Things to do when you're about to die...

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  • Hans
    Member
    • Mar 2007
    • 1853

    Things to do when you're about to die...

    Hello Folks!


    Now, whether we accept a traditional interpretation of rebirth or not, having a practice to return to once we know that we're about to kick the bucket sure sounds like a good idea. Obviously, when that time comes we won't necessarily know for sure that we'll be able to physically sit Zazen.

    Anyway, here's one of my all time favourite quotes from Master Huang-Po regarding that topic (which in essence sounds to me a whole lot like the Tibetan Book of the Dead without the cultural baggage):

    "If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could only see the five elements of consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one - if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency towards rebirth. If he should behold the glorious sight of all the Buddhas coming to welcome him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestation, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror. He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of unconditioned being. This, then, is the fundamental principle."
    (Translation: Blofeld)

    Gassho,

    Hans
  • Shiju
    Member
    • Oct 2007
    • 29

    #2
    One thing to do is compose a poem. Many Zen masters have done so, sometimes moments before their deaths.

    Here is Soen Nakagawa's:

    Mustard blossoms!
    there is nothing left
    to hurl away

    Nanohana ya sarani nageutsu mono mo nashi

    The translation is by Kazuaki Tanahashi & Roko Sherry Chayat.

    Gassho,

    Ben
    Ben

    Comment

    • Rev R
      Member
      • Jul 2007
      • 457

      #3
      Hey Shiju,

      Didn't someone compile a book of a lot of these death poems?

      Comment

      • Shiju
        Member
        • Oct 2007
        • 29

        #4
        Originally posted by Rev R
        Hey Shiju,

        Didn't someone compile a book of a lot of these death poems?
        Dear Rev R,

        Yes, Yoel Hoffmann did. Here is the full title:

        Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death


        You can find it on Amazon.

        Gassho,

        Ben
        Ben

        Comment

        • Rev R
          Member
          • Jul 2007
          • 457

          #5
          gracias Ben

          Comment

          • Jundo
            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
            • Apr 2006
            • 39392

            #6
            Re: Things to do when you're about to die...

            Originally posted by Hans

            Anyway, here's one of my all time favourite quotes from Master Huang-Po regarding that topic (which in essence sounds to me a whole lot like the Tibetan Book of the Dead without the cultural baggage):
            Hi Guys,

            Might I suggest, in understanding this quote, we not overlook what Master Huang-Po was saying at its heart ... easy to do as his beautiful words in this translation, and the use of lovely images, may cause one to miss the central point. It does appear, at first glance, like a strange and mystical practice because of some of the imagery, but I believe it is very practical guidance ...

            "If an ordinary man, when he is about to die, could only see the five elements of consciousness as void; the four physical elements as not constituting an 'I'; the real Mind as formless and neither coming nor going; his nature as something neither commencing at his birth nor perishing at his death, but as whole and motionless in its very depths; his Mind and environmental objects as one - if he could really accomplish this, he would receive Enlightenment in a flash. He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor.

            The "in a nutshell" version may be this (the "Cliff Notes" version):

            See all aspects of "self/body/mind/world" as "empty", drop all thoughts of "self" "other" "this" "that" "life" "death" ..... and thus find "Being/True Self/Mind" by dropping all thought of "being/small self/ mind" ..... then this "death" thing turns out to be no big deal. Granted, Master Huang Po says it in a a rather more florid and powerful way (especially in this lovely translation), but the point he was making is clear..

            And, please, notice a certain resemblance to our "Shikantaza" Zazen Practice in which we "just sit", dropping all thought of "self" "other" "this" "that" "life" "death" etc. etc. My first teacher, Azuma Ikuo of Sojiji, once said that sitting Zazen is rehearsal for a graceful death ... and also practice for living a graceful life in the meantime.

            He would no longer be entangled by the Triple World; he would be a World-Transcendor. He would be without even the faintest tendency towards rebirth.

            Whether Master Huang Po meant literal "rebirth" in a new body or in some other world or realm [he might have in his day and age]. or just "rebirth" moment by moment on your death bed [he certainly meant this too], the point is really the same: Leave thoughts of the world behind, do not be entangled by the universe. Dissolve into the universe on your death bed and let it flow on, flow on where it will.

            If he should behold the glorious sight of all the Buddhas coming to welcome him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestation, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror.

            This is another way of saying. "even if a army of angels or a thousand fire breathing devils" were to come to meet you at your death bed, you would not give a sh--t.

            This is also the point of our Shikantaza Practice dropping all thought of "good" "bad" "fear" "fearlessness" "Buddhas" "devils" in one perfect instant of Zazen.

            He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of unconditioned being. This, then, is the fundamental principle."
            (Translation: Blofeld)


            Ditto. Be one with the universe, man, then just drop over dead.

            My apologies to the several English teachers and writers we have on board, as I took a meat cleaver to a beautiful piece of literature in order to underscore the central points.

            I might also add these instructions for how to die [Jundo's death poem] ...

            "breath ... breath ... breath ... cease breathing ... let go"

            Gassho, Jundo

            PS- Might I point folks to a couple of my personal favorite talks on the Leaf Blog not unrelated to this? I don't have the artistry of Master Huang Po, but I do what I can :-)

            http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/08 ... tives.html

            and

            http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/08 ... death.html
            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

            Comment

            • Rev R
              Member
              • Jul 2007
              • 457

              #7
              Re: Things to do when you're about to die...

              Originally posted by Jundo
              This is another way of saying. "even if a army of angels or a thousand fire breathing devils" were to come to meet you at your death bed, you would not give a sh--t.
              I like it.

              Comment

              • Lynn
                Member
                • Oct 2007
                • 180

                #8
                If one is able to be lucid toward the point of death these suggetions are ok.

                However, I work in places where those who are dying are not ususally coherent. There are Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or dementia or brain mets or drug complications before death and, many times, it's over a series of years, not just days or weeks. My father, for instance, had advanced Alzheimer's for about 10 years where he barely remembered his wife, much less that he even had any children. Then, a couple of weeks before his actual death, he had a stroke and was completely unconscious before his physical death.

                So, what then?

                Gassho~

                *Lynn
                When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves, we are deluded; when all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened. ~Dogen "Genjo Koan"

                Comment

                • Jundo
                  Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                  • Apr 2006
                  • 39392

                  #9
                  Hi,

                  Being a little behind in the book club reading this week, I discovered that Joko's topic in Tragedy ( p.119) is right on this same point. May I recommend it to anyone interested? It is in Joko's typical down to earth style.

                  Gassho, J
                  ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                  Comment

                  • Lynn
                    Member
                    • Oct 2007
                    • 180

                    #10
                    Hi Jundo,..

                    Is there some way to sum up what seems important to you about this chapter? I do not have the book.

                    I'd be most grateful.

                    In Gassho~

                    *Lynn
                    When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves, we are deluded; when all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened. ~Dogen "Genjo Koan"

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39392

                      #11
                      Hi Lynn,

                      Well, let me ask first whether someone has a scanner, as it is only a couple of pages. Can anyone scan it for Lynn? I found it to be basically following the points we had been discussing here.

                      Originally posted by Lynn
                      If one is able to be lucid toward the point of death these suggetions are ok.

                      However, I work in places where those who are dying are not ususally coherent. There are Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or dementia or brain mets or drug complications before death and, many times, it's over a series of years, not just days or weeks. My father, for instance, had advanced Alzheimer's for about 10 years where he barely remembered his wife, much less that he even had any children. Then, a couple of weeks before his actual death, he had a stroke and was completely unconscious before his physical death.

                      So, what then?

                      Gassho~
                      My mother also had a long, debilitating road to her death (breast cancer plus a series of strokes). It may sound cold, but "old age, sickness and death" were at the very heart of the Buddha's search ... and I believe he came to embrace even that as just part of life. At the very same time my mother was reduced to single word sentences and diapers, I had a 1 year old baby rising out of single word sentences and diapers. In this society, we tend to be repulsed by the former and celebrate the latter, but I do not see why. Flowers blossom for a time, then fade. New flowers come.

                      Part of me (only part) is rather hoping that I continue with these netcasts long enough that I get to die online (hopefully slowly, not getting hit by a bus or anything in the meantime). What we are practicing does not mean very much if it does not lead to a graceful existing and a graceful exiting. I think.

                      Gassho, Jundo

                      PS- A grand book, and I am very much looking forward to the movie ...

                      New York Times
                      November 30, 2007
                      Body Unwilling, a Mind Takes Flight

                      By A. O. SCOTT
                      Published: November 30, 2007

                      Julian Schnabel has made three feature films: “Basquiat,” “Before Night Falls” and now “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” All are biographical, examining the lives of real people, and in each case the protagonist struggles with a condition of literal or metaphorical imprisonment. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mr. Schnabel’s younger colleague in the New York art scene of the 1980s, is trapped by addiction and by his outsider status. Reinaldo Arenas, the gay Cuban poet whose memoir was the basis of “Before Night Falls,” is censored, harassed and locked up by successive dictatorships.

                      Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French fashion magazine editor and the author of the international best seller on which “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is based, suffered an even more extreme form of confinement. In his early 40s, he suffered a stroke that left him in a rare affliction called “locked-in syndrome.” He retained vision and hearing, and his mind continued to function perfectly, but his body was almost completely paralyzed. He could not move or speak. In the film a friend, visiting him in the hospital in Berck, a wind-swept seaside town in northern France, reports the latest gossip from the cafes of Paris: “Have you heard? Jean-Dominique is a vegetable.”

                      “What kind of vegetable?” Jean-Dominique wonders. “A carrot? A pickle?” Like his condition, the metaphor is cruel, but not altogether unredeemable. As we come to understand in the course of this fierce and lovely film, his existence is not that of a vegetable but rather of a garden, a hothouse of consciousness, memory and ecstatic imagination.

                      Jean-Dominique is played by Mathieu Amalric, a French actor whose twitching, antic physicality makes the character’s immobility all the more painful. But “The Diving Bell,” true to its hero and its literary source, is neither morbid nor mawkish. Propped up in a wheelchair, able to communicate only by blinking his left eye (the other, in one especially nightmarish scene, has been sewn shut to prevent infection), he remains a sensualist, a bon vivant and a keen literary wit.

                      But never a saint. Before his stroke Jean-Dominique led a life of glamour, pleasure and self-indulgence, for which he never apologizes. He had recently left Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner), his longtime partner and the mother of his three children, an abandonment that seemed to follow a series of betrayals. Céline appears, nonetheless, at the hospital in Berck, fighting back tears and demonstrating a loyalty that comes close to masochism. In spite of his lapses, she clearly loves Jean-Dominique, and she is not alone. Besides other women (Marina Hands, most memorably), there are acquaintances, colleagues (notably Isaach de Bankole) and Jean-Dominique’s father, a rogue of the old school played with magnificent poignancy by Max von Sydow.

                      The phrase “triumph of the human spirit” hovers over “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” along with a swarm of other empty, uplifting clichés. But Mr. Schnabel and the screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, have other themes in mind. Limitation, constraint, incarceration — these may be, as I’ve suggested, the shared premises of Mr. Schnabel’s films (and also of some of Mr. Harwood’s work, notably his script for “The Pianist”).

                      Their common subject, however, is freedom, the self-willed liberation of a difficult, defiant individual. But Mr. Schnabel is not content simply to state or to dramatize this idea. Rather, he demonstrates his own imaginative freedom in every frame and sequence, dispensing with narrative and expository conventions in favor of a wild, intuitive honesty.

                      And yet he also shows astonishing formal control. The movie begins claustrophobically, as we see the blurry bustle of the hospital room from Jean-Dominique’s hazy, panicked perspective. Faces loom suddenly and awkwardly into view, while his captive consciousness writhes in its cage, trying to make contact with the world outside.

                      After a while it does, with the help of a speech therapist (the marvelously sensitive Marie-Josée Croze) who patiently teaches Jean-Dominique to turn his left eyelid into a means of communication. She sits beside him, reciting the alphabet and stopping when he blinks, piecing together words and sentences from his signals.

                      Later an amanuensis (Anne Consigny) takes her place, and together she and Jean-Dominique compose the compact, lyrical book that will become Mr. Schnabel’s expansive, passionate film. Their attention also introduces both the patient and the audience to an intense, nonsexual intimacy that is itself a form of love.

                      As Jean-Dominique’s eloquence takes flight, so does Mr. Schnabel’s. Condemned to live in an eternal present, Jean-Dominique is also freed from the tyranny of time, and so the film ranges freely into fantasy, speculation and remembrance, given shape not by a plot but by the ecstatic logic of images and associations. Working with the brilliant cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, he uses light and color to convey the world of sensations from which Jean-Dominique is exiled, but which he appreciated all the more acutely for that reason.

                      And so, curiously enough, a movie about deprivation becomes a celebration of the richness of experience, and a remarkably rich experience in its own right. In his memoir Mr. Bauby performed a heroic feat of alchemy, turning horror into wisdom, and Mr. Schnabel, following his example and paying tribute to his accomplishment, has turned pity into joy.

                      “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has some sexual situations.

                      THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

                      Opens today in New York and Los Angeles.

                      Directed by Julian Schnabel; written (in French, with English subtitles) by Ronald Harwood, based on the book “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” by Jean-Dominique Bauby; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Juliette Welfling; music by Paul Cantelon; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik; released by Miramax Films. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.

                      WITH: Mathieu Amalric (Jean-Dominique Bauby), Emmanuelle Seigner (Céline), Marie-Josée Croze (Henriette), Anne Consigny (Claude), Patrick Chesnais (Dr. Lepage), Niels Arestrup (Roussin), Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Marie Lopez), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Father Lucian/Lourdes vendor), Marina Hands (Josephine), Issach de Bankole (Laurent), Max von Sydow (Papinou) and Anna Chyzh (model).
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Bansho
                        Member
                        • Apr 2007
                        • 532

                        #12
                        Hi,

                        Originally posted by Jundo
                        Well, let me ask first whether someone has a scanner, as it is only a couple of pages. Can anyone scan it for Lynn?
                        Well, I do have a scanner, but I'm working with the German version of the book, so presumably it wouldn't help her. Sorry. (Please correct me if I'm wrong, Lynn.)

                        Gassho
                        Ken
                        ??

                        Comment

                        • will
                          Member
                          • Jun 2007
                          • 2331

                          #13
                          Sounds like a good movie Jundo. Thanks. Especially the part about


                          ...light and color to convey the world of sensations from which Jean-Dominique is exiled, but which he appreciated all the more acutely for that reason.

                          G,W
                          [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                          To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
                          To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
                          To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
                          To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
                          [/size:z6oilzbt]

                          Comment

                          • sittingzen
                            Member
                            • May 2010
                            • 188

                            #14
                            Re: Things to do when you're about to die...

                            This is a thread ripe with such insightful thoughts.

                            Jundo, your interpretation was most meaningful.

                            Gassho,

                            SZ
                            Shinjin datsuraku, datsuraku shinjin..Body-mind drop off, mind-body drop off..

                            Comment

                            • AlanLa
                              Member
                              • Mar 2008
                              • 1405

                              #15
                              Re: Things to do when you're about to die...

                              Interesting. Some random thoughts:
                              To me, being "oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute" sounds like you are dead. The "self" is gone then, right? Death as nirvana, nirvana as death... not a new thought, right? Can't escape death/nirvana, right? We are already enlightened just as we are all going to die. There it is, but I guess not just waiting to die/be enlightened/reach nirvana, etc. is the point, to live LIFE before that inevitable happens.
                              AL (Jigen) in:
                              Faith/Trust
                              Courage/Love
                              Awareness/Action!

                              I sat today

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