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Help Needed with Zen Buddhist views on Death.
Posted: 18 July 2008 05:16 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I was hoping there might be a few people here with some skilled and experienced knowledge on how Zen proposes the individual cope with death of loved ones or great personal tragedies etc.


Please tell me if my understanding is correct or mistaken on this issue. Of point in the direction of certain literature on the issue.


From what I can tell the practice of mindfulness in life and in insight meditation (Vipasanna)  the individual sees into the nature of ones consciousness. As such ones recognises things like impermanence and our attachments.  Our burdens to attachments lessen over time. Practice thereby produces a calm and open state of mind. 


I think it’s a mistake to say that Zen disavows emotion or emotional experience but it disavows our thought/concept judgment on the issue. We feel fully experience the emotion but we don’t lose the balance or equilibrium of mind that Zen talks about. If a person dies we feel sorrow and we should observe and feel it fully but not judge in a sense that “this is evil, I cant go on living, why has this happened”.


This understanding (if it is indeed correct) would lead me to believe this is where rationalism ends and mysticism begins. What I mean by that is we cannot alter our moment to moment experience of the world by thought or intellectual rigueur alone we must practice specific contemplative techniques ie meditation in order to obtain it. 


Of course this is an empirical question, we can practice it and test it and compare our self report of the state with others report. 


In any case thank you for reading in advance or for any thoughts you may have on the matter. 

Best.

Michael Faulkner.

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Posted: 18 July 2008 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Michael Faulkner - 18 July 2008 09:16 AM

I was hoping there might be a few people here with some skilled and experienced knowledge on how Zen proposes the individual cope with death of loved ones or great personal tragedies etc.


Please tell me if my understanding is correct or mistaken on this issue. Of point in the direction of certain literature on the issue.


From what I can tell the practice of mindfulness in life and in insight meditation (Vipasanna)  the individual sees into the nature of ones consciousness. As such ones recognises things like impermanence and our attachments.  Our burdens to attachments lessen over time. Practice thereby produces a calm and open state of mind. 


I think it’s a mistake to say that Zen disavows emotion or emotional experience but it disavows our thought/concept judgment on the issue. We feel fully experience the emotion but we don’t lose the balance or equilibrium of mind that Zen talks about. If a person dies we feel sorrow and we should observe and feel it fully but not judge in a sense that “this is evil, I cant go on living, why has this happened”.


This understanding (if it is indeed correct) would lead me to believe this is where rationalism ends and mysticism begins. What I mean by that is we cannot alter our moment to moment experience of the world by thought or intellectual rigueur alone we must practice specific contemplative techniques ie meditation in order to obtain it. 


Of course this is an empirical question, we can practice it and test it and compare our self report of the state with others report. 


In any case thank you for reading in advance or for any thoughts you may have on the matter. 

Best.

Michael Faulkner.

As far as I know, your take on Zen is accurate, although unsmoked could probably give a better discussion of this.  One book that has proved valuable for me is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (don’t have the author handy).  I have some immediate experience of dealing with this, my mother-in-law died a couple of weeks ago and I’ve processed through the feelings of sorrow and grief, but am now dealing with the more subtle feelings that arise with the experiences of “settling up the estate.”  I can attest that throughout the process, my work in meditative, contemplative, and other “mystical” practices has been very helpful in maintaining a state of equilibrium.  If you look about, there are various philosophical schools that teach such techniques in the way that you propose: “practice it and test it and compare our self report of the state with others report.”

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Posted: 18 July 2008 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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In Zen literature there is a story about a Zen monk who, with great affection and attention to her needs, cared for his aging mother.  Unlike strict Buddhist practitioners, the old lady was not a vegetarian and the monk shocked the neighbors by going to the market to buy cuts of meat that she wanted.  “What is more important to you?” they upbraided him, “Your vows as a monk, or pleasing the tastes of an old woman?”  It shocked them to see a monk, wearing the traditional patched robe, buying meat.

Something came up and the monk was called away to another town and couldn’t return for several weeks.  When he did return he found a funeral in progress.  The villagers were gathered around the coffin of his mother making a great show of grief, talking about her wonderful character and how much they would miss her.  The son pushed through the crowd, rapped his staff three times on the coffin and turned to them all.  “The funeral is over.  Bury the body!”

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Posted: 21 July 2008 08:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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thanks for your responses.


It seems to me that unlike say the Stoics, Zen asks us to see emotion and suffering without dualism.


For example many techniques for example Cicero wrote off in his Disputations after his daughters death was:


Just think of the good times with the person.

Think of it as not a evil, that it is a part of nature.

Or we put on a front of equanimity. That pretending to be mentally stable outwardly we will become stable inwardly.


None of these really deal it seems with the actual experience of loss.  What Zen it seems supposes is that our consciousness can be altered through practice. I’m quite young and only really have started to practice mindfulness etc recently. It can be difficult to understand to a young westerner that there can be a mode of being and understanding that you cant think your way into it.  A mode of being beyond language and concepts.


One criticism or concern I would have with the worldview of Zen and Buddhism is that possibly it is against our nature or impossible to achieve.

The other night I thought much about our suffering and I do in fact believe that much of it rests on our thinking. I grant that much of our mental states are formed out of judgments, evaluations, attachments etc. However and I think the science is there- is that there is emotion on the pre language level. That we have certain emotional foundations which act as institutive guides to our behaviour and yes thinking (please forgive this turgid use of words) 

For example we know that humans are endowed with emotions that are independent of thought or are not created through language. Take sex—we have lust, hunger and desire for it, along with desire for romantic bonding, we have states such as sexual jealousy or sexual disgust. Also things like shame and embarrassment or anger do seem to be inscribed in us by natural selection.  We are primates after all and these emotions can be observed in our close cousins.


So I wonder to myself can we ever escape these vicissitudes? and if so are we denying ourselves what it actually means to be human?

I have criticisms of this stance in my mind already but thought maybe others might be able to tell me what you think.


Best

Michael Faulkner.

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Posted: 21 July 2008 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Michael Faulkner: “So I wonder to myself can we ever escape these vicissitudes? and if so are we denying ourselves what it actually means to be human?”

That’s my take on it.

Zen schmen… there’ll be plenty of time to be in a “mode of being beyond language and concepts.” and to “disavow your thoughts/concepts and judgments on issues” and essentially not feel anything when you’re DEAD.

Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t recognize, as the film “American Beauty” pointed out: Everywhere, Everything is Beauty…

I think it’s important to feel one’s emotions and embrace them for a time—but there is a limit, you don’t want to sit around blubbering and/or boiling for too long—and then let it go, or as Paul McCartney sang: “let it be.”

Sometimes, if one is stuck in a sad or negative perceptive mode, it helps to smoke a joint.
Or listen to music…
Or read a book…

That said, I think it’s important to understand the roots behind the notion of zen. It blossomed from one of the earliest of the eastern orphisms (or spiritual beliefs) in which our ancestors believed (prior to jainism, hinduism and budhhism) that life itself was brutal, painful and riddled with suffering… even desire was considered a source of suffering. The goal was to escape the “transmigration of the soul”; to NOT be reincarnated (as they believed happens, which of course merely continues the vicious cycle of existential suffering) and exist in Nirvana or all-ness and nothingness… free of all consciousness… bliss babay. I don’t know about you, but that ain’t my idea of bliss. (I have no evidence to back this up, but this may be why coming back as a cow is considered a good and sacred thing: they don’t seem to be self-consciously aware.)

“Everything zen, Everything zen…I don’t think so…”—Bush (the band, not the “w”)
In other words, not everything is okay…

But that’s okay. Feel things. Think things. Do things.

Cheers!
ii.

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 11:28 AM by isocratic infidel]
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Posted: 21 July 2008 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Michael Faulkner - 21 July 2008 12:22 PM

One criticism or concern I would have with the worldview of Zen and Buddhism is that possibly it is against our nature . . .

So I wonder to myself can we ever escape these vicissitudes? and if so are we denying ourselves what it actually means to be human?

I have criticisms of this stance in my mind already but thought maybe others might be able to tell me what you think.

Have you read any poems by Kobayashi Issa? - (1763-1827)

http://www.augustpoetry.org/poets/Issa.htm

Speaking of what Cicero wrote after the death of his daughter, here is what Issa wrote: (possibly she was still a baby?)

The world of dew
is the world of dew,
And yet, and yet - -

(we understand that life is fleeting, and it isn’t wise to cling to things or get attached . . . and yet, and yet - - )

Issa on sex:

Goes out,
comes back - -
the loves of a cat.

On housekeeping:

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

On wars and rumors of wars: (?)

In this world
we walk on the roof of hell,
gazing at flowers.

On Zen: (?)

Climb Mount Fuji,
O snail,
but slowly, slowly.

On George W. Bush: (?)

Oh flea!  Whatever you do,
don’t jump!
that way is the river.

[ Edited: 21 July 2008 10:36 AM by unsmoked]
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Posted: 21 July 2008 11:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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The movie The Last Samurai had a zen moment in it toward
the end.  One of the main characters is a samurai who has
been looking for the perfect cherry blossom.  (It was a
cherry blossom, if memory serves well.)  This was brought
out several times during the film.  Finally, as he lay
dying on the battle field with cherry trees blooming in
the distance, the samurai looks around and says: “They’re
all perfect.”

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Posted: 21 July 2008 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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burt - 21 July 2008 03:41 PM

The movie The Last Samurai had a zen moment in it toward
the end.  One of the main characters is a samurai who has
been looking for the perfect cherry blossom.  (It was a
cherry blossom, if memory serves well.)  This was brought
out several times during the film.  Finally, as he lay
dying on the battle field with cherry trees blooming in
the distance, the samurai looks around and says: “They’re
all perfect.”

This reminded me of a scene in Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’.
As I remember it, Prince Andrew is lying on his back on the battlefield when it’s all over.  He can feel his life blood draining into the grass.  He looks at the blue sky, and the passing white clouds and thinks, “How long it has been since I looked at the sky.  How beautiful!”

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“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 21 July 2008 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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unsmoked - 21 July 2008 04:36 PM
burt - 21 July 2008 03:41 PM

The movie The Last Samurai had a zen moment in it toward
the end.  One of the main characters is a samurai who has
been looking for the perfect cherry blossom.  (It was a
cherry blossom, if memory serves well.)  This was brought
out several times during the film.  Finally, as he lay
dying on the battle field with cherry trees blooming in
the distance, the samurai looks around and says: “They’re
all perfect.”

This reminded me of a scene in Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’.
As I remember it, Prince Andrew is lying on his back on the battlefield when it’s all over.  He can feel his life blood draining into the grass.  He looks at the blue sky, and the passing white clouds and thinks, “How long it has been since I looked at the sky.  How beautiful!”

And a true story: back around 1990 a guy I knew was living in Hawaii, on the island of Maui.  One bright sunny day he was helping some friends build a house.  After they knocked off for the day they were sitting around chatting when suddenly he stood up, looked out at the ocean, spread his arms and said “I love this place!”  Then he dropped dead of a heart attack.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Have you read any poems by Kobayashi Issa? - (1763-1827)

http://www.augustpoetry.org/poets/Issa.htm

Speaking of what Cicero wrote after the death of his daughter, here is what Issa wrote: (possibly she was still a baby?)

by Unsmoked.


I came across a Zen Roshi on the internet the other day. a remarkable luminous woman going by the name Joan Halifax who is among many roles and responsibilities is a hospice caregiver.


A very interesting woman, she has a program called Being with Dieing. Training people in the contemplative tradition in regards death and dieing.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Halifax


Best and be well

Michael Faulkner

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Posted: 07 August 2008 06:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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The ultimate aim of Zen, like that of all Buddhist schools, is to guide the practitioner to the realization of their true nature, and in so doing, to the true nature of all things. This ‘perfect knowledge’, once realized, affects a transformation in the practitioners’ metaphysical worldview, the result of which is to free the aspirants from the spell of appearances, so that they might function as an authentic human beings. What’s more, the ‘doctrine of emptiness’, upon which all Buddhist schools are founded, is an entirely rational one, for as it states at the end of each sutra: “this doctrine is reasonable”.

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Posted: 07 August 2008 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Jehu - 07 August 2008 10:50 PM

What’s more, the ‘doctrine of emptiness’, upon which all Buddhist schools are founded, is an entirely rational one, for as it states at the end of each sutra: “this doctrine is reasonable”.

Why not just stick in a feeding tube and decant the wisdom directly in to the brain? Mrm. I guess not. Stuffing someone full of the idea that “this doctrine is reasonable” kind of runs against the “doctrine of emptiness”. But you’re sure full of it, Jehu.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 10:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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If you want an accurate explanation of Buddhist teachings you might be better off asking a bunch of Buddhists.

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Posted: 08 September 2008 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Any doctrine is “reasonable” when based on a false premise.

As for asking a bunch Buddhists for an explanation of their teachings, that would be the blind leading leading the short sighted.  Or rather it would depend on which blind man held which part of the elephant - or is that a Hindu parable?

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Posted: 08 September 2008 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Michael Faulkner - 18 July 2008 09:16 AM

I was hoping there might be a few people here with some skilled and experienced knowledge on how Zen proposes the individual cope with death of loved ones or great personal tragedies etc.


Please tell me if my understanding is correct or mistaken on this issue. Of point in the direction of certain literature on the issue.


From what I can tell the practice of mindfulness in life and in insight meditation (Vipasanna)  the individual sees into the nature of ones consciousness. As such ones recognises things like impermanence and our attachments.  Our burdens to attachments lessen over time. Practice thereby produces a calm and open state of mind. 


I think it’s a mistake to say that Zen disavows emotion or emotional experience but it disavows our thought/concept judgment on the issue. We feel fully experience the emotion but we don’t lose the balance or equilibrium of mind that Zen talks about. If a person dies we feel sorrow and we should observe and feel it fully but not judge in a sense that “this is evil, I cant go on living, why has this happened”.


This understanding (if it is indeed correct) would lead me to believe this is where rationalism ends and mysticism begins. What I mean by that is we cannot alter our moment to moment experience of the world by thought or intellectual rigueur alone we must practice specific contemplative techniques ie meditation in order to obtain it. 


Of course this is an empirical question, we can practice it and test it and compare our self report of the state with others report. 


In any case thank you for reading in advance or for any thoughts you may have on the matter. 

Best.

Michael Faulkner.


Michael,

To me this Zen ‘opinion’ on death and how to deal with it is rather pointless and I shall say why.

You are born with the capacity to deal with all sorts of horrors, the deaths of loved ones being one of them.

I can state this with a fair amount of certainty since if this weren’t so, we would not be typing right now.
It is elementary evolutionary biology baby. 

Can you give people advice on how to cope with it better?
Sure.
But I don’t see why you’d take the advice of a masturbating monk over, say, a psychologist or a shrink or a clever and kind friend.

What is the point of dwelling on the unpleasant parts of life other then justifying the existence (and the pay-check) of self-proclaimed holy men ?

Yes, if you live long enough you will loose everyone.
It is a bitch, but that is just the way it is and I wish that people would just grow some testicles and stop whining about it and go out and enjoy life.

When a loved one dies you will do exactly what all people who’ve ever lived did: You will cry and be angry and feel like shit for a while and then you can remember the good things about them and visit their graves sometimes.

What else is there to do ?
Why would you want to dwell on it?
How is this different from contemplating how smelly your next dump will be ?

Trust me, it will stink.
Just flush it ,light a match and go out and have a beer.

[ Edited: 08 September 2008 04:08 PM by Lapin Diabolique]
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Posted: 08 September 2008 04:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I did not ask this question for emotional reasons more out of dispassionate inquiry. I admire Sam Harris I know he is interested in Buddhism and thought there would be similar minded people on the website along with atheists and such. ps i’m a hardcore materialist.


For me I was exploring the point that in our western culture we don’t seem to be emotionally or psychologically equipped to deal with loss. It seems to me the Eastern traditions have some very interesting methods of contemplation and views on the subject of loss. That our perhaps more helpful than our own cultures views.

Sander I’m not saying your wrong but I think you speak for a lot of people who say “don’t think about death, its one of those things, head down, foot to the floor and keeping gunning till ya run out of gas.”

However when we crash and we will all sorts of problems start. Some people are more affected by death than others and I do wonder how much delusion, wish thinking and attachments make them suffer more.

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