"Healing is bringing mercy and Awareness
into that which we have held in judgment and fear."
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying
As the legendary Zen Master, Suzuki Roshi, once said, " Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink." The moment we are born, we're headed on a trajectory that ends in death. What happens at the end point may be a Grand Mystery. Yet, one thing is pretty obvious: Life itself is a terminal condition.
In mainstream society today, it seems that most folks assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of our shared human condition into the their awareness. Until their boat (or that of a loved one) is about to sink -- or sinks -- most of us don't seem to want to rock that boat. We don't want to face the sinking feeling that may emerge.
Yet, until we actually face death's inevitability, it may not be possible to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind. We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.
Buddhism makes no bones about this.
If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged. In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon, and sometimes send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds to practice. That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, live in a society that shields us from the reality of death as much as possible.
The Mahayana traditions also call for a focus on death. A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism. The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.
So what is the deal here? Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?
Time to Get Serious
I've found that if we are fully willing to accept and embrace the absolute finitude of our individual life, the Exquisite Preciousness of Life comes into clear focus. This connection with the truth of the matter can free us to experience the heart's natural wisdom. In the spaciousness of this larger perspective, things get clearer. As Carlos Casteneda's Yaqui Shaman, Don Juan, observed, "an immense amount of pettiness is dropped." Moment to moment, we are less likely to create mountains out of molehills. This certainly brings a greater ease to our lives.
As Practice deepens, this clarity may also include getting in touch with the sense of purpose and meaning that rings silently in each person's Heart of Hearts. When we deeply understand that our life is finite (at least as human beings with bodies and individual egos), we may get a clearer view of what we are here to do.
How cool is that?
The Real Deal
|Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico City|
gentleness -- and patience, we will have the opportunity to see directly that our lives, as fragile and finite as they may be, are our direct connection to the incredible majesty and infinite miracle of Life itself.
Face to face with its ineffable but undeniable Presence, we may realize that although who we think we are will certainly die, who we are is inseparable from the One Love that shines on throughout space and time.
It just takes Practice.