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Death and the Buddhist

by Danavira

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... a
sample of DNA was taken from it and compared with samples taken from a number of
volunteers from among the villages of the present Cheddar district. They were looking for
a match – they found one. Mr. Adrian Target, aged 42, a history teacher. He was a direct
descendant through the maternal line of a person who lived in that approximate area
10,000 years before - 8 Millennia BCE. Wow! Fantastic, isn’t it? There are continuities
and by the way everybody here had an ancestor in the Ice Age. It’s okay, don’t feel
deprived. [Audience laughs]

Death may be seen as part of the condition of being human. Buddhists are merely human
beings who practice a particular path in order that we deal usefully, effectively and
happily with that condition. All of us are individually trying to deal with our experience
of being human. All the dead are like echoes in the rooms of our home, they can affect us
like faded letters, folded up and worn, discovered in our back pocket. Heartfelt exchanges
that turned the ink to blood. All reveal across the centuries how death happens
individually, and yet from a wider view each forms a part of a unity. And our death will
happen to us individually, without a doubt, and we in our time will be part of that unity
which is the past

The Truth of Loss of Life: The State of Mind - The Deathless State

How are we to deal with the certain truth of the loss of our life? For deal with it we must.
The Buddhist deals with it by trying to break through to a deeper and truer understanding
of the nature of the lives we lead. From that deeper understanding of the lives we lead,
the Buddhist gradually recognizes the Dharmic Truth - that there is a state of mind of
being called [pause] The Deathless. The Deathless, a state of being, we might say,
beyond the grip of death. This does not mean that we would live forever, for to be beyond
the grip of death for the Buddhist is to also be beyond the grasp of life. How do our
ordinary lives look to a being in the Deathless State?

It looks like this. Our life is made by our mind - led by it. Should we live with a mind
corrupted by negativity then misery will follow. Should our minds be purified and free of
such negative traits our actions will follow suit and happiness arises. We make the lives
we lead, and nothing need bind us when we understand this. All too often, though, we can
lead a life that buries us. No wonder we fear the grave. It may be the state of our heart.
Habits, superficiality and vagueness – these are the forces that drive us down into a
drowning in time. From the deathless state our ordinary lives look like they are lived
upon a wheel of fire, where most of us rage in flames of self-addiction. This state
alienates us into a sense of isolation, where we burn desperately and try to quench the
fires with new desires to supplant the old, not knowing they act like oil to feed the
flames. Nor does it end when our body dies or volitions or willed actions. All our
consequences soldier on - not us somehow - yet somehow connected, like the oldest face,
or our own, we are reborn. From the very beginning of our life strangers are implied, they
are the ancestors of the flow of unconsciousness which is our mind. Their actions, their
consequences have helped to make us and we, with our life in turn, are building the
stranger who will come after us. Connected and at the same time not. In Buddhist terms
this is the world called Samsara. The deathless state arises in dependence upon wisdom,
and wisdom is never present without compassion. Compassion is the expression of
wisdom, of the deathless state. From the deathless state a being would look with
compassion on our travails, and would try to help us. In this way the Dharma, Buddhism
impinges on the world, this samsara and posits in our structures of our dualistic minds an
opposite - the Deathless, Nirvana, Enlightenment. The Buddhist sees Enlightenment as a
blessed release from the stream of conditioned things, from processes composed of other
processes, an endless combination. Nirvana, the Deathless, occupies a middle position
between or above all extreme conceptions of existence or non existence. It casts aside all
those views derived from these extremes which wrong our mind. All these different
expressions find a home finally in eternalism or nihilism that we will live forever or we
will disappear. Phenomena, our lives arise in dependence upon conditions; this thesis is
the essence of the teaching, the realization of which constitutes Enlightenment according
to Sangharakshita.

There is no mystery; we just misunderstand the structures of our mind. We think we are
things when we are marvelous processes. We think we are of recent birth when in the
stream of our consciousness we have voyaged so long in time that only a Buddha could
know. We think we are finite and will die soon, and we will, and yet we won’t. We think
we are negatively alone and in that sense of separateness we are, but in our depths we
touch our unity and rest there in our uniqueness. We think we will never be happy. That’s
true if happiness is something we draw blood for, either of ourselves or others. We think
that we are unreal, when we are very real and intrinsically of consequence, we think our
lives are meaningless, and they are if that is what we think, and still are even if we think
they are not if in reality we have misunderstood our depths and misinterpreted our


I would like to finish on an image, that’s what we used to say ten years ago in the FWBO
and people used to stand up and I’d dread it. A guy would say, “I’d like to finish with an
image,” and I would just imagine half a ton of scrap iron being dragged on to the stage
with the guy, and I’d be thinking, “Oh no, not another one of these images.” [Audience
laughs] “Oh! Clank, boom, bang!” And usually there’d be some poor old bodhisattva,
wheeled out to make an ending to their talk. Anyway I’ve got an image here. It’s an
image and I’ve been trying to sort this image out for two years, and I still haven’t
managed it, but I’ll keep going.

When we were children we thought there was only one dawn, one sunset and the wee
song we called “our own.” Later on we realized that the world turned and there was
always a dawn somewhere, always a sunset. It made us think of day and night in endless
pursuit like jewels, one dark, one light, that beautified the world. We were happy to know
that the sunset and the dawn were always there in stillness, built of movement, witnessed
by humanity and because we are of humanity ourselves, witnessed by ourselves. I lost
that one.

Then we saw that the sunset and the dawn were concepts, glorious yet partial statements
of the truth, it was our minds that passed into light and shadow upon the turning world.
The light emanated from the same place. Its fall upon our world an amalgam of shadow
and light. Two opposites sprung by circumstance from a unity. The turning Earth danced
in our turning mind, creatures on it – we made the shadows and light, but the sun just is.
Now we understood that the sun is not only a disc of glory in our sky, it is a sphere. Light
pours out from it at all points. Only some falls upon our world, with which we work
shaping our shadows and light. Most of our sun’s light goes elsewhere to light the
universe. Might this not be the same for our mind?

Death and the Buddhist, a matter of humanity. In our minds death chases life chases
death chases life in endless reworking of the unifying light, called by the Buddhists our
Buddha Nature. Andrew, the poets I didn’t read earlier, they are all dead; they are all in
the unity of the past, flowers that grow unbidden in our garden for our pleasure. My
mother, dead also now in that same unity of the past; rebirthing herself perhaps back into
the known life as we speak. Then myself, also dying, and then us all, diverse and unified
by our beings, seated here right now beside our very own death and on such good terms
as well, in a natural embrace.

We can go anywhere we wish, making our own way as death and a Buddhist makes theirs
towards their stated goal, which is Enlightenment, Nirvana, the Deathless. And the
Deathless arises in dependence on the Middle Way and the Middle Way arose in
dependence on the Buddha. And the Buddha left this world and took his Paranirvana.
Thank you.

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