ON DEATH AND DYING
Thank you for this opportunity to create dialogue on this issue of death [see Mandala September, December and February issues]. I was really shocked at the harsh, judgmental language in the letter from Rubi. I have to think carefully not to fall into that same trap. For when we are “in the Dharma,” my understanding is that we watch ourselves, our thoughts, our language so as not to fall into negativity. Rubi’s letter was negative, although I read in it the sorrow and grief of someone strongly striving in the Dharma.
Rubi failed to realize that no one associated with Mandala would be “insensitive, shallow or disrespectful.” Even in his grief and sadness in seeing the photo of someone he cared for, I feel he missed the lesson. For what is more important in one’s life, as a Buddhist, than to receive a visit from a lama at one’s deathbed? Isn’t everything we do oriented toward making that last breath meaningful and in preparation for our next return? How many of us will be so fortunate to have Lama Zopa Rinpoche give us six hours of puja on our death bed?
Furthermore, seeing the photo of Jan with her caregiver [in September] made the death photo [in December] even more meaningful and precious, for although her smile and light was gone, we see she was protected and blessed on her journey with prayers. While I see myself as one of the worst Buddhist practitioners, I practice not only to make my life meaningful, but to be prepared for my death. For what I have seen and read of all great practitioners their deaths are a reflection of their lives. So your first article and photo told those of us who never knew Jan that she lived a good life as a practicing Buddhist.
Finally, I have seen photos of people who have died published by their families in other religions, specifically by black families. Finally, Massimo and Nancy, your responses to Rubi show also the nature of your practice in kindness and compassion – and I would hope to have been so wise.
Your sister in the Dharma,
Skywalker Payne, Des Moines, IA
I was surprised to see the very intimate photo of the woman in her death in the last issue. I just assumed that she had expressed the wish to have her photo printed like this, which I understood from a dharmic point of view. So therefore it was very upsetting to read the letter from the friend saying it was not the wish of the family to have the photo printed. What kind of Dharma editing is going on here? Yes, death is part of life, but so is making love – also seen as a private act.
I have death photos of my dear ones, but not particularly for publication. For lamas, etc., it is another matter if they wish it for our understanding. By the way, I am a Buddhist, but according to Jewish custom it is particularly bad form to show the dead in this way, because they cannot see back, and it is considered very unkind.
Eileen Weintraub, Seattle, WA
First, thanks for the new-look Mandala. I am happy to have an in-house publication back. Regarding pictures of dead people – I have no problem with it; I believe it is a good thing to do. To de-mythologize death can only be useful. And as Massimo Corona said, that is not the person anyway. But because there are obviously sensitivities in this area, perhaps it is good to have the permission of the person and/or their family to avoid the hurt expressed by Rubi Lowy in his letter.
Ven. Thubten Yeshe, Queensland, Australia
The death talk [in the December issue] is really important! It shows up one of those gaps between Buddhist belief and ‘everyday’ belief, which are usually hidden because there are no triggers to point to them. Yes, I was mildly shocked the first moment I set eyes on the picture [in the September issue] and realized that it was a dead person! But the next moment, the remembrance of the death meditation got me thinking about how that will be me, sooner or later. And a little voice reminded me about behaving well, trying to do practice, etc., etc. I’m sure that many other readers had a similar response. The point is, Mandala is a Buddhist magazine, that nun had taken refuge in Buddhism with the highest degree of commitment (being ordained), so the reporting of her passing had to be treated in a way that would be beneficial to readers/students of Buddhism – she would have wanted that, I’m sure, and would have been happy that her passing had been such a lesson for so many students. It’s difficult, yes, because a friend who was grieving was hurt, but surely if he thought about what was important in the life of his deceased friend, he would feel a bit more tolerance for the spiritual path and beliefs his friend had chosen.
Mary-Lou Considine, Victoria, Australia