Roam our minds after we die

4. Teisho - unity of body and mind (Karl Obermayer)

As we have repeatedly said these days: The first chapter of SHOBOGENZO, BENDOWA, begins with Dogen writing how he himself looked and how he came to this awakening in China with his master, whom he found there . Upon his return, he decided to pass this true knowledge on, give lectures, and write it down. And we've already looked at some of this chapter. In the following, the text is divided into question and answer. Today I come to a topic that is of course a very important one and fits into this week right now, as it deals with life and death.

.Karl Obermayer Karwochen Sesshin 2011

So, first of all, this questioner has his say:

It is said that we should not regret our life and death because there is a quick way to free ourselves from life and death. One only needs to know the truth that the essence of our mind is eternal. This means that this physical body that is being born will inevitably go to death, but the spirit essence will never die. To know this means to free yourself from life and death.


What you just formulated is never Buddha's teaching. It is the point of view of the unruly Senika. According to this teaching, which does not belong to Buddhism, a spiritual consciousness dwells in our body. When that body dies, consciousness strips the skin and is reborn in another world. Therefore, if consciousness seems to die here too, it lives on there. Hence we call it immortal and eternal. This is not a Buddhist view. I cannot help but protect you from this error out of deep compassion.

You have to know that in the Buddha's teaching body and mind are always an indivisible reality. Therefore, the principle of the unity of essence and form has been recognized in both India and China. We shouldn't presume to say otherwise. Furthermore, all the dharmas in the schools of Buddhism that teach eternal existence have the quality of always existing. Body and mind are not separated there. The principle that body and mind are an indivisible reality has always been taught in the Buddha Dharma. How could it be that the body arises and passes away while the mind neither arises nor passes away?

Remember, the school of true Dharma says that in Buddha Dharma the essence of mind is one with all forms. This includes the one great Dharma world. Essence and form are not separated and there are no discussions about arising and passing away. There is no form of being, not even bodhi or nirvana, that is not that mind itself. All the dharmas, the ten thousand phenomena, and the aggregation of things are all without exception just that one undivided mind. The various Dharma schools all insist that all forms of existence are nothing but this balanced, one and undivided mind. Besides that there is nothing else. We Buddhists understand the nature of the mind in this way. Why should we split this one reality into body and mind, into life and death or nirvana?

So much from the original text by Master Dogen. We know this formulation from the Hannya Shingyo - emptiness and form, everything comes from emptiness. This emptiness manifests itself in every form, and without emptiness there is no form, without form there is no emptiness, one can find endless formulations there. In any case, he attaches importance to the fact that body and mind or body and consciousness - there are different formulations for this - represent an inseparable unit.

When he then writes of the one spirit that manifests itself in everything, one must not get confused with the terms. That is Sunyata, this unity, this emptiness. And the human being is also one, a unity of the physical and spiritual components that cannot be separated. This also applies to zazen, that is the main concern of this chapter: for zazen it is such that one cannot say that only the posture is important or only the mental attitude is important. It all belongs together. And it is precisely through this sitting, it is said again and again, that body and mind should come into harmony. This unity is emphasized and he is convinced that this unity persists even in death.

It was originally like that in our thinking. In Jewish thinking and in the thinking of the Bible, the human being is a unit. There is no separation of body and mind, and when we speak of the resurrection, we always mean a resurrection of the whole person. So it is not conceivable that some soul that is floating around somewhere looks for a few bones and forms a new body, but the relationship to the body remains, even if it then may be a different form of existence.

This separation in thinking actually only came about through Hellenism, through Greek thought. That established itself in the first centuries, and then above all it was assessed: the spiritual as high quality and the physical, bodily as inferior, so that it came to formulations like "the body is the dungeon of the soul", one Attitude that has partly remained in Christian views to this day. When dealing with Eastern thinking, too, we came back to what Dogen emphasizes so much here: that man is a unity, that consciousness, the spiritual element, so to speak, always in relation to the physical and in relation to world reality and cannot be separated from it. Even today's theologians are often of the opinion that the death of man is a holistic death, the resurrection a holistic resurrection. So not that something is separated, that some soul floats away and haunts around, maybe haunts somewhere and then comes back to one body. This view is no longer common today, as it was for many centuries.

In the end, of course, these are all speculations. You have to honestly admit that you can't say exactly how it behaves. In Zen one is generally very sober in this respect. The anecdote I like to mention in this context is a conversation between the Chinese emperor Gyozei and the Zen master Gudo, who was at his court.

He asks him: “Where does the enlightened person go when he dies?” And Gudo replies: “I don't know.” Of course, the emperor is disappointed and asks himself: “Why am I feeding you here? You are a recognized Zen master, why don't you know that? ”And he simply says:“ Because I haven't died yet. ”... Then we'll see, I can't make a binding statement yet.

Of course, this question preoccupies people over and over again, and many thoughts have been expressed in the course of human history in cultures, in religions, in philosophies, in questions of worldview. But you can probably never make a one hundred percent statement here. In any case, one thing is important to the Doge, and that is also important for our practice, that the human being is a unit with a physical, physical and mental component that are inseparably intertwined. So you can't separate them from each other.

Finally and perhaps in summary on this topic, a section from the comment on this question:

According to Dogen, the Indian concept of Brahmanism of an eternal, constant soul essence that wanders from one body to another during rebirth until it has completed the cycle of this world and enters eternal nirvana is incorrect. He distinguishes the practice of zazen from this idealistic idea and makes it clear once again that such dreams and wishes lead away from the truth and that we are not able to overcome our own suffering. In the here and now there is a mystical unity in which body and mind form an inseparable unit in themselves, with the world and with the universe. Therefore, the idea of ​​an isolated soul essence in Buddhism is untenable and, as it states, leads astray. Furthermore, the idea of ​​a future life with a new incarnation of the constant soul core and the ultimate entry into nirvana with the Buddhist experience of the true being-time in the present moment gains a new meaning. This is a production of the mind that has detached itself from reality.