Buddhism the Concept of Life After Death in Theravada and Mahayana Perspective Term Paper

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Buddhism: The Concept of Life After Death in Theravada and Mahayana

The Concept of Life after Death in Theravada and Mahayana

The core differentiation between the Theravada and Mahayana school of thought in Buddhism lies in the stress on the individual attainment of salvation and enlightenment in Theravada, as opposed to the sense of common or universal salivation that is the goal of Mahayana. This central difference has a profound and subtle affect on the various interpretations of death and the afterlife in Buddhism. The present study provides the background to this issue and attempts to present an overview not only of the differences between these two schools of thought, but also attempts to establish fundamental similarities relating to the concept of illusion, salvation and nirvana, which form an integral part of the Buddhists view of the afterlife.

The study also investigates the different theories and views related to the period before and after death. This refers to the fact that Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist writings not only describe the potentiality of life after death, but also describe the way in which the treatment of the dead can impact the progression towards that end, and how life acts influence the continued cycle of life and death. This study, then, is designed to assess the variations in views of life after death from the Theravada and Mahayana perspectives.

1. Introduction

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Understanding the concept and meaning of death and the afterlife in Buddhism is completely dependent on an understanding of the world view that underlies and motivates all Buddhist discourse. "Understanding Buddhist death and the afterlife is another way of understanding the Buddhist worldview of what exists and what perishes in both the visible and invisible worlds."

The essence of the Buddhist world view and the understanding of death and the afterlife are succinctly expressed by Becker.

Term Paper on Buddhism the Concept of Life After Death in Theravada and Mahayana Perspective Assignment

The central problem in early Buddhism was how to escape the continuing cycle of birth and death. In Buddhist terms, this world of suffering and rebirth is called samsara, and the escape from it, nirvana. The question becomes: What is nirvana, and how can we reach it? www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=97526887"

These are essential aspects that will be discussed in this research dissertation. Throughout the research this central aspect became clear- that an understanding of the Buddhist view of the afterlife, as well as the difference between the various schools of thought in Buddhism, was inextricably linked to the foundational world view and stance of the Buddhist perception of reality. This study will therefore attempt to show, not only the differences between Theravada and Mahayana, but will also show how the underlying concepts of suffering, illusion, reincarnation, enlightenment and nirvana are interdependent and follow the overall religious trajectory of Buddhist thought and praxis.

2. Background

In analytical terms, in order to fully understand the conception of the afterlife in any of the Buddhist school of though it is essential to first discuss the essential Buddhist concepts and world view. The word of the Buddha stresses the primary and essential background to all Buddhist thought. This refers to the First Noble Truth of Suffering in the Pali Scriptures.

What now if the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering; Decay is suffering; Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain Grief and despair are suffering; not to get what one desires is suffering; the Five Aggreges of Existence are suffering.

This passage stresses the foundational precept of Buddhism in that the common world of reality is seen as a dimension of pain, suffering and illusion which must be transcended. Both birth and death are therefore seen as entrance and exit to the world of Samsara, which is the ordinary world of suffering.

Death is " the parting and vanishing of beings out of this or that order of beings, their destruction, disappearance, death, the completion of their life period, dissolution of the aggregates of existence. The discarding of the body; - this is called death."

For the original Buddhist mind the cause of this suffering lay in the fact of a false or illusionary perception of reality. Salvation and 'releasement' from this suffering therefore implies the need for knowledge that can 'see through' or transcend the illusionary state of man's existence. Concepts such as the ego and self are part of the illusionary structure of existence and also must be transcended in the search for enlightenment.

2.1. Desire

The five "aggregates of existence" referred to in the above quotation refers to "...bodily form, feeling, perception (mental formations) and consciousness."

Therefore desire and "craving "for the world of the body, senses or mind are all part of the illusionary nature of this existence, which inculcates suffering. The process of enlightenment or the movement away from this suffering in illusion is though the movement away from desire for the things of this world.

All of these central aspects can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The first of these truths is, the observation that human existence is filled with a great deal of suffering. People suffer from pain and illness, from hunger, from death and the fear of death, and from unpleasant feelings such as anger and depression. Many of these unpleasant experiences, death for example, are inevitable.

The Second Noble truth refers to the central cause of all suffering - which is created not by the external world but by human perception and the mind itself. A central concept which is intimately related to the understanding of the illusionary nature of desire is the term attachment.

The significance of attachment is core to understanding Buddhist thought and is also to the meaning of the afterlife in both Theravada and Mahayana. Attachment refers to things that people cling to, things they feel they must have to be happy. There are a number of types of attachments. People can be attached to sensory pleasures, such as comfort, sexual stimulation, or good food. People can also be attached to their opinions or beliefs. Another attachment is to the idea of self. People cling to their image of who they are, and expend great amounts of energy defending and bolstering that image.

The Third Noble Truth states that suffering is not inevitable. The Fourth Noble Truth deals with transcendence or the escape from this world of suffering. In simplistic terms transcendence of suffering refers to the removal or denial to attachments as having no reality. This may be achieved though knowledge or by"... gaining clear insight into the process by which attachments lead to suffering."

As stated, the truth of suffering cannot be escaped in Buddhism and is central to the understanding of other aspects, such as nirvana and enlightenment.

The Truth of Arising (Samud-ya) This, O Monks, is the Truth of the Arising of Suffering. It is this thirst or craving (tan-h?) which gives rise to rebirth, which is bound up with passionate delight and which seeks fresh pleasure now here and now there in the form of (1) thirst for sensual pleasure, (2) thirst for existence, and (3) thirst for non-existence.

2.2. The structure of the Buddhist universe.

The Buddhist cosmology and view of reality divides the universe in the two main categories of the physical universe, which is described of as a receptacle or 'container' (bh-jana), and the 'beings' (sattva) or life-forms which reside in it.

The material or physical universe is created by the interaction of the various elements - water, fire, air, and space or "k"?a. The interaction of these various elements creates numerous 'world-systems'.

These systems undergo cycles of modification and evolution. The central significance of this in terms of the present study is that these world systems, like the idea of the human self are essentially impermanent. Even though a world system may exist for billions of years, yet they, like human bodies, are eventually destroyed.

Various central concerns relating to the afterlife lie in this area of understanding the impermanent nature of all existence and in the uselessness of any form of attachment to manifestations of these illusions. This aspect applies both to Mahayana and Theravada schools of Buddhist thought. The idea of the self and the ego are central concepts whose illusionary nature has to be overcome in order for enlightenment to occur, 2.3. Rebirth

Central to all Buddhist thought on death and the afterlife is the concept of reincarnation or rebirth.

Within the various world systems as described above are numerous "realms" of rebirth. Commonly, six of these realms are discussed in the Buddhist Scriptures and are described on the 'wheel of life' (bhavacakra).

Depiction of the Buddhist Universe: "The circle in the middle represents the flat surface of the earth which was thought to support four large continents of different shapes. Above this are the heavenly mansions inhabited by the gods, and below the hells and other realms of suffering. Thailand. AD c.1820"

The six realms also refer to thirty one overlapping levels - however a discussion of this aspect is strictly outside the ambit of this study.

The main aspect that is important in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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