Due to superstitious reasons, I do not attend wakes or funerals. I was inspired by Patty and her annual birthday bash and so I have decided to make a list of older relatives and friends I am close to and to think what would they like me to do for them. I then resolved to make the effort to make sure that I keep in touch with these precious people, even if its something as having a meal with them. I know that I will not attend their funeral and I’m sure that they would much prefer me to stay in touch while they are alive, when it matters.
I have been following with much interest a report on a new trend in Korea where, for a reasonable sum, a funeral parlor will organize for you a mock burial funeral. Participants take a class on the meaning of life, pose for their funeral portrait and write their wills as if they only had 3 days to live. After that, the “deceased” will enter his or her coffin. Workers will nail the coffin shut, sprinkle dirt on top as the lights are switched off.
Participants are left in the coffin for 15 minutes. In this time, the participants are asked to reflect on their past and think of a better future. Many of them have came out crying and sobbing uncontrollably. Many of the participants interviewed said they were really frightened while in the coffin and that they were flooded with thoughts of people they love and miss. Many said that they will live differently after this inspiring experience so as not to have any regrets in their lives.
To die well, we should live well. Many participants cried wile reading their wills, which means they felt that they had much to regret.
While many may think of this is a crazy and morbid practice, I personally feel that it is a practical way to jot us out of our self-denial and us taking each other for granted. Anyone can die unexpectedly. We should make a list of people we want to thank or to express our appreciation for today and make it a point to do so. We should not wait for the funerals, real or otherwise.
A wonderful book on this subject is "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche. For Tibetans, the main festival of the year is the New Year, which is like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Birthdays all rolled into one.
The author, a Tibetan master, would weep on this day. When he was asked why, he would reply that it was because another year had gone by and so many people have come one year closer to death – and still unprepared for it.
Just Switch on the television or glance at a newspaper and you will see death everywhere – from plane crashes and car accidents to war. These victims did not expect to die. We all tend to take our lives for granted – most of them are not the exception.
How often do we hear of someone we know dying unexpectedly? While we may sometimes feel invincible when we’re young, all of us are equally vulnerable of sudden death. We need to shake ourselves from time to time and seriously ask ourselves:
"What if I am to die tonight?"
As a Tibetan saying goes, "Tomorrow or the next life. Whichever comes first, we never know." According to the book, some Tibetan masters, empty their cups and leave them upside down on their tables before they go to bed at night. They do so because they are never sure if they will wake up to use them the following day.
“What if I am to die tonight?” As a Tibetan saying goes, “Tomorrow or the next life. Whichever comes first, we never know.”
“Based on the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us of the shock of terminal illness to force us into looking at our own lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown.”
We can begin here and now to find meaning in our lives. “We can make every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare – wholeheartedly, precisely and with peace of mind – for death and eternity.”
Tibetan masters empty their cups and leave them upside down on their tables before they go to bed at night. They do so because they are never sure if they will wake up to use them the following day.
I am not suggesting that we live our lives constantly thinking of death. Life has to go on as usual, but we do need to build a strong mental state of mind to prepare ourselves for death.
I found the book immensely inspiring because it approaches the subject of death philosophically rather than simply as an expression of a particular religion.
If the topic of dying intrigues you, even just a little, I highly recommend this book. If you keep an open mind and read it from cover to cover, I am confident you will look at the subject in a new light. You may still be frightened of death but you will now be more prepared for the inevitable.
If there are people you want to thank, express your love and concern, I urge you to go about doing it today and not wait till the funeral when it is too late.