I mentioned in my last post that I often, when speaking among friends and those who are curious about Buddhism, will tailor my responses in a way that I think emphasizes Buddhism’s commonalities with Christianity.
The “big question” I come across is usually something about what generally happens after someone dies.
In such cases, I find that the first thing I do is, at least for the sake of discussion, ask that we suspend the idea that either Heaven or Hell is a single, permanent state of being lasting for eternity. I may point out that something might “seem” eternal to us but only last for a billion years or so if we can wait it out. If even Heaven or Hell is impermanent, as taught by the Buddha, then it would come to reason that something would follow afterward.
Conceiving that someone taking rebirth in a Heaven or Hell could eventually pass away from that world and take rebirth in another, I make the supposition that it would also be reasonable to envision that beings in our world once passed away from some other world prior to taking rebirth here.
In this way, I try to demonstrate that a being may indeed have not only a future in a Heaven or a Hell, but may have had a past existence in such a realm also. The similarity being that these states exist (just as much as the human realm, anyway) and are not terribly dissimilar — only in that they are impermanent (and possibly repetitive).
I rarely discuss this subject in terms of whether there is an eternal God unless specifically asked. Such a discussion can quickly de-evolve into a situation in which one of the two parties, or both, feel as if they are being disparaged — often I’ve found that people who ask that question too quickly are not really interested in the answer except to try to argue that the Buddha was less significant than their God.
And lets face it, we’re not sharing Buddhism with anyone to start (or feed) an argument.
There is a lot more one can say on death, especially with a friend with whom you might feel inclined to talk about the path to final liberation from suffering as taught by the Buddha — but most of us aren’t particularly well liberated yet so I tend to not worry myself with trying to explain that too much.
In other words, I stick to what I understand of the teachings or what I know by direct knowledge, which is admittedly rather little on the subject of death. Being honest about that is key to sharing even small bites of Dhamma to those who are curious. Don’t be afraid to direct someone to a qualified teacher — many have even shared talks online that accessible and free of charge.
I hope you are well today, friends. I will write again soon!