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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
18 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 4 personally struggle with these funda- mental questions of birth and death; no one else can answer them for us. My late husband had a favorite story about Pavlov, who apparently had devoted disciples present as he lay on his deathbed. As it was snowing, one of his disciples went outside and brought Pav- lov some snow on a plate. Pavlov looked at it thoughtfully for a time as it was melting on the plate and then said, “Oh, so that’s how it is!” and died. As far as I know, every religious tra- dition has some story of what happens when this body dies and a suggestion of something that continues. The impor- tance of how we live our lives, and the teaching that our volitional actions of body, speech, and mind have conse- quences and will affect what happens next, are also part of all the religious traditions with which I am familiar. Speculating about the great mat- ter of birth and death may not offer as much ease as making your best effort to cultivate the six perfections or see- ing the Buddha in everyone. Frankly, at this stage of my life (I am now 87 years old, with diminishing energy and some mobility issues), my focus is on cultivating loving-kindness for everyone and making my best effort to follow the golden rule to always treat everyone as I would wish to be treated. For me, the effort in practice is bet- ter spent on developing the capacity to fully experience the present moment so I may be more able to experience what is happening as I breathe my last breath. When my time comes, I truly hope I may be able to meet this great mystery with ease and curiosity. Or as Mary Oli- ver puts it so eloquently in one of her poems: When death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? —From “When Death Comes,” New and Selected Poems