In order to answer the question, What happens to us when we die?, we need to answer another question: What happens when we are alive?
What is happening now to us? In English we say ‘we are’ but it’s proper to say ‘we are becoming’ because things are becoming. We’re not the same person in two consecutive minutes. A picture of you as a baby looks different to you now. You are not exactly the same as that baby and not entirely a different person either. As a five-year-old, you are not exactly the same as that child and not entirely a different person either. The form, feelings and mental formations are different.
In the middle way there is no sameness and no otherness. You may think you are still alive but fact is, you’ve been dying everyday, every minute. Cells die and are born.
Death is a necessary condition of birth. No death, no birth. They ‘inter-are’ and happen in every moment in meditation. A cloud may have died many times, getting transformed as rain, streams, water. Rain is a continuation of the cloud. With a meditation practitioner nothing can hide itself. When drinking tea, it’s very pleasant to be aware that one is drinking a cloud.
When you are parents, you die; you are reborn as your children. “You are my continuation, I love you”. The Buddha told us how to ensure a beautiful continuation with a compassionate thought, a beautiful thought. Forgiveness is our continuation. If anger, separation and hate arise, then we will not ensure a beautiful continuation.
When we pronounce a word that is compassionate, good and beautiful, that is our continuation.
When a cloud is polluted, the rain is polluted. So purifying thoughts, word and action create a beautiful continuation. We can see the effects of our speech in our children. My disciples are my continuation, both monastic and lay. I want to transmit loving speech, action and thought. This is called karma in Buddhism.
My body will disintegrate but my karma will continue; karma means action. My karma is already in the world. My continuation is everywhere in the world. When you look at one of my disciples walking with compassion, I know he is my continuation. I don’t want to transmit my negative emotions; I want to transform them before I transmit them. The dissolution of this body is not my end. Surely I will continue after the dissolution of this body. So don’t worry about my death, I am not going to die.
Let us meditate on the birth of a cloud. Does it have a birth certificate? Examine the notion of birth, that nothing can come from something, from no-one to someone. Is it possible for something to come from nothing? Scientifically this is not possible.
The cloud was water in an ocean. Lake, river and heat from the sun gave it birth, the moment of continuation. Before you were born you were in your mother’s womb. The moment of birth is a moment of continuation. Is the moment of conception the start?
You are half from your dad and half from your mum already; this is also a moment of continuation. When you practise meditation you can see things like that.
From a talk during a retreat in Hong Kong on May 15, 2007.