The suttas in the book ‘What happens after death? clearly specify wise reasons as to why beings are born as they are and what happens after death
Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera
As humans, curiosity is a part of our being. Throughout our lives, every one of us will find an urge to know what can’t be known, to discover what others haven’t yet found and to realise the most impossible things before anyone else. One of the questions that we will retain at the back of our minds, for which we might not have found a solution, is ‘What happens after death?’
Merits and demerits
Today’s world, as with all other seemingly unresolvable problems, has come up with various theories to this question. Many believe that there is a next life and that there is a soul that passes on from this life to another, either to ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’. And some believe that there is no life after death and that after death you simply cease to exist. Buddhism, however, has a completely different outlook on what happens after death. As Buddhists we believe that there is an endless journey of birth and death known as ‘Sansara’. We leave one life and move on to the next depending on our ‘Kamma’- meaning the merits and demerits collected from either doing wholesome or unwholesome deeds. Beings that have succeeded in doing more wholesome than unwholesome deeds will be able to move onto a birth in a good destination-such as one of the heavenly worlds, or the human world. Beings who have done more unwholesome than wholesome deeds will find themselves being born in one of the bad destinations –such as hell or the realm of ghosts. But, those beings that follow the Buddha’s path wholeheartedly put an end to the endless journey of birth and death once and for all.
As ordinary human beings we live our lives as we please. Most people will go to school, and then to university, find employment, get married, raise children and then look after their grandchildren, before eventually passing away. Many will commit unwholesome deeds without a second thought, may it be killing living beings or stating false facts. The vast majority of human beings are unaware of the consequences of what they think or do throughout their lives. Their only focus on life is indulgence in sensual pleasures. What is overlooked is the impermanent nature of these pleasures and happiness. No matter how real it feels and how good it feels as we live in the moment of pleasure the bitter truth is it doesn’t last. All that we find comforting will be lost over the period of time, whether it would be over a few years or within a split second, depending on how long we are going to live. What is apparent is most people in the world are ignorant of the truth of impermanence. At the moment of death they fail to let go of things that they held dear to their hearts. According to Buddhism this is the worst way to pass away.
Meditating with a concentrated mind
As humans we should be guided by moral principles. Which is why all Buddhists should try to uphold the five precepts which are abstaining from; killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, telling lies and taking intoxicating drinks and drugs. As Buddhists, we should strive to do as much wholesome deeds as we can. The activities that bring us merits are giving alms (with a pure and generous heart), meditating with a concentrated mind or listening to suttas of the Dhamma and properly understanding their concepts. One of the most important things that the Supreme Buddha taught us to achieve in life is to understand and acknowledge that everything in this life is impermanent and is beyond our control. If we are able to come to terms with this truth regarding impermanence, at the moment of passing away from this life we would be at peace as we would not have so much as a thought to hold onto anything, whether it be a person or an object.
Letting go of everything once we die means that we don’t risk rebirth in the four bad destinations; ghost world, animal world, titans world and hell. Of course, what is the point of clinging onto things we love, when we will have to leave everything once we die anyway? And so, it is a focal point for devoted Buddhists.
All that we find comforting will be lost over the period of time, whether it would be over a few years or within a split second, depending on how long we are going to live
There are great dangers of not practising the Dhamma and taking alternate paths. For example, if a person makes a habit of killing living beings, after death he will be reborn in hell or an animal world and in another birth if he is reborn as a human he would die prematurely. If a person lies often, he too shall be reborn in either hell or in an animal world and if reborn among humans he shall be the victim of false accusations. If a person is a drunkard or drug addict he too risks rebirth in hell or an animal world and if he is reborn as a human he would be mentally retarded. Likewise every unwholesome deed has a consequence in return that not only matches the wrongful doing, but exceeds it as a punishment. For example, if a person were to kill a cow, he would have to pay for his wrongful deed by himself being reborn as a cow on numerous births in the samsaric journey and being slaughtered at the hands of another.
The suttas in the book ‘What happens after death? clearly specify wise reasons as to why beings are born as they are and what happens as a result of previous acts. Let us take the very first sutta as an example- Balapandita sutta (The fool and the wise). In this sutta, we see how to characterise a fool and a wise person. We see the severe consequences that a fool who has committed unwholesome deeds will suffer in hell, as well as the suffering he would face if he or she was born in the animal world, and how rare it would be for them to return to the human world. Let us take the Devaduta sutta (The Divine Messengers) as another example. In this sutta, we see how King Yama of hell questions a being who has done unwholesome deeds about the divine messengers (signs of suffering that we all see throughout our lives that should make us heedful in following the path of the Dhamma to avoid being victims of the same type of suffering).
‘What happens after death?’ is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha and provides much needed insight to a question that has befuddled us for many years, With the help of the Dhamma, may you all be able to realise the four noble truths and may this book- translated by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera- help us right our wrongs and lead a virtuous life that brings happiness in this life and the life-after.