In my previous blog I talked about “death,” and this week a patient told me about their fear of death, so this blog topic is about the “future after death.”
As I said in my previous blog, I prefer to believe we are beings of energy, and we come to this world and go back to the source after death, repeating this process many, many times.
If you agree with this concept and stand on this point of view, you might feel a sense of ease about the end of the physical body, for yourself and others, too, because you know their energy (soul or spirit) does not die with the physical body. You might be sad that you can’t see someone physically anymore, but they are still connected to you.
Those are not actually my own ideas. Jesus and Honen (the founder of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan) said this, too. Jesus showed people that the end of the physical body is not the end for their spirit, or soul.
Before Saint Honen came along, people in Japan thought that after they died they would go to see King Yama (who is the judge) and he would judge them: if you lived nicely, then you’d go to heaven; if you lived badly, then you’d go to hell. Hell was explained in great detail — there are eight great hells.
One of the great hells is called “Pratāpana Hell” (Great Heat Hell), and when a person would arrive in this hell, the guardian would pierce them with a fiery spear, and from that pierced place fire would start and burn slowly. This would repeat for 4.2467328 × 1017 years.
The eight great hells have four gates each, and on the other side of each gate are four smaller hells, so each great hell has sixteen hells, which totals one hundred and thirty six hells, and each hell can be described in detail. There are not only hot hells, there is the same number of cold hells, too.
Such scary images they had! The bad things that people did were linked to particular hells and that’s where they would end up. Of course people were scared to die, because no one is a purely good person; everyone does something that’s not good in their lifetime.
But Saint Honen totally changed their concept of what happens after death. He said, “If you chant Nembutsu, you’ll go to heaven (Pure Land).” At that time in Japan, people could easily die because there were many wars, famines, and natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.). I can imagine that after they heard what Saint Honen had to say, they were much more relaxed about dying.
Nowadays, it seems like people don’t think much about death; actually, it seems as though they prefer to avoid thinking about it. But no one can escape death. They may not be thinking about it consciously, but they know subconsciously that they’ll die one day. And as much as a person avoids it, the more it will affect them. It’s a law of the universe: action and reaction: if you hide something, it’ll appear in a different place.
So, people don’t want to face the fact that they’ll die one day. They are so attached to physical things like money, cars, houses, clothes, and phones, and attached to other people, too, like family, friends, etc. They live with the illusion that they own those things; they think, “those are mine.”
The worst thing is that they are not even aware that they are so attached to material objects and people, and even more, they don’t notice that they are avoiding the fact that one day, they will die.
It’s much more complicated now than in the time of Honen. In those times, death was not as hidden from society as it is now, and people would occasionally see someone die: death was close to the surface. But nowadays, we barely see the process of a person’s death. We see people die on the news, we hear about it as statistics quoted by newscasters when they say things like, “Today, ten people died when … ,” or “Today, hundreds of people were killed when … .” It’s very hard to feel the reality of it — people feel that death is far away from them.
However, it’s better to think the opposite, to realize the fact that you’ll die one day; if you do that, then you’ll want to live your life more fully. There are lots of stories about this. For example, when a doctor tells a person they will die in a week (or a month or a year), then the person suddenly starts to live their life more meaningfully. This type of story can be found in novels and movies, and on TV shows — these stories are everywhere, so people know about this.
Also, if you have an image of a bright future for yourself after death, your present life will be bright, too.
It just takes a moment to realize this — it’s so simple — and at that moment you will free yourself from the fear of your death. But it’s hard to keep this feeling, because fear affects us like gravity: in the same way that gravity affects us each moment, fear can come to us, too. So, each moment, over and over again, we need to realize our image of a bright future.
So, live in the future that you’d like to live in! Live a meaningful life.
You’ll feel so free when you live this way.
Memento mori. (Latin for “Remember you must die.”)