Tag Archives: death

buddhist carnival – april 2010

it’s been two years now, i think, that i’ve been starting the buddhist carnival with a poem. this one i found when i was rooting around the buddhasphere in connection with the post on mice, death and neuroticism. when i first found the poem, i didn’t really want to post it. it starts like this

meditation on death
marananussati

like a flame blown out by the wind,
this life-continuum goes to destruction;
recognizing one’s similarities to others,
one should develop mindfulness of death.

just as people who have achieved
great success in the world have died,
so too i must certainly die.
death is harassing me.

death always comes along
together with birth,
searching for an opportunity,
like a murderer out to kill.

(the rest is here)

so why didn’t i want to post it? because it seemed so … morbid. “death is harassing me”, “like a murderer out to kill,” etc. not beautiful. not accepting. such crass language.

fortunately, i woke up from this disney dream. much of death is ugly, unacceptable and crass. prettying it up with songs of hosanna and pink ribbons wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it?

to illustrate the idea of death, why don’t we go to the worst horse. this is a camera.

so what’s the deal here? well, this item is one of the most recent pinhole cameras ” yes, it works ” by the artist wayne martin belger. as belger explains, the camera is “named ‘yama,’ [after] the tibetan god of death. in tibetan buddhism, yama will see all of life and karma is the ‘judge’ that keeps the balance. the skull was blessed by a tibetan lama for its current journey and i’m working with a tibetan legal organization that is sending me to the refugee cities in india.”

cleaning house

let’s stay with a bit of harshness here. “it is important to clean house”, says marguerite manteau-rao, “and keep on purifying one’s mind through unbroken mindfulness. just as critical is surrounding oneself with good people, starting with one’s most inner circle. this is an aspect of practice that often does not get enough attention.” she then goes on to quote from the kesi sutta from the pali canon

“if a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, lord, then i kill it. why is that? [i think:] ‘don’t let this be a disgrace to my lineage of teachers.’ but the blessed one, lord, is the unexcelled trainer of tamable people. how do you train a tamable person?”

what do you do with untamable people? do you kill them?

dying completely

the barking unicorn is someone who i have come to like (and sometimes dread) because i often feel he’d like to tame me 🙂 while i sorely dislike people’s attempts at taming me (why do you think i dropped out of grade 9, never to return to high school?) i must admit that i’ve benefitted a lot from the barking unicorn’s words. for example, when i went to germany and needed to deal with my pretty intense fear of flying, i decided to build my own in-flight magazine, studded with online writings that i knew would keep my attention. one of them was the barking unicorn’s article about the unicorn and the goddess. it truly brought me grace – and it’s also in line with this whole idea of death that we seem to be pursuing right now. here is a teaser.

“dancers die completely… when a dancer dances she ceases to exist, annihilated utterly as if she had never been.”

a dancer’s ego is what dies and ceases to exist. the ego is that which considers itself an “i” separate from everything else. the ego is your delusion that you are you and the rest of the universe is not you. ….
the ego is the final, tallest, thickest barrier to enlightenment. when the ego dies and ceases to exist, one enters the state of being enlightened, of realizing that there is no “i” and no “you”, no “here” or “out there”. there is no dancer, no illusion of an “i”. there is only all in one. the dancer ceases to occupy a place in existence, and the goddess fills her place.

although her ego dies, a dancer persists as the vehicle she drives – a fleshly body with perceptions of sensation, experiencing things. when she is dancing – enlightened – a dancer experiences bliss – a quiet, serene state of contentment with things just the way they are. …

“let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life – after that you cannot be deceived.”

enlightenment changes an aspect permanently, even though that aspect may be reborn into samsara again (“get a new vehicle,” in that metaphor). this change, this difference from those who have yet to “die completely,” is the goddess kiss to which i refer. it is the indelible mark of one who has been “made more than mortal forever.”

to dance is to be out of yourself. larger, more beautiful, more powerful.
this is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. ~ agnes de mille

from dying to awakening and knowing: words

jayarava has a very interesting post about linguistics, discussing the word “knowing” in various languages. for example

there is [an] important sanskrit verb √budh ‘to perceive, notice, understand, to awake’. from this word we get the important buddhist technical terms buddha ‘awoken, understood’ and bodhi ‘awakening, understanding’. we also get the verbal noun buddhi ‘intelligence, reason, mind’. the only trace of this word in english is in the word ‘bid’, as in “do as i bid you” which is related to the causative form bodhaya- ‘to inform’ via the anglo-saxon bÄ“odan ‘command’.

words for buddhism, and for christians

for decades i have harbored an interest in buddhism, however i would quickly become so confused when confronted with all the different kinds of buddhism and words that were so foreign to me that my head would spin and i would simply give up. finally, i decided i was going to stick with it ……. and now i see that the very confusion i had experienced is probably similar to what someone who grows up in a non-christian culture would experience when learning about christianity. within christianity there is more than the catholics (and all of their “varieties”) and the mainline protestants (with their own different sub groups) but all the small community-based, storefront churches as well. what is a buddhist, a muslim, a hindu to do when confronted with all this?

so it has been with me as i learned about theraveda, mahayana, zen, tibetan, pure land, vajrayana, etc. once i began to at least attain a basic understanding, the next question began to arise …. so which one should i study and/or follow?? in fact, i hear this question quite often among those who are searching for a path.

here is my reflection on this question ….. first, i asked myself, how did i choose to become catholic? well, i didn’t really, now did i. it was a decision that was made for me by by parents, my family, my cultural and national heritage. hmmm …well, my parents or my family are not going to be making this decision for me. i am not aware of an english or polish tradition of buddhism, so i have no cultural group to return to ….. and i certainly don’t want to choose the wrong buddhism to learn about ………… after all, i already have 50 years into this catholicism, i am not so sure i am going to have another 50 years to develop my understanding of buddhism, so i had better get it right!!! (maybe, if i am lucky, in my next rebirth i will be born into the right one!!!)

here is how i have answered this question for myself …. i have decided to simply pay attention to where i am.

this – and more – is from a buddhist catholic.

buddhists, christians and social media

continuing in the vein of buddhism and christianity, here is something that attracted me first because of the title – why do we need a buddhist social network – but ended up interesting me more because it offers yet another angle on the question of whether buddhism, at least here in north america, is more of a religion or more of a (sometimes neutral?) common ground.

i was thinking about exactly how the buddhist community here in columbus is different than the christian communities in which i grew up. in the christian faith- and in most others as well- you find a good church, and then you keep going to that church exclusively. every once in a while there might be an event with multiple churches, but for the most part people either stay put or they stop going altogether, especially if other family members attend a particular branch.

in the buddhist community however, there is a tremendous amount of sangha-hopping. in fact, buddhist sanghas tend to be more of a ‘family’ set-up, where each person has an immediate sangha and an extended sangha who are often times scattered all over the world. while large traditions often sponsor the opening of large, beautiful new temples, these are not representative of the number of people that might actually practice their tradition alone, even amongst their own regulars.

the second major difference is that americans frequently attend retreats and dhamma talks held by monastics regardless of their tradition (with the exception of people who belong to ethnically close-knit buddhist communities). this is tantamount to catholics going to southern baptist revivals to ‘broaden their experience’. both are christian- but how much do they really mix? on the other hand, one of my dear friends is a japanese nichiren buddhist with whom i have gone to a variety of buddhist events all over town- even the tibetan temple downtown. this is unusual when you compare buddhism to other faiths- but then, buddhism tends to defy these concepts (and all concepts as a rule).

buddhist concepts, reiki concepts

let’s end with a rather longish treatise on the question of whether reiki has a buddhist origin, by oliver klatt, reiki master and editor of the german-language reiki magazin. i have to admit that i did not read through the whole article; i’m including it here because sometimes reiki gets all cute and new agey on us, and i find it refreshing when someone takes a more sober in thorough approach to investigating things.

we often read today that the usui system of reiki has a buddhist origin or that the spiritual roots of the system are in buddhism … taking a closer look at the spiritually significant elements of the usui system as the first step [i] examine them to determine if they have a special proximity to buddhism. then, in a second step, it appears reasonable to examine the spiritual orientation of the usui system as a whole and to also scrutinize it for a special closeness to buddhism. it appears to make sense for both steps to also examine a possible proximity of the usui system with the other major spiritual traditions and religions of the world. if it turns out that the usui system actually does have a close proximity to buddhism but is also close to the other religions and spiritual traditions, then we cannot claim that the system has a “special close relationship” with buddhism … in summary, no special relationship between the usui system of reiki and buddhism is discernible; in any case, no closer proximity than it also has to other religions or spiritual traditions.

of mice, death and neuroticism

what a nice surprise! two years ago i asked a question on louise m. brookes’ blog and today she replied. louise teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival, and blogs about building your own renewable energy systems, sustainable technology as well as personal development, fitness and health.

she had said

death makes all of our attempts at life utterly meaningless, laughable, ridiculous almost, yet we continue, most of us with our singularly particular neuroses.

and i commented

i’m curious why someone like you, who spends so much time in nature, would say that? isn’t death just part of the cycle?

here’s an excerpt of the reply

nature has a wonderful perspective on death, one that it is continually sharing all the time, it does not consider it either bad or good. death just is, death just happens …

any moment our life can be extinguished which renders all our ‘activity’ fairly redundant and apparently without import … i say apparently because we confer great meaning on our unknown spans of life … but we fail to attach great meaning to death … in many of our day to day lives it doesn’t bear thinking about and perhaps it should. the nature of nature is impermanence. it gives me great freedom to know that i can be plucked from my reality without a moment’s notice … death balances the gift of life, like the apex of a pendulum’s swing. when we fail to grant death its place in our day to day life, we fail to have truth …

when we deny death and avoid it and live with our eyes shut we are automatically neurotic. which was why i pointed it out in this manner as rendering ‘our attempts at life as meaningless, laughable and ridiculous’, like our discussing of the price of peas when someone is pointing a weapon at us.

we have just been adopted by a cat. every day she brings us various bits of mice and birds and leaves them on our doorsteps as offerings. mice who up until their early demise in the jaws of a cat were busy fetching food and building nests for their young – the difference between mice and men is that the mice are much more aware of the cat in any given moment than we are of death.

had we all known perhaps we would make different choices about what is important and what isn’t… would i stand there still and wonder for as long about which make up looks best? would i spend more time with my loved ones, would i help more folk that crossed my path?

this, of course, reminds me of the buddhist (and also hindu) practice of mindfully and intentionally engaging with death. as v.g. gunaratna says

it is not for nothing that the buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. this is known as “marananussati bhavana”. one who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati — “death will take place.” this contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the visuddhi magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (ñana).

for some reason – perhaps because of my father`s interest in buddhism – the idea that death is always near has been given to me when i was quite young, when i was about 14. i still remember it clearly. i was strolling on the sidewalk, almost home, when i realized that in the apartment building next to me, they were fixing the roof.

in germany, most roofs are made with heavy roof tiles. with a flash, it occurred to me that right here, right now, one of those tiles could fall down, hit me in the head, and kill me. i also felt in my bones a fundamental existential principle: “ìf not now, when?”

this second of realization was one of the most significant moments in my life. why i reacted to this experience with gratitude and an almost excited astonishment instead of fear, i’ll never know. it was a gift, just like having louise’s blog post land in my lap was.

may we be continuously aware of the freshness of each moment.

mice play, cats eat, i
work in the garden, sow, plant.
—  now? later?:  i die.

march 2009 buddhist carnival – in reverse

roses are blooming on the rosebush.
there is nothing strange.
the flower blooms silently and falls quietly without sound,
never again to return to its branch.
her total existence is expressed in that one moment.
one place on the branch.
that is the voice of the flower,
the truth of the single flower on the branch.
therein lies the joy of life, infinitely brilliant and everlasting.

a single rosethis poem appears more than once in sensei ogui’s zen shin talks, a book that i have been slowly savouring over the last seven weeks.

for the buddhist carnival today, rather than featuring posts from various buddhists writers, i want to start with a story from the book. it is a story about sensei ogui, who is a buddhist minister in the shin or pure land tradition, going to visit a dying man.

when i walked into the hospital room of the dying man, i heard family members crying. the man dying was an issei pioneer, a first generation japanese american. his son said, “papa, priest is here.”

with his whole strength the dying man extended his hand to shake my hand. i shook his extended hand. he said, “thank you very much for all kinds of things.”

i kept quiet. i couldn’t find any adequate words to describe my feelings. i shook his hand tightly.

the son with tears in his eyes said, “papa, i shall see you again the pure land [which could be roughly translated as the shin buddhist term for heaven]. i learned this in sunday school.”

i was quiet.

the dying man began talking with all his strength. “say, my son, do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.”

[“nembutsu” is short for “namu amida butsu”.  “namu” refers to “refuge”, and amida buddha (“butsu”) is the buddha of infinite life and light. infinite life manifests as infinite compassion and infinite light manifests as infinite wisdom. the chant “na man da bu” is the sound of oneness with amida buddha.]

at the end of this chapter, sensei ogui turns this into a question to ponder over for a lifetime – he calls it lifetime homework.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am so intrigued by this question, and i do want to spend some time mulling this over, tasting the question, sleeping on it, dreaming about it …

perhaps it means …

we are already where we need to be. this is it. no striving, no “tomorrow i will …”, no “what if yesterday … “. we are all connected in light, compassion and wisdom.

or perhaps it means … what are your thoughts?

so for buddhist carnival today, i want to ask some bloggers this question. and since i’ve dedicated my blog posts in the last little while to the topic of eating disorders, i’ll ask both buddhist bloggers and those who blog about eating disorders.

do i have to go to some other place to meet you again? i have already met you and i’m meeting with you in nembutsu. na man da bu. na man da bu.

what is this?

i am inviting all of you to reflect on this, among others, these people:

the conservative buddhist.blogspot.com
american buddhist
woodmoorvillage
a buddhist catholic
the f-word
anmol mehta
urban monk
joanna poppink
12-step buddhist
daily buddhism
operation lola
eating with your anorexic
dano macnamarrah
ED bites
angel
eating disorders foundation

image from jepoirrier’s photostream

love and timelessness

tojosan and his wife, dancing in lovesome notes on love from deepak chopra’s ageless body, timeless mind:

  • passion and commitment, love and dedication, self-worth and fulfillment – all are born in Being; they are qualities of the essential self that blossoms when you are free from narrow attachments
  • moments of nonattachment are characterized by perceiving the inner world as an open space with no boundaries; self-acceptance flows out into the environment. things “out there” seem intimate, an extension of self
  • this experience of unity is a good working definition of love
  • mostly, love appears as a feeling but the essence of love is not feeling – it is a state of being you need to find an outlet for your love. the more openly you experience love, the closer you will come to finding its essence
  • follow your bliss! bliss is the tingling rush of love in action
  • do not confuse immediate pleasure with love; love brings pleasure but in a profound way
  • love has depth after depth
  • love is the surest way back to Being
  • the force of love changes reality by changing the perceiver
  • harvard psychologist david mclelland looked at the physiology of love. physiologically measured love (rather than the thought of being “in love”) reveals “themes of dialogue, commitment, and harmony” rather than themes of “getting” something through love
  • when two people use their love for each other as a doorway into timeless love, the death of the loved one does not close the door to or deprive the other of the flow of love
  • use love as your mirror of the timeless; let it nurture your certainty that you are beyond change, beyond the memory of yesterday and the dream of tomorrow
  • come out of the circle of time and find yourself in the circle of love

image by my friend tojosan

hungry, thirsty, confused – and dead

last sunday, a man was killed at the vancouver airport. robert dziekanski died after he was tasered by police at vancouver international airport. police say he was agitated, screaming, shaking and throwing things. he had been at the airport for 10 hours.

i have no idea what exactly happened in this situation but it is reminiscent of other situations where an agitated individual who poses no real threat has been killed by police (like the death of paul boyd in august). in many of these cases, these people turn out to be people with a mental illness (and again, i do not know at all whether that was true for mr. dziekanski; i’m just taking this tragic event as an example for what i believe to be caused by underlying problems).

one thing that is often overlooked in understanding people with mental illness who behave in ways that seem threatening to bystanders is that mental health problems can be severely exacerbated by the kinds of stressors that others find unpleasant but can cope with.

a decrease in blood sugar levels is one. thirst is another (“he must have been thirsty,” said mr. dziekanski’s mother). add to that lack of sleep and the general stress that comes with a transatlantic flight – plus being in a foreign country for the first time and not speaking the language – and we already have a volatile cocktail that stretches the endurance of any healthy person.

if this cocktail is mixed with, say, the manic phase of bipolar disorder or acute symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia, we have a recipe for disaster.

one of the reasons is that the physical manifestations of stressors such as low blood sugar, an interruption of the cicadian rhythm, and lack of sleep can be similar to the bodily-felt experience of mental illness. for example, the slightly numb feeling in the extremities that can come with low blood sugar is not dissimilar to the physical manifestation of dissociation that can accompany depression.

since the person may already be slightly disoriented because of the stress they are under, it can be hard for them to distinguish – on both conscious and below conscious levels – what is going on. just like the physical mechanics of a smile can produce feelings of happiness, any physical sensation that feels like a symptom of a mental health condition can trigger that condition to come to the surface.