Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Belief, part 4. Death and life

Life, death.

I recently left a comment at Random Thoughts asking Stuart his view on knowing death when I'm dead. The reason I asked him was because I recently watched some You Tube video of him describing a movie he had seen (Zen Noir) in which a man had an exchange with a zen master:

Man: What happens when we die?
Zen master: Don't know.
Man: Why not?
Zen master: Not dead yet.

So, I asked Stuart, if, when I die, would I know what being dead was?

His reply certainly raises other questions. "If it happened once it can happen again," but that doesn't mean it will.

On the other hand, some things are only meant to happen once. Imagine someone saying: "I don't know what is wrong with this match, it worked just fine a minute ago."

Not that I mind one way or the other. I was just wondering what the zen master might perceive once he did die. Would he perceive death?

I suppose he could, given one's interpretation of 'perceive.'

But my meaning is more along the lines of, would I know I was dead (like sometimes someone can perceive that they are dreaming). I guess maybe I would have to find out when I get there.

From the viewpoint of being alive, we usually think death is like when a computer gets powered off. Nothing happens, no awareness, unable to respond. But since we haven't been there with the same awareness with which we have had when we are alive, and probably won't when the time comes, we cannot know it in the same way we know we are alive.

There are infinite possibilities, too. There are plenty of stories, hypotheses, belief systems, etc., about that state. Since all purport to be the truth but all contradict each other, should we even pay attention to them?

If we consider death similar to what we are before we are alive, as in Stuart's post, then we must first question who or what we are before we were born.

In some systems, people are said to be reborn. For me, if I cannot remember a previous life, what good is it to be reborn? If I cannot remember a previous life, what difference does it make if I was alive in a previous lifetime or not?

(Continued, maybe.)


Stuart said...

> if I cannot remember a previous life, what
> good is it to be reborn?

It's cool that you phrased the question as "what good is it..." That magic word "good" always means that there's an implicit assumption; I only call something "good" if it gets "me" what I want. The issue is complicated by the little fact that we don't know what this "me" is.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like my entire philosophical underpinning comes from Salvia Divinorum... when I first smoked Salvia, it was very little known. The most amazing part of the experience for me was that less than a minute after smoking it, I found myself in this remarkable state of consciousness. It actually felt completely ordinary, with one nagging exception: I'd completely lost all memory of existing or ever having existed as a separate "individual."

Thing is, when I talked and read about other Salvia pioneers, they often described the experience as "death and rebirth." I had no idea what they were talking about, since it had never made me think of death. Then I realized that the experience that others were calling "death" was likely the same as what I was calling "losing all memory."

If we desire reincarnation, it's because we want this "self" to survive. But what is this self constructed of? It's dependent on memory. I string memories together to make a "self," and then hope for it to somehow be substantial, something that will endure.

Who knows, maybe it's possible in rare cases to get reborn and maintain memories of the previous life. Maybe it's possible to do this repeatedly for tens of thousands of lifetimes. But eventually, all memories, like all things, return to emptiness. So all these ideas of self, built on memory, will ultimately return to zero.

The interesting part of the equation is examining this desire for the self-idea to be lasting and substantial. The examination may have medicinal value (removal of suffering), while the actual striving for a substantial self is an effort absolutely doomed to failure.


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