Dying is Absolutely Safe
As someone who is fast approaching the end of life, I can honestly say that I am neither afraid nor troubled by the thought of dying.
Dying is Absolutely Safe (Part I)
There is a tombstone in Ashby, Massachusetts that reads, “Remember friend, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare yourself to follow me.”
Something has happened to me as a result of meandering through many realms of consciousness over the past fifty years that has changed my attitude toward death. A lot of the fear about death has gone from me. I am someone who actually delights in being with people as they are dying. It is such incredible grace for me. In the morning, if I know I am going to be with such a person, I get absolutely thrilled because I know I am going to have an opportunity to be in the presence of Truth.
It is now becoming acceptable in our culture for people to die. For many decades, death was kept behind closed doors. But now we are allowing it to come out into the open. Having grown up in this culture, the first few months I spent in India in the 1960’s were quite an experience. There, when someone dies, the body is placed on a pallet, wrapped in a sheet, and carried through the streets to the burning grounds while a mantra is chanted. Death is out in the open for everyone to see. The body is right there. It isn’t in a box. It isn’t hidden. And because India is a culture of extended families, most people are dying at home. So most people, as they grow up, have been in the presence of someone dying. They haven’t walked away from it and hidden from it as we have in the West.
I was certainly one of the people in this culture who hid from death. But over the past few decades I have changed dramatically. The initial change came as a result of my experiences with psychedelic chemicals. I came into contact with a part of my being that I had not identified with in my adult life. I was a Western psychologist, a professor at Harvard, and a philosophical materialist. What I experienced through psycheldelics was extremely confusing, because there was nothing in my background that prepared me to deal with another component of my being. Once I started to experience myself as a “Being of Consciousness” – rather than as a psychologist, or as a conglomerate of social roles, the experience profoundly changed the nature of my life. It changed who I thought I was.
Prior to my first experience with psychedelics, I had identified with that which dies – the ego. The ego is who I think I am. Now, I identify much more with who I really am – the Soul. As long as you identify with that which dies, there is always fear of death. What our ego fears is the cessation of its own existence. Although I didn’t know what form it would take after death – I realized that the essence of my Being – and the essence of my awareness – is beyond death.
The interesting thing to me at the time was that my first experience with psychedelics was absolutely indescribable. I had no concepts to apply to what I was finding in my own being. Aldous Huxley gave me a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As I read it, I was amazed to find myself reading lucid, clearly articulated descriptions of the very experiences I was having with psychedelics. It was immensely confusing to me because The Tibetan Book of the Dead is 2500 years old. I had thought, in 1961,that I was at the leading edge of of the unknown. But here was an ancient text which revealed that Tibetan Buddhists already knew – 2500 years ago – everything I had just learned.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead was used by Tibetan Buddhist lamas to read to fellow lamas as they were dying, and for forty-nine days after their death. Tim Leary, Ralph Metzner, and I began to see the Book in metaphorical terms as the story of psychological death and rebirth, even though it was originally intended as a guide through the process of physical death and rebirth. I now think that the idea of dying and being born into truth, or wisdom, or spirit is really what our business is when we talk about death. When you extricate yourself from the solid identification with your body, you begin to have the spaciousness to allow for the possibility that death is a part of the process of life – rather than the end of life. I feel this very deeply.
People ask, “Do you believe that there is continuity after death?” And I say, “I don’t believe it. It just is.” That offends my scientific friends no end. But belief is something you hold on to with your intellect. My faith in the continuity of life has gone way beyond the intellect. Belief is a problem because it is rooted in the mind, and in the process of death, the mind crumbles. Faith, consciousness, and awareness all exist beyond the thinking mind.
I have a friend named, Emmanuel. Some of you have met him through his books. He is a spook, a being of Light that has dropped his body. Emmanuel shares a lot of great wisdom. He is like an uncle to me. I once said to him, “Emmanuel, I often deal with the fear of death in this culture. What should I tell people about dying?”And Emmanuel said, “Tell them it’s absolutely SAFE!” He said, “It’s like taking off a tight shoe.”
In the past, what I endeavored to do in partnership with Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Dale Borglum, and Bodhi Be (Sufi friend of mine) is to create spaciousness around death. We had different programs like the Dying Hot Line on which people could call and have a kind of pillow talk with people who would help them stay conscious through the process of dying. We also – back in the early Eighties – had a Dying Center in New Mexico. My model was that I knew being with people who were dying would help me deal with my own fear of death in this lifetime.
....Continued in Part II.....
Dying is Absolutely Safe (Part II)
In the Theravadan Buddhist traditions, they send monks out to spend the night in the cemetery, where the bodies are thrown out uncovered for the birds to eat. So the monks sit with the bloated, fly-infested corpses, and the skeletons, and they get an opportunity to be fully aware of all of the processes of nature. They have the opportunity to watch their own disgust and loathing, and their fear. They have a chance to see the horrible Truth of what “as I am now so you must be” really means. Seeing the way the body decays, and meditating on the decay opens you to the awareness that there is a place in you that has nothing to do with the body – or the decay.
That combination led me, as early as 1963, to start to work with dying people and to be available to them. I am not a medical doctor. I’m not a nurse. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not an ordained priest. But what I can offer to another human being is the presence of a sacred, spacious environment. And I can offer them love. In that loving spaciousness they have the opportunity to die as they need to die. I have no moral right to define how another person should die. Each individual has his or her own karma – their own stuff to work out. It is not my job to say, “You should die beautifully,” or “you should die this way or that way.” I have no idea how another person should die.
When my biological mother was dying back in a hospital in Boston back in 1966, I would watch all the people come into her room. All of the doctors and relatives would say, “You are looking better, you are doing well.” And then they would go out of the room and say, “She won’t last a week.” I thought how bizarre it was that a human being could be going through one of the most profound transitions in their life, and have everyone they know, and love, and trust lying to them.
Can you hear the pain of that? No one could be straight with my mother because everyone was too frightened. Even the rabbi. Everyone. She and I talked about it and she said, “What do you think death is?” And I said, “I don’t know, Mother. But I look at you and you are my friend, and it looks like you are in a building that is burning down, but you are still here. I suspect when the building burns entirely, it will be gone, but you will still be here.” So my mother and I just met in that space.
With Phyllis, my stepmother, I was more open, and she could ask whatever she wanted to ask. I didn’t say, “Now let me instruct you about dying,” because she would not have accepted that. But then came the moment when she gave up, and she surrendered, and it was like watching an egg breaking and seeing a radiantly beautiful being emerge, and she was clear, and present, and joyful. It was a Beingness that she always at some level had known herself to be. But she had been too busy all her adult life to recognize it. Now she opened to this beautiful Being in the core of who she was, and she just basked in its radiance.
At that moment, she went into another plane of consciousness, where she and I were completely together, just Being. The whole process of dying was just moments of phenomena that were occurring. But when she surrendered, she was no longer busy dying, she was just being . . . and dying was happening.
Right at the last moment, she said, “Richard, sit me up.” So I sat her up and put her legs over the edge of the bed. Her body was falling forward, so I put my hand on her chest and her body fell back. So I put my other hand on her back. Her head was lolling around, so I put my head against her head. We were just sitting there together. She took three breaths, three really deep breaths, and she left. Now, if you read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, you will see that the way conscious lamas leave their bodies is to sit up, take three deep breaths, and then leave.
So who was my step-mother? How did she know how to do that?
Ramana Maharshi was a great Indian saint. When he was dying of cancer, his devotees said, “Let’s treat it.” And Ramana Maharshi said, “No, it is time to drop this body.” His devotees started to cry. They begged him, “Bhagwan, don’t leave us, don’t leave us!” And he looked and them with confusion and said, “Don’t be silly. Where could I possibly go?” You know, it’s almost like he was saying, “Don’t make such a fuss. I’m just selling the old family car.”
These bodies we live in, and the ego that identifies with it, are just like the old family car. They are functional entities in which our Soul travels through our incarnation. But when they are used up, they die. The most graceful thing to do is to just allow them to die peacefully and naturally – to “let go lightly.” Through it all, who we are is Soul . . . and when the body and the ego are gone, the Soul will live on, because the Soul is eternal. Eventually, in some incarnation, when we’ve finished our work, our Soul can merge back into the One . . . back into God . . . back into the Infinite. In the meantime, our Soul is using bodies, egos, and personalities to work through the karma of each incarnation.
It saddens me to read your confirmation on what I had begun to suspect.
All we can ask for when we leave this world is that those that we leave behind smile when they remember us.
I hope you and yours can find joy in the time that remains to you.
May God bless you brother diablo.
Thank you Sev,
Originally Posted by Sev
I am completely at ease with the facts of my situation.
I am one of roughly 5% of patients who are still alive without a transplant after 5 years or more of having received a diagnosis of end stage liver disease with complications from Hep C. For me that was 7 years ago and I still amaze the doctors. But now other complications are taking over and the facts are that I am not in good enough health to survive a transplant and I have developed a condition known as hepato-pulmonary syndrome, which is terminal without a liver transplant.
Trust me, I am OK and it doesn't scare me or sadden me...it is the manifestation of karma in my life and being a Buddhist I have always been aware of the the end of life.
Please forgive me if I have pissed you off, just as I forgive you for having pissed me off. I am and will always be a liberal and for that I apologize to no one.
May you always be what ever it is that suits you best, and may you always be comfortable with your choices.
BTW, did you ever try any of my recipes?
I like to think of myself as the guy with the lion! ;)
I wish you all the best. I'm very sorry our relationship went south for a while.
My dear friend,
Our relationship over the years is nothing short of amazing. We started out on truly opposite sides of the issues, and we have ended up sharing the most beautiful philosophy the world has ever known, and as fast friends.
I can truly say that I love you very much, and appreciate so much the many, many laughs you have given me both here on the forum, and in the memories and private jokes we have shared over the years.
There is no way I could ever put into mere words, how I feel about you, and if as you say, your time on earth is coming to an end, I hope you will forgive me that I can't begin to accept it, or even think about it.
I believe in miracles, with all of my heart. I have to believe that there is a miracle on the way for you.
Your friendship is something that has meant so much to me, that I cannot bear to think that you are leaving, even though I do understand everything you are saying about Buddhism, and the peace of its beauty.
Still, your continuing earthly presence, is something I cannot begin to think of losing. Nothing is going to change that for me.
Please call me if you can.
You have made a huge impact on my life. I'll never forget you, ever, and I know I will laugh every time I think about the time (That thread of yours, LOL) when you threw me the finest Coronation that any "Queen" could ever hope to have! That had to be the finest Joke between friends, ever in my life.
Sent that thread to my daughter, and she still laughs about it, and relates the story to her friends, to this day.
Call me. I'm trying to locate your phone number. I know I have it. I'll be in touch.
Sadly not as of yet. How ever your recipes are not alone in that department.
Originally Posted by DiabloViejo
I have trouble finding them on AZ as some of them are spread across several threads.
I want to ask you about the Paella recipe or was it a Bouillabaisse? 2 of my favorite dishes. However we didnt seem to be on good terms recently.
I'd still love to make it. I remember you posted other recipes that looked really good but cant remember what they are now. It will take a bit of searching on AZ. I am sure they are still there.
It would have been nice to meet you for a few beers and laugh about all the nonsense we threw at each other. :)
I started a thread for you on AZ last week. You have a lot of well wishes. Of course AZ being what it is it got slightly derailed before coming back on course.
If you like I will fill them in if you prefer not to post.
As my father approaches death in hospice at home from late stage renal failure, I had been thinking a lot about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Its English translation serves as the lyrics to an old song, Tomorrow Never Knows, from the Beatles' Revolver album. I've known about that song since it came out, but about 6 months ago I discovered there have been many cover versions of the song, and I've been collecting them. I had intended to put a play list of the best of them together and run them in a loop for him, thinking that even if he was mainly unconscious, he could still hear them (as those in comas who've recovered sometimes report). That sounded crazy, and I'd instead been advised to simply recite the lyrics, for intelligibility and the deeper connection my voice may make to his unconscious.
Then you posted this and I saw it in a moment of synchronicity. Truly our common humanity binds us in this 'play(ing) the game of existence to the end.... of the beginning... of the beginning... of the beginning...' (lyrics that end the song). Because these are the cards we're dealt with mortality-- whatever the process, the same common ending, whether heroes or villains, wise men or fools, sinners or saints.
Thank you for sharing the upcoming end of your journey here and what it means. Godspeed.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" [credited to Lennon/McCartney, but you know George Harrison was there as well]
Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream. It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. It is shining, it is shining
Yet you may see the meaning of within. It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone. It is knowing, it is knowing
And ignorance and hate may mourn the dead. It is believing, it is believing
But listen to the colour of your dreams. It is not leaving, it is not leaving
So play the game "Existence" to the end... Of the beginning, of the beginning Of the beginning, of the beginning Of the beginning, of the beginning Of the beginning, of the beginning