[Buddha-l] Being unable to imagine dying and living

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat Jun 26 14:16:17 MDT 2010

On Jun 26, 2010, at 12:37 PM, lemmett at talk21.com wrote:

> It does seem that Derrida in Aporias says that my own death cannot be conceived of, and that this is important; he even thinks this is a "scandal" in philosophy. Can I die http://www.unm.edu/~ithomson/Thomson.pdf is an article reviewing that book and it's clear that it's not just Zygmunt Bauman who thinks that death is inconceivable.

Iain Thomson's office is right next to mine in the philosophy department. He'll be tickled to learn that his work is being cited on buddha-l. By golly, he'll know he's hit the big time now that the denizens of buddha-l have begun quoting his work.

> I think that without literal rebirth, Buddhism could be seen as another way to face death, an alternative to relating to it existentially. I won't labour this.

Many years ago I wrote a piece in which the principal argument was that the Buddha probably knew that death is a complete and irreversible end to one's consciousness and that the entire Buddhist path is designed to help people come to the realization that the oblivion that follows the end of consciousness is not at all a dreadful thing. Since people do, however, dread their own future oblivion, they are told what they are more prepared to believe, namely, that their consciousness will survive the death of their present body and that this will keep happening until they see that oblivion isn't so bad at all. The idea of rebirth, I said, was probably a kind of thought experiment that was never meant to be taken as a description of reality. It was a way of saying "If you think death is bad, imagine what it would be like if you couldn't die at all and just kept begin reborn." People would recoil at horror at the idea and gladly accept the alternative. I correlated this acceptance to the final of the seven stages that Kübler-Ross outlined in her work on the stages people go through after being told they are terminally ill. The final stage is calm acceptance of one's exit, which I am quite sure is what nirvāṇa has to be if it is anything at all.

I showed the essay to a few people, and everyone I showed it to said they thought I was making a whole bunch of unwarranted assumptions, the principal one being that death really is a complete and irreversible end to consciousness. The essay never got published, and eventually I lost it or tossed it. The essay reached oblivion before me. Well, not quite. Oblivion is the state of being completely forgotten (which all of us eventually will be), but the essay has not been completely forgotten. I still remember bits and pieces of it.

Richard Hayes
Department of Thanatology
University of New Mexico

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