[Buddha-l] Being unable to imagine dying [confused]

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat Jun 5 22:51:10 MDT 2010

On Jun 5, 2010, at 8:56 PM, lemmett at talk21.com wrote:

> Hello. I guess I thought it wasn't relevant as long as the list was open to non academics.

The list is open to anyone who can stand us.

> I only have an undergrad degree in philosophy.

Makes no difference. Questions about age, educational background, marital status, sexual preference, criminal background, credit rating, previous conditions of servitude and political affiliation are completely off limits. People who ask such questions are made to stand in the corner wearing a Mere Śrāvaka cap.

> I was interested in death being inconceivable for a long time but have only started reading Buddhism in the last 6 months or year, since finishing university.

Myself, I've never thought much about death being inconceivable. I guess I always figured there is not much point trying to think about anything that might be inconceivable. Life, on the other hand, is well worth thinking about. It's obviously conceivable, since it starts when one is conceived.

> They didn't talk about death much

In my philosophy classes, I talk about death just about every day. Socrates made a big impact on me when I was just a little puppy. I have never forgotten his claim that the whole purpose of studying philosophy is to prepare oneself for death, and I remind my students of that every class. It makes most of them sick to death of philosophy. Rarely does anyone make the mistake of taking a second philosophy class with me.

> I did read some Heidegger while there but it wasn't helpful.

You're a better man than I. I tried to read some Heidegger once, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of what he was saying. Mind you, all my philosophical training was in analytic philosophy and Indian philosophy, and all the people who taught me Indian philosophy were enamored of Ayer, Ryle, Russell, Quine, Strawson and Wittgenstein (The Tractatus please---none of that later stuff he wrote after his brain died). There are times when I have a feeling this has given me a rather limited appreciation of Indian philosophy, but I quickly get over those feelings and dismiss them as brief episodes of unaccountable mental illness acquired perhaps from reading Republican bumper stickers.

> So yes it is just something that I have a personal interest in, for whatever reason.

It's good to have a personal interest in death, especially one's own. It's about the only thing in life you can count on. Did you ever see the movie "Breaker Morant"? It has a great line in it: "Live every day as if it's your last, and one of these days you'll be right." That's very Buddhist, except that Buddhists think it's better to take every breath as if it's your last. An entire day is much too long to keep in mind all at once. 


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