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Thread: Not-Self & Death Anxiety

  1. #1

    Not-Self & Death Anxiety

    I've had the (mis)fortune of having some experiences where I directly experienced emptiness of self which shook me from the dream of really being here. These experiences have faded in my memory over time, but their effects have lingered. Some were fascinating, some were distressing and had me seriously thinking I had developed a neurological disorder or serious mental illness. It's one thing to understand the idea of not-self or the emptiness of self, but it's quite another to really experience it first-hand.

    While the feeling of self still arises and I still fall into the warmth of its familiarity, a part of me knows it's just another feeling like any other. This has left me to experience intrusive thoughts about death - my death and the death of those I love. While I think it's fine to reflect on the inevitability of our own end (as a way to motivate ourselves to practice and to prioritize our lives and do away with things that don't really matter to us), this "death anxiety" was something else. It caused me serious distress and would interrupt my thinking at any time of day (though it most frequently came up just as I was falling asleep each night).

    At first I didn't see a connection between these experiences of not-self and the death anxiety, but the more I sat with both, the clearer it became. Having shaken loose my firm grip on my sense of self, a kind of "gap" opened in my psychological model and as nature abhors a vacuum, my mind abhorred that gap. The gap was where my reliance on a sense of self used to be. It was a very comforting feeling, to be so sure there really was a thing I could point to and call my "self". The idea of the emptiness of self made me uncomfortable before these not-self experiences, but that discomfort I felt was something I rationalized away as being more of a discomfort with the unfamiliar.

    I didn't know how to be me without a strong reliance on a solid self, and I didn't realize how important that reliance was to my psychology. It seemed like a trivial thing, but the truth is that it was something I had been taking for granted my entire life - it had always been there, it was so familiar that it didn't seem like anything remarkable or even important. It's like they say "You don't know what you have until you lose it."

    I had a feeling this "gap" wasn't something to be left to fester. In the same way that we don't simply uproot bad habits and leave nothing in their place but, rather, we replace them with good habits, I felt that the way forward was to replace that reliance on a strong sense of self with something else. I was immediately reminded of two things simultaneously:

    1. Thich Nhat Hahn's once said: "Enlightenment is when a wave knows it's the ocean".
    2. Dogen once wrote: "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly."

    The supreme kindness and wisdom of these people rang in my mind like thunder and it became clear to me what the way forward should be: Replace the strong sense of self with a strong sense of inter-being with the universe.

    This was another idea I was familiar with intellectually, having come across it many times over the years of studying and practicing, but this time I felt like it was a real call-to-action, to actively look for the way "I" am a manifestation of the universe rather than a being who is "in" the universe. My imagination conjured an image of a person whose body was full of stars like space on whose fingers they wore finger puppets, and one of those finger puppets was "me". I began to encourage myself to think thoughts like "It's not so much that "I" am the Universe but, rather, that the Universe is "me"." The ocean is the wave. The "myriad things" (universe) actualizes me.

    I was also reminded of something I read in one of my favorite books Sit Down & Shut Up in which the author expresses an idea like "I think the Universe is more real than I am."

    All these images and quotes and thoughts have been very helpful in getting me back to some sense of normalcy. The death anxiety is gone and I am very grateful for that because I really can't express just how distressing it was, I didn't even know there was a term for it until I did some Google and YouTube sleuthing.

    So my reason for posting this is twofold:

    1. I'm curious to know if any of you have gone through something similar.
    2. Where do I go from here? I suspect that I should continue to sit and "stabilize" this, but could use some advice.

    Gassho,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  2. #2
    Your ego is playing games with you. Put it all down and just sit. Let it go

    Sat/lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    I may be wrong and not knowing is acceptable

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Rich View Post
    Your ego is playing games with you. Put it all down and just sit. Let it go

    Sat/lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Rich - if you keep giving away the secrets, I won't be able to charge for my services I kid, i kid

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  4. #4
    Hi Sen

    Depersonalisation of this kind is known to occur as a result of meditation in some people and it does seem to be very distressing and psychologically disturbing.

    I have had experiences of non-self but mostly my brain has immediately clutched for solidity once the rug of self has been pulled away. Otherwise, I have experienced being a wave that is part of the ocean which feels much less depersonalising as there is not the gap you speak of but rather Dogen's sense of "to be actualized by myriad things."

    I would say that the depersonalisation comes about from a realisation of form is emptiness without a counter-balance of emptiness is form which can move us back into the relative world of the wave (but still recognising ourselves as part of the ocean). In Dogen's terms, you have stopped at "To study the self is to forget the self" and not moved on to the next part of the realisation.

    It sounds like you have managed to put that part back by contemplating that the ocean is the wave and we are the manifestation of the ten thousand things and the form is emptiness, emptiness is form circle is completed.

    If things are pretty much okay now, is there anything you need to do? Jundo will doubtless be able to offer some better advice but the only thing I would suggest is to maybe engage with some compassion practices such as the metta verses or tonglen. In Tibetan Buddhism this is the antidote to having pushed too far down the wisdom/emptiness path and it makes sense to work on our connection to other sentient beings in order to feel the interdependence of all things.

    This is pretty much guesswork on my part though as I have not experienced what you have.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    Last edited by Kokuu; 10-09-2019 at 07:34 PM.
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  5. #5
    Everyone makes a big deal about non self and emptiness when itís just awareness without all the mind pollution. What everyone fears is the death of the ego which is not not your eternal essential nature

    Sat/lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    I may be wrong and not knowing is acceptable

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Hi Sen

    Depersonalisation of this kind is known to occur as a result of meditation in some people and it does seem to be very distressing and psychologically disturbing.

    I have had experiences of non-self but mostly my brain has immediately clutched for solidity once the rug of self has been pulled away. Otherwise, I have experienced being a wave that is part of the ocean which feels much less depersonalising as there is not the gap you speak of but rather Dogen's sense of "to be actualized by myriad things."

    I would say that the depersonalisation comes about from a realisation of form is emptiness without a counter-balance of emptiness is form which can move us back into the relative world of the wave (but still recognising ourselves as part of the ocean). In Dogen's terms, you have stopped at "To study the self is to forget the self" and not moved on to the next part of the realisation.

    It sounds like you have managed to put that part back by contemplating that the ocean is the wave and we are the manifestation of the ten thousand things and the form is emptiness, emptiness is form circle is completed.

    If things are pretty much okay now, is there anything you need to do? Jundo will doubtless be able to offer some better advice but the only thing I would suggest is to maybe engage with some compassion practices such as the metta verses or tonglen. In Tibetan Buddhism this is the antidote to having pushed too far down the wisdom/emptiness path and it makes sense to work on our connection to other sentient beings in order to feel the interdependence of all things.

    This is pretty much guesswork on my part though as I have not experienced what you have.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    Hi Kokuu,

    Thank you for this advice and your insight, I appreciate this and I will begin focusing more on metta and doing Tonglen practice. Your analysis of what may going on sounds pretty spot-on from where I'm sitting. This feels like the right way forward and maybe I don't have to "stabilize" it.

    Gassho,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  7. #7
    I would check in with Jundo for more authoritative words on your situation.

    Rich sounds like he has experience of this and may be giving better advice than I am.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Rich View Post
    Your ego is playing games with you. Put it all down and just sit. Let it go

    Sat/lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk




    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Sen View Post

    I had a feeling this "gap" wasn't something to be left to fester. In the same way that we don't simply uproot bad habits and leave nothing in their place but, rather, we replace them with good habits, I felt that the way forward was to replace that reliance on a strong sense of self with something else.
    Hello Sen,
    thank you for sharing your experience .

    I have n't experienced anything similar but there is something that caught my eye while reading it (Quote above) .
    Why is that you immediately want to "do" something with "it", to "replace" "it" ?
    Isn't that the same being busy-busy with all the nonsense just to not look into what really IS?

    I'm not saying there is something else to do instead, just asking, maybe you could look into that why you need to fill ... what exactly?

    PS bad habits can be seen through and discarded without bothering with "new" ones . eventually habits themselves are not helpful in the end (if you like, you can call them "bad" )

    all the best,
    Gassho eva
    sattoday and also LAH

  10. #10
    Dear Sen,

    There is nothing to fear: something which has never been born, cannot die. The unborn knows no death.

    Some very good advice in this thread, I think Kokuu nailed it that you stopped with the concept of emptiness. To use a different image: you stopped after turning around 180į. You must do the entire 360į turn - you will be back at the beginning, but completely changed (sorry, it is hard for me to put this into words).
    You must realise both sides of the medal. There is no "Sen", and yet, of course there is a "Sen". You are the entire ocean, and yet, you also are the wave. The whole ocean contains the drops, and yet, one drop contains the entire ocean.

    You must realise these things in order to come back to where you started, yet changed, seeing through that cosmic joke life really is. A happy, tragic, beautiful, awkward heavenly firework.


    Gassho,

    Daitetsu


    #sat2day
    no thing needs to be added

  11. #11
    In the Mahayana, and especially Master Dogen's way, the emptiness of "non-self" for all things becomes wholeness that, instantly, turns around and flows back into affirming all things (you and me too) as each a jewel which is shining as they are. Our way is not nihilism, and so called "emptiness" is simultaneously a rediscovery of the wholeness and interflowing of all phenomena of the universe. "Self" is reaffirmed as our universal self which is also the selfness of all separate things. All individual phenomena, including people and things, good and bad, then shine as individual pearls on Indra's Net.

    As a corollary, one discovers ... not death ... but this which transcends and flows along with all human ideas of "life and death." That is true although, individually, we will certainly all kick the bucket someday. (I would not call this "the unborn," like Daitetsu, but I would not not call it "unborn" either).

    So, literally there's "no thing" to fear and everything to celebrate.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Eva View Post
    Why is that you immediately want to "do" something with "it", to "replace" "it" ?
    Isn't that the same being busy-busy with all the nonsense just to not look into what really IS?

    I'm not saying there is something else to do instead, just asking, maybe you could look into that why you need to fill ... what exactly?

    PS bad habits can be seen through and discarded without bothering with "new" ones . eventually habits themselves are not helpful in the end (if you like, you can call them "bad" )
    Hi Eva!

    The reason why I immediately wanted to do something about it is because it was very distressing and was impacting my ability to function. I could barely keep it together while doing the most ordinary things and I understood that this inability to attend to even basic tasks like feeding myself wasn't good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daitetsu View Post
    Dear Sen,

    There is nothing to fear: something which has never been born, cannot die. The unborn knows no death.

    Some very good advice in this thread, I think Kokuu nailed it that you stopped with the concept of emptiness. To use a different image: you stopped after turning around 180į. You must do the entire 360į turn - you will be back at the beginning, but completely changed (sorry, it is hard for me to put this into words).
    You must realise both sides of the medal. There is no "Sen", and yet, of course there is a "Sen". You are the entire ocean, and yet, you also are the wave. The whole ocean contains the drops, and yet, one drop contains the entire ocean.

    You must realise these things in order to come back to where you started, yet changed, seeing through that cosmic joke life really is. A happy, tragic, beautiful, awkward heavenly firework.
    Oh! Oh now I see! I had really struggled with the idea of "the unborn knows no death" but I think I see it and I have a big smile on my face right now! I wish I could put into plain language what I think I'm seeing, maybe I'll try:

    All things are in motion and have been since beginning-less time. Anything that's caused to exist is, itself, a cause for other things to exist. It's a big, messy soup that's always in motion, stirring and being stirred by its own stirring action. Because everything is already in motion, no new motions can come in from the "outside", which means nothing is really "born". Things just arise because ... of course they do ... everything is already in motion so there's no other possible outcome than for things to arise.

    So no one is ever born, because nothing enters the universe from "outside" it; it's all already here. We appear, but we're not born and this also means, as the Heart Sutra says, there is no death and no ending of death (because there's nothing born that can die in the first place).



    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    In the Mahayana, and especially Master Dogen's way, the emptiness of "non-self" for all things becomes wholeness that, instantly, turns around and flows back into affirming all things (you and me too) as each a jewel which is shining as they are. Our way is not nihilism, and so called "emptiness" is simultaneously a rediscovery of the wholeness and interflowing of all phenomena of the universe. "Self" is reaffirmed as our universal self which is also the selfness of all separate things. All individual phenomena, including people and things, good and bad, then shine as individual pearls on Indra's Net.

    As a corollary, one discovers ... not death ... but this which transcends and flows along with all human ideas of "life and death." That is true although, individually, we will certainly all kick the bucket someday. (I would not call this "the unborn," like Daitetsu, but I would not not call it "unborn" either).

    So, literally there's "no thing" to fear and everything to celebrate.
    Thank you, Jundo! Your phrasing here made the difference for me, the "wholeness that turns around and flows back into affirming all things" is what I was missing and so now I see what others were saying when they wrote that I had stopped at "form is emptiness". I can see myself returning to what you've written here as I move forward, thank you again for your kind words. I feel pretty excited about going forward!

    どうもありがとうございます!
    合掌,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH

    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  13. #13
    I love this thread because like all good discussions here, and there have been a lot lately, they raise clarifying questions to force me to address how I feel about something. It gives us all an opportunity see how we see things and hopefully discover new things. I don't know if you've noticed this, but a lot of times I actually discover what I feel when I"m writing the answer. It's like this medium really works for me as a tool for practice; really cool stuff. Anyway, I digress. hahahah

    I mean when it comes to life and death; I just don't know. I mean when it comes down to it, I have a kind of general idea of who I am, but as I go more into the specifics I don't know; I really don't know. Sometimes I believe I believe something for example, but it turns out I don't.

    It's like in zazen too, when mind and body drops and you are just there; you don't know; there is no one there to know. You only know you may have been there for a bit when you come back to thinking about what just happened, but who knows?

    But all these states of mind and consciousness; we aren't always in a spot. We're all over the place. So I look at life like I have to set my intent and then I know I'll flip flop around everywhere and go places I don't expect and sometimes hate sitting one day when the previous day I loved it. But if I set my goal or intent, then I will generally move in the right direction.

    I don't know what happens when we die; no one does. I can read things about being a bubble and then just going back to the ocean, but "painted rice cakes don't satisfy hunger."

    I"m not saying there isn't truth to that; I'm saying I need to taste that for myself. I think this life and death is something of paramount importance, and while we can help each other, and read pointers, we have to figure this out for ourselves. There is no "I got it", but you can get it. I think that it's a constant re-adjusting and fine tuning, just like zazen.

    So you never get anything but you get it by always picking yourself up and moving on when you fail.

    Life is unpredictable at times, and there are no fixed answers; we don't have a map, but we have to try to go the right direction. It doesn't take much to slip; you can get off the path very easily, but you always have a choice to bring yourself back. I mean that really.

    I know I've deviated from death this thread, but it relates to what we are talking about here. I think about death sometimes. I don't want to die; I miss those who have died, and I'm going to miss people when I die. Maybe I won't; I won't be around to miss, but I can only experience myself as alive. In other words, I only can really fathom me experiencing death so it's kind of a funny thing.

    But like in all good things - we aren't alone. Many people better than me have already died, and many people are dying now. I take solace in that knowing that this is just how it works, and I'm not alone. Also - who knows what it's like? Easy for me to say now, but there is a wonder to it all isnt there? What is death? What actually happens?

    But I will experience that when it happens; I need to not take for granted this life I've been given now. So more importantly right now; what is this life? who am I? what is my life?

    These are questions that drive practice.

    I just don't know about death, but i can't worry about it. That's what I love about zazen; you just gotta do something. You drop the thoughts of likes and dislikes and just do something. And if you've set your intent hopefully what you do is helpful to yourself and others.

    I think death is a tool (our thought of it) because yeah I don't want to die, but it forces me to re-focus on how I live.

    And I see these top 10 lists of insights and so on. Truth and principles are not the property of one belief system or way of living. They are true. So a lot of insights we write about here may seem like common sense, in that they are common to humanity, and they are.

    So treating people kindly is not necessarily zen, but it is zen. Also - to truly taste and understand how to live a good life is I think paramount; we are all going to die, but we need to live properly. And I feel that zen can help uncover that.

    I know I'm rambling, but when you talk about death, there's a lot to unpack there. Just like when we talk about life.

    Live fully now, die fully when it's time to die. And how do you live fully? Well that's something I ask myself every day.

    Edit - ok one other thing

    Gratitude. Not gratitude, but big "G" Gratitude - probably GRATITUDE is my favorite teaching of Jundo, and it's my secret word.

    I don't deserve anything I have; I don't know why I have air conditioning, or awesome coffee. I love my job. I have friends and family. I have a zen practice again.

    I was probably awesome in past lives and I deserve it, so there :P Seriously, I am amazed at everything I have; yet I complain.

    Fear - fear is a poison. Fear is not a seed that you want to plant. It's planted in me, and i Have to work with it a lot. I have fears of failure, sometimes fear of dying, fear of the unknown. What happens if I lose my job? Fear

    To hell with fear - we can watch it rise up and then we don't play the game. Fear wants to invite to sit at the table, but we don't have to be dealt in.

    GRATITUDE is the medicine. I don't want to sound like some self-help guru, but this actually works. When you feel down or afraid - think of all that you have - just keep it small at first - just 1 thing. But you can make it a daily thing where you list out 5 things that you are grateful for, and it doesn't have to be all roses, and this is the depth of Jundo's teachings. Be thankful for the colds, or the MS (Anna :P ) or the Type 2 diabetes (Tai ).

    I know, I know. I don't have MS or Type 2. I don't have chronic fatigue or anything. I know I don't know what I'm talking about, and I would never minimize your experiences. But try it - how can you be grateful for things that you wouldn't typically think are tools?

    I mean I don't deserve to be alive; I am so thankful to be here. So from one perspective I have no plans on dying anytime soon, and I don't want to; that's very healthy I think. I mean sure "no-self" but if you want to die, then really that's not good.

    But when death happens (funny - at first I wrote "if death happens" - I don't actually believe I'm going to die - talk about deluded. hahahah), I think it would make it a little better if I thought about how I didn't have to be here at all, sharing this time with everyone - with you all. And on top of that, I have the luxury of not starving to death or having to protect myself from some invading tribe that I get to take time to actually discover this life. Think about how amazing that is that we actually get to do that - this points to the podcast episode (Kirk/Jundo); things can "seem" bad, but really I don't think they are all that bad either.

    Certainly some have it better - but a lot have it worse unfortunately. And you know - comparisons aren't helpful; to me, I like things; I have technology, I have a lot of gym shoes; I like clothing and weights. I like a lot of stuff. So someone may have more stuff than me and some may have less - but that isn't better. That's all crap. The introspective life is where it's at.. for me right now. I mean this is all my feeling - I don't really know what I'm talking about here, so I don't want you to think that I do.

    But right now - I feel that facing the obstacles and being grateful for them - it cannot get better than that. It's like that old koan about the zen monk who's chased off a cliff by a tiger, and he's hanging on a vine for his life. If he lets go he's going to die. He can't climb up because the tiger is going to eat him. And here come some ##$#%hole rats that start chewing on the vine! Well he's done for.

    But he sees a strawberry and takes a bite.

    What would do? Really - think about it because that isn't a story about some zen monk to teach us a lesson. That is our story; that is us; that is the human condition.

    So what are you going to do? Wallow in sorrow and feel sorry for yourself, or are you going to take a bit of the strawberry?

    The universe has a trigger pointed at our heads; we just forget about it, and that's good; we shouldn't be obsessed with one facet over all others. But some day our time will come; but enjoy now. enjoy now! More than enjoy - use this time wisely; don't be used by your time here.

    Gah language - all these things can be twisted. Enjoy now - become a hedonist. Nonsense. Doing whatever you want is not freedom; responsibility and discipline are true freedom. Because - if you take the hedonistic route - you are still controlled by externals. When you discipline yourself and live intentionally, nothing sways you - and that's freedom.

    Be GRATEFUL

    Ok now I'm done

    Gassho,

    Risho
    -st
    Last edited by Risho; 10-11-2019 at 03:21 PM.

  14. #14
    Oh Risho, thank you

    Thank you for pouring out your heart and going all stream-of-consciousness here. Of everything you wrote here, I find your call to be grateful to really stand out. This has become an important part of my practice in the last few years and is one of the tools I've been using to cope with anxiety and depression and transform them both into gratitude. Interesting that gratitude can transform other emotions into more gratitude!

    I went out walking the other day and saw some snow had fallen. Part of my mind lamented, "It's too early for snow. I don't want it to be cold so soon. I don't like the cold and the dark." But then gratitude spontaneously arose and I thought "I get to see this snow and feel this chill. I'm still alive. This is a gift and a privilege. It is a privilege to watch the turning of the seasons. Many have died and can no longer see the seasons change, but I get to. I'm still here."

    My childhood best friend passed away in her sleep three years ago and I sometimes think about how lucky I am to still be here, to get to experience all kinds of things she no longer can. I get to feel love, sadness, joy, disgust, and more. I get to see summer turn to autumn and autumn to winter and so on while she does not. Every moment is special and will never come again.

    After reading your post, I think gratitude will become an even more prominent part of my practice. The death anxiety was derailing my life and so I'm extremely grateful for all the kindness and wisdom that others have offered to me, and now that there's space again in this noisy head of mine, I can spend more time cultivating gratitude for each and every moment that I still get to be here for.

    Gassho,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  15. #15
    Hi,

    I am reading Zen of Zombies. The book makes excellent recommendations. Be like a zombie. Zombies donít care about death and dying. They donít have anxiety. They limp around in no particular hurry until they come across a human brain. Then they eat it if the human doesnít escape or if they donít get an ax to their head. Then itís limping and groaning around some more. Eat brains, limp and groan. Thatís it. Nothing extra.

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  16. #16
    Haha, that sounds brilliant Jishin! I'm adding it to my reading list right now!

    Gassho,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Sen View Post
    Haha, that sounds brilliant Jishin! I'm adding it to my reading list right now!

    Gassho,
    Sen
    SatToday|LAH


    Sekishi recommended the book in jest I think but itís actually a good book for brain dead people like me.

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  18. #18
    Sen, that is lovely.

    Gassho
    Sat today, lah
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  19. #19
    Yeah, gratitude is great for this wondrous moment

    Yeah, donít know

    To live zombies have to eat brains. The way of the zombies


    Sat/lah


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    I may be wrong and not knowing is acceptable

  20. #20
    The weirdest experience I've ever had was after being knocked off my pushbike at age 12. I remember looking down on myself bleeding in someone's bathtub. We lived in a poor area so calling an ambulance back then wasn't an option. My Mum was contacted and she apparently picked me and took me to hospital. The next thing I remember was looking down on myself and seeing my Dad crying. It was the only time I saw him cry. Apparently my parents were sent home but told not to go to sleep because things were a bit dicey. I remember trying to scream and move but couldn't. I was pretty terrified.
    The only other time I was confronted with my own mortality was earlier this year when there was a decent chance I had a blood cancer. Many many tests later my blood is still weird but I definitely don't have cancer. YAHTZEE! This time I was remarkably calm. Believe it or not the only thing I wanted to do was listen to my favourite songs and make a modern version of Ye Olde Mixed Tape for my partner. I sat a lot of Zazen over this period too.
    Life eh... It throws all kinds of bollocks at you doesn't it. I thought about writing down some of the bollocks that comes and goes while sitting Zazen but if it was found I'm sure the nice men in the white coats would want me to go with them haha.
    Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. Don't be a dick. Sit. Sit. Sit. Repeat.

    Gassho
    Anna

    Sitted and done stuff for others

    Sent from my Lenovo TB-8304F1 using Tapatalk
    Pronouns: She/Her They/Them
    Life's too serious to be taken seriously.

  21. #21
    Hello friends,

    I've continued to work with this topic and in case anyone is interested I think I have some interesting things to share.

    I came across a notion that a different way to view emptiness is as "infinite relativity" - the view that everything relates to everything else; all things have a relational reality rather than an independent reality. I think this helped me to better understand what Jundo wrote about emptiness turning back and affirming the existence of each of us.

    This fear of death that I struggled with had a particularly crucial element: The idea that death means the end of experience. That there'd be no more experience of reality, it would be lights out forever. I was operating according to a very materialistic view of reality, one that says when you die then you become nothing, you're just gone. This is, upon reflection, a very silly idea. One cannot become nothing. Nothing doesn't exist! So a person cannot become a thing that doesn't exist - that wouldn't make any sense.

    The Dharma teaches us that when death comes, the aggregates that make up this current experience (mentioned in the Heart Sutra we chant each week) dissolve and/or go their separate ways. So that leaves the question "Well ... what happens to me then? I can't exist without my body!" But ... we are not our body, and we are not our perceptions or sensations either. All these things, we are told in no uncertain terms, are not-self. Anatta. Even so there seems to be this continuity of experience we have, so what happens to that? Before I get to that, actually, I had an interesting thought:

    I don't have any memories of being in the womb, and my memories of being a very young child are very sparse and the few that I do have are very dim. I don't really remember much about my childhood either (possibly for a sad reason but that's not really the point). But ... do I have any kind of fear or panic about those gaps in my memory? No, not at all. I don't seem to be the slightest bit inconvenienced by those gaps in my memory, I don't seem at all bothered that there are people I have forgotten entirely who maybe were once important to me. So if part of my fear involves this discomfort about not being able to have a sense of experiential continuity, then maybe I should consider that my current sense of continuity is already pretty shaky and I don't feel all that bad about it.

    But back to the thing before ... what happens to that part of us that has this sense of an experiential continuity? Well, like the other aggregates, it doesn't just cease to exist. When a tree falls in the woods, it doesn't wink out of existence after all. So what is it like to have an experience without having a body to feel or the ability to create memories? I honestly don't know, but I think about people who have brain injuries who aren't able to form new memories and, from what I've read, they don't seem to be in a permanent state of distress about it. They obviously face some unique challenges for which they need a lot of help, but they quite literally don't know what they've lost.

    But that does give me the impression that when we're without this human life we are especially vulnerable. Without our mental aggregates, how can we really evaluate situations or make meaningful choices? I think this is why it's so important that we practice while we're still alive. To train in the Buddha way so that when death comes, we have already established within ourselves strong habits and patterns that will guide us when we lose our ability to do human things.

    I can't say for sure what happens after death, though. These are just the thoughts I've been thinking.

    Gassho
    Sen
    Sat|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  22. #22
    I always figured that once I fall off the perch I'll become compost and therefore just another significant but insignificant part of the cycle of life.
    As for the 'me' or 'I' in all this, I'm just a skin bag of bones, blood and organs that is trying not to muck up things for other skin bags of blood, bones and organs either now or when this skin bag reaches its used by date as a skin bag. Then again, maybe we're all just compost already at various stages of deterioration. If I fail or succeed I'll still be compost.
    Gassho
    Anna
    stlah


    Sent from my Lenovo TB-8304F1 using Tapatalk
    Pronouns: She/Her They/Them
    Life's too serious to be taken seriously.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Sen View Post
    Hello friends,

    I've continued to work with this topic and in case anyone is interested I think I have some interesting things to share.
    Maybe still too intellectual, analytical. Both these ideas, and your fear of vanishing, are simply in your head. Like a musician merging into her music, or a thread merging into its tapestry, or a stroke of a paint into the Mona Lisa ... this must be felt.

    We cannot really even explain such things, only experience them through Zazen and the like. However, I feel that some poetic descriptions or traditional images help. So, for example, we quite literally feel that the whole ocean pours into, and is fully contained without the least tension, in every single drop of the ocean ... as if the who ocean is held within or, better said, is co-identical with that tiny drop. So it is for you, me, every dust mote or mountain ... all drops which hold all. It is not merely that drops of water combine to fill the ocean, but that the ocean fills totally every single drop and is held within its skin, is its skin too. Miraculously, each drop holds the entirety of the ocean inside with not one drop left out! Then, should a particular drop vanish ... the ocean remains.

    There are a few nice images of this in Dogen, other mystical writers, and some modern Zen folks too. For example, Dogen wrote this substituting the moonlight for the ocean ...

    Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long of short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.

    Also, a Sufi poet ...

    “All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” – Kabir

    A nice image from Shunryu Suzuki (in ZMBM) ...

    I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling when it is one whole river. Only when separated into many drops can it begin to have or to express some feeling. When we see one whole river we do not feel the living activity of the water, but when we dip a part of the water into a dipper, we experience some feeling of the water, and we also feel the value of the person who uses the water. Feeling ourselves and the water in this way, we cannot use it in just a material way. It is a living thing.

    Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called "mind-only," or "essence of mind," or "big mind," After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear.

    Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life. When the water returns to its original oneness with the
    river, it no longer has any individual feeling to it; it resumes its own nature, and finds composure. How very glad the water must be to come back to the original river! If this is so, what feeling will we have when we die? I think we are like the water in the dipper. We will have composure then, perfect composure. It may be too perfect for us, just now, because we are so much attached to our own feeling, to our individual existence. For us, just now, we have some fear of death, but after we resume our true original nature, there is Nirvana, That is why we say, "To attain Nirvana is to pass away," "To pass away" is not a very adequate expression. Perhaps "to pass on," or "to go on," or "to join" would be better. Will you try to find some better expression for death? When you find it, you will have quite a new interpretation of your life. It will be like my experience when I saw the water in the big waterfall. Imagine! It was 1,340 feet high!

    We say, "Everything comes out of emptiness." One whole river or one whole mind is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find the true meaning of our life. When we reach this understanding we can see the beauty of human life. Before we realize this fact, everything that we see is just delusion. Sometimes we overestimate the beauty; sometimes we underestimate or ignore the beauty because our small mind is not in accord with reality.

    To talk about it this way is quite easy, but to have actual feeling is not so easy. But by your practice of zazen you can cultivate this feeling. When you can sit with your whole body and mind, and with the oneness of your mind and body under the control of the universal mind, you can easily attain this kind of right understanding. Your everyday life will be renewed without being attached to an old erroneous interpretation of life. When you realize this fact, you will discover how meaningless your old interpretation was, and how much useless effort you had been making. You will find the true meaning of life, and even though you have difficulty falling upright from the top of the waterfall to the bottom of the mountain, you will enjoy your life.
    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-25-2019 at 03:05 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  24. #24
    Thank you very much, Jundo!

    I watched Muho's video twice. The first time I was lost, then I sat with what he said and I had a moment of "oh! This this!" I watched it a second time and his words were much clearer to me. I also really find value in that image of how even though the drop is separate from the stream, it's still water. The ocean is the drop.

    I think "infinite relativity" helped me to relax my rigid conceptualization a little. The ocean relates infinitely to the drop, the drop relates infinitely to the ocean. There is still a relative ocean and there is still a relative drop, but they relate infinitely to one another and, really, everything. Master Dogen's words seem to perfectly illustrate how the whole ocean is "in" that drop, even though the drop doesn't become large and the ocean doesn't become small. Nothing changes size or location.

    I feel like some part of me is beginning to let go of all this analysis and compulsion to intellectualize this, and maybe I'll just be able to relax into it and sit with it and see this a little more clearly without having to tell myself stories about it.

    Gassho
    Sen
    Sat|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

  25. #25
    Thank you, Sen and all contributors, for this thread. The timing of this was perfect with some thoughts I've been having.

    _/\_ ST/LAH

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