As part of my volunteer service for hospice, I sometimes sit with the patients when their death is imminent. As Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in my part of the world, I am often encouraged to read from the Bible as a means to comfort and sooth the patient. As a Buddhist, I am aware that there are many ideas (or ideals?) in the Bible which are considered wrong view, such as the eternal soul, an eternal heaven, eternal damnation, etc. Is repeating verses to the dying able to affect their mind stream and enforce these wrong views at such a dramatic time of their life? Is it beneficial to do so, seeing as their beliefs were already in line with these wrong views prior to my involvement? Or would it be better to forgo the reading, unless specifically requested, and instead generate Metta and good intent towards them? Or, perhaps, research some specific verses which do not enforce wrong view, and speak only of kindness and compassion? I have not ever researched the Bible to any extent, but if it will help others, I would be happy to do so. Maybe there are some sutta verses that someone could suggest which sound “Christian” enough that they could be comforting to someone who holds that view?
Much Metta to All
I am curious, who is encouraging you?
If possible, I would always dialogue with the patient, letting them guide the direction of events. If that can’t happen, then it may be the case that soothing them is the primary issue; try to instill a calm mind, whether with their holy books or however they may have indicated previously.
If you have no clues, let them know they are not alone, and wait with kindness.
Typically, those for whom we hold vigils are alone, without family or friends to be near them, and by that time are in a non-responsive state, so the encouragement comes from other volunteers, the social workers, and family members who are unable to have a presence at that moment.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the whole “view” thing; they want emotional reassurance, not theology.
I find it strange that this would be encouraged for patients who have not specifically requested a Christian approach. And personally I’d encourage you, when people suggest this, ask, “Have they requested a Christian approach?” If not, don’t. If they do want it, fine, there are plenty of nice things in the Bible. This should cheer them up:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.
1 Thessalonians 4:13+ is a good one, if they do want the Xian treatment.
Sadhu sadhu sadhu, Venerable Sujato! Is that passage attributable to you, no quotation was provided? I was researching a list of verses given to me by a fellow volunteer, and in reading them, I can’t see how they could be comforting, so I don’t know if that would come across while reading them!
It’s the opening verses of Ecclesiastes. It’s full of wonderful lines:
I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.
That’s some dark stuff right there. And there’s some of the best-loved passages from scripture, too:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
That may be why, even as a child of 5 or 6 years, I found no solace, joy, or meaning in the Christian faith! Are there any suttas which may be appropriate, in your opinion? Perhaps the Dhammapada?
Well, to be fair, there is the whole “redemption” side of things, too. But personally I find that a little dull.
Sure, why not? Maybe someone would like to compile a set of sutta readings for consolation and post them here.
I think that if I don’t identify them as specifically Buddhist sayings, and they sound gentle and kind, that I can definitely get away with a little Dhamma dispensation! How could it not help?
I’m not trying to rely on the hard work of others, but I’ve barely cracked any of the four Nikayas, which are thick and weigh heavily on the shelf, so any help from other more studied individuals would be fantastic!
I look forward to seeing what other more well read members of Sutta Central contribute! In the meantime a few things popped into my mind. These are not heavily ‘sutta’ or ‘EBT’ based, actually I picked out things that don’t directly mention ‘Buddha’, ‘Dhamma’ etc, so make of it what you will.
From Ajahn’s Chah’s collected teachings - of all his teachings I ever read, this one struck me the most, a talk given to a dying disciple - Our Real Home
Then I thought of the Pali chanting - there are many nice sayings in there, and you can skirt around the overly “Buddhist-y” stuff if necessary, but then throw in some Anattalakkhana sutta!
I’ve attached one of my favourite versions from the Bhavana Society. Don’t be overwhelmed by the size or the Pali - it’s all English on at least every second page, and here are some pages I saw had some good stuff.
Pg 23, 27, 35, 37-3,9 47-49, 59, 61, 65-67, (71-73), 75-77, 81, 85, 87, 89, 93, 107-113, 195-199, 206-207
Excited to see some death suttas!
bhavana_vandana.pdf (3.5 MB)
Thank you, most sincerely! I will be attending a vigil this very evening, and this may prove most helpful!
There are several suttas for the sick, but these are full with Buddhistic doctrinal elements, such as SN 22.1, SN 36.7, SN 36.8, SN 46.14, SN 46.15, SN 46.16, SN 55.26, and MN 143. As for the dying ones, I think SN 15 Anamatagga Samyutta is apropriate, which is paraphrased from Ven. Narada’s The Buddha and His Teaching as below:
"The bones of a single person wandering in Samsāra would be a cairn, a pile, a heap as Mount Vepulla, were there a collector of these bones and were the collections not destroyed.
"Long time have you suffered the death of father and mother, of sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, and while you were thus suffering, you have verily shed tears upon this long way, more than there is water in the four oceans.
"Long time did your blood flow by the loss of your heads when you were born as oxen, buffaloes. rams, goats, etc.
"Long time have you been caught as dacoits or highwaymen or adulterers, and through your being beheaded, verily more blood has flowed upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans.
"And thus have you for long time undergone sufferings, undergone torment, undergone misfortune, and filled the graveyards full, verily long enough to be dissatisfied with every form of existence, long enough to turn away and free yourself from them all.
Christian doctrine and scriptures contain quite a few things not dissimilar to the Dhamma primarily in the aspect of ethics
the end goal of a Christian life is heaven, whos existence is recognized in the Buddha’s teaching, therefore i don’t think directing patients to this goal is a promotion of a wrong view, in terms of long lasting happiness and comfort albeit transient as well birth in heaven is advantageous, after all we don’t expect them to attain nibbana before or at the moment of passing
The Book of Psalms contains many elevating and spirited passages
Here’s a nice article which contains various Sutta reference by Buddha on dealing with the sick
Many thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions! :anjal:
I think you can’t go wrong with some verses from the Dhammapada (many versions available on-line if you don’t have a printed copy) or the Metta sutta.
I also think that really the most important thing for someone sitting with the dying is to simply be there with them, as present as possible, with a heart infused with metta (benevolence, loving-kindness). That’s what will be felt, and will most contribue to their peace & comfort –your presence and the quality of your heart–and is even more important than what you might say or read.
Also, you might be interested in these books:
Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care by Koshin Paley Ellison & Matt Weingast
Mindfully Facing Disease and Death: Compassionate Advice from Early Buddhist Texts by Bhikkhu Analayo (wonderful book, unfortunately not avaiable until Feb 2017)
Amazon offers quite an extensive preview of the first one which will give you a good idea of what it’s like.
All good wishes for the service you offering!