In Not only Buddhists, but also Western mystics, point to the importance of death to open us up beyond the limitations of what we consider to be our self:
“No one gets so much of God as the man who is completely dead.” -St. Gregory
“The Kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead.” -Meister Eckhart
“We are in a world of generation and death, and this world we must cast off.” -William Blake
Even though it’s instinctual for us to love life and hate death, this drive inhibits our ability to see clearly. What would it be like if we started perceiving the world in terms of life-death instead of viewing birth and death as separate phenomena? The paradox is that these two opposites are interdependent as all opposites are: there is no life without death and no death without life. We have created this dualism based on our instinctual drive to survive. Can it really be un-created or deconstructed?
Zen master Bankei suggests that it can:
“When you dwell in the Unborn itself, you’re dwelling at the very wellspring of Buddhas and patriarchs.”
And Dogen said “We discriminate between life and death in order to affirm one and deny the other…that’s the problem.”
But what’s the solution to this problem? There’s really only one- immediate experience-experience in which there is no mediator. Even Buddhist teachings, ritual, and meditation may serve as mediators which block this way of being. Each may also provide the environment which allows us to live with immediacy, but that’s the most they can do.
Can we let go of the entire structure of our beliefs and experience our moments with no mediator? The Heart Sutra, which is chanted most mornings at Zen temples throughout the world, says Yes. After deconstructing all Buddhist beliefs in the first three quarters of the piece since, as the sutra says, all forms are empty, we wake up (bodhi) to an unfettered and immediate joy (svaha). And this waking up is not to life or death but to life-death.
Most religion is preoccupied with what happens after death. That’s why there’s so much focus on heaven, hell, purgatory, bardo realms and reincarnation in the world’s major religions. But this focus is totally irrelevant, since there is nothing more or less than life/death, death/life, life/death.
As Lao Tsu reminds us, “Ordinary people do not see that life and death are one process, both present in each single occurrence. Humans appear and disappear, but the life force burns forever.”
We can only do this through letting go completely of Tim, Tom, Patricia, or Pamela, as mediators of our experience.
But this does not mean that we no longer experience normal emotions, since as the Heart Sutra says, not only are forms empty, emptiness is form. This emptiness takes certain forms, for example, Tim, Tom, Patricia, and Pamela.
After his baby died, the Buddhist teacher Issa wrote the following haiku:
the dewdrop world
is the dewdrop world
and yet, and yet
Grief, joy, sadness, happiness are quite wonderful when they are experienced without dissecting them through thought. William Blake said, “Eternity is in love with a piece of sand.”
If this is true so much more is eternity in love with our happiness and grief.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher