The other week I went along to a talk at a Buddhist centre. A good friend of mine goes regularly (he is not a Buddhist) and encouraged me to attend. The first surprise was the turnout. Whilst not being a great crowd estimator I reckon there were a good 150 people in the centre, which is tucked away in a suburban back street.
The session is divided into two parts. First is a half hour meditation. Given this was on a Friday evening, doing a meditation at the end of the week is one good way to relieve some of the stress that builds up. The second part was a talk given by one of the monks.
This was not a sermon and there was no attempt made to convert anyone. Necessarily there was a request for donations but even this was very low key and there was no implied sense of obligation.
The monk gave a talk on a subject, which is rarely discussed-death. This got me thinking. What follows below are my interpretations of his comments and other people will have a different take. And for the record I am not a Buddhist.
He observed that Buddhists were the experts on death as they did it many times due to their belief in re-incarnation. This separated them from other religions that felt you only lived once. Interesting point.
He went on to make two very valid observations. Firstly that death is not avoidable–sounds obvious but so much effort goes into “saving lives” which is a nicer way of saying deferring death. The other logical follow on is that death should be expected rather than be a surprise.
Now immediately people will argue that death is often a surprise because it was not expected. The best example of this would be traumatic death on the road, other trauma or suicide. Yet the reverse way of looking at it was that the death was expected-only the time and place were not known.
Recently there has been publicity about the death by suicide of a prominent Perth person. Each year there are around 2000 suicides in Australia. The true number may be higher as some single vehicle road deaths may well be suicides but are classed as part of the road toll. This number has not altered materially over the last 20 years.
No doubt when a life ends suddenly those left behind are shocked, sad and bereaved. Yet in reality the only surprise was the time rather than the fact itself. We know that we will all die-we just do not know when. Suicide underlines this point, as it is the only instance when the individual chooses the time and place of death. Is it this fact, which is confronting?
The problem is compounded by coronial systems, which work on the premise, that when someone dies there has to be a reason and someone to blame. In cases of murder or suspicious circumstances that is fine. But the logical extension of this thinking is that if something had not been done “wrong” the person would still be alive. And hence if we could eliminate all these errors people would live forever. Clearly that is NOT the case and will never be so.
The other interesting observation made by the monk is that if we believed in multiple lives then the race to get everything done goes away. There would be no more bucket lists. As he said you do not have to see the Great Wall of China this life. Do it next time-it will still be there. That is certainly a different way of looking at things.
Increasingly we all hurry in this world. There is so much to do and time flies. Governments cash in on this as motorists speed to their destination oblivious to the journey. Yet the final destination in life is death. Our life then needs to be about the journey and not the destination. In fact many go to extraordinary lengths to try and avoid their destination ultimately to no avail.
It is always worthwhile to hear views and ideas, which are different to your own. I plan to return for further evenings to have my ideas challenged and get different perspectives on life and death.