Buddhist Beliefs about Human Life and Death
Buddhists do not believe that the essence of the individual ceases to exist after our physical death; instead, our mind continues to exist indefinitely but in a more subtle form (Gyatso, 2005). Buddhists believe that the mind is not dependent on physical form or on any physical or physiological processes; instead, it is a formless continuum that exists apart from the physical body and which survives the physical death of the body (Gyatso, 2005).
According to Buddhists, only the superficial conscious ceases to exist at death while the more subtle form of mind is eventually reborn within another physical form as part of an uninterrupted cycle of life, death, and rebirth into another life (AboutBuddhism.org, 2007). This cyclic existence is called samsara in Sanskrit. More specifically, the manner in which we live during our physical lives dictates the form into which we are subsequently reborn. In that regard, every action in life leaves its mark on our eternal mind and the quality of our actions and thoughts in life determines the level of fortune or misfortune into which we are subsequently reborn. This is the concept of karma in Buddhism. According to Buddhist beliefs, positive or virtuous thoughts and actions in life beget future happiness and good fortune; conversely, negative or non-virtuous thoughts and actions in life beget bad fortune or suffering in future lives (AboutBuddhism.
Buddhists believe that when die, our subtle mind leaves the physical body and enters an intermediate dreamlike state called bardo in Tibetan (AboutBuddhism.org, 2007). The nature and quality of this experience is directly determined by the nature of our choices during our physical life. Eventually, our subtle mind is reborn into another physical form and at a level of fortune or quality of life that reflects what we deserve based on our behavior, thoughts, and actions in our previous life. Buddhists believe that we have no choice as to whether (or when) we are reborn. Based on the state of our karma from our prior life, we may be reborn into more fortunate human (or even god-like) form if our thoughts and actions in life were extremely moral; alternatively, we may be reborn into unfortunate human form or even suffer greatly in animal form if our karma from our previous life was negative (AboutBuddhism.org, 2007).
AboutBuddhism.org. (2007). Buddhism Beliefs. Accessed December 26, 2010, from:
Gyatso, G.K. (2005). Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully: The Profound Practice of Transference of Consciousness. Toronto, Canada: Tharpa Publications