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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Meditation on death and related themes (after all, death comes under the heading of 'impermanence' generally in Buddhism), is found as well in the earliest surviving forms of Buddhism, in particular, the Theravada tradition. It's curious that those exploring Buddhism often gravitate toward its later, Tibetan incarnations, yet meditation on death, corpses, and related phenomena (as in 'cemetary meditations'), are found in these earlier schools and, especially for those new to Buddhism, are probably more accessible owing to the comparative lack of elaborate metaphysics and ritual panoply and paraphernalia that come with Tibetan Buddhism (one reason, I suspect, ex-Catholics and Catholics are often drawn to Tibetan Buddhism!).

In the Theravada tradition, analytic meditations (which presuppose facility with analytic decompositions of subjects like 'the self' and 'the body' in keeping with anicca, anatta, and dukkha) are frequently taught in the context of their suitability to particular character types or temperaments as well as according to levels of spiritual attainment or development as ascertained by a teacher. In other words, not everyone is necessarily suited to jump right into analytical meditations on death (Freudian and post-Freudian psychology can perhaps help us see why this is so). And "calming" meditation is always a prerequisite to other, more advanced forms of meditation, such as vipassana or "insight" meditation.

What is more, and perhaps most importantly, meditation is not to be taught apart from ethical (e.g., moral virtues) and doctrinal (knowledge and wisdom) teachings, as these are the three integral and interdependent parts of the Eightfold Path.

None of this is meant to dismiss the importance of thinking about one's own death and what it means or implies for life in the daily round, and that is a conclusion one might draw from the practices and teachings of any one or all of the world's major religious traditions. And there are non-religious philosophers who, since Lucretius at least, have understood the importance of contemplation about the reality of one's own death and death in general.*

*For a compilation of works about death and dying from both religious and non-religious perspectives, please see the bibliography here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2009/07/death-dying-selected-bibliography.html


I'd stop buying green bananas and signing year-long cable and phone contracts, that's for sure.

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