Mar 18, 2009

Not Annihilation

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I am starting to quote about deja morts in Buddhism perspective:


When we first hear of rebirth we may become excited by the idea. Then, on discovering that the Buddha said we would be well advised to break away from it, we may become disappointed and think we are being asked to direct ourselves towards annihilation, the very thing we may have thought we had been saved from. But this is not the case. The cessation of rebirth is not annihilation; it is merely the cessation of the various states of suffering.

Annihilation is a figment of our imagination. First we imagine that at death we shall enter a state of nothingness and then we believe in what we have imagined. There is no foundation for such a belief. The Buddha refuted the idea of annihilation as well as the idea of eternity, because he saw that all things are impermanent. On one occasion he was asked about the existence of the self, to which he gave no reply. The questioner, Vacchagotta, went away. After he had gone, Ananda, one of the Buddha's disciples, asked him why he had not answered the questions.

"If, Ananda, when asked, 'Does the Self exist?', I had replied to him, 'The Self exists,' then, Ananda, that would be to side with all those recluses and brahmins who are eternalists.

"But if, Ananda, when asked the question, 'Does the Self not exist, then?' I had replied, 'No! The Self

• Iih". not exist,1 that would be to side 11 those recluses and brahmins who ire annihilationists.

"Again, Ananda, if when asked . . . 'Does the Self exist?' I had replied, l he Self does exist,' would that reply I"- i onsistent with my knowledge that 111 things are impermanent?"

"No, Lord, it would not."

"Again, Ananda, when asked, 'Then does not the Self exist?' if I had replied 'No! it does not exist,' it would li.ive added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta . . . For he would have said, 'Formerly I had a self, but now I have one no more.'"

Samyutta-Nikaya, Some Sayings of the Buddha, (abbreviated)

The Buddha was not able to answer Vacchagotta's questions because they were inappropriate. Whatever answer he gave would have been incorrect.

Vacchagotta had the idea of a self and he wanted to know whether that self existed or not. We have to come away from ideas of all kind in order to be aware of actualities. There is no need to fear oblivion and annihilation for ourselves or for others. Bodies come and go, but the essence of what we are does not. As Hui Neng said, "Who would have thought that the Essence of Mind is intrinsically free from becoming and annihilation!"


There are things we can easily know and see for ourselves and there are things that are not so easy to know. For example, we can know what rebirth is; we can see that mind and body are impermanent and yet continue; we can realise the unborn, the deathless.

What we may not know is what tomorrow will bring, or what next week, next year, next life will bring.

We may speculate on these things, of course, and make assumptions based on different circumstances and conditions. But such speculation, as the Buddha said, is very unwise. Shrouded in desire, speculation is bound to produce wholesome and unhappy states of mind. When we realise just what this life is and what 'I' am, however, there will be no need for speculation.

Why is it that most of us do not see life as it is? Why are we blinkered? 11 is because we are fettered by our past actions to a particular kind of existence. Effects of past actions (karma) stop us seeing things as they air. We cannot see truth when we are preoccupied or troubled. Worry, despair, longing, or anxiety cloud the truth of the moment. The cessation of unwholesome actions leads to the realisation of truth. When we become less concerned about ourselves and what we can get out of life by way of pleasure and personal ambition, then we can see life as it is.

To accept life as it is without wishing it were different is to give ourselves the opportunity of being aware of what is actually happening as it happens. In so doing, we become acutely aware of impermanence. To see impermanence fully, brings us to the realisation that eternalism is a folly and annihilation is an impossibility. Rebirth is thereby seen for what it is. And to see rebirth for what it is, is to be free from rebirth. Being free from rebirth, we are aware of our unborn undying nature. We are thereby relieved of the suffering which arises because of believing in a self subject to birth and death and, in consequence, realise the peace and happiness of the unborn.