This essay highlights the tension between the Madhyāmika and mainstream Buddhist views on life and death. As an extreme position that aimed to refute the ideas of Abhidharma and Yogācāra, the Madhyāmika view cannot properly reflect the mainstream Buddhist view on the issue. To explain the possibility of reincarnation, Buddhists developed the concept of a mental continuum, which is in contrast to the Hindu idea of a soul (ātman) and the Jaina idea of subtle matter (pudgala). Many Buddhist philosophical schools have expounded various concepts along this line, for instance, the Theravāda concept of a life continuum (bhavāṅga), the Mahāsāṃghika concept of root consciousness (mūlavijñāna), the Mahīśāsaka concept of the aggregate that penetrates life and death (āsaṃsārika-skandha), the Vātsīputrīya concept of person (pudgala), and the Yogācāra concept of store consciousness (ālayavijñāna). With these concepts, the mainstream Buddhist schools assume life after death in the form of a mental continuum.
In contrast, the Madhyāmikas developed their view on life and death based on their doctrine of non-duality. For them, life is no other than death and death is no other than life. It is not necessary that there is life after death. By comparing the various views on death among different world religions, we learn that the Madhyāmikas’ view is similar to the Daoist view that sees death as another form of union between heaven and earth, and hence is not substantially different from life itself. I conclude that there is a certain tension between the Madhyāmika view of life and death and the mainstream Buddhist view, and, to a certain extent, it is non-Buddhist.