Do Buddhists believe in Life After Death?
Do Buddhists believe in the impersonal atman or else, an
Eternal Soul ? No.
Then, do they believe there is nothing after death? No.
Patricia Churchland (Houshmand, Livingston and B. Alan
Wallace, et al.
Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain
Science and Buddhism. Snow Lion Publications, 1999.) asked
the Dalai Lama: But do you think that there is something, I am not sure
what to call it -- a kind of awareness that can exist independently of the
brain? For example, something that survives death?
Dalai Lama: Generally speaking, awareness, in the sense of our
familiar, day-to-day mental processes, does not exist apart from or independent
of the brain, according to the Buddhist view. But Buddhism holds that the cause
of this awareness is to be found in a preceding continuum of awareness,
and that is why one speaks of a stream of awareness from one life to another.
Whence does this awareness arise initially? It must arise fundamentally
not from a physical base but from a preceding continuum of awareness.
The continuum of awareness that conjoins with the fetus does not depend
upon the brain. There are some documented cases of advanced practitioners
whose bodies, after death, escape what happens to everyone else and do not
decompose for some time -- for two or three weeks or even longer. The awareness
that finally leaves their body is a primordial awareness that is not dependent
upon the body. There have been many accounts in the past of advanced
practitioners remaining in meditation in this subtle state of consciousness when
they died, and decomposition of their body was postponed although the body
remained at room temperature.
In Indian scripture (and many others,) when God speaks, he says, "I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the
Supreme One, the Mighty, the All-seeing, the Ruler, the Lord of all, the Maker, the
Creator, the Chief of all appointing to each his place, the Ancient of Days,
the Father of all that is and will be." However, the Buddha dismisses
him saying that Brahma's view of his own importance is merely a
consequence of his own delusions due to ignorance. Mahâ-Brahmâ is simply
one of the great devas, unenlightened and subject to the samsaric process as determined by his
karma, like any other being. In fact, in the Khevadda Sutra,
Brahma admits that he is unable to answer a certain question posed to him, and
he advises a monk to consult the Buddha.
A number of arguments are given by "believers" in an attempt to prove the
existence of God. One popular one has to do with coming upon a watch in
the forest. (This is a reference to the apparent organization of the universe.)
It is an example of the First Cause argument in which we look for an explanation
The Buddha addresses this by saying that every and any thing must have pre-conditions for its
existence. It is suffering that lies at the root of existence. His words
in The Bhuridatta Jataka bring this out clearly:
If the creator of the world entire / they call God, of every being be the Lord / Why does he order such misfortune / And not create happiness but only discord?
If the creator of the world entire / They call God, of every being be the Lord / Why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance / And he such inequity and injustice create?
If the creator of the world entire / they call God, of every being be the Lord / Then an evil master is he, (O
Aritta) / Knowing what's right did let wrong prevail!
And hence the Buddha demonstrates that the three most common attributes of God, ie.
omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence are obviously incompatible with the existential fact of
dukkha (dissatisfaction and suffering.)
~ here, we are indebted to gotaro3.homestead.com
Buddhism does not
encourage the practice of religion in general.
It teaches that just as people with
different illnesses require the administration of different medications
so, too, do different groups of people benefit from different
does not seek converts.
encourage a questioning attitude.
does not elaborate on the existence
does accept everyone
does not exclude participants because
of their beliefs or doubts.
There is one exception: one cannot be
both a Buddhist and the member of any group that promotes harm to, or
practices the sacrifice of, any living being.
teach about karma, the Sanskrit for ‘activity'
but with the connotation of 'consequence'
does not believe in predestination
The fruits of one's own activity
determine results, not a final judgment.
It encourages people to fulfill
themselves and to overcome adversity and circumstance.
see the individual as a compilation of aspects
not as an indestructible, indivisible eternal soul
see the individual as part of a
does not encourage the attainment of siddhis,
or spiritual powers, for selfish
It promotes self-knowledge especially
through meditation, and by the application of various other
tried-and-true techniques. It encourages a
realistic attitude towards life, and a sensitive and compassionate
approach to relations with others.
teach moderation in
philosophy, as well as way of living
avoids extreme philosophical positions.
One champion of Buddhist philosophy is
Nagarjuna who taught madhyamaka (Middle Way) versus other
prominent teachers of his time such as Shankara who said there is an ultimate reality.
Buddhists do not hold that physical
reality exists absolutely, nor that it is purely illusion (maya).
Buddhism does not concern itself with the
moment of creation, but describes existence as a process of co-dependant
origination of phenomena.
In an exchange on Kagyu
email list, Aug. 2002, prompted by the oft-quoted, "We are not
physical beings having (or searching for) a spiritual experience, but
spirits having a physical one," there was a request for a definition of
spiritual being after A. wrote "Indeed, we ARE spirits,"
"... my definition is the higher self, non- physical attributes of who
we are in accumulation of our life
experiences (all lives, not just this one) in short, the essence of our being (which
is not defined by the physical body which we occupy.)"
J. was quick to respond:
"Your point-of-view is similar to that of many people and I think
... that [from the Buddhist perspective] it is a fundamentally incorrect
You are making a distinction between the physical form and the nonphysical attributes. Aren't our physical bodies the result of cause and effect like
everything else? And isn't that (karma) the accumulation of all our life experiences, not just this one?
Why is the 'spirit' the higher and the body the lower? Why is that the
essence of our being and how is our body not the essence of our being? What are the nonphysical attributes, actually? Aren't they subject to cause and
effect to cause and effect? Just as the body is?
Rather than talking about "spirit" which can't be defined and doesn't really exist, the Vajrayana teaches the 8 forms of consciousness.
Body (as in feeling) consciousness
The mind that interprets the first five consciousness[e]s
The consciousness that gives us the sense of I and me
The storehouse consciousness where karma is stored
As I understand it, the last 2 are what are reborn. ... . "
"Aside from the topic of Compassion, the topic of lack of inherent
existence of the self, as well as of phenomena, is the most widely and exhaustively covered topic in Buddhist thought.
(And of course, these two topics are inter-related.)
... . I would refer those interested in a basic understanding of the crux of
Buddhism to several books. First, Thrangu Rinpoche has a book about the 8, or
sometimes 9, (depends on the presentation,) consciousnesses.
Second, for anyone who feels that they possess or have an essential self, soul, or spirit, much study is necessary in order to really
understand the Buddhist [point of view] regarding this fundamental ignorance, which is the root of all suffering. This material is covered in
many, many books, and I would recommend that an interested person browse the Snow Lion catalog or website, for starters, and find
either a good solid introductory book on Buddhism, or any one of a number of books regarding
Emptiness. I know there are many out there.
Understanding emptiness is essential to all schools of Buddhism, and without a good working understanding, on an intellectual level, one
can't really embark on most of the other techniques available.
May we all realize the unborn empty and nonexistent nature of mind,
the basis of all samsara and nirvana, and cease clinging to our mistaken and habitual patterns of attachment to dualism and
In an interview with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, a lady who had
been raised as a Christian told him that although she had become a Buddhist, she still had a
sense of the presence of God and wondered what to make of it.
Rinpoche's reply was, "Just don't be too sure you know what
Khenpo Karthar also stated that a theist religion promoting virtuous
behavior can indeed help one to achieve a celestial rebirth, ie. go to
Heaven or Paradise, but it does not address the problem of the end of
suffering or escape from samsara.
Why Buddhists don't believe in God
V. L wrote, to the Kagyu email list:
First and foremost, Buddhism postulates that all phenomena are conditional and
impermanent. That is, any event has prior conditions and circumstances that made the event arise. If all phenomena are conditional, then this precludes
there being an absolute, unchanging God. It is simply a contradiction in terms.
Buddhists don't believe in souls or spirits as postulated by theistic religions. But we do believe that the mind of a sentient being and the
impressions left on the mind by the experiences gathered in life do continue on after death to take rebirth.
We have control, more or less depending on each person's abilities, to let go of a mental view and to adopt other mental perspectives. Ideally, we want to
train ourselves to have the perfect body, speech, and mind of a Buddha. But this can only be achieved by our own efforts. God can't "save" anyone. If he
(or she) could, we would already be saved. Similarly, Buddha can't save us either. Lord Buddha was so compassionate that if he could have saved us from
infinite lives of suffering, he would have done it already.
It seems that people who are trying to formulate a definition of the "essence" of "spirit" of a person are being confused with a person's projected
"personality." and a "personality" is nothing more than the sum of an individual's body, speech, and mind in a given lifetime.
Although Buddhism is a religion, it is also a psychology of how the mind works and time-proven methods to be liberated from mental perspectives that are
based on delusions.
Another person at the Kagyu email list:
"For me it was very strange to suddenly find myself
with no "God"-type being out there in the sky watching me and everyone else, and having created
us all, but instead to view everything as being dependently originated. To realize that karma created the circumstances, not some
[omnipresent being] in peoples' lives."
Still another added,
"I still find that in moments of great distress that I
WANT a God being who can or might fix things for me. It is quite difficult to have to remember that if Karma is ripening, it is too late. [But] My darling teacher (Garchen
Rinpoche) did tell me that I should/could pray to him anytime. So I do and that is comforting during the greatest pain.
[My lama] is very skillful and kind."
How to think of other religious traditions?
"All spiritual traditions, whether Buddhist or non-buddhist, differ in their forms in order to adapt to the abilities and faculties of all different kinds of people. All of them, however, work toward establishing beings on the path of well-being and liberation. Since they all derive from perfectly enlightened activity, without exception they merit our trust.
Several hundred religious traditions have manifested into this world. All of them
issue from enlightened spiritual activity arising from the complete realization of the
nature of mind. Every tradition works for the welfare of beings, according to their
Certain religious traditions allow us to regain birth in the first stages of a higher realms. Others in the divine realms of the world of pure form, or in the formless realms. Finally, some lead to the ultimate spiritual realization. But all of them teach us the necessary practices to prevent us from falling into lower realms of existence and to rise towards higher realms. All traditions offer spiritual strength and transformative power. In this sense, I have faith in all of them. "
~ Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche, "Realization of Mind as the Origin of all Traditions," Luminous Mind.
Virginia at the Kagyu email list:
I heard a a talk by the Dalai Lama a year ago on this very topic. His Holiness stated that
all religions have 2 main areas of focus: cosmology and ethics. The cosmology area tries
to explain how the universe started, where it came from, what is [its] nature, etc. The
ethics part tries to explain how humans should behave and relate to one another and to the
larger society and the environment in order to be happy.
In the area of cosmology, almost none of the religions agree, but in the area of ethics
almost all the religions agree on the fundamentals of emphasizing patience, honesty,
humility, tolerance, and forgiveness. Therefore, His Holiness concluded, that it was best
to not get into arguments about the differences, but to focus on the things that we have
in common with other religions. "
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