Birth and death in Buddhism


From Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature: Dōgen’s Understanding of Temporality, by Joan Stambaugh:

For Plato, the body is the prison of the soul; the senses are a hindrance to knowledge, able to convey knowledge of becoming and change, but never of pure being. Thus Plato could define philosophy as a preparation for dying and for death — the release of the soul from its prison. This view of the permanence of the soul appears to be ingrained in our [Western] religions and culture, if only as a wistful hope or even a fantastic dream.

… “Does the soul continue to exist after death?” was one of the metaphysical questions that the Buddha refused to answer. … For Dōgen, often the question is the answer.

The question whether the soul continues to exist after death or not presupposes that birth is the beginning of a continuous process, life, and death is its end. If we do not accept this view of life as a durational stretch of time, we must find a different way to question life and death.  (p. 73)



2 responses

  1. In recent years, I’ve wondered about the impulse behind the desire for a persistent soul. I think the ego simply can’t stand the idea of not being at the center of the universe – forever. If we examine our own ego-function, we can see this impulse for what it is – grasping and clinging to something that actually doesn’t exist.

  2. Coming out of a very western christianity in my childhood – the soul was such a given. Plato’s writings and those of Aquinas reinforced this. Then certain esoteric teachings on reincarnation also expanded the concept of the soul for me – seperating the soul from the personality – and it took me awhile to wrap my head around this concept. Then came certain buddhist teachings that not so much denied the soul, it just had no concept of soul – it wasn’t a part of the cosmology.
    People will often ask my opinion on the soul and what I believe happens after death. My answer: “I don’t know”. They often ask if this doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t. If there is a soul, a heaven, a reincarnation, a change in energy or just nothingness – “I don’t know”, I have yet to experience it as John. And i’m at peace with that. And that was such a liberating experience. I’m busy enough with all the Starfish *wink*
    Thank you for your comment the other day. I really enjoy your blog.