Chapter 11: How Human Beings Are Reborn After Death
The word “karma” means an action which occurs and yields fruit or result in one ’s life. To explain or manifest the occurrence of karma and its subsequent yielding of fruit or result, which may take place within one and the same life span of one ’s life, is not too difficult as there may be reasons enough to validate the explanation and many incidences can even provide proof ; but to explain the past karma of a previous life, which may bear its fruit or impact on the present life, or the karma committed in this present life, which in turn will bear its fruit in the next life, is not something very easy to do. In fact, it is very difficult to understand the intricate functioning of the forces of karma. Before one can totally comprehend the interrelated action and reaction of karmic forces, one needs to understand matters concerning birth and death first.
This matter concerning birth and death is no small matter. From ancient times to the present day, there have been many scholars, philosophers and prophets who have tried or have been trying to prove that there is nothing left after death, or that people would be reborn after death, and that if they were to be reborn, how would rebirth come about. This attempt in solving the mystery of death and rebirth has been carried on for so many generations of mankind that it would be hardly possible to give an exactly accurate account of it and the question remains an unsolved mystery to this day. Of course, religious dogmas do provide some concepts about death and what comes after death, but not all people can accept those concepts without doubts.
Some people believe that, since our bodies are a composition of various organs, after death these organs are bound to decay when buried in the ground. Thus, there is nothing left after the decay and there is, therefore, no possibility of rebirth.
As for those who believe in the concept that there is life after death, they are, however, not unanimous in their opinion about this matter. Some believe that whether the dead goes to heaven or hell solely depends on their own actions or karma committed in their life-span, and that there is this creation of heaven and hell just for purpose of either rewarding or punishing the dead, who will not be reborn as human beings again. Still there are some people who believe that after death people are reborn as human beings only, not animals ; while some think that people can be reborn either as human beings or animals, depending on their own karma. Many people believe in an eternal soul. When death descends upon a person, his or her soul leaves the dead body and goes to heaven or hell, or floats about waiting for the Judgement Day or wanders around waiting to be reborn.
For those who are followers of biological science, the belief is that as the body is nothing but a collection of cells and the instinctive feelings are only the work of the brain, which has been undergoing various stages of development a little at a time, since time unknown, thus enabling the mind to function as a thinking and perceptive organ, it is therefore subject to decay when death comes and is thus reduced to nothingness or non-existence.
This is a matter in which the more people get involved in the discussion, the more numerous and varied the opinions will be. Even the founders of the world’ s major religions differed in their concepts with regard to death or life after death. In Buddhist teaching, it is said that after death, there is rebirth. People are either reborn as human beings or as animals. However, the Buddha did not provide us with a generalised picture of rebirth. Instead, he talked in detail about this matter, depicting the way of rebirth, explaining what it is, why it is there, and how it comes about. Whether one can grasp hold of the essence of Buddhist teaching depends on one ’s own basic intellect and wisdom.
In Bramanism, it is taught that after death the soul of the dead will leave the body to be reborn elsewhere. Thus, the soul is eternal in the sense that it does not die. It simply moves from one living being to another, just like the inhabitants of a house who must move to a new house when the old house decays and falls to pieces.
However, what the Buddha taught is just the opposite of what we find in Bramanism ; He taught that the mind or the “soul” is not eternal. It simply arises and then ceases in a vicious chain of circle, without breaking away from the cycle. In addition, it cannot move around in search of a new body in which to be reborn. It cannot be compared to someone who moves away from a decaying house to a new one. Also, the concept that only the soul is reborn is a misconception too, because there is a kind of form or “ ru-pa ” known as ‘kammajjarupa’ which arises from one ’s karma that normally is an inclusive factor in rebirth.
To understand the concept of rebirth, one has to be well-informed about the mind, form (rupa), karma and death. One needs to know how death comes about, why one meets one’s death, how many kinds of death there are, what actually happens when one is near death, how one feels when coming face to face with death, and how one’s mind works just before the final second of life.
Let me return to this matter of the mind once more. According to what has already been mentioned, that in various stages the mind functions as a natural perceptive component of human consciousness, and thus gives rise to our thinking, remembering and memorizing power and capacity and this functioning capacity of the mind can arise by itself and cease by itself too. In fact, the mind functions in a continuous process of arising and falling (or ceasing). It is an abstract form which can neither be seen nor touched and yet it is a storeroom for feelings, emotions and memories of all sorts. The functioning of the mind can be divided into two :
(1) The work performed by the mind – It receives all kinds of feelings through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind itself (in ordinary language, we normally use the word “heart”).
(2) A still mind (bhavamgacitta) – It is a mind which does not receive any stimuli from the external organs, such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue, etc., and yet it still functions all the time, for it experiences the arising and ceasing of the thinking process and it carries with it a naturally inherited temperament since conception.
That I divide the working of the mind into two types is to show that the mind functions instantly when it perceives sensation from the six bodily organs and when it does not come into contact with the six senses it also functions.
In the first type of functioning, it can be seen that for sensations or feelings to arise, the mind must rely on “phassa” or contact. When there is no contact, there will be no arising of feelings or sensation. For example, when a sound does not come into contact with the ear, there will be no sound heard and the concept of whether a sound is pleasing or not pleasing to the ears will not arise. When a form or an object does not come into contact with the eyes, the sense of sight does not arise and there will be no concept of whether the form or object is pleasing to the eyes or just the reverse, being formed in the mind.
In the second type of functioning, it is generally assumed by most people that a still mind is a calm mind or a mind that does not function or a mind which wanders aimlessly. In actual fact, it is a realm of a state of mind in which the mind itself is not being affected by the six organs – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind (heart). A typical example is such a state of mind when we are in deep sleep, during which the mind is sort of ‘closed’ to the six senses. The moment we wake up, the mind may “ open ” itself to the influence of the six senses, and we are said to be out of the stillness or calmness of the mind. In real life we may still be experiencing moments of this “stillness or calmness” of the mind even when we are fully awake, but the stillness or calmness is so short – lived that we may not even notice it. When the mind is in this still state, we do not experience sensation but that does not mean the mind is not working or functioning. In fact, the mind is still working ; it still experiences the “arising” and the “ceasing” of the “stillness”. It can be compared to a functioning or moving dynamo which is connected to a switch that has not been turned on. Once the switch is turned on, the light is on.
That I make the effort to explain about the states of the mind is a necessary precedent to an understanding of the mind of a dying person. Now I will talk about the causes leading to death.
Firstly, we have what we call “ka-lamarana”, which means ‘having reached the time when one must die’. Secondly, we have this “Aka-lamarana”, meaning ‘not yet reaching the time when one must die’. However, there are, of course, people who die when it is not yet time for them to die.
The word “maranuppatti” is actually made up of two separate words. One is “ marana ”, while the other is “uppatti”. “Marana” means “die” or “death”, and “uppatti” means “birth” or “giving rise to or giving birth to”.
The Buddha himself had something to say about this matter concerning death :
1. A-yukkhaya – meaning death due to old age.
2. Kammakkhaya – meaning death due to the extinction or end of karma.
3. Ubhayakkhaya – meaning death due to termination of age and karma.
4. Upacchedakakamma – meaning death due to accidents.
Now let us examine these four conditions of death.
A-yukkhaya – This is the situation in which all living beings must die owing to the termination of age or life–span. All living creatures have a limit to their lifespan. For example, an elephant may live up to a hundred years or more, a tortoise may live as long as three hundred years, and a mosquito’s life-span is only fifteen days. Human beings tend to reach an average age of seventy –five years, but some people may be able to live up to well over a hundred years. Medical science has played an important role in stretching mankind’s longevity, but there are also other non-material factors which are vital to the maintaining of a long and healthy life.
Kammakkhaya – This is a situation in which death comes about due to the termination of action or karma. All living beings are dependent on the force of karma, which helps to shape their lives. Karma means action and it is each living being’s own action that is responsible for its well being. In the same way, death comes about through one’s own action or karma. With death, a living being’s karma also comes to a termination.
Ubhayakkhaya – This is a situation in which death comes about due to both the termination of age and of karma. When a person gets old, the process of aging has weakened the body and mind, making them frail and senile, and the driving forces of karma gradually fail to ensure the continuity of a normal life. In the end, death descends.
Upacchedakakamma – This refers to all untimely deaths due to accidents. For example, falling from a tree or being knocked down by a car are unexpected deaths.
Death in these four circumstances can be compared to an oil lamp. Normally, an oil lamp will become extinguished due to four causes :
1. All of the oil has been used up.
2. The oiled filament (usually a cotton wick) of the lamp has been used up or burned to its end.
3. Both the oil and the filament have been used up.
4. Due to external factors, such as a strong gust of wind blowing out the flame.
The mind and the body work in a very complex manner when one is about to die.It is not easy to deal into this matter in detail as it would take up too much time.
For a person who is about to die, it is quite normal that the person’s mind is still receptive to the six senses no matter how sudden the death may be. The person may experience feelings, which can be either good or bad. If the person sees something beautiful which they are fond of, the dying person will appear joyful and perhaps even smiling ; but if the person sees something ugly or frightening, the dying person may show signs of fear, shock and a loss of mental stability. The person even may exhibit a twisted facial expression. Those who take care of the dying normally experience such death scenes.
That such displays of emotion do occur just before death is an indication of whether the dying person will be reborn in a happy realm or enter another world of suffering. Some people may wonder why the dying can be specially emotional or experience various visions before death. Is it the emotion just shortly before death that determines which way the “soul” of the dying will go after death ? In some cases, people who happen to be at the death bed of the dying may whisper such words like “Araham.” (or the enlightened one) into the ear of the dying. In other religions, some nice things may be uttered by a priest to calm the dying so that he or she may leave this world in peace. When a human being or an animal stops breathing (and the heart stops beating) we call that “death”. In some schools of thought, the sub-conscious mind, consciousness, and even form (ru-pa) of the dead simply reappear in a new realm or sphere of life. If we were to discard our attachment to the conventionally assumed notion of “a human being” or “an animal”, it would help us to understand this point of view. Take electricity, for example. It is a flow of current that is being directed to a certain point. When there are enough factors or sufficient requisites for it to be “born” or directed elsewhere, it will naturally flow to that particular place.
The Buddha taught that for all things in nature to evolve, there must be causes. Without causes, nothing can originate ; but there are different types or levels of causes, some are simple, shallow and ordinary, which can be easily traced, seen and proved, while others are complex, profound and uncommon. Such questions concerning life as “What is life ?” and “ Where does life come from?” are questions of a profound nature. Without the wisdom of the Buddha, it would be hard for us to obtain the answers.
Feelings or sensations simply cannot arise by themselves. They depend on causes. The arising of sight depends on the contact between an object and the eyes. The perception of hearing depends on contact between sound and the ears. For the eyes alone there are four factors which create the sense of sight :
1. Cakkhupasa-da or the nervous system of the eyes.
2. Ru-pa-ramana or colours
3. A-lokka or light
4. Manasikara or the awareness of the perceptive mind or intention
When these four factors are present all at the same time, the sense of sight is made possible. The Buddha taught that all natural phenomena depend on causes for their existence. They simply cannot arise without causes. This helped people in the Buddha’s time to understand about the law of cause and effect, and discourage them from attaching themselves to the belief of an omniscient and all-mighty Brahman God who was said to be the creator of the world.
Some people may argue that science has proved how light and sound travel – one in straight rays, while the other by waves – and that we are trying to make Buddhism seem more scientific in order to give it more credibility. However, it would be a grievious mistake to make such an assumption. The Buddha taught about this principle of cause and effect two thousand and five hundred years ago. The fact is that he was using the simple language of his time instead of the present scientific terminology, but the basic principle or meaning remains the same. It holds truth from the modern scientific point of view.
As for the sense of hearing, the Buddha did point out about the space available in the inner ears (vivara-ka-sa) as an important factor leading to the ear’s audibility and this itself is scientific in nature since we all know that sound travels in waves through the air, in the space of the inner ears, before it comes into contact with the ear drum. Without the air space there could be no contact of the sound waves with the nervous system of the inner ears and no sound could be heard.
I have only talked about the eyes and the ears, while there remain many other organs not yet mentioned. However, I am not giving lessons in science and I will not waste much time on them.
Now let us go back to this matter of death. The mind of a conscious dying man is still capable of experiencing sensation. There is the “arising” and “ceasing” of mental sensation in his mind. When a dying person hears about something good just before death, their feelings and state of the mind will lean towards the positive course. Should the person be concerned with unhappy matters, such as having to face an inevitable death, or disappointing news about their children, or problems over their wealth and property, the person’s mind will lean towards the negative path. However, should the person be in a state of being unable to perceive the sense of sight, sound, odour, taste and touch, then the only perception they probably could still experience is that of their own thinking mind. When all that the person has left of their sense perception is only that of the mind, then whatever they perceive will then clearly manifest through their facial expression. If the person thinks of something pleasant or pacifying, then they may appear cheerful or calm. If they think of something horrible and frightening, they will most likely wear a terrified look. The face of the dying may indicate the state of their mind.
Now, let us come to this matter of rebirth. Many people do not believe in rebirth. Leave them alone. People are free to choose their beliefs. The Buddha did talk about rebirth, and “rebirth” can be interpreted in both the physical and the spiritual sense. It is up to you to interpret rebirth in whatever sense you want, but there is one thing which most of us would have to admit : that we do not like the idea of having to die some day, and, since we cannot escape from this merciless fact, therefore there are quite a lot of us who want to be reborn.
Every human being and living creature has an instinctive desire not to want to die, and in the event of having to face an inevitable death, one hopes to either go to heaven or be reborn as a new human being again in the next life. Deep in our mind we may either consciously or unconsciously harbour a secret wish to be reborn. This secret, or may be not-so-secret wish of ours, can exert considerable influence on our way of thinking and action, especially if we happen to be Buddhists.
Buddhists tend to blame their misfortune on past karma. Of course, there is some relation or relevance between our present misfortune and our own action in the past, but what is important is for us to draw some wisdom from our unfortunate experiences. No one can escape from the “fruit” of his or her own action. Bad karma yields bad fruit and good karma yields good fruit. Thus, many Buddhists who happen to have experienced a lot of suffering in this present life, often try to do good karma in the hope that if there is such a thing as rebirth, that they would have a good next life.
However, no matter what our views are with regard to our present or future life, it is extremely important that we should develop the right views about ourselves. We should be able to realise not only the good side but also the bad side of our own self and of our nature.
From day break till night fall, we are always busy looking for and running after all sorts of sensuous pleasures. Every now and then we are wanting to see, to hear, to eat, to smell and to touch. This demand for the pleasures of the senses seems to have no end. On the contrary, it is always on the increase. When one wish or demand is being fulfilled or satisfied, another new wish or demand will arise to take the place of the old one. We become infatuated with our own inventions and all the sensuous pleasures which can be derived from them. We breed or cultivate our own “lobha” or greed as we cherish our “tanha-” or craving. When encountering something unpleasant or disagreeable, we walk away with “dosa” or anger (dissatisfaction), only to look for more pleasant and agreeable things to satisfy our craving.
o we take such great delight in so much sensuous pleasure that eventually we become attached to them. This attachment is called “ upa-da-na ” and once it has been firmly rooted or established in the mind, it is very hard for anyone to get rid of it. The satisfaction from the comforts and pleasures derived from the senses has too great an impact on us that we simply cannot imagine a life without those sensuous pleasures. We are so lost in our daily pursuit of sensuous satisfaction that few of us ever realise that it is the very forceful power of our own craving which leads us into an endless chain of deaths and rebirths.
Why are we unable to get rid of this powerful hold of desire or craving on our mind and free ourselves from the whole messy tangle? Apparently we truly love all these sensuous pleasures and have become hopelessly attached to them. From morning till night we are being driven by our own craving and hence karma (action) to pursue our various goals in life. We want to satisfy our craving and yet this craving remains forever unlimited.
Craving leads to action or karma, and our own karma bears its own fruit or result on the state of our mind. Our mind may slip into a state of calmness or be dragged into a state of violent emotions, depending on our own action or karma. The arising of a certain state of mind and its passing away is comparable to the birth and death of our own self, and the death of a state of mind is followed by the birth of another new state of mind. Thus, we are always caught in this vicious circle of birth – death – birth.
Our body is form or matter. Science has reduced all matters into very small units called atoms. This atom itself is composed of a nucleus in the centre and also something called a proton which is electrically positive. There is also an electron which is negative and both circle around the nucleus. There is also another part of the atom known as the neutron, which is neither positive nor negative.
Speaking in the context of form or matter, we may say that the human body is nothing but electrical charges and energy, which is in congruity with the theory of Einstein, the great scientist and mathematician of the twentieth century who said that energy is matter and matter is energy. Now let us look at matter or form from the perspective of Buddhism. Let’s see how the Buddha “breaks up” all existing matter.
The Buddha taught that a grain of rice could be broken up into seven equal parts. One part of the grain is as big as the head of a lice and this one part of a grain of rice can be further divided into thirty – six parts. Each of these thirty-six parts is called a “likkha-”. One “likkha-” is again divided into another thirty-six parts and each part is known as a “ratharenu-”. One “ratharenu-” can be further divided into another thirty-six parts, which are known as “tajjeri-” One “tajjeri-” is again divided into thirty-six parts, each of which is known as an “ anu-”, and again each “ anu-” can be divided into thirty –six parts. Each of these thirty-six parts is called “ parama-nu-”, which is the word we use for an atom.
I am not able to answer as to whether one atom in science is the same as one “ parama-nu-” mentioned by the Buddha, or how different they are in size, but you can do the multiplication or division by yourself, taking the head of a lice as the starting point and apply your mathematical knowledge to it. Divide it till perhaps you reach the size of an atom. Even if you have divided it till you reached the size of an atom, you still have to bear in mind that the atom is still form or matter – an extremely minute kind of form or matter.
The Buddha also taught that each “ parama-nu-” contains the four main elements : earth, water, wind and fire. (This does not mean that it literally contains these four natural elements in their natural forms, e.g., if it has fire element in it, it does not mean fire in its natural state and form that burns ) In addition, the “ paramanu-” also has “ vanna ”, “gandha”, “ rasa ”, “oja”, that is, it has form and colour, odour, taste, etc. Therefore, a “ parama-nu-” has eight charactestics and they are collectively known as the eight “avinibbhogaru-pa ”. The Buddha also taught that these “ parama-nu-” do not stick together in a compressed solid matter, even though our naked eye sees most matter in their solid form, but rather they are held together by pressured space of air.
Of course, the Buddha was not aiming to teach nuclear physics, nor did he know anything about atomic energy. His intention was to show impermanence of all matter and form which are subject to constant changes and are therefore not something which we can take for granted or get attached to. He wanted us not to get infatuated with things which we see with our naked eye.
As I have mentioned earlier, it is the nature of mind to receive senses. It experiences sensations always, and the sensations arise due to a number of different causes. But as for those who are about to die, the sensations which arise at the death hour are known as kamma-a-ramana, kammanimitta- a-ramana and gatinimitta-a-ramana.
1. Whatever karma one has committed, be it good or bad, the karma committed will usually ‘strike’ upon the mind, stimulating it to give rise to various sensations or feelings, allowing the mind to form certain mental pictures or images which have root in the karma of the past ; and the mental pictures vary from one to another, depending on the different nature of different karma of the past. For example, those who have done a lot of slaughtering of animals are likely to see the killing of the animals in their mind just before they die. Similarly, those who have often engaged themselves in such merit-making activities as alms-giving, observing religious precepts and meditating are most likely to develop mental pictures relating to those merit-making activities.The sensations thus experienced here are known as kammaa-ramana.
2. People who are about to die may experience various things through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. Instruments or tools which they had once used to perform either good or bad deeds may appear to them. They may see a group of people gathering for a religious or merit – making purpose, or they may see instruments for catching and killing, such as fishing nets, knives, traps and even guns. The sensations thus experienced here are known as kammanimitta a-ramana.
3. Visions of caves, cliffs, the torturing of animals, golden palaces and royal chariots which are non-existent in the present world, may appear to some dying people. The sensations so experienced here are known as gatinimitta –aramana.
All living beings who are about to die are bound to experience some sensations or visions of some sort regardless of whether it is a slow or quick death. The influencing forces of past karma play an important role in pushing towards a reincarnated birth. The visions or things experienced at the death hour are the last visions or sensations experienced by the dying person in his or her final moments before entering a new realm of life in the next life!
The visions which occur at the last moment of life are a sign that the dying is sure to be reborn in the realm of existence as signaled by the vision. It is just like we have a plan of a house well-drawn up. Naturally we will build the house according to the plan. Thus, those who are to be reborn as human beings again are most likely to be able to see in their visions where the womb of the prospective mother is. Those who are to be reborn in the realm of the “devas” are bound to see devas or heavenly palaces in their visions. Those who are to be reborn in hell will surely see the burning of animals by the fires of hell or some scenes of hell in their visions. Those to be reborn as “Peta” or hungry ghosts will see the valley of darkness while those who are to be reborn as animals will see animals or hill slopes or the edge of a flowing stream.
Death is the final destination of all living beings. Be they a great king or a lowly beggar, death is always somewhere waiting for all. Wise people think a lot about life and death. The more one learns about life and its eventual ending, the more one is likely to be careful about life and the greater will be the hope for a rebirth in a good next life.
Try to look at a sick and dying person. You will be able to see various displays of different emotions, sentiments, actions and gestures. The dying person may act as though they are in a dream. You can tell from their gestures or facial expressions about whether they are feeling disturbed, horrified or at peace with themselves. For example, if the person sees the keeper of hell advancing towards them with a deadly weapon and is about to hit them in the chest, or if they see melting copper about to be poured into their mouth, or a dark “asuraka-ya ” or gigantic ghost advancing towards them and is about to strike at them, their facial expression will be that of great shock and horror and the person is most likely to yell or scream ; or may be the person will simply groan fearfully, roll their eyes and perhaps even stick out their tongue as though being strangled. In a case like this, the dying person will probably be reborn in an unhappy realm of existence. On the other hand, if the dying person sees monks or novices in their visions, or royal places or people observing religious precepts in monasteries or offering food to monks, the person may appear an even delighted, they will probably have much happiness in their next life.
When we stretch out our hand to pick up something on the table our mind is directed at the whole process of stretching out the hand and picking up the object. Should there be a sound to interrupt the process, the hand which is already being stretched out might stop and be left hanging in the air due to the interruption. In the same way, when a person who is about to die sees their last vision or experiences their last sensation, which may be either pleasant or just the reverse, they are sure to respond to the vision or sensation in a reciprocal manner. Then the death of the body and mind descends upon them. The corpse may wear an unfinished expression on its face by which we are, in most cases, able to guess more or less rightly, as to whether they have gone to a new happy existence or an unhappy one.
The Buddha categorized karma, which is the main reason behind the rebirth of living beings, into four main categories :
1. Garukakamma (severe or heavy karma). On the positive or meritorious side, this includes the efforts made in developing Jha-na in meditation. On the negative side, it includes such horrifying acts or deeds like killing one’s own parents. This karma (action) is a serious or “heavy” karma. It is of a very severe nature ; therefore, it follows the dying offender till the last moment of their life and becomes a determining factor in rebirth. No other karma can obstruct or alter this karma as it is of an extremely severe nature and thus will yield its fruit before others.
2. A-cinnakamma (karma which is regularly committed). People normally perform or commit certain karma constantly and these actions or deeds influence the mind to give rise to either good or bad sensations.
3. A-sannakamma (the karma just before death). A dying person is able to receive any vision or sensation which occurs preceding death. For example, at the last few moments just before one dies, one may see a statue of the Buddha or hear the sound or voices of people or monks chanting.
4. Katatta-kamma or katatta-vapanakamma (small karma) If all other karmas do not yield any fruit upon the sick person for one reason or another, then the small karmas which have regularly been committed by the dying person may give rise to sensations leading to reincarnation.
These 4 main categories I have explained in brief for it would not take much time. The Buddha divided the sensations arising before death into 2 types : Maranasannaka-la and Maranasannavithti-
Maranasannaka-la means time near death. It is also the time when the dying person either sees visions or experiences sensations in their mind. The visions or sensations may come by way of the six organs of perception or any one of the six organs. Of course, if the dying person is unconscious, then it is a different matter. This arising of visions or sensations may be either a quick or a slow occurrence. It may take a second, a week, or even more than a week. Should reasons or causes leading to final death have not yet materialized, then the dying person may still stand a chance of regaining their life or recovering. But should they reach the stage of “Maranasannavithi-”, which is the last phase of a life – span, then there is no more chance of any recovery.
If the period of “moranasannaka-la” lasts many minutes or days, the patient or dying person may experience the arising of even more confusing sensations, which come and go repeatedly. If the patient has not committed any seriously offensive or heavy karma, then it will be their A-sannakamma at work. At this point, the person who looks after the patient or the dying person can help to evoke good feelings from the latter by, for example, showing them a picture of a peaceful monastery and statue of the Buddha, or inviting some monks to chant, telling the dying to think of Phra Arahant (the worthy one), or merit – making and the teaching of the Buddha.
If the patient is familiar with Dhamma, then it would be good to talk to them about life and death, or try to assist them to cultivate some mindfulness. If the person is someone who takes no interest in Dhamma at all, or one who does not care much for rational reasoning but instead prefers to have things done in their own way and according to their own personal likes or dislikes, or if the person is one who has been fearing death all the time, the attempt to make them mindful may wake them up to the reality of having to face death soon whether the person likes it or not, causing them to feel more reconciled and resigned to their fate or on the contrary, may make the person feel more depressed than ever. The person may feel reluctant to die. The person may mistakingly think that their children want them to die so that the children can divide their property or wealth, in the case of the person not yet having drawn up a will. In a situation like this, the sick person is bound to die in misery.
During this period of “maranasannaka-la”, if the sick person has committed a lot of bad karma before,they will somehow show signs of fear, for the mind may have conceived visions or mental pictures which strike fear and terror into their heart. If the person has not fallen into unconsciousness, there is still hope to “ set their mind straight” by various means. Both good and bad karma of the past can exert great influence on a dying person’s mind. There were cases in which people whose job was to kill pigs for a living happened to groan like a pig just before they died. Therefore, it is important that we all should avoid committing bad karma. We should find more time to engage ourselves in all sorts of merit-making.
When you walk to a certain place in the darkness of the night, you need to carry a lamp with you in order to see your way more clearly. If you walk the same path or road till you get used to it, you may not need the lamp any more. You need not worry about the stones and the holes or pits along the path because you know where they are by heart, since you have become very familiar with the path. You are able to walk with ease even without a lamp or torch-light. Similarly, our journey through life is a journey along a path that is full of darkness and we need a lamp or a torch to light up the path as we walk along. We gain experiences as we walk on. These experiences provide us with the necessary knowledge and wisdom we need to complete the rest of the journey. As time goes on we may not even need the lamp to light up the path that we tread on as our experiences, knowledge, and wisdom take the place of the lamp or torch and lead us safely to the end of the journey of life. Experience will tell us that “good triumphs over evil” ; thus, for those of us who are still far from the edge of death, it would be wise that as we walk along this path of life, we should do as much good as we possibly can. We should be morally righteous and find time to contemplate and look deeply into our own selves. We should chant and wish for the well-being of our parents, family members, friends, teachers, and even enemies, as well as all other living creatures, so that we all may live in peace and harmony in this earthly world of ours. It is time for us to “purify our souls” and reduce our selfishness -an instinctive quality of all living beings, to a minimum.
People who have been used to committing bad karma, when brought to understand about Dhamma or the truth of life, are likely to repent over their past deeds. There might be a guilty conscience lurking deep in their sub-conscious mind. This guilty conscience will add more to whatever uneasiness, worry, or pain that they may be reluctant to acknowledge openly. Actually, we can derive beneficial lessons from our past experiences and karma, both good and bad. For those who have had an unpleasant past, they should learn their lessons, bury the unpleasant past and start life anew, when it is not too late. If it is too late, then be reconciled to the fact and do the best you can. Some people have a tendency to overly worry about the future. They become very pessimistic in their outlook. For instance, they may worry about losing their job or they worry about having to starve, or that their family may be plunged into unexpected trouble or crisis, and they worry that their boss may reprimand them for one reason or another. Some worry about their friends, their loved ones. Some people are overly concerned about their pride and dignity or status, and they worry a lot about loss of face. Some very sensitive people agonise over sicknesses which they believed they have contracted when in reality they have not.
It is true that many of us live in fear of all kinds ; but for those who know Dhamma and the true nature of all phenomena and have learned the art of living,life is bliss and a blessing.
It is true that sinners may avert their fate at the final moment of their lives (such as Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha ) if they repent, but still they have to taste the fruit of their past karma first before the averting of their so-called ‘fate’ comes about. Whatever is the case, we should always try to “ set ” the mind of the dying in the morally righteous path before they close their eyes and draw their final breath.
There was once a Chinese man about fifty years old who took a special liking to killing animals. Should any dog happen to stray into his residential compound, it would certainly be hacked to death by this man. When no dog came within his reach, he would take the trouble to place some poisoned food by the roadside to entice some unfortunate dog. When he wanted to eat fish, he would boil a pot of water and throw some live fish into the pot. He had confessed to having derived much pleasure in seeing the fish struggling for a few seconds in the hot, boiling water before it died. Sometimes he would put a fish in a hot frying pan of oil and he would be most delighted to see the fish flapping its tail in vain and then lay still in the pan. If some hens happened to be infected with some disease, he would start a fire in his stove, catch the hen (one at a time) by its legs, and then shove the hen’s head into the stove.
Just shortly before his death, he gradually became mad, bit by bit. He developed a liking for sleeping under the hot sun. Sometimes, at about one or two o ’clock after mid-night, he would dip his head into a pond of water. Leeches would stick to his face sucking his blood and blood would stream down his cheeks. It happened very frequently, and we had to help to catch hold of him to stop him from engaging in such bizarre activities. Sometimes he would have fits. He ate little food, and no family members or relatives of his would bother to take care of him. We, who were not in any way related to him, would instead give a helping hand due to our compassionate feelings for him.Just before death, he could not move a limb at all for three days and nights. We had to feed him liquid food. He stared hard into open space and his breadth was weak. His facial expressions since the beginning of his illness indicated that he was experiencing horror in his mind, but he could not yell or scream.
During this short period of “maranasannaka-la”, the sick man still possessed some sense of perception but it was weak in nature. At the last moment, he was too weak to feel anything at all. He died a miserable death. In this case, you can guess his destination. During maranasannaka-la or death-threshold time, the dying person still receives sense impressions, except that they are unconscious. However, although they can sense through their sense-organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body) – sense–contact is very weak. It is kammajja-ru-pa (the material qualities born of karma) that causes this weakness of sense-contact. This is because the mind resides in kammajja-ru-pa and when kammajja-ru-pa becomes weak then the mind becomes weak too. But when a person is at maranasannavithi- (death-threshold process of cognition), which is the last and final process of death, they will be unable to sense the five external sense-fields (form, sound, odour, taste and touch) even if they are beaten or burned.
However, to help a person go to a good rebirth we should commence guiding them with spiritual advice at the beginning of maranasanna-ka-la, when they are still conscious. Those sense-objects of theirs that arise while giving this guidance will last until the consciousness disconnects from the present life.
As soon as cuti (death) occurs, patisandhi (rebirth) arises in a continuous flow, like water in a stream that runs continuously without anything blocking its way. Nevertheless, the person ceases here and is reborn elsewhere, near or far. This is because the mind rises and ceases rapidly at unmeasurable speed.
Credit: eBooks. Wat Amphawan.