Archive for July, 2010

Clinging To The Carnival Pt 1

“The issue in the Buddha’s teachings is not how long one lives, but how one meets the challenges of living, aging, becoming sick, and dying. We all have to age, become sick and die. This is the ultimate challenge of human existence, and this is the challenge that the Buddha sought to address. Yet in even this ordinary human life we do have options: we can live with a hankering for life as an endless carnival, or we can with full awareness let go of all clinging.”

Mu Soeng, Trust in Mind

One of the questions implied by Mu Soeng in his book Trust in Mind is “Why do you want to live longer?” This is in one sense an obvious question, but it is one that we never ask ourselves. Why is it that we take it as a given that more life is better.

There are people who believe the opposite, that less life would be better. These are people who are suffering terribly from a terminal or incapacitating illness, which has so drastically reduced their pleasure of life that death is seen as the only release. This is the basis of the euthanasia movement, to allow those for whom life is no longer good to voluntarily end their life.

There is an opposite movement to Euthanasia, and this is the trans-humanists who believe that life can be extended indefinitely through science and technology. This means using medical interventions like human growth hormone injections, or waiting for the advent of nanotechnology to provide miniature machines to swim inside our blood stream sweeping up toxins and malevolent viruses. They also believe that stem cell research and genetic manipulation will enable us to cure aging and enable us all to live infinite lives.

Clearly the trans-humanists and other life-extenders must believe that life is good, otherwise why would they want to see it continue indefinitely. As Mu Soeng puts it, they must believe that life is a carnival and should become endless. If we ask them the question, “Why do you want more life?” what will we get as an answer?

In the quote above, Mu mentioned “how one meets the challenges of living, aging, becoming sick, and dying. We all have to age, become sick and die.” The trans-humanists do not believe that we have to age, get sick and die. They think that science and technology will come to our rescue and enable us to stay in one mode only- that of living well. Ray Kurzweil, the computer-based inventor, is one of the leading lights of this movement. I understand he takes 182 dietary supplements a day and expects that in 20 years technology will enable him to escape death. Unfortunately I am sceptical about this possibility, and I think Mr. Kurzweil’s epitaph will read “I didn’t expect to be here.”

Anyone who wants to stay living, and to avoid aging, must be either very selfish: “I want more life because I don’t want to die” or they have a deep-seated fear of death and this clinging to life represents a denial of the reality of aging and dying. We know that our unconscious does not believe in the reality of death; it is purely life-centred and believes we will live forever. But our consciousness knows what the reality truly is, that our body and mind ages, stops working and succumbs eventually.

My idea of life extension is different from this. I accept that living also means dying, and we can’t avoid life coming to an end. In fact, accepting death is the way to make life richer and more valuable. But I believe we have in our own hands a way to delay aging and the illnesses associated with it. My plan is to some day publish a ‘longevity kit’ which would comprise a book, a Cdd and a DVD which would give people the tools to push aging back into a short span at the end of life, The aim of this is to extend middle age – when most people are still hrealthy and active- into a much longer period of time. At 50 and 60, most people are still in good heath and in a reasonable state of fitness, but in their 70s there is a sharp decline and by the end of the 70s many people have lost their spark of life and they begin that long slide into illness leading to suffering and death. I think there is a better way to live, a way that would enable us to die like this:

The Zen master Hoshin told his disciples this story. One year, on the 25th of December, the monk Tokufu, who was very old, said to his disciples, “I am not going to be alive next year so you should treat me well this year.”

The pupils thought he was joking, but since he was a great-hearted teacher each of them in turn treated him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year.

On the eve of the new year, Tokufu said,

You have been good to me. I shall leave you tomorrow afternoon when the snow has stopped.”

The disciples laughed, thinking he was just getting old and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without snow. But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not find their teacher about. They went to the meditation hall to look for him. There he had passed on.

How does someone come to have such a full awareness of life and death that they are able not just to say when they will be letting go of life as a conscious choice, but also make certain that they have the time to settle all their emotional accounts, say proper farewells to everyone they love, and leave in a dignified and simple way. This is certainly the way that I would like to go.

July 30, 2010 at 9:03 pm Leave a comment

The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.