Q: What is the Buddhist view on the afterlife?
A: Let me answer your question this way. Death is not final in Buddhism. Consciousness continues on bearing particular karmic impressions somewhat like a radio signal. This consciousness is capable of enveloping itself into another body. This is stated in the Maharatnakuta Sutra. Hardly mentioned, we come across discourses in Pali Nikayas in which the Buddha is instructing his disciples—the more advanced guys—how to produce a kind of astral body called a rupim manomayam complete in all its limbs and members including transcendental faculties. I don’t get the impression reading the discourses of the Buddha that he was a materialist who believed consciousness or spirit comes from a 3 pound organ called the brain.
Q: I am Asian as you can tell. Most Asians believe in the afterlife. We ask the monks to help our relatives to get into the Western Paradise and stuff like that. We believe in ghosts, too. My wife and her sisters see ghosts. What gets me are Western Buddhists. They probably think Asian Buddhists are weird because we don’t doubt the afterlife. So the question I have is why are Western Buddhists so skeptical of rebirth?
A: I was hoping you might tell me! I have real problems with Western Buddhists some of whom find the idea of life after death repugnant. They will pretend that they have an open mind but they remain hardcore skeptics. This means the don’t seem to understand samsara insofar as samsara is all about rebirth. It’s the cycle of birth and death. This also means they don’t understand the 12-Nidanas, either. It is about the incarnation of consciousness if you read the Madhyanta-vibhanga. A lot of Buddhism hinges on rebirth. If it didn’t then why did the Buddha say things like this?
“he has abandoned the production of renewed existence, the future bed of the womb; when he has cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, obliterated it so that it is not more subject to future arising” (A. iv. 175–6).
Bit by bit some Western Buddhists are getting rid of the basic tenets of Buddhism. It’s rebirth, then karma, followed by samsara and the 12-Nidanas. Stephen Batchelor got rid of nirvana and pure Mind. Why not just take the canon and burn it for all it’s worth to some Western Buddhists? But I don’t think the majority of Western Buddhists are skeptical of rebirth. Some of the popular Buddhists, who appear to set the tone for pop Buddhism, seem to me to be the problem. They need to be eliminated, their views crushed.
Q: How do you do that?
A: One way is you do it through Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and Out of Body Experiences (OBEs). There is a lot of research that has been done in this field. It gets closest to the Buddhist idea that consciousness is independent of the physical body in death. Internet Buddhist chat rooms, I discovered, hold their nose when the subject appears. One forum put the subject into their “Danger Zone” which only registered discussants can read. Clearly, a little censorship going on. If you don’t wish to get banned from Western Buddhist chat rooms, you don’t want to post anything by Dr. Pim van Lommel, especially, his research published in The Lancet 2001, “Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest; a prospective study in the Netherlands”. In his lectures on YouTube he points out that current scientific models cannot explain the phenomenon. As I read the explanations of the skeptics most amount to unproven hypotheses and in some cases outright lies. I mean how do you explain no EEG waves while the supposedly dead person is in another world or floating above their body?
Q: But won’t it just piss of these Buddhists rather than change their minds?
A: I suppose it will. No matter what I say or others say, they are not going to go gentle into that good night. But maybe they don’t need to be in Buddhism, especially, when they don’t care to read the Buddha’s discourses except, perhaps, to revise them. I mean they are like the proverbial dog in the cow’s manger. What is their purpose in studying Buddhism in the first place? To completely undermine it? That is something a psychopath would do.
Q: Why did they choose to come to Buddhism?
A: My opinion? Somewhere they got the stupid idea that Buddhism denied a soul and with such a denial also denied the idea of rebirth since there is no soul that transmigrates from one life to another. This mainly appeals to materialists. But the Buddha never actually denied the soul or âtman. But this is beside the point. The Buddha said it is consciousness, that is, samsaric consciousness that transmigrates from one life to the next because consciousness is conditioned.