BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
Hallowe’en, as an old European festival, confronts us with death. It takes numerous forms, some more religious, some more frightening, but all have this deathly feature. Interestingly, it comes not too far off the Japanese festival of Obon (the Fall equinox, about 3-4 weeks earlier), which similarly proposes an intersection of the realm of living beings and “hungry ghosts”.
We did an exercise at this Saturday’s Contemplative Walking practice exploring this. We circumambulated a section of the building which required passing through 4-5 different doorways and along several different walls - some bright and windowed, others dark. As we passed through each door we were to visualize ourselves passing through transitions from this to the next life, whatever that might mean. Each of us interpreted this uniquely, but we all experienced repetitions, familiar patterns of growth, letting go, moving on. Everyone commented on the “liminal” experiences too. These are what we feel as we pass over thresholds (limins) between stages of life, or, to extrapolate, what we may one day experience as we face the doorway between life and death.
Modern commercialization has converted Hallowe`en into a playful cartoon, hardly what we refer to in our chants as “this Great Matter of Birth and Death”. The more we take the Dharma promise seriously, the more we understand that neither death nor life are linear or exclusive experiences, but rather layered ones, distinguished by our perceptions, or lack thereof. Imagining Hallowe’en or Obon lets us drop our fixed belief that death follows and is utterly different from life and experience the transparency of the two.
Read this week's Religion Experts article
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu