I have dedicated this year to the pursuit of understanding death. I make meditation on death a part of every practice session, and I’m putting diligent effort into bringing my own death into clear focus, trying to keep the reality of my death foremost in my mind. It is a slippery, elusive goal, harder than you might think, to really probe into death and see it clearly, directly. I ask all the time to be able to see death with wisdom and clarity, without fear, without aversion, directly as it is.
Of course death is eager to bring me this knowledge. I think like anyone he wants to be known and understood. Not that death is a he, or a person, or personality at all, not that. But as I grow more and more convinced that everything I experience is a manifestation of mind, of naked awareness itself, it seems a mistake to put myself over here and death over there, outside of me, apart from me. And it seems a mistake, too, to apprehend death as something to be feared and dreaded. I think it really is possible to see death as the single most beautiful and necessary aspect of life itself, vital and pure and not at all what it seems to be from our normal perspective.
I have been helped in this work by following Ezra in his battle with cancer and his own recent death. He had a lot of time to face his death and I am astounded by his courage and clarity and wisdom in how he lived and in how he faced death. Of course, death is all around us in every single day. He is a willing, available, patient, and endlessly active teacher. He never tires of teaching and always welcomes new students. And how sad and strange it is that we need this teaching, this understanding, so much, it’s vital to us, and yet we run from it, we hide from it, we spend our short lives pretending that we don’t need to understand it.
Since Shamar Rinpoche’s death I have found this practice enriched beyond my ability to fully grasp. By stepping across the line that divides the living from the dead, I feel somehow that he is giving me a very personal teaching on the nature of death. I find myself much closer to him than I ever felt while he was alive. I feel, I experience directly a warmth and presence when I look at his photograph, as if some spirit animates the empty photograph and he somehow looks out through those eyes right at me. I feel him in my heart and hear his voice in my head. All sorts of concepts and misunderstandings I had of him when he was manifest in this life are falling away- I see them to be constructs of my own confusion and obscurations, and now I am somehow able to see better, see more clearly, what he really is.
Of course, all of this understanding is the result of my own opening towards something that was always there. It isn’t the case that he is somehow revealing something to me now that he is dead, although it does seem like that to me. Rather, his death has freed me from some of my own ignorance and allowed me to see with much greater clarity. I have an intellectual and emotional experience of death being a vast, vast country of blindingly powerful truth, something foundational, something essential, and something that will not remain a mystery for any of us.
I don’t think I’m making much sense here. But I’m grateful for this sea change in my outlook. I think it will be of great benefit to me as I continue to explore this wild and beautiful country.