#2: Life after death

12 January 2010 - 5:46pm Comments Off

Death, as an end-all, can give one a sense of relief. Some of us may have experienced people who are dying or suffering from incurable diseases, who are wishing for death to come.

This wish is also shared by those who take their own lives for both logical and illogical reasons.

However there is also a large group, religious or otherwise, who believe in life after death. By this, it can mean a belief in future lives, or at least a concern about where we will go after death.

Since the dawn of civilisation, mankind has been fascinated by death and life thereafter. The question of what happens after we die has never been answered satisfactorily, primarily due to a lack of definitive evidence to prove or disprove it.

Many things in our world can be established through the scientific approach. Powerful as it may be, we must not be limited by only one method – even science is only as good as its observer and has proven to be fallible.

Buddhism teaches clever methods of verifying objects via valid reasoning (or logic – direct and inferential) and observation. If we see smoke, we can be certain there is fire; if we see lightning and hear thunder, we can be certain of rain. If we check carefully, many of the things we have come to accept were established in this way. We did not require them to go through scientific testing to believe in their existence or occurence.

The second method is by observing an object’s natural behaviour and signs. For example, everything about an elephant does not point to it being able to fly. Who ever needed to put an elephant through a wind tunnel test to disprove this point?

There are many compelling accounts of life beyond the grave, and many books on reincarnation which have the testimony and acceptance from authorities with scientific and religious backgrounds.

From a Buddhist view, more important than a simple belief in future lives is to know where we will be reborn, and how we can have some control of this process so that we will be reborn favourably. Buddhists are taught the six realms of existence where one can be reborn into. There are three fortunate realms such as the god, demi god and human realms where there are more experiences of happiness. There are three lower ones such as the animal, ghosts and hell realms where suffering is dominant. The urgency is not to find ourselves trapped in any of the lower three realms. ‘Trapped’ here means once we are there, it is very difficult to get out.

Hence Buddha, in his great compassion, prescribed instructions and methods on how we can protect ourselves from the dangers of going down. If we cannot have more happiness, the least we can do to help ourselves is to be free from suffering.

The great masters told us that we can experience and observe all the six realms even in our present life.

People who are trapped in a burning house or car, are not very different from beings in the hot hells. People who cannot find food during disasters or wartimes, who are trapped in collapsed buildings or are ailing with throat cancers; these people are like hungry spirits craving for food, touch and warmth but will have extreme difficulty in getting them. Those who are consumed by revenge, hatred and commit acts of atrocities and cruelty are like animals.

How can we protect ourselves from the danger of being reborn in these suffering states?

We do not know what actions and objects bring happiness and are the causes of good rebirths. Due to this ignorance, knowingly and unknowingly we continue creating causes which bring suffering and which drag us into future states of misery.

Dreams are also indicators of where we will be heading.

If we are constantly plagued by nightmares and have dreams of being chased or pressed down by ghosts, these dreams are bringing forward a glimpse of our future rebirths in the ghost and hell realms.

Right now, very few of us know how to ensure this will not happen. If we go down, we will have to undergo countless future lives in such woeful states.

Just think for a moment what it would be like to wake up from our sleep and find ourselves born as a worm in a pile of manure? What are the prospects?

We need to seek refuge from those who know the methods. They must have the qualities and authority which we can rely upon completely for help.

Reflecting and contemplating on the above counters one of our biggest fallacies – thinking we will always be enjoying human rebirths.

For those who are still not convinced about the dangers of falling into lower realms of rebirth, please remember this warning comes from the Awakened One – the Buddha – who has a reputation of never having lied.

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