27 Jul

An age-old question for human beings is why do we die – sometimes in a senseless, violent manner?  Why do good people die young? This is what self-conscious beings ask. After reflecting more on this from a perspective of the teaching of the Buddha, I thought to put in words some of my thoughts on death.

A year ago, I read a short but interesting blog by Joe Goldfarb on his ethical dilemma of killing plants. He wrote, “For one organism to live another must die. There is no escaping this. Having a tiered value status of life, i.e. a mammal has a higher status than a plant, based on assigned arbitrary values is a false perception of reality. I believe in a reality of equality, not inequality, regardless of the form and capabilities of the organism. A bear does not have more value than a flower, for both their names and bodies are not real. The only thing that is real is their life, which they both have of equal value. With that said, it is the gift of life, not consciousness, which I acknowledge and respect… Even killing less life, one is still taking life. This is why Veganism has good intentions but is inherently flawed. Because of this moral problem, I have been studying Native American belief systems in hopes of finding a resolution.”

Now, I don’t know if he has resolved this moral problem for himself but his thoughts point out an important fact: that to live, there is death. After watching the news on TV, I saw another of endless situations where people being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, are killed. It could be a natural disaster or a bombing or some other manmade disaster but the result is the same: death. Their lives are quickly and ruthlessly ended. If one takes away the usual eulogy of priests, rabbis, ministers, or Imams that God has a purpose that we don’t understand and the person who has died will be in the hands of God (perhaps) – we must admit, we just don’t know. Death happens.

However, to me the “why does it happen” is answered by – the universe doesn’t care. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. They are complementary aspects of life. Therefore, death is as natural as life and there is no plan except that under certain conditions people and sentient beings live and die. There is no “divine plan” which creates life isolated from death. As has already happened many times, the stars and planets of this universe have died and been reborn and our planet and solar system will one day be extinguished. Perhaps also even the universe has gone through endless deaths and rejuvenation. All is impermanent. As far as we know, there is only energy.

Now is this depressing? No. Actually with the acceptance that life is fragile and very limited, one is more sensitive to it, taking it as a precious opportunity. Each moment of life allows one to put into motion waves of action which continue into the future. If one understands there is no permanent ‘I’ or me then the idea of losing it through death is not a problem for an individual. It is through the alienation from the ‘All’ by the mistaken psychological separation caused by the ignorance of the belief in a permanent substantial Self that the fear and angst of death appears. However, I must add that as our knowledge expands, i.e. quantum theory, the universe/existence is very mysterious to us humans, and in the end what will happen to this life form of ours after death is still unknown. We will just have to wait and see or not.

When I die bury me deep in a place where trees grow tall and flowers blossom. My smile beneath will follow the colors spreading for joy. Mark not my place with statues or stones, find me where life can be found. My body will join the elements and energy of the universe from which I came and continue on in the cycle of life.


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