Monday, May 16, 2011

Buddha's Responses to Questions about Death: q. 5 & 6

Question 1
Questions 2,3,4

The next 2 questions seek to clarify what of our present possessions and status is returned to us in our next lives.  The first addresses wealth and poverty.  It explains that generosity and miserliness are the causes for future economic states.

Question Five: O Bhagawan! Do those who are rich and affluent in this life remain rich an affluent in the next life, too? Do those who are poor and destitute in this life also remain poor and destitute in the next? Or do the two states vary and not remain fixed?

Response: Among those now alive, there are some who are wealthy at birth, but become poor later in life. There are others who are destitute from birth, but later become rich. So, affluence and poverty are undoubtedly impermanent.

For instance, in the world when conditions of warmth and moisture are present, leaves and branches of plants flourish, whereas in conditions of extreme cold and lack of moisture, they dry out. Similarly, with the conditions of generosity, etc. one becomes rich, and with the conditions of theft and stinginess, one becomes destitute. There are those who remain rich through lifetimes because of having engaged in acts of generosity without break. Whereas, with interrupted acts of generosity, engaging at times and not at other times, or regretting one’s act of generosity, one may become poor either in the early part or later part of one’s life. With persistent thievery and stinginess, one may remain poor throughout several lifetimes. However, there are those who became rich in certain lifetimes or in either the earlier or later part of a particular life after one had regretted one’s acts of theft and miserliness. Poverty and deprivation do not emerge from generosity, nor does affluence emerge from stinginess. Also affluence and poverty do not necessarily alternate over lifetimes.

The second of the two questions addresses what possessions pass with you life to life.   Then goes on to explain the latencies that exist in our mindstreams that can result in visions such as ghosts or dreams of loved ones that continue to appear with possessions as they did during their lives.

Question Six: O Bhagawan! Whatever horses, elephants, etc. one may ride in this life, whatever ornaments and dresses one may utilise in this life, whatever food and drink one may enjoy in this life, one will enjoy the same in the next. Such is the understanding of ordinary people. Is this true?

Response 1: No. Humans, when they die, take birth either in higher or lower realms in accordance with whatever actions -- wholesome or unwholesome -- they may have committed.

Response 2: Sometimes people are seen in their old familiar clothes even after death. Such appearances are due to the fact that there are limitless, unimaginable, countless world-systems of gandharvas3 (scent-eating spirits) filling space. Among these scent-eaters is a particular type called ‘entering the mind-stream of those on the verge of dying’4. In search of food, these scent-eaters take on the appearance of those deceased beings, with their physical forms, clothes, ornaments, and customs and even their mode of speaking.

Response 3: In addition, other than these mentioned scent-eaters, there are yakshas5 (malignant spirits), gandharvas6 (scent-eating spirits), pisacas7 (meat-eating spirits), bhūtas8 (evil spirits), etc. who, in order to entice the relatives and friends of the deceased, through mundane magical powers, learn the behaviours, the burial locations, and life events associated with the deceased. They then cast spells over the relatives, etc. who see or dream about them.

Response 4: It is possible for relatives, etc. to see or dream of the deceased due to the maturation of latencies left because of having been together a long time. For example, suppose a person dreams of his living relatives, servants, or anyone (the pleasure of) who’s company and wealth he shared, or, for that matter, suppose he dreams of his enemy or anyone who robbed him of his possessions, i.e. someone with whom he shared the displeasure of fighting or arguing, if the persons whom he saw in the dream also had the same dream, then it could be considered a true experience. However, the others do not dream his dreams. So, if, even among those who are alive, we do not share each other’s dreams, then how could the dreams about the deceased truly be the deceased? Thus, it is just a case of past latencies being activated.

Response 5: There is yet another example to represent the working of latencies. Suppose there is a person who, in the first half of his life, owned a castle, a house, a town which he left behind, and moved to another town. In the meantime, his earlier town was totally destroyed and obliterated. Later, he dreams of his past castle, the house, and the town all intact, complete in size and shape so vividly that it seemed real.  However, all he saw in the dream was just a case of his latencies being activated.  Likewise, dreams or visions of the deceased are similar to dreaming of the past house. Since the consciousness of the deceased has already taken rebirth in accordance with ones karmic action, there is no way it can still be seen. Therefore, it is due to the maturation of the potential of latencies that one sees and dreams of the characteristics and clothes of the deceased.

Response 6: Likewise, appearances or dreams of the deceased holding weapons such as swords; wearing clothes, ornaments, etc.; riding mounts such as elephants, etc., are due to the maturing of latencies. So, view this like the example of the house.
3 They are of two kinds. One refers to the celestial music players belonging to the Desire Realm who have
melodious throats and sustain on smell. The other refers to the intermediate beings of the Desire Realm who, too,
sustain on smell. Here, the reference is to the latter type.
4 This merely refers to a type of such spirit, not someone who actually enters the mental continuum of others.
5 This class of spirits is sometimes associated as retinues of Kūber, one of the four directional kings, located to the
north of Mt. Meru, or it refers to a type that sustains on the eatables offered to the gods.
6 Ibid note 3.
7 This refers to a class of famished spirits who live on meats. In some usage, this class of spirits represents ghosts.
8 This has several usages. Often it is used generically to refer to any one of the eighteen, according to certain
sources, kinds of ghostly spirits. More specifically, this type stands for a class within the famished spirits who make
up physical appearances and usurp the vitality of other beings.