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June 24, 2007


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If there is a concern with death, it may be useful to enquire, 'What is there to die?' Obvious answers would be, 'whatever is born' or, 'only what is called 'matter' can be subject to birth and death.'

Birth and death, actually two sides of the same coin, are only apparently separated as a result of their conceptual extension in space and time. But that is only the ideation process of mind in the dream of life. Apart from ideation, what could there be to be born or to die? A concept? A thought?

Infinitesimal mnemonic impressions misconstrued as the subject of their objectivity is all that the ego is. What is prior to this dualistic process of thought and ideation? Can THIS be born? Can THIS die?

It may or may not be the case that there is nothing after death for the deceased. We don't know, but we choose to believe whatever gives us "warm and fuzzies."

But to say that death does not affect the living, or that the dead do not exist, is patently absurd. The foundational concerns of religion, philosophy, government, insurance- all of these have an underlayment of death.

All societies respond to the emotional states of their constituents. The preferrence for being as opposed to non-being is strong, regardless of the intellectual recognition that birth and death are but maya.

This present life-dream ceases, but being what we are, devoid of the tiniest fraction of objectivity, we will continue manifesting as usual. A new day, a new game to play.

One might say, "What do you mean that I am not an object? Here I am!"

Try to find this subjectivity that you turn inside out into the object you perceive as 'you'. Nothing there. Can't be done.

Look, I know what I am saying is just a mind game. It is an attempt at pointing to an intuition, an apperception arrived at when free of the usual mental processes.

When understanding dawns, beware of the mind grasping in its habitual way...Oh, that's it!..and poof, its gone. Just when you think you see it, it vanishes. I don't know how many times that has happened. Don't grasp, just ride with it.

Hello Brian:
I kind of admire you viewing the Body Worlds 3; some years ago I would have been able to, with intense interest and curiosity but no longer. People I see, I see skeletons, visualising internal organs working away, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, arteries of rivers of red liquid - never seen. The innocence of new-borns I find terrifying with their knowledge of death still to come. Yes, as you, when I was a satsangi, I became filled with un-fear; now, I have attacks of the full and complete awareness of death; the terror and horror of not existing; the finality; the end of everything; nothing, ever and ever again; our brief duration behind which lie centuries of millions of humans who all perished against their will. Of late I find myself repeating incessantly: "Though he slays me, yet I have my trust in him" - can't recall the author.
I repeat this because of there's nothing (and all evidence, logic and reason points to this beyond-terrible fact) then it won't matter, I shall know no-thing.
My partner hasn't the foggiest idea of my utterances and distressful timrs : he simply dismisses death as inevitable and enjoys every moment. Perhaps he is what William James would have said - mentally healthy-minded.
Aren't we all strange? Each one of us.
Very occasionally when I cannot bear this concentrated thinking on non-being, it drops away to be replaced by a kind of joyful feeling that nothing matters; that whatever happens it simply doesn't matter one iota but these times are rare. What treasure when this does occur.
Anyway, Brian, good on you and Laurel for attending this Body Worlds.

Replying to the last post.
It might sound silly, but concentrated thinking of non-being (or in other words, constants flow of thousands of thoughts) followed by joyful feeling that nothing matters...this sounds serious. Have you ever been diagnosed with any anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder? This is what overdose of spirituality does to you..

Trying not to be elitist in my deformation of spirituality, I find that the flipping in and out of direct experience and the reflection on that experience is all that educates me to the now.

To avoid the pitfalls of the exclusionary "in-group, out-group" I try to account for who is here now, not how I would rather they are.

No mind! No mind tricks! No mind treats!

Unnamed commenter, who's afraid of death, I don't think you're odd at all. Or if you are, I'm pretty much right there with you, so you've got company.

You've been able to see death for what it likely is: The End. (Maybe it isn't, but there's no real evidence of life after death.)

That's a gift, a blessing. If used correctly. You've gotten a glimpse of nothingness. Perhaps this will make the something of the life you're living now more vivid, more lively, more precious.

Most people deny death. They rationalize it away. They play verbal mind games: "I'm not afraid of dying; it's just a transition to a better place." (I like to respond: "OK, then why don't you shoot yourself, if it's so wonderful?")

You're honest. You're looking into the void. Zen practitioners spend a lifetime getting to the place you're in naturally.

All I can suggest is this: remain open to that "nothing matters" intuition you mentioned in your comment. It could be a door to another way of perceiving death.

I've gotten glimpses of that opposite side of fear and trembling. I'm not there yet. But it seems like a good place to be.

I'm a high risk for cancer. My grandmother, my mother and my eldest sister all died of beast cancer in their 40's: I'm 42. My father died of pancreatic cancer, my grandfather from stomach cancer. I have 2 other sisters who have also been treated for cancer. Or I might die of a heart attack, the other big killer in my family. Or I might get run over by a bus.

I think about death a lot. Recently I said to my husband that if I do get cancer, I'm not sure I'll opt for treatment. There is no real evidence that treatment works. Survival rates for treated and untreated cancer are about the same. And I have a horror of being prodded and poked by doctors, too much attachment to my body I guess. All I witnessed with my family were extensive and painful treatments that served to deteriorate the quality of their lives. And despite the treatment they knew they were still dying.

I think I'm more frightened of pain than death. I kind of like the Epicurean way of looking at it all.

Dear Brian,

Your statement that "...there's no real evidence of life after death" (above) seems inconsistent with the "enlightenment" of tao and Tucson Bob asserting that "awareness" will continue after the dissolution of one's separate and individual ego. Does the seeming difference lie only in your choices of different modes of expression?

Robert Paul Howard

In my longish posting on my terror of death I omitted to sign same.
Elizabeth Wagner
Thanks for response postings.

Robert Paul Howard,

You stated: "...seems inconsistent with the "enlightenment" of tao and Tucson Bob asserting that "awareness" will continue after the dissolution of one's separate and individual ego."

Please do get your facts and interpretations correct about what I have indicated. Please don't assume that I hold such views.

Fyi, I do not propose any such "enlightenment"... nor do I assert that awareness "will continue after the dissolution of one's separate and individual ego."

I will only say that awareness does not depend upon ego, as ego is merely only thought, as a superimposed identity.

However, whether or not awareness exists prior to birth or subsequent to physical death, remains to be seen. This question also depends, more or less, upon just how awareness is defined.

Awareness is just another word. Words just circumscribe it..call it the void or noumenon, but that won't help. Phenomena come and go, but this thing that is not an 'it' persists precisely because it isn't.

That doesn't make sense?

This isn't something you comprehend. It can be seen but it can't be known.

I'm not trying to come off as some inscrutable sage. I just write down what comes up for whatever it is or isn't worth, probably more of benefit to me than anyone else. But then, who else could there be but I?

I wonder if the people who donated their bodies for medical purposes at death would have reconsidered if they knew they would be posed in various demeaning and silly postures with their skin stripped off and organs on display!

Dear tao and Tucson Bob,

Gentlemen, thank you for your effort(s) to correct my misinterpretation(s). I do not desire to misprepresent the "views" of either of you. I have not achieved, however, the "see[i]n[g]" - in any clear way, at any rate - of what TB indicates cannot be "comprehend[ed]." My habits of mind/(awareness) still tend very much toward the "gnostic" habits of "knowing"/"thinking" - even if such effort is quite askew. While you may neither desire to be "inscrutable," your efforts to indicate what "persists" (which cannot properly be indicated by "words") when the specificity of "[p]henomena" is bypassed, is still referred to on this blog by means of words. "I"/"we" are stuck with this situation.

If you would answer, tao, I ask (and I regret that it must be in/with words): what is the "superimposed identity" of the "thought" of "ego" superimposed upon? I understand it to be "awareness" (of a "non-egoic" a priori). Kindly try to correct me if I am in error.

Secondly - and despite the hardship of laboring with "words"/"thoughts" - might you offer any "enlightenment" to me on "how awareness is defined" - particularly since that seems to be what lies beyond definition to begin with. (And further, tao, I have appreciated as much of your referred-to papers as I have thusfar gotten through. I do intend to pursue the others.)

Again, gentlemen, thank you.

Robert Paul Howard

Dear RPH,
I think you are struggling too much with this. Avoid straining with the mind. Relax. Just be present in the present as you go about your activities.

I recommend a cute, very readable, very insightful Zen cartoon book called "The Upside Down Circle" by Zen Master Gilbert about a bloodhound, Unk, who seeks enlightenment.

I was trying to find the same quote and the closest I could get was to the original text where the passage came from. I happens to be the Letter to Menoeceus and it is available in the following link:
Hope it helps

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