Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Significance of Death

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for Rena Bass-Forman,  a friend and client of my wife's.

Rena died not too long after my sister in November 2011.

 This space serves, as it always has, as a public window into what are often private thoughts on work and life—my own notebook, as it were. Consequently, readers are offered glimpses into places where I ponder, largely for myself, inner questions that aren't so easily resolved. One can barely say what a deep personal contact with death is like—it opens inner parts we simply do not understand.

I don't appreciate how terribly difficult it is to get this body I am in. I take it for granted, as though it popped up out of nowhere, belongs to me, and is mine to do with exactly as I please. I treat other people and the planet in the same way. I have no idea of what it costs to get here.

The Buddhists certainly understand this question; Dōgen used to remark that the body is very difficult to obtain. And Gurdjieff said that man must be perpetually aware of the fact of his own death.

Do we see that our very existence depends on trillions upon trillions of deaths? Our arising has come about only as a direct result of an uncountable number of organisms that arose on this planet and have gone before us, from the first proto-cellular organisms up through a chain of evolution that is still being unraveled. (Recommended rereading: Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale.)

 Every one of those organisms was a real creature, no matter how fantastic and removed from us they seem when we see them as skeletons in museums. And every single one of them had a real death, a death that, for them, was no less painful, difficult, and no less of a struggle that it is for any other organism. Death is real for every creature, and it is always the very highest price to pay—and it is always paid.

So what right do I have to take the fact of this life so cavalierly?

 When Gurdjieff spoke of the sorrow of His Endlessness, and the responsibility of every living creature to take on a portion of this burden, he was not speaking lightly. God fully understands the temporal nature of his creation, and feels in its entirety the pain and suffering of every life and every death in the universe. Indeed, because God encompasses everything—because everything emanates from the Dharma, exists in the Dharma, and cannot return to the Dharma, because in fact it never leaves the Dharma—God's pain and suffering is as universal, real, and eternal as death itself. Conquering the merciless Heropass did not come free. Death is the price that was paid for creation.

Take a look at that idea and keep it alive the next time you see the image of Christ on the cross. That image is no casual image; instead of seeing it as an unpleasant visual manifestation of a negative religion in a pained world, try to take it in as a fact. A plain fact. This image is trying to say something to us that we are collectively ignorant of. Many people squirm away from it—no one likes to be reminded of reality.

The universe is created out of love, and supported through mercy. Nonetheless, in the midst of these enormously positive forces, which have a compassion beyond absolutely anything we could possibly imagine—it's quite impossible to overemphasize this—a deep and abiding grief which can never be assuaged penetrates everything.

It is not just the grief of sorrow and loss; it is also a grief of joy and creation, because all of these forces must exist together. We cannot have just one or two of them; sorrow and joy can't exist without one another; neither can loss and creation. And consciousness is what unifies them.

 The sensing of all the parts, if it is infused with what is necessary for man's development, can bring a moment in a human being that helps us see this in a real and organic way, not just according to philosophies.

 Then maybe a true respect for this life arises, but until then, there is nothing there except an underlying, unstated, and egoistic contempt, that lurks underneath everything, poisoning it—

no matter how vigorously we assert that we are not like that.

 I respectfully hope you will take good care.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your sharing this with us. I would add that life is very short. I feel like I am almost ready to begin, but now at 67 I am just not as strong and energetic as I was...when I wasted it.

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