What do Buddhists believe happens after death?

What do Buddhists believe happens after death?


Simply, the mind continues, because as we’ve discussed
in previous times, the mind is a stream of awareness, which is not generated
from physical causes. And so although the, as it
were, the hotel of the body collapses at the moment of death, collapses as a suitable kind of receptacle for the stream of consciousness, the stream of consciousness travels on. Therefore, what happens, as it were, to that stream is dependent,
to a large extent upon what are the imprints,
the karmic imprints, that come to dominate
at the time of death. Those are the drivers that push
the stream of consciousness towards rebirth. That is
to say, if one hasn’t, as it were, cut through that chain of karmic impressions
through developing wisdom, transcendental wisdom in one’s life, then one is still
subject to its influence, and the mind, therefore,
will be driven on to rebirth. But immediately at the time of death, the mind experiences a kind
of gap, a kind of space or gap between the moment of
death, of one lifetime, and the arising into the next life, within one of the samsaric realms. And we call this, a Tibetan term for this is bardo, an intermediate state. Actually, there’s an
intermediate state here and now, present in this very moment,
even in this so-called, kind of, embodied life. The bardo is merely the
presence of ultimate reality, which was there at all times and which is most evident in
the space between thoughts that can sometimes arise for us, in meditation, or sometimes
through other kind of interruptions in the normal kind of flow of conceptualisation. The bardo is also present, in a manifest way, at the time of falling asleep, in the period between falling asleep and the dream state, the
dreams beginning to manifest. So, when we talk about the bardo, the gap between death and rebirth, or more properly, reconception, we should understand this is not going to some heavenly realm or
going to some kind of god place or meeting a god or something, it is actually just the mind resolving into its own fundamental nature, which we call the luminosity
or the clear light. But it’s there at all
times, this clear light, this basic luminosity, as I say, at all times even now, if we
could but just recognise it. So, in that sense, the process
of death is just simply that, just mind temporarily settling in its unconditioned, actual nature. Now, if we can recognise that nature, that clear light nature at the moment of, the full moment of death,
then liberation is possible, which has come about, the possibility of recognising it, depends
upon how much we’ve trained in meditation during life. If we are not able to
settle in the clear light as it shines, as it radiates
at the moment of death, inevitably, the karmic imprints which are accompanying the
stream of consciousness will begin to become
active in the death state, in the postmortem state. And then, out of the
stirring into activity of the karmic impressions will
come the various experiences, hallucinatory experiences that
one has in the bardo realm. But if we can recognise those appearances of lights and rays and drops and so on, if we can recognise them as nothing more than the radiance of our mind, simply, the kind of energetic manifestation
of the radiance of mind, then again, recognition
of the true nature of mind is possible, and with that, liberation, and with that, Buddhahood. But if we are not able, due to the heavy, heavy dominance of our karmic imprints, if we’re not able to recognise
these manifestations as simply the mind, then, inevitably, we’re driven on towards rebirth. It’s as if the karmic imprints
become heavier and heavier in their influence in
the after death state, and that inevitably brings us to rebirth. And rebirth into whatever
realm is kind of, as it were, in tune with
those dominant karmic imprints that are manifesting then. It’s important to realise that actually, there are countless karmic imprints that are accompanying the mindstream, but they don’t all become
dominant after death. It’s the ones that become dominant which will force us on to
the appropriate rebirth. So if we have the karmic imprints which were in tune with human life, through prior practice of humane qualities such as virtue, we’re likely to be reborn into the human realm,
but if other imprints become dominant at that
time, we will be drawn into those other realms. Again, I should stress,
there’s no God directing this, there’s nobody in charge of it, there’s no after death police force, there’s no after death
immigration service, you are just pushed on, as indeed we are in this life. We’re pushed into various actions and various ways of thinking by the influence of these
unacknowledged karmic imprints that we carry with us right now. And only by decisively looking
into the nature of mind do we cut through these imprints. So we should be training
for the bardo, so to speak, right now and even if
we’re unable to achieve full liberation during this life, it will mean that it is much easier to do so at the time of the bardo.

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