A post was split to a new topic: Old age, sickness and dying:
@Mat sure, all the words are freely given - but please fix the spelling mistake ‘Ant’ = Any
@DKervick You have framed the questions so well. Could I suggest moving this post to the OP of a new thread
I’ll do so now, but am happy to reverse it if you have objections to it
You have done very well, Viveka, in looking after your friend. It’s a priceless service to support someone at the most difficult point in their life. Even though it was very difficult for her, your presence would have made it much better. You have been a true kalyānamitta!
Well, yes, we tend hope in the wrong way. Ideally hope should be about having a bright future, not about whether we are going to survive or not. If you have lived well, you will fare on in a good way, and that should be our refuge as the end gets very near. If you are able to have this outlook, then giving up a painful and dying body is going to be a liberating experience. With the right attitude, death is joyful.
Absolutely. My own father died just two weeks ago. He fell down a long flight of stairs, onto a stone floor. He died shortly afterwards in hospital. Was it good or bad? Well, he already had advanced cancer, and according to the doctor probably had less than a year left to live. His quality of life was deteriorating rapidly. In my view it was merciful death — no drawn-out period of pain and living without purpose.
Many people were shocked, but really they shouldn’t have been. He had had cancer for many years. Personally I was surprised he had even lived that long. When the news came I was prepared. Some say they were shocked that he didn’t die of the cancer. But clearly the cancer was a very contributing factor. When the body is weak and the mind is affected by the illness, then accidents are to be expected. I don’t think it is too far-fetched to say he actually died of the cancer, or cancer combined with old age.
But what surprised me the most was my own reaction. I was largely emotionally unaffected. I attribute this to four interconnected factors. Most importantly, I have done quite a bit of death contemplation. I try my best to expect anyone to die at any time, including myself. Over time — and it does take time — this has altered my perception of life. I don’t feel particularly attached to individuals anymore.
Second, I try my best to make peace with everyone in my life. If death is always around the corner, how can you afford to have enemies or bad relationships? So I have made a very deliberate effort to let go of the past, in part by asking for forgiveness where necessary and in part by saying all I want to say. If we don’t say these things now, it may never happen. In fact it will probably not happen, because we are likely to carry that attitude of procrastination with us into the future. When death inevitably comes, we will not be ready.
Third, my father had a good life and he lived well. There is nothing really to be sad about. I have deliberately focused on the idea of a life well lived, rather than on the experience of loss. We did the same at the funeral ceremony. The ceremony was in truth an uplifting experience, as was pointed out by several of the participants. The dominance of Christianity over Western cultural tends to result in sad and tearful funerals. But it doesn’t have to be like that. As you say, Viveka, it is really about how you frame things.
Fourth, I think it helps enormously to have lived the monastic life for over 25 years. The emphasis on seclusion and separation from the people who are closest to you allows for your attachments to gradually die down. This seems to be one of the big differences between lay life and monastic life. I tend to be surprised at how attached most lay people are to others, even to the point of enduring relationships that are often far from satisfactory. But even with good relationships, the attachments are painful to observe. When I see this, I feel quite free. It is just another of the great benefits of the monastic life.
I have been getting so many beautiful messages of condolences from all over the world. I am really grateful for people’s care and kindness. As a Buddhist monastic you are often the beneficiary of people’s most beautiful qualities, and what a blessing that is. At the same time I am not sad. And there really is no need for people to be sad on my behalf. My father’s life was a life well lived. He helped build the world up, rather than drag it down. He created light, not darkness. He was a cause of happiness, not sorrow. There is only one reasonable reaction, to celebrate!
Thank-you Ajahn @brahmali, for your words and the great demonstration you have given regarding the benefits of death contemplation.
May your father have a good journey and happy destination!
Knowing that my friend had also lived her life well, and that her actions were all directed by kindness and compassion, definitely took away my sadness at her passing. As you say, it is to be celebrated! I know, (think, feel, intuit), that she is going to have a fortunate re-birth… (as I hope is the case with your father) and I had been busy trying to plant the seeds of Dhamma, so maybe she can discover it for herself in due course . Your father must also have the benefit of your influence on his life, and I hope he too finds and sees the Dhamma
I absolutely agree with this. Having spent over 6 months in her company before her death, I also noticed the type of attachment that comes of habit, of becoming habituated to certain routines, actions etc growing. When these habitual interactions cease, there is a noticeable void. So it’s a double type of attachment. I’m just separating them out, as I think they are each caused by a different thing, and therefore looking at each cause seperately is useful. 1) attachment due to habit > void in activity 2) attachment due to pleasure > craving for its continuance. Probably splitting hairs here, but I’ve found this useful when contemplating suffering caused by craving as it ties in with either not-self or impermanence.
Thank you @Viveka for opening this thread and starting this discussion; and thank you everybody else for your contributions. I very much enjoy reading it!
I would like to share this guided death contemplation by Ajahn Brahmali. He did it at his visit to Europe two years ago, and I like it very much (although the audio quality isn’t that great). And I feel I should just do it more frequently now!