Author Topic: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be  (Read 2428 times)


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Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« on: September 23, 2012, 03:42:52 PM »
Here's a nice story that I would like to share with everyone on how meditation helped a terminally ill patient cope with his death and helped him live what is left of his life. I find it a somewhat moving account of his experience.

Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
The Bristol Post, September 19, 2012
Bristol, UK -- IT is the ultimate human fear – one we generally put to the back of our minds until we are forced to face it, but confronting our own death is probably the most difficult psychological hurdle we will ever face.

For 52-year-old Dave Thomas, who is terminally ill, his own mortality is a fear he has grappled with thanks to his powerful belief in his Buddhist faith and by using the meditation techniques he has developed over two decades as a practising Buddhist.

"This dying lark isn't nearly as awful as it's cracked up to be," the former Fleet Street journalist tells me, flashing a warm smile, as we meet at the Buddhist meditation centre he has attended for the past four years – the Amitabha Buddhist Centre in Gloucester Road.

The centre is run by a community of Buddhist monks, including Dave's own personal meditation tutor Kelsang Chonder, who bristles with kindness as he shuffles out of the room in his full monastic habit to arrange the coffee.

 A Bishopston landmark for the past 20 years, the centre, based in an old vicarage, has trained more than 5,000 Bristolians in the ancient Buddhist art of meditation.
For Dave, the calming aspects of meditation came into their own after being told he had only a short time to live.

"I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis back in 2010," Dave explains. "I had found myself getting increasingly breathless, and had no idea what was causing it.

"But the consultant at the BRI explained the condition to me – essentially the air sacs within my lungs are increasingly failing to transfer the oxygen from the air to my bloodstream. Sadly it is terminal without a lung transplant.

"That was a couple of years ago now, and as things currently stand the doctors believe I may have just a couple of months to live.

"Being told you are dying is an extraordinary experience. Suddenly you are facing the big one. It's an awful lot to get your head around.

"But the meditation has helped me enormously – both in terms of having already developed an accepting frame of mind, but also practically, in terms of helping my breathing as it increasingly fails."

Dave uses a mobile oxygen canister, which pumps oxygen into his nose to assist his breathing, but when he meditates he doesn't need to wear it.

"It's not a psychological effect," he explains. "I regularly visit Southmead Hospital to have the oxygen levels in my blood tested, and the consultants there have been able to actively see that the oxygen levels in my blood are improved when I am meditating.

"Dying isn't all bad," he says. "From the moment someone tells you you're dying, you see the world very differently. You value everything so much, it's actually quite wonderful.

"I was recently walking in some woods near my home, and it struck me that the last time I was there I was jogging through in a track suit.

"This time I was shuffling through, struggling for breath, but because I was walking so slowly I was able to pay attention to things I wouldn't previously have noticed – individual trees and flowers. The beautiful detail."

Dave says he was "the typical old-school Fleet Street hack" when he first discovered Buddhism, while working on the Sunday People at the height of the Maxwell era in the 1980s.

"I had a wonderful time, doing a job I loved, and with a beautiful family, but I was conscious that for some reason, at the back of my mind, I was not contented. I didn't feel complete happiness.

"I decided to give meditation a try – but I was a cynical journalist, and didn't really expect to get anything from it. After about five sessions, I was all ready to pack it in. But then I had a big story fall down, and I found myself accepting the disappointment in a way that I would never previously have been able to – previously it would have at least ruined my week.

"I realised that slowly, subtly, the meditation was changing my mindset – calming me. So I carried on with my meditation sessions, and over time, together with the Buddhist teachings that have come with it, it has had a profound effect on me and my ability to find peaceful acceptance when bad things happen.

"At first I was ribbed mercilessly by my newsroom colleagues about it," he says. "But slowly they too could see the powerful effect it had on me, and increasingly they became genuinely interested – some even took it up themselves."

Dave moved to Bristol in the 1990s as one of the founders of news agency South West News Service, and later founded another media business, Medavia, but was forced to retire a couple of years ago as his health deteriorated. He has now reached an extraordinary level of acceptance as he faces the end of his life.

"I have been admitted to an intensive care unit twice in the past few months, and on both occasions I thought I was hours from death.

"So I've been very lucky to have had two dry runs – so I know that through using compassionate meditation, that is, meditating on the sorrows of the people around me in the intensive care unit, I was able to focus my mind entirely away from any fear about my own death, and what is left is pure peaceful acceptance.

"What concerns me much more is the suffering I know it will bring to my family and close friends when I die.

"After my diagnosis each one of my children separately offered me one of their lungs, which was heartbreaking – it showed so much love, but concerned me that they were unprepared for my leaving them, even though I have been able to come to terms with my own mortality.

"I know I will feel sorrow about leaving behind my family and friends and all that I have worked towards in my life, but I also know that through meditation I will be able to take away the fear of death. Once you take that away, there really is nothing left to fear. Acceptance is tremendously liberating.

"In one way I'm actually sort of excited about the challenge I will soon face. The next time I am in an intensive care unit, it will no doubt be the big one. I am excited to be facing the final challenge of this life – to put into practice all that I've learnt through meditation over these past 20 years."

Dave smiles that warm smile once more. He glances briefly at the enormous figure of the Buddha that dominates the room, and briefly at his meditation mentor, Kelsang Chonder. There is so much peace in his eyes, it is impossible to feel sad. I shake his hand, and he returns to his meditations.

For more information about joining a meditation session at the Amitabha Buddhist Centre – which is open to people of all faiths – visit the website at www.meditationbristol. org.

A free public talk on modern Buddhism is to be given by Kadam Bridget Heyes, at the Colston Hall on Tuesday October 23, from 7pm-8pm. For more details, call 0117 974 5160.


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Re: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2012, 04:57:56 PM »
Thank you for the post Ensapa...and the reminder.

Aryadeva puts it very succinctly:

"Birth exists for the sake of death.
For someone who proceeds under another's control
It seems as death is mandatory
And life is not"

In other words, birth exists for the sake of death. The precondition for old age, sickness and death is birth itself. And all of us who have already taken birth for some time, we do well to realize that we are well into fulfilling the conditions of death.

Life is a not a reward and neither is death a punishment. As much as we fear death, even Yama's powers has limits and all beings are subject to Yama's power because of the reward that their own deeds merit. It is not death that we should fear but the karma of our actions and deeds when we are alive.

I appreciate what Dave Thomas said about coming to terms with death: "From the moment someone tells you you're dying, you see the world very differently. You value everything so much, it's actually quite wonderful". We don't have to be at death's door to see that and to use each living day as an opportunity to gain merits.

What an inspiration Dave Thomas is and even as death is claiming him, it would also appear, with his realizations, that neither can death hold him.


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Re: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 03:13:39 PM »
The first of these meditations is known as the nine-round death meditation, in which we contemplate the three roots, the nine reasonings, and the three convictions, as described below:


1. There is no possible way to escape death. No-one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. Of the current world population of over 5 billion people, almost none will be alive in 100 years time.

2. Life has a definite, inflexible limit and each moment brings us closer to the finality of this life. We are dying from the moment we are born.

3. Death comes in a moment and its time is unexpected. All that separates us from the next life is one breath.

Conviction: To practise the spiritual path and ripen our inner potential by cultivating positive mental qualities and abandoning disturbing mental qualities.


4. The duration of our lifespan is uncertain. The young can die before the old, the healthy before the sick, etc.

5. There are many causes and circumstances that lead to death, but few that favour the sustenance of life.

Even things that sustain life can kill us, for example food, motor vehicles, property.

6. The weakness and fragility of one's physical body contribute to life's uncertainty.

The body can be easily destroyed by disease or accident, for example cancer, AIDS, vehicle accidents, other disasters.

Conviction: To ripen our inner potential now, without delay.


(because all that goes on to the next life is our mind with its karmic (positive or negative) imprints.)

7. Worldly possessions such as wealth, position, money can't help

8. Relatives and friends can neither prevent death nor go with us.

9. Even our own precious body is of no help to us. We have to leave it behind like a shell, an empty husk, an overcoat.

Conviction: To ripen our inner potential purely, without staining our efforts with attachment to worldly concerns.

The second meditation simulates or rehearses the actual death process. Knowledge of this process is particularly important because advanced practitioners can engage in a series of yogas that are modelled on death, intermediate state (Tibetan: bar-do) and rebirth until they gain such control over them that they are no longer subject to ordinary uncontrolled death and rebirth.


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Re: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2012, 06:08:00 AM »
I always find it easier said than done. Preparing for death. Even my friends said that I am morbid.  :P
I told them it has nothing to do with wanting to die but rather understanding that everything is impermanent. Whether one believes in religion or not, it does not matter, all of us die but at the end of it, have we done anything that made us feel complete and 'happy'? Every now and then, we read about people dying and most of them die in horrible deaths. It deeply saddens me to read about accidents and diseases that are killing people.

A teaching I found on the net.

The three roots to be meditated on are:

1. The inevitability of death.
2. The uncertainty of the time of death.
3. At the time of death, nothing but your spiritual realization is of value.

The nine reasons and the three determinations are divided equally between the three roots as follows:

1. The inevitability of death

Although death plans to attack, most people live pretending that it does not exist. It is not difficult to prove logically that any given person will die. Taking yourself as an example, you will certainly die, because death is inevitable. How do we know that it’s inevitable? By meditating upon these three reasons:

(a) To date, death has come to all humans. Without mentioning ordinary beings, even the great, realized beings—the arhats, bodhisattvas and buddhas—have died. So why should we expect to survive? Buddha Shakyamuni himself passed away so as to demonstrate impermanence to his disciples. Who do you know that is even a century old? In the face of these facts, it is hard to believe that we alone shall be immortal.

(b) Day by day life ebbs, with no chance of increase. A human’s lifespan can be likened to a pond, the inflowing stream to which has been cut off: moment-by-moment its waters diminish; or to a monk with only 1,000 rupees to his name and no further income: if he spends ten rupees a day, he will eventually be penniless. Shantideva wrote, “Remaining neither day nor night, life is constantly slipping away and never getting any longer. Why should death not come to me?” The length of your life has been decreasing since the moment of your conception. When 100 sheep are taken to the slaughterhouse to be killed by evening, the killing of each one brings the death of the last sheep closer. It is the same with our lifespan: as the minutes are consumed, the hours pass; as the hours are consumed, the days pass; as the days are consumed, the months pass; and as the months are consumed, the years pass. With the consumption of our years, death rapidly approaches.

(c) Although alive, we find little time to practice Dharma. Our lifespan can probably be divided as follows: twenty years are spent sleeping, twenty years working, ten years playing, five years eating and so on. We spend perhaps four or five years in practice. These are the parts that constitute the composite phenomenon that is the life of the average person. As the Buddha pointed out, anything that is composite is doomed to fall apart; that which is a collection of parts exists in dependence on those parts, which sooner or later must disintegrate.

If you meditate intensively upon this first root and its three reasons, you can, within seven days, realize the inevitability of death. From this realization will arise the first of the three determinations: the determination to practice Dharma.

2. The uncertainty of the time of death

This, the second root, is more difficult to realize fully. Many people live with the understanding that eventually they must die but few truly believe that they could be dead a minute from now. To generate this awareness, meditate on the following three reasons:

(a) The lifespan of humans on this planet is not fixed. Thousands of years ago, the lifespan of humans was measured in centuries; now it is less than a hundred years; soon it will last only a decade. Human lifespan is especially unstable in this degenerate phase of the eon. You may think that you have a long time to live because you are still young, but look at the aged carrying their dead children to the cemetery. You may think that you will live long because you have sufficient wealth to buy good food and medicines, but look at the old beggars and the millionaires who died young. You may think that you will live long because you are healthy, but this is also not a sound idea; many people die healthy while many sick ones live on, year after year.

(b) Many forces oppose life and few support it. The evil spirits that can terminate a human life number more than 80,000; the 424 diseases hover around us like a fog. These spirits and diseases wait for us like a cat outside a rat hole. Furthermore, the four elements that constitute the physical base of our being—earth, water, fire and air—are like four snakes in a single vessel, the stronger continually trying to overcome the weaker. When these elements are in harmony, we enjoy health, but when they fall into discord, our life is endangered. Moreover, that which we use to sustain life can easily become a cause of death: houses collapse, killing the inhabitants; foods turn to poison; medicines used improperly can cause death; the various means of transportation, intended to aid human existence, often result in death. In his Precious Garland, Nagarjuna wrote, “O King, life is like a butter lamp in a windstorm.” Whether the lamp is full, half-full or almost empty is of little consequence; it can be extinguished at any moment. Similarly, your age is no indication of how close you are to death.

(c) The human body is extremely fragile. We may say, “Granted, there are many opponents to life but I am powerful enough to endure them all,” but this is just wishful thinking. The human body is destroyed as easily as a dewdrop is knocked off the tip of a blade of grass. As Nagarjuna said in his Friendly Letter, “If the entire world will be destroyed at this eon’s end, what to say of the bodies of humans?” Kunga Rinpoche once said, “If you think you will first complete your worldly duties and then practice Dharma, bear in mind that the death of today may come before the practice of tomorrow.”

By meditating diligently on this second root and its three reasons, there will arise the second of the three determinations: the determination to practice Dharma immediately.

3. At the time of death, nothing but your spiritual realization is of value

To become convinced of this third root, meditate on the following three reasons:

(a) Wealth, possessions, fame or social power are of no value. At the time of your death you may have a hundred bricks of gold in your house but not a single one will be of benefit. A beggar must leave behind even his walking stick. A king may have a million subjects and a thousand queens but not one will be able to accompany him to the next life. As Buddha said, “Although you may have enough food and clothing to last a hundred years, when you die you go on alone, naked and unfed.”

(b) Family, friends and relatives are of no value. You are born alone and must die alone. When you are dying, all your loved ones may press down on your body trying to prevent death from taking you away but it will be of no avail; nor will a single one accompany you. The mahasiddha Maitripa said, “My friend, dying is like passing alone through a dangerous valley filled with robbers. Not one of your queens, sons, daughters or subjects will come with you then. Therefore, prepare yourself well.” In his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva wrote, “Leaving all behind, I must depart alone. Alas, not knowing this, I committed all kinds of evil for the sake of family and friends, but who among them will help me face the Lord of Death?”

(c) Even your body will be of no value. Though you have had your body since leaving your mother’s womb and have clothed it to save it from the sufferings of heat and cold and fed it to spare it the pangs of hunger, at death it must be abandoned. The stream of consciousness goes on alone.

By meditating intensively on this third root and its three reasons, the third of the three determinations will arise: the determination to practice Dharma purely, unmixed with materialistic tendencies.

Shantideva wrote, “At the time of death, only goodness is of value but to that I did not attend!” If you know that you are moving to a country where the only valid currency is gold, you would be wise to convert all your old currency while you still have the opportunity. At the time of death, the only valid currency is spiritual realization, so you should practice Dharma intensely to gain that currency while you still have the chance.


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Re: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2012, 01:27:22 PM »
We may not fully comprehend the feeling of someone who is dying from terminal illness.  It takes a lot of courage, letting go and acceptance of his condition to face the inevitable death.  Dave Thomas is fortunate to have learned Buddhist meditation and to have complete faith in his practice.  With the guidance and support from his spiritual teacher Kelsang Chonder, Dave is able to confront his death without much fear.  I believe that with the blessing of the Three Jewels, Dave Thomas will be able to move on to his next life confidently with no regrets. 

Tenzin K

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Re: Dying? It isn’t nearly as awful as it’s cracked up to be
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2012, 04:21:34 PM »
 "Good health is simply the slowest way a human being can die." - author unknown
1. Everyone must die...
2. The remainder of our life span is decreasing continually.
3. Death will come regardless of whether or not we have made time to practice the dharma.
4. Human life expectancy is uncertain.
5. There are many causes of death.
6. The human Body is very fragile.
7. Our wealth cannot help us.
8. Our loved ones cannot help.
9. Our body cannot help.

The Five Powers to Develop for a Happy Successful Death

(These are explained in the tradition of Thought Transformation; see the Recommended Reading list for books on Thought Transformation)

1. The Power of the White Seed: purify negative karma with the 4 powers of regret, reliance, remedy and resolution; give up attachment to your possessions and make offerings of them; meditate upon refuge in the 3 Jewels, give rise to positive thoughts such as Bodhicitta; reaffirm your commitment to whatever spiritual goals and values you cultivated during your life

2. The Power of Intention: develop in your mind strong, positive resolutions such as not allowing your mind to come under the influence of negative, disturbing emotions; or not letting your mind be separated from the altruistic attitude of Bodhicitta

3. The Power of Remorse: remembering the disadvantages of the disturbing emotions, protect yourself from being overwhelmed by them

4. The Power of Prayer: make strong prayers never to be separated from Bodhicitta, not to be dominated by the misconception of self or the disturbing emotions, to obtain a fortunate rebirth in the next life to be able to continue your practice of the Dharma, etc.

5. The Power of Familiarity: utilize whatever difficulties you face at the time of death to reflect on the teachings, e.g. the suffering nature of samsara, and to develop compassion for all beings; when the time of death comes, lie on your right side with your right ring finger blocking your right nostril (this is the posture the Buddha adopted during his Parinirvana); meditate on “taking and giving”; and on the emptiness of true existence of all things