Split thread: Who avoids death in buddhism?

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  • Jinyo
    Member
    • Jan 2012
    • 1957

    Split thread: Who avoids death in buddhism?

    Originally posted by Daizan
    The immediate fruit of zazen is zazen. Sitting and “just being”. But then there is getting up off the cushion and living life, and the tedium of having our efforts at “getting it together” fail over and over. Every day we sit, and sitting is still just sitting... but somehow realizing your true self is the sound of the rain doesn't pay the bills, so there is still life off the cushion.... which is not always so sweet as rain on the temple roof. Off the cushion there is only the pretense of “just being”. I say pretense because although the sound of the rain is your true self, so is the tax audit, or a friends death. Underneath playing at “just being” we still wiggle and scheme as much as always to avoid being old age, disease, and death. The good news is these schemes fail.

    Sitting every morning.. bum on cushion, light on the floor, the muffled thump of the washing machine. Then getting up and having my pretensions and games fall apart yet again. Then sitting again. It's as easy as dirt.

    Gassho Daizan/Richard
    Daizan - I am so glad that you still pop in from time to time because the above words have really helped me.

    Forgive me if I have put my own spin on your words and not fully understood.

    This holding together simultaneously a sense of the absolute and wholeness, and our struggle with the day to day difficulties of life in the world, is a position I fail to achieve over and over again.

    The test of my ability to hold to this practice was my daughter's critical illness 5 months ago (she is still ill). Within myself I totally lost it - there were times when I entered a dark space that no amount of belief or practice of Zazen could touch or help with.

    I'm not sure that I would identify the above level of distress with the wiggling and scheming you mention ( though I understand what you mean - we do fall into that too) - it's just that in those moments of intense fear and concern for my daughter's well being - pure love seemed inevitably bound with pure agony. To be aiming for unity and wholeness in those moments of total fragmentation feels like a sort of 'wiggling' to me - reaching the wholeness - a sense of peace - possibly involves walking through fire with no protection.

    In another thread (Attention is Attention) Jundo wrote of a 'healthy schizophrenia' - and also expressed a concern (exasperation ?) that people just don't get it.

    It isn't really that I don't get it - getting 'it' mentally isn't the problem - living it is the problem.

    I feel I'm at some kind of crossroads here because the sticking point for me (and has been all along) is that there's a voice inside my head that constantly questions whether (for me - this is NOT a judgement of any one else's practice) I can ever feel truly authentic living this 'healthy schizophrenia' in moments of total existential pain/doubt.

    I think these thoughts have been expressed here by others before - and those individuals inevitably leave because they do not feel they belong. I wrote on the other thread that I felt that a process was taking place and I needed to be patient. I hope this is the case because Tree Leaf is important to me and I've gained a great deal from being here - but I don't want to turn into one of those people who are always arguing the toss and won't accept the basic premiss.

    I need to take some time out from the message board to sit with this.

    Thank you for your practice Daizan and every one else at Tree Leaf.

    Gassho

    Willow
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-24-2013, 08:35 AM.
  • RichardH
    Member
    • Nov 2011
    • 2800

    #2
    Hi Willow.

    I always follow what is going on here at Treeleaf. I've just been busy failing in new and robust ways.

    This is something I droned on about elsewhere recently, probably because it is where my own practice/life is at, and so it seems essential.

    Old age, disease, and death, are empty. That means there is no birth and death, and at the same time there is birth and death... they are “not two”. This is not news. But what has come up in my own life strongly is the fact that realizing no-birth and death means realizing birth and death. Denial of death is rampant in zenny type discussions (death is illusion etc.) and that is unfortunate, because denial of death is denial of the deathless. I understand denial of death, because every drive and instinct in this body and mind is geared to do so, and to avoid the appalling emotions, loneliness, and animal fear, that comes with accepting birth and death at face value. Just as grief is directly proportional to the depth of love, realizing the deathless is directly proportional to the depth of letting go in/as that grief, in my experience.

    Here is a simple personal example. When my wife was first diagnosed with cancer, we knew that at the very least it would mean painful surgery, followed by radiation. We did not know for a while what the prognosis was, and the doctor warned that it may be poor. At the same time my son was asking me if his mother was dying, and looking to me for the truth. My mind/feeling state was so bleak and lonely, and the sense of loss so bottomless, that I thought it was unbearable. I tried every strategy to change that state of mind, and also sought comfort, and there is nothing wrong with that, but at a certain point there was no escape. And so I sat with what was unbearable. You know the poem “...we sit together the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains...” By sitting precisely with the whole state of being as it was, I sat with Hell until only Hell remained. In other words, just as my true self is the sound of rain when rain is present, my true self is Hell when Hell is present. Then Hell is Hell, but not Hell. My wife had a similar experience at that time. After surgery she received a lot of radiation therapy, and the skin had come off her still wounded chest. It was open and raw, and all she could do was lay still in bed, because any movement increased the pain. At one point she said to me.. “ I am like a bug pinned to the wall. I can either wiggle or just be the wall.” So she was the wall, the pain, and she demonstrated zazen and unconditional peace.

    This aspect of practice has been upfront for me of late, but that does not mean I am humorless and no longer being a goof. Because being birth and death/ no-birth and death.. includes ordinary ok times as well, just as much, without dwelling on birth and death. The grass is long enough to be cut, relatives are visiting from Vancouver, painting pictures, bathing the pooch.

    Gassho Daizan/ Richard.
    Last edited by RichardH; 05-23-2013, 01:08 PM.

    Comment

    • Shokai
      Treeleaf Priest
      • Mar 2009
      • 6391

      #3
      Richard;
      Thanks for that sharing, be well

      gassho, Shokai
      合掌,生開
      gassho, Shokai

      仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

      "Open to life in a benevolent way"

      https://sarushinzendo.wordpress.com/

      Comment

      • Jundo
        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
        • Apr 2006
        • 39065

        #4
        Who the hell denies death?

        Having gotten word just this week of the death of a college friend, having gone through my mother's slow cancer, having been in the room after telling the doctor to pull the plug on my still semi-conscious father who was choking to death, a handful of miscarrages, almost losing our baby daughter last year to a blood infection that put her in the ICU, having pulled a guy out of a car covered in blood near death ... I went to two funerals this past year for disabled young people at the place I volunteer whose twisted bodies just gave out before the age of 25 ...

        ... what are you talking about???

        When have you ever heard any Buddhist say that this life doesn't sometimes suck, with sickness, old age and death? Open the news ... did you see that knifing in England today? What people are capable of ...

        (not for the squeemish)
        Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.


        Buddhists go right into the heart of the ugly. We don't turn away. Here, in our Sangha, we have war veterans, folks in the medical professions, a funeral director, law enforcement, ambulance drivers. I (my wife too) was a friggin' hospice volunteer who worked bedside in the care center for 5 years with hundreds of terminal patients, babies on up, and their families, with all one can imagine experiencing in such a place.

        What may be confusing folks is that Buddhists ... the Buddha ... somehow found something that is simultaneously beyond and through-and-through the sickness, old age and death. (Or, if not, a whole lot of Buddhists have been wasting their time for 2500 years).

        Death ... no death, at once. Dogen said die die, right to the death ... live live, as if your life depended on it! He wrote in Zenki ...

        Life is the manifestation of all functions,
        Death is the manifestation of all functions.


        We turn away from death? Baloney.

        I will say that, yes, some folks don't "get this" as easily as others . That is probably why old time Buddhist said that some may pierce it in a moment, but some may take lifetimes and lifetimes.

        Gassho, J
        Last edited by Jundo; 05-23-2013, 04:16 PM.
        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

        Comment

        • Jinyo
          Member
          • Jan 2012
          • 1957

          #5
          Jundo - where did I say that you or anyone else here turns away from death?


          Maybe I am one of those people who take lifetimes to get something that others pierce in a moment. I feel you have turned around what I was attempting to explain - that I have difficulty holding together this underlying unity of the absolute/everyday experience and piercing the death/no death teaching. It is something that I can't quite grasp or actualize.

          Just upset that you choose to deal with a lack of understanding on the part of a student - that can not surely be mine alone - in a way that feels shaming (to me).

          Gassho

          Willow
          Last edited by Jinyo; 05-23-2013, 07:15 PM.

          Comment

          • RichardH
            Member
            • Nov 2011
            • 2800

            #6
            Originally posted by Jundo
            Who the hell denies death?

            Having gotten word just this week of the death of a college friend, having gone through my mother's slow cancer, having been in the room after telling the doctor to pull the plug on my still semi-conscious father who was choking to death, a handful of miscarrages, almost losing our baby daughter last year to a blood infection that put her in the ICU, having pulled a guy out of a car covered in blood near death ... I went to two funerals this past year for disabled young people at the place I volunteer whose twisted bodies just gave out before the age of 25 ...

            ... what are you talking about???

            When have you ever heard any Buddhist say that this life doesn't sometimes suck, with sickness, old age and death? Open the news ... did you see that knifing in England today? What people are capable of ...

            (not for the squeemish)
            Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.


            Buddhists go right into the heart of the ugly. We don't turn away. Here, in our Sangha, we have war veterans, folks in the medical professions, a funeral director, law enforcement, ambulance drivers. I (my wife too) was a friggin' hospice volunteer who worked bedside in the care center for 5 years with hundreds of terminal patients, babies on up, and their families, with all one can imagine experiencing in such a place.

            What may be confusing folks is that Buddhists ... the Buddha ... somehow found something that is simultaneously beyond and through-and-through the sickness, old age and death. (Or, if not, a whole lot of Buddhists have been wasting their time for 2500 years).

            Death ... no death, at once. Dogen said die die, right to the death ... live live, as if your life depended on it! He wrote in Zenki ...

            Life is the manifestation of all functions,
            Death is the manifestation of all functions.


            We turn away from death? Baloney.

            I will say that, yes, some folks don't "get this" as easily as others . That is probably why old time Buddhist said that some may pierce it in a moment, but some may take lifetimes and lifetimes.

            Gassho, J
            Hi Jundo. Who the Hell denies death? Well, I think we have a really old , like paleozoic, instinct to avert/deny death. Buddhism does not deny death, but yes personally and online, generally, I do hear the view that birth and death are an illusion. and always have..and I do hear Buddhist teachings picked up that way. BTW I did not post that to throw a stone at Treeleaf. You frequently talk about embracing all of life and death/no death. You have been clear about that.

            Gassho, Daizan/Richard

            Edit: had run and pick up the kid and did not have time to fully respond before. I just now really noticed the very pointed naming of the thread "SPLIT THREAD: WHO THE HELL AVOIDS DEATH?". It would be interesting to poll Buddhists, longtime and new, including folks arriving here and already here, about the how they view death. Is it "Illusion"? and if so what is the nature of that illusion? All I can offer is my own interactions with people (online/offline) over the years and how I have often heard Buddhist teaching explained in that light. There is also my own experience of denial and the different forms it can take.

            I will also just state again that talking about denial of death is not a challenge to Jundo, or Taigu, or Treeleaf.

            All the best to Treeleaf and Treeleafers.


            Thankyou and Gassho
            Last edited by RichardH; 05-23-2013, 09:07 PM.

            Comment

            • Kokuu
              Treeleaf Priest
              • Nov 2012
              • 6735

              #7
              Willow,

              I have a teacher who talks about meditation practice in terms of capacity. Sitting with experience increases our capacity to be with life without falling into our usual dualistic thinking. Being able to do that with small things is the first step and we go on to be able to sit with and acknowledge the existence of pain. I am not saying this is a constant experience of kensho but we are more able just to be with what happens (or be what happens).

              Anyway, when the big stuff happens - death, serious illness, divorce and such like - it often exceeds our capacity to be with it and life looks just like it was before we started practice and as if it is pointless to ever expect to feel any different.

              What to do then? I sit with the fact I can't deal with it. I have to do this all the time with my illness (and maybe you do to). The trick is not to keep beating myself up for not being a good enough practitioner. I also find that other practices in addition to Zazen such as metta, mantras (the dreaded dharanis!) and (sorry not Zen) tonglen give me something to hold onto during these times that feel like being swept away by a tidal wave of dread, confusion and not knowing (I'm sure Jundo and/or Taigu will say if I am offering completely inappropriate advice but sometimes we have to hold it together although it might be better practice to fall apart).

              I do agree with Jundo that at times life just sucks. Practice, for me, is not about making life not suck. A friend of mine (and one time Treeleaf member), Irina, has a saying "This is what it feels like to be human". The pain of loss is one of those things.

              Willow, I think that many people often feel that they don't belong and can't measure up. I can't say for sure that what you are feeling is the same or not but that is part of being human too.

              >This holding together simultaneously a sense of the absolute and wholeness, and our struggle with the day to day difficulties of life in the world, is a position I fail to achieve over and over again.

              I fail again and again too and expect to continue to do so. Sometimes there is just the struggle. If we try and feel wholeness when we don't there is separation and we can feel that. No point in faking it.


              With much metta
              Andy
              Last edited by Kokuu; 05-23-2013, 08:27 PM.

              Comment

              • Rich
                Member
                • Apr 2009
                • 2587

                #8
                Daizan, very sorry about your wife and wish her a full recovery. Many years ago I faced a similar situation. Take care.
                _/_
                Rich
                MUHYO
                無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

                https://instagram.com/notmovingmind

                Comment

                • Daitetsu
                  Member
                  • Oct 2012
                  • 1145

                  #9
                  @Willow:
                  As far as I understand you have doubts about your practice and your doubts can be summed up in your sentence:
                  getting 'it' mentally isn't the problem - living it is the problem.
                  Am I right?

                  However, I think that's quite normal! That's why it's called a practice. We cannot be expected to grasp it and fully implement this at once.
                  We are humans and not machines. I remember your story about your daughter, and it would have scared the hell out of me.

                  In these situations we are numb, hardly able to think clearly.
                  This practice does not make us robots and does not turn us into superhumans who can't be thrown off the track anymore.
                  IMHO this practice is not supposed to make us immune against feeling devastated and even helpless in these moments. However, it can help us regain our balance faster, getting back on track after the initial shock.
                  We get hit by life and come back. Another hit and come back. And so on and so forth.
                  And if you feel scared it is normal and not a reason to doubt yourself.
                  The thing is to allow the feeling of fear and accept it, too.
                  And when the dust begins to settle you can try to start with piercing through this and try to see the wholeness underneath (which is quite difficult sometimes, I must admit).
                  That's why Zen for me is not a religion, but actually a practice (others will disagree with this vehemently, I know).

                  @Daizan:
                  It breaks my heart to read about the illness of your wife. I wish you guys all the best and all the strength you need!

                  And yes, I also have the impression that there are not too few Buddhists who think of death as an illusion. And in some way they are right, but in another way they are not.
                  Just think about the impression Thich Nhat Hanh's book title "No Death, No Fear" might give... (I loved that book, don't get me wrong, it's one of the best I've ever read!)
                  I think the "Death is an illusion" thing is coupled with a misconception of the teaching of "No self".
                  It was just yesterday that I read in a book by the Dalai Lama:
                  It is not that phenomena are illusions; rather, they are like illusions. (...) Similarly, although persons and things are empty of existing the way they appear to be established in their own right, they are not utterly nonexistent; they can act and can be experienced. Therefore, being like an illusion is not the same as appearing to exist but actually not existing,
                  I think there are lots of people who misunderstand this, i.e. I agree with you.
                  On the other hand, AFAIK there a lots of Buddhist schools out there which focus pretty much on the topic of death (a bit too much for my taste).

                  And yet another lengthy post by me ... so sorry guys!

                  Gassho,

                  Timo


                  PS: Since some very personal things were shared in this thread by Willow and Daizan, perhaps it would be appropriate to move it into the non-public area...
                  no thing needs to be added

                  Comment

                  • Jundo
                    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                    • Apr 2006
                    • 39065

                    #10
                    Originally posted by LimoLama
                    I also have the impression that there are not too few Buddhists who think of death as an illusion. And in some way they are right, but in another way they are not.
                    I actually would be hard pressed to name any Teacher of any Buddhist Tradition I know who teaches simply that "death is an illusion" ... period. I think we are setting up a non-existent "staw man" here (Now, HE'S not real! )

                    If one looks at their words closely, almost any Buddhist Teacher I know (me too) will teach that death is "an absolute illusion" caused by ignorance (by the human mind judging divisions such as "start" and "finish") ... but that death (and maybe rebirth and redeath again and again for Teachers who teach rebirth ... not me so much ... ) are experiences that are truly felt and cause human beings to grieve and greatly suffer.

                    Some teach that this life is a dream or like a dream (that is pretty much Buddhism 101). However, all Buddhist Teachers teach that sickness, old age, death are a bitter part of life ... dream or not.

                    I prefer Dogen's way of putting it, that this life is like a dream within a dream ... our dream to dream ... sometimes our nightmare ... that we had best dream well.

                    Dogen's poem on death, written while he was very sick ... "Yellow Springs" is the doorway in Chinese legend from this world ...

                    Fifty-four years lighting up the sky.
                    A quivering leap smashes a billion worlds.
                    Hah!
                    Entire body looks for nothing.
                    Living, I plunge into Yellow Springs.


                    If any Teacher taught that death is "not an illusion", they might be teaching something ... but not Buddhism. All Buddhist Ancestors I know taught that "life and death is a complete illusion" ... although if you read their old words closely (because now all those old guys are all dead and in the cold grave) one would see that they really were actually teaching in some way that "life and death is a complete illusion ... except not just illusion".

                    I just had a conversation with someone, and the subject came up as to why these Teachings, seemingly so simple on the one hand (to me anyway) may be so hard to get to most folks. I came up with two analogies ...

                    One is because they are resisted by our little "self" which simply does not want to "get the message". It is much like telling a cigarette smoker to quit smoking. You can explain the reasons, show them the pictures of what it does to the body, talk until the cows come home. They may even understand intellectually the need to quit smoking (because it will kill them ... assuming death is real, of course! ). Nonetheless, the addiction can't acknowledge it, so the brain can't fully accept it, and they keep smoking.

                    The other analogy is riding a bike. Before one knows how to ride a bike ... it seems impossible! Hard! Against the laws of physics! How does one stay up on two wheels without falling over? Then, when one finally gets the knack, it turns out to have been as easy as child's play all along.

                    Gassho, J
                    Last edited by Jundo; 05-24-2013, 10:21 AM.
                    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                    Comment

                    • RichardH
                      Member
                      • Nov 2011
                      • 2800

                      #11
                      Jundo. I have not set up a straw man. ....but maybe crossed some line with you. Whatever the case the push back is obvious. I talked about "discussions" participated in over the years, in the contest of personal experience. That's all. Thank you. Gassho.

                      Comment

                      • Jundo
                        Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                        • Apr 2006
                        • 39065

                        #12
                        Hi Daizan,

                        No line crossed my friend. Like the line of "life turning into death", such a line is not there.

                        I was merely commenting on the statement that "Denial of death is rampant in zenny type discussions (death is illusion etc.) and that is unfortunate, because denial of death is denial of the deathless" and Timo's "I also have the impression that there are not too few Buddhists who think of death as an illusion."

                        I am sitting for the difficult times in your family right now.

                        Gassho, J
                        ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                        Comment

                        • Nameless
                          Member
                          • Apr 2013
                          • 461

                          #13
                          Wow, this has been a pretty intense thread. I've just been sitting back and observing it. I'm kind of afraid to say anything, but I'm going to anyway. I am sorry for your frustration Willow, this is a touchy and often depressing subject. I think that at times in this thread we've mistaken Jundo's frustration for sternness. A teacher must be kind and compassionate, imparting wisdom on the students, yet they must also be stern and forthright.

                          All that being said, here's my take on things, from a novice's mind. From the Heart Sutra and the commentary:

                          No old age and death, no cessation of old age and death.
                          All right, that's the line from the Sutra that we all recite, here's some explanation:

                          If we observe birth and death, then there is birth and death; and if we observe non-birth and non-death, there is no birth and death... What, then, is the Real Self? Our Original Nature is our Real Self. It depends on the body only temporarily and the body is no different from a house. A house is completed and then gradually deteriorates; similarly, the body has birth and death and the period between them. Our True nature on the other hand, has neither birth nor death. It is enduring and unchanging...

                          So, in light of that, there is birth and death in the world of "dharmas" or "things," yet in the supramundane void in which we are all also a part there is no birth and no death. Duality rears its ugly head here, but it can be overcome. One does not have to accept one or the other as solely true. You can say that the first is true, and the second is True. You can be more extreme than this if you want and deny the existence of the material and only claim the existence of the immaterial, but I don't really consider it the Middle Way, which is our practice.

                          When you look into the eyes of your dying loved ones, frail and sick in hospital beds, one can't deny that death exists. Yet at the same time we can know that no one ever really dies because we are all one. No one has come, and no one goes. The illusory perishes, their name, their personality, their likes and dislikes, their loves and hates, their voice and all else that our senses perceive, but seeing nature, thinking nature, it all lives on and that is what we Truly are. As it's been said, knowing this and living this are different things. That's why there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, yet they are both connected.

                          The inability to turn this knowledge into practice is hindered by the ego's attachment to duality. Sure, there is a "you" and "I" but there is no Real you and I. We are all the Buddha, all the Tathagata. That's the only way I could suggest turning this into practice, see everyone as the Buddha. Look beyond their name, their disposition and what not and see the Buddha. This is the essence of compassion, and this tempers the sorrow of loss.

                          Gassho,
                          John

                          Comment

                          • Jinyo
                            Member
                            • Jan 2012
                            • 1957

                            #14
                            I have a request to make as I didn't actually start this thread - not with the title it has been given.

                            I feel the title is provocative and out of respect for the sensitive material that is shared in this thread I would ask that it be changed to something more neutral like 'the issue of death in buddhism'.

                            I admit that I originally felt Jundo's response was totally aimed at me - but re-reading I can see that it was also in response to Daizen.

                            Even so - I have struggled with the 'tone' of the response - and don't feel it was necessary to be so heavy handed.

                            I'm reluctant to leave Tree Leaf because there are many caring members here - as born out by the sensitive responses within this thread. I also respect and value the time and effort Jundo puts in.

                            But I do need to withdraw and sit quietly with all of this.

                            Thank you for your practice

                            Gassho

                            Willow
                            Last edited by Jinyo; 05-24-2013, 07:13 AM.

                            Comment

                            • Tb
                              Member
                              • Jan 2008
                              • 3186

                              #15
                              Hi.

                              Thank you all, i'd like to comment by quoting Master Oogway

                              Yesterday is a memory,
                              tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift,
                              which is why it is called the present.
                              What the caterpillar perceives is the end;
                              to the butterfly is just the beginning.
                              Everything that has a beginning has an ending.
                              Make your peace with that and all will be well

                              - Master oogway, kung fu panda
                              And as i don't want to intrude on the thread itself, i've written down a short text about life, death and funerals in another thread.

                              Thank you for your practice and may the force be with you.
                              Fugen
                              Life is our temple and its all good practice
                              Blog: http://fugenblog.blogspot.com/

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