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Do Buddhists believe in Life After Death?   No.

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.


The Buddhist Distinction

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 of origins.   

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 

         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  religions.

     does not seek converts.

encourage a questioning attitude. 

    does not elaborate on the existence of God

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 community     

does not encourage the attainment of siddhis, or spiritual powers, for selfish ends.    

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.


Spirituality ?

  • 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," adding that 

"... 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 view." 

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.  They are:

Eye consciousness
Ear consciousness
Nose consciousness
Tongue 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.  ... . "

C. elucidates:

"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 conceptuality!"


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 God is!"

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 particular needs.

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. "

  • The Buddha and His Dhamma by B. R. Ambedkar, Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta.

  • His Holiness Karmapa in Dharamsala, Feb 22, 2000 said:

    "Christianity is one of the religions offering guidance for all human beings, leading them to a state of peace and love and helping others through compassionate mind and activity. It is an important religion that brings immense benefit and is sure to lead individuals to the ultimate goal. In this gathering there are many people from the West and we are all like one family, some are taller with many different life styles but all of humanity is basically the same, with not much difference. His Holiness welcomes all of you, as the same family. 

    May all in this gathering have prosperity and fulfill all positive wishes for all humanity by contemplating the meaning of life, in order to help all sentient beings. His Holiness will pray that you will all, and in particular the younger generations, have a very important role to help to preserve the culture and religion of our unique histories. This has to be pursued diligently, as we have the responsibility to benefit beings and make our life meaningful."

[Is there a Creator?] [ Indian Philosophical Views ]

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