One of The New York Times “Sketchbook” pages featured drawings that depicted different meanings of “The End” depending on the context.* For instance:
· The end of a sentence is a pause.
· The end of a chapter is a cliffhanger.
· The end of a poem is silence. (See illustration.)
The last two panels – “The end of one story . . . is the start of another” – roughly describes a Buddhist view of the cycle of birth and death.
While Buddhist sects may differ in the specifics of how this birth-death cycle happens, when it happens, and even what exactly happens, all Buddhists believe in some form of this process.
The basics are as follows: (1) There is an essence that exists before our physical being comes into existence; (2) This essence continues even after our physical being ends; (3) This essence may attach to any other entity – human or not; and, (4) This essence is not necessarily identified with any particular person or thing.
As my Zen teacher Taiken Yokoyama puts it, when we’re born, it’s not a “clean re-boot.” Instead, by the time it reached us, that essence had gone through many previous incarnations and now carries the energy from all those lives.
So, when I die, the essence that was attached to that temporary physical being that was me will carry all those experiences that I had (and those of the previous beings). The consequences of those experiences affect the next being to which that essence attaches. Even though in almost all cases we may not be aware of those past experiences, they nevertheless affect us. This is karma.
So, let’s take another look at The New York Times “Sketchbook” illustration. “The end of one story . . . is the start of another.” When we look at it through a Zen perspective, the text becomes:
“The end of one life . . . is the start of another.”
- Diane Wong Roshi
(*Drawings and text by Grant Snider. “The End.” 22 December 2019, p. 27.)