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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly SPRING 2 0 09 38 feeling that we should be chirpy and healthy and full of vigor and good-looking our whole life. It’s seen as an affront that we start getting wrinkles or that we can’t move so much. In Asia, as in some other parts of the world, there’s much more of a sense of continuity. Aging is not a state of diminution or unattractiveness; rather, one actually becomes more valuable, respected, and appreciated with age. PonloP rinPoche: In general, we lack an understanding of impermanent nature. Culture and religion can reinforce that. In many religions, we seek eternal existence. We try to rely on ginseng to do the trick, but that doesn’t work, so we keep looking for methods to enable us to go against the law of nature, which is impermanence. Aging can be appreciated. As you age, your ego-centered and unreasonable impulses start to mellow; you can become tamer, calmer, and more compromising. Relationships age in the same way. In the beginning, you start out fighting for your own agenda, and at some point you mellow into a more cooperative approach. But culture and religion can sometimes work against the appreciation of the natural aging process. jan chozen Bays: Even criminals mellow with age. They burn out and just can’t keep up a life of crime. Frank ostaseski: Getting old isn’t easy, and neither is sickness or death. One of the inevitable experiences of getting old is loss, which leads to grieving. In fact, all growth brings griev- ing, and we have an aversion to grieving. Of course, there are gains, as several people have said, but for most of us our self-image is tied to the physical. When it starts to change, we fight against it, and some of us in spiritual communities try to use spiritual concepts as a bypass that actually avoids facing the loss. Instead, we could just feel the loss. jan chozen Bays: Many of us have had a to-do list for a long time, things to get to later. But at some point we realize we’re not going to get to those things later. We have to jettison some of those projects, and they can be hard to let go of. One woman I visited recently who was just days away from dying of liver cancer told me, “I always intended to practice later, and now there is no later.” Buddhadharma: Are there any instructions for young people to help them begin to appreciate aging as early as possible? ajahn amaro: One of the standard daily recollections in the Theravada tradition is: “I am of the nature to become sick; I am of the nature to die; all that is mine beloved and pleasing will become otherwise, will become separated from me.” That may sound like an extremely depressing thing to think of... Ajahn Amaro is co-abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. Jan Chozen Bays is co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. She is also a pedia- trician and author of Jizo Bodhisattva: Modern Healing and Traditional Buddhist Practice. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is the founder and spiritual director of Nalandabodhi, a network of meditation centers and study groups, and the author of Mind Beyond Death. Frank Ostaseski was the founding director of San francisco’s Zen Hospice Project, the first Buddhist hospice in America. in 2004 he founded the Metta institute, which offers edu- cation in end-of-life care, emphasizing the spiritual dimensions of dying. When I’m holding the hand of someone very old or of a dying patient, I notice that their skin is almost transparent, and it’s as if their being becomes that way as well. There isn’t much obscuring who they actually are. —Frank Ostaseski (leFt-right):riChArdyAski;BrinkmAnphotogrAphy;ryzsArdFrACkiewiCz;pAttywinter©estAteoFgregCurnoe/sodrAC(2009),photogrAphCourtesyoFwyniCk/tuCkgAllery