Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2010

Abstract

There was a time in my life when I would have agreed with the above observation of the elusive and separate nature of death. Of course death is of little eonsequence; why worry about that which one cannot predict, control, or understand? Over the years, however, it has become clear to me that the very nature of mankind, as it is observable throughout human history, serves to stand in stark contrast to Epicurus' opinion of death. We exist now, that is undeniable. And death is everywhere, though we may not be able to control or even understand it. Societies have built religious philosophies that attempt to provide some answers about what awaits in the afterlife, poets have tried to capture it in their prose, artists on their canvases. Today, death stares back at us from our televisions and movie screens, and yet we in the 21 5t century have come to avert our eyes when faced with the prospect of our own death, or that of loved ones. Ours is an environment in which "the reality of death must be hidden from our immediate environment. Imaginary death is somehow enticing and entertaining, yet real death is made to seem disgusting and fearful." (Mullen 1987:2) We have built a culture that fears and ignores death. Society glorifies the young and sexy, and is made uncomfortable by aging and death. The only outcome of ignoring death is that when it comes, which it certainly will, we are unprepared. The 12th century master Drakpa Gyaltsen said "human beings spend all their lives preparing, preparing, preparing .... Only to meet the next life unprepared." (Sogyal Rinpoche 1993:23) In general, humans tend to concern themselves with world matters like wealth and appearance. This is useless in death; we won't be able to take any of it with us. From the wealth of literature, spawned by uncertainty about death and the afterlife, has come a trans-tradition theme of travels to the respective netherworld. The Tibetan tradition of Tantric Buddhism contains a number of biographies of men and women known as delogs ('das-log) who die, tour the Buddhist hell realms, meet with the Lord of Death, and return as messengers of the afterlife to their body in the human realms. The. following essay is devoted to analysis and cross-comparison of several important delog stories, to better understand their place within the broader Buddhist themes of afterlife and karmic justice in religion and society. I hope to show how the personal experiences of a d610g show that "death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected." (Nyima Rinpoche 1993:11)

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