Tuesday, October 08, 2013


          So much for the meaning of life. How about the meaning of death? Well, we know even less about death because, up to now, no one has died and lived to tell about it.

A scientific article claims in hedging terms that almost all animals that survive external hazards—such as being run over by a truck—eventually die from biological aging. That means getting chronologically old enough that bodily functions wear out or simply run down like an unwound clock. It’s a state of growing old called senescence.

          However, there is a light on the horizon. There may be an exception. It’s not a human form but a blob, a certain jellyfish which is thought to be immortal. Apparently when this creature’s parts die off, they reproduce themselves. Because theoretically the process can go on indefinitely, the jellyfish is biologically eternal.

          So far the process has been observed only in that particular species. No mice, no monkeys, no humans. So don’t hold your breath.

Many people around the world turn to religion to answer questions about death, especially when someone is facing his or her own mortality. Sadly, many of the world’s religions actually glamorize death, promising rewards in the afterlife. Such rewards include increased understanding of God and the universe, and even supernatural powers that were unavailable during one’s mortal life. Those sort of rewards make death more attractive than being alive.

Being a Buddha does not stop bad things from happening to you and does not make you happy all the time. It would be an inhuman feat to stay happy all the time. Being a Buddha means you accept things for what they really are.

          As Dogen wrote, and I quote:

“For Buddhism, the duality between life and death is only one instance of a more general problem, dualistic thinking. Why is dualistic thinking a problem? We differentiate between good and evil, success and failure, life and death and so forth because we want to keep the one and reject the other. But we cannot have one without the other because they are interdependent: having one half also maintains the other. Living a ‘pure’ life thus requires a preoccupation with impurity, and our hope for success will be proportional to our fear of failure. We discriminate between life and death in order to affirm one and deny the other, and, as we have seen, our tragedy lies in the paradox that these two objects are so interdependent. There is no life without death and, what we are more likely to overlook, there is no death without life. This means our problem is not death, but life-and-death.”

          End quote.

All the major world religions teach that life continues after death. Christian, Islamic, and Jewish beliefs can be generally classified as linear, whereas the traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism can be classified as mainly cyclical.

          That brings us back to the notion of nirvana, a term that means “blowing out,” as with a candle. It describes the state of mind when people have extinguished (or removed), all the desires that promote selfish attitudes, and the idea that all things in life do not change.

The Buddha refused to speculate about things such as how the world came about, and what life-after-death is like. This is because he felt no one could ever know for sure how life started and what an after-life would be like. He was more concerned with the practical issue of living in the here and now.

When religions speak of heaven or paradise, they often understand it as a place where a person goes after they have died. However, Buddhists believe it is possible to dwell in nirvana when still alive.

          Buddhism promotes the belief that we do not have an eternal soul. There is nothing in our lives which is permanent.

From moment to moment we are changing. My thoughts are constantly as I speak. My body is changing and is being affected as I drink a cup of coffee or eat a grape. This constant process is called annica, a Pali and Sanskrit term that means impermance. A similar word is anatta. It refers to the idea that we have no permanent part of us that can be called a soul.

An interesting point: If Buddhists do not believe in a supreme being, and do not believe in a soul, why is Buddhism often classed as a religion?

Buddhism is not a religion. It is a way of living.

          Zen Buddhism does not deny the end of life. Zen masters and writers acknowledge death often by writing what is known as a death poem.

          Kozan Ichikyo is considered the second founder of Soto Zen in Japan. His
 death poem read:

Empty handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going-
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

Onitsura wrote:

Flower in the stream.
Now too my lovely life must end,
Another flower to fall and fade away.

Basho’s death poem read:

On a journey, ill;
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields


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