On Why I Am Not Afraid of Death

Duddington snow

Death is an objective reality simply because those of us who are left behind to witness the ending of a life, know that physical bodies cease to function.  This can happen naturally or unnaturally (as through illness, accident or catastrophe) but other than the objective reality, dying is an experience that each one of us must undergo on our own and my view is that it an easy task to accomplish.  I am not saying that pain or suffering is easy to endure, but only that through awareness of the various body processes shutting down, it is like gravity assisted falling off a log!  I am certainly not afraid of death as a process, and in fact I am curious as to the perceptual dynamics of the experience.  As I perceive reality as boundless space within which things appear to arise and pass away – it seems only logical that I myself will be subject to exactly the same arising and passing away.  My view is that it is a matter of not holding on to things that are not permanent and going with the experience.  Pain ends as the psycho-physical processes cease to function – this is how we know that pain is only real as long as the organic creators and perceivers of it exist and function.  When these physical organs cease to function, then they lose their abilities.  Pain can be as terrible as pleasure can be uplifting and exiting, but pain is also empty of any permanent reality.  Of course, the real challenge for many people is how to accommodate an endless pain while they are alive, and yet remain somehow ‘aloof’ of the negative effects of this pain in everyday life.  Those who suffer this pain are understandably not interested in ‘philosophising’ their condition, which by and large makes their life a misery.  I see and understand this, and respond with compassion as far as this response is useful.

I would describe myself as a secular Buddhist who pursues the Dao.  I neither believe nor disbelieve in a deity as I have no need to affirm or reject such a notion.  All I know is that those who are on the brink of death through old age, illness, warfare, or about to be murdered or executed – there has not been one single example of a ‘divine’ intervention.  People experiencing tremendous suffering, fear and pain and completely engrossed with what they are suffering, cannot see beyond the sensations and the terror.  This is the human condition.  The Buddha taught non-identification with thought.  This is interesting and the entire purpose of meditation.  Pain is an idea in the mind an emotional (chemical) feeling in the mind and body, and a sensation in the nerve fibres of the body.  It can be a response to external stimulus or generated within the body itself (in the case of illness).  Pain hurts, but the perception and awareness of the mind and body can be trained to become detached from a direct identification with its suffering.  Pain effects not only the sufferer, but also everyone in the immediate vicinity who experiences the negative behaviour stimulated by the pain.  Pain must be accommodated, transcended, penetrated and transformed into a useful existential ‘hum’.

That is pain, which seems to be a very important issue for human beings.  As for myself, I am certainly not immune to pain, but am not interested in it.  Yes pain happens from time to time, but as it is passing, I am aware that it is not permanent.  In this respect I am lucky because many people suffer all the time and never have a break from the experience.  I would say that life is mostly a neutral experience with outbreaks of pleasure and pain from time to time.  Of course, for me that could change, but the ability to stay detached whilst going through the changes of sensation is the key for me.  Death is not an issue of concern.  What is the issue is that I retain a clear and detached awareness when the body cells transition from living to non-living.  Non-living is only one way of viewing energy as it changes form.  I suspect that as energy is indestructible, there is a quality to existence that is beyond the duality of ‘living’ and ‘not living’.  This is what I see when I look into the empty fabric of my mind.  I suspect that a good transitional death is like practicing Taijiquan.  Energy will continue to flow and as my body cells die – I must change the way I sense.  Through my refinement of conscious awareness, I have dissolved the fear of death. This is a good scientific basis from which to proceed.  Awareness either goes out like a light at the point of death – or it does not – either way there is no reason to worry.  In the meantime, whilst we are all still alive it might be a good idea to help one another and relieve as much pain as possible.  Be at peace, my friends.

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