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Understanding that one day we will die can bring our lives into focus. What do I want to use my life for? Do I just want to be successful or do I want to also make a real impact on others? This is why instead of avoiding the thought of death, Buddhism looks at it directly.
Buddhism enables us to live the kind of rich, victorious life that makes our passing like a beautiful sunset illuminating the sky at the end of the day.
The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin writes in a letter to someone who had lost a family member:
How can we possibly hold back our tears at the inexpressible joy of knowing that [at the moment of death] not just one or two, not just one hundred or two hundred, but as many as a thousand Buddhas will come to greet us with open arms!
The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 216–17
Nichiren is not saying that we will become happy or go to a land where everything is perfect once we pass away. Instead it’s that by living a meaningful life dedicated to the happiness of ourselves and others, we pass away without fear, feeling profound joy. The “thousands Buddhas” also refers to our friends and loved ones thinking about us or even chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for our eternal happiness as we pass away.
Life and Death Are One
Buddhism teaches that death is a phase of life, rather than the end of life. This is a sharp turn from the two most common ways of looking at death: that either everything ends with death or that there is an immortal soul that separates from our body and lives on forever.
Instead Buddhism teaches that death is a dormant phase of life, just as birth is the phase when life becomes active and manifests again in the physical world. As Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda elegantly describes:
Each individual life can be likened to a wave in the ocean. When a wave rises from the ocean, that is life, and when it merges back into the ocean, that is death. This process continues eternally, without beginning or end.
When we pass away our life merges with the universe, then we enter the phase of birth and we are manifested again.
This means that, when we develop the life state of Buddhahood in this lifetime, bringing out our courage, wisdom and compassion through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, then it will remain our life state in all future existences.
Chanting for those who’ve passed away
Just because Buddhists believe in the oneness of life and death, it doesn’t mean we don’t grieve when a loved one passes away. As human beings, losing a close friend or a family member is a deeply painful experience. But since their great life lives on in the universe, we can chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for their eternal happiness, and it will definitely reach them.
Not only will our chanting reach them, but our growth and fulfillment will also bring them happiness and fortune. Why? Think about our parents who gave us life or our friends who supported us. Since our lives are deeply interconnected, when we grow, help others and create a life of happiness, that all extends to them.
Since our lives are deeply interconnected, when we grow, help others and create a life of happiness, that all extends to them.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables us to build a tremendous life, where we can create a great impact on the world. Such a life not only ensures we will pass away with no fear or regrets, but it also creates the deepest fortune and benefit for our loved ones throughout eternity.