Birth and Death and the Middle Way
Life is the companion of death,
death is the beginning of life.
Who understands their workings?
Man's life is a coming together of breath.
If it comes together, there is life;
if it scatters, there is death.
And if life and death are companions to each other,
then what is there for us to be anxious about?
— Chuang Tzu
A society that fears death such that almost everyone refuses to discuss death "out of respect for the dead" has thus paid false respect for their dead.
If such a society has no coming-of-age ritual to inculcate fearlessness in the face of death, then making death taboo is a cowardly act.
By fearing death, a person is but a coward when society treasures life so much that mass media glorifies youth to the point where the elderly are mocked by placing them in old age homes to die.
Western society thus is rendered sick in the sense that we associate death with sadness and despair to the point where the dead's living relatives are called "survivors".
In Taoism, Chuang Tzu wrote the truth about how death should be treated, as a companion of life.
Furthermore, viewing death as the beginning of life makes more sense than seeing it as the end of life.
Death is only the end of life when we ignore the afterlife.
Because society sees any depiction of the afterlife as fiction, it makes sense that death is taboo.
Such a society would rather let mass media manufacture a violent parody of life than make a film about the afterlife according to Buddhism.
Indeed, there has never been a movie about the Tibetan Buddhist afterlife, despite a book being written about Tibetans who have returned from the dead to tell about it.
Is it because the Dalai Lama forbids it? Or is it out of false piety and respect for the Tibetans that Hollywood has yet to finance such a venture?
Personally I find the Buddhist afterlife to be a place where anything can happen. I could be reborn in the hells and suffer according to the evil karma I have accumulated in this life. Eons later, I may spend time in the hungry ghost realm not taking any pleasure from eating.
Later on, I may be reborn as a worm in the animal realm, only to be eaten by a bird. Then I might be reborn as a girl in the human realm. Many eons later, I could end up in the demon realm and fight with other demons.
Much later, I may be reborn in the realm of gods and live a long life only to be reborn in one of the Buddhist heavens.
However, each rebirth still requires hearing the Dharma and turning away from evil. In this case, karmic evil would occur when I act according to the realm in which I am reborn.
In the human realm, to act like other humans requires committing evil karma. All the things humanity does to glorify humankind cannot help but create seeds of evil karma which only leads to rebirth in samsara, the realms of desire — the hells, hungry ghost, animal, human, demons and gods.
What kind of existence is this? Is it worth being reborn endlessly due to evil karma?
I do not believe so. For samsara is not humanity's destiny if we choose to live according to the Buddhadharma.
Contrary to what the brahmins of Santanadharma preach, rebirth in samsara is not a person's destiny when she chooses to become a Buddha.
In choosing to become a Buddha, even one sentient being abandons ignorance for the greater good of all sentient beings. This happened to Gotama over 2500 years ago. He became Sakyamuni Buddha in one lifetime, and discovered that he too spent previous lifetimes as a Bodhisattva, preparing for Nirvana.
Even after his mahaparinirvana, which appears to us as an earthly death, the Buddha was liberated to be whatever it is causes each Buddhist to abandon human existence in samsara to become like him.
He could be your Buddhist teacher, a guru, or even someone you hate. He might appear as your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your family, or even that bully who beat you up in Grade Two.
Whenever whatever another person does to us, good or bad, if we are inspired to learn from it and become better than we were before, then that is due to the Buddhadharma.
For it is the Buddha's aim to liberate all sentient beings from human existence and not be reborn in Samsara.
Each liberated sentient being is destined to become a Buddha when she has heard the Buddhadharma — the Four Noble Truths, dependent arising — and, repenting her former life, jumps over to the Middle Way.