DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (NOT!)

That interview about dating I just did (see post below) is on line now. click here to see it!

As most of you have heard by now, the music world lost one its great legends, a performer who changed the direction of pop music forever and influenced a generation in terms of style and sound. I’m speaking, of course, about Sky Sunlight Saxon, legendary front man and bassist for The Seeds.

Although best known for their biggest song, Pushin’ Too Hard, The Seeds were more than one-hit wonders. Sky Saxon continued to pilot various line-ups of The Seeds right up until his death on Thursday. Though they never became as famous as the people they influenced, The Seeds’ sound is clearly apparent in a host of more popular performers including Iggy Pop, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The White Stripes, Nirvana and many others.

I was the proud owner of some of Sky’s later albums on which he expanded The Seeds original pounding garage punk into brutally beautiful slabs of twisted madness, often lasting an entire LP side and consisting of just two chords that pummeled the listener into psychedelic psubmission.

In other news Farrah Fawcett Majors passed away yesterday. When I was in junior high I had her poster. You could see nipples! And I think one of the Jackson Five died too. They used to have a cartoon show. Or maybe it was one of The Osmond Brothers. I always got them confused.

Ironically, the morning of the day all this news broke I attended the cremation ceremony for a close friend of one of the people who comes to the Saturday morning Zazen classes at Hill Street Center (info to your left, I’ll see you there tomorrow!). Buddhist cremation ceremonies generally consist of some chanting, followed by covering the body with flowers, followed by some more chanting and the offering of incense. It’s a nice ceremony. Short and sweet.

The person in question happened to be a priest in another Zen organization in town. I was not there, but I was told that one of the other priests in his organization took the opportunity of his passing away to deliver a lecture about how a newly departed person searches for his or her next mother for 49 days before reincarnating. I could be mistaken about the contents of this particular lecture. But this is not at all an uncommon topic of talks following the death of a monk or Buddhist practitioner.

I get kind of annoyed when people use death as an opportunity to air all their superstitions, especially when those people airing the superstitions do so cloaked in the guise of religious authority. I know that it’s done partly as a way to ease the pain of those in mourning. But I don’t see why we need grand speculations on topics that nobody could possibly know anything about in order to comfort those in mourning.

The Universe is vast and mysterious. We know that neither matter nor energy is ever created or destroyed. The Heart Sutra says it this way, “No one is born or dies.” Those who pass away remain with us as long as we remember them. And more than that, their life never really departs from this very place because there is nowhere else to go. Beyond this, everything else is pure speculation.

I’m not convinced that it’s ultimately useful to escape into the world of fantasy after someone we know or love dies. I can understand the desire to turn away from the pain of reality. It often seems too much to cope with. I know my mom’s death in 2007 sure did — and still does sometimes. But we can never truly escape from that which is real. We can cover our eyes. But even then we’re confronted with the reality of our own covered eyes.

Too often, though, the occasion of death is taken as an excuse to indulge in fantasy. We don’t simply take a break from the pain of loss to remain quiet and absorb its lessons. We fly away into the false beauty of our imaginations. Not that imagination is a bad thing. But it isn’t good to get lost in it.

We think that reality might be more than we can handle. But I’m not certain that’s ever true. Much of the pain of grief is often fueled by imagination too. We imagine life without our loved one and speculate about how we won’t be able to cope. But such speculation is as fanciful as imagining our loved one with wings and a halo walking streets paved with gold way up high in the clouds. I don’t think we cure our pain by any kind of speculation.

We cure our pain by feeling it as it is, not adding to it and not trying to make it stop. The pain of loss is just what it is. We feel it and then we move on.

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61 Responses

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  1. PhillySteveInLA
    PhillySteveInLA June 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm |

    I feel I should say this though, as I said before, any belief system is a symbolic system for understanding that which we have a hard wrapping our minds around.
    That is why a religion of Buddhism developed. People chose the best symbolic representations of the truth for the culture and disposition of the people being taught. So the symbols represent the truth, but there is an underlying truth that is not dependent on symbols.
    A while back, the Tibetan Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche visited our Zen center and explained it like this- when you begin your practice and your mind is still clinging, you use maybe only 20% zazen type meditation(he didn't use that word, but I forget what he called it) and 80% percent visualization/conceptualization type meditation because this is all a lesser practitioner(his words) can handle.
    As you get more sure footed and you begin to see the fallacies behind the concepts, you begin to reverse the trend in your meditation until you only do about 5% conceptual meditation and 95% non-conceptual.

    Whether I agree with this entirely is another conversation, but I found it a very helpful way to look at things, as I have come through shamanic and Tibetan Nyingma practices before coming to Zen.

  2. PhillySteveInLA
    PhillySteveInLA June 29, 2009 at 3:17 pm |

    …and I'd like to apologize for posting the same thing thrice…Not really sure what happened there…

  3. Mysterion
    Mysterion June 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. PhillySteveInLA
    PhillySteveInLA June 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm |

    The Buddha never taught Buddhism.

    Most, if not all, of the scriptures are not the words of the Buddha. They are the words of his followers.
    That does not diminish their usefulness or validity. Just trying to put things in perspective.

    Sure, Buddhists all have the same goal and the core is woven through all the branches.
    However, Zen was founded as a reform movement to move away from the religious and superstitious beliefs and frooferaw that attached themselves to Buddhism. The intent was to strip it closer to it's bone of practice.
    By doing that, it separated itself from the religion of Buddhism and became a school of practice….
    And then, of course built up it's own beliefs and frooferaw eerily similar to the old, but I digress.

    I mean honestly, when you look at it in terms of practice/belief ratios, Zen actually bares a much closer resemblance to Theravada Buddhism than to any other Mahayana branch. To me, that speaks volumes.

  5. Mysterion
    Mysterion June 29, 2009 at 9:04 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. proulx michel
    proulx michel June 30, 2009 at 4:39 am |

    My observation is that all those who have endeavoured to detach Zen from Buddhism had an agenda, one which I don't like.
    Yasutani, for instance, who was a prominent exponent of that tendency (he gave Dharma Transmission to a priest, a minister, a rabbi and an imam) was not exactly what I would term a stauch defender of democracy…
    Deshimaru, who more or less spoke on the same terms, neither was very strong upon the contestation of authority…

    It remains a good question to ask, whether Buddhism be or not a religion, because even the word religion is one fraught with misunderstandings.

    Those who, today, give it the etymology of "tying up" (lat. religare) follow a Christian writer, Tertullian, who himself had an agenda…
    The real etymology as given by both Cicero and modern linguists is "religere" that is "re-read", which would mean that even masonism would be, by those terms, a religion.

    So let's leave it at that. What PhillySteveInLA writes is, in my opinion, unfounded.

  7. PhillySteveInLA
    PhillySteveInLA June 30, 2009 at 7:54 am |

    Masonism is very much a religion. It's a form of Gnostic Christianity.

    But anyway, that's beside the point.
    I think what we have here is a problem of semantics. Perhaps I am using the word religion in the wrong way, so let's replace it with belief system.
    And me, I personally do buy into the Buddhist belief system. I have been on both sides of the 'is Zen really Buddhism?' debate in the past, and see no conflict in that.
    Zen Buddhism, which I practice, and which teachings I try to absorb was handed down to us by the Buddha. It is what the Buddha did and what the Buddha taught. It also has a lineage of patriarchs who have formulated on these teachings, and until you attain that point yourself, then it is a matter of belief, no matter how rational that belief is. Any lineage that traces it's root from the Buddha IS Buddhism. That makes the Zen school of Buddhism a belief system, or religion or whatever you want to call it, as well as Buddhism.
    However, when you take zen not as a school of Buddhism, but rather as simply the act of sitting meditation, which is at the root of the school, you have something different. You have one practice that is open to all. The simple art of sitting. It is what the Buddha did, but he wasn't the first or the last to discover it on his own.
    In the end, that stillness stands on it's own for anyone who cares to see it.
    But yes, if you assume the posture of the Buddha because it is what the what the Buddha taught, if you accept the Buddha as your teacher and guide and wholeheartedly practice the zazen of the Buddha, then Zen is Buddhism.
    But if you sit silently, expecting nothing, listening for God, then eventually this stillness, too, is bliss.
    _()_

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 30, 2009 at 8:04 am |

    So what you're saying is it's the difference between Zen and zen?

  9. Jinzang
    Jinzang June 30, 2009 at 10:22 am |

    It's a system of beliefs
    That makes you look down
    At the whole human race
    From a comfortable cloud
    And you'll never come down

    And you won't come around
    Yeah and you'll never come down

    (Moev)

  10. telecasterroy
    telecasterroy July 2, 2009 at 11:02 am |

    Zen Buddhism is a religion. It has priests, robes, rituals, ceremonies. There is a central organization monitoring all the temples/centers. Priests marry, people, conduct funerals, act as chaplains, etc. It's a religion.
    Sure, one could practice "zazen" and not get caught up in the religious aspects of Zen Buddhism. But the religious trappings are fully available at every Zen Center/Temple I've ever been to in the US.

  11. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi
    Anirudh Kumar Satsangi July 8, 2009 at 2:40 am |

    Rebirth is ‘YES’. I know about my previous birth. My most Revered Guru of my previous life His Holiness Maharaj Sahab, 3rd Spiritual Head of Radhasoami Faith had revealed this secret to me during trance like state.
    HE told me, “Tum Sarkar Sahab Ho” (You are Sarkar Sahab). Sarkar Sahab was one of the most beloved disciple of His Holiness Maharj Sahab.

    Since I don’t have any direct realization of it so I can not claim the extent of its correctness. But it seems to be correct. During my previous birth I wanted to sing the song of ‘Infinite’ but I could not do so then since I had to leave the mortal frame at a very early age. But through the unbounded Grace and Mercy of my most Revered Guru that desire of my past birth is being fulfilled now.

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