for sure) ...

    But I will do my best to answer anyway.

    (Let me also mention that some of these questions are closely connected to our last "BIG Questions" Episode on Karma:

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...VI-%28Karma%29

    First, what happens when we die?

    I believe that no human being knows for sure (not the living ones anyway). I believe a lot of folks who claim to know are merely guessing or being imaginative (I do not know for sure that they are, of course, and they might have some insight. I guess we will find out when we are dead ... or not).

    But here is the kicker, from a Zen perspective:

    1- I do not need to know, and the whole question is rather unimportant

    2- There is no "birth and death" anyway.

    Let's take those in order:

    First, among religions (and even among schools of Buddhism) Zen is generally focused on living in "this life, here and now" as opposed to being concerned about what comes next.

    As we discussed last time regarding Karma, ideas of Karmic Rebirth have been just as present throughout the history of Ch'an/Zen Buddhism as in other schools of Buddhism. HOWEVER, the emphasis in Zen Buddhism on "living in this life, in the present moment" quickly began to make the question less important to Zen Practitioners. Live a good life in this life ... and what happens after this life will take care of itself. (It sure as heck is gonna take care of itself anyway!)

    Second, Zen Buddhism (and many schools of the Mahayana particularly) came to see the whole dichotomy of "birth/life" and "death" as something of an illusion, a fiction, which can be dropped away. So, death is not a problem because we were never born in the first place, and thus never die.

    Let me explain.

    I suppose the best analogy is the "wave" on an ocean's surface. The wave (representing you or me) rises up from the ocean, and eventually merges back into the ocean, but really there was nothing there all along but the ocean. When the water rippled up, we say "there is a wave", and when the water fell back down we say "the wave is gone" ... but it was just the water, which was there before ... and is still there after. {Let me mention here that I am not crazy about the "ocean" analogy for a simple reason: The image or name limits and fixes our conception of that ultimate reality beyond what I believe is present human understanding. (I much prefer my airplane analogy, see below) In my view, the word "Ocean" conveys an image of some unbroken, homogeneous, characterless, flowing thing, I believe, in contrast, that reality may be that [homogenous, characterless, etc.] or something completely different I can be "at one" with it no matter, and without need to know precisely. I was inspired today to see Shunryu Suzuki Roshi say, in the film I pointed folks to in the book club (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7umcFZEb7c&hl=ja[/video]] from about minute 23:00 mark:

    [Things have a reason why they] exist here. And because of that reason, it makes sense - some sense [laughs]. I don't know [laughs] what sense. No one knows. But there must be some reason.
    .
    }

    So, you see, I am pretty darn sure that we never were born, so we never will die. But I am hard pressed to tell you (and I really don't care anyway!!) about what exactly our "source" is to which we return.

    Our Zen attitude to the source of our life (and to where we return) could be compared to this analogy: I am not an airplane pilot or aero-engineer (and was asleep in science class in high school), so I really do not understand what makes a 747 fly. Yet, out of great faith, I get on and ride. Now, when a dear friend of mine I'll call "Danny"was living with cancer a few years ago, he asked me for a "Zen Buddhist" perspective on what its all about [He was not a Zen Buddhist at the time]. I wrote him this:


    How can I put this? Perhaps, in the Zen perspective, life is like being born ... for some mysterious reason ... in a certain seat on a trans-Pacific flight (I thought the analogy appropriate, given how much time we both spend crossing the Pacific to Japan). We are not quite sure how we got here on this flight, who paid for the ticket, the destination ... and certainly, we are not quite sure who is in the cockpit or how the plane got made. However, something has seemingly gone to a lot of trouble to put us on this plane (earthly plane? har har). And, the movie is not bad (sometimes comedy sometimes tears), the champagne is cold, and the view out the window spectacular. Sure, some of the other passengers are hard to bear (often fighting amongst themselves), not everything is to our liking, and sometimes it downright is unpleasant. But the 747 seems to be moving along on its own power. So, nothing to do but enjoy the ride.

    But there is more to it than that ...

    For, in our perspective, we can see that we are all connected. I don't mean that we see some loose, indirect connection we all have. It is precisely that we see that the airplane and all the other passengers, the motor, the wings, movie and all the seats, and the guy in the cockpit are all part of you too, or are really you, or you are them ... or, better put, you, Danny, are the plane ... or even better put, there is just the flying).

    And we are not really going anywhere anyway that we have not always been (the point of departure and the point of arrival are precisely the same). Nor can we have any control really over the course of the flight, or its length. Anyway, what does long or short mean once you get in the air?

    And it sure seems like something went to a lot of trouble to make something as elaborate as a plane. A great mathematician and physicist [Fred Hoyle] once said ...

    "The chance that higher [sentient] life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein... I am at a loss to understand biologists' widespread compulsion to deny what seems to me to be obvious." ("Hoyle on Evolution," Nature, Vol. 294, 12 November 1981, p. 105.)

    The fact [I am writing a book on this] that so many a priori conditions were required to set our 747-world just right in order for us to share this e-mail leads me to conclude that our appearance on this plane is not mere happenstance, and the trip not without purpose (although I do not clearly know the nature of nature's purpose).


    So, have a good flight, even with the turbulence and bad food. It's all part of the flying and we are not really at the controls.

    Some Buddhists might also add that you are working through what needs to be worked through (karma and all that). I, personally, don't know about that, but it could be I suppose. Certainly, it is one explanation for how you ended up as "Danny," and not as some piece of luggage, coffee cup, headrest, other passenger or ... seemingly much, much more likely ... nothing at all. I can attest that this "Danny" is certainly one of a kind. (If I may continue with the silly plane analogy), why did you end up in seat 37D, and not some other seat, or in the baggage compartment, and why on the darn plane at all?? Maybe there is no reason at all, maybe it was an assigned seat.

    Oh, and embracing the whole things means that it is okay to be pissed off, disappointed, etc., sometimes at being sick. That's what human beings do at times when we have been diverted, seemingly, from where we wanted the plane to go.


    Your friend, Jundo ... quite often, a white knuckle flier
    So, we realize that we are the airplane, not just a passenger in economy class. Though we don't know all about what makes a 747 go, or even have a clear idea of the destination ... we have a deep trust that we are supposed to be here.

    Now, before we go, let me talk about some traditional Buddhist ideas about life after death.

    As we saw in our last "BIG Questions" episode on Karma, the Buddha and other later Buddhists often taught a very mechanical system of heavens, hells and rebirths. Could be so. Many Buddhists thought of these places of rebirth as real places. They may be.

    But the Buddha and all the Buddhists also taught that, when you get "enlightened" you escape from all that. How? Well, one interpretation that has been around for a long time is you "escape" from it because ... it was never there, except as a creation of your own mind. I guess the simplest analogy is an ordinary dream when you are sleeping, in which you are convinced that you are going from life to life. But when the alarm rings and you 'wake up' ... you realize the dream was a dream all along (real in being a real dream, but not real). When you are dreaming, you think you are a passenger moving from seat to seat on the airplane. But then, when you wake up, you are just the plane. Something like that.

    Quiet often the Buddha just refused to answer all such questions as irrelevant. His method was to afford us escape and end suffering. He had no concern for what happens after death and/or did not know. Although the Buddha is said to have given a few different answers to what happens to a Buddha after death, one of the most often cited is this:

    Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta - The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya

    Ven. Malunkyaputta arose from seclusion and went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "Lord, just now, as I was alone in seclusion, this train of thought arose in my awareness: 'These positions that are undeclared, set aside, discarded by the Blessed One... I don't approve, I don't accept that the Blessed One has not declared them to me. I'll go ask the Blessed One about this matter. If he declares to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,' that 'The cosmos is not eternal,' that 'The cosmos is finite,' that 'The cosmos is infinite,' that 'The soul & the body are the same,' that 'The soul is one thing and the body another,' that 'After death a Tathagata exists,' that 'After death a Tathagata does not exist,' that 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist,' or that 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' then I will live the holy life under him. then I will live the holy life under him. If he does not declare to me that "The cosmos is eternal,"... etc. or that "After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist," then I will renounce the training and return to the lower life.'

    [The Buddha answered]:

    "Malunkyaputta, did I ever say to you, 'Come, Malunkyaputta, live the holy life under me, and I will declare to you that "The cosmos is eternal,"... etc. or that "After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,"

    "No, lord."

    "It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored... until I know his home village, town, or city... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

    "In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,'... or that 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata.

    "So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared. And what is undeclared by me? 'The cosmos is eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is not eternal,' is undeclared by me. 'The cosmos is finite'... 'The cosmos is infinite'... 'The soul & the body are the same'... 'The soul is one thing and the body another'... 'After death a Tathagata exists'... 'After death a Tathagata does not exist'... 'After death a Tathagata both exists & does not exist'... 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' is undeclared by me.

    "And why are they undeclared by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to [non-attachment], dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That's why they are undeclared by me.
    So, HAVE A SMOOTH FLIGHT! ... roll with the turbulence ...

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - If anyone is interested in more of the "Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions ", the links are here ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-BIG-Questions
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-24-2013 at 03:19 AM.

  2. #2
    "Everyone has to be somewhere" -- I love that, Shokai!

    Thanks, Jundo--very informative!
    Gassho, Kaishin
    Gassho,
    Kaishin

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