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Preparing for the Inevitable
January 6, 2005 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Death is not news to Buddhist monks. The minute observation and contemplation of corpses is a standard Buddhist practice to increase awareness of the transitory nature of all things (including you, gentle reader.) This friendly attitude toward what is hidden away in most of the "civilized" world has prepared monks in the tsunami-stricken nations to deal with the task of cremating thousands of dead bodies. Preparing for the inevitable turns out to be a useful tool for facing the unthinkable. [via a fine new site called The Buddhist Channel].
posted by digaman (42 comments total)

 
The bloated and decomposed bodies still were being brought to Buddhist temples yesterday, in some cases carried from the jungle on the tusks of elephants that are being used to clear away debris.

That is an image I will never forget.
posted by malaprohibita at 10:36 AM on January 6, 2005


what bugs me is how people keep saying words like "unthinkable" or "unimaginable" (regarding the WTC attacks too).

are our imaginations really that weak? i've imagined stuff like 9/11 and the tsunami deaths before. am i unusual? i don't think so.

thanks for the Buddha Channel link. well said.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:47 AM on January 6, 2005


One generally ends a yoga session with what's called "corpse pose," basically a total-body, blank-mind relaxation whose name I had always assumed was hyperbole. I recently had one teacher say, though, that through such poses we were "practicing our deaths," which I thought was both so very not-Western and yet very comforting. If I can lie here and not really be anything or anywhere and it's OK, then when I really am *not* anything or anywhere, it'll be OK then too.
posted by occhiblu at 10:52 AM on January 6, 2005


Great links - thanks digaman.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2005


Thanks, Ryan.

Valid point, mrgrimm.

A few days before 9/11, I was reading an interview with a Tibetan meditation teacher in an excellent Buddhist magazine called the Shambhala Sun. In it, he was asked to boil his entire life's teaching down to a single phrase.

He replied, "Death comes without warning."

I thought of his words many times on the day the towers fell.
posted by digaman at 10:58 AM on January 6, 2005


These links are quite good.

It seems to me that a Buddhist philosophy is more apt to dealing with large scale tragedies in a compassionate way than the Judeo-Christian/Islamic concept of a vengeful God striking down the non-chosen people.

Being part of Samsara, ours is a world which alternates between pain and pleasure. The wheel of mis/fortune turns on. After rainy days will come sunny days, which will be followed by rainy ones... As hard as we may be hit, as brave we must be, to realise the cold bleak reality of the impermanent nature of life and nature itself. We are of nature. We have to make peace with nature, with ourselves. What else can we do?

Contrast this with Tom Delay's choice of Bible verse earlier, and I think you see why I have come to love Zen Buddhism more and more each day.
posted by anomie at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2005


I remember reading one Buddhist writer refer to people more like waves on the open sea than individuals, because the elements that make us who we are always changing. With that view toward life as being constantly transitory, you can understand why they take death more in stride.
posted by Leege at 11:42 AM on January 6, 2005


I believe that was Alan Watts, leege. And I agree, anomie. And this kind of practice is no vain intellectual exercise or new-age foofaraw.

Six months ago, my father died after suffering a major heart attack. The EMTs in Jersey City took 20 minutes to arrive, by which time he had suffered massive brain damage. During the next few days, my mother, my sister and I had to make decisions of life and death. Because of the brain damage, what was left of my father was in agony until he finally died of kidney failure.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I was a student at San Francisco Zen Center. Although, frankly, I haven't had a regular meditation practice for many years now, the foundations of mindfulness and acceptance of death as natural and inevitable, established during my time as a Zen student, were an invaluable help to me. I have no idea how I would have gotten through that week otherwise.
posted by digaman at 11:49 AM on January 6, 2005


The report on the CBC yesterday about the Buddhist group in Vancouver who are selling their temple to give the money to tsunami victims impressed me greatly.
posted by QIbHom at 12:20 PM on January 6, 2005


digaman, I hear you. my heart goes out to you and your family.

The Consolation of Karma
Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman talks about how suffering, even through the tsunami disaster, can offer a karmic advantage.
posted by matteo at 12:44 PM on January 6, 2005


Interesting , so by staring at a corpse I should become more familiar with the concept of death as a naturally occurring phenomenon. That alone would not help, I guess, without the additional comfort coming from the article of faith of reincarantion and cycles of life...of which of course there is no proof, while there's ample proof of end of life as we consider it.

That is to say ; fine, you wanna stare at corpse or contemplate it (if you also think while starting at it)....wouldn't it be better to understand the nature of the phenomenon, maybe spend some time observing the corpse to learn how death looks like and then dispose of the rotting corpse (unless of couse you're a doctor) ?

While there's nothing "wrong" in a rotting corpse (naturally occurring therefore outside of moral considerations when not caused by human action or negligent lack of action) what is -useful- (to self and/or others) in the hypnotic contemplation of a corpse ?
posted by elpapacito at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2005


anomie, I read an excellent editorial yesterday in the LA Times by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, and it directly contradicts your comment on the vengeful god.
Excerpt:

"The simplest explanation is that of the 12th century sage, Moses Maimonides.
Natural disasters, he said, have no explanation other than that God, by
placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the
physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents
die.

To wish it were otherwise is in essence to wish that we were not physical
beings at all. Then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement,
freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love. We would be angels -
God's computers - programmed to sing his praise.

The religious question is, therefore, not "Why did this happen?" but "What
then shall we do?" That is why, in synagogues, churches, mosques and
temples, along with our prayers for the injured and the bereaved, we are
asking people to donate money to assist the work of relief.

The religious response is not to seek to understand, thereby to accept. We
are not God. Instead we are the people he has called on to be his "partners
in the work of creation." The only adequate religious response is to say:
"God, I do not know why this disaster has happened, but I do know what you
want of us: to help the afflicted, comfort the bereaved, send healing to the
injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes." We cannot
understand God, but we can strive to imitate his love and care."
posted by tizzie at 1:05 PM on January 6, 2005


Nice post, digaman.

so by staring at a corpse I should become more familiar with the concept of death as a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Yes. Talk to someone who lived on a farm, or in a society that deals with death openly rather than hiding it like we do in the U.S. It works.
posted by rushmc at 1:18 PM on January 6, 2005


Matteo, this is my "issue" with Buddhism, and it's quite basic. From the article you linked.

"Abstractly speaking, karma is not really a theory of fate; it's a causal theory. And it says that anything bad that happens to you is a resonance of something bad that you perpetrated in a previous life."

As the mother of two disabled children, I've never understood - whose karma is it? Were they bad in their previous lives? Was I? Was their father? Or were we all bad together, like maybe we were the ukelele section in the Lawrence Welk orchestra?
posted by tizzie at 1:19 PM on January 6, 2005


I have taken a part time job at a veterinary hospital in direct preparation for my Mother's imminent, and all my loved ones eventual, deaths. Including my own. I have always been a death freaker-outer, and just a few months a few evenings a week has definitely helped. I'm going to need more strength as I get older.

Oh tizzie, that is priceless humor in the face of whatever you want to call it. Thank you.
posted by rainbaby at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2005


tizzie: Yeah, personally, I've had a big problem with the concept of karma.

On the other hand, when I was studying Buddhism my teacher made it quite clear that it was rather foolish to say that a specific event in our lives was caused by some specific previous event. The mess of karma is too complex, too chaotic to reduce to, "I was a murder in my past life, so it's my fate to be murdered." But having raised the same question, the answer I got was that everyone involved in a situation is there because of some prior karma.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:44 PM on January 6, 2005


Tizzie, If people accepted Maimonides' metaphoric view of the Hebrew Bible, I believe religion as a whole would be in a much better place than it is. It was not my intention to knock the entire canon of Judeo-Christian literature, because I, like Maimonides, believe that it is a tool to see inside yourself as a human. It is the fundamentalist, literal interpretation that I take issue with.

In the Hebrew Bible, God did some pretty bad things to people who were "wicked" in his eyes. In light of this world view, it is easy to lay the blame on the afflicted, especially if they are not "the chosen people," such as Mr. Delay has apparantly done. I realize that this discussion is probably more pertinent to the thread about his comments, however I found it interesting to note the difference between Delay's reaction and method of coping versus the reaction of the writers on the Buddhist Channel.

I also realize that Karma can be used to place blame on the afflicted if taken to the extreme, however I don't believe that is it's purpose. Most religions get pretty ugly when taken to the extreme. And that is where the buddhist principle of the "Middle Road" comes in to play.
posted by anomie at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2005


While i'm here I'll ask (to save an Askme) the following:

Are the "parias" or "untouchable" seen as a "wicked" because of some bad karma/ original sin / unseeable corruption & evil
or because of their belonging to a class of poor people ?
posted by elpapacito at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2005


IANAR, Tizzie, but even a casual perusal of the Hebrew Scriptures suggests that Yahweh (who, not coincidentally, claims to be both jealous and angry) has no qualms whatsoever about visiting pain, suffering, and even death on the children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren of sinners. It's right there in the Ten Commandments, in fact (unless or until more moderate Christian sects remove it via translation) and there's plenty of other scriptural episodes that document this cruel and apparently capricious nature.

I say this not to make light of your own situation (though I share your assessment that polka is the epitome of evil) or the horrors of these tsunami, or Judaism, for that matter. I say this because bromides about "doing God's will" in the face of destruction that, on any reasonable monotheistic interpretation, God (at best) permitted to happen or (at worst) willed to happen sounds, to my ears, unspeakably cruel.

I'm no smug drawing-room (or dorm-room) atheist, here. I say all this not because I derive satisfaction from pointing out that this (the rabbi's opinion above notwithstanding) is clearly *not* the only possible physical world that God could have created, much less the best possible one, but because I, too, so dearly wish it were.

I thought Voltaire did a pretty darn good send up of the best-of-all-possible-worlds position in Candide, and it's poor old Pangloss that always comes to mind when I hear such pat responses to tragedies like this. I don't have any answers, myself, short of: I believe we live in a world that doesn't care about human suffering, and that this brute fact could (should) bring all of us together to minimize the amount of suffering in the world, as these Buddhist monks are so movingly prepared to do.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2005


anomie: I also realize that Karma can be used to place blame on the afflicted if taken to the extreme, however I don't believe that is it's purpose. Most religions get pretty ugly when taken to the extreme. And that is where the buddhist principle of the "Middle Road" comes in to play.

I also think that in practice, Buddhism comes to the same conclusion as Maimonides via Jonathan Sacks. A person may be suffering due to accumulated bad karma, but it does not mean we should sit idle and do nothing.

elpapacito: Are the "parias" or "untouchable" seen as a "wicked" because of some bad karma/ original sin / unseeable corruption & evil
or because of their belonging to a class of poor people ?


It is my understanding that Buddhism contains a pretty harsh criticism of caste. This is one of the main reasons why Buddhism has historically faired better outside of India.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2005


matteo, thanks.

I have taken a part time job at a veterinary hospital in direct preparation for my Mother's imminent, and all my loved ones eventual, deaths. Including my own.

That's very beautiful, rainbaby.

Interesting , so by staring at a corpse I should become more familiar with the concept of death as a naturally occurring phenomenon. That alone would not help, I guess, without the additional comfort coming from the article of faith of reincarantion and cycles of life...of which of course there is no proof, while there's ample proof of end of life as we consider it.

That is to say ; fine, you wanna stare at corpse or contemplate it (if you also think while starting at it)...


Elpapacito, there are a number of assumptions in this paragraph that don't have much to do with Buddhism -- you might consider looking at a good book about it someday. One that I enjoyed a lot when I was a Zen student was Suzuki-roshi's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

As far as "helping," I consider it a help in dealing with life to know deeply that someday I'll be a corpse, and then dust, and that's why it's so important to love and treasure those around me now, and to be awake to the textures of every moment. This kind of life-help has nothing to do with reincarnation, Heaven, or any other Western-style "consolation" for death.

Buddhist meditation also has nothing to do with getting into any kind of "hypotized" state. It's much simpler than that.

Sorry for the self-link, but I once had the very wonderful experience of spending a couple of hours in the presence of the corpse of one of my teachers and friends, the Beat-era poet Philip Whalen. I found those hours to be profoundly educational about life.
posted by digaman at 2:24 PM on January 6, 2005


Holy smokes a mefi thread about religion that has not gone nuclear.

merci for all the links, while not a practicing Buddhist, I am sympathetic to much it has to say. Non-attachment to material things and so forth.

so thanks again, and thanks for the cordial thread.
posted by edgeways at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2005


tizzie,

I've always understood karma to be the balancing out of goodness and badness in the way we experience the world, not necessarily in the events that befall us in the world. The first Buddhist Truth is that Life is Suffering. In other words, that sometimes life sucks. Just the way it is. The goodness or badness of karma comes from our ability to deal with the Suffering. Good karma enables us to deal with the things life brings in ways that make things better, and bad karma is the reverse. If you can make things better, make yourself happier, and make your experience more positive, then in general the events that befall you will tend to be happier as well. But there are no promises to anyone -- to whit, Truth One.
posted by dness2 at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2005


IANAB (I am not a Buddhist), but corpse meditation sounds like a wise thing. It also sounds like a practice that could be quite compatible with whatever religion you currently practice (or don't, as the case may be) since there is no really overtly religious aspect. In fact, it is a little reminiscent of the Christian Memento Mori and the Mayan-influenced Day of the Dead.

Good post.
posted by unreason at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2005


zen buddhism as a kind of quiet existentialism appeals to me, but once you start drawing in karma and reincarnation & all that, I think it suffers the same faults as other "just-so stories" to explain evil, which is to say, by giving terrible events a proper, causal place in the world, we begin to deny that they are terrible. This is especially dangerous when we might make a difference through our own agency, whether in prevention or later assistance. If 'the universe means it to be that way', then what would motivate us to make it better?

But an awareness of death and its inevitability is not only healthy but enriching, in my opinion.

That alone would not help, I guess, without the additional comfort ....what is -useful- (to self and/or others) in the hypnotic contemplation of a corpse ?

I don't think philosophy is really meant to be -useful-, at least not in an immediate or obvious way. It's an exercise in mindfulness, in becoming more aware of one's finitude, and at the same time, the amazing fact of one's existence to begin with. It allows feelings of awe and what I guess you could call 'abstract gratitude' (not grateful toward an entity, but just, "generously pleased" to be alive). Trying to understand death, trying to understand life, are not means toward some other end, but ends in themselves. What is the use of staring at art or playing games or otherwise spending time outside of biological or technologic need? Philosophical contemplation can add depth to experience.

Obviously there are plenty of forms this kind of mindful activity can take, and I'd never suggest that everyone who's thought about death is deeper than everyone who hasn't given it much attention, but the way life works now, at least, personal mortality is fundamental to every individual's experience.
posted by mdn at 2:46 PM on January 6, 2005


Buddhism comes in as many different stripes and formulations as any religion. Some view such things as reincarnation and karma carrying from one life to the next as being a literal truth. Others take it as much more metaphorical, or even absolutely irrelevant to what matters right now.

I've got a lot more sympathy for the latter view than the former, so no real surprise that a fellow like Brad Warner is one of my favorite Buddhist writers. Directly related to the "Buddhism involves reincarnation, right?" a short bit of his is quoted here.
last week i attended the annual 3-day zazen retreat hosted by nishijima sensei at tokei-in temple in the tea covered hills of shizuoka (2 hrs. from tokyo by bullet train). as usual, the question of reincarnation came up during the talks. and, as usual, nishijima expressed his opinion that there was no such thing as reincarnation and that the belief in reincarnation is not buddhism. and, like always, most of the people who heard this were pretty cheesed off about it. after all, everybody knows that all buddhists believe in reincarnation. richard gere says so!

i'm not trying to sound high and mighty here. seven years ago when i began studying with nishijima, i too asked the reincarnation question and i too was pretty cheesed off by his reply. i should have known better, really. after all, i'd been practicing for a decade or so by then. it's not hard for me to understand why people ask the question. we're all scared of dying and we all want some kind of assurance that we're going to live forever. having a kindly old man in black robes tell you you're going to be reborn after you die is pretty comforting.
But just because a Buddhist may tell you we're reborn doesn't necessarily make that statement part of Buddhism. And vice versa, of course.

Good post, yup.posted by Drastic at 3:12 PM on January 6, 2005


As one who shares the faith of Lucretius, I can see the profit in the Buddhists' practice of contemplation on death. Though I have to reject Buddhism because of its superstitions -- not just of karma, but also the notion that the Buddha (or anyone, for that matter) could attain perfect understanding. Plus, as an outsider, I'm uneasy with a lot of Buddhist iconography and its obsession with the infinite. Still, that "contemplation of corpses" link is fascinating. Thinking on "a festering corpse, oozing lymph and pus from its various orifices" -- how common is that practice among Buddhists?

And there is another sense in which I respect the Thai monks. "All the relatives, all the kids will go and view the corpse, will just stand around and watch granny burning," [monk Siripanyo Bhikkhu] said. As an American, you gotta give it up for this kind of plainspokenness and their general can-do approach to such a grim undertaking. Or that could just be the Washington Times slant. Another question: What's the difference between Liberal Guilt and the Buddha's compassion?
posted by eatitlive at 3:34 PM on January 6, 2005


the notion that the Buddha (or anyone, for that matter) could attain perfect understanding.

Your questioning of this notion would be considered a sign of serious Buddhist practice, which distinguishes Buddhism from many other religions. Imagine if Christianity had built into it the freedom, in fact the necessity, to question whether or not Jesus Christ was really "the son of God."

Zen, in particular, is quite unsuperstitious about its "superstitions," as you put it. Zen lore is filled with stories of monks throwing statues of Buddha, or scriptures ("sutras"), into the fire because it's freezing cold and there's nothing else to burn. Imagine if Judaism was filled with tales of rabbis burning copies of the Torah to warm their hands!
posted by digaman at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2005


I don't think philosophy is really meant to be -useful-, at least not in an immediate or obvious way.

Unless, of course, you are Alain de Botton.
posted by rushmc at 4:09 PM on January 6, 2005


My translation of the Four Noble Truths into American: "Life sucks, then you die. Get your shit together."

You're welcome.
posted by lathrop at 6:03 PM on January 6, 2005


digaman: Imagine if Christianity had built into it the freedom, in fact the necessity, to question whether or not Jesus Christ was really "the son of God."

Umm, it does. Almost every Christian religion I know of talks of having to "accept Jesus Christ" before you can be "saved". If there is a period where you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God (after acceptance), and a period where you don't believe Jesus Christ is the son of God (before acceptance), one has to assume there is at least a moment of questioning whether or not it's true, and then a decision that it is.

If you don't accept that answer, you can look in the Bible, and find many a place where it says to question. For instance, look at James. Christ himself asks questions, and answers them in Luke. People are instructed to ask, in Matthew. And those are just the obvious ones that I found on a quick search. Some Christian sects may suggest otherwise, but I'm just saying, Buddhism ain't alone in saying you have to find things out for yourself.

As for the concept of corpse meditation, I think it's quite interesting, and probably beneficial. However, I don't think--at least in my case--that it would help understand death. I think it would help understand the aftereffects of death. To understand death, you'd either need to die (which kinda defeats the purpose of this whole exercise) or watch something die.

Anyone who's seen something or someone die knows there's a big difference between the moment of death and a corpse. It's why I don't like the practice of taking the family dog to go "live on a farm with a nice family". My family all went with our parents when we took Lady to the vet to be put to sleep, and I think it was a good learning experience for me. And when my mom died a year or two later, I think it helped prepare me a bit.

Also: tizzie, thanks for that Sacks quote. Interesting concept, and one that I like a lot.
posted by Fontbone at 6:50 PM on January 6, 2005


Fantastic thread and comments. Thanks to everyone. I would take issue with one thing:

"Imagine if Christianity had built into it the freedom, in fact the necessity, to question whether or not Jesus Christ was really 'the son of God.'"

I can't speak for Christianity proper, but I think modern Catholicism has a bit of St. Thomas in it. Like George Carlin said about his progressive Catholic school, "They did such a good job we all came out non-believers." I tend to think my Catholic school upbrining is what has led me to an interest in Buddhism (though I have no idea where to start); I have 0 interest in Church or rites or organized religion, but I wouldn't be as open-minded about the whole thing if it weren't for school.
posted by yerfatma at 6:52 PM on January 6, 2005


Karma
posted by homunculus at 7:25 PM on January 6, 2005


Thanks for all the clarifications, guys. It strikes me as right that there would be a certain sharp, sober inquiry at the heart of all serious traditions.
posted by digaman at 7:46 PM on January 6, 2005


On a visit to India a few years back, I spent some time at the burning ghats in Varansi. It seemed very natural, and not at all disturbing, which was not what I had expected. I'm sure that trying to dispose of the huge number of broken, messy human bodies in various stages of decay from the tsunami disaster is something else altogether, though.

what is -useful- (to self and/or others) in the hypnotic contemplation of a corpse ?-- elpapacito

Because that's you. And everyone you've ever loved. It's not uncommon to experience a kind of horror when looking at a dead person. Even if you never knew the person, you may naturally identify as a member of the same species and be shocked into contemplating your own mortality. Most of us live our day to day lives in denial about death, and when it comes, we suffer greatly greatly for this denial. Trying face it and experience death as a natural part of life is a strategy to help ease this suffering.

I'm actually pretty terrible at dealing with death, myself, but I see the wisdom and comfort in taking this approach. Buddhist philosophy has been helpful to me, and would probably be much more so if I put more effort into practice.

Fontbone makes a good point about death and dying being different things.
posted by apis mellifera at 8:14 PM on January 6, 2005


Isn't the Mexican Day of the Dead tradition another example of a culture taking a more positive attitude toward death and the circle of life? They even turn the whole concept into a festive occasion.
posted by Leege at 9:16 PM on January 6, 2005


Thank you, fontbone and others for your comments.

I was present when my beloved dog was euthanised, and two things about the experience were wonderful. One, that our vet came out and crawled into the van with us, so that Rocky could lie comfortably in familiar surroundings, and two, that as his spirit passed, he looked at us with such peace in his eyes.

I was also present when an elderly neighbor lady died at home, as part of the hospice program. A priest who was present kept praying aloud, and it was quite distracting. As I held Mary's hand, I felt that she was just wishing he would just be quiet so that she could take her leave. As soon as he stopped for a moment, I felt the pressure of her hand against mine release, and she was gone.
posted by tizzie at 5:37 AM on January 7, 2005


digaman: thanks for the link, I'll certainly give a look.

As for the realization that one should treasure and help the living, this particular realization striked me many times and expecially
striked me these days after the 26th december tsunami, when a sensation of horror crossed my mind, the fact that much damage and loss of human life could have been avoided , the insane notion of "ok, have our help now that you're dead" covered by the other notion
"we're helping survivers ! " as if late help was amended by some help, because some help is better then none at all.
posted by elpapacito at 7:01 AM on January 7, 2005


ops forgot to answer yummy mellifera :

ok so the act of contemplation is supposed to make me aware of my mortality...which makes sense 1. if one recognizes self as human 2. learns that all human are going to die 3.therefore asks self the question "am I going to die ? " and supposes "yes"

now a bipartition here

4a. realization causes fear, obvious because one sees more life then death when alive..ignorance (in the proper sense of the term) of death is likely to lead to fear of death

4b. realization doesn't cause fear

If the realization is going to cause fear, I could understand that by looking obsessively at dead bodies one can get at the same time 1. aquainted with death 2. aware the after all the body isn't but interestingly organized water and some "dust"

yet I don't see how staring at rotten bodies for days and maybe repeating the experience is going to benefit the observer. In my experience, costant repetition of a relatively unchanging experience implies pleasure or lack of displeasure with it...which implies -DESIRE- of repeating the gratifying experience ; now that seems more like a necrophilia then a mystical experience...nothing wrong in necrophilia per se, but makes me wonder why one should be so much interested in dead people.
posted by elpapacito at 7:20 AM on January 7, 2005


In my experience, costant repetition of a relatively unchanging experience implies pleasure or lack of displeasure with it...
Constant repetition of a relatively unchanging experience is a pretty good description of zazen, the ordinarily old non-dead-body-staring-at core of Zen Buddhist practice. The pleasure of lack of displeasure bit...not so much.

It's an easy practice to actively dislike. It's intensely boring at the best, downright uncomfortable at the worst. Still, it's engaged in for a reason.

Liking things like corpse meditation to necrophilia is fine--I mean, I could get all offended, but I have to keep in mind I've said things like "Christianity is more or less a snuff-fetish cult" in all seriousness myself, so offense gets kind of silly at that point. Still, I think it's wide of the mark.
posted by Drastic at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2005


Elpapacito, you're not looking closely enough at these 'relatively unchanging' phenomena. That's practically the whole point of Buddhist practice.

And your likening of this sort of meditation to necrophilia is just a word game. Fun on Metafilter, perhaps, but it won't help you face death when it comes to your loved ones.
posted by digaman at 9:57 AM on January 7, 2005


My favourite excuse for smoking dope was that in learning how to cope without a working short term memory, I was training myself for a serene senility.

It seems to be working.

But I do sometimes wonder if I should actually be senile at 42.
posted by flabdablet at 5:15 PM on January 7, 2005


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