Thursday, June 23, 2011

Death and Dying

If I say "carbon-based life forms" you might picture a lump of coal or, to my surprise, a musical group.  Not only that, though. If you are a scientist, you know that all life forms on this earth are based on the carbon atom. That category, "All life," includes us.  And all life has certain characteristics; the one of interest to me right now is mortality.

Consumable products have a "shelf life," more obvious when it comes to a bag of lettuce, but true also of hard cheese.  Even things "die."  Engineered structures are calculated to have an MTTB, or "mean time to breakdown," or an MTBF, "mean time before failures."  We humans have one too - we call it life expectancy.

If you've been around this blog a while you know that one of my key labels is death.  In this, I am not weird, just speaking as a Buddhist.  It surprised me when I got interested in Buddhism, how much it talks about death, and some people find it gloomy and depressing. But Buddhism is just trying to hold us up to the fact of life.  This is about learning to encounter your own death and those of your loved ones with some equanimity, about deeply understanding reality.  Living things are born, grow, age, in a pattern that inevitably leads to death. Somewhere I have read that when he first saw a dead person, Prince Siddhartha said, "If this be death, then cursed be birth." He was not enlightened yet.

It's a funny thing to think about, how frantic we get (see yesterday's blog) when we get (ominous music here) A Diagnosis.  I am still reactive when I hear a friend has cancer, that powerful stealth invader, and at age 68½ I hear that often.  I see dying people who won't take care of this future by making out their wills or installing accessible showers, who keep falling because they won't use a cane.  I see people who are pissed off all the time that this is happening to them.  Multiple causes feed into this denial, and I believe one of them is the deep American belief that personal will and personal actions can conquer anything.  Not so. Not death.

[image: Spirea blossoms]


  1. Me, I am coming from a near I know next time is the real deal.
    I just had a friend near his 50th, survive a plane crash, and get a horrible staph infection all within 3 months...and the only thing that came to him was that he was ok with going now. It took me 10 years after my near death to make enough changes, and impact enough people to come to that same idea. Later is not the best idea when it comes to being compassionate! You"ll never know if the person you pissed off today.. might be the exact person you need tomorrow.

  2. Thank you for this comment. I am happy to discover your blog, and subscribe to it. This morning's photos and the long quotation from Ajahn Chah are deeply inspiring. He was one of the first teachers I was attracted to as I explored Buddhism, and his book directly helped me realize the truth.