The Death Letter Project
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Geshe Ngawang Samten | Buddhist Teacher

From the Buddhist point of view, death occurs once the mind and body separate. This is the moment of death - no more mind in our body. We can’t hold the mind and it separates from our body. This is what we call ‘death’. So that’s the Buddhist point of view, our definition of dying. From the Western point of view, when the breath ceases and the function of the brain ceases, you are clinically dead, and it is called ‘death’. From the Buddhist point of view you are still in the process of dying. Since there are many different levels of the mind, and the subtlest level of the mind still exists in our body, we don’t call this state ‘death’. The moment  the subtlest consciousness separates and departs from our body is called ‘death’. So there are lots of explanations regarding the process of dying.

Buddhist's believe in rebirth. We believe that all impermanent phenomena, including our consciousness, change momentarily but can’t become non-existent. The substance of phenomena remains, while changing into different forms. Similarly our body and mind also change into different forms and into different minds, but still remain existent. They cannot become non-existent.

In the case of our body, when we are dead we might be cremated and reduced to ashes, but the substance of the body is still there. It cannot become non-existent. Whichever way we dispose of the ashes, in the air or in the water, the substance of the body is still there. It cannot become non-existent. As long as there isn’t any antidote to destroy or eliminate it, it will remain. Similarly our consciousness will also remain – but change into a different mind.

If we are reborn as an animal, our mind will become an animal mind.

We believe in rebirth. We can be reborn into animal realms, or again into the human realm, and so forth. Although our form changes from the body of a human to the body of an animal, the mind still remains. The subtlest level of the mind travels from life to life. It can’t become non-existent. There are antidotes for afflicted states of minds, and therefore these can be eliminated and become non-existent. But the mind itself does not have an antidote to eliminate it, so it will remain without becoming non-existent. 

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  • What a great set of letters so far! Bx - Benita Tunks (Facebook)
  • Beautifully Expressed - Pam Cossey (Facebook)