by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Help for Fear

No bodhisattva who is a real bodhisattva clings to the idea of an ego entity, a personality, a being, or a separated individuality.

--The Diamond Sutra
translated by A. F. Price (slightly paraphrased)

A Message of Hope

In the Foreword to How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (entitled "Kensho" in the first edition), Rev. Master makes it very clear that she sees a great similarity between her experience of kensho and the experiences described by people whose bodies have briefly undergone clinical death and then been revived. And she expresses very clearly her hope that more people will share with others their experience of what happens spiritually at the time of death:

"In a day and age when far too many people are terrified of death, perhaps far too few are willing to admit to what they, themselves have experienced when brought back from the door of death and far too many are afraid of what the medical profession and others will say if they speak of their experiences. If those who have experienced these things speak out, much fear can be removed, much joy can be experienced and much grief prevented. For these reasons I wish to share with the reader this great experience."

In publishing How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, Rev. Master very deliberately took the risk of being doubted and criticized in order to help people approach death with faith rather than despair, and with certainty of the Love of the Eternal rather than terror. And she encouraged others who were able to speak about death from actual experience to take the same risk in the service of the same compassionate purpose.

Fear of Death

It is important to distinguish between the natural fear of death and the terror that is the consequence of deluded views. The former helps living beings pay attention to, and avoid, genuine threats to their survival. The latter is a form of suffering that signals the presence of great spiritual, rather than physical, need.

Body and mind are impermanent. To insist that body and mind, or any part or aspect of body or mind, can constitute an enduring refuge is to cling to the illusion of "a self within the senses." This clinging to the illusion of self is the cause of the terror of death. The cure for this clinging is to let go of the illusory self and surrender to the True Self--the Buddha Nature, which is not born and does not die.

How to Grow a Lotus Blossom shows a human being consciously and deliberately choosing to do exactly that letting go of the illusory self and surrendering to the True Self. Stories of near-death experiences show people encountering, with varying degrees of preparedness, the Light of the Eternal (the True Self) at the moment of death.--The central message of both descriptions--one of kensho, the other of the near-death experience--is the same: there is a true and enduring Refuge, an Infinite Love that waits for us and welcomes us when we turn toward It in childlike trust.

When It is Good

To wilfully and unnecessarily cut off the life of any living being is a tragic mistake with serious consequences. On the other hand, to wilfully and unnecessarily attempt to prolong life and avoid death is also a tragic mistake with serious consequences. The former mistake denies the Buddha Nature of life; the latter denies the Buddha Nature of death.

There is a time when it is good to live, and there is a time when it is good to die. Similarly, there is a time when it is good to help others live, and there is a time when it is good to allow others to die. How can we discern when it is good to do one thing and when it is good to do another?

The Eternal points the way. If we turn toward the Eternal for help in all matters of real need in our life, we will have got important practice for doing it when we are approaching death, and when those who we love are approaching death. This is a major incentive for meditating.

Self-Judgment and Acceptance

Rev. Master sometimes cautioned, "Do not see evil where evil does not exist." There is no part of human life in which this is more important than in the attitude that we take toward death and dying. The inability to accept death with an upward-looking mind and heart often contributes to those despairing acts of self-judgment that form the dark core of the hardest knots of spiritual need.

If we view death as the purposeless extinction of life, then we are more likely to despair at the prospect of our own death or the death of someone we love. And if we then hold ourselves responsible for the manifestation of this purposeless extinction, we drop the hammer of self-judgment upon ourselves and send the wheel of suffering careening off into dark and anguished grief and self-reproach.

Neither life nor death is purposeless, and death is not mere extinction.We do not have to romanticize death in order to accept it: it is enough to "allow the sight of the dead to enter consciousness" and bow.

The fact that life is impermanent is a constant reminder that life is precious, and that it is a spiritual opportunity that should not be wasted. Death is not just the end of life: it is a continuation within change in which further spiritual opportunities manifest naturally. Therefore, the whole of our life is a preparation for dying in the finest way of which we are capable.


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