A Conversation About Life After Death
We are all curious about life after death. Will it be a new beginning or a complete end to all experience? Buddhism offers a very specific explanation of what happens after death, which, if we reflect on and become aware of, will help us to no longer be filled with fear.
After a person dies, how long does the mind stay in the dead body and why?
According to Buddhism, after a person passes away, his mind will stay in the body for three or four days. During this period, it’s better not to dispose of the body. The bardo period will normally last for 49 days. After this period, except in some special cases, the mind will be reincarnated into another body.
Is there any explanation of why the mind stays in the body after death?
Talking about the situation of the mind, we mainly rely on the Buddhist texts. In the Buddhist texts there are detailed descriptions of the mind after death. Besides, today some medical scientists are also carrying out research in this area. They examine the body shortly after death and find that the mind still remains. There is a psychology institute in Japan which has claimed that the mind can remain in the dead body for three days, quite consistent with the Buddhist texts.
The mind itself seems mysterious and hard to understand with our conceptual thoughts. But we can still learn about it through the Buddha’s teaching, together with scientific findings. Just like we learn about medicine through medical books, we have to rely on religious scriptures to learn about life and the mind. Each area has its professional knowledge and in terms of the mind and life, the Buddhist philosophy provides authentic explanation. Some related phenomena may not be well explained by science, but we can find good answers in the Buddhist texts taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. So today’s science would also refer to Buddhism for the study of the mind.
To understand the profound meaning of life, we should extensively study the Buddhist scriptures in Theravada Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Han Chinese Buddhism. Within these texts, we will find clear answers to many things that are difficult to explain by science.
I want to share one more thing. Today many people believe in science but science has its own limitations. A few days ago, when I was in Beijing, I had a conversation with Mr. Zhu Qingshi, the former President of the University of Science and Technology of China. I know he once said that, when scientists climbed to the summit of knowledge mountain with all hardships, they found Buddhist masters had already been there for a long time.
So during our conversation, I asked, as a scientist, why he had such comments. He replied that from the Buddhist philosophy, he learned many truths about life which are much more than what modern science can provide. As he had been the President of USTC for ten years, I feel he and many people like him who dedicate most of their life to science can eventually find the answer they are looking for in Buddhism. Mr. Zhu has studied Discourse on the Stages of Yogic Practice and Surangama Sutra and also received many teachings from Master Nan Huai-Chin, so he made this comment about Buddhism and science.
Going back to three and four days after death, is it the same for everyone or does it vary between one and another? If one person has more attachment, would this period be longer or if one person has less ignorance or less attachment, can it be shorter?
According to Buddhism, three or four days is the longest period and it varies from person to person. Some may leave their bodies very soon.