Dying Responsibly.

Via Don Dianda
on Nov 2, 2012
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Our society spends an exorbitant amount of money on the last few weeks of life.

The numbers are so astronomical that they take away from programs for children and education—the very engines of a healthy, productive society and then saddle the living with growing debt. I understand supporting life and living out our days to the fullest potential, but must we have a war with the inevitable, with death?

(See this 60 Minutes article: The Cost f Dying.)

What if, as a culture, we were okay with dying?

What if we were strong enough when the time comes to just let go instead of passing the bill to the next generation? Some might call it the highest form of patriotism, but I think it is an action of claiming a fundamental part of life: its ending.

This isn’t some ploy to get ride of annoying in-laws or to create those infamous “death panels” that make conservatives shudder, it is a personal decision—one rooted in faith: whether it is a Zen master’s faith in the moment and the mind, naturally releasing his life force in the midst of meditation when he is ready, or a devout believer who is prepared to pass into the next celestial realm, together they constitute a peaceful, natural ending.

The San people, our closest common ancestors who still inhabit the harsh Kalahari Desert in Africa, sit with their elderly and then leave them with a fire in a fortified enclosure to pass into the night, to meet the gods and compost into the soil that nourished them throughout their lives. I don’t see this as good or bad, just natural.

Tibetan lamas have been known to sit with corpses while they decompose under the sun. This practice isn’t disgusting, though it gives me the heebee geebees, it is a real and profound recognition of our common human fate. We might learn a thing or two about reality and necessary boundaries from our ancestors. It isn’t a science equation, just wisdom.

We can have a war on drugs, a war on terrorism, a war on poverty (though we might want to re-approach how we deal with these issues), but let’s not have a war on death. We’re not going to win that one. It could be interesting to reclaim the very thing that makes what is new, fresh and bright possible—death—and then learn a thing or two about the life that is here.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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About Don Dianda

Don Dianda is the author of “See for your Self: Zen Mindfulness for the Next Generation.” Through meditation, daily mindfulness practice, and individual koan work, Dianda seeks to shed light on the inherently deep connection one can have with the experience of this life as well as the world one moves through. Stepping into the now and recognizing the movements within the mind is where the path begins… See more at: http://redwoodzen.blogspot.com/


5 Responses to “Dying Responsibly.”

  1. […] This is a day to celebrate our dead. […]

  2. Padma Kadag says:

    Because even when we think we wil live forever we die. Because death never comes expectedy. Because even when those around us tell us that we are dying we know better and will hang on for as long as we can, most of the time by any means possible. Because we live our lives in fear so we die in fear. Though masters tell us what happens after death we have not incorporated it into our daily lives so at death our intellectualzations dissolve and we are left with no real wisdom to rely upon and regret and fear set in. The means to prolong the life of a dying person will not dissappear. Because we tell each other when a loved one dies that "they are in a better place beyond al of the pain and heartache"….are they? How do you know? Tell me Don…what happens after this death you wish for all of us to go peacefully towards?

  3. Don says:

    Hi Padma,
    I know this is a touchy subject and I respect all your points. Of course, facing death is one of the most difficult and profound moments in life (ironically) and it is anything but easy. I would first answer your numerous "because-s" with this: no master has ever told us what happened after death unless you believe in stories about an afterlife. In fact, one of my favorite exchanges is between a Zen master and his pupil. When the master is asked, "What will happen to me when we die?!" He responded, "How am I supposed to know when I'm sitting here with you!" Stories aside, I do not think it is responsible for me, when I am ninety years old and feeling the end of my days are near, to spend a million dollars on prolonging my life by 4 weeks. It just isn't responsible. Now of course you don't have to agree with me at all, and you can fight it off until the bitter end, but I think we should be addressing this topic more as a society.

  4. Kim says:

    Wow, it's amazing how we fight off the end so much, though I completely understand. I think fundamentally, it comes down to being ok with the unknown and appreciating the time we have. Best to meditate and cultivate an inner sense of equanimity. Thank you for shedding more light on this topic.

  5. Padma Kadag says:

    Don, I agree with you that we should give this more attention. I think that if you live an unfulfilled life whether you are 90 or not, death becomes something to fear and therefore you will want to prolong your life. Because someone does happen to die peacefully does this guarantee that they are in some other place which is peaceful? Your economical point is completely right on. But even there, the industry of medicine is there to provide technology for those who request it, though hospitals do provide life sustaining methods as a matter of course. The Tibetan tradition has extensive teachings of the Bardo states. Explanations on what to expect when one's consciousness sheds the corporeal body. I attended a catholic mass for a young man who commited suicide. The Priest stated that this young man was now in heaven far from any confusion and suffering. It is no wonder there is such money being made around death when fairy tales and no need for responsibilty in life is so prevalent.