Life’s eternal dance with death
28. Being and non-being go together
In the last post, Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of the Satipatthana Sutta, the text on which mindful meditation most directly originates, in part concentrates unflinchingly at the processes of death and decay of the human being in its entirety. The ubiquity of death is a tenet of the First Noble Truth. The human ability to realise the pain and eventual degeneration inherent in the life span naturally arouses fear and sadness. Learning to accept such loss with more equanimity can make it easier to endure these passages and even mean valuing the precious ephemeral qualities of existence more than ever.
In No Death, No Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh explains comfortingly that life and death are only ideas, something that can be intuited with a calmer perspective. He teaches that there is no coming or going, that we all keep leaving and returning at source, that our eternal inter-connection is what liberates us from the terror of annihilation.
A Plum Village lyric conveys the freedom of letting be in the present moment: No coming, no going, no after, no before./ I hold you close to me./ I release you to be so free./ Because I am in you and you are in me,/ because I am in you and you are in me.
Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying showed the world how traditions differ in preparing for and understanding dying. Another possibly more accessible yet pure interpretation of those customs, deriving from the older Tibetan Book Of The Dead won acclaim for its author, scholar and teacher, Bob Thurman, in his Liberation Upon Hearing In The InBetween .
Such approaches have been extensively explored in the West but are far from routinely incorporated in any form as yet. Coming into prominence in the late 60s, Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross appeared as the go-to guru for grief and dying, especially with her book, On Death And Dying, which offers insights into the social and emotional experience of dying. She painted the stages in more familiar terms, in one of the first major attempts to comprehend the agonies often bound up in bereavement, and she stressed how much the dying can teach those left behind. Not everyone agrees; James Green expands the scope towards uniqueness and variety of deaths. Christian rituals continue and bring their own relief. The Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying, written by Jeremy Taylor as far back as the 1600’s, outlining soul cleansing during life and a memorial service for a loved one, is a parallel guide to those already mentioned.
In the book, The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, Australian palliative care nurse, Bonnie Ware, wrote about the primary concerns that emerge when awaiting death. People wished they’d allowed themselves to be happier, to express their feelings, and to keep in more regular touch with their friends. Even more people regretted wasting their lives working so hard, but the top regret was about lacking authenticity, having too much regard for others’ perceived opinions and expectations instead of being true to themselves. Considering the countless beings who have existed and passed away, the odds of just being alive for however long is somewhat miraculous.
“Death,” by Rainer Maria Rilke
Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.
For more sublime and oddly refreshing meditations on the inevitable experience of death, try the large menu spread on offer at the blog, Death Deconstructed .
Tags: annihilation, bob thurman, bonnie ware, book of living and dying liberation upon hearing in the inbetween, death, elizabeth kubler-ross, ephemeral, free, grief, holy dying, no coming no going, no death no fear, non-being, regrets of dying, rilke, ritual, satipatthana, sogyal rinpoche, thich nhat hanh