Buddhism, Taoism, & The Fear of Death

Buddhism and Taoism are unique among the world’s religions. They aren’t centered in the worship of a divine being who promises a flowery afterlife for those who do the right deeds and say the right prayers. 

This is not to say that Buddhism and Taoism have nothing to say about life after death. It’s just not their primary concern, since their original intent and purpose is to find inner peace here and now, in this very lifetime. 

The Buddha described his experience of Nirvana as the realization of non-self, and the afterlife of one who’s attained Nirvana as beyond existence and non-existence, which a Taoist might describe as returning to the Tao: 

As a living being you are equivalent to a wave, a separate entity that is moving swiftly to the shore. Eventually, however, the wave will crash into the beach and the water that was “you” returns back to the ocean. You always were water and you simply return to it, never to be formed again in that manner.

All of Tao is about impermanence and returning. The same will happen to you. This entity that is “you” is impermanent, temporary, even fleeting. And eventually you will be returned to the Tao, the energy that comprises and flows within everything.

Buddhism and Taoism teach that our sense of a separate self is a delusion of the ego. Whatever vital energy which continues after death, whatever that might be, will not consciously experience reality the same way that we do. 

And how is that such a bad thing? In the words of Chuang Tzu, ”How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in hating death I am not like a man who, having left home in his youth, has forgotten the way back?”

Shinran referred to rebirth in the Pure Land as “the birth of non-birth” just as the Buddha referred to Nirvana as “the unborn,” the state beyond existence and non-existence, returning to the Dharmakaya (or Tao) from which we came.