Matters of Life, and more importantly, Death
The 13th-century Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin said, “First of all, learn about death and then about other things.”
According to him, to build a truly happy life, one must face the inescapable question of death.
As someone practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I believe in the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect. I also believe in signs that the universe sends us, almost every moment of our life.
(This belief doesn’t have much to do with the book titled The Secret)
So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after I studied about the interconnectedness of life and death as part of my Buddhist study group last weekend, I was asked by a dear friend to share my take on grief and death this week. It was actually about how to talk about death with children.
Last month, I also finished reading The Seven Secrets of Shiva by Devdutt Pattnaik that touches upon the subject of death and how human beings have always struggled to grasp its meaning. As a result of which, we have been loathing, denying, fearing death for long now.
So I took of all of the above as a sign to finally sit down to write about this difficult subject that most of us shy away from discussing even within our social circles.
Also, let me be honest and say I still don’t know how to inform a child about death. But I do feel that I understand a little better today, how important it is for us to have conversations around death out in the open when we are still alive.
As my mentor, Buddhist philosopher, educator, and author Dr Daisaku Ikeda, also the third president of SGI (Soka Gakkai International) says:
“No matter how we may appear to flourish, as long as we sidestep the fundamental issue of life and death, we remain as rootless as floating weeds or like a castle built on sand.”
We all have heard that “death is the only constant” and yet, we all want to avoid it, ignore it, deny it, at all cost.
We want to avoid talking about it, have a chat around the subject with friends or understand its meaning better. We might read books on it but we rarely mention it, mostly out of fear.
So does death means it’s the end? And if it does (according to many cultures and religions) does it have to devastate those who are left behind?
I will address grief in a separate article as per my understanding of it.
For now, I’ll stick to the hush-hush culture around the concept of death.
Some interpretations of Hinduism talk about heaven and hell after one dies. Some others talk about rebirth and how it’s an endless tedious cycle of lifetime after lifetime until one attains “moksha” or “nirvana.”
Whatever one may believe in, one cannot dismiss or ignore death. The desire and efforts to understand it since time immemorial reiterates the fact that we fear most that which we don’t understand.
So why is thinking about death termed as not wanting to live? We have all lost a loved one in the course of our lives and for some of us, it has happened quite earlier than we would want it to.
But we all must face it, some day or the other. Based on what culture you grew up in, there are theories and mythology woven around death and why it’s the ultimate truth of life.
Here I want to again go back to what Dr Ikeda says on the subject:
“Modern civilization is said to ignore or deny death. It is no coincidence that it is also a civilization characterized by the unfettered pursuit of desires. A society or civilization, just like an individual, that tries to avoid the fundamental question of life and death, will fall into spiritual decline as it fails to look beyond the moment.”
So before we talk to our children about death and grief, we must aim to understand it better ourselves as however negative it may sound, death is a part of life, if not the end of it.
There can be no life without death. Just like we teach our children all the other hard lessons and harsh realities of life, this one also needs equal attention.
Dr Ikeda writes in his book The Wisdom for Creating Peace and Happiness, “Death’s purpose is to make life shine brighter, while life is the innate activity of existence. Life and death are not in opposition to one another; death exists for the sake of life.”
Is death the end of life? And if life has to end in death, what’s the point of living? Well death IS THE point of living, living a full life, every single day, because it may end any time.
In Dr Ikeda’s words, “Death affords the opportunity for us to live more meaningful lives.”
We need a deeper and more holistic understanding of death in order to accept it more peacefully.
Let’s not sweep it under the carpet but rather address it with courage and compassion so that we are better equipped to talk about it with our children.
I would love to engage with you and read your feedback on this at firstname.lastname@example.org