What Happens to a Taoist After Death?

There are two questions that will arise in a thinking person’s mind. There will be many, actually, but these two are guaranteed.

Why is life unfair?


What happens to me after I die?

We will address the second question today. Just because that’s what I feel like talking about.

What happens to me after I die?

Religions do their best to answer this question for you, and if you are an adherent to a religion or philosophy that is not Tao, you have one of the following four options:

Heaven: Having been judged a good person for your faith, reverence or good deeds, eternity is spent in Heaven or Paradise with God in a blissful state beyond our imagination.

Hell: Having been judged a bad person for your sins, eternity is spent in Hell among Satan and his demons. Torture and torment are on the menu without mercy or relief.

Transmigration of the soul: Our soul and spirit are reborn into a new human baby without awareness of the previous life. We do it again, with feeling.

Reincarnation: Our soul and spirit are reborn into another living entity – not necessarily human. Like a bug.

Quite exciting, don’t you think? The important component of this “after death” belief is that you continue to exist in some form, and that’s the comforting thing people love to hear.

If you are a Taoist, however, the answer to the “what happens after I die” question is:

Nothing: You die. The body decays and returns to nature, becoming part of the earth and the beasts and plants that dwell there. Your spirit, memory, awareness and mind return to the greater energies of the Tao and “you” exist no more. What you know as “you” ceases to be. You are gone.

We could also see it like this:

As a living being you are equivalent to a wave, a separate entity that is moving swiftly to the shore. Eventually, however, the wave will crash into the beach and the water that was “you” returns back to the ocean. You always were water and you simply return to it, never to be formed again in that manner.

All of Tao is about impermanence and returning. The same will happen to you. This entity that is “you” is impermanent, temporary, even fleeting. And eventually you will be returned to the Tao, the energy that comprises and flows within everything,

This probably is less comforting than the idea that we meet up with family in a blissful afterlife, or that we somehow get to return to another life, even if we aren’t human again. The point is that we are scared of death, of truly ceasing to be, so religions accommodate and coddle our fears with scenarios that give us comfort.

But Taoists are quite pragmatic. We know that we end, though the Tao never does. Maybe that is comfort enough.


About Leigh

Leigh is an American Taoist philosopher, exploring how modern life and its problems can best be addressed with ancient teachings. She is also a doctor of psychology.
This entry was posted in Spiritual Questions, Taoist Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What Happens to a Taoist After Death?

  1. Pingback: Taoists Don’t Believe in Karma | Laughing Taoist

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