According to Buddhism, death is the separation of the mind and body. Each living being has a mind or consciousness which continues to exist after the death of the body, and takes a new rebirth. Each of us has had countless previous lives, and we will continue to be reborn again and again without choice or control until we develop our mind to the point where we are able to gain control over this process. When the consciousness moves from one life to the next it carries with it the karmic imprints or potentialities from previous lives. Karma literally means “action” and all the actions we do with our mind, speech and body leave an imprint on the mind or consciousness. These imprints can be positive, negative or neutral, depending on the action. They will ripen when the appropriate causes and conditions come together, giving rise to positive, negative or neutral experiences.
As such, awareness of and meditation on death are extremely important in Buddhism for two reasons:
- by realising that our life is transitory, we will be more likely to spend our time wisely, in a beneficial and meaningful way;
- by understanding the death process and becoming familiar with it, we can overcome fear and other disturbing emotions that might arise at the time of death, and thus be able to die with a clear, calm, positive state of mind, and ensure a good rebirth.