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Thread: Death

  1. #1

    Death

    I was thinking today about death and how it's perceived in society as something horrible, to be avoided at all costs. I was considering starting a personal photojournalism project regarding death, and was considering how others might perceive that as morbid or even offensive.

    Though I have as much trepidation about my own death as anyone else (mostly thinking about the lost opportunities if I should die "early"), I don't seem to buy into the stigma associated with discussing and confronting death. It struck me, as I was thinking today, that death is a useful example of "acceptance without acceptance". That is, death is inevitable, absolutely inevitable. And it is the height of delusion to fight against death, to rage against it and the consideration of it, to attempt to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist. If there is anything in our lives we MUST, at one time or another, accept, it is our own eventual death. Yet, accepting the fact of our own mortality does not naturally lead to suicide (though some, unfortunately, may choose this path). In much the same way (though at a different level of "importance"), accepting that my kids' bedrooms are filthy does not lead to my lack of effort to clean them (or to get my kids to clean them themselves).

    For me, I find the contemplation of death to be a fantastic practice when I get too caught up in the concept of our world. The fact of death is undeniable and obvious to me, yet the bias in our culture against death is equally obvious. Contemplation of this opposition helps me find balance between the dark and the light (for you book club folks).

    Gassho,
    Kevin

  2. #2

    Re: Death

    Hi Kev,

    Well, the Buddha was sent off on his search for the answer to "Suffering" by seeing images of old age, sickness and death. Buddhist monks in many schools have meditated in cemeteries, near dead bodies or contemplating death ... impermanence ... the Grim Reaper ...

    And that is all good and excellent ... so long as you also remember to sit with health and life too ... with children's smiles, springtime, and big red juicy apples.

    It is --all-- the sides of a single, wonderful coin. In fact, all is impermanence, and that is not a problem ... so long as we let the wheel keep turning. One cannot have the Spring without the Summer, Fall and Winter.

    (Of course, in our way of "Shikantaza", we do not sit particularly contemplating any one thing ... but rather, we are constantly sitting with -all of that-. I sit in cemeteries sometimes, but I also sit about anywhere one can sit. I think I will do some of that this coming week for the sit-a-long).

    But, yes, an important Koan we should resolve for ourselves is this "Great Matter of Life and Death". Go for it! There are already some good Buddhist resources on the net too.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Death

    Hi Kev,

    I seem to remember a story about Marpa, the very teacher of Milarepa. When one of his beloved sons died, he started to weep and sob to the absolute amazement of his students. One of them asked him: why do you cry? Isn t death an illusion? And Marpa answered: Indeed but this is a super illusion!
    Thank you for sharing your very insightful comments about death in our societies and on the path, and as Jundo said, I would invite you not to neglect life, to learn and experience in your body-mind that what we call death is nothing but life itself, that these two gates are one. A bit like Marpa, we may get a glimpse of this and yet, when it comes, we experience pain and tears, and I think there is nothing wrong with this.
    Death does make us aprreciate our life too, as Suzuki roshi used to say, how unbearable the feeling of being immortal would be! The opposite of death doesn t seem to be life for me but something like: resistance. Resistance to change, resistance to let go of our opinions and beliefs, not allowing Autumn to be Autum and Winter to be Winter. In "allowing", death and life are just fine, are just together, a bit like the game two children would play in a sandpit.A good old Koan describes it as the fight of two wild buffalos entering the stream and disappearing in the waters.

    gassho

    Taigu

  4. #4
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Death

    You know, I always thought that 'super-illusion' business was just a cop out - more showing his humanity than illustrating anything about the Dharma.

    Chet

  5. #5

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    The opposite of death doesn t seem to be life for me but something like: resistance. Resistance to change, resistance to let go of our opinions and beliefs, not allowing Autumn to be Autum and Winter to be Winter.
    Yes, I completely agree, Taigu (welcome to the Treeleaf teacher role, too, though, for me, you have been there for quite some time!), with what you've said here and what Jundo mentioned above. For me, too, avoidance of death is an avoidance of life, like clutching so tightly to a fistful of water that the water drains all the more quickly from your hand. But, dropping this resistance opens one to a greater appreciation and understanding of life. Yes, resistance is a form of living death!

    But, as Jundo also intimated, resistance to resistance is also a living death, and resistance is itself a part of the light side of our experience. All is one and all is not one; all is delusion and all is not delusion. I sometimes find myself thinking all this Zen stuff is just bulls**t, but then I realize it's because I'm getting caught up in all the words and the concepts, when the reality is not contained in the words, but in the words and the wordlessness and the mixture of the two. Just so is reality contained not in what we call "life" nor in what we call "death", but in both at the same time and in the mixture of the two.

    I love to think about death (not in a morbid way) because it always brings me back into the present moment. And that is really the only moment there ever is.

    Gassho,
    Kevin

  6. #6

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin

    But, as Jundo also intimated, resistance to resistance is also a living death, and resistance is itself a part of the light side of our experience. All is one and all is not one; all is delusion and all is not delusion. I sometimes find myself thinking all this Zen stuff is just bulls**t, but then I realize it's because I'm getting caught up in all the words and the concepts, when the reality is not contained in the words, but in the words and the wordlessness and the mixture of the two. Just so is reality contained not in what we call "life" nor in what we call "death", but in both at the same time and in the mixture of the two.
    Beautiful lob and net work. Your game is improving.

    Gassho, Tennis Coach Jundo

  7. #7

    Re: Death

    Thank you Chet,

    You know, I always thought that 'super-illusion' business was just a cop out - more showing his humanity than illustrating anything about the Dharma.
    How can you separate what you call humanity from Dharma? Aren't they just one? Crying is a beautiful and true way to let the Dharma speak.

    And yes Ken, almost ready for the US open...The "Unity State" :wink:


    gassho


    Taigu

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
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    Re: Death

    Hi Kev and all
    Thank you for bring this up and (not that it matters) I think its a great idea!

    I will a test to the living death of resisting death. When i was shocked into realizing my own mortality, besides ptsd, i really became scared of living. I avoided most travel, stayed inside and chain smoked (LOL the irony eh?), and self "medicated". For a few years. Beyond the ridiculousness of what i was doing, my mind showed me a 1000 ways i was going to die and suffer as i did. I took some time to see i created a hell worse than hell for myself and died many more times. Sheesh, I only have to die once.

    Not only was this tearing me down I was hurting others around me with my inability to cope. Things have come aloooong ways from then and I do as you had mentioned, contemplate death and mortality, not just mine but loved ones and everyone's and it certainly resets perspective and find that balance!

    A good friend, who served in the first gulf war, helped me outta my slump so to speak with some very straight forward advice... you can only take care of you and your loved ones today, death is coming whether [i] you [i] are ready or not - no point in waiting in horror for it, just go and live the best way you can. I have to thank him for me that advice... it may seem straight forward enough but sometimes ya need some one to point it out to you. I must say that I started on this path with that guys help and Ive told him so since.

    I completely agree that we (i, us, you lol you know) have to embrace our mortality and our inevitable death with out laying down and becoming compost. No reason to stop going for our annual checkups or refusing treatment... Not a reason to avoid that flight.

    As you said its very good practice

    Gassho Shohei

  9. #9

    Re: Death

    First, Kevin, if you did a project on death like you mentioned, I would love to see it. I have unconventional (for the US) attitudes about death and dying, and would welcome another viewpoint on the inevitable event. I've read several books on dying in different countries and cultures, as well as in the US (where unfortunately it has become commercialized like everything else)...
    Unfortunately, I have not yet taken the time to study this topic from a Buddhist perspective, so I appreciate the commentary and teaching!

    gassho

  10. #10

    Re: Death

    Even though I know I'm getting older and closer to death, I focus on making choices that give me health and longer life. The alternative is pain and suffering. It's not so much the fear of death, its more the fear of pain and suffering. When you lose someone close to you, you understand great loss and the interconnection with others. You actually lose a part of yourself.
    /Rich

  11. #11
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Death

    Fear death, don't fear death - it really doesn't matter. That's what makes death such a gift. It's coming and it doesn't care what you think about it.

    Chet

  12. #12

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Fear death, don't fear death - it really doesn't matter. That's what makes death such a gift. It's coming and it doesn't care what you think about it.

    Chet
    It is also not coming, because we were never born.

    A recent thread on that topic ...

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191

  13. #13

    Re: Death

    Hi Guys

    all good points raised above & most certainly death puts a lot of the petty issues in life into perspective. However, as I celebrate still being here three years after my bowel cancer diagnosis, I would just like to point out that this is not some academic exercise. To be told that you have a 70% chance of being dead in 5 years is horrible & fearful. At such points (for me anyway)the storm winds of suffering sweep away all the bastions of practice & you are left clinging to the wreckage. As Rich said earlier death can be associated with suffering, and also the pain and the mundanity of life continuing - can you get to the bathroom, the nausea & side effects of chemotherapy, the pains of surgery, dealing with a roller coaster of emotions - who will look after the children? what about my wife? etc.

    If you are going to use death as a form of practice - you need to imagine that you have been given your prognosis & then try to make it as real as you can. When I was given mine I cried every day for six months - it was not a happy place to be.

    Kind regards

    Jools

    ps apologies for taking this topic so seriously

  14. #14

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Fear death, don't fear death - it really doesn't matter. That's what makes death such a gift. It's coming and it doesn't care what you think about it.

    Chet
    It is also not coming, because we were never born.

    A recent thread on that topic ...

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191
    Hi.

    Thats why it's so good to sit with both life and death, to see that they are "illusions"...

    Mtfbwy
    Tb

  15. #15
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Fear death, don't fear death - it really doesn't matter. That's what makes death such a gift. It's coming and it doesn't care what you think about it.

    Chet
    It is also not coming, because we were never born.

    A recent thread on that topic ...

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191
    Let's see if you can hang on to that view if you're wasting away in a hospital bed with bone cancer.

    Chet

  16. #16

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Shindo
    If you are going to use death as a form of practice - you need to imagine that you have been given your prognosis & then try to make it as real as you can. When I was given mine I cried every day for six months - it was not a happy place to be.
    Thank you, Jools, for this important point, and for sharing your experience. As someone who applying to medical school and considering oncology for a specialty, and who has lost several close relatives to cancer (my aunt quite suddenly, with only three months from diagnosis to death from a rare, very aggressive form of cancer), I consider this subject and its impact to be of the utmost importance. However, that said, I have neither experienced nor witnessed firsthand the shock and pain you describe, either from a diagnosis or, frankly, from any other source. It's an important point, to me, to drive home the fact that all the thought experiments in the world can't really prepare one for the experience itself.

    That said, even while we experience (or don't experience, even in the moment) what our lives bring us, yet simultaneously it all is a thought experiment. Speaking not from the wisdom gained from an experience as hard-hitting as the one you described, but from other experiences, even while we are in the throes of pain, fear, sadness, or (in my case) anger, yet it is all also a thought experiment. Scant comfort, perhaps, in the midst of the emotion, but even the most intense emotions pass and reveal themselves for what they are: a part of a moment perfect as it is that then vanishes, replaced by another moment perfect as it is.

    Again, hard to hold to in the moment, but no less true in the midst of intense emotion than in our moment of greatest calm and clarity.

    Gassho,
    Kevin

    PS. I celebrate with you your still being here three years after your bowel cancer diagnosis. Deep gassho to you and your family, and thank you for your teaching.

  17. #17

    Re: Death

    Although death is an inevitable part of life, it is only another moment. Being healthy helps us to take things for granted. Like we are going to live forever.

    Being with death and knowing death is the point. Contemplating death can just lead to failure to practice "this" moment.

    Instead of writing an essay on death, actually be with someone who is dead or dying.

    Gassho

  18. #18

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Although death is an inevitable part of life, it is only another moment. Being healthy helps us to take things for granted. Like we are going to live forever.

    Being with death and knowing death is the point. Contemplating death can just lead to failure to practice "this" moment.

    Instead of writing an essay on death, actually be with someone who is dead or dying.

    Gassho
    Yes, I agree, be with someone who is dying and you will experience death. INTELLECTUAL explanations of life and death are well, mostly inadequate and sometimes funny.

    Jools, thank you for sharing your story. It brought me back to reality.

  19. #19

    Re: Death

    Chet,

    Let's see if you can hang on to that view if you're wasting away in a hospital bed with bone cancer.
    Well, as I see it, the problem in this statement is the use of "if". Twice. What if you did or did not, what if you would, what if you will, what if... that is my mother's favorite mantra and, trust me, it leads to a tremendous amount of suffering. If is a big illusion. The reality is we are where we are, from sandy beaches to hospital beds without any "if", and we practice as we can. When the moment comes, we do the best we can and it can be crying for six months of feeling on top of this. Whatever. A person diagnosed with cancer that wishes it d never happened is in absolute hell. And I assume that when it hits, it is what we all tend to do. Accepting the situation and learning how to get on with this day by day is practice.

    I bumped once into this very inspiring vid of Byron Katie,I love her work and method of inquiry. I know of a few american Soto monks using it. And I use it as well rather. Just have a look:


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1x03oSZpSI[/video]]

    Hi Will, always very sharp! Your words are so cristal clear and have a razor edge quality. Fancy a walk with Kannon in the woods? Very refreshing, you know. Anyway,You write

    Instead of writing an essay on death, actually be with someone who is dead or dying.
    Cannot agree more Will. Let's stay with this. Let's not escape this bag of flesh and bones.

    And thank you so much Jools for sharing your experience with us.

    Gassho

    Taigu

  20. #20

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    It is also not coming, because we were never born.

    A recent thread on that topic ...

    viewtopic.php?p=20191#p20191
    Let's see if you can hang on to that view if you're wasting away in a hospital bed with bone cancer.

    Chet
    I certainly hope I will. Then especially, of all times.

    Of course, between the crying like Jools said, and the morphine shots.

    They say that it is typical for cancer patients to go through stages after diagnosis (I believe they are denial, anger, negotiation, then depression, next resignation). It is human to do so, and I would not expect to avoid that. We do not run away from, nor repress, normal human emotional reactions to events in this flavor of Buddhism which we practice.

    On the other hand though, after many years of Buddhist practice, I fully hope and expect that Wisdom & Compassion would inform, speed and change each of those. Some people say that one aspect of Zazen is as a "life long practice for a graceful death". I have never had cancer myself, so I do not know that bridge until it comes ... but I base this on the many writings of (and personal friends who are) long time Zen teachers and students who are also cancer patients. Suzuki Roshi was one. My friend Nonin (from Nebraska Zen Center and often on AZI) and Daido Loori are currently battling lung cancer day by day, each with strength and grace. Here is another one ... very honest and inspirational ...

    http://www.fearlessbooks.com/fsZenPhil.html

    Gassho, Jundo

    Ps - Let me mention that my wife and I have been hospice volunteers. I cannot recommend that more highly to people as their Samu volunteer work practice ... as vital as Zazen, and Zazen in motion, in your Buddhist practice. There are a couple of good Zen Sangha supported projects ongoing too, although not open merely to Zen practitioners.

    http://www.zenhospice.org/

    There is probably a hospice in your area looking for volunteers.

    Gassho, Jundo

  21. #21
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Death

    Dunno if I need to do hospice on top of the Neuro-tele work I do at the moment. I see people frequently in a 'bad way' - cancers that affect neuro, head injuries or aneurysms that radically affect the lives of people and their families.

    All I was saying is that it's easy to say that we were never really born, but there's a large part of most of us, deep down, that really does not believe this.

    Chet

  22. #22

    Re: Death

    I don't have anything enlightening or profound to add to this conversation, but I noticed hospice was mentioned.
    My father is now being cared for by hospice and his days in this life as we know it are coming to an end.

    And I'm okay with it. I'm okay with a lot of things, actually. Thanks for posting this topic, Kevin. Not morbid at all, though if you want to do a project on death, just film yourself. We are all living and dying simultaneously.

    Or not at all :wink:

    Gassho,
    Dave

  23. #23

    Re: Death

    Thank you for all your kind comments and forgive me for trundling out my cancer story again - I just didn't want the thread to become too glib and wanted it to be grounded. As for experiencing this form of event - I invite you to have a cup of coffee at your nearest oncology centre. Just sit and watch the endless parade of people bravely accepting their prognosis with dignity and courage. My abiding memory of that time in my life was that the vast majority of people are so kind & generous, and that practice enables you to see that compassion all round you. I will just finish with a quote from a fellow buddhist which helped me (forgive me - I have posted this before) at that time

    "Be loving, kind & compassionate; focus your mind clearly in the present, hone it and hammer it until it is as dense as an anvil to develop mental equanimity; take great great joy in your accomplishments and especially in those of others. Be present, be present, be present and be present"
    Kindest regards

    Jools

  24. #24

    Re: Death

    Just wanted to give another boost to the idea of volunteering for hospice care- which I should myself attend to, since I have not done it since: My father-in-law, who I only knew for three years before he died, had renal cancer that had spread to a tumor in his cervical vertebrae. After seven years of treatment, he said he was ready to die, and came home to be cared for by hospice. However, that only covered 8 hours of (in-home) care daily, so my wife and I covered the other 16. It took about three months of bedridden care before he died, and I still don't know how to describe it. I would do it again, and I should.

    I'm glad you're still here, Jools!

    gassho

  25. #25
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: Death

    Death has always been an odd topic that makes me a lil uncomfortable so thanks for this thread.

    I'm one who has always seemed to react to death differently than others around. When I hear of someone dying and someone's sorrows I often can't relate too much.

    Been reflecting a bit on death lately as it seems the trend for co-workers' grandparents to die in the past two weeks.

    Oddly, I often think to myself that since we merely change forms why do so many people have issues with death and the loss. It happens and get over it.

    Then I am usually quick to chastise myself for being almost cold about it.

    But at the same time I find it heart wrenching when an animal passes away.*shrugs*

    Dave

  26. #26

    Re: Death

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin
    I was thinking today about death and how it's perceived in society as something horrible, to be avoided at all costs. I was considering starting a personal photojournalism project regarding death, and was considering how others might perceive that as morbid or even offensive.
    Hi Kevin

    I share your unconventional opinion of death and dying and I believe you should explore this as you see fit. If you're the creative type, a photojournalism project would be ideal, there are many books and media out there on the related subject to get you started and perhaps give you some direction. I believe I understand your interest and have spent quite sometime educating myself on the various practices and am currently attending mortuary college.

    If I could, I'd like to caution you though; I have seen fellow classmates (and a few in the business) get too caught up in grief or death or thier own mortality when emersed in the death trade/customs. My advise (and what has worked for me) is to keep your interviews, readings, writings, or however you intend to research for your project seperate from your personal life. Treat it like a job and "switch off." (sorry if I've told you something you already know)

    As for your views being morbid or offensive, it can be offensive to some people. But you can't live or sensor your life to fit others. If they're offended, they don't have to see your project (though I'd bet 9 out of 10 would).

    Good luck with your project and if possible, I'd be interested in viewing it.

    Kelly

  27. #27

    Re: Death

    Death: the big scary nothing.

    It scares the shit out of me . . . however, I will not know it.

    Firewood does not turn into ashes.


    Gassho,
    Eika

  28. #28

    Re: Death

    Firewood does not turn into ashes.


    Gassho,
    Eika
    Thanks for the reminder! I've seen this before, but can't remember the source- any idea?

    gassho

  29. #29

    Re: Death

    Hi Tobiah,

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobiah
    Firewood does not turn into ashes.


    Gassho,
    Eika
    Thanks for the reminder! I've seen this before, but can't remember the source- any idea?

    gassho
    I think Eika may be referring to this passage from the Shobogenzo, Genjo Koan.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dogen Zenji
    Firewood becomes ash; it can never go back to being firewood. Nevertheless, we should not take the view that ash is its future and firewood is its past. Remember, firewood abides in the place of firewood in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. Although it has a past and a future, the past and the future are cut off. Ash exists in the place of ash in the Dharma. It has a past and it has a future. The firewood, after becoming ash, does not again become firewood. Similarly, human beings, after death, do not live again. At the same time, it is an established custom in the Buddha-Dharma not to say that life turns into death. This is why we speak of “no appearance.” And it is the Buddha’s preaching established in [the turning of] the Dharma wheel that death does not turn into life. This is why we speak of “no disappearance.” Life is an instantaneous situation, and death is also an instantaneous situation. It is the same, for example, with winter and spring. We do not think that winter becomes spring, and we do not say that spring becomes summer.
    (tran. Nishijima & Cross)
    Gassho
    Bansho

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