Friday, May 13, 2011

Buddha's Responses to Questions about Death: Question 1

I'm blessed to be able to attend teachings at Drepung Loseling in Atlanta.  The center's relationship with Drepung Monastery and Emory University allows us to receive teachings from the most learned scholars in Tibetan Buddhism.  In an effort to share some of our good fortune, my next few posts are intended to share the basis of one of the teachings from our resident teacher, Geshe Dadul Namgyal.

Geshe-la is currently translating and compiling science curriculum for the monks in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.  He has served as editor of several Buddhist publications as well as serving as a translator with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.   Recently he gave teaching from a translation he compiled previously, this is the work that I wanted to share with the internet.

The sutra is entitled "Ayuspattiyathakaraparipicchasutra" roughly translated as "The sutra (spoken by the Buddha) in response to a query over what happens after death."  It comes from the Tibetan Kagyur.1  In the sutra,  King Suddhodana (Gautama Buddha's Father) is wondering about death as he observes the funeral rites for one of his wealthy subjects name Nandaja.  As he grows impatient with the inability to find answers he sees the Buddha.  He obtains permission to ask the Buddha several questions and, not wasting his opportunity, he fires off 11 questions concerning the event after death.

The first question addresses the main subject, "What happens when we die, do we just decay to nothing?"

Question One:  O Bhagawan! Does one, after passing away from this world, come to naught and not get re-born at all, like fires burning out and leaving ashes in their wake?

Response:  No.  For example, where there is a seed, there will be its resultant sprout.  This life is like the seed and the next life, the sprout.  So, the next life follows in the wake of the present on after this life has ceased.  Besides, just as the sun rises again the next day after it had set and gradually given way to the night, likewise one takes a next life after passing away from the present one.  If there were no such thing as taking a next life, it would be logical that all the living beings would be extinguished by now.  Since that is not the case, there is certainly a next life.  This is like physical plants and trees growing again after having dried out due to the ravages of time.


1 The bibliographic information for the sūtra is: tshe 'pho ba ji ltar 'gyur ba zhus pa'i mdo; Ayuspattiyathakaraparipicchasūtra;
Tohoku catalogue number 308 (for sDege redaction): MDO, SA 145b4 -155a1;
Peking catalogue number 974 (for Peking redaction): MDO SNA TSHOGS, SHU 155b1-164b8.
In the Lhasa redaction of the bka'-'gyur (MDO, LA 223b7-237b3) the title is given as: 'chi 'pho ba ji ltar 'gyur ba
zhus pa'i mdo