A Freight Train is Coming, Dead Ahead

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.

To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movement of a dance.

A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,

Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.

Śākyamuni, Lalitavistara Sūtra

A few days ago, received a call from someone I had not heard from in a decade.

Right then, I knew.

She was dead.

Our mutual friend of many years back, an elderly woman with several serious health conditions, had passed away.

Was I available to help sort the household items and clean out the apartment ?

“Yes, today after work.”

We were greeted by a dense infestation of German cockroaches; a myriad of roaches traversed every surface – the walls, the furniture, even your shoes if you stood still.

A large, dark brown stain on the kitchen floor indicated where the body had been found, possibly trying to reach the land line phone to call for help.

The family, all out of state,  had been contacted, and they did not want anything in the apartment.

A neighbor said she was opening a consignment shop, and some items which could be salvaged (and cleaned) went to her.

Some other books and things went for reuse.

Mostly, it was a clean up operation.

A life was over, and this was left.

I can’t imagine that this is what she had pictured the end of her life to look like.

She more than once told me that she would like to die in her sleep.

She didn’t.

If we think of death at all, how do we imagine the end of  life ?

That expectation – how realistic is it ?

Is it just a story we tell ourselves to feel better, because really, it’s too scary to face directly ?

The open eyed view,  facing the oncoming express train of death square on drove Dharma practice here forward, undeterred by life’s many distractions and disappointments.

How and when don’t matter as much as that it does come.

So, before someone is cleaning up your place and giving away your goods, what do you really want to see happen ?

How do you really want to spend whatever time remains ?

Contemplation of death here feels like contemplation well spent.

*********************************************************************

The Lalitavistara Sutra reference comes from Rigpa Wiki : http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Lalitavistara_Sutra

Cloud photo from here: http://westjuneau.com/WordPress/2008/11/12/gray-clouds/

Train photo from here: http://www.godurango.com/multimedia/photogallery.asp

In Buddhist practice, contemplation of death is highly valued. In this context, here are some links to sites which present and discuss death contemplation from Buddhist perspectives:

http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/buddhism-one-and-only-life/awakening-life-awakening-death

www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/gunaratna/wheel102.html

http://www.dharma-haven.org/tibetan/mom.htm

http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/death_jagaro.html

http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books6/Ajahn_Brahm_Contemplation_of_Death.htm

http://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/the-buddhas-teaching-when-a-beloved-disciple-passed-away/

About dominic724

A former seeker starts blogging.
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12 Responses to A Freight Train is Coming, Dead Ahead

  1. Bobbi Lurie says:

    First, thank you for your kind response re: pain last week. I am sorry I was not able to answer. (due to pain) But here is same thing: if life is a dream, insubstantial, if there is no “I” then what is the point of contemplating something we know nothing about and cannot control? To ask how we want to spend remaining time: all this is conceptualization. What will happen, will happen. To plan it otherwise is just more of the false notion of “becoming.” Contemplation of death is useless since “you” won’t be there when you die and you have no control, whatsoever, over how you will die or who will/ won’t remember you. (and why would you care if “you” are not there?) Most important: it was very kind of you to be there for your friend. What more could she have asked for than to be remembered and helped by kind and thoughtful people?

    • dominic724 says:

      Bobbi: Thank you for your comments. Here are the questions from among them listed below with some responses.

      But here is same thing: if life is a dream, insubstantial, if there is no “I” then what is the point of contemplating something we know nothing about and cannot control? To ask how we want to spend remaining time: all this is conceptualization. What will happen, will happen. To plan it otherwise is just more of the false notion of “becoming.” Contemplation of death is useless since “you” won’t be there when you die and you have no control, whatsoever, over how you will die or who will/ won’t remember you. (and why would you care if “you” are not there?)

      The function of death contemplation, in this experience, has been to develop a richer, more mature relationship with death. This process began many years ago, long before the “I” illusion evaporated. The results took numerous forms: acceptance, as with the impending death of my mother and a more realistic sense of this quickly passing life that is here now. It lead to several years of Hospice work, open-heartedly standing with the families of those close to death, serving the caretakers in any way that was needed, and keeping the dying company. It led to more valuable, clearer life choices. The most valuable spiritual practice in this life up until then was contemplation of death.

      We cannot control death, true. We can change our relationship to it, and in so doing, many other things shift as a result.

      If I do not use concepts, then what can be said ? On the flip side, experience here shows that concepts happen. As long as “we” think “we” are thinking thoughts, may as well try to work within the conceptual framework, as well as outside.

      Writing is a feeble attempt to rope the relative (concepts, and almost everything else) into the service of understanding its own ultimate nature. (the nothing that knows)

      Losing an “I” doesn’t mean that one automatically stops caring about everyone still left in the dream, surrounded by fears and anxiety and worse. Just the opposite. With less sense of confusion, there arose a wish to reach out about what happened, and how things seem to be now. Others so doing helped this “me” unravel.

      This response comes entirely from experience here. May it be of some use. If not, thank you for reading.

      • Bobbi Lurie says:

        From what you write, I think I can only answer by saying that I do not fear death.
        But I fear life.
        I don’t understand how we can change our relationship to death when there is no relationship with death.
        A “need” to “shift” is about “becoming.” How can this be, especially when speaking about death?
        I am not sure if there is a nothing that knows…? Or an “ultimate nature.”
        Losing an “I” means losing the ability to reflect on “I” as object.
        I fear losing this sense of “me”-I am writing from experience as well, wishing for words to resonate.
        Thank you for listening.

  2. Shantideva says:

    “We cannot trust the wanton Lord of Death.
    The task complete or still to do, he will not wait.
    In health or sickness, therefore, none of us can trust
    Our fleeting, momentary lives.”
    (Shantideva – The Bodhicharavatara – Ch. II – 33)
    Thank you for the reminder. It is so important to always keep in mind our impermanence. I guess, even though you are spiritually well grounded, this experience must have been very difficult for you.

    • dominic724 says:

      The Bodhicharavatara is a favorite poem here and a great classic, much appreciated.
      The sadness comes from seeing up close that anyone lived and died like she did.
      Feel it more today, perhaps after writing about it.
      There is a sort of heaviness in the center of the chest.
      It is allowed, and it will naturally dispel of its own accord.
      Thank you for your wise and thought-filled comments.

  3. Thank you for your nice posts and appreciation. I just nominated you for the ‘One lovely blog award’.

    • dominic724 says:

      Thank you Marieke. I appreciate your reading and commenting, although I prefer not to receive awards. If you find anything here useful in any way, then that’s more than enough. And if not, still, thanks to every visitor.

  4. I have been checking out your posts and I do not like this one but it is a good post to remind us not to put off things of importance too long. My mother died slow and I did not shed a tear it would have been selfish of me she was released from pain. I remembered one of the sayings she taught me and I tried to carry out in my life. Quote ” If I have something comming to me now is the time to slip it to me as I can’t read my toomstone when I am dead. It is good to be reminded.

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