Mahayana Buddhism Beliefs on Life & Death

Mahayana Buddhists believe that unless an individual finds nirvana during their life, they will be reborn after death.
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The term Mahayana Buddhism refers to denominations across Eastern Asia such as Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhist denominations all share a belief in studying the teachings of the Buddha and escaping the cycle of death and rebirth. However, the prescribed methods for doing this differ.

1 Life

Mahayana Buddhists believe that the Buddha passed on many secret teachings to Buddhists. These teachings center around the idea of compassion for other living things. Mahayana Buddhists call a person that follows these teachings and helps others a Bodhisattva. A Mahayana Buddhist should follow the path of the Bodhisattva during their life and always try to help other people. Through these good deeds, a Bodhisattva will achieve enlightenment during their lifetime.

2 Death

Of all the denominations of Mahayana Buddhism,Tibetan Buddhism has one of the most detailed accounts of what happens after death. The individual's personality enters a trance for four days after the death of her body. During this time she does not know she has died until the fourth day when she sees a light. If she flees the light then she becomes aware that she has died. Her entire life will pass before her eyes before she enters the final stage where she picks her new parents. If the individual does not flee the light, then they have successfully escaped the cycle of death and rebirth.

3 After Death

Mahayana Buddhism teaches that an individual who follows the path of the Bodhisattva must continue their good deeds in Heaven. Although the main purpose of Buddhism is to overcome suffering and end the cycle of death and rebirth, a Bodhisattva defers attainment of nirvana. Instead of transcending from the endless cycle of death and rebirth a Bodhisattva will stay behind in Buddhist heaven in order to answer the prayers of human beings who need help.

4 The Role of The Family

Mahayana Buddhists, especially those belonging to Chinese Buddhism, believe that the family plays an important role in the reincarnation process. Several Mahayana Buddhists pray for the deceased for 49 days as these Buddhists believe this is the maximum amount of time it takes an individual to be reborn. If the family prays and remembers the individual during the period before rebirth, they will help positively affect the form of their loved one's rebirth.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.