An excerpt from Death and Dying in Buddhism.
Somewhere inside our head the mind is hard at work telling the body to breath, pump blood, walk, run, find food, drink, talk to friends, go for a run, hold onto the pole in the moving subway, balance on a skateboard and tens of thousands of commands every day to keep the body alive and so keep the mind alive.
This of course begs the question “What is the mind up to?” Why is the mind running the body ragged trying to keep itself alive - housed inside our head, as it is? What is its purpose? Why does it exist?
It turns out that there is a specific part of the mind that we identify as “us,” or “me.” In Buddhist terms it’s known as anatta, while in Western terms it’s called ego.
The ego contains the code for what and who we think we are. For Buddhists it’s the product of the Five Skandhas or the Five Aggregates, which consist of;
Form. The body and all the sense organs (ears, eyes, tongue, touch, smell)
Sensation. Feeling an object or situation as being good, bad or neutral.
Perception (cognition). Being able to determine the existence of, say, a tree or the sound of a bell.
Mental Formations. Thoughts, opinions, mental habits, preferences, aversions, etc.
Consciousness. That part of which discerns or supports all experience.
So the answer to “Who or What Dies,” seems to be ego. By denying death the ego affirms itself as being alive – it’s how it recognizes itself. Largely, it’s how we recognize ourselves. Our ego is an ever changing pool of information, experience, mood, desire, pain, pleasure and a hundred other experiences that have come to us through our six senses. By looking into the pool, we see who we think we are.