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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
45 SPRING 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly ➤ continued page 80 to open. Without that compassion, the heart won’t open to its suffering. It just simply won’t open to the pain, in the way Chozen was talking about earlier. As a caregiver, my task is to attune myself as closely as possible to exactly where the other person is in this moment and not to try to lead them anywhere, and certainly not try to lead them away from their suffering. We don’t really serve a person by taking them away from their suffering. We serve them by helping them come into contact with it. Dying is a matter of relationship—to ourself, to those we love, to God, spirit, buddhanature, however we frame our image of ultimate kindness. Being a companion to the dying involves being fully with the person as we help them, enabling them to address those different levels of relationship. This process is characterized much more by mystery than mas- tery. Of course, when we’re dying, it’s good to have mastery, somebody who knows what they’re doing, but that won’t be enough. I also want somebody there who can help me explore the territory of meaning, to help me understand what’s had value and purpose in my life. But there’s a point in the dying process where meaning falls away completely. At that point, I’ll want somebody who’s comfortable in the territory of mys- tery, of unanswerable questions, who can be there without feeling the drive to get it all resolved. I want somebody who’s comfortable in that not knowing. jan chozen Bays: The experience of meditation—which is that, as you enter it, every moment is completely unknown—hope- fully makes us comfortable with not knowing. Buddhadharma: Training in meditation leads many people to conclude that there’s no reason that the process after the death of our body would not bear some strong similarity to the process we’re already familiar with, of things arising, tak- ing shape, and ending, and therefore the teaching of rebirth can seem quite natural. On the other hand, many people feel very specific way. Rather, you would try to find a way to com- municate and manifest a loving presence. If someone under- stands meditation practice or particular dharma teachings, you would bring those out because being reminded of those will help to catalyze their own insight. Practices and teaching can help someone use the potency of the moment to break through obstructions and habits of self-identification. jan chozen Bays: Your discussion of reappearance through aspiration gets us to a very interesting Mahayana question. If you did have the bodhisattva aspiration, bodhichitta, would you aspire to reappear in the human realm rather than step off the wheel of samsara completely? That’s not a Therava- dan question, though, is it, because in the Theravadan under- standing, isn’t the Buddha prior to his enlightenment the only bodhisattva? ajahn amaro: It depends on which Theravadin you talk to. jan chozen Bays: I see. Well, I’m talking to you right now. [Laughter] ajahn amaro: Within the Theravada world, to a certain degree, there is a tradition of people taking bodhisattva vows. It’s not very prominent, but it’s certainly there and it’s been in the mix over the centuries. jan chozen Bays: Would there be an active aspiration, then, to reappear in the human realm? ajahn amaro: Yes. jan chozen Bays: Gosh, you’re like us. ajahn amaro: We’re all one...[Laughter] Buddhadharma: ...particularly when we’re dead. Frank ostaseski: Most of the people I’ve worked with have some notion of what is sacred to them, whether they live within a Buddhist context or Christian context or some other religious or nonreligious context. I try to discover what is sacred for them. The sacred is not something separate or dif- ferent or more than other things. It is rather hidden in things, so dying becomes an opportunity to discover the sacredness that is hidden all around us. It becomes this process of gradu- ally removing obscurations and perceptions that block our capacity to see the truth of what was already there. This pro- cess can be facilitated by a good relationship between the person giving care and the dying person. Buddhadharma: And of course the caregiver is not necessar- ily a professional. It could be one of us with our parent or spouse, or even child. What is the most important element in that relationship? Frank ostaseski: Compassion doesn’t have an agenda. It doesn’t have judgments or shoulds or a concern for what’s “right.” It expresses gentleness, the kindness that’s necessary for our hearts to open, and for the heart of the dying person If we practice stepping into the unknown, moment by moment, hour by hour, year by year, millions of times, then death is just the next step into the unknown. It loses its terror. — Jan Chozen Bays photo:AlAviseyed