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Buddhism: A matter of life and death and life

By Ian Nance - posted Monday, 13 February 2012


In Australia, the lifestyle and practice of Buddhism has grown considerably over the last few decades with large numbers of people turning to this holistic blend of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. Although some may feel that Buddhism is ultimately an Eastern worldview with a sense of mysticism that is nearly impenetrable for a non-Buddhist, this is not necessarily so.

An exploration of Buddhism is both worthwhile and possible, for it is no longer foreign to the West, but is becoming integrated with it. Many consider its qualities such as non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and compassion, admirable. 

Moreover, its views on rebirth and the afterlife determine what is regarded as important in this present life. It’s not bewildering, daunting, or arcane, just practical common-sense.

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Master Hsing Yun, in discussing this very important but difficult to affirm topic, points out that when we talk about rebirth, some people laugh at the idea. They consider such belief passé, and obsolete in this technologically advanced modern age. Others may think that the question of rebirth belongs strictly in the arena of religion. After all, the issue of what happens after death seems remote from ordinary everyday living.

Without future lives, existence would be short, and without meaning…the outlook of life would be forlorn and uncertain. When we are going through tough times, we often encourage ourselves by saying, “everything is going to be alright. Just wait and see how I will be doing in ten years.”

With rebirth, human existence has manoeuvring room. With rebirth, unfulfilled wishes can materialise one day. With rebirth, there will always be the next train of life for us to board.

All phenomena in this world, cannot escape the workings of the ‘wheel of rebirth’. The normal life processes of being born and dying are examples of rebirths. Changes in nature are also manifestations of rebirths, such as the change of the four seasons.

There is the time cycle of past, present, and future. There is the cycle of day and night. These are temporal types of rebirths, whereas the change of directions, and movement from one place to another are spatial types.

In short, everything around us is the result of rebirth. The wind blows, and gathers the clouds. Clouds turn into rain, which falls to the ground. That rain evaporates back into the sky, and becomes clouds again. This continuous process of the water cycle is a form of rebirth. Rebirth is not only found in changes in the universe, but is also evident in the many changes which one experiences during one’s lifetime, from birth to death.

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According to scientific research, every cell in our body is renewed every seven years. The cellular structure, perception, and cognition of all living creatures, from simple organisms to advanced humans, is constantly moving, changing, living, and dying.

Rebirth is also at work in family relationships. At one time, we are the children of our parents, and yet in another time we become the parents of children. The changes in our economic welfare, and the ups and downs of our emotions, are also examples of rebirth. According to Buddhist teachings, we humans are constantly going through cycles of rebirth, and everything in life is subject to change.

It is just that we refer to the slow and gradual changes as “forming and ceasing”, or “changing and transforming”, and we reserve the term “the cycle of rebirth” to those changes that are rapid and sudden. These cycles are the direct consequences of karma.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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