Some thoughts and reflections on
living and dying
written by May Lein, dated June 12, 2004.
My Mom died last October after fighting with cancer for almost 4 years. In the process of taking care of her during those years, for the last two weeks intensively before she died and the next two weeks after she died, I came to realize that if one can really have a strong faith in the Buddha's teaching and follow it without doubt no matter how painful and miserable our body is experiencing, the whole process will not only become a lot less painstaking, but also can be a very productive experience with tremendous merits accumulated for the person who is dying (eventually dead) and for those who take care of that person. Unfortunately, we tend to miss this golden opportunity to guide our energy to the positive way simply because we focus too much on ourselves - our very body, how we feel about it and how we react to all the messages we receive from outside world. I will try my best to share my experiences and reflections with whoever cares to read on.
First of all, we need to realize and accept the fact that this very body will decay and vanish naturally just like all other things we find in this world - we do not get any special bonus to be a human being. The process of being born, getting old, becoming sick, and finally reaching the end of this life is no difference from the life of a tree, a dog, or any other living being. In a way, to have a life is doomed to experience a death. So fundamentally our life is vanishing in every breath we take in and out. If we get to the bottom line of this life, it is simply an accumulation of every and individual breathing in and breathing out. However we tend not to recognize this very fact and act like an Ostrich that is very much used to bury its head into the sand when danger occurs thinking by doing so we do not need to face the reality that we are dying no matter what. Thus without any anticipation, suddenly, when the doctor tells us that we have an incurable disease and we are about to die in X number of days/months/years, etc, we think that's a very big deal, it's such a devastating shock that we feel helpless, agonizing and ask "Why me??" with a lot of anger and anxiety. As a matter of fact, it is no big deal - it's only a big deal to our own self. The sky won't fall apart because of our suffering or death. Life for everybody else will go on when we die. The world will go on without our presence. Furthermore, try to observe our own behavior from another angle - have we ever mourned deeply for the death of a stranger - there are thousands, millions of people who are dying at any fraction of second? Have we ever felt toward our own suffering the same way as we feel for the suffering of another person. Think, what's the difference between our own suffering, our own death vs. the suffering or death of another person? When we hear about someone's death, we would feel sad, but how long will that feeling last? When our beloved ones leave us, for that moment, we might think we can't live on without them, but we do go ahead with our lives without them. Is it possible to look at one's own death just as we look at the death of a stranger, a tree, or a dog? What makes us think we are indispensable; our existence is the most important? What makes us think that the process of our natural decaying is unbearable? Have we ever got any guarantee that process from "have" to "have-not" does not involve physical pain, mental agony, anger, depression, sense of loss, and many other feelings? Maybe all these are the nature of the process and we got to learn to experience them to the fullest? I think only until we overcome this sense of self-center and self-ego, can we look at this process from a more objective perspective and learn something positive from it.
More to come if you don't feel too offensive so far and take care.
May Lein Ho