Author Topic: What Happens at Death?  (Read 3007 times)

redalert

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What Happens at Death?
« on: February 07, 2013, 11:39:13 PM »

 
by S. N. Goenka
 
To understand what happens at death, let us first understand what death is. Death is like a bend in a continuous river of becoming. It appears that death is the end of a process of becoming, and certainly it may be so in the case of an arahant (a fully liberated being) or a Buddha; but with an ordinary person this flow of becoming continues even after death. Death puts an end to the activities of one life, and the very next moment starts the play of a new life. On the one side is the last moment of this life and on the other side is the first moment of the next life. It is as though the sun rises as soon as it sets with no interval of darkness in between, or as if the moment of death is the end of one chapter in the book of becoming, and another chapter of life begins the very next moment.
 
Although no simile can convey the exact process, still one might say that this flow of becoming is like a train running on a track. It reaches the station of death and there, slightly decreasing speed for a moment, carries on again with the same speed. It does not stop at the station even for a moment. For one who is not an arahant, the station of death is not a terminus but a junction from where thirty-one different tracks diverge. The train, as soon as it arrives at the station, moves onto one or another of these tracks and continues. This speeding "train of becoming," fuelled by the electricity of the kammic reactions of the past, keeps on running from one station to the next, on one track or the other, a continuous journey that goes on without ceasing.
 
This changing of "tracks" happens automatically. As the melting of ice into water and the cooling of water to form ice happens according to laws of nature, so the transition from life to life is controlled by set laws of nature. According to these laws, the train not only changes tracks by itself, it also lays the next tracks itself. For this train of becoming the junction of death, where the change of tracks takes place, is of great importance. Here the present life is abandoned (this is called cuti--disappearance, death). The demise of the body takes place, and immediately the next life starts (a process which is called patisandhi-conception or taking up of the next birth). The moment of patisandhi is the result of the moment of death; the moment of death creates the moment of conception. Since every death moment creates the next birth moment, death is not only death, but birth as well. At this junction, life changes into death and death into birth.
 
Thus every life is a preparation for the next death. If someone is wise, he or she will use this life to the best advantage and prepare for a good death. The best death is the one that is the last, that is not a junction but a terminus: the death of an arahant. Here there will be no track on which the train can run further; but until such a terminus is reached, one can at least ensure that the next death gives rise to a good birth and that the terminus will be reached in due course. It all depends on us, on our own efforts. We are makers of our own future, we create our own welfare or misery as well as our own liberation.
 
How is it that we are the creators of the tracks that receive the onrushing train of becoming? To answer this we must understand what kamma (action) is.
 
The healthy or unhealthy volition of our mind is kamma. Before performing any action at the mental, vocal, or physical level, whatever wholesome or unwholesome volition arises in the mind is the root of that action. The consciousness arises due to a contact at a sense door, then the sanna (perception and recognition) evaluates the experience, sensations (vedana) arise, then a kammic reaction (sankhara) takes place. These volitional reactions are of various kinds. How strong is the volition? How slow, deep, shallow, heavy or light? According to this the intensity of these reactions will vary. Some are like a line drawn on water, some like a line drawn on sand and some a line on rock. If the volition is wholesome, then the action will be the same and the fruits will be beneficial; and if the volition is unwholesome, then the action will be the same-it will give fruits of misery.
 
Not all of these reactions result in a new birth. Some are so shallow that they do not give any substantial fruits. Some are a bit heavier but will be used up in this lifetime. They do not carry over into the next life. Others being still heavier continue with the flow of life into the next birth, but they themselves do not give new birth. Nevertheless they can continue to multiply during this life and the next. Many kammas however, are bhava-kammas, or bhava-sankharas, those that give a new birth, a new life. Each one of these bhava-kammas (actions that give rise to the process of becoming) carries a magnetic force that is in tune with the vibrations of a particular plane of existence. The vibrations of a particular bhava-kamma will unite with the vibrations of the bhava-loka (world, plane) that has the same intensity, and the two will attract each other according to the universal laws pertaining to forces of kamma.
 
As soon as one of these bhava-kammas is generated, this "railway train of becoming" gets attracted to one or the other of the thirty-one tracks at the station of death. Actually these thirty-one tracks are the thirty-one fields of existence. They are the eleven kama lokas (realms of sensuality: the four lower realms of existence, and the seven human and celestial realms); the sixteen rupa-brahma lokas (where fine material body remains), and the four arupa-brahma lokas (non-material realms, where only mind remains).
 
At the last moment of this life, a specific bhava-sankhara will arise. This sankhara capable of giving a new birth will get connected with the vibrations of the related realm of existence. At the moment of death the whole field of thirty-one realms is open, so it depends on which sankhara arises as to which track the train of existence runs on next. In the same way a train gets shunted onto a new track, the force of the bhava-kamma reaction provides the push to the flow of consciousness into the next existence. For example, the bhava-kamma of anger or malice, being of the nature of heat and agitation, will unite with some lower field of existence. Similarly, one with the nature of metta (compassionate love), having peaceful and cool vibrations can only unite with some brahma-loka. This is the law of nature, and these laws are so perfectly "computerized" that there is never any flaw in the operation.
 
At the moment of death, generally, some intense sankhara will arise; it may be either of a wholesome nature or an unwholesome nature. For example, if one has murdered one's father or mother, or perhaps some saintly person, in this lifetime, then the memory of this episode will arise at the moment referral_form.htmlLikewise if one has done some deep meditation practice, a similar state of mind will arise.
 
When there is no such dense bhava-kamma to arise, then a comparatively less dense kamma will arise. Whatever memory is awakened will manifest as the kamma. For example, one may remember a wholesome kamma of giving food to a saintly person, or one may remember killing someone. Reflections on such past kammas as these may arise. Otherwise, objects related to the particular kamma may arise. One may see the plate full of food that was offered as dana, or the gun that was used to kill another. These are called the kamma-nimittas (signs).
 
In another case, a sign or a symbol of the next life may appear. This is called gati-nimitta (departing sign). These nimmitas correspond to whichever bhava-loka the flow is being attracted towards, such as the scene of some celestial world, or perhaps of an animal world. The dying person will often experience one of these signs as a forewarning, just as the train's headlight illuminates the track ahead. The vibrations of these nimittas are identical to the vibrations of the plane of existence of the next birth.
 
A good Vipassana meditator has the capacity to avoid the tracks leading to the lower realms of existence. He clearly understands the laws of nature, and practises to keep himself ready for death at all times. If he has reached an advanced age, there is all the more reason to remain aware every moment. What preparations are undertaken? One practises Vipassana, remaining equanimous to whatever sensations arise on the body and thereby breaking the habit pattern of reacting to the unpleasant sensations. Thus the mind, which is usually generating new unwholesome sankharas, develops a new habit of remaining equanimous. Very often at the time of death, if there are no very heavy sankharas to arise, habitual reactions occur; and as the new sankhara is being made, an old one from the storehouse might get stirred up onto the surface, gaining in strength as it arises.
 
At the approach of death, it is very likely that one will experience very unpleasant sensations. Old age, disease and death are dukkha (misery). They produce unpleasant sensations of a grosser type. If one is not skilful in observing these sensations with equanimity, then one will be likely to react with feelings of anger, irritation, maybe malice, which provides an opportunity for a bhava-sankhara of like vibration to arise. However, as in the cases of some well developed meditators, one can work to avoid reacting to these i mmensely painful sensations by maintaining equanimity at the time of death. Then, even those related bhava-sankharas lying deep in the bhavanga (seat of birth-producing kamma) will not have an opportunity to arise. An ordinary person will usually remain apprehensive, even terror-stricken at the approach of death and thus will give occasion for a fearful bhava-sankhara to surface. In the same way, grief, sorrow, depression, and other feelings may arise at the thought of separation from loved ones, and the related sankhara will come up and dominate the mind.
 
A Vipassana meditator, by observing all his or her sensations with equanimity, weakens the sankhara and thus does not allow it to arise at the time of death. The real preparation for death is this: developing a habit pattern of repeatedly observing the sensations manifesting in the body and mind with equanimity and with the understanding of anicca.
 
At the time of death, this strong habit of equanimity will automatically appear and the train of existence will link up with a track on which it will be possible to practise Vipassana in the new life. In this way, one saves oneself from birth in a lower realm and attains one of the higher realms, which is very important because Vipassana cannot be practised in the lower realms.
 
A meditator who is on the point of death is fortunate to have close relatives or friends nearby who can help maintain a good Dhamma atmosphere, free from lamenting and gloom; people who can practise Vipassana and generate vibrations of metta, which are most favourable for a peaceful death.
 
At times a non-meditator will attain a favourable rebirth at the time of death due to the the manifestation of wholesome bhava-sankharas such as generosity, morality and other strong wholesome qualities. But the special achievement of an established Vipassana meditator is that he enables himself to attain an existence where he can continue to practise Vipassana. In this way, by slowly decreasing the stock of accumulated bhava-sankharas stored in the bhavanga of his flow of consciousness, one shortens one's journey of becoming and reaches the goal sooner.
 
One comes into contact with the Dhamma in this life because of great merits one has performed in the past. Make this human life successful by practising Vipassana. Then whenever death comes, it will come with the experience of an equanimous mind, bringing with it well-being for the future.
 
N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas.

garyblackhouse

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2013, 10:41:24 PM »
Quite fascinating. Thanks for posting, redalert.

Tomorrow I will attend burial of a cousin of mine who died after suffering a brain hemorrhage after giving birth to her 4th child earlier this week. It's interesting to observe my thoughts and sensations at this time and to date remain calm and equanimous, (tomorrow my emotions may run wild, but we'll see). It's also interesting that my evolution in this life began with strict Catholicism for 18 years, followed by an abandonment of the religion I was raised on, followed by a lot of anger and frustration due to these religious aspects of how I was raised, followed by drug abuse to (apparently) control these fears I had only generated within myself. And now, some time later, for whatever reason I stumbled upon this path, I can walk into a church like one I regularly attended growing up and be at peace in seeing a sign that reads "Life has no end. Just change."

Peace and metta.

redalert

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2013, 12:13:20 AM »
Hi Gary good to see you are using a funeral as a place for practice. Was your practice beneficial during this emotional event?

This practice has greatly reduced my fear of death, I no longer look at death as a finish but as an opportunity for a new beginning. My life before vipassana was about avoiding death now my life is spent observing death in all its forms. Everything has anicca.

garyblackhouse

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2013, 09:38:58 PM »
Hi Gary good to see you are using a funeral as a place for practice. Was your practice beneficial during this emotional event?

Practice was good during this time. Everyone around me was very distraught and confused, I felt quite calm and relaxed, I tried to help as much as I could. It was a sad happening and event, and it did tear me up at times, but this was also interesting to observe the body as emotions poured. I wanted to meditate at the home of the deceased after the wake, I've read about graveyard meditation and the likes. But I felt it rude to ask the husband, people here are very skeptical of any other way's of life that isn't Catholicism, but it's mostly down to stubbornness and ignorance. I thought the energy in the house that built up during the wake would've made for some strange sensations, but perhaps because I didn't ask I am not ready for that yet.

This practice has greatly reduced my fear of death, I no longer look at death as a nish but as an opportunity for a new beginning. My life before vipassana was about avoiding death now my life is spent observing death in all its forms. Everything has anicca.

That's very good to hear. I think death is a lot of peoples ultimate fear, it's certainly one of my biggest. I didn't know anything about Vipassana before I took a course, I didn't know anything about meditation at all for that matter, I'm glad it ended up being about the exact occurrence of life and death and viewing them in a calm and peaceful manner. I'm over-coming my fears slowly. May you continue strengthen your practice and stare death in the face also.  :)

Mpgkona

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2013, 12:30:40 AM »
For me, I dont fear death itself, but I do fear dying. Death is an unknown phenomenon for everyone, so I dont think its possible to fear death itself, but what people do fear is that unknown. What I fear is the moment of death itself, and how and when I will die. I dont fear not existing anymore though. My ultimate fear is dying before my kids are ready to take on the world by themselves. After that happens Im ok with whatever.
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2013, 04:31:28 PM »
how can one have all these experiences before death?


garyblackhouse

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2013, 05:43:18 PM »
how can one have all these experiences before death?

Good question and a valid point. It's certainly not possible for me to believe him, but his views are interesting none-the-less as he's a very experienced meditator. He'd be the first one to say experience deep levels/realms yourself before you take his word as the truth.

Peace.  :)

Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2013, 07:41:38 PM »
even though i have only attended goenka-ji retreats and practice vipassana as he teaches and also come from a hindu background its still hard for me to accept these things. so il remember all this and continue with practice. if when i die all this happens i can remember it back.  ;D

i wish i get a life with vipassana in all my lifes from now.  :P

redalert

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2013, 09:25:34 PM »
Hey siddarthgode, what exactly do you have a hard time accepting?

Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2013, 05:29:51 PM »
all these past and future lifes, flow of consciousness, sangharas from past life taking effect now , all these things.

redalert

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2013, 12:53:09 AM »
Past and future lives to me are happening on a moment to moment basis, Every moment we are being reborn and the quality of mind that we posess at this moment determines the realm of existence we are to be reborn in, and so on, and so on, and so on. This is the practice of vipassana to me, observing this process occuring and developing equaminity to this.

If you think in terms of this life only(sidartgodes life) then the past stock of sankharas are from your past conditioning from your time of birth. It is unimportant to think in terms of your previous lives(before siddarthgode) as you probably have no recolection of it and it is not helpful to worry about your future births as they have not occured. Practice NOW and make this life the happiest it can be, purify this mind you carry NOW and this will be helpful in the future.

Experience this flow of consciousness(eternal life) and practice to live each moment in the present.

I hope this is not to confusing :)

Mpgkona

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2013, 05:35:14 AM »
Sorry to go back to the beginning of the thread but I have a question about Goenkas last thought:

Goenka "N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas."

So from Goenkas school of thought in relation to this quote, there really is no "next life." Once YOU are gone, you're gone. Only the energy or force of your kamma lingers and is passed on. Just to play devils advocate here: if this is true then it really doesn't matter what you do in this life because someone else is going to pick up your sankharas when they're born. This is a pretty dismal thought in my opinion. Or am I misinterpreting Goenka here? Is this the general Buddhist notion of rebirth, or is purely a Goenka thing? I don't mean to begin a Goenka war here, I'm just curious as to other Buddhist perspectives of Samsara.

When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2013, 09:46:01 AM »
Sorry to go back to the beginning of the thread but I have a question about Goenkas last thought:

Goenka "N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas."

So from Goenkas school of thought in relation to this quote, there really is no "next life." Once YOU are gone, you're gone. Only the energy or force of your kamma lingers and is passed on. Just to play devils advocate here: if this is true then it really doesn't matter what you do in this life because someone else is going to pick up your sankharas when they're born. This is a pretty dismal thought in my opinion. Or am I misinterpreting Goenka here? Is this the general Buddhist notion of rebirth, or is purely a Goenka thing? I don't mean to begin a Goenka war here, I'm just curious as to other Buddhist perspectives of Samsara.
well YOU is the bag of sangharas.

redalert

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #13 on: March 01, 2013, 12:37:38 PM »
Sorry to go back to the beginning of the thread but I have a question about Goenkas last thought:

Goenka "N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas."

So from Goenkas school of thought in relation to this quote, there really is no "next life." Once YOU are gone, you're gone. Only the energy or force of your kamma lingers and is passed on. Just to play devils advocate here: if this is true then it really doesn't matter what you do in this life because someone else is going to pick up your sankharas when they're born. This is a pretty dismal thought in my opinion. Or am I misinterpreting Goenka here? Is this the general Buddhist notion of rebirth, or is purely a Goenka thing? I don't mean to begin a Goenka war here, I'm just curious as to other Buddhist perspectives of Samsara.

I agree with this it really doesnt matter about the future it has not happened yet, what is important is NOW and the quality of life you experience NOW. By practicing this technique you can purify the mind NOW and be happier, and a by-product of this will be a reduction in samsaras suffering. So it does matter what we do in this life, if we act unskillfully we create self and self suffers.

Vivek

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Re: What Happens at Death?
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2013, 05:11:45 AM »
Quote
if this is true then it really doesn't matter what you do in this life because someone else is going to pick up your sankharas when they're born. This is a pretty dismal thought in my opinion.
Mpgkona, in reality, there is no "you" or "someone else". But there is a continuity of the seeming individuality from one life to another, because of the stock of sankharas and being subject to the law of cause-and-effect (called in short as causality or causation). And since, there are sankharas, the flow of consciousness continues. Because of flow of consciousness, there is continuous arising of mind and matter. Because there is mind-and-matter arising, there arises the six sense-doors. Because there are six sense-doors, there is bound to be contact with the sense-objects. Because there is contact, sensations arise. Because there are sensations, there arises craving (and aversion). Because there arises craving, there arises clinging. Because there is this craving and aversion, the suffering exists. I didn't mean to explain the whole chain of dependent arising, but my point is that there is no ego or self involved anywhere in the chain. This continuous cycle of becoming gives the illusion of an individual entity or separate self and this illusion continues life after life.

When you say "it really doesn't matter what you do..." it will matter as long as there is a "you" who perceives the suffering in "your" life. The end of suffering (or Nibbana) IS the end of "you". What "you" do in this life, will matter to the "you" in the next.
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

 

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