Wisdom tells me i’m nothing. Love tells me i’m everything.

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I haven’t written a post in a while as so many things have been going on. I actually started to write this a few weeks ago and stopped because quite honestly it was too difficult. Someone I know and respect had some tragic news; his brother had committed suicide. I’m not going to discuss this very private story and the circumstances, I just wanted to somehow contemplate the complex notion of suicide.

I hope this doesn’t appear crass or insensitive and academic but it’s a challenging subject isn’t it? On the one hand some people and cultures would absolutely say it is the right of everyone to take their own life…I think of days of antiquity or feudal Japan for examples of people taking their lives with what can only be described as honour and dignity. It was indeed a respected form of atonement (Seppoku). I can relate to this.

“They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

On the other hand others would see it as a sacred violation. A ‘sin’ for want of a better way to describe it due to the sanctity if life. I can relate to this as well. Perhaps that’s why suicide is such a heartbreaking experience for anyone who is close to someone who has succeeded or even tried to assert some control in their lives by this method. In some countries (mainly Islamic I believe) it is still criminalised…surely a way of making sure any one attempts suicide will be more committed to making it work?

No-one can truly understand the suffering and despair of an individual who has been driven to this point except that individual. I say driven as I don’t believe anyone would choose to end their lives if they felt they could really change or end their suffering. I might be wrong of course but it seems clear it stems from a sense of futility and lack of power to change their suffering. They are trapped and the terror of death is less than the terror of living. One can only try with compassion to imagine what a life lived with a feeling of endless hopelessness and despair must be like. It’s more than just a bad day.

I’m lucky. Like all of us I have had some bad times and some thoughts and romantic notions of ending it all, statistically more men than women are successful. It didn’t get further than this, perhaps it’s just as simple as being able to have a sense of humour about life.

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.” 
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

There is no conclusion to my thoughts at this point except to offer my sympathy to anyone reading this who is thinking about suicide and simply to say there is hope and lastly to anyone suffering the loss of a loved one you will get through it.

“But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself”

ALBERT CAMUS

Peace.

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5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy with some other work however as the sun is still shining in this part of the world and it’s Monday morning I thought I’d share another five inspirational bits of wisdom with you all and hope that you have a glorious day.

1) “For certain is death for the born/And certain is birth for the dead; /Therefore over the inevitable/Thou shouldst not grieve”.

BHAGAVAD GITA (250 BC – 250 AD)

2) “He not busy being born is busy dying” – BOB DYLAN

3) “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death”.

LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452 – 1519)

4) “As men, we are all equal in the presence of death”.

PUBILIUS SYRUS

5) “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life”.

STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011)

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

Okay so many of us will have woken today feeling like ‘death’, so here’s some inspirational words on the topic to help us live more happy, free and fun filled lives beyond the fear of it’s grip…

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1)  I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

MARK TWAIN

2)  A useless life is an early death.

JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

3)  The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO

4)  They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

5) I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.

T. S. ELIOT

The Wall

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“By the way which one’s pink?”

As someone who practises Buddhism (which to me means studying and having faith in Buddhist philosophy and teachings) I am transforming my life and therefore my death, everyday. I don’t like to call myself Buddhist too much as that automatically separates me from everyone who is not a Buddhist (whatever being ‘Buddhist’ means). As J Krishnamurthi was always at pains to point out this can be an ‘aggressive’ act as it has the potential to separates one from another. Isn’t that where all the trouble started from; A wall? Think about it, at some point in human history land was cultivated and animals were fed and reared on that land and somehow that land was shared. Then someone (probably with a stick) built a wall. He/she said this is mine and that’s yours. The wall created difference. I am not you and you are not me. I have this label and identity and stuff and you have yours.

Obviously it may not have been quite this simple and I am not an anthropologist but if you think about it something very similar must have occurred and now here we are all divided with a million labels to prevent us from seeing the universal truth or our existences together.

“Unless you have a new mind, eyes that see what is true there is this question as to how the mind, deeply conditioned as it is, can change radically. I hope you are putting this question to yourself because, unless there is morality which is not social morality, unless there is austerity which is not the austerity of the priest with his harshness and violence, unless there is order deeply within, this search for truth, for reality, for God -or for whatever name you like to give- it has no meaning at all. Because, unless you have a new mind, a fresh mind, eyes that see what is true, you cannot possibly understand the immeasurable, the nameless, that which is”. 

J KRISHNAMURTHI

No one can prove what happens after death, but how we view death will have a huge impact on how we live. The perspective of Buddhism is that the life state or condition that we develop in life is what is carried forward in death and this of course emphasises the importance of the way we live each moment.

Often the analogy or symbol of waves in an ocean is used to describe this ebb and flow of life and death, waves like our lives occur momentarily and return to the mass of the ocean only to occur again somewhere else. The Ocean can represent ‘Myoho’ or Mystic Law ( this expresses the relationship between the life inherent in the universe and the many different ways this life expresses itself) and  the wave an individual life or phenomenon. The pattern of waves corresponds to the cycle of birth and death.

If we consider that there are various currents flowing through the ocean that are not visible from the surface, the difference between life and death could be said to be like the waves appearing on the surface and the undulating currents within the ocean’s depths. The life essence of an individual is certainly not extinguished on death. Life and death are simply the undulations of the Mystic Law itself. Undulations within the ocean’s depths appear on the surface as waves and then submerge again, once more become invisible undulations. – Then, when the conditions are right, that life essence will appear again as a new wave“.

DAISAKU IKEDA – “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life and Death”

It’s interesting to note perhaps, that an ocean has no walls.

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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1) “Live your own life, for you die your own death.” Latin Proverb

2) “As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth” – JOHANN GOETHE

3) “When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings” – SOGYAL RINPOCHE 

4)” As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence. I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is very soothing and consoling! I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness” – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 

5) “Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even grater one” – VLADIMIR NABOKOV 

The Bucket List

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There’s a hole in this bucket?

Last night I watched a programme on Channel 4 called 24 hours in A&E. It’s compulsive viewing and filmed in Kings College Hospital in South London where I was treated on more than one occasion during a previous ‘career’. In last night’s episode one of the senior nurses was talking about his reaction by being confronted by people who are close to death every day…he said something like “you can’t help but think about your own mortality and try to wring as much out of life as possible while we’re here”. Not all of us work in environments where we are confronted by death in a way where “the message is repeated” as this nurse put it “over and over again”.

And it’s not just about being busy, not just about the bucket list, sure fulfilling ones dreams and ambitions in life is a great and positive way to approach the world, but being fulfilled doesn’t end at ticking things of a list…what about supporting your family, being there for a friend in need or just putting a hand out to a complete stranger in distress? Anyone who has ever done any one of these things (and of course it’s not an exclusive list in any way) will know how fulfilling helping, thinking and acting for others can be. Who does our life belong to anyway apart from the community in which we live, grow, flourish and die?

I suppose that’s where the motivation for this blog came from, because it doesn’t really matter what you believe happens after death, the important thing is to fully understand that you will die, that it is an inevitable part of life…the loss of a loved one is hard and sad but thinking about death (ours or anothers) is not morbid unless your perspective is one that  only understands life as good and death as the end of that goodness…well no-one knows what lies ahead so it’s not constructive to think that way, indeed for most of us life itself is a battle…and why? Largely because we see death as the end…and that’s the paradox. If death were the end doesn’t it seem bizarre that for the infinitely small period of time (compared to the eternity of death) that we’re alive that we spend most of our time on this beautiful and bountiful planet fighting one another and struggling to compete for something we are not even sure is real…on the other hand if life is ongoing in some form, where’s the rush…? Why bother when you have the next million lifetimes to enjoy?

As the Buddha came to realise neither of these views is useful, they serve neither to inspire or enlighten, they simple deepen delusion or create stronger attachment.

“Based on the concept or dependent origination – one of the truths to which Shakyamuni became enlightened – the sufferings of age and detah are seen as arising from the innate ignorance within the individual. The Buddha teaches that these sufferings can be overcome by extinguishing this inner benightedness.

The wisdom or insight that enabled Shakyamuni to attain enlightenment represents the wisdom for conquering delusion and suffering concerning death. Based on this wisdom the Buddha rejecetd the two most commonly prevailing views of death – two extremes – both of which he considered errouneous because they could not fully enbale people to transcend the fear and uncertainty of death as the annihilation or complete cessation of self (the view of annihaltion), while the other was the view that death as the self continuing in the form of an unchanging immortal soul or spirit (the view of permanance)”.

DAISAKU IKEDA

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Have we been here before?

Buddhism teaches that life and death comprise the great and eternal rhythm of the universe itself, neither ending with death nor beginning with birth. Both life and death are impermanent.

That might be worth contemplating if you’re writing your bucket list.

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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Culpeper Minute Men – ready at a minutes notice to fight the British Imperialists..

 

I like quotes. I used to have a big book of Quotations that lived in the toilet..where better to be inspired? I need to find that book again or get a new one. Anyway I hope these little gems may add some perspective to your day or inspire your life in some way. 

1) “The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.”
BLAISE PASCAL from PENSEES

2) “Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”
MARCUS AURELIUS from Meditations

3) “Between the dark, heavily laden treetops of the spreading chestnut trees could be seen the dark blue of the sky, full of stars, all solemn and golden, which extended their radiance unconcernedly into the distance. That was the nature of the stars. and the trees bore their buds and blossoms and scars for everyone to see, and whether it signified pleasure or pain, they accepted the strong will to live. flies that lived only for a day swarmed toward their death. every life had its radiance and beauty. i had insight into it all for a moment, understood it and found it good, and also found my life and sorrows good.”

HERMANN HESSE 

4)  “Some people live a lifetime every second, others only a second in a life time with little happiness to find. Learn to seize each and every second and make your life divine”! 

STANLEY VICTOR PASKAVICH 

5) “The only dream worth having, I told her, is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.” 

ARUNDHATI ROY from The Cost of Living

‘La Petit Mort’

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Shall I put on some Barry White?

“It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.” KAHLIL GIBRAN

I like sex. That doesn’t mean I think i’m good at it by the way. I mean I’ve had my moments, but in general I like it. I want to add ‘who doesn’t’ but I think that would be a general statement with which more than a few might not concur. It doesn’t feel very British to talk about it either, anyway the point is my attitude towards sex has changed a lot over the years. I found a great quote in a book I own which sums it up nicely:

“It has been said before the age of forty men give free reign to their passions., but after suddenly become aware that their strength is declining. As soon as decline sets in, countless illnesses come swarming. If this persists for a long time unchecked it will become incurable. Therefore, P’eng Tsu said ‘To use one human being to cure another, this is the true way” Therefore when a man reaches forty he must become familiar with the art of the bedchamber.”” “For this reason, it is useless to discuss the affairs of the bedchamber with a man who is not yet forty, for his lust is not yet stilled” from Sun Ssu-mio’s Priceless Prescriptions (Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics

I bought this riveting coffee table dweller (joke) from a really great second hand bookshop that I love in Chelsea and have to admit I haven’t actually read it as such, much of the bits I have glanced at are indecipherable but there are bits like the one quoted above which are priceless…especially for a forty plus year old man. Hmmmm.

The link with sex and death is obvious and deeply profound and this is why I like the term ‘La Petit Mort’ (little death) which is the gallic (and my favourite) way of describing a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm. I’m a spiritual kind of guy and this release and close spiritual connection has largely been my experience of the act. That’s possibly why I like it…the title…and not just in it’s red blooded lusty sense.

Apparently there are a number of possible sources; The Greek belief that over ‘secretion’ for both men and women would eventually lead to death…(never though of that one)…and an Islamic reference to sleep…oh dear! Okay so I realise that refers to what happens afterwards for both parties rather than to one or more during…(I hope).

Either way it describes neatly a full body orgasm and the semi (or un) -conscious post coital experience as opposed to a lazy/quick one which can of course be very pleasant but not really transcendental…no tears for either party but maybe a good nights sleep…so it really describes the spiritual connection and drive that is going on when we procreate (well). Life and ‘death’ perhaps combined in a single moment…

“Life is nothing but a continuing dance of life and death, a dance of change.” SOGYAL RINPOCHE

Can’t wait to read the next chapter…

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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Despite what appears to be a morbid and perhaps nihilistic title, this blog is all about inspiration. How can death be inspiring I hear you ask? Well, it’s all about perspective. We’ve largely been brainwashed (yes I do mean that) into believing that the material aspects of life are the most important..global economic crisis, war, famine all find their root cause in this and what can be defined in Buddhism as the three obstacles: anger, greed and stupidity. Obstacles because they block our path to our true state of enlightenment (or Buddhahood). We ALL suffer…that is what it is to be human. So these events don’t just happen, there are people, individuals like you and me that make decisions alone or together to create these effects. This focus on materiality; money, shiny things, even the body beautiful all anchor us in fear….fear of loss, and fear of ‘not enough’. All, however, is very much impermanence and in this way a focus and attachment to material is not constructive. This physical impermanence is the very nature and essence of life and that is why death ironically can be so inspirational. Through contemplating our own mortality we begin to see that all we really have is this moment and each other. Death is not called the ‘great leveller’ for nothing. If there were a bit more thought given to our infinitely small amount of time on this planet perhaps there would be less interest in foolish things, less anger and as a result perhaps, less suffering?

Anyway here’s some quotes from people far wiser than me, hope you enjoy and please share and like (if you like).

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Life’s a beach

1) “Death is more certain than the morrow, than night following day, than winter following summer. Why is it then that we prepare for the night and for the winter time, but do not prepare for death. We must prepare for death. But there is only one way to prepare for death – and that is to live well.” – Leo Tolstoy

2) “Death is our constant companion, and it is death that gives each person’s life its true meaning.”  – Paolo Coehlo

3) “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” – Richard Dawkins, 1998

4) “There is no place on earth where death cannot find us – even if we constantly twist our heads about in all directions as in a dubious and suspect land … If there were any way of sheltering from death’s blows – I am not the man to recoil from it … But it is madness to think that you can succeed … Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come – to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair! … To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind that death … We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

5) “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” – Isaac Asimov

The Crossroads

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Tunes from the devil, suite from Saville Row…

I suppose it’s an indication of my age that recently a few good friends have all independently of each other confided in me that they feel at a crossroads in their lives. This came as no surprise as I too have been feeling the same way recently. It seems the universe was showing me that I wasn’t alone. This blog is in fact part of that change; a way for me to explore my interest in Buddhism, and spiritual practise(s) in general and I’m also using it as a basis for a book I have started writing about happiness and a film project that will explore death as a visual meditation…so where were we….ahh yes standing at the Crossroads.

Now when someone talks about crossroads I immediately think of two things. The first is a character called Benny from a terrible British soap opera based depressingly in a Motel called the Crossroads Motel. Imaginative. Amazingly the show ran for over 20 years from 1964-1988! I don’t remember much about it at all (I wasn’t a fan) except for this character Benny who always wore a beenie hat whatever the weather (mainly raining). He was a likeable character always getting into trouble and being manipulated by others as he was slightly mentally retarded. (I have just checked this and according to Wikipedia the character was “a simple-minded bumbling semi-rustic handyman”). Well I thought the show may be dealing with cutting edge mental health issues but then I have never lived in Birmingham. Apparently the show did  in fact deal with some story lines that were considered controversial for the times: A single parent working at the motel (hugely controversial in the mid-1960s); And the first paraplegic regular character in British soap opera, ever. So I’m not sure whether the Crossroads writing team were in fact tackling the important issue of mental health in UK’s road side businesses with the character of Benny or whether it’s just my imagination enhancing the experience of the character – either way, he was quite memorable.

The other thing I think of is Robert Johnson the legendary Blues musician. Johnson is widely considered to be the best blues musician who ever picked a guitar. Robert Johnson the “King of the Delta Blues”grew up dirt poor in Mississippi over 100 years ago. He left home and learned to play the guitar and sing the blues; an African-American in the deep South and all that meant… never had the sorrow and hardship of the world been transformed into such poetry never had a voice conveyed in such an accessible way the loneliness and suffering of an entire people. Not much detail is known about his life, as Martin Scorsese pointed out “he only existed on his records” and it’s perhaps because of this that one of the most enduring legends surrounding his story came into being; Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads for fame and the ability to play the blues.

According to legend, as a young man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi, “Robert Johnson was branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was “instructed” to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery Plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar and tuned it. The “Devil” played a few songs and then returned the guitar to Johnson, giving him mastery of the instrument. This was in effect, a deal with the devil mirroring the legend of Faust. In exchange for his soul, Robert Johnson was able to create the blues for which he became famous”…after the deal was done Johnson was apparently able to play the guitar like never before and like no-one else and simply plucked songs out of thin air. He also disappeared for about 18 months. According to Doktor Snake (a UK Voodoo Priest) during this time Johnson who was pretty shaken up  by what he had done and took a passage to London in the hope that the devil wouldn’t find him there (!) This by the way, is apparently where he picked up his natty dress sense for which he was also famous.

I could talk more about Johnson because his life was so fascinating…about how he supposedly practised in a grave yard and how the devil may refer to the voodoo God, Papa Legba but you can find all this on Wikipedia if you want to. What is widely accepted is that without Johnson there would be no Rock and Roll. For me though what’s more interesting (apart from this) is the symbolism at work here…

So to me the crossroads really symbolise a time of profound change in life and the choices available, inevitably this comes with a healthy dose of fear; fear of the unknown and fear of making the wrong ‘choice’ (or of not being enough in Johnson’s case), if only we could be certain that our choice of path would lead to what we want and that there would be no unpleasant feelings or outcomes. The devil may let you have it (certainty) but only if your soul is his….by the way there are a number of versions of Johnson’s tragic death but what is known is that he was poisoned near the Three Forks juke joint outside Greenwold MS where he was playing….so called because of the crossroads (here we go again) it stood near  and not the limitation of its cutlery drawer…apparently when they looked inside the suit on Johnson’s lifeless body, the good folk of Greenwold were all amazed to see the label “Saville Row”….

So the devil could be seen as the ego which needs to be fed and bargained with and offers the illusion of security and permanence and will perhaps get you what you want in the end but only at the cost of your soul…your own eternal and divine spirit.

Which way now?

The thing is in life the crossroads are really nothing but an illusion, or rather what is promised along each path is really only an illusion; It’s really only the intention that matters. In its simplest form, happiness is the attitude we travel with not the destination, therefore it should not matter which turn we take as it’s not a matter of right or wrong but rather of cause and effect. Nothing in life is certain or ‘promised’ even if it was what would the price paid have to be for this ‘knowledge’?

Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things“.

SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA – DHAMMAPADA

Johnson spent his whole life running from the devil in fear….in order to be truly happy we need to be able to move forward and accept the challenges and struggles we face and indeed turn them to our advantage somehow…for me that somehow is encapsulated in the Lotus Sutra. Without that faith in the mystic truth…a perception of the true aspect of all phenomena…I would really only have (like Johnson) a reliance on self-will and the doubt that brings and the fear of the devil.

This may make me a great musician but the as the saying goes “the devil will always get his due”.