What happens after death?

Living in this world is expressed by the working of one’s body&mind. The Mind of the individual has various levels of depth.  As the Buddhist view suggests, the various levels of mind (Nine Consciousnesses) can be simplified here to the following model of three fields of mind:

  1. -   Awareness about the world (the 5 senses and intellect),

  2. -   Consciousness about the self, (the Mano level of mind), and 

  3. -   Subconsciousness (the Alaya, or storehouse of tendencies).

The content of our Awareness and Consciousness - depends on the working of the body, and when the body dies, those two fields of mind disintegrate and vanish. 

The Subconsciousness level, however, is not conditioned by the body.  It is a mental energy of the essence of one’s motivations, tendencies and actions between birth and death - or the energy of one’s Karma.  Karma is the mental power which keeps driving our behaviour, until the moment of death, when it becomes inactive, frozen in the field of death.  This means that at death the energy of karma turns from active into a latent (or potential) energy:

        “The Alaya [subconsciousness] is sometimes called “non-vanishing”

        because the karmic seeds stored within it do not disappear at death. 

        Our individual lives are accompanied into latency by all the effects of our karma”.

                                                                                                (Ikeda, Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death p.160)

Because the field of death is beyond time and space, it is not possible then to measure the time of how long karma remains frozen as a potential (until it gets reactivated again).  It becomes reactivated by attraction to a physical encounter of parents-to-be, who are the most matching (for the essence of this karma), and the most convenient for its latent energy to connect with. 

At conception, there are three factors at work: father, mother and child.   Part of what determines our life-situation at rebirth is related to father and mother’s DNA, and the other part is related to the Karma of past life stored in the child’s subconsciousness ( the Alaya):

         “ ... the elements that will determine our life-condition after death

            remain within the Alaya [Subconsciousness]” (Ikeda, Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, p.160).

This scenario of Rebirth of Karma explains that a child is not a replica (or reincarnation) of the past, but a completely new and unique life.  The “specific personality” of a previous life has fulfilled its role has vanished at death.

For a newborn child, the only common link between past life and next life is the tendencies and attractions stored in the child subconsciousness (which were kept frozen during death).  Through growth in time the karmic tendencies of the individual start to emerge but can be enhanced or changed through determined actions. This means that the record of karma, which drives one to actions, is a continual “work in progress”.

Rebirth is different from Reincarnation

The concept of Rebirth allows for the possibility to change one’s karma.  On the other hand, the concept of  Reincarnation (based on believing in a fixed “soul”) - does not allow for any change towards freedom from the past, because a ‘soul’ is considered as being permanent; it cannot be changed or replaced by another soul.  Reincarnation of the soul then implies imprisonment of the life of the individual in the same ‘fixed soul of the past’.  According to Buddhism, the origin of the myth of Reincarnation is the ego-self of the individual: the ego, which does not accept that the currently living identity is not eternal, hence it invents the concept of a “fixed soul”.

The newly acquired karma at Rebirth

Nichiren Buddhism’s perspective is that one’s karma at birth is a combination of three factors, and not solely the effect of a past life.  The components that create one’s karma at birth are:

1/ one’s past lives karmic tendencies,

2/ parent’s karma (visible in one’s acquired DNA) and,

3/ the karma of the place of birth (or society).

As P. Ikeda explains:

          Western science generally considers the spermatozoon and ovum the sole essentials for conception, maintaining that only fertilisation of the female gamete is an necessary prerequisite. 

By contrast, the Buddhist view is that not only the spermatozoon and ovum but also life itself with karma that matches the conditions of conception, heredity, family, and social conditions into which the life will be born - are each necessary for human life to come into being and develop.

Conception [and birth] results from the union of all three factors”.

Daisaku Ikeda, page 23, Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, ISBN: 978-0-9723267-0-4

This explanation clarifies the view that we share the karma of our family and society (ethnicity, race) in addition to our own individual tendencies created in past life.


Author: Safwan Darshams

                                         Nichiren Teachings on Karma

                                               Transforming Karma


                                             Positive view on Karma


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