I must have awakened on the contrarian side of my bed this morning, because before long I had a new theory for the origin of religion. Drum-roll, please. Religion was invented shortly after language because homo sapiens hated saying the word “dead.” They invented religion to create euphemisms for “dead.”
For most of my life, it seems to me that roughly half of my friends and relatives used “passed away” and roughly half were braver souls and said that dreaded word. But in the last decade or two, we tell-it-like-it-is souls have become as rare, and as shocking, as atheists at a Southern Baptist convention. At the same time, more and more people have been using their own religious variant of “dead.”
Maybe, as the world has become more technologically advanced and dying has become more sterile, we fear it more. We’re willing to face death in video games but not in hospitals.
Some of my Christian friends simply say that Grandma “passed,” and they’re not talking about gas. Other say that Grandma is “with God,” on “in Heaven.” On very rare occasions, I might hear of a dear departed who “got what he deserved in Hell,” but never that he simply died.
I respect what I’d call the basics of Buddhism, and I’ve come to believe in some sort of life after death, but I’m agnostic on its exact form. There are almost as many explanations for karma, reincarnation and the Pure Land as there are Buddhists. My own explanation is vague and doesn’t fit nicely into any pattern.
If I were more ambitious, I’d work out the kinks in my concept of life after death, look for disciple or two, and form my own Buddhist sect. But if I did that, I’d probably have to attend a meeting, and I’m allergic to meetings. I’ll let it be and continue on my contrarian Buddhist path. The Buddha taught us all to test every concept through our own experience.
Getting back to my theme for today, Buddhists also use a number of euphemisms for death. The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, didn’t die. He “passed into Parinirvana,” the final state of Nirvana. Tibetan Buddhists go to the Bardo, an intermediate state of existence without a physical body.
I don’t know enough Shin and other Pure Land Buddhists to know what terms they may use for the moment of dying, but they believe in the compassion of the Amida Buddha (the essence of Buddha-hood) to bring those who honestly seek redemption to the Pure Land. Perhaps my wise and eloquent blogging friend Peace Paul would like to correct or expand what I’ve said here.
OK, I’m not really as grumpy as I seem. Sometimes, I use the “grump” technique to make my posts more fun to read. My Dzogchen practice reminds me that it’s all perfect just as it is. I respect your right to express death as is comfortable to you. But, I also suggest that we might all consider doing what we can to counteract the growing remoteness of the act of physical death.
Whatever our beliefs about an afterlife, speaking more plainly about the body’s physical death might be a step toward overcoming that void.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Some metaphors for death can indeed be beautiful, such as Etta James singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine