A Dharma Glimpse: Life and Death – Neither Beginning nor End

This is a Dharma Glimpse that I originally presented on 9/15/19 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism

I was recently on an outing with a friend visiting the grounds of a local Vietnamese Zen Temple located in Frederick, MD. The Temple grounds are located inside a wooded area and feature many large, traditional statues of different Buddhas and Bodhissatvas, as well as other structures that stand alongside the various paths that run through the campus. While observing some of the statues we suddenly heard a subtle rustling in the trees above us, a noise which ended up being a large wasp tackling a large cicada to the ground next to us, killing it.

While animals and insects in the wild frequently hunt and kill as a means of nourishment, the act of killing has a much more complicated point of view when it comes to humanity. “Do not kill” is a common guideline for right, moral living. It is the “law of the land” in virtually all nations, it is the sixth commandment of Abrahamic religions and it is the first precept of Buddhism. From the most strictest of interpretations, this is an impossibility to completely observe – we can go our whole lives without intentionally harming another mammal, living vegan and saving each insect that we may happen to notice enter our dwellings: We will still almost certainly harm other insects or animals in one way or another. Yet, we can all certainly agree that this is still a right and moral observance, one that helps us foster a greater sense of reverence for life around us. But what about once a form of that life has ended?

As I looked to the insect who had fallen prey to the attack of its predator, I couldn’t help but ponder the new state in life that this insect had just entered: death. As a culture, we so frequently add a layer of social stigma to death: perhaps seeing it as the end of the road, the finale or a “dead end”, the erasure of all that ever was of us or someone or something else. But does a parent’s affect on the world cease when they expire? Or the contributions of a teacher to their students? And what of the remains of these individuals?

From a certain perspective – in all life, we can see the entire stream of life itself from the beginning of time. All life that has ever interacted with any other life will continue on in that life and so on and so forth. As for the physical remains, the scientific law of conservation of matter goes: “Matter cannot be created or destroyed”; The physical remains of the deceased will simply continue on in the world in some other form. Life (or more accurately birth) need not be viewed as the beginning and death need not be viewed as the end. Rather, they are merely stages along this constant cycle of life and death that we are constantly walking around. Let us bear this thought going forward in our recognition of all of life in its various forms and stages around us, recognizing the oneness of it all.

May all beings be happy and at peace.

Image from Flickr