The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Are we able to conquer the Fear of Death?
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Death is not a direct experience but a concept deducted from our observation of what is happening in the external world. The conquest of death is the overcoming of this concept, but it cannot be achieved by our intellect even though it is the originator of such conceptual thought. Our individual existence and ignorance of the non existence of an individual self creates the impression of a permanent ego. In reality, neither death nor ego can be experience directly. If death is real, it should be something that each of us would be able to experience. But as long as we are able to experience anything, we are not dead. On the question of our Ego; we have unquestionably a feeling of our personal identity, our own self, which accompanies every state of our consciousness. When we perceive something and at the same time have a nice feeling about it, this is the feeling of the condition of our Ego.
If we are able to observe the process of dying or the moment of death, then we may be able to prove that death does not destroy the experiencing subject. If it cannot be experienced itself, why should we be afraid of it anyway? Needless to said, we all fear death and this go to prove how much we are under the dominance of our intellect. Intellect is necessary and justified as long as we are dealing with objects or things, but it fails us when it come to the question concerning the very essence of man and the meaning of individual existence. The only way out of this dilemma is to replace this intellectual attitude with a subjective experience.
We can only speak of the cessation of bodily functions and the decay of the physical body. What happens to the forces that built and maintained it when it is alive is quite another question. The conquest of death is, but purely subjective that can only be solved by a direct inner experience. We need to become conscious of it by turning our attention inward to solve the problem. Ego arises with the notion of a self. By recognizing the illusion of a separate and unchanging ego and accepting that everything is interdependent and ever changing as the very nature of life, we can destroy this presupposition on which the concept of death is based. The annihilation of the ego illusion made it possible to see beyond the limit of the impermanence self and recognized the connection between passed and possible future form of life.
But of course, realistically most of us would unlikely to reach this state of realization to get pass the fear of death. In that respect, the description on the process of dying in the Tibetan well-known funeral text, the Bardo Thodol, commonly referred to as the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ should give most of us, the less enlightened folks, some degree of comfort on what one can expect in the process of dying and allay some of the fear in us on the subject of death. The Book describe the process of the dissolution of our various sense consciousness including finally the mind consciousness and the process in which how finally this subtle consciousness leave the physical body, taking on the body of an intermediate state being before seeking out another ‘body’ to be reborn into. Where this intermediate being will be reborn is uncontrolled and is propelled more by one’s own past actions.
Man is mortal and is subject to death as long as he tries to hang on to his present state of mind and body, as long as he does not try to rise above his present condition and continue to live in a state of ignorance. Immortality does not consist in the preservation of our ego. It is in the awareness that in reality our present is nothing more than just a fleeting moment. In that knowledge, lies the liberation from death leading to the experience of immortality.