Death & Dying
|* “The Tibetan Book Of Living & Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche|
|* Dhamma [dharma] Nature by Ajahn Chah|
|* A Talk To A Dying Disciple by Ajahn Chah|
|* Fear Of Death — What The Buddha Said Pali Sutta|
|* Suicide — What The Buddha Said by Richard P Hayes|
|* All The Good Things by Sister H P Mrosia|
|* Comforting Yourself In Dying|
|* Does Ancestor Worship Belie Rebirth? by Graeme Lyall|
|* The Transition Called Death a Hindu perspective|
|* On The Lighter Side of Death: The Darwin Awards|
|* Death Can Be Selfishly Motivated, by Miki Berman|
“THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING”
by Sogyal Rinpoche
We are launching this page with extracts from one of the most popular and helpful books ever written on the subjects of Life and Death: “The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying,” by Sogyal Rinpoche, ISBN 0 7126 5437 2. “What is it I hope for from this book? To inspire a quiet revolution in the whole way we look at death and care for the dying, and the whole way we look at life, and caring for the living.” — Sogyal Rinpoche.
Like the old Western ballad says, “To really live / You must almost die” — or you must at least have an awareness of death in your life. Sogyal Rinpoche makes the fundamental point that a daily awareness of our own inevitable death can bring a heightened appreciation of our daily life. But instead of maintaining that awareness, most of us hide from it until death is at hand, and then we are then totally unprepared to deal with it. He explains the Buddhist point of view, that death is merely like a change of clothing as one’s karmic legacy takes rebirth in another physical body [my words, not his — DL] . . . Here are some notable quotes from the book:
* “In this timely book, Sogyal Rinpoche focuses on how to understand the true meaning of life, how t accept death, and how to help the dying, and the dead . . . As you will read here, from the Buddhist point of view, the actual experience of death is very important. Although how or where we will be reborn is generally dependent on karmic forces, our state of mind at the time of death can influence the quality of our next rebirth. . . Through repeated acquaintances with the processes of death in meditation, an accomplished meditator can use his or her actual death to gain great spiritual realization. . .” — from the foreword by HH The Dalai Lama
* . . .I imagine beings who have their depth of realization as magnificent mountain eagles, who soar above both life and death … To see through the eyes of the mountain eagle, the view of realization, is to look down on a landscape in which the boundaries that we imagined existed between life and death shade into each other and dissolve . . .
* “. . . His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.” — Chuang Tzu
* The pace of our lives is so hectic that the last thing we have time to think of is death. We smother our secret fears of impermanence by surrounding ourselves with more and more goods, more and more things, more and more comforts, only to find ourselves their slaves. All our time and energy is exhausted simply maintaining them. Our only aim in life soon becomes to keep everything as safe and secure as possible. When changes do happen, we find the quickest remedy, some slick and temporary solution. And so our lives drift on, unless a serious illness or disaster shakes us out of our stupor. . . to be practical in the West means to be ignorantly and often selfishly short-sighted. Our myopic focus on this life, and this life only, is the great deception, the source of the modern world’s bleak and destructive materialism. No one talks about death and no one talks about the afterlife, because people are made to believe that such talk will only thwart our so-called “progress” in the world. . .
There will be more from Sogyal Rinpoche, and others, with the next update.
by Ajahn Chah
(Delivered to the Western disciples
at Bung Wai Forest Monastery during the Rains Retreat 1977)
Sometimes, when a fruit tree is in bloom, a breeze stirs and scatters blossoms to the ground. Some buds remain and grow into a small green fruit. A wind blows and some of them, too, fall! Still others may become fruit or nearly ripe, or some even fully ripe, before they fall.
And so it is with people. Like flowers and fruit in the wind they, too, fall in different stages of life. Some people die while still in the womb, others within only a few days after birth. Some people live for a few years then die, never having reached maturity. Men and women die in their youth. Still others reach a ripe old age before they die.
When reflecting upon people, consider the nature of fruit in the wind: both are very uncertain.
A TALK TO A DYING DISCIPLE
by Ajahn Chah
extract courtesy of The Thai Forest Traditions
Ajaan Chah (1918-1992) — A Short Biography [or you can skip this bio and go directly to the aritcle]
Ajaan Chah was born in 1918 in a village in the northeastern part of Thailand. He became a novice at a young age and received higher ordination at the age of twenty. He followed the austere Forest Tradition for years, living in forests and begging for almsfood as he wandered about on mendicant pilgrimage.
He practiced meditation under a number of masters, among whom was Ajaan Mun, a highly respected and accomplished meditation teacher of the time. Ajaan Mun had an indelible influence on Ajaan Chah, giving his meditation the direction and clarity that it lacked. Ajaan Chah later became an accomplished meditation teacher in his own right, sharing his realization of the Dhamma with those who sought it. The essence of the teaching was rather simple: be mindful, don’t hang on to anything, let go and surrender to the way things are.
Ajaan Chah’s simple yet profound teaching style had a special appeal to Westerners, and in 1975 he established Wat Pah Nanachat, a special training monastery for the growing number of Westerners who sought to practice with him. In 1979 the first of several branch monasteries in Europe was established in Sussex, England by his senior Western disciples (among them Ajaan Sumedho, who is presently senior incumbent at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, England). Today there are ten branch monasteries in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Ajaan Chah passed away in January, 1992 following a long illness.
A TALK TO A DYING DISCIPLE
“Our Real Home”
by Ajahn Chah
A talk addressed to an aging lay disciple approaching her death.
Extract courtesy of The Thai Forest Traditions
Now determine in your mind to listen respectfully to the Dhamma. While I am speaking, be as attentive to my words as if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting before you. Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable, composing your mind and making it one-pointed. Humbly allow the Triple Gem of wisdom, truth and purity to abide in your heart as a way of showing respect to the Fully Enlightened One.
Today I have brought nothing of material substance to offer you, only the Dhamma, the teachings of the Lord Buddha. You should understand that even the Buddha himself, with his great store of accumulated virtue, could not avoid physical death. When he reached old age he ceded his body and let go of the heavy burden. Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the many years you’ve already depended on the body. You should feel that it’s enough.
Like household utensils that you’ve had for a long time — cups, saucers, plates and so on — when you first had them they were clean and shining, but now after using them for so long, they’re starting to wear out. Some are already broken, some have disappeared, and those that are left are wearing out, they have no stable form. And it’s their nature to be that way. Your body is the same…it’s been continually changing from the day you were born, through childhood and youth, until now it’s reached old age. You must accept this. The Buddha said that conditions, whether internal, bodily conditions or external conditions, are not self, their nature is to change. Contemplate this truth clearly.
This very lump of flesh lying here in decline is reality.[*] The facts of this body are reality, they are the timeless teaching of the Lord Buddha. The Buddha taught us to contemplate this and come to terms with its nature. We must be able to be at peace with the body, no matter what state it is in. The Buddha taught that we should ensure that it’s only the body that is locked up in jail and not the mind be imprisoned along with it. Now as your body begins to run down and wear out with age, don’t resist, but also don’t let your mind deteriorate along with it. Keep the mind separate. Give energy to the mind by realizing the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this is the nature of the body, it can’t be any other way. Having been born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is a great truth that you are presently witnessing. Look at the body with wisdom and realize this.
If your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the threat to it, let it concern only the house. If there’s a flood, don’t let it flood your mind. If there’s a fire, don’t let it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is outside of you, that is flooded or burned. Now is the time to allow the mind to let go of attachments.
You’ve been alive a long time now. Your eyes have seen any number of forms and colors, your ears have heard so many sounds, you’ve had any number of experiences. And that’s all they were — experiences. You’ve eaten delicious foods, and all those goods tastes were just good tastes, nothing more. The bad tastes were just bad tastes, that’s all. If the eye sees a beautiful form that’s all it is… a beautiful form. An ugly form is just an ugly form. The ear hears an entrancing, melodious sound and it’s nothing more than that. A grating, discordant sound is simply that.
The Buddha said that rich or poor, young or old, human or animal, no being in this world can maintain itself in any single state for long. Everything experiences change and deprivation. this is a fact of life about which we can do nothing to remedy. But the Buddha said that what we can do is to contemplate the body and mind to see their impersonality, that neither of them is “me” nor “mine”. They have only a provisional reality. It’s like this house, it’s only nominally yours. You couldn’t take it with you anywhere. The same applies to your wealth, your possessions and your family — they’re yours only in name. they don’t really belong to you, they belong to nature.
Now this truth doesn’t apply to you alone, everyone is in the same boat — even the Lord Buddha and his enlightened disciples. They differed from us only in one respect, and that was their acceptance of the way things are. They saw that it could be no other way.
So the Buddha taught us to probe and examine the body, from the soles of the feet up to the crown of the head, and then back down to the feet again. Just take a look at the body. What sort of things do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you find any abiding essence? This whole body is steadily degenerating. The Buddha taught us to see that it doesn’t belong to us. It’s natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it? In fact there is nothing wrong with the way the body is. It’s not the body that causes suffering, it’s wrong thinking. When you see things in the wrong way, there’s bound to be confusion.
It’s like the water of a river. It naturally flows downhill, it never flows uphill. That’s it’s nature. If a person was to go and stand on the river bank and want the water to flow back uphill, he would be foolish. Wherever he went his foolish thinking would allow him no peace of mind. He would suffer because of his wrong view, his thinking against the stream. If he had right view he would see that the water must inevitably flow downhill, and until he realized and
accepted that fact he would be bewildered and frustrated.
The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body’s become old and is meandering towards its death. Don’t go wishing it were otherwise, it’s not something you have the power to remedy. The Buddha told us to see the way things are and then let go of our clinging to them. Take this feeling of letting go as your refuge. Keep meditating even if you feel tired and exhausted. Let your mind be with the breath. Take a few deep breaths and then establish the attention on the breath, using the mantra word Bud-dho. Make this practice continual. The more exhausted you feel the more subtle and focused your concentration must be, so that you can cope with any painful sensations that arise. When you start to feel fatigued then bring all your thinking to a halt, let the mind gather itself together and then turn to knowing the breath. Just keep up the inner recitation, Bud-dho, Bud-dho.
Let go of all externals. Don’t go grasping at thoughts of your children and relatives, don’t grasp at anything whatsoever. Let go. Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind dwell with the breath. Let the breath be its sole object of knowledge. Concentrate until the mind becomes increasingly subtle, until feelings are insignificant and there is great inner clarity and wakefulness. Then any painful sensations that arise will gradually cease of their own accord.
Finally you’ll look on the breath as if it were some relatives come to visit you. When the relatives leave, you follow them out to see them off. You watch until they’ve walked up the drive and out of sight, and then you go back indoors. We watch the breath in the same way. If the breath is coarse we know that it’s coarse, if it’s subtle we know that it’s subtle. As it becomes increasingly fine we keep following it, the same time awakening the mind.
Eventually the breath disappears altogether and all that remains is that feeling of alertness. This is called meeting the Buddha. We have that clear, wakeful awareness called Bud-dho, the one who knows, the awakened one, the radiant one. This is meeting and dwelling with the Buddha, with knowledge and clarity. It was only the historical Buddha who passed away. The true Buddha, the Buddha that is clear, radiant knowing, can still be experienced and attained today. And if we do attain it, the heart is one.
So let go, put everything down, everything except the knowing. Don’t be fooled if visions or sounds arise in your mind during meditation. Lay them all down. Don’t take hold of anything at all, just stay with this unified awareness. Don’t worry about the past or the future, just be still and you will reach the place where there’s no advancing, no retreating and no stopping, where there’s nothing to grasp at or cling to. Why? Because there’s no self, no “me” or “mine”. It’s all gone. The Buddha taught to empty yourself of everything in this way, not to carry anything around… to know, and having known, let go.
Realizing the Dhamma, the path to freedom from the round of birth and death, is a task that we all have to do alone. So keep trying to let go and understand the teachings. Put effort into your contemplation. Don’t worry about your family. At the moment they are as they are, in the future they will be like you. There’s no-one in the world who can escape this fate. The Buddha taught to lay down those things that lack a real abiding essence. If you lay everything down you will see the real truth, if you don’t, you won’t. That’s the way it is. And it’s the same for everyone in the world. So don’t grasp at anything.
Even if you find yourself thinking, well that’s all right too, as long as you think wisely. Don’t think foolishly. If you think of your children, think of them with wisdom, not with foolishness. Whatever the mind turns to, think of it with wisdom, be aware of its nature. To know something with wisdom is to let it go and have no suffering over it. The mind is bright, joyful and at peace. It turns away from distractions and is undivided. Right now what you can look to for help and support is your breath.
This is your own work, no-one else’s. Leave others to do their own work. You have your own duty and responsibility, you don’t have to take on those of your family. Don’t take on anything else, let it all go. This letting go will make your mind calm. Your sole responsibility right now is to focus your mind and bring it to peace. Leave everything else to the others. Forms, sounds, odors, tastes… leave them to the others to attend to. Put everything behind you and do your own work, fulfill your own responsibility. Whatever arises in your mind, be it fear of pain, fear of death, anxiety about others or whatever, say to it, “Don’t disturb me.
You’re no longer any concern of mine.” Just keep this to yourself when you see those //dhammas// arise.
What does the word //dhamma// refer to? Everything is a //dhamma//, there is nothing that is not a //dhamma//. And what about “world”? The world is the very mental state that is agitating you at the present moment. “What are they going to do? When I’m gone who will look after them? How will they manage?” This is all just the “world”. Even the mere arising of a thought fearing death or pain is the world. Throw the world away! The world is the way it is.
If you allow it to dominate your mind it becomes obscured and can’t see itself. So whatever appears in the mind, just say, “This isn’t my business. It’s impermanent, unsatisfactory and not self.”
Thinking you’d like to go on living for a long time will make you suffer. But thinking you’d like to die right away or very quickly isn’t right either. It’s suffering, isn’t it? Conditions don’t
belong to us, they follow their own natural laws. You can’t do anything about the way the body is. You can beautify it a little, make it attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everybody’s in the same boat. That’s the way the body is, you can’t make it any other way. What you can improve and beautify is the mind.
Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home, it’s only nominally ours. It’s home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace. An external, material home may well be pretty but it is not very peaceful. There’s this worry and then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it’s not our real home, it’s external to us. Sooner or later we’ll have to give it up. it’s not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn’t truly belong to us, it belongs to the world.
Our body is the same. We take it to be a self, to be “me” or “mine”, but in fact it’s not really so at all, it’s another worldly home. Your body has followed its natural course from birth, until now it’s old and sick, and you can’t forbid it from doing that. That’s the way it is. Wanting it to be any different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a chicken. When you see that that’s impossible — that a duck must be a duck and a chicken must be a chicken, and that the bodies have to get old and die — you will find courage and energy. However much you want the body to go on lasting, it won’t do that.
The Buddha said, //Anicca vata sankhara// Impermanent, alas, are all conditions //Uppada vaya dhammmino//Arising and passing away//Uppajjitva nirujjhan’ti//Having been born they all must cease //Tesam vupasamo sukho// The calming of conditions is true happiness[*]
* [A chant traditionally recited at funeral ceremonies]
The word “//sankhara//” refers to this body and mind. //Sankharas// are impermanent and unstable. having come into being they disappear, having arisen they pass away, and yet everyone wants them to be permanent. This is foolishness. Look at the breath. Once it’s gone in, it goes out, that’s its nature, that’s how it has to be. The inhalations and exhalations have to alternate, there must be change. Conditions exist through change, you can’t prevent it. Just think, could you exhale without inhaling? Would it feel good? Or could you just inhale?
We want things to be permanent but they can’t be, it’s impossible. Once the breath has come in, it must go out. When it’s gone out it comes back in again, and that’s natural, isn’t it? Having been born we get old and then die, and that’s totally natural and normal. It’s because conditions have done their job, because the in breaths and out breaths have alternated in this way, that the human race is still here today.
As soon as we are born we are dead. Our birth and our death are just one thing. It’s like a tree: when there’s a root there must be branches, when there are branches there must be a root. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a little funny to see how at death people are so grief stricken and distracted and at birth how happy and delighted. It’s delusion, nobody has ever looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry it would be better to do so when someone’s born. Birth is death, death is birth; the branch is the root, the root is the branch. If you must cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look closely: if there was no birth there would be no death. Can you understand this?
Don’t worry about things too much, just think “this is the way things are”. This is your work, your duty. Right now nobody can help you, there’s nothing that your family and possessions can do for you. all that can help you now is clear awareness.
So don’t waver. Let go. Throw it all away.
Even if you don’t let go, everything is starting to leave you anyway. Can you see that, how all the different parts of your body are trying to slip away? Take your hair; when you were young it was thick and black. Now it’s falling out. It’s leaving. Your eyes used to be good and strong but now they’re weak, your sight is unclear.
When your organs have had enough they leave, this isn’t their home. When you were a child your teeth were healthy and firm, now they’re wobbly, or you’ve got false ones. Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue — everything is trying to leave because this isn’t their home. You can’t make a permanent home in conditions, you can only stay for a short time and then you have to go. It’s like a tenant watching over his tiny little house with failing eyes. His teeth aren’t so good, his eyes aren’t so good, his body’s not so healthy, everything is leaving.
So you needn’t worry about anything because this isn’t your real home, it’s only a temporary shelter. Having come into this world you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is is preparing to disappear. Look at your body. Is there anything there that’s still in its original form? Is your skin as it used to be? Is your hair? They aren’t the same, are they? Where has everything gone? This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their way. In this world there is nothing to rely on — it’s an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasure and pain. There’s no peace.
When we have no real home we’re like aimless travelers out on the road, going here and there, stopping for a while and then setting off again. Until we return to our real homes we feel uneasy, just like a villager who’s left his village. Only when he gets home can he really relax and be at peace.
Nowhere in the world is there any real peace to be found. The poor have no peace and neither do the rich; adults have no peace and neither do the highly educated. There’s no peace anywhere, that’s the nature of the world. Those who have few possessions suffer, and so do those who have many. Children, adults, old and young…everyone suffers. The suffering of being old, the suffering of being young, the suffering of being wealthy and the suffering of being poor… it’s all nothing but suffering.
When you’ve contemplated things in this way you’ll see //aniccam//, impermanence, and //dukkham//, unsatisfactoriness. Why are things impermanent and unsatisfactory? Because they are //anatta//, not self.Both your body that is lying sick and in pain, and the mind that is aware of its sickness and pain, are called //dhamma//. That which is formless, the thoughts, feelings and perceptions, is called //namadhamma//. That which is racked with aches and pains is called //rupadhamma//. The material is //dhamma// and the immaterial is //dhamma//. So we live with //dhammas//, in //dhamma//, and we are //dhamma//. In truth there is no self to be found, there are only //dhammas// continually arising and passing away as is their nature. Every single moment we’re undergoing birth and death. This is the way things are.
When we think of the Lord Buddha, how truly he spoke, we feel how worthy he is of reverence and respect. Whenever we see the truth of something we see His teachings, even if we’ve never actually practiced the Dhamma. But even if we have a knowledge of the teachings, have studied and practiced them, as long as we still haven’t seen the truth we are still homeless.
So understand this point. All people, all creatures, are preparing to leave. When beings have lived an appropriate time they must go on their way. Rich, poor, young and old must all experience this change.
When you realize that’s the way the world is you’ll feel that it’s a wearisome place. When you see that there’s nothing real or substantial you can rely on you’ll feel wearied and disenchanted. Being disenchanted doesn’t mean you are averse, the mind is clear. It sees that there’s nothing to be done to remedy this state of affairs, it’s just the way the world is. Knowing in this way you can let go of attachment, letting go with a mind that is neither happy nor sad, but at peace with conditions through seeing their changing nature with wisdom. //Anicca vata sankhara// — all conditions are impermanent.
To put it simply, impermanence is the Buddha. If we truly see an impermanent condition we’ll see that it’s permanent. It’s permanent in the sense that its subjection to change is unchanging. This is the permanence that living beings possess. There is continual transformation, from childhood through to old age, and that very impermanence, that propensity to change, is permanent and fixed. If you look at it like this your heart will be at ease. It’s not just you who has to go through this, it’s everyone.
When you consider things in this way you’ll see them as wearisome, and disenchantment will arise. Your delight in the world of sense pleasures will disappear. You’ll see that if you have many possessions you have to leave a lot behind. If you have a few you leave few behind. Wealth is just wealth, long life is just long life… they’re nothing special.
What is important is that we should do as the Lord Buddha taught and build our own home, building it by the method that I’ve been explaining to you. Build your own home. Let go. Let go until the mind reaches the peace that is free from advancing, free from retreating and free from stopping still. Pleasure is not your home, pain is not your home. Pleasure and pain both decline and pass away.
The Great Teacher saw that all conditions are impermanent and so He taught us to let go of our attachment to them. When we reach the end of our life we’ll have no choice anyway, we won’t be able to take anything with us. So wouldn’t it be better to put things down before then? They’re just a heavy burden to carry around, why not throw off that load now? Why bother to drag these things around? Let go, relax, and let your family look after you.
Those who nurse the sick grow in goodness and virtue. The patient who is giving others that opportunity shouldn’t make things difficult for them. If there’s pain or some problem or other, let them know and keep the mind in a wholesome state. One who is nursing parents should fill his or her mind with warmth and kindness and not get caught up in aversion. This is the one time you can repay your debt to them. From your birth through your childhood, as you’ve grown up, you’ve been dependent on your parents. That you are here today is because your mother and father have helped you in so many ways. You owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.
So today, all of you children and relatives gathered together here, observe how your mother has become your child. Before you were her children, now she has become yours. She has become older and older until she has become a child again. Her memory goes, her eyes don’t see well and her ears aren’t so good. Sometimes she garbles her words. Don’t let it upset you. You who are nursing the sick must know how to go also. Don’t hold onto things, just let her have her own way. When a young child is disobedient sometimes the parents let it have its own way just to keep the peace, just to make it happy. Now your mother is just like that child. Her memories and perceptions are confused. Sometimes she muddles up your names, or asks you to bring a cup when she wants a plate. It’s normal, don’t be upset by it.
Let the patient bear in mind the kindness of those who nurse and patiently endure the painful feelings. Exert yourself mentally, don’t let the mind become scattered and confused, and don’t make things difficult for those looking after you. Let those who are nursing fill their minds with virtue and kindness. Don’t be averse to the unattractive side of the job, cleaning up the mucous and phlegm, urine and excrement. Try your best. Everyone in the family give a hand.
She is the only mother you have. She gave you life, she has been your teacher, your doctor and your nurse — she’s been everything to you. That she has brought you up, shared her wealth with you and made you her heir is the great goodness of parents. That is why the Buddha taught the virtues of //katannu// and //katavedi//, knowing our debt of gratitude and trying to repay it. These two //dhamma// are complimentary. If our parents are in need, unwell or in difficulty, then we do our best to help them. This is //katannu-katavedi//, the virtue that sustains the world. It prevents families from breaking up, and makes them stable and harmonious.
Today I have brought you the gift of Dhamma in this time of illness. I have no material things to offer you, there seem to be plenty of those in this house already. And so I give you the Dhamma, something which has lasting worth, something which you’ll never be able to exhaust. Having received it you can pass it on to as many others as you like and it will never be depleted. That is the nature of Truth. I am happy to have been able to give you this gift of Dhamma and hope it will give you the strength to deal with your pain.
SUICIDE — WHAT THE BUDDHA SAID
by Richard P Hayes
It is recorded in the monastic code of discipline of the Theravada school that some monks undertook the meditations on physical impurity and became so disgusted with and ashamed of their own bodies that they desired to commit suicide. Some of the monks apparently took their own lives, but others approached another monk named Migala.n.dika (herafter without diacritics) and asked him to take their lives. Migalandika honoured their request and killed the monks with a knife.
After killing the monks, Migalandika was over come with remorse and felt that he had earned much demerit by taking the lives of virtuous and well-behaved monks. When he felt this remorse, however, a divine spirit approached him and told him that he had in fact done the right thing and earned much merit by helping monks pass beyond this evil life. Upon being encouraged by the divine spirit, Migalandika then made the rounds of the monasteries and began taking the lives of monks in order to help them pass beyond this evil life. The text that records this event reports that some monks, who had not yet given up their passions, were terrified by this inspired monk, but dispassionate monks faced him calmly and without fear.
Eventually the Buddha noticed that the number of his disciples was rapidly declining, and he inquired into what was the cause. He was told that the reason was that monks had become shamed of their own bodies through contemplation of the disgusting aspects of the body. So the Buddha taught his monks a new practice. He also set down a new rule for his disciples:
“Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life, or
should look about so as to be his knife-bringer, he is also one who
is defeated, he is not in communion.” — The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-pi.taka. Vol 1. Translated by I. B. Horner. (London: Pali Text Society, 1949), p. 123.}
What this formula has been interpreted to mean is that any monk who deliberately takes the life of another human being, or who provides the means for another human being to take his or her own life, is expelled from the community of monks for life. Eventually this rule was expanded to include a ban on encouraging anyone to commit suicide in order to gain a better rebirth. The final form of the rule became “Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life, or should look about so as to be his knife-bringer, or should praise the beauty of death or should incite anyone to death by suggesting that this evil and difficult life is of no use, or who should purposefully praise the beauty of death in any number of ways; he is also one who is defeated, he is not in communion.” The Discipline. Vol 1, p. 126.
Eventually this rule was understood to mean that a monk or nun could lose monastic status for any of the following actions:
1. directly performing an abortion
2. providing a woman the means by which to perform an abortion
3. even giving a woman information on how to abort an foetus
4. giving a family the means to rid itself of a family member that had become a burden as a result of infirmity or physical injury
5. even providing information to a family on how to end the life of an unwanted family member — Richard P. Hayes email@example.com Faculty of Religious Studies http://www.mcgill.ca/religion McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
ALL THE GOOD THINGS
by Sister Helen P Mrosia
Here is a very moving story by a Christian nun. I think in Christian terminology you could say it’s about love, good works and all things in their season. In Buddhist terminology it’s about skillful means, compassion, right conduct and impermanence.
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in appearance, but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischieviousness delightful.
Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving – “Thank you for correcting me, Sister!” I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.
One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice-teacher’s mistake. I looked at him and said, “If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!”
It wasn’t ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, “Mark is talking again.” I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.
I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”
At the end of the year I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the “new math,” he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in the third.
One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves – and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest
thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.
It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Marked said, “Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend.”
That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” I heard whispered. “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!” “I didn’t know others liked me so much!”
No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.
That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip – the weather, my experiences in general. There was a light lull in the conversation.
Mother gave Dad a side-ways glance and simply says, “Dad?” My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began. “Really?” I said. “I haven’t heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is.”
Dad responded quietly. “Mark was killed in Vietnam,” he said. “The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.” To this day II can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.
I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me.
The church was packed with Mark’s friends. Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water.
I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. “Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.
After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chucks farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognise it.”
Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”
Mark’s classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put this in our wedding album.” “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said without batting an eyelash. “I think we all saved our lists.”
That’s when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again. by Sister Helen P. Mrosia
The purpose of this letter, is to encourage everyone to compliment the people you love and care about. We often tend to forget the importance of showing our affections and love. Sometimes the smallest of things, could mean the most to another. I am asking you, to please send this letter around and spread the message and encouragement, to express your love and caring by complimenting and being open with communication. The density of people in society, is so thick, that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be. So please, I beg of you, to tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.
I leave these messages with you and ask you to continue to spread the message to everyone you know.
Life is lived in the present.
Yesterday has gone.
Tomorrow is yet to be.
Today is the miracle. 🙂
DOES ANCESTOR WORSHIP BELIE REBIRTH?
by Graeme Lyall, director
The Buddhist Council Of NSW
Question: Does the practice of Ancestor Worship imply that those ancestors have not taken rebirth?
Answer: My understanding of what is often referred to in the ‘West’ as “ancestor worship” is nothing more than paying respect to one’s forebears as they are the ones to whom one owes one’s present life and its benefits. It is the usual ‘Western’ practice of placing a ‘Western’ interpretation on anything that they don’t understand in another culture – e.g. bowing to the Buddha is interpreted as idolatry rather than its intended purpose of respecting one’s teacher. Offerings are sometimes made to ancestors in case they are in a ghost (formless) state and the generosity and remembrance may have the effect of relieving their suffering. The story goes back to Maha Mogallana, one of the Buddha’s disciples, discovering that his mother had been reborn in a hell (woeful) state and asked the Buddha how he could relieve her suffering. The Buddha suggested performing acts of generosity on their behalf such as providing necessities to monks and helping the poor or sick. This is the origin of Ullambana celebrations which take place in August each year. It is generally a Mahayana celebration but it is also celebrated under a different name by some Theravadans, notably from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
Question: Do these acts of generosity have to be accompanied by a dedication of merit to the ancestors one wishes to benefit?
Answer: The dedication of merit depends on the tradition. The Theravadans, after making their offerings to the ancestors, pour water from one container to another while the monks are chanting the blessings. This is symbolic of transferring the merit from the donor to those who have passed away. I have a special brass bottle and bowl which is used for this purpose. The Mahayanists tend to transfer the merit through a spoken dedication which embraces all beings as well as those who have passed on. The Bodhisattva Ksittigarba (Ti Jang Pu Sa in Chinese) is the deity who is revered at this time by Mahayana followers. Ksittigarba made a vow that he would not enter the nirvanic state whilst there was still one being suffering in hell. Ksittigarba gets as much devotion as Kuan Yin (Avalokitesvara). — Graeme Lyall.
THE TRANSITION CALLED “DEATH”
A Hindu Perspecive
extract courtesy of Hinduism Today Magazine
Each of us must ultimately confront our mortality. For Hindus, this is not a fearsome prospect. We know we have been born and died before, and karma and reincarnation make the inevitable seem natural. One saint consoled, “Death is like falling asleep, and birth is like waking from that sleep.” Simple. Other sages speak of death joyously as release from bondage, as return to our Source. The soul, the Vedas declare, is immortal. Still, we are attached and must cope, find understanding that will make death acceptable. Our Insight this month speaks traditionally of this personal, exalted and potent experience crowning life.
Our faith guides our transition from this world, offering solace to the suffering and those facing the foreboding certainty of death.
“Lead me from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” This famed Vedic prayer proclaims the human urge to survive, to conquer death and to know the joys of illuminated consciousness. People often pilgrimage to an isolated place in expectation of a vision, be it a jungle of fauna and foliage or cement and glass. Every person is on a vision quest. But for all souls, at the time of the great departure, mahaprasthana, a vision comes as a tunnel of light at the end of which are beings of divine nature. Many having had the near-death experience have sworn their testimony of such transforming encounters. An American woman who “died” during childbirth, but was brought back to life by quick medical action, recounted: “It was an incredible energy–a light you wouldn’t believe. I almost floated in it. It was feeding my consciousness feelings of unconditional love, complete safety and complete, total perfection. And then, and then, a piece of knowledge came in–it was that I was immortal, indestructible. I cannot be hurt, cannot be lost, and that the world is perfect.” Hundreds of people report similar experiences, affirming what Hinduism has always taught–that death is a blissful, light-filled transition from one state to another, as simple and natural as changing clothes, far from the morbid, even hellish alternatives some dread. A Vedic funeral hymn intones: “Where eternal luster glows, the realm in which the light divine is set, place me, Purifier, in that deathless, imperishable world. Make me immortal in that realm where movement is accordant to wish, in the third region, the third heaven of heavens, where the worlds are resplendent” (Rig Veda, Aitareya Aranyaka 6-11).
Most often, before our own death, we encounter its reality in the passing of friends or family. Our thoughts during the rites, termed antyesti samskara in Sanskrit, turn to God. We witness the end of another’s life and ask, “What am I going to do with the remaining years of my own life?” All that is said during these times reminds us that life on earth is temporary. All our possessions, power, ego and learning will end. Seeing this truth we turn the mind toward God, toward life’s ultimate goal, moksha, liberation, and toward the path of dharma that will take us there. We do this not in trepidation, but in assurance, faith and gratitude for the opportunity to progress spiritually in this physical incarnation. . .
. . . It is the soul’s subtle body, linga sharira, that stores the “thought-energy” experiential impressions of life, called samskaras. When the body dies, this nonphysical sheath continues as a constellation of subtle elements–dispositions, memories, desires, etc. It is within this subtle body that the soul, if needed, reincarnates, as described in the Shukla Yajur Veda, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.5-6): “A man acts according to the desires to which he clings. After death he goes to the next world bearing in his mind the subtle impressions of his deeds; and after reaping there the harvest of his deeds, he returns again to this world of action. Thus, he who has desires continues subject to rebirth.” Death, according to Hinduism, is not the contradiction of life. Death and birth are two sides of life’s cosmic cycle. The culmination of that cycle is liberation. As the venerable Satguru Yogaswami of Sri Lanka taught: “By getting rid of desire, man can put an end to birth altogether.”
Resolving the Karmas: Many who have had a near-death experience speak of having come back to complete unfinished obligations to children, parents or friends. It is a great blessing to know of one’s impending transition. A Hindu approaching death works diligently to finish all his “business” of this lifetime, the alloted portion of his total karma carried into this birth to face and resolve. If death comes while loose ends remain (misunderstandings unresolved, misdeeds unatoned for or obligations unfulfilled), another lifetime may be required to expire that karma. Thus, an aging or ailing Hindu will be seen going around to friends and enemies, giving love, help and blessings, working to resolve conflicts and differences, offering apologies and fulfilling all known obligations. Ideally, he executes his own will, distributing his properties and duties to heirs, charities and endowments, not leaving such tasks to others.
That done, he turns to God, reads scriptures, attends temple and amplifies meditation and devotion. He may pilgrimage to sacred spots or retire to a secluded place to practice japa and yoga sadhanas. The family takes care not to disturb these efforts, nor his retirement from social obligation or interaction, realizing he has entered life’s final stage, that of the renunciate, or sannyasin.
Making the Transition Consciously: Knowing that a conscious death is the ideal, the Hindu avoids excessive drugs or mind-numbing medical measures. He cultivates detachment as death approaches, knowing that loss is not suffered when something is given up voluntarily, only when it is taken from us by force. He is grateful for life, but not angry with or fearful of death. Dying is not unlike falling asleep. We have all experienced death many times in past lives. The astral body separates from the physical body, just as in sleep. The difference is that the silver cord connecting the two breaks at the moment of transition, signaling the point of no return.
Scriptures speak of leaving the body through one chakra or another, departing in a level of consciousness of a particular chakra, which then determines where in the inner worlds a person will find himself after death. Those who depart full of hatred and resentment go to the world of those who also died in lower consciousness. Those with love in their heart enter a world where abide others with similar attainment. Therefore, during transition a person must strive to be in the highest possible state of consciousness, concentrating on the top of the head and holding to lofty thoughts as he succumbs. A woman in California narrated: “Shortly before my husband died, he held my hands and asked me to recite the Lalitha Sahasranama and to say the mantra we were initiated into. He repeated after me in a loud voice when suddenly his face began to shine with a luster, and he became overjoyed and beaming. He started almost shouting in joy that he was seeing the temple and the Deities–Siva, Ganesha and Muruga–smiling at him. In this glowing way he passed away shortly thereafter while I recited the mantra in his ear.”
Those who die suddenly, through accident or murder, have no time to prepare. Traditionally, full death rites are not performed after such deaths, because rebirth is expected almost immediately. For the same reason, rites are not accorded children who die young, before adolescence. In India, bodies of accidental-death victims and children are buried in a common grave or put in a river. Since neither is possible in Westernized countries, cremation is accepted. . .
. . . The Vedas proclaim, “When a person comes to weakness, be it through old age or disease, he frees himself from these limbs just as a mango, a fig or a berry releases itself from its stalk” (Sukla Yajur Veda, Brihadharanyaka Upanishad: 4.3.36). — courtesy of Hinduism Today Magazine.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE OF: DEATH
If you are not the sort of person who finds any humour in human folly when it ends in tragedy, then please read no further, as you might be more offended than amused by the following travesties of mindfulness and wisdom.
Darwin Awards: For the uninitiated, the Darwin Awards are given are given each year to the people who remove themselves from the gene pool in the most creative way. These are the latest nominees:
* BUXTON, N.C. A man died on a beach when an 8-foot-deep hole he had dug into the sand caved in as he sat inside it. Beachgoers said Daniel Jones, 21, dug the hole for fun, or protection from the wind, and had been sitting in a beach chair at the bottom Thursday afternoon when it collapsed, burying him beneath 5 feet of sand. People on the beach on the Outer Banks used their hands and shovels, trying to claw their way to Jones, a resident of Woodbridge, Va., but could not reach him. It took rescue workers using heavy equipment almost an hour to free him while about 200 people looked on. Jones was pronounced dead at a hospital.You just wouldn’t believe the outpouring of concern, people digging with their hands, using pails from kids,” Dare County Sheriff Bert Austin said.
* In February, Santiago Alvarado, 24, was killed in Lompoc, Calif., as he fell face-first through the ceiling of a bicycle shop he was burglarising. Death was caused when the large flashlight he had placed in his mouth(to keep his hands free) crammed against the base of his skull as he hit the floor.
* According to police in Dahlonega, Ga., ROTC cadet Nick Berrena, 20, was stabbed to death in January by fellow cadet Jeffrey Hoffman, 23, who was trying to prove that a knife could not penetrate the flak vest Berrena was wearing.
* Sylvester Briddell, Jr., 26, was killed in February in Selbyville, Del., as he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger.
* In February, according to police in Windsor, Ont., Daniel Kolta, 27, and Randy Taylor, 33, died in a head-on collision, thus earning a tie in the game of chicken they were playing with their snowmobiles.
* In October, a 49-year-old San Francisco stockbroker, who “totally zoned when he ran,” according to his wife, accidentally jogged off a 200-foot-high cliff on his daily run.
* In September in Detroit, a 41-year-old man got stuck and drowned in two feet of water after squeezing headfirst through an 18-inch-wide sewer grate to retrieve his car keys.
* In September, a 7-year- old boy fell off a 100-foot-high bluff near Ozark, Ark., after he lost his grip swinging on a cross that marked the spot where another person had fallen to his death in 1990.
DARWIN AWARD WANNA-BE’S:
* In Guthrie, Okla., in October, Jason Heck tried to kill a millipede with a shot from his .22-calibre rifle, but the bullet ricocheted off a rock near the hole and hit pal Antonio Martinez in the head, fracturing his skull.
* In Elyria, Ohio, in October, Martyn Eskins, attempting to clean out cobwebs in his basement, declined to use a broom in favor of a propane torch and caused a fire that burned the first and second floors of his house.
* Paul Stiller, 47, was hospitalized in Andover Township, N. J., in September, and his wife Bonnie was also injured, by a quarter-stick of dynamite that blew up in their car. While driving around at 2 a.m.,the bored couple lit the dynamite and tried to toss it out the window to see what would happen, but they apparently failed to notice that the window was closed.
* Taking “Amateur Night” Too Far: In Betulia, Colombia, an annual festival in November includes five days of amateur bullfighting. This year, no bull was killed, but dozens of matadors were injured, including one gored in the head and one Bobbittized. Said one participant, “It’s just one bull against a thousand morons.”