Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: What Happens After You Die?
Jul 2012 11

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: What Happens After You Die?

Posted In Blog,Relationships,Society

by Brad Warner

Lots of people think the question “What happens after you die?” is one of the most urgent in all of philosophy. So they invent concepts like rebirth and reincarnation to try to deal with their anxiety over it. But the problem is that the question makes no sense.

The question is based on several assumptions that are not true. It’s based foremost on the idea that there is something called “me” that belongs to us as individuals and that this something is subject to birth and death. Now I could sit here at my laptop and type out a series of logical thoughts to try and lead you to the conclusion that this belief in a personal self isn’t true. But I’m not sure that would be very helpful. If you want that sort of thing there are thousands of other places to find it. Most of these explanations are produced by people who can write better than me, who have more impressive credentials than I do, and who look better in flowing ochre robes than I ever will. So I will leave the explaining to them.

What I can tell you is this. When you learn to see life as it actually is and not through ways that umpteen thousands of years of human thought has conditioned you to look at them, the idea of the existence of a personal self starts to look incredibly absurd. It takes a good deal of time and a considerable degree of effort to do this. It will not happen in a few hours or a few days or even a few years. Remember that you’re trying to cut through perhaps as much as 200,000 years of human conditioning (going by the most reliable scientific estimates of how long our species has been around). This isn’t easy to do. But it’s a lot easier than it ought to be, given how thoroughly we have been conditioned to see life in terms of a personal self.

You don’t die or get reborn because there is no you to die or get reborn in the first place.

You can see this for yourself if you are willing to put in the time and effort to do so. Notice, though, that I am forced to phrase that sentence in tens of “you.” This is how pervasive the concept of a personal self is. There is no way to make a coherent English sentence regarding this subject without having to use the idea of a personal self to put it across. Our thinking is forced by language to flow through certain channels. We are so deeply conditioned to see things in terms of self that we cannot think our way out of it.

The key is to transcend all thought. This may sound like a big deal. But it’s really not. We transcend all thought all the time. There’s an old Zen story about a guy who realizes the essential truth of the universe when he stubs his toe. When you stub your toe really hard, thought disappears completely. At the moment of toe-stubbing, there can be no thought and no personal self. Later on thought can come along and explain what happened in terms of “me” and “my toe.” But that’s just an explanation. That’s not what happened. This sort of thing goes on constantly throughout our lives.

Meditation is just the practice of sitting with what actually is until we learn how not to ignore what actually is.

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Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see. You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

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