I’d like to explain how I see death. Many people assume it to be the end of everything. But there is a definite way in which it can not be the end of anything real. I don’t say that as a Buddhist who believes it as an article of faith – there isn’t anything I believe that way. I say it because of something I experienced myself – not a physical event, simply an experience of seeing things differently.
Death is an end inasmuch as we are a person moving through time: we have a past, a present, and a future – so what we see as this ‘me’ will end, sometime in the future. This way of seeing asserts time as the primary thing which exists, and our awareness as being within time: it begins at birth, continues through our life, and ends at death.
If we take an alternative view, based on what we know in our own experience, then awareness is the primary thing. This is more realistic, since if there were no awareness there would be no experience of time – it would be a pointless concept, in fact, there would be no awareness to have that concept!
From the point of view of awareness, we never experience any time but what we call “now”. Past and future are thoughts which occur in this “now-ness”. It’s hard to ‘get your head round’ this way of seeing, but it is undeniably true. It is not only the idea of time which is within awareness, so is the idea of me, a person. Perhaps that idea can come and go in awareness, just as the idea of past, present and future can come and go. This would not affect the overall presence of awareness though.
The awareness which presently sees itself as me could not end – or ever have begun: the ideas ‘begin’ and ‘end’ do not apply, since they depend on time. Death depends on conceiving of something to die and a time-frame in which this will happen. Whether those conceptions occur or not, awareness is unchanged and undecaying. What’s at issue for us now is how much we hold to those concepts and seem to die – or how clearly we see them as concepts; concepts like the millions of other concepts we see come and go, and may invest our trust in, or may simply see as empty concepts.
If the joint conceptual framework of time and me is held through the demise of the body, then it seems likely to me that it will reassert itself in the conception of another physical body, and the consciousness of that situation is bound to feel like ‘me’ – it’s the same concept which makes this experience feel like me. (N.B. “Seeming likely”, and “believing in” are not the same.)
Presumably if the concept of being me-with-my-body is completely absent at the physical demise of the body, there is nothing to be reasserted, and it does not recur. Awareness of course did not go anywhere and does not end.
It’s all a matter of the innate intelligence of awareness – which creates concepts and foregrounds them – seeing what’s going on within itself. This requires ‘seeing past’ the ‘foreground’ concepts of me and world, time and place, for it to recognise itself as the awareness within which this ‘foreground’ is created. This really is seeing the big picture.