Nothing Happens When You Die

Nothing happens when you die: Two contemporary Buddhist masters—Suzuki Roshi and the 16th Karmapa—both said this.  When the Karmapa was dying—according to people who were there—he opened his eyes and said, “Nothing happens.”

And in Suzuki Roshi’s book Not Always So he says, “Don’t worry about dying.  Nothing is going to happen.”

Well.  This is the kind of out-there statement that skeptics of Buddhism point to as a way of discrediting it.  Of course something happens, they say—you die!  That’s something, isn’t it?

Clearly Suzuki Roshi and the Karmapa were talking about dying at a different level.  Of course they knew that dying is “something”—in fact Suzuki Roshi said in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “Body and mind will both have their end.”  The body dies, individuality dies, but there is an aspect—let’s not even call it a something—that has always been there, that will always be there.

What do we call it? God? Being? Buddha nature? Why call it anything? (just don’t, according to that tired old joke, call it late for dinner!).

Both Suzuki Roshi and the Karmapa met their death calmly, just as the Buddha did.  Maybe that’s another meaning of “nothing happens.”  In the light of Buddhist practice, your last day is just another day.

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