The Teaching and Practices of
Honmon Butsuryu Shu
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12. Buddhism's Explanation of Life and Death

Gazing at death:

Where were you born? Were you born at home or in a hospital? If you are over 60 years of age, undoubtedly you were born at the home of your parents. In a nutshell, you were born in a family environment. Today, most babies are born in a hospital. It used to be that most Japanese people died in their home but about 70% of them, today, die on a hospital bed.

We are also in the age of a nuclear family. Only a handful of children live together with their grandparents. There are increasing numbers of children who are without siblings. In Japan, the younger generation does not see a baby being delivered by a mother or an elderly person dying. From this point of view, this society can be said to be “Blind to Birth and Death".

One will not be able to live a healthy Iife without being conscious of death.

In Japan, there are criminals who are on death row awaiting execution. These people are living with a precise consciousness of death. To them “being summoned" arrives abruptly. The prisoner is notified of his execution in the morning of that very day. Life of such prisoners is lonely and stressful and they spend their time making poems, Japanese 31 syllable verses, writing, reading, talking and bathing. Each meal is considered their “Last Supper".

A condemned criminal wrote:“When execution nears, a single day is extremely important. It seems shorter and time speeds away. I now wonder why I did not spend my time more effectively when I was free. There are only regrets. I must rush as time left is very short."

We, all, will someday confront an unexpected death. In that respect, we are like the prisoners awaiting execution. Persons with incurable illness are in a similar situation.

What would your outlook towards others and the surroundings be if you were struck with a terminal illness? Doctor Kazukiyo Imura, at age 31 realized he had cancer. In his posthumously published book manuscript “To Asuka, and to the Unborn Child" he wrote:

“I saw a mysterious light when I was parking my car in the apartment's parking space. The world seemed to be sparkling and the people glittered. I saw images of dogs, withering ears of rice and weeds, electric poles, and small stones shining beautifillly. When I entered my apartment, my wife looked noble and I wanted to clasp my hands together in joy".

The concept of death rarely enters into our minds but one must realize that life is not eternal. It will end someday and therefore, we must live to the fullest every day.

Why do people fear death? They do because they realize that their existing body, and soul will someday cease to exist in this world. What would one think if the spint continued to exist even after the body perished? If we believe that the spirit leaves the body, Iike a butterfly does from its cocoon, anxiety will dissipate.

The following are some points about death that may change your outlook.

A Tibetan Book of the Dead:

“Baldo Todol" is a Tibetan book describing death. It is a translation from a Buddhist doctrine that entered into Tibet from India. Recently this book has drawn attention of medical doctors and psychologists on the postmortem world that was explicitly defined in ancient Buddhist doctrines. It coincided with their research on “Out of Body Experience".

Following is a brief digest on life after death explained by Buddhism and the Tibetan book :

1. The spirit departs from the body instantaneously upon death.

2. The spirit that departed from its body is surprised to see itself from the outside, but it soon realizes that he/she is dead.

3. The spirit sees the relatives and friends mourning over the dead body. He/she wants to let them know that he is hovering overhead, but is unsuccessful.

4. The spirit can see and hear things clearly. It can penetrate walls and stones, and can instantaneously shift from one place to another distant land.

5. The spirit sees a transparent or pure light and is wrapped into it.

6. The spirit faces a mysterious mirror. It reflects upon all of the experiences of the deceased during his/her lifetime and is asked to repent.

7. The spirit, thereafter, continues to wander around in darkness for 49 consecutive days.

8. After experiencing limbo, the spirit is led to a suitable world based upon their past deeds accomplished during their lifetime and they will eventually be reborn again (reincarnated).

Experience immediately after death:

Are you aware of “Near Death Experiences (here after referred to as NDE)?"

When the heart stops, the pupils of the eyes open. That is when life has concluded. After being pronounced dead by a physician, life rarely resurrects once again. The experience just after death and the time of resurrection is known as “NDE" or “Out of Body Experience".

A physician who became famous for “NDE" research is Raymond Moody, a Professor of medical psychiatry. In 1965, he accidentally learned about “NDE" while attending a conference of psychologists at the Virginia University and became interested in the phenomena. This doctor's story is about his own “NDE". Touched by the experience, he collected 150 “NDE" cases during a ten year period and authored a book entitled “Life after Life". It was surprising to learn from the book that the people who experienced “NDE", while they lived in diffierent areas, had different religions, position, education, and life, experienced almost identical “NDEs"

Numerous “NDE" cases revealed similar patterns of events where the experiences are almost always reported as unemotional, matter-of-fact observations from near the ceiling of the room often occurring while resuscitation procedures are underway. The individuals often hear their physicians talking. It is then accompanied by a passage through a dark tunnel that eventually leads to a place filled with light, warmth and flowers. They experience a sense of love, peace and warmth never experienced before. These are some examples of events that were experienced by those who were pronounced dead and revived to tell about their experiences.

There are those who feel that “NDE" is a hallucination a person experiences during the pre-death state. If it were a hallucination, we expect the experiences to be different from people to people, yet there are great numbers of similarities among the individual cases.

Professor Micheal B. Sabom, Assistant Professor, Teaching of cardiology at Emory University, USA., had doubts about Professor Moody's research on “NDE". He believed that “NDE" was just a fantasy, but his own research later concluded that Professor Moody's theory was correct. It was real and not a fantasy. (Recollections of Death Medical Research) (Nihon Kyobunsya Literature Company).

Professor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, another famous psychologist researcher on “NDE", met and interviewed a number of “NDE" persons. Professor Ross's research conclusions were very similar to that of Professor Moody. Her study, based upon blind individuals, also indicated that the subjects clearly saw their own (dead) body and others present around the body while hovering above them.

Undoubtedly, it can be concluded that there are similarities between the researchers and the Tibetan book.

The teachings that were elucidated by Buddhism 2,000 years ago have now been proven to be a fact.

Life between life:

The Meaning of “49 Days after Death":

According to a Buddhist doctrine, a spirit departs from the physical body immediately after death and it wanders around for 49 days. How long does it drift and wander around? What types of experiences does it encounter? And what awaits the spirit?

What is a merit-transference?

It is commonly known as the period in which the spirit wanders around in the dark for 49 days. During this 49 days period, a merit transference mourning service is held on the first 7th day after death, then on the 14th day, 21st day and so on until the 49th day to prepare the spirit to enter into the next realm of, other worlds, entering another body and to be reborn. This is known as reposing a deceased spirit in someone's body and to be reborn in a better environment as though the fullfillment of alife of good deeds, one will be escorted immmediately after death to the land of Tranquil Light, the highest realm of the spritual world.

Difference between Virtuous Wandering and Wicked Non-Wandering:

Not everyone's spirit wanders around for 49 days after death. There are spirits that do not wander around. What are those spirits? One is a spirit that accumulated merits through virtuous deeds. This is known as an immediate coping with lifetime good deeds, and one will be escorted to the “Land of Tranquil Light.", known as the spiritual world of utmost dimension, immediately after death.

Nichiren Shonin vividly elucidated in his doctrine, “The Practices as Prescribed". that “Those who upheld and chanted the Odaimoku until their very last breath, Shakyamuni Buddha, Taho Buddha (Treasure Buddha) and Buddhas of the Ten Directions will rush to your side immediately as promised on Mt. Eagle Peak. They will take your hands, carry you on their shoulders. Then, various heavenly gods and deities will raise a canopy over your head and hoist banners and two sages, two heavenly kings and ten female raksasa demons will guard you, and under their protection they will escort you to the Jeweled Land of Tranquil Light."

People who did bad things during their lifetime will also not experience wandering. The spirit that accumulated wrongdoings during its lifetime will instantly fall into the lower realms of hell, hungry spirits, and animals. These realms, below the human realm, are referred to as the world of perplexity.

There are spirits that cling on to the place of their death. These are spirits of people who left resentments in this world, through committing suicide, accident, or being murdered. The wandering spirits have a course to follow depending on individual differences, but most spirits wander around for a period of 49 days. Others may wander around for a year, two, or three years before being reborn.

Medical doctors' experimental reports:

What it is like when the spirit is wandering? What does the spirit experience during that time? Presently, medical doctors in Canada and America are utilizing hypnosis experiments in an attempt to delve into the patients past.

When we are tormented by unknown anxieties, bodily disorder or pain that cannot be determined, those conditions are imbedded in one's unconscious world. It is caused by past abominable experiences, such as, a child that experienced molestation or ill treatment by their parents during childhood. The psychical damage remains deep in the soul and during adulthood it causes various disorders. However, those past experiences are suppressed in the world of unconsciousness and are not desirable to be talked about. Consequently, psychologists are utilizing hypnosis to delve in one's past experiences and tracing their sources.

Doctor Joel L. Whitten, a Neurologist and Professor of Toronto University Medical Department, is one of many doctors that is utilizing hypnosis to treat patients by delving into their past life. Doctor Whitten began utilizing the technique of hypnotism from a certain period and he found the existence of spirits wandering in space. He expresses this condition as “Life between Lives". According to his research the spirit, while wandering, has an extremely better perception of everything. The spirit that departed from the body is overlooking its funeral service by hovering above in space and possesses a more contemplative faculty. The spirit repents for his lifetime behaviors and it seems that it can grasp the condition of its present state.

In the early part of October 1973, Doctor Whitten conducted an experiment on a 42 year old woman by delving into her past life. She was a typical northern American wife who was working as an accountant administrator in a company in Toronto.

She underwent 100 hours of testing. She talked about her past life many times systematically, but one day, she suddenly began to talk about her condition of wandering in the following manner:

“I ....... above sky.......am in".

Doctor: “What are you doing above the sky?"

“I.....am waiting..... to be reborn. What mother is doing........ watching now".

Doctor: “Where is your mother now?"

“Mother .......... by the pump ............ pouring water into the bucket .......... it seem to be very difficult."

Thereafter, the spirit entered a woman's body and was reborn.

Since it would take many numbers of pages to further elaborate on its. I will leave it as this. At any rate, there are many other doctors that are conducting experiments on past lives. One of them is Doctor Brian Weiss, author of a book titled, “Treatment for Past Life Patients", a best seller in America.

These research papers by the various medical doctors coincide with the descriptions described in Buddhist doctrines.

This signifies that spirits surely wander around in space.

Memories of past world

Investigation by Virginia Uuiversity

Buddhism elucidates that the past world and future world have a deep relationship in our life. The good/bad or fortunate/unfortunate circumstances that we experience during lifetime are connected to one's behavioral deeds that were conducted in the past world. Your conduct of today forms the environment for the future world.

For example, the following is elucidated in the “Meditation on the Mind-base Sutra" (Mind is so called because it is the basis of all existences and also because it is the base on which all practices are performed).

“If you want to know the causes of the past, look at your conditions of today. If you want to know of your future world, Iook at your causes of today".

If you want to know about how you lived during the past world, it is important to look at your present environment with composure. If your life now is a fortunate one, it is because fortunate seeds had been sowed in the past world. On the other hand, if your environment of today is of unfortunate or successive reproach, it is the cause of the environment you have conducted in the past world. If you want to kuow what is in store for your future life, it is better to reflect on the present day life.

Following is the result of a research on the relationship between cause and effect:

Around 1954, a group in America, headed by lan Stevenson, M.D. of Virginia University was founded to conduct a research on reincarnation. His research report consisted of approximately 2 thousand cases. Among them, 20 cases showing strong evidences were published under the title “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation" and some of the cases on transmigration of the soul from body to body (Metempsychosis).

Swarnlata who danced the dances of the past world:

There is a woman named Swanrlata Mishra, who has a title of Instructor of Botany at the Chhatarpur, University, Madhya Pradesh District

At the age of 3 (DOB:March 2, 1948), she began to speak about strange things. She scared her parents and people around her. “She said she had a past life and spoke of it in detail. She claimed that she was Biya, a daughter of the Pathak Family in Katni City. She had two sons by marriage and her name at that time was Krishna Datta. The family's head was Sri Hira Lal Pathak. The family owned a motor car. The family had also lived in Zhurkutia Mohalla. She saw a railway line and a coal factory from the home that she lived in during her past life. Behind the house was a white building, a girls' school. The door of the school was black with a steel bolt. The front floor was laid out with lithograph. She had had a throat illness and died from it. She was operated on by Dr. S.G. Bhabratt of Napiertown, Jabalpur."

This small child also gave some other detailed memory of her past life although they were in bits, and most of her past life claims was corroborated through interviews of Pathak family members.

In addition, the family members of Pathak with whom she lived as “Biya" in her past life were called, and a research was conducted to confirm her stories about her husband, brother and sisters and sons during her past Iife. In this research, people that had no past life experiences were intentionally mixed among them. This was done to determine how many relatives she could identify during her past life. It was a malicious plot.

The hostess of the Pathak Family, Biya died in 1939. Swarnlata was born in 1948, nine years later. This experiment was conducted when Swamlata was 10 years old. If Swarnlata's past life was Biya, she would be meeting with her past life relatives 19 years later. Further, due to 19 years of lapse, her husband in the past life has aged and her sons have become adults. Under these conditions, Swarnlata during her past life had a reunion with them. Rather, she was forced into it. After Swarnlata was reborn, she has never met them nor heard of their existence from others. But, if it was an illusion or imagination, Swarnlata, as Biya, in her past life would not have been able to identify their names or relationship.

What were the results?

She identified correctly all of the attending participants she did not know. Those she did know she so stated.

Not only that. Swarnlata said to her past life husband, Sri Chintamini Pandey, “You took one thousand two hundred rubies from my box". This fact was only known between the husband and Biya (Swarnlata's past life name).

In regard to Swarnlata, there is an additional extraordinary occurrence to be mentioned:That is, there were two confusing memories of her past life at the age of four, but as she grew older she was able to differentiate it and talk about it.

The other past life experience is about a girl, Kamlesh who lived in Sylhet, Assam County, that died a year before Swarnlata was born.

To surmise, Biya died in 1939, was reborn as Kamlesh in 1940 and died in 1947, a very short life. Then, in 1948, Kamlesh was reborn as Swarnlata. The positive proof that Swarnlata was Kamelsh was based on her words and dance. When Swamlata was six years of age, one day she suddenly began a queer dance while singing a song in unheard words.

An investigation by the astonished father and people around her disclosed that the words sung by her were Bengal words that even her parent did not know of. The dance was of a Bengal district that was 2 thousand kilometers away. Checking on Swarnlata's past life name, Kamlesh, revealed that she was well versed in the songs and dances of the Bengal district. There is a proverb. “Sparrows do not forget dances for a hundred years". Man also remembers words and dances they have learned in past life.

In the later part of the Edo Period, Nissen Shonin, who engaged in a new reformation movement of Buddhism, was able, as a boy of six, the play first stage of the game of “Go", and who said, “an illiterate child can gain ability by studying" stems from a destiny of the past world, so Buddhism stated.

Nissen Shonin's instructive poem stated:
 “To laugh at becoming skillful at age 80
    Is preparation for the future world".

Experiences of the Past World Drags On:

A businessman named Parmod Sharma lived in a small city of Bisauli, 140 kilometers west of Moradabad City, Uttar Pradesh County, India. From the time he was born on October 11, 1944, he possessed a queer characteristic. First of all, he hated curd foods. It is like a Yogurt. There is hardly any Indian that dislikes curds. However, Parmod unsoundly never ate it. Secondly, he extremely hated to take a bath. He reacted with fear when his parents forcefully attempted to bathe him. Thirdly, he liked to play by himself, but he mainly kneaded dirt to form shape of a biscuit, and built building like things by piling on bricks. Fouthly, although no one taught him, he began at times to speak English at the age of three. The family spoke only Hindu, but he blurted out words like bath-tub bakery, and town hall. He also liked soda water when he was a child.

What is significant is Parmod past world experiences that he spoke of about age 8 were confirmed. He stated that “I was one among the Parmod brothers that owned a soda and biscuit shop in Moradabad. He had a wife, four sons and a daughter. The store was a large one".

When Parmod was 5 years old, he begged his father to take him to the City of Moradabad during his past life and, one day in the summer of 1949, his wish was realized. Of course, this was the first time he had visited that city but he gave the impression that he had been living there for a long time by asking the driver to turn right or left on roads while riding in a horse-drawn vehicle. He said, “Father, this is the town hall. We're nearing our house". And, when stopping the horse-drawn vehicle in front of the brick building, the soda and biscuit store, he said that it was his store and alighted from the wagon.

The following events became known when checking on the things Parmod said:

a. The person that Parmod mentioned who lived in Moradabad did exist.

b. This person is the younger brother, Parmanand Mehra, of the Mohan Brothers and he died on the 9th of May 1943.

c. Parmanand owned a large confectionary shop. The firm manufactured and sold biscuits and he spoke English.

d. Parmanand said as a child in the previous world he had eaten too much curd and became sick with chronic gastrointestinal illness and appendicitis and died in a bath tub. It was confirmed that he had indeed died in a bath tub while bathing to treat his appendicitis.

e. That he had wife and children were true. He named each of them by name during their life in the previous world .

f. He explained about the usage of the equipments on the store he visited it for the first time.

It should be noted that after his rebirth his dislike for curd and bathing is still with him

A Boy with a Sword Scar:

Ravi Shankar.

Ravi Shankar was born in July 1951 in Chhipatti District of Kanaju, a city of Uttar Pradesh near Kanpur. He had a unusual horizontal scar around his neck at birth which looked like a cut from a sword.

At around between the ages of 2 and 3, when a child begins to talk, he faced his mother and sister and began to speak in a strange way, “I am the son of Sri Jageshwar Prasad, a barber in the past world". “My father is living in the District of Chhipatti (of Kanuj). Will you take me there."

Just before age 5, he was taken by his mother to attend a memorial service to a temple. When seeing certain attendance he shouted, “Ah", and his face began to change in a fearful color, and his body shook. It was Chaturi, who had killed him in the past world. Most children that speak of their memories of the past world, they possess a detail memory of their death. In the case of Ravi, it was shocking.

Ravi claimed, “I have been killed by Chaturi and another man that slashed my throat, and was buried in the ground. Before being killed, I ate fruits. I was taken near a river and killed."

Based on Ravis revelation, a research was conducted on past murder cases revealed that one year before Revi's birth, the following incidents occurred on the January I 9, 1951:

Munna, a son of a barber, was kidnapped and later, found dead near a river with a slashed throat. Just prior to being murdered by Ghaturi, another man was seen with him by a witness. They were both arrested, but due to insufficient evidence they were released and the incident went unsolved.

In short, the incident had occurred as described by Ravi. It was proven that Ravi's claim of “I had eaten Guava before being killed" and Munna's mother's testimony was true. Ravi had after being reborn catches sight of the man that killed him, but he was not convicted although he had confessed to it because it was on the memory of the past life. Chaturi, thereafter, fled and vanished out of sight.

As mentioned above, memories of the past life do carry on into this present world and leaves a scar.

Nissen Shonin stated:

“The spirit does not disappear by encountering fog
 Today's dusk is the beginning to tomorrow"