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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
summer 2 0 1 6 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 23 those who don’t and need the help of professionals, which would be hard for me to deny them. On the other hand, I am concerned that decisions concerning life and death could, at least at times, be made based on reasons that are less than wholesome. One vital issue in this arena of inves- tigation and dharma has to do with the very human need to control our own deaths. The exceptional case in which pain is unendurable is one thing. The control with which we tend to approach all of life is another. In the practice of meditation, we learn to let go of control, and there is no better time to practice that release than at the time of death. Perhaps death is a safer passage than we think. Each moment of life is a possible moment of deeper understanding of suf- fering—and its end. mark unno: The right or choice to die or to assist in the death of another is a complex issue, and there is no easy answer. Ahimsa, not harming, includ- ing and especially not causing the death of others or oneself, is one of the car- dinal precepts espoused by virtually all schools of Buddhism. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and any rule, if adhered to in an overly dogmatic and rigid manner, can cause unnecessary suffering or unintended consequences. There are potential pitfalls and dangers both with prohibiting assisted suicide and with allowing “death with dignity.” We find one of the earliest excep- tions to the precept on ahimsa in the story of the monk Vikkali, who was in unbearable pain. To make a long story short, the Buddha acknowledged that it would not be a “bad death” for Vikkali to take his own life, which Vikkali then did with a knife. Afterward, the Buddha proclaimed that Vikkali had attained nirvana. There are other similar examples in later traditions, but let’s consider a subtler case: someone on his or her deathbed, receiving morphine to treat great pain. When done in the context of proper hospice care, only the dos- age to alleviate pain is administered, and this does not hasten a person’s biological end. But what about a case in which a larger dose is administered when the person is clearly nearing the end and suffering greatly, and that dos- age brings the person to the completion of the life journey? Buddhism histori- cally, and especially in the development of Mahayana Buddhism, has developed careful ethical guidelines but has tended to avoid dogmatism, understanding that each situation is highly contextual. Once I was giving a dharma talk and a man asked, with grave concern on his face, whether he should have done more to extend the life of his daughter who had a terminal illness. At that moment, I looked him straight in the eyes and said as forcefully as I could, “No. You abso- lutely made the right decision to let her go. You should never doubt your deci- sion. Remember, in the buddhadharma, quality is more significant than quan- tity. It’s not how long you live but how deeply you embrace the moment of life and death.” I could have said, “We can never know these things. Perhaps it would have been better to do everything you could to extend her life, or perhaps it was the right thing to have it end as you did.” This would have reflected the fact that our knowledge is unlike the knowledge of the Buddha in that we only have a partial understanding of eventual karmic consequences; our deci- sions, no matter how well considered and researched, are based on incom- plete knowledge. Nevertheless, I gave a clear, emphatic answer in affirmation of the person asking the question. At that moment, the essential thing was to alleviate his suffering, a burden he had clearly carried for many years, and just as important, to affirm his tremendous love for his daughter. This is an oppor- tunity for us to be fully present in the awareness of boundless compassion. If we just do our very best, the Buddha will surely embrace us. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org WILD DHARMA PRACTICE Five Day Wilderness Meditation Expeditions Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem & Colorado Rocky Mountains Featuring Zenki Dillo Sensei of Crestone Mountain Zen Center For millennia, people have entered wild landscapes to study the self in relation to mountains and rivers . Absaroka Institute offers an opportunity to embed Zen Buddhist practice within the interconnectedness and impermanence of wild nature. Backpacking. Zazen. Mindfulness practices. Chanting. Ecological literacy. Dharma discussion. www.absaroka.org Register Now for 2016 Wild Dharma Practice www.bdkAmerica.orgTheTeachingofBuddhaBDKEnglishTripitaka