We know that once dead, the physical body starts to decompose. The question is, then, what is it that remains? What is ,eternal'? What continues after death?
Indeed, i had pointed made that there is no evidence to support the view that once we die nothing remains of our existence. That is, we refuted the 'doctrine of annihilation'. But there is also no evidence that there is an unchanging ,soul', distinct from our physical body, which continues eternally. In other words, as the refutation of the 'doctrine of eternity' points out, there is no spirit-like substance that flits about hither and yon after death.
Nonetheless, it seems many people think that Buddhism ascribes to this idea of an eternal soul in its view of life after death. And it often comes as quite a surprise to them to hear that Buddhism in fact rejects this view.
If not a soul, then just what continues on after death? This is a difficult question.
Our Late Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda would often say that upon death our lives fuse with the universe. It's not a matter of there being a soul; rather, our life, as an entity of the oneness of body and mind, returns to the universe. The universe itself is one great living entity. It is a vast ocean of life. It nurtures all things, gives all things life, enables them to function. When things die, they return again to its embrace, and receive new vitality.
There is a boundless and overflowing ocean of life which is always in motion. As it moves and changes, it enacts the rhythm of life and death. Our individual lives are like waves produced from the great ocean that is the universe; the emergence of a wave is 'life', and its abatement is 'death'. This rhythm repeats eternally.
This is true not only of the lives of people. Nichiren Daishonin says, 'No phenomena - heaven or earth, Yin or Yang, the sun or the moon, the five planets', or any life-condition from Hell to Buddhahood - are free from birth and death' (Major Writings, Vol. 1, pp. 21-2). 'Heaven or earth, Yin or Yang, the sun or the moon, the five planets' refers to the realm of celestial bodies. Stars also experience birth and death. They have a life span. The Milky Way was born and it, too, will die; its life is limited. The laws of birth and death dictate this. The same holds true in the realm of the microscopic - each of the Ten Worlds(or states of Life) from Hell to Buddhahood, making up the Dharma World, experiences birth and death.
All things in the universe weave an eternal rhythm of life and death. What, then, is the state after death in which one 'fuses with the universe' like?
Perhaps we could start by looking at the 'Cautions on the Moment of Death' (Rinju Yojin Sho). As the title suggests, this document, which is a record of sermons delivered by Nichikan Shonin (1665-1726),a scholar of Nichiren Buddhism, contains a number of things to bear in mind at the time of one's death.
These include, for example, 'People who are intoxicated should not come near the sick person', and 'The person should not be surrounded by large numbers of boisterous people'.' What this basically means is that one must take care not to interrupt the dying person's tranquillity.
Our ichinen, or frame of mind, at the moment of death is a major determinant of which of the Ten Worlds in the universe our life will enter. Therefore, Nichikan Shonin warns that every precaution should be taken to ensure that the dying person can single-mindedly focus on the Mystic Law.
To enable the person to concentrate on the Mystic Law, he advises against such things as placing items of sentimental value nearby to which the sick person might feel a strong attachment, or engaging in discussion which may arouse feelings of anxiety or causing them to become excited.'
He also says, 'Even after the person has stopped breathing, you should continue chanting daimoku by the ear of the deceased'. That's because, he explains, 'even after death the fundamental mind remains'.' Even though, in Nichikan Shonin's day, the cessation of breathing was held to constitute the moment of death, he asserts that for a while thereafter the 'fundamental mind' remains.
This suggests that the transition from life to death does not take place in a single instant, but occurs gradually.Death is seen as a process that continues over a certain period of time.
In terms of the physical body, that process involves a transformation from 'sentience' to 'insentience'. In the course of this process, the possibility exists that, due to some circumstance, the person may return towards life.
But it seems that once a certain stage is passed, that is no longer possible. The near-death experiences involve people who were at the stage when it was still possible to return. After passing the point at which return to life is no longer possible, the person finally proceeds towards complete death. This may be the point that has since ancient times been described in Buddhism as the ,river of three crossings'.' Just what takes place when a living entity makes the transition from 'life' to 'death'? Buddhism, after all, views the physical and spiritual functions of a living entity as a ,temporary union'.
This is what Buddhism referred to as the 'temporary union of the five components'. Of the five components, form indicates the physical dimension of life. And perception, conception, volition and consciousness indicate life's spiritual functions.
[Perception is the spiritual function that enables one to take in stimuli from the external world via the 'six sense organs' - the five sense organs plus mind, which integrates the impressions of the five senses. Conception is the function of creating mental ideas about what has been perceived. Volition is the spiritual function to take some action based on conception. And consciousness is the fundamental spiritual activity that integrates the functions of perception, conception and volition.]
Life has the power to harmoniously fuse these physical and spiritual functions. It harmonizes them, unifies them, and enables proactive engagement with respect to the external world. Certainly, viewed strictly in terms of the physical aspect, our bodies are an amalgam of materials existing in the universe.
According to one source, the cells of the human body number sixty trillion. As they age, old cells are constantly being replaced by new ones. In other words, life and death is taking place constantly on the cellular level. Here we see once again the laws of birth and death at work.
At the same time, a single living entity strictly integrates and governs these cells allowing itself to carry out activity. When death approaches, the integrative power of life is lost and the five components, which have hitherto been held in a state of temporary union, disintegrate. Life's physical and spiritual functions subsequently recede into latency, and the union of the five elements is also lost.
Nichikan Shonin's 'Cautions on the Moment of Death' says, 'When the wind of the "devil of extinction" enters the body, the bone and flesh separate'. This seems to suggest that the dying person senses a wind passing through the body as the five elements all go their separate ways. The annals of near-death experiences in fact include such accounts. The distress that one experiences at that time is termed the ,suffering of death'. Nichikan Shonin says of the suffering of death, 'If a person has accumulated good karma, he will not suffer a great deal'.
Now, the question of what it is that continues after death. Specifically, Buddhism explains the concept of 'selflessness', denying the existence of a soul after death. It teaches that there is no 'self' that lives as an eternally unchanging entity. At the same time, it teaches that life continues after death, and in a qualified sense recognizes the concept of transmigration. We need to consider whether these two views are contradictory.
This is a very old question that has been posed since the dawn of Buddhism. I would just like to note that the concept of non-substantiality and the investigations of the Consciousness-Only school involve a close awareness of this issue.
What continues after death? Shakyamuni's conclusion is that karma continues. Our circumstances in our present life are the effect of our past actions (karma), and our actions in the present determine the circumstances of our lives in the future. In other words, the influence of our actions is carried on from one existence to the next transcending life and death.
Karma, as indicated by the concept of the three categories of action - namely thoughts, words and deeds - means both physical and spiritual activity. What we have done, what we have said, what we have thought - the consequences of all these actions continue into the future unabated. When you think about it, this is an extremely strict perspective on causality.
Essentially, it is the energy of karma that continues beyond birth and death. The mention of energy calls to mind the principle of the conservation of energy, a law of physics which holds that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. While thermal energy may change into kinetic energy, and potential energy may turn into electrical energy, energy cannot suddenly be produced from nothing. Nor can existing energy simply disappear. It only changes from.Even matter is nothing more than a stable form of energy. From that standpoint, some claim that energy is the ultimate reality.
Rene Huyghe discusses this in his important work Formes et forces (Forms and Forces).` According to Huyghe, there is a dynamic of form and energy operating on all levels of existence. from the atomic to the universal. And the high-level spiritual activity of artistic creation is no exception.
He proposes that, through some function, force produces a stable form. Should the energy contained in the form remain active, it will eventually take another form or will return to a state of 'pure' force. In terms of the three truths of Buddhism, 'force' represents the truth of nonsubstantiality, and 'form' the truth of temporary existence.
So with respect to life and death, we can say that 'life' is when the energy of karma temporarily assumes a fixed form, and 'death' is when the form breaks down and becomes one with the life-current of the universe as a flow of pure energy.
Generally speaking, that comparison is probably an apt one. Of course, 'form' changes continually from moment to moment.Along the lines of the principle of conservation of energy, we might be able to speak loosely of a 'principle of conservation of karma'. I find it deeply intriguing that Huyghe identifies wave motion as an important factor in energy's transformation into form. He postulates that form is determined by the various wave, vibratory and rhythmic attributes of force. This is based on well-known experiments in cymatics [sound therapy].
Cymatics experiments involve imparting a fixed vibration to liquids, or to dust or metal shavings spread over a disc-shaped surface. When a certain frequency is reached, the particles describe a particular pattern on the surface. The patterns include those of helices, snails, dendriforms or tree-like patterns, hexagons and scales.
They also often manifest the shapes of such organic substances as sprigs of coral, broad beans, shells, fish skeletons, turtle shells, and the hexagonal loculi of a beehive. Based on these experiments, Huyghe speculates that all matter is made up of energy and a particular vibration or rhythm. His insight is that each living entity may have a particular 'vibratory reality'."
Of course, the energy of karma is different from physical energy. It is latent life-energy that influences both physical and spiritual aspects of our being. So we should always remember that this is merely an analogy for helping us understand the true nature of life and death.
This karmic energy is said to continue, transcending life and death. Since there is both positive karma and negative karma, the circumstances of each living entity's present existence is determined by its karmic energy of both good and evil from previous existences.
The present 'form' of our life is determined by an equilibrium of positive and negative energies. As an effect of this karmic energy a person might, for example, be born with superior intelligence or good looks. Because this is an effect that appears in the subject, it is termed a 'life effect'. By contrast, to be born, for example, in a home that is the scene of constant fighting is an ,environmental effect'.
The karmic energy that sustains our lives does not all become manifest at once in the present. But sooner or later that energy will produce some kind of effect, though it may not be until a future lifetime. In terms of the the question is how this karmic energy continues after death.
I think the doctrine of the nine consciousnesses speaks most aptly to this subject. The Consciousness-Only doctrine clarifies the interior dimension of human life to such an extent that it has had an important influence on modern psychology. In the first place, it resolves the seeming contradiction between the view of the self as empty and the concept of transmigration.
Of the nine consciousnesses, the first five, which are based on the so-called 'five stems' (of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body) correspond to the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. These are functions of perception and awareness. The sixth consciousness integrates these five consciousnesses into coherent images; it is the function of intelligence to make inferences and judgments about things. It is primarily with this sixth consciousness that we perform our daily activities.
Going further, we come to the seventh or nano-consciousness and the eighth or alaya-consciousness, which corresponds to the realm of the so-called subconscious. The eighth consciousness ensures the continuity of karma from one lifetime to the next.
The functions of all the consciousnesses up through the seventh consciousness cease upon death. But the alaya-consciousness continues to function over the three existences of past, present and future. The original meaning of the Sanskrit term alaya is 'storehouse' or ,repository'. Since it is where karma is stored, it is also known as the ,storehouse consciousness'.Incidentally, it is said that the word Himalaya is a combination of hima or snow, and alaya or storehouse. All of our karma accumulates in the alaya-consciousness as though in a storehouse. Both good karma and bad karma are stored there like seeds in a granary. The term 'storehouse' conjures up the image of an actual structure into which things of substance can be placed. But in fact it may be more accurate to say that the life-current of karmic energy itself constitutes the eighth consciousness. A Buddhist text likens the eighth consciousness to a 'rushing stream'.
Moreover, the eighth consciousness transcends the boundaries of the individual and interacts with the karmic energy of others. On the inner dimension of life, this latent karmic energy merges with the latent energy of one's family, one's ethnic group, and humankind, and also with that of animals and plants. That's why the human revolution(or inner transformation) of one person also changes the destiny of the person's family and society. A positive change in the karmic energy in the depths of one person's life becomes a cogwheel for change in the karma in the lives of others.
There are methods for changing the karmic energy in one's life from 'negative' to 'positive' through steadily accumulating good causes. But in reality that is not practical; sooner or later we are liable to do something that erases the good causes we have made, just as in piling up stones we can only get so high before we upset what we have worked to create. That is particularly so in an age when society, to its very depths, is swirling with negative energy.
By contrast, the Lotus Sutra, the highest Buddha's teaching and the core of Mahayana philosophy, teaches how by activating the ninth consciousness, which lies at the utmost depths of our being and is fundamentally free of impurity, we can at once change both the negative and positive karmic energy in our life into ,supremely positive' energy. The ninth consciousness is the universal life that underlies the eighth consciousness and every other facet of our being.
The concept of 'eternal Buddha' of the 'Life Span' (sixteenth) chapter [Lotus sutra] could be called an expression in human form of this fundamentally pure consciousness that is without beginning or end. When we activate this fundamentally pure consciousness, the energy of good and evil karma in our life is all directed towards value creation; and the mind or consciousness of our ethnic group and of humankind is infused with the life-current of compassion and wisdom.
So, 'life after death' means that the life-current of karma, in a state of non-substantiality, merges with the universal life. Since it is nonsubstantial, it is neither existence nor non-existence. Nor can it be said to exist in one particular place in the universe or another. Rather, it becomes one with the life of the universe in its entirety.
President Toda put it this way: 'The life of your grandfather and your grandmother exist in the universe. But that doesn't mean that they are out there somewhere holding hands. They're there, it's just that there's no way of pinpointing a single location for them'.
Since they are in no particular place in the universe, you cannot say simply that they exist. On the other hand, they will be born again in response to the appropriate causes; so you cannot say that they do not exist either. Life after death transcends the concepts of both existence and nonexistence.
This might seem to defy common sense, but we in fact find similar concepts in areas of physics such as quantum mechanics. The fact that light has properties both of a wave and of a particle seems to fly in the face of our ordinary way of thinking. This is because it's contradictory to say that something is both a wave and a particle. It confounds logic that light has properties of both, sometimes displaying properties of a wave and sometimes those of a particle.
President Toda used the analogy of radio waves to explain life in the state of non-substantiality In this day and age, it may make more sense to use the example of televisions.
Radio waves of various wavelengths from broadcast stations in many different countries crisscross the world. When you take a television receiver and tune it to the wavelength of the broadcast you want to receive, you are able to hear sound and see images. Through the 'relation' or 'external cause' of the receiver, the silent and invisible waves become audible sounds and visible images. It could be said that this represents the transformation of the wavelengths from 'death' to 'life'.
The broadcaster breaks down sounds and images into various streams of data and transmits them as radio waves. Through the television receiver they are reconstituted and the original sounds and images reappear. Although the sound and image are broken down into unintelligible signals, the original composite is later reconstituted and reappears. This seems analogous to the temporary union of the five components.
We are born with a body and mind (a 'life effect') and in an environment (an 'environmental effect') that matches our own karmic energy. Of course, life and environment are in fact inseparable. For they both are manifestations (effects) of our own karmic energy.
President Toda often used the example of the Japanese board game 'Go' to explain the transition from death to life. In an important title match between two masters, a single game can take as long as two days to complete. If on the first day there is no winner, the play is suspended. This corresponds to the moment of death. But on the following day, the match is resumed with the stones laid out exactly as they had been at the end of play the day before. This corresponds to the 'next life'. There is continuity. We aren't born with a blank slate; rather, we continue where we left off. That's why the expression 'to be born anew` is something of a misnomer.
President Toda emphasized this point, saying, 'We don't say that a stick of incense or a cigarette is 'reborn' when we relight them. They simply resume burning from the point where they had stopped before. When we die and are reborn, our life, just as it is, continues'. 'This very body continues on', he added, thumping his chest for emphasis. In other words, he was saying that the continuity of our life, consisting of an entity of body and mind, is not impeded by our going through death and rebirth.
At any given moment our life is in one of the Ten Worlds. President Toda compared the differences between the Ten Worlds to the differences between various wavelengths, calling them differences in 'life wavelength'.
The Ten Worlds also exist in the great life of the universe. If a person's state of life at the last moment is that of the world of Hell, then the person's life fuses with the world of Hell in the universal life; if they are in Rapture, their life fuses with the world of Rapture (Heaven).
In other words, it merges with the world in the universal life whose wavelength matches that of our own life wavelength. Life wavelength - that reminds me of Huyghe's comment, introduced earlier, that all matter ultimately is composed of energy and a particular rhythm.
As to the manner in which our lives fuse with the universe, even though we speak of the Ten Worlds inherent in the universal life, they do not, as we have discussed previously, exist as actual places somewhere in the universe. It's not the case, for example, that the eight cold hells lie beyond Pluto, or that the world of Rapture is next to Venus. Rather, they permeate the entirety of the universal life.Whether we are speaking of the world(or states of life) of Hell, or the world of Rapture, or the world of Buddhahood, each pervades the entire universe. This is a point we covered in discussing the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds.
When our being becomes one with the world corresponding to our state of life at the moment of death, we become one with the entire universe. For precisely this reason, as long as the appropriate external cause exists. there is no restriction on when and where in the universe we can reappear. And we are reborn with the body and mind and in the environment that is most suited to us.
President Toda said of this life that pervades the entire universe, 'At some stage, life comes to concentrate in one part of the universe. It is then that it is born as a living being'. Isn't he saying that when the proper external cause is present, our life, which pervades the universe, instantaneously becomes concentrated in one particular place and manifests as a discrete living entity?
At the same time, we should bear in mind that 'pervading the entire universe' does not indicate that life is expansive, and existing in a life-form as tiny as the head of a pin does not mean that life is small and narrow.
In the Nichiren Buddhist writings:, 'On the Ultimate Teaching Affirmed by All Buddhas of Past, Present and Future' (Sanze Shobutsu Sokanmon Kyoso Hairyu), the Daishonin says, 'Although it [the true entity of life] can fit inside a mustard seed, the seed does not expand, nor does life contract. Although it fills the vastness of space, space is not too wide, nor is life too small' (Gosho Zenshu, p. 563).
In other words, it's not a matter of something widely spread out over infinite space suddenly becoming concentrated in a discrete location. After death and before rebirth, life is in a state of latency; it is not dispersed. Since the entire universe is one living entity, a life that is one with the universe is never distant and can manifest anywhere in an instant.