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Author Topic: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 4, 2012, 17:16
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I've been surprised to discover there are people who don't think about death at all, and don't want to consider their own deaths.

In Buddhism we are asked to consider our own deaths, to understand death is inevitable. I'm curious if you include the idea of your own death in your practice? How has Buddhism changed or refined your views about death in general, and do you find other people's death easier or more difficult to deal with since practicing Buddhism?

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

Tim
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 4, 2012, 17:56
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Two somewhat random thoughts:

1. One of the things that has always struck me when I've attended a funeral or viewing is when I go outside and see the world just going about its business. On one side is people struggling to deal with a death and on the other are people getting on with their lives.

2. I've pondered Epicurus' philosophy for a while now:

When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. All sensation and consciousness ends with death and therefore in death there is neither pleasure nor pain. The fear of death arises from the belief that in death there is awareness. (Wikipedia, I know it's sad)

But this seems a little glib to me. It's hard to imagine non-consciousness. Easy to say, hard to wrap your head around it.

Basically, I think about it some, but I'm really more concerned with trying to live this one life more serenely.

Peter K
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 4, 2012, 23:06
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Tim, I agree with you about the glibness of Epicurus' comment. It certainly can be a comfort when considering just my own death. But I think it does not help when considering the death of others. Death is not just *my* extinction, it is the ending of relationship. We do not live in isolation. When a loved one dies I will never experience him or her again. Never. And this loss is something I *do* experience.

I often find myself repeating the words of Ursula Le Guin from her "Earthsea" novels; fantasy novels, but as often with fantasy, containing a great deal of truth.

"Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky."

As the novels say, we live under the Sign of Ending.

We live in an old chaos of the sun...
Deer walk upon our mountains, and quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness...

Candol
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 717
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 5, 2012, 02:30
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Well i've thought about death a lot even before i came to buddhism. Its really only the fear of dying i have - that it might be painful or otherwise difficult. I don't fear death and non-existence and i am quite horrified by the idea of human longevity getting out of control so that there will be a lot of really old people tottering around the planet, taking up resources and harassing all the young people.

I think my life is getting a bit easier and a bit happier as i get older and sometimes i catch myself thinking i am not ready to die just yet because i've got things i want to do if i can although really they are just ways of filling in time. On the whole, i am ready to go at any time. The only difficulty would be that there's no one to take care of my cat properly.

I know this is all a lot more complicated for people with partners and children. I don't feel that anyone really needs me around so there's no great loss if i go early. But for as long as i am around, i hope i can make the best of it. I know i waste a lot of time and shouldn't. That's my struggle - to not waste so much time.

Jan
Inquisitive
Posts: 69
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 5, 2012, 11:59
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I have found the discussion by Stephan Batchelor in Buddhism without beliefs to be quite usefull. I discovered this section in his book a few years before I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was able to use the insight I gained from it to great effect.

 As Batchelor points out death can be discussed not as a morbid topic but as a life affirming event which can be a life transition from which we can learn from and grow. 

Here is what he says: " Since death alone is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what shall I do?"

  "This is not a proposition to be answered in a reactive manner but one to be contemplated in a purposeful, prolonged and thoughtful way" 

The idea presented here is that since we  do not know when and how often we will be confronted with death we have to prepare ourselves.

 let's start with the first phrase--

1. If death alone is certain...

Batchelor asks us to think of the beginnings of life on earth around 3.5 billion years ago--this is when  the first carbon based life, prokaryotes came into being. 

And he asks us to then follow that thinking to the emergence of multi-cellular life, fish, amphibians, mammals, to the appearance of the first of our immediate ancestors [hominins]about 5 million years ago and finally to the homo sapiens sapiens of the present day: us.

Each of these beings was born and each died

Contemplate this for a few moments

What distinguishes you or I from any one of them?

Life is a delicate balance... depending on the functioning of vital organs, but...can we not feel it changing "with each pulse of blood, slipping away with each breath....the loss of hair, pain in the joints, wrinkling of the skin."

When I was 10, I was sitting next to a small rivulet, an over flow of Donner Lake, near Lake Tahoe, where my uncle had just built a cabin. i was just playing with little sticks floating in a stream

In one instant I had a deep epiphany. I thought of the millions of years of evolution that had passed and saw in that instant the total unity of all life and existence on this planet. 

It felt to me as if the dinosaurs and other ancient, long-gone creatures were walking through the trees and swimming in the lake. right then and there I felt a deep kinship with the continuity of life on the planet.  It was an extremely powerful moment and I have a vivid memory of it to this day.
And I suspect that this event had some kind of major influence on how I have seen the world in my life since then.

all of these creatures are dead, but their death gave rise to more life and the continuty of such to the present day.

2. ...and the time of death uncertain

"Though statistics assure us a chance to live to an "average" age, there is no guarantee that we will live another minute, or to next week, or next year, or many years from now"

Death does not just happen to only others, nor when we want it to.--to think otherwise is to maintain the fantasies of a child.

Life is fragile, our bodies are fragile. Just "a bag of flesh, bones and blood."

"Life depends on the pumping of a muscle"

Anything can happen: each time we cross a road, descend a flight of stairs, our lives are at risk. 

When I was four I was both hit by a car and dragged and swept out into the San Francisco Bay by a riptide in the Carquinez Straits, saved only by a quick response from a relative. 

When I was seven I was within inches of falling from a hundred foot cliff into the Pacific Ocean. 

When I was in my thirties, the car I was in did a 360 in a downpour on I-5 in Portland, Ore. 

Any of these and more could easily have resulted in my death. 

As Batchelor said, "life is accident prone."

SO...

3. ...what should I do?

"What am I here for? Am I living in such a way that I can die without regrets? How much of what I do is compromise? Do I keep postponing what I "really" want to do until conditions are more favorable?"

"Asking such questions interrupts indulgence in the comforts of routine and shatters illusions about a cherished sense of self-importance." 

 
Asking such questions humbles us

"..It requires that I examine my attachments to physical health, my attachments to financial independence, 
my attachment even to loving friends.
"For they are easily lost. I cannot ultimately rely on them. Is there anything then that I CAN depend on?"

"It might be that all I can trust in the end is my integrity to keep asking such questions as: Since death alone is certain, and the time of death is uncertain, what shall I do? And then to act on them."

This koan, if I may call it that, is not meant to be answered on the spot. For such an answer to the question "what shall I do" usually brings a similar response from people: "LIVE"

But this is not the answer, this is a cognitive response on the cerebral level. 

The answer, if there is one, comes from a long period of dedicated time in the kind of deep meditation that puts us in contact with the knowledge that we are not separate from the rest of our world or even existence itself, but an integral part of it. 

And that knowledge is not just a thought that one might have, but rather a profound sense of the nature of our reality and death and what an understanding of that nature can have for how we live our lives.

[

 

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 5, 2012, 13:04
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If science tells us nothing about what it’s like to be dead -- a matter of controversy – it’s told us a lot about what it’s like to die, and it’s all good news. Patients who have recovered from cardiac arrest say that they no longer fear death. We know this from research involving hundreds of participants.

“Why worry? You’ll ‘find out’ soon enough.”
-- Robert A. Heinlein

A pragmatist is concerned mainly with present-day problems. So far as I can tell, I can’t do anything about things “over there.” I’ll cross the Styx when I get to it. I’m glad that those stories of sea monsters are greatly exaggerated

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 5, 2012, 16:43
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Fascinating the different ways we each view death, what catches our attention, etc.

I've thought about death most of my life. It's been a subject of fascination to me because my dad died when I was 5 years old. His death was followed by the death of several other family members. I remember poking at a dead bird with a stick. What was the difference between something living and something dead, and then compare that to something that never had lived, like a rock.

There are things we know about death: everything that lives will die, from blades of grass to human beings. Because of that, I see death simply as the flip side of life.

I also know that before death there is life, and life is the only experience I've had. That makes it understandable why it's hard to imagine not existing anymore. Yet, I am aware that I didn't exist for the 13.7 billion years before I was born, and no fuss over that.

As I study astronomy I've become aware of a solar system that seems to have life in only one place. And I also notice that same solar system has suffering only in one place. The place of life is the place of suffering. Inanimate things don't suffer. Things without consciousness can't be aware of suffering. Only living things with consciousness advanced enough to be aware of itself can and does suffer. Hmmmm. Is life really a gift?

Since everything living dies, I can't view death as some horrible event. Not for the being that dies. Of course, death brings much suffering to those of us still alive, those of us attached to the person or animal that died. But understanding the suffering ends when life ends, has rid me of fear of my own death, and has made the death of others more acceptable.

And knowing I'm going to die, could die at any time, I mindfully prevent myself from doing things I could end up regretting. It helps me focus on those temporary moments of joy and peace, and helps me appreciate the wonderful friendships I have, and the life I'm living and the life they're living, for none of it will last.

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

Candol
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 717
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 05:13
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Despite what it may feel like to die, a heart attack is very painful. I read an account recently from someone who had one.

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 09:16
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It's painful to fall off a horse. That doesn't keep people from riding.

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 09:59
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Life is full of sources of pain, just as deaths may be. It certainly is common for people to wonder or worry about the pain they may go through at the time of death.

Pain is a good object to be mindful of while we are alive. I had brought up to Jan that my only fear of death is the aspect of possibly being in pain. And he said, Then that is what you need to look at to see why you're attached to that idea. Excellent point!

Do we have to hold the idea of that death is painful? Even if it is, death will end the pain. Why be afraid of that which we often experience in life anyway? All good stuff to consider, search for attachments and aversions, etc.

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

Jan
Inquisitive
Posts: 69
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 17:42
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When death is near we can look back on our life and hopefully say, "it was a good life, an interesting journey, well lived for the most part, and the world is a better place for me living in it." If you feel you fell short of this, well, there is yet time to do something about it.

Candol
Noone Going Nowhere
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 17:46
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Its a survival mechanism to be afraid of pain. Otherwise we'd go swimming in lakes where crocodiles dwell. We wouldn't mind the risk of having a limb lobbed off through anyone of various means. Pain is unpleasant there's no doubt about it. I don't think anyone would be capable of consciously managing acute pain well.

One of the reasons people put pets to death these days is to help them avoid pain. Do you think this is a wrong practice?

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 6, 2012, 20:03
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I agree with euthanasia for pets or people. If one is suffering unbearable with something terminal, they should not be made to continue suffering, no matter whether human or doggie.

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

Candol
Noone Going Nowhere
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 7, 2012, 06:16
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I can't really come to a conclusion on it myself. I believe in suicide though.

Mark-
Knickelbin-
e
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 7, 2012, 09:03
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I saw Lars Van Trier's movie, "Melancholia", the other week, and it had a really powerful effect on me. I felt clearly that if we could really internalize the immanence of death, it would free us from all kinds of clinging and allow us to relate to ourselves and others with openness and compassion. I have always thought of the various death practices in Buddhist traditions -- charnel ground meditations, the "since death is inevitable" meditation Batchelor wrote about -- as kinda creepy and part of Theravada's attitude of disgust toward the body. I feel differently about it now -- it seems like some version of this would be a powerful practice to help release clinging to self. Anyone know of any guided meditations of this type that are out there?

Jan
Inquisitive
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 7, 2012, 10:02
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"What is This?" has been a powerful technique for me Mark. Martine Batchelor provides a superb explanation, and simple direction for this practice in a couple of her books.

http://martinebatchelor.org/index.php/en/what-is-this

Jan
Inquisitive
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 7, 2012, 10:38
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http://martinebatchelor.org/index.php/en/what-is-this

Here is a link to one of her explanations of this practice

pjs
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Posts: 4
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 7, 2012, 17:02
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Many interesting responses here. For me it seems that thinking about death is one of those pragmatic activities that comprise both Secular Buddhism and Stoicism. While undoubtedly frightening at times,visualizing one's death can help with gratitude,with appreciation,and with prioritizing our aims and efforts. I used to force myself to contemplate death;now such thoughts are habits. There is fright some of the time, but to me engaging those very thoughts promote important attitudinal and behavioral shifts.

josephkeit-
h
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josephkeith
Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 12, 2012, 15:13
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I don't much think of death, but I don't avoid the thoughts or the topic. Mom made me meditate on my death and my subsequent funeral when I was 13, and it did nothing but cure my fears of spiders and snakes.

Returning to it as a meditation/artistic focus in my 20s, I feel I got pretty comfortable with it. When someone close to me dies, I usually feel compelled to reflect on it some more.

Day to day, though, I consider death as unimportant a conversation in my life as religion. The three marks of existence have had their way with me, in that respect.

Honestly, it was more difficult to overcome the fear of not being the next Leonard Cohen, when I saw my 20s coming to an end, and my son was born.

Jan
Inquisitive
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 12, 2012, 23:25
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When we practice mindfulness of death, it may behoove look beyond our own personal death as well. The death of others around us will certainly have impact on our lives, and our own death will greatly impact the lives of those close to us. My feeling is that the work that we do on letting go of our own clinging to the life/death unity can be of immense help to others as well as ourselves. My own experience has shown that many of my friends have been unprepared for the reality of my own ending, and that has caused some of them much suffering. But, I strongly feel that I can use what ever insights that I have gleaned to help my them through the process. In fact, I really see this duty as a moral imperative linked to the cultivation of compassion that has been so associated with Buddhism and other similar philosophical systems.

Andrew
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 13, 2012, 01:27
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Taxes can be evaded, death cannot, so eventually I hope to roughly embody the perspective seen from this sutta:

Without sign,
unknown
— the life here of mortals —
difficult,
short,
tied up with pain.
For there's no way
by which those who are born
will not die.
Beings are subject
to death
even when they attain
old age.

Like ripe fruits
whose downfall, whose danger
is falling,
so for mortals, once born,
the constant danger
is death.

As a potter's clay vessels
large & small
fired & unfired
all end up broken,
so too life
heads to death.
Young & old
wise & foolish
rich & poor:
all
come under the sway of death,
all
have death as their end.

For those overcome by death,
gone to the other world,
father cannot shelter son,
nor relatives a relative.
See: even while relatives are looking on,
wailing heavily,
mortals are
one
by
one
led away
like cows to the slaughter.

In this way is the world afflicted
with aging & death,
and so the awakened don't grieve,
knowing the way of the world.

"You don't know the path
of his coming or going:
seeing neither end,
you lament in vain."

If, by lamenting,
— confused,
harming yourself —
any use could be gained
the prudent would do it as well.
But not by weeping & grief
do you gain peace of awareness.
Pain
arises all the more. Your body
is harmed.
You grow thin,
pale,
harming yourself
by yourself.
Not in that way
are the dead protected.
Lamentation's in vain.

Not abandoning grief, a person
suffers all the more pain.
Bewailing one whose time is done,
you fall under the sway of grief.

Look at others
going along,
people arriving
in line with their actions:
falling under the sway of death,
beings simply
shivering here.

For however they imagine it,
it always turns out
other than that.
That's the type of (their) separation.
See the way of the world.

Even if a person lives a century
— or more —
he's parted
from his community of relatives,
he abandons his life
right here.

So, having heard the arahant,
subduing lamentation,
seeing the dead one whose time is done,
[think,] "I can't fetch him back." [1]
Just as one would put out
a burning refuge
with water,
so does the awakened one —
discerning,
skillful,
& wise —
blow away any arisen grief,
like the wind, a bit of cotton fluff.

Seeking your own happiness,
you should pull out your own arrow:
your own lamentation,
longing,
& sorrow. [2]
With arrow pulled out,
independent,
attaining peace of awareness,
all grief transcended,
griefless you are
unbound.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.3.08.than.html

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 13, 2012, 15:54
Quote

Awareness of universal morality is one way to free ourselves from the burden of holding a grudge,no matter how unfairly we've been mistreated. All things considered, nobody gets away with anything.

"I'll never get out of this world alive"
- Hank Williams

Guest
Warming up
Posts: 26
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Post Re: Death is inevitable, so how do you feel about it?
on: May 14, 2012, 12:30
Quote

I've had experience with death of loved ones which has shaped my views of it more than my practice has.

The only effect that I can attribute directly to my practice is that after a guided meditation on death during a retreat, we were asked to ponder the question: "how does your view of death, and the fact that it's time is uncertain, affect your goals and values?" This question led to what may be considered an un-Buddhist conclusion for me: that short-term hedonism is quite important, especially if it comes at low cost.

Some Buddhists like Than Geoff may argue that this is in a sense Buddhist, as the Buddha taught that joy and pleasure are important to the path, but that the joy and pleasure of sila and jhana are much more wholesome and reliable. However, I do think that other short-term hedonistic indulgences come at low enough cost to partake in them on occasion as well.

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