Many of our world’s most famous philosophies have been built with this question in mind. Others did not give much thought or attention to it. Buddhism has touched briefly on the topic, in an esoteric style though.
Quantum Physics and Buddhism
Quantum physics is a modern branch of Physics that showed up in the early 20th Century. It is the study of the behavior of atoms, subatomic particles and energy. The beauty of quantum physics lies in how most of the laws we’ve discovered so far in all of the natural sciences, go out the window when we compare it to them.
The current scientific consensus states that humans are made of 21 chemical elements. These elements are connected in the right places, at the right time, and at the right amount. Suppose that you choose to mix all these elements in a laboratory, you still won’t be able to make a human being. At least not without centuries of engineering.
Currently there are multiple answers to this, but there is no algorithm that governs all of these variables together. The point is, you don’t have the “algorithm”. No one has.
This reasoning can be applied to mountains, trees, cars, and everything else. We know that we all contain different elemental structures, but we’re not completely sure about the laws that dictated how all of these things came together?
What does that have to do with Buddhism? Buddhism like many other eastern religions uncover the idea of oneness and unity. In Buddhism, there is a pervading force that moves matter the way it does. Zen Buddhism for example, encourages us to believe that we came out of the world, rather than we came into it.
We see many of these themes in the movie the Matrix. Much emphasis has been placed on the power of the mind (directed consciousness), and how the mind has the ability to affect material reality.
There are many experiments today that give us an insight into the power of consciousness, but how does this relate to what happens after death?
Well if we are not our individual consciousness, then we are part of the one. And that maybe our role in this world is to find out that we are nothing but the universe trying to understand itself.
Consider the fact that you may never die
Let’s move on to another concept.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, we have 8 bodies. The continuous body is the one that draws so much interest right now. I really hope you enjoy learning about it, because I must confess it has brought a love of light to my life.
The Continuous Body is made up of parts from our ancestors, relatives, parents, and will continue on to our kids and grandkids. I will have to appeal to the great Bert Hellinger to help me explain it. Each particle in our body is a composition of chemicals, but it has also suffered an imprinting of the feelings and experiences. A big part of what we are is energetic, and we inherit it from the ones that came before us.
We are constantly shaping our particles, and that’s what our heirs will get. This way, we never die, and our parents and grandparents never die. We are the continuity of them, and we are going to leave this legacy to our kids and their kids that’ll come after them.
Bert Hellinger, who developed the idea of family constellations, discussed this further. He explained that, leaving our marks in the energetic world, leaves marks in the material one.
Buddhism doesn’t go that far. It fixes its attention on the continuity idea. Which creates a warm feeling for almost everyone.
The closest proof of that reality in my opinion, is the experiment developed by the Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto. His goal was to prove the impact feelings have on the physical world. He used music and water. He photographed various particles of water submitted to different music and words.
The water samples formed into different ice shapes, depending on whether the polarity of the frequency. They would reorganize themselves into beautiful harmonizing crystals when the messages were positive, or into chaotic shapes if they were negative.
This experiment confirms the possibility of transformation of atoms in order to carry some sort of memory. Which is the basis for the concept of continuous body. However, this is still highly debated, and will need further experimentation.
The process of dying
The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol) explains what happens between death and rebirth. It’s a beautiful book that allows us to visualise much of our questions about the afterlife from a buddhist perspective.
We can say that when a Buddhist dies, his body will decompose into molecules that carry his history. These molecules hold information about his ancestors. his nation, his country. Whatever has been experienced is then passed on.
Buddhists see the individual as a part of a whole, they believe we also have everything inside of us. This is what helps us comprehend death as a natural process. For them it is not the end. It is a necessary challenge to be overcome.
After decomposition, a person will become part of a tree, a river, and maybe of another human and they will also carry that person’s emotional history. This way, for a Buddhist, there is no real end as there is no true beginning.
The teachings of death
This belief encourages Buddhist followers to develop Empathetic Joy. This means that, the little flower in the garden, the tiger in the zoo, and the rock on the side of the road are equally important. This means that they should all be treated with reverence and respect. They carry parts of our ancestors and will one day carry our own.
Compassion is another virtue that arises from this understanding of death. The ant we step on, and the suffering that this may cause will be passed. Further influencing the suffering of future species.
Buddhists die without suffering. Death is for them, a great teacher for life. Besides that wonderful characteristic of death, we must keep in mind that it is the door to rebirth, or another chance to be free.
Either way. Buddhists die like anyone else, the difference lies on how they face it. I find it very comforting and even a little romantic, but I must confess, thinking like that makes me feel more connected with the world around me.