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This may sound morbid, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. There are several reasons for this, chief amongst which is the fact that I’ve been (and technically still am) ill recently. In the last two and a half weeks, I’ve blacked out twice. I don’t know if that’s serious or not, but the fact that the room regularly spins doesn’t help matters. I went to see the Hospital up in London, for a normal, routine check up on my heart (I was born with a congenital heart defect). When I told the Doctor about this, she became concerned. Anyway, they’re running up all sorts of tests on me, and I look forward to the results.
The second reason I’ve been thinking about death recently, is because my wife and I watched a program on the BBC recently all about death, and people’s attitude toward it. I think it’s fair to say that death is somewhat of a taboo in England, if not the western world. People don’t talk about it, and you’re seen as a bit odd if you do. In my line of work, there is always the distinct possibility that I will come up against death, whether it’s my own or someone else’s. Fortunately, I haven’t yet, the closest I have come is a lady in a body bag, but I’ve always wanted to know what my reaction would be should I come across one. It is said that death is the ultimate teacher, the final challenge, or even just the beginning. But people don’t like to think about death in my experience. If people start to talk about death, the subject is often quickly changed.
But is this the right attitude to have? Often, death comes as a bit of a surprise, so to not plan for the death of a loved one, or your own, seems like a bit of a wasted effort. I know that if I was to die tomorrow, my wife would only have a vague idea of what my wishes were. And the same if the opposite happened.
In Buddhism, we are taught that death is not to be feared or ignored, but to be used as motivation to practice. If we were to lead a life of ignorance, where we do not live our lives to our best, it is a waste, and we will be born in samsara (suffering). The following is attributed to the great Tibetan Buddhist Scholar, Je Tsong Khapa:

This life is as impermanent as a water bubble;
Remember how quickly it decays and death comes.
After death, just like a shadow follows the body,
The results of black and white karma ensue.

Finding firm and definite conviction in this,
Please bless me always to be careful
To abandon even the slightest of negativities
And to accomplish only virtuous deeds.

This simple verse, or prayer, highlights the main teachings of Buddhism in 8 lines. Life is short, and death is the only certainty. There is nothing after death but the result of our Karma (actions), good and bad. We should always make the most of this moment. Living our lives as best we can, without performing any negative actions. Obviously, this is a very simplified version, but one I try to keep to at all times.

I must be honest though, up until now, I haven’t been very diligent in my practice. I could blame this on my matt, my back hurting, or even not having enough time, but the simple truth is that I’m just lazy. Although I am young, death is an ever present threat, and my practice could be cut short at any time, with all this negative Karma un-purified. If this ‘scare’ has taught me anything, it’s that I should get my self sorted and sit when I can. The advantage is that concentrating on something has helped me when the room is spinning. If my sergeant will accept this for the reason I’m sitting crossed legged in the middle of the squad room is another matter. Another thing it has taught me is that I need to write out a death plan, detailing what my wishes are after I pass on. It’s a plan that we should all follow, even if it’s just to make us think about our inevitable fate.

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I must say that I was amazed by the response to my last post: 79 reads the day it was posted, that’s quite something! I am delighted so many of you are taking time to read my posts. Thank you!
Moving on with this months’ post (I will try and post on a more regular basis, life allowing). As you may have gathered from my last post, my wife and I are expecting another addition to the family. We are both very excited and looking forward to meet the little chap. We’ve reached the point where we both want to start hugging and caring for a new person. However, in a moment of “doubt”, my wife turned to me after listening to the news and said “Is it right to bring a baby into such a horrible world?”. My immediate response was “of course”. However, it did set a train of thought going (especially at work). Then, a couple of days later, I read a news article on the BBC website that stated that families who have more than two children are ecologically irresponsible. At first, I was rather put off by this. But I figured I best read the article before I condemned it. After reading it, I must admit I did calm down and start to see the idea behind the article. It’s main point was that people who have large amounts of children regardless of whether they have the money, space, time etc are putting greater pressure on the worlds resources (such as gas, food, water, housing etc).
Fortunately, in this respect, my wife and I are not being ecologically irresponsible, as we only have one current son. However, I think she meant in the sense that there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that it seams cruel to subject another human being to this. From a Buddhist point of view (and I must admit that my practice has fallen well by the way side recently), being able to give another human being life is a great gift, one that only women have the ‘pleasure’ of experiencing. This sentient being could have been an animal previously, or an insect. In buddhism, to be born as a human is seen as a great privilege and opportunity, as only as a human do we have the potential to achieve enlightenment, the ultimate goal of Buddhism. Whether my sons take this opportunity is up to them, I will give them every chance.
So to answer my wife’s question, I think the only bad thing about bringing the baby into this world is if we let it be a horrible world. Sure, we can’t stop the wars, the murders, the violence, injustice and hate. But we can bring up both our sons to love and respect each other and others and do the right things. Whether they be following the Buddhas teachings or not. If all parents were to do this, we could well be living in a nicer world.

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I have recently been watching a couple of programs that have made me think of reincarnation. The first was David Attenborough’s ‘Life in Cold Blood’. He was talking about several species of animals that had been made extinct by humans, such as Dodo’s and Tortoise’s to name but a few. If taking the concept of reincarnation to the fullest sense, it would be logical that we can also be reborn as an animal. This is something I always thought credible when I was younger, as I often wanted to become a bird. The thought of extinction is terrible when we think in human terms, but when we hear that a species of animal is extinct, few people would be traumatised. However, when we take into context that we may once have been one of that species, everything changes. With every species of animal that goes extinct, we loose another from of reincarnation. I appreciate this is taking it to the extreme, but it is worth bearing in mind.
The second program that reminded me of reincarnation was a documentary on the finding of a Peruvian mummy. I was interested as I went to Peru 4 years ago on an expedition, and wondered what the differences between Egyptian Mummies and Peruvian Mummies were. The mummy had been coated in a primitive varnish to help prevent decay. One of the ingredients was tree resin from a tree found in the south Pacific, almost 1000 miles away. Having studied Egyptology and some of the ancient South American civilizations, I couldn’t help but notice certain similarities. There is no known explanation as to how these similarities occurred 1000 miles apart (that I am aware of), but I did come up with one. Taking the concept of reincarnation again, would it not be possible for, let’s say, an Egyptian priest who was well versed to die and be reborn in another part of the world, say Mexico, and (either unconsciously or not) pass on his knowledge to his new village and so on? It’s a hazy theory at best, but fun to mull over in ones head.

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