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Thread: Meditation on Death

  1. #1

    Meditation on Death

    Is there any sort of meditation on Death in the Soto Zen tradition? I found the meditations on death in the Satipatthana Sutta some of the most powerful and life-changing practices in the Theravada tradition. I was wondering if there were a Zen equivalent. Thanks!

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by JimInBC View Post
    Is there any sort of meditation on Death in the Soto Zen tradition? I found the meditations on death in the Satipatthana Sutta some of the most powerful and life-changing practices in the Theravada tradition. I was wondering if there were a Zen equivalent. Thanks!

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH
    All Zazen is, in a sense, a "meditation on death" ... and on life too ... as we sit, dropping away all thought of birth and death, coming and going.

    Is there a particular practice such as that in the Satipatthana Sutta?

    The Nine Cemetery Contemplations

    (1) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body dead one, two, or three days; swollen, blue and festering, thrown in the charnel ground, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: "Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it."

    Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: "The body exists," to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.

    (2) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals or by different kinds of worms, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: "Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it."

    Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body...

    (3) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton with some flesh and blood attached to it, held together by the tendons...

    (4) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton blood-besmeared and without flesh, held together by the tendons...

    (5) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons...

    (6) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to disconnected bones, scattered in all directions_here a bone of the hand, there a bone of the foot, a shin bone, a thigh bone, the pelvis, spine and skull...

    (7) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bleached bones of conchlike color...

    (8) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground reduced to bones, more than a year-old, lying in a heap...

    (9) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bones gone rotten and become dust, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: "Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it."

    Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: "The body exists," to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.
    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipi....010.nysa.html
    We neither run toward death nor turn away.

    Our Rev. Shokai was a funeral director and embalmer for many years, both in Canada and Japan, so I would ask him for further comment.

    My wife and I were hospice volunteers for many years in Florida. I did not engage in any particular contemplation, but there was death all around, and I just practiced Zazen in motion.

    One can sit Zazen in a cemetery, yet it should not be particularly different from sitting Zazen in the middle of a child's birthday party or Times Square. Sitting is sitting, and holds all life and death.

    There is a tendency in the South Asian tradition to emphasize realization of the impurity and impermanence of the body in order to escape attachment to the body.

    There is more of a tendency in Zen Buddhism to see through and be free of the impurity and impermanence of the body, life and death ... AND SIMULTANEOUSLY ... to CELEBRATE the Purity and Timelessness of the body, life and even (yes celebrate) death ... for there is no coming and going, even as we savor the wild ride of coming and going!

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    (Sorry to run long)
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-02-2021 at 09:07 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Dogen's wisdom on Birth and Death is most nicely summed up in a short section of Shobogenzo called "Shoji" .... "birth and death" or "life and death" (depending on how one translated the first Kanji). We dive right in and leap beyond at once ...

    ~~~~~~~

    ... If we understand that life and death are themselves nirvana, There is no need for avoiding life and death or seeking nirvana. Then, for the first time, this arises the possibility of freeing our selves from life and death. Do not fall into the error of thinking that there is a change from life and death. Life is one position of time, and it already has a before and after.

    So in Buddhism it is said that life itself is no-life. Death is also a position in time, and too has a before and after. So it is said that death itself is no-death. When it is called life, there is nothing but life. When it is called death, there is nothing but death. If life come, this is life. If death comes, this is death. There is no reason for your being under their control. Don't put any hope in them. This life and death are the life of the Buddha. If you try to throw them away in denial, you lost the life of the Buddha. You only cling to the appearance of the Buddha. If you neither deny Nor seek, you enter the mind of the Buddha for the first time.

    But don't try to measure this by your mind. Don't try to explain it by your words. When you let go of your body and mind and forget them completely, when you throw yourself into the Buddha's abode. When everything is done by the Buddha, when you follow the Buddha Mind without effort or anxiety - you break free from life's suffering and become the Buddha. ...
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Jundo Roshi this raises a question and may be s separate topic; that phrase when only life, life is no-life and when there is only death, death is no-death. Can you speak a bit on that? Is Dogen saying that when we are not comparing or separating from this/judging things there is nothing but that, e.g. there is no-life because that is everything at that moment and we are experiencing it as such?

    gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Risho View Post
    Jundo Roshi this raises a question and may be s separate topic; that phrase when only life, life is no-life and when there is only death, death is no-death. Can you speak a bit on that? Is Dogen saying that when we are not comparing or separating from this/judging things there is nothing but that, e.g. there is no-life because that is everything at that moment and we are experiencing it as such?

    gassho

    Risho
    -stlah
    It's in my book! No freebies!

    Anyway, an earlier line in the same essay says:

    If the Buddha is within life and death, there is no life and death. Then again If there is no Buddha within life and death, we are not deluded by life and death.
    It also says "life and death are themselves nirvana."

    There is that suchness of realization in which all separate things, all coming and going, are dropped away into the fullness and wholeness of 'Emptiness." As such, there is no "nirvana" and no "samsara" (this deluded world), no "buddhas" and no "ignorant ordinary folks," no birth and no death, for all the names and separate things wash away ...

    ... and yet ...

    ... there are enlightenment and delusion, Buddhas and ignorant folks, birth and death etc.

    ... all true at once.

    The realization of how this all can be true at once, is enlightenment ... it is what Buddhas realize and ignorant folks do not.

    Thus there is birth and death YET no birth and death at once ... something like the traditional image of waves on the sea which come and go, rise and fall ... yet the sea does not even as the waves do ... all water or the same waters.

    As well, for Dogen and other Mahayana masters, all things pour into all things. So, Dogen can say something like that, when there is death, that is all there is and there is nothing else, and the whole of time and the universe is this moment of death ... and when there is life, same deal. It is something like saying that each wave, and each single drop of water of the sea, contains the whole sea within with room to spare!

    But enough talking about this, for we experience this "and yet" and "all true at once" and "same deal, nothing else" as our Zazen.

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    Sorry to run long.
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-02-2021 at 04:00 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  6. #6
    Thank you! Iíve read and re-read that section in your book (available at fine retailers everywhere lol). Itís something I have to sit with.

    gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Is there are particular practice such as that in the Satipatthana Sutta?
    Yes, I used the Satipatthana Sutta as my model for meditating on the body and on the death of the body. Meditate on the 32 Body Parts (head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin...), then on the 4 elements existing in my body and outside my body, and then on the breakdown and decomposition of my body after death.

    Thank you for your answer. I appreciate it.

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH



    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  8. #8
    Thank you all for your contributions to this thread. I personally came across the Theravadin practice of contemplating the decomposing human body a year or two after finishing my embalming career. At the time I remember wondering what the benefits of the practice could be: apart from being something that one might do while being three sheets to the wind and listening to your beard grow. As an embalmer, one studies anatomy, physiology, microbiology and pathology in order to appreciate the workings of decomposition and the obstacles that it presents to preserving dead human remains for the purpose of having a stable and sterile model to present during the funeralization period. Having done the work for several years I can tell you it's far more productive to contemplate the present moment and wonder at the miracle of birth and death than to wallow in the thoughts of worms and decomposition. Having intimately witnessed the miracle of both birth and death, I can truthfully recommend expending our living moments in gratitude of all the magical events happening right now.

    gassho, Shokai
    sylah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  9. #9
    Is there any sort of meditation on Death in the Soto Zen tradition? I found the meditations on death in the Satipatthana Sutta some of the most powerful and life-changing practices in the Theravada tradition. I was wondering if there were a Zen equivalent.
    Likewise, the Tibetan traditions are big on death meditations including a nine-fold practice on contemplating your own death. I found them very powerful.

    For me, the nearest Zen equivalent comes through contemplating each night on the Evening Gatha:

    Let me respectfully remind you.
    Life and Death are of supreme importance.
    Time quickly passes by and opportunity is lost.
    Each of us should strive to awaken.
    AWAKEN!
    Take heed. Do not squander your life.


    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.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Shokai View Post
    Thank you all for your contributions to this thread. I personally came across the Theravadin practice of contemplating the decomposing human body a year or two after finishing my embalming career. At the time I remember wondering what the benefits of the practice could be: apart from being something that one might do while being three sheets to the wind and listening to your beard grow. As an embalmer, one studies anatomy, physiology, microbiology and pathology in order to appreciate the workings of decomposition and the obstacles that it presents to preserving dead human remains for the purpose of having a stable and sterile model to present during the funeralization period. Having done the work for several years I can tell you it's far more productive to contemplate the present moment and wonder at the miracle of birth and death than to wallow in the thoughts of worms and decomposition. Having intimately witnessed the miracle of both birth and death, I can truthfully recommend expending our living moments in gratitude of all the magical events happening right now.

    gassho, Shokai
    sylah

    That is how I see it Shokai, thank you for sharing your experiences

    Doshin
    St

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Likewise, the Tibetan traditions are big on death meditations including a nine-fold practice on contemplating your own death. I found them very powerful.

    For me, the nearest Zen equivalent comes through contemplating each night on the Evening Gatha:

    Let me respectfully remind you.
    Life and Death are of supreme importance.
    Time quickly passes by and opportunity is lost.
    Each of us should strive to awaken.
    AWAKEN!
    Take heed. Do not squander your life.


    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday-
    Thank you, Kokuu. I love that. I remember reciting the Evening Gatha when I used to study Zen. Thank you so much for reminding me - I will add it back to my practice.

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  12. #12
    Hi Jim,

    I looked into this a little more.

    These articles discuss paintings that were used as part of such contemplation practices on death and decay in Japan. Apparently, they were popular with some Zen folks at times. I do not see particular mention of Soto Zen, and all the Zen folks mentioned seem to be on the Rinzai side. However, there was a lot of cross over, so I would not be surprised at all if some Soto folks dabbled.

    Here is a good article, but without the pictures shown ...

    Behind the Sensationalism: Images of a Decaying Corpse in Japanese Buddhist Art
    https://www.redorbit.com/news/health...e_in_japanese/
    and
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/2506715...OMFmADww&seq=1

    This shows some of the images ...

    https://strangeremains.com/2015/03/0...se-watercolor/

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    Thank you, Jundo! That's fascinating!

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH

    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  14. #14
    Hi friends. I am an old man because I am 69-years old. Sooner or latter I will die. I have lived a mostly enjoyable life. Today I enjoy life. If I were to die at this moment I have done much to help others. There is more that I could do, so I think I will live longer. I am mostly a happy man. My wife and my daughter would morn when I die. This is not the end, but a beginning. Remember The Heart Sutra. No end, no beginning. End and beginning to my old age. There is ending to everything, but no death, no gain, no loss. Remember The Heart Sutra. I am a Buddhist. This means compassion. I have learned this from our priests. My wife and my daughter are compassion. My daughter and my wife say they have no belief, but they have compassion because they will mourn when I die. When my family mourns me, this is compassion.
    Gassho
    sat/ lah
    Tai Shi
    Last edited by Tai Shi; 03-19-2021 at 02:11 AM. Reason: explanation.
    The reason we are foolish enough to make ourselves suffer and make the other person suffer is that we forget that we and the other person are impermanent. Someday when we die, we will lose all our possessions, our power, our family, everything. Our freedom, peace, and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have. But without an awakened understanding of impermanence, it is not possible to be happy. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Tiger Within. p 119.

  15. #15
    At one point when i was embalming in Japan our host company bought a polaroid camera(that's how long ago this was) for us to take before and after photos of the bodies to use as a sales strategy with families. Consequently, I have an album of "death porn" that I can bring out if I want to discourage visitors When I look at these pictures it is with a professial filter so I'm really not into contemplating human decomposition.

    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  16. #16
    Sometimes I daydream (not contemplate) medical students dissecting my (donated) cadaver.

    Gassho
    Meishin
    stlah

  17. #17
    Actually, I have donated my brain to The Harvard Brain Bank. Because of one of my disabilities, this place, in partnership with a hospital, will harvest my brain within 24 hours of my death. This is in my will, and I carry a card to inform doctors who might care for my body. I hope to contribute in some way to the understanding of people like me. My wife and my daughter are aware of my wishes. I guess it is time to begin saving for the end of my life for a funeral home. Is this a meditation?
    Gassho
    sat/ lah
    Tai Shi
    Last edited by Tai Shi; 03-19-2021 at 04:54 PM. Reason: Word choice.
    The reason we are foolish enough to make ourselves suffer and make the other person suffer is that we forget that we and the other person are impermanent. Someday when we die, we will lose all our possessions, our power, our family, everything. Our freedom, peace, and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have. But without an awakened understanding of impermanence, it is not possible to be happy. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Tiger Within. p 119.

  18. #18


    Gassho,

    Daitetsu

    #sat2day
    Attached Images Attached Images
    no thing needs to be added

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Daitetsu View Post


    Gassho,

    Daitetsu

    #sat2day

    gassho,Shokai
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  20. #20
    My essence will never be removed so long as files of my books are not destroyed. Giving over to death I raise posterity for reasonably my brain at least 70 years or as long as Harvard wishes to study tissue. I know not how slides, preparations, computer files, or reality be stored itís said again a cat has nine lives.
    Gassho
    sat
    lah
    Tai Shi


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    The reason we are foolish enough to make ourselves suffer and make the other person suffer is that we forget that we and the other person are impermanent. Someday when we die, we will lose all our possessions, our power, our family, everything. Our freedom, peace, and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have. But without an awakened understanding of impermanence, it is not possible to be happy. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Tiger Within. p 119.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Tai Shi View Post
    Actually, I have donated my brain to The Harvard Brain Bank. Because of one of my disabilities, this place, in partnership with a hospital, will harvest my brain within 24 hours of my death. This is in my will, and I carry a card to inform doctors who might care for my body. I hope to contribute in some way to the understanding of people like me.
    Thank you.

    Gassho, Jim
    ST/LaH



    Sent from my SM-T510 using Tapatalk
    No matter how much zazen we do, poor people do not become wealthy, and poverty does not become something easy to endure.
    Kōshō Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  22. #22
    I have seen in some traditions Shrines with bones, even a tooth or teeth kept as part of the Buddha. Are these traditions celebrating birth and death, or no birth and death? Are these called Stupas? Theravada, or Tabeten Traditions? We have in the USA traditions of cemetaries, and shrines, mosolims, alters, crosses, markers of various types. Even if one is cremated and then ashes scattered usually ceremony, often even part of the ashes kept in a container for introspection. I have seen the birtn of our daughter, not the actual emergance, but first breath as doctor cleared air passage, baby in nursery but one hour old, and in less than one week she will turn the age beyond which I believe childhood is left behind in but three if life her years exactly the age I became cognizant of my behavior. I have seen the corpse of my mother, and as senior child it was my duty to acompny her body to herse or wagon for preparation of buraial, such is it that her marker says name and birth date, death date, and "Mother." These are my own most powerful images. Money is set aside for my death, cremation, and remembrance celebration. When I came to my Zendo I was confused and not very honest. Today I have come to some honesty, and I have some clarity of actions, Right Intention. Is this after many hours of sitting practice? If so, if have undertaken the 16 precepts, and my teacher has given me Dharma name; will it pass away with my ashes? Is this life and death? How am I a happy man, and I am ready as I live, and I am ready for as "Dying?" Let my bones rest, no flesh, no tendons, no bones left behind. Ashes to earth. All will become simple matter and energy? Is this no life, no death? My only post today asking questions of Jundo or Shokai.
    Gassho
    sat/ lah
    Tai Shi
    Last edited by Tai Shi; 03-24-2021 at 03:05 PM. Reason: spelling, lots, including my dyslexia.
    The reason we are foolish enough to make ourselves suffer and make the other person suffer is that we forget that we and the other person are impermanent. Someday when we die, we will lose all our possessions, our power, our family, everything. Our freedom, peace, and joy in the present moment is the most important thing we have. But without an awakened understanding of impermanence, it is not possible to be happy. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Tiger Within. p 119.

  23. #23
    Sawaki quote.jpg



    gassho, Shokai
    stlah
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    May we all grow together in our knowledge of the Dharma

  24. #24
    https://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/IkkyuSkeletons.html

    My four favorite stanza’s from Ikkyu’s poem ‘Skeletons’:

    We have
    One moon,
    Clear and unclouded,
    Yet are lost in the darkness
    Of this fleeting world.

    This world
    Is a dream
    Seen while awake;
    How pitiful those
    Who see it and are shocked!

    Many indeed
    The ways to climb
    From the mountain foot,
    But it is the same moon
    That we see o’er the peak.

    If I do not decide
    The dwelling place
    Of my future,
    How is it possible
    That I should lose my way?

    -Ikkyu

    The fleury of stanzas toward the end of the poem are very moving, it’s almost like a cadenza:

    It is useless to pray to the gods about your destiny. Think only of
    the One Great Matter.[4] Human beings are mortal; there is nothing
    to be shocked about.

    If they can serve
    To bring us to loathe them,
    The troubles of this world
    Are most welcome.

    Why on earth
    Do people decorate
    This temporary manifestation,
    When from the first they know
    It will be like this?[5]

    The body of a thing
    Will return
    To the Original Place.
    Do not search,
    Unnecessarily, elsewhere.

    Not a single soul
    Knows why he is born,
    Or his real dwelling place;
    We go back to our origin,
    We become earth again.

    Many indeed
    The ways to climb
    From the mountain foot,
    But it is the same moon
    That we see o’er the peak.

    If I do not decide
    The dwelling place
    Of my future,
    How is it possible
    That I should lose my way?

    Our real mind
    Has no beginning,
    No end;
    Do not fancy
    That we are born, and die.

    If you give rein to it,
    The mind goes rampant!
    It must be mastered
    And the world itself rejected.

    Rain, hail and snow,
    Ice too, are set apart,
    But when they fall,
    The same water
    Of the valley stream.

    The ways of preaching
    The Eternal Mind
    May be different,
    But all see the same
    Heavenly truth.

    Fill the path
    With the fallen needles
    Of the pine tree,
    So that no one knows
    If anyone lives there.

    How vain
    The funeral rites
    At Mount Toribe![6]
    Those who speed the parting ghost
    Can they themselves remain here forever?

    Melancholy indeed
    The burning smoke
    Of Mount Toribe!
    How long shall I think of it
    As another’s pathos?

    Vanity of vanities
    The form of one
    I saw this morning
    Has become the smoky cloud
    Of the evening sky.

    Look, alas,
    At the evening smoke
    Of Mount Toribe!
    Even it falls back and billows
    With the rising of the wind.

    It becomes ash when burned,
    And earth when buried—
    Could anything
    Remain as evil?

    With the sins
    That I committed
    Until I was three years old,[7]
    At last I also
    Disappeared.

    -Ikkyu

    Gassho,
    Sat
    Lah
    Last edited by StoBird; 03-24-2021 at 08:50 PM.

  25. #25
    Thank you for sharing

    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

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