One of the most beloved of children’s games is called “I went on a trip, and with me I took…” and then each participant gets to add a word that begins with the following letter in the alphabet, starting with A. To win the game, you’ve got to recall each of the items, often totally unrelated, that all of the players named as the game went on.
For Krishna Bhatta, M.D., a surgeon trained not just in Western medicine but in Buddhist spirituality, the game takes on a very different meaning.
“We are all going on a journey,” Dr. Bhatta says, “and it is journey from this life to the next. Many spiritual writers have written about the afterlife in the Buddhist tradition—what it means, what happens there, and so on. Deepak Chopra is perhaps the best known in the West.
“But what interests me the most is the question of how Buddhism teaches individuals to prepare in this life for what comes afterwards. It is fascinating to ponder the afterlife and speculate on what will happen there. But to me, the more interesting question is what can we do in our time here on Earth in order to best prepare for the life that follows the one we live here.”
Dr. Bhatta recently published a book called Journey from Life to Life: Achieving Higher Purpose, the purpose of which is to equip its readers with Buddhist teachings and wisdom about what we can do here to prepare ourselves for when we go…there.
“Westerners have been attracted to Buddhism for some time,” Dr. Bhatta notes, “because they sense the deep spirituality in its teachings, which go back more than 5000 years.
“At the same time, however, the teachings have been simplified to a point where they have lost much of their original power. My goal in writing Journey from Life to Life is to recreate for Westerners the true underpinnings of Buddhist spiritualty, so that people can live more spiritually fulfilling lives in the here and now, while at the same time preparing them for the life that follows this one.”
Dr. Bhatta points to meditation as the primary example of Buddhist philosophy that has been borrowed, or even co-opted by the West.
“Westerners often have a very prosaic view of meditation,” he says. “They see it as another tool in the toolbox for maintaining physical and mental health. Westerners are impressed by data! If they see that meditation reduces the likelihood of heart failure by X%, or reduces stress in 7 out of 10 people who practice it regularly, then they will try it.
“I do not mean to diminish the outstanding results that meditation produces in such circumstances. As a physician, and as a Buddhist practitioner, I can tell you without contradiction that meditation will certainly improve your physical health, your mental health, your happiness, and so on. The concern is that meditation has been taken out of context. It’s just one more tool in the toolbox for Westerners who wish to maintain their ‘wellness.’ Meditation means much more, however, when it is understood in the context of the broader realizations that Buddhism offers about the mind, the soul, the spirit, the body, and how they all interact.”
Journey from Life to Life is different from other popularizing works on Buddhism in that it seeks to explain Buddhist teachings at depth, instead of simplifying them for Western readers. He also clearly and simply covers Krishna’s teachings and compares them to Buddha.
“You can simplify and popularize Buddhist teachings,” Dr. Bhatta says, “and you can do the same thing with practically any other body of knowledge. My concern is that Westerners have never been properly exposed to the true depth of Buddhist teachings, in terms that can be understood with a certain level of concentration. I find most popular books about Buddhism to be almost insulting to Western readers, in the sense that the authors do not presuppose that the readers can sit still long enough to understand deep concepts!
“I mention at the beginning of Journey from Life to Life that readers will need to bring to bear a serious level of concentration if they wish to absorb the teachings of the book. I am not suggesting that the book is a difficult read. Far from it. People have said that the book is most enjoyable to read. I am saying that by going more deeply into Buddhist teachings, the reader benefits and learns more. That’s my intent.”
“To be honest,” Dr. Bhatta adds, “I used to be put off, or even a little irritated, when Westerners would ask me whether I really believed in reincarnation or life after death. Based on everything I know as a Buddhist, and as a practicing physician, of course the answer is yes.
“I wrote Journey from Life to Life because of my belief that behind that question is a hunger for knowledge regarding what life is truly about. Most people believe that this world cannot be the sole reason for our existence, and that there must be some greater purpose to our lives. This is exactly what Buddhism teaches. If people want to learn about Buddhism in a way that is accessible while at the same time not watered down, and if they want to understand what Buddhism teaches about not just this life but the next one, then they may find satisfaction in Journey from Life to Life.”
The final chapter draws from the Tibetan book of the dead,” an 8th century Buddhist text which many Westerns have heard of but have never explored.
Dr. Bhatta describes his book as management book, but not just in the sense of managing a business.
“The lessons the book imparts teach about managing many things,” he explains. “It’s about managing one’s dharma and understanding the value system of the universe. It’s about managing karma, the results we experience in life, the end of life and after life and return of life and many of the risks of life.”
“Of course the biggest risk in life is dying. The Chief Risk Officer of the State Bank of India, an expert in managing risk said ‘the book offers an insightful, easy-to-relate-to roadmap that we can explore for the inescapable take-off to another life.’” I couldn’t have said it better.