Discovering Buddhism: Death and Rebirth Class 2

In this session, we focused our attention on two topics: impermanence and the 12 links of dependent origination. A good understanding of both topics provides the foundation necessary for meditating on death and rebirth.  The Buddha taught, “It is unsure whether tomorrow or the next life will come first. Therefore, [since tomorrow is very indefinite], it is more worthwhile and wise to be prepared for the future life than for tomorrow.”

While it is not possible for me to summarize the entire teaching on these topics, I would like to point out a few significant points. First, from the time of our birth, we have a karmically determined lifespan. The clock starts ticking from birth on. Secondly, Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaches us how to use our innate fear of death to our advantage. He says that being aware of this fear makes our minds very strong, it sparks an energy that helps us focus during our meditation practice. No distractions arise and we are protected from hindrance. Just as when we are driving in rush hour traffic, and we pay full attention.  Lama Zopa’s teaching on Impermanence (required readings) includes several detailed meditations on death. I encourage you to incorporate some of these in your daily practice.

Next, we discussed Chapter 5 of Lama Zopa’s book, “How to Help Your Loved Ones Prepare for Death”, the main practice is overcoming self-cherishing and cultivating bodhicitta. Our state of mind at the moment of death is critical — it determines our next rebirth. Dying with a mind filled with bodhicitta leads to definite goodness.

We ended with a look at the 12 links of dependent origination based on a teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The key points are:

1) why things change is due to the very nature of the phenomenon. Change is not due to some external factor. Both the causes that produce phenomenon as well as the phenomenon themselves are subject to moment-by-moment change. Gross physical change is easy to recognize, so it is this subtle level of change that we need to understand.

2) there are two kinds of causality: the external physical world and the internal world of feelings and emotions. Our experience of happiness and suffering results from the meeting of these two spheres.

3) fundamental ignorance gives rise to karmic action (the second link) which then is imprinted on consciousness (3rd link). Consciousness depends on a basis – an extremely subtle wind body that carries the consciousness on to the next birth (form, 4th link). In association with form, the six sense spheres (5th link), contact (6th link) and feeling (7th link defined here as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) arise. Based on these, craving (8th link) arises which intensifies into grasping (9th link) and this results in becoming (10th link). Becoming (or existence) is a state where the karmic seed, activated by craving and grasping, is transformed into a potent capacity certain to bring its karmic effects. This is followed by aging (11th link) and death (12th link).

4) it is important to recognize that with every act of body, speech, and mind, we are creating so many new karmic cycles by planting imprints on our consciousness due to ignorance. This fundamental ignorance – the delusion grasping at true existence – is the enemy that binds us to samsara.


Practice the meditations detailed in Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching on Impermanence & Death. In particular, try the meditation for preparing to sleep on page 105.

Next Class

Our June 3 class will focus on the 9 point meditation on death.  Suggested readings to prepare for class:

  • 12 Links of Dependent Origination by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in How to Help Your Loved Ones, Chapter 8
  • Death and the Way by Geshe Ngawang Dhargey in the Required Readings
  • Nature of Mind by Lama Yeshe in Life, Death and After Death.

If you would like to give a 5 minute presentation on one of the 9 points during class, please email me. The presentation should describe the point and also it would be beneficial to include what it means to you, or how you think about it.


Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teaching in the Required Readings titled “Impermanence & Death”.

Dalai Lama. The Middle Way: faith grounded in reason. Wisdom Publications. 2009.

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