Behind The Mask ~ DO IT YOURSELF

If anyone can help a deceased person in any way, who would be better-qualified to do it than his or her own family members? If we demystify the ceremonies that are performed for the dead and if they cease to be looked upon as sacred traditions, then we might understand their purpose and what lies behind them.

If, as all religions claim, life does not die at the body’s death, if something immaterial survives and continues—soul, spirit, consciousness, mind, call it what you like—how is it possible to help it? Surely, food, clothes, flowers, money and other offerings are of no use but are just symbols, tokens of respect, love and concern for the safety and well-being of the deceased.

Recent research* has turned up many cases of people being declared clinically dead, but after some time, returning to life, with accounts of how it felt to be dead. Such accounts, from people of various cultural and religious backgrounds, tally to a remarkable degree in many ways. Many of the dead-who-returned-to-life told of how they were aware of what was going on around their just-vacated bodies from their own remote, outside viewpoint; they recounted, in accurate detail, what doctors, nurses, and other people said and did in their efforts to resuscitate the body, of the grief of relatives, etc. But, although the ‘dead person’ could hear and see all that was going on, he/she/it could not communicate with the living in any way; it was strictly a one-way thing. *(See Life After Life by Dr. J.D. Moody, and other books on the subject).

From this, it can be seen that the ‘dead’ can be contacted, though—as far as this particular type of research has extended—on a ‘speaking-to’ rather than on a ‘speaking-with’ basis. It is not known, however, for how long this one-way channel of communication is open, nor if it is open in the case of all dead people; it might be for just a short time, while the spirit or the consciousness is in the immediate vicinity of its corpse and before it passes on to new fields of experience; of that, we are not qualified to speak, as we have only personal opinions and not verifiable facts. Some religions tell of an ‘intermediate’ period between the death of the body and the re-embodiment or rebirth; some say that this can last as long as 49 days (49, it will be noticed, is the multiple of 7 x 7, and to many people, 7 was/is a mystical number for some reason or other, though there is no objective evidence to support this, any more than there is for 13 being regarded as an unlucky number; it is probably just an old superstition, given weight by people’s accumulated hopes and fears). Others believe the intermediate period can last for hundreds of years as we reckon time on this side of death, while others say that rebirth takes place immediately upon bodily death. So on this point there is disagreement and it is best to keep open minds, without forming any conclusions, as nobody knows and neither can it be proved one way or the other. We are concerned here with how to help dead people, if this is at all possible, and not with metaphysical speculation.

Let’s suppose—just suppose—that a just-deceased family-member or friend is still ‘within range’ of us: what can we do to help him? We cannot pull him back to his abandoned vehicle, and it is worse than useless to try, for that might ‘tear him apart’ between staying and continuing on the way he must go; we can impede as well as expedite his passage, and so we should know how to go about the latter.

If we love someone, we want him/her to be happy, not to be sad; if we saw him sad we would be sad, too, and would try to cheer him up and encourage him to overcome his sadness, would we not? So, suppose the deceased could see his family and friends sad and grieving over his death: would he not also feel sad about that? By grief, we cannot help a ‘dead’ person; in fact, our grief might only intensify his uncertainty over his new and unfamiliar condition. Therefore, the best way the living might help the dead (who are not really dead, but just in a different dimension or frequency, having left behind their physical forms), is not to be sad and to mourn, but to send positive thoughts—and even spoken words; there is no harm in that—of love and encouragement, bidding the ‘dead’ person to be strong and to go on with his journey, as there is no use in ‘hanging around’. This ‘transmission’ (like a radio broadcast), would be best done in surroundings where the deceased lived and was happy, and no-one is better qualified to do this than his immediate family members or close friends. Why should we consider anyone more qualified than these? There is no need to call in outsiders, with whom the ‘dead’ had little or no connection, outsiders who might not really care, in many cases, about the welfare of the ‘dead’, and to whom it’s ‘just another’. Moreover, it is not necessary to spend anything on the ‘send-off’; it wouldn’t be disrespectful on the part of the relatives to do things by themselves without spending a large sum of money. However, the thought of what others might think and say if the family does not comply with tradition impels people to spend money that sometimes they cannot afford. Would this please or help the deceased?

Years before I saw the movie, Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Woopie Goldberg, I had felt that some people die so suddenly and unexpectedly that they don’t realize they are dead, and can get stuck in that condition for a long time. They can see and hear everything that goes on here, but cannot be seen or heard except by clairvoyants or other gifted people. This must be a miserable condition, but it is possible—at least in some cases—to help such spirits, by explaining to them that they are no longer part of our world, so should ‘let go’ and continue with their journey. The movie strengthened my conviction that this is so. I recommend watching it with this idea in mind; it makes a lot of sense, and it would be interesting to know of the research that went into the making of this film.

In the obituary columns of the newspapers we can sometimes see the words: ‘No flowers, please; instead, donations in the name of the deceased may be made to cancer-research [or similar cause]’. This shows more understanding and is certainly of more use; moreover, if the dead person was of a charitable nature while alive, and if he could observe such donations being made in his memory, he would probably feel happy thereby, which might cause him to be released, mentally, from any miserable condition he might be in—or to rise above it—for joy makes the mind buoyant and light.

Following tradition, some Chinese people burn paper houses, paper cars, and other things made of paper, as well as token bank-notes—’hell-money’—in the naïve belief that their departed ones will receive these things in more-real form on ‘the other side’. What a quaint idea, and also, what a waste of money, as these things are far from cheap, produced, as they are, by people who depend for their living on the superstitions of others who ask no questions or who are afraid to go against the traditions of their ancestors. But such practices are rather incongruous now, and should be quietly left behind. There are much better uses for money than that! In short: DO IT YOURSELF!

Now, having reached my half-century, wondering how I ever managed to get to such a ‘ripe old age’, I think more and more of my own demise, and the funeral, if any, that will follow; it cannot be far away, at the most.

Since 1993, I have carried a note around in my passport, with the following text:


Since I found Dharma some years ago, I have tried to serve others in various ways. I would like to continue to be useful even in death, and so, wherever I die, I wish my body to be used for medical research and/or organ transplants.

To date, and as far as I know, my kidneys, liver and heart are functioning well, and might be useful. However, since 1976, on and off, I have had severe pains in the left side of my chest, and none of the numerous doctors I have consulted about it over the years have given me a satisfactory explanation; they all concurred though that it was not my heart. The pain has recently spread into my left shoulder and arm, where it has never been before.

My bronchial-system has also been weak for many years, rendering me susceptible to coughs lasting months that responded to almost no kind of treatment. In 1991, such a cough developed into pneumonia.

I have been free from headaches, but have had sharp nervous pains in my arms, hands, legs and feet for no apparent reason. During my years in the tropics, I also had some rheumatism, but that faded away. For the past seven years, a pinched nerve in my right hand has caused permanent semi-numbness in my little finger and the finger next to it, and that half of the palm; there is also pain there at times.

There is no need to consult my next of kin about this my decision, as I am a monk and have no wife, children or other dependents to consider.

This note is now a bit out-of-date, as since writing it, I finally discovered the cause of my chest-pains, and have also developed diabetes, so I’ll have to update it, but the rest of it still stands.

At one point, I had some hesitation about it because of the widely-held belief that the body should not be disturbed for several days after death, in order for the spirit or consciousness to disengage itself and complete the process of leaving the body. But, recalling the story that, in one of his previous lives before the one in which he attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha, Sakyamuni had offered himself to a starving tigress in order to save her and her cubs, I have decided to go ahead with the idea for my body to be used for medical research and ‘spare parts’; I do not want it to take up space needed by the living (by burial), nor do I wish it to cause pollution in the atmosphere (by cremation). If my body is not used for medical research and spare parts, next in line of preference would be sea-burial, to become food for fish; there is little likelihood that this would be allowed, however—nor burial at the foot of a forest tree, to nourish its roots—so the next alternative would be cremation, but in the most economical way possible, and the ashes scattered on the sea or somewhere on land, not kept anywhere to cause bother to anyone. A cardboard coffin—such as is now coming into use in the West—or simply a shroud like Muslims use, is all that is needed.

I do not want a ceremony, with monks, priests, beating of drums, ringing of bells, clanging of cymbals, lots of smoke and so on, as I do not believe in such ceremonies and am in fact opposed to them! If I die in a place where I have friends, I would like a few selected songs to be played in my memory, as they have Dharma content, and were meaningful to me, and I have tried to live by their spirit; also, some readings from the scriptures. I have made a tape of these and am carrying it around with me, in order that it may be played at my funeral and so that I can do it myself. There is no need for anything other than this. Oh, and no flowers; leave them growing where they are. Anyone wishing to make a donation in my name may do so for the purpose of printing Dharma books to help someone understand something.

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