Buddhists have different views of what happens after death. While this is the case, they have a unifying feature which is that the cycle of death and reincarnation (rebirth) can be avoided by attaining nirvana. Nirvana means ‘blowing out’ or extinction and it is also translated as ‘bliss’ and refers to letting go of individual desires and identity.
As such, in this state of nirvana the ‘individual does not exist and there is no survival of subjective experience. Extinction makes it possible for individuals to be liberated. Buddha departed from radical Hinduism in his ‘anatta’ doctrine which means individuals don’t have any external souls. Rather than external souls, individuals have a ‘bundle’ of memories, habits, desires, sensations and so forth.
All these delude one into thinking they have a stable and lasting self. Despite the transitory nature, the false self hangs as a unit and reincarnates in body after body. In Buddhism, life in corporeal body is viewed in a negative manner as the source of suffering. As such, the goal is always to attain release.
This means abandoning false sense of self so the bundle of impulses and memories disintegrates hence ensuring there is nothing left to reincarnate and consequently, no experience of pain. From the present day perspective of the affirming Western society, the Buddhist vision appears distinctly unappealing. This is because it displays life as unattractive and the prospect of nirvana through which one dissolves into nothingness is even less desirable.
Buddhists believe that there is no permanent essence or substance that endures upon death. Rather, individual identity elements necessary for Buddhism have an intelligible reincarnation view that is predicted on the ‘endless array of phenomena making up the individual’ these are divided into 5 basic categories that include emotions, physical phenomena, consciousness, response to sensory perceptions and sensory perceptions.
In Buddhist view, such elements can continue to exist even after the physical body dies though it might not take the form of immortal soul. In accordance to Tibetan Buddhism, following death, the spirit of the departed is taken through a process that lasts 49 days that is divided into 3 stages known as ‘bardos’.
At the conclusion of bardo, the individual can either enter nirvana or return back to earth for rebirth. It is also important for the individual dying to remember the thoughts they have while passing away will heavily influence their afterlife experience and if one is unable to attain nirvana, it affects their next incarnation.
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