Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Anybody Gets: On Consciousness at Death

From "Chapter 3" of Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

This week's tenet is a bit of a head scratcher at first. I apologize ahead of time if I can't explain it to you sufficiently, but I have linked to the usual sources which helped me and will (I hope) help you.
The mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.
Huh what? I know that "mahayana" means "great vehicle." I also assume that the five strengths are the ones that I researched for last week's post, but when I first read this tenet I felt as stupid about Buddhism as I did when I first started this blog. Not the end of the world, but not a comfortable feeling.

Next, as I always do, I turned to I felt even more confused after reading what that website has to say on this teaching. The translation they have is odd: "The five forces are the mahayana instructions for dying. Posture is important." (Source.) And their explanatory paragraph is even weirder:
"The same five as in the previous point, summary of essential instructions, but the order is changed to counteract the reactions that arise as you die: virtuous seeds to counteract denial, dedication to counteract anger, regret to counteract bargaining, momentum to take you through despair, and training to facilitate acceptance."
Isn't living the same as dying? It also seems that they brought Kubler-Ross' stages of grief into the discussion, so which is the Buddhist thought and which isn't? 

At this point in my research and reading, I was starting to feel desperate for a clear explanation. I'm so thankful I found the Tricycle series by Lief. If all else fails, I know I'll get sense from her writings about Lojong. That's exactly what happened this time. In fact, I sighed with audible relief after reading what she's written about this teaching. Lief discusses how the previous tenet was about living and this one is about dying, but she boils it down further and points out that it's really about fear.

I think I was initially confused because death isn't one of my big fears. It's not a comfortable thought, no, but there are things in the here & now that scare me way more than death. Like Neil Gaiman's Death, from "The Sandman" series, says in that quote up above - we all get a lifetime, after all. But even if we aren't all afraid of death, we all have our fears. This blog is at the edge of my comfort level for public sharing, so I'm not going to go into detail about what scares me more than dying. Instead I'm going to share Lief's advice for working with this tenet:
"Spend some time contemplating the things that make you afraid, and how you react. Contemplate times you are in pain, and how you deal with it. Notice whatever causes you to lose your mindfulness. Determine to hold the perspective of mindfulness and compassion even in the midst of fear, pain, or dying."
Being mindful about the things that take me out of mindfulness? Wow, that's going to be hard - but it will be worth it if I can get there. So that's what I'll be doing this week.

Until next time, namaste and all that. 

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