Mindful Musings

“Cycle of Birth and Death”

The Prince of Birth and the Prince of Death

Contended in the darkness

The Prince of Death announced:

“I am the culmination and window into the beyond. Therefore, I am more important!”

The Prince of Birth retorted:

“You may be the window into the beyond, but I am the inception point and the rite of passage back into the wisdom of form. Therefore, I am more important!”

In response, Brahman broke into laughter at the audacious claims of his two devotees

And playfully declared:

“Birth is such. Death is such. Birth or death what’s the fuss?”Death is Sure as Birth

Mindful Musings

                    “Death is a Passage not the End”What Does the Bible Say About Death? 10 Important Things to Know Over the years, it has become as good as living truth to me that we are more than our bodies. When we die, I have no doubt that some essence of who we are transcends the act of death and the flesh of the body. Of course, exactly where we go remains one of the greatest existential mysteries. Similar to both the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on Reincarnation, I intuitively feel that each of us has taken countless births as males and females, as rich and poor, as oppressor and oppressed and even as faithful lover and duplicitous cheater. It is even possible, as Tibetan Buddhists believe, that we have even taken animal form in our previous incarnations!

Perhaps, the Universe’s grand intention for reincarnation is for us all to steadily build toward full awareness of who we truly are through the many experiences lived and lessons learned from each incarnation. Buddhists might call this awareness “nirvana”, Hindu’s “self-realization” and Christian mystics “infinite bliss”, but the same idea is implied. Through each passing incarnation we move closer and closer to realizing our total union with the One, God, Tao, the Universal Mind. It is true, that hardliner materialist scientists cling to the notion that when our bodies die we in fact die too. However, isn’t it at least a little bit ironic that the very cycles in which they study can easily be summoned to rebuttal such closed ways of interpreting our being?

After all, the seasons undergo an eternal cycle of birth, death and re-birth. The sun and moon partake in both an exquisite and cyclical dance of cosmic positioning. And, as theoretical physicists are just beginning to prove through reason and what sages have long known through meditation, the cosmos itself is constantly expanding, then imploding only to expand again. If we are truly one with all that is and comprised of the same universal matter why would our experience deviate from that same deeply profound and eternal law found everywhere else in our known Universe?

 

Mindful Musings

“Five ways to Inwardly Evolve in these Troubled Times”

By: Forrest Rivers

The world is in a panic about the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to this still-emerging global outbreak, schools and universities have either shut down or have been forced to shift to remote classes, government buildings have been shuttered, restaurants and bars have been closed indefinitely and many billions of people have been forced to self-quarantine amid an increasingly chaotic environment that has some questioning if we are witnessing the wide-scale collapse of our social orders.

There is no doubt that the human health threat of the Coronavirus is both real and alarming.

Perhaps just as concerning is the negative economic impact on the poor from all the forced closures and hits that the service industry has already endured. Adding to all the turmoil is a general climate of fear that has found its collective expression in panic-buying at grocery stores, massive unrest in global financial markets and extreme totalitarian measures being taken by governments around the world to contain the virus.

Fortunately, for us all, there are glimmers of hope that have emerged from this pandemic. If we can allow ourselves to be with what is, our response can provide us with ample and profound opportunities for spiritual growth.

5 ways to inwardly evolve in these troubled times


homeless person

Meaningfully contemplate death

A hallmark of any global pandemic is the media’s emphasis on the number of dead and dying. Undoubtably, the repetition of mounting death tolls from the disease can produce deep anxiety and fear among the global public. However, if we shift our perspective just a bit, the existential threat this virus now represents provides us all with a wonderful opportunity to confront our own fears of death.

Why is confronting this intrinsic fear so important? Many seekers within the Buddhist tradition believe that making peace with the inevitability of our own death is among the highest spiritual practices we can pursue. When we transcend our own fear of death, we unlock the sacred gate to live more freely and fully in the present moment. When we live more freely and fully, we follow our dharma and all of humanity benefits. This virus provides ample opportunity for such reflection.

Serve the elderly and the poor

Unquestionably, the rapid spread and fallout from COVID-19 presents a direct threat to the welfare of all global citizens. However, two very large demographics are at an especially heightened risk. Elderly people (those above 60 years old) and poor people are facing particularly difficult times. Due to their advancing age and weaker immune systems, the elderly are at a much higher risk of dying from this infection.

On the other hand, highly restrictive lockdown protocols by world governments have ground the world’s economy to a halt. It is the poor and working classes who have faced the brunt of economic shutdowns to contain the virus. Bartenders, restaurant and retail workers, flight attendants, custodial staff, small business owners and even many teachers are paying the price of our governments’ health measures through a wave of massive job layoffs and frightening financial insecurity that hasn’t been seen since the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Now is a great time to rediscover our compassion as one people, and step up to alleviate the suffering of all those who are most vulnerable among us. Krishna, a God incarnate within the Hindu tradition, once counselled his beloved devotee, Arjuna, that karma Yoga (the spirit of selfless service) is among the surest paths to personal truth and enlightenment. Today, service to those who are vulnerable is imperative.

Reconnect with nature and art

In governments’ attempts to control the spread of COVID-19, the world has been advised to avoid large crowds and gatherings, stand six feet away from other people and self-quarantine at the immediate onset of symptoms.

In places like Italy and China (are Canada and the U.S. next?) citizens have even been forced by the military to remain confined in their homes, with the exception of trips to grocery stores or pharmacies. While social distancing is far from ideal (due to greater isolation and increased cases of depression), the time alone and away from work may wind up providing us with ample time to reconnect with the natural world and explore our creative outlets.

As a regular hiker and lover of the Earth, I have noticed how many more people have taken advantage of this forced period of isolation to take to the woods and explore the beauty of nature. As the capitalist machine grinds to a halt, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our Earth Mother emerges once more in the forefront of our awareness?

Social distancing also provides an ideal environment for self-reflection and the exploration of a plethora of creative outlets. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise if the enforced solitude caused by this pandemic winds up breeding a renaissance of creative expression, the likes of which we have not seen since the hippie counterculture of the 1960s.

Recognize humanity’s sense of oneness

Since the turn of the new millennium, it seems like the human race has been deeply embroiled in sectarian conflicts, and has been hopelessly divided by ethnic, racial, religious, national and political divisions.

Much of humanity has forgotten that there is far more that unites us than that which separates us. As the wise Ram Dass once noted, “we are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” The universal threat that COVID-19 presents to all human beings gives us a rare and beautiful opportunity to see past our superficial differences.

The existential fear this virus provokes is a powerful emotion that we all now share, regardless of what corner of the world we reside in. With this basic understanding comes a higher spiritual realization that we all share in one another’s suffering and joy, and that we are all tied together in a vast cosmic web.

This crisis may very well help us recover our sense of common humanity. If we can learn to adopt this perspective throughout these tumultuous times, the odds are good that we can also begin to identify and redress the very serious societal injustices that exist within our cultures when the scourge does finally pass.

Start a meditation practice

The anxiety that people, particularly the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, are feeling from this pandemic is understandable. However, what if the anxiety that many are rightfully feeling can be channelled into more positive ends that promote lasting and meaningful spiritual growth?

Enter the ancient Eastern practice of meditation. The extreme existential fear that we are now facing may inevitably lead many people to look within and seek some semblance of inner peace, amid the onslaught of a panic-driven media. The times are ripe for all of us to establish a daily meditation practice of stilling our minds, opening our hearts and surrendering to the present moment.

Further, the unique conditions of self-quarantining, coupled with a high-anxiety environment and unprecedented access to online meditation resources lends itself to the emergence of a ‘meditation evolution’ among the world’s populace.

A profound and inspiring movement towards inner peace and enlightenment could be one remarkable outcome of these trying times. And meditation could very well be the channel by which many seekers ascend into the higher states of planetary consciousness.

 

Mindful Musings

Transcend Your Fear of Death

By Forrest Rivers

****Originally published on the mindfulword.org

One day, sooner or later, we are all going to die. Like every human being, as the inevitability of our own death dawns, we will be presented with two paths to follow.

We can choose the first and heavily traveled road of clinging to our own egoistic notions, sensory desires and worldly pleasures in the face of Yama, the King of Death. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we can push away the imminence of our body’s expiration and cling to the transient nature of our physical reality.

This choice will only wind up creating more needless suffering, because just as the Buddha taught, everything in our physical realm is impermanent and fleeting.

Fortunately, for our own sense of well-being, we can also choose the second and more lightly traveled road of embracing our physical demise by surrendering to the wondrous passage of form—returning to the Formless, the Void, the One.

Instead of continually running from death’s haunting shadow, we have the power to meet The Spirit of Death at its own doorstep, with our hearts wide open to what IS and will soon become.

Rather than lament the existential fact that we really have no control over the time and manner of our own passing, we can choose to become death’s supreme inquisitor and ask it all the questions that we intuitively already know the answers to.

Imagine the possibilities, upon learning of the Universe’s ability to bring us all to an awareness of the breathtaking unity that exists within one cycle of birth and death. Death does not have to be a painful and frightening process. We can use this ultimate transition for our own inner healing and self-growth.

Adopt a healthy perspective on death and dying


clouds surrounded by light

Over the years, it has become a living truth to me that we are more than our bodies. I have come to strongly believe that when we die, some spiritual essence of who we are transcends the act of death and the decay of the body. Exactly where we go remains one of the greatest existential mysteries.

Similar to both the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs on reincarnation, I intuitively feel that each of us has taken countless births as males and females, as rich and poor, as oppressor and oppressed, and even as moral do-gooders and rapacious sinners. It is possible, as Tibetan Buddhists believe, that we have even taken animal forms in our previous incarnations.

Perhaps, the Universe’s grand intention for reincarnation is for us all to steadily build toward a full consciousness of who we truly are through the many experiences lived and lessons learned from each incarnation. Buddhists might call this awareness ‘nirvana,’ Hindus ‘self-realization’ and Christian mystics ‘Christ consciousness,’ but the same idea is implied. Through each passing incarnation, we move closer and closer to realizing our total union with the Imperishable Tao.

Indeed, adopting such a perspective on our own deaths relieves us of our existential anxieties and brings us infinite comfort that when our bodies die, the truest essence of who we are does not.

Preparing for your own death


man on mountain embracing the sun

There is no better way to overcome your fear of death than by actively preparing for it through formal spiritual practices like working with the dying and meditation.

Stephen Levine, a late and influential meditation teacher, spent countless years working with people who were, as the Hindus say, close to “dropping their bodies”. His experiences led him to write a profound and groundbreaking book titled, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last.

In drawing on his work with the Living/Dying Project, a non-profit he helped co-found that fosters a loving space for the terminally ill to die consciously, Levine showed how adopting the perspective that each day could be your last reduces anxiety and fills life with more meaning.

Ram Dass, the late pioneer of cosmic consciousness and the author of the seminal book, Be Here Now, was a contemporary of Levine who also spent considerable time working with the Living/Dying Project. In numerous books and recorded lectures, he recounts his many years of devoted care for the dying as the most profound spiritual work that he did on himself.

According to this beloved saint, the more one consciously works with those who are dying, the less they come to fear their own death. He was fond of teaching that if you can learn to “keep your heart open in hell,” through embracing the painful emotions that watching another die engenders, then the opportunity to transcend your own fear of death arises. Once this occurs, one is then able to gain a deeper perspective of the eternal nature of the deathless self.

Finally, in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, monks partake in regular mindfulness meditation exercises on their own deaths (this practice is called Maranasati). The central aim of these contemplative sessions is to cultivate a deeper awareness and acceptance of death.

Eventually, after years of this practice, monks become so comfortable with the absolute and impermanent nature of their physical reality that they are able to transcend this greatest of existential fears altogether, and live the remainder of their lives with greater joy and compassion. In turn, living a more joyous, as well as a more compassionate life are the two most sought-after goals of all spiritual seeking.

Transcend your fear of death and enter the boundless realms of everlasting peace!

 

Mindful Musings

“An Encounter With the Spirit of Death”

By: Forrest Rivers(originally published on the mindfulword.org)

Two seekers of wisdom spent all day climbing a formidable mountain. After many hours of walking, the duo finally arrived at the summit, where they were greeted by an old mountain goat.

The two startled humans stared uneasily at the mighty being before them, and nervously shuffled backward. In turn, the mountain goat stared back at the pair with a look of amused bewilderment. The seekers grew exceedingly frightened and turned to run away. But before they could move, the mountain goat gently spoke to them through telepathy:

“Why do you have fear?”

The mountain goat conveyed feelings of great compassion through its inner voice, as it awaited a response from the still-terrified humans. After a few moments of stunned silence, the first seeker gathered up the courage to speak:

“Illustrious master, we feared for our lives. Your form is both wild and intimidating.”

The mountain goat warmly replied:

“But why did you fear for your lives at this very moment? Did you not just encounter the spirit of death all along your pilgrimage up to this hallowed peak? And did you not unknowingly stroll past a den of hungry bears and circumvent perilous cliffs on your way to this summit? Why did you not cower in fear then? One step closer to the den and you would’ve met the wrath of an imposing mama bear. One misstep along the rugged trail to the pinnacle and you would’ve plummeted to your death!”

The first seeker thought for a lengthy moment and then responded:

“I suppose we didn’t have fear in either case, because death didn’t seem imminent. We didn’t come face to face with a bear as we did with you. Nor did we fear the treacherous road up to this point because we’re seasoned climbers.”

The mountain goat pondered the first seeker’s words, and again replied:

“I see. But you still haven’t answered my initial question. Why do you have fear?”

A look of mild exasperation swept across the face of the first seeker, as they retorted:

“I think I answered that question already. We felt fear because we believed our lives were in immediate danger.”

The wise mountain goat looked firmly at the first seeker and said:

“You must learn not to fear death—imminent or not. No matter how hard you try to push your fear of it away, you’ll encounter it. “

The mountain goat paused for dramatic effect and then continued:

“I call your attention to a famous inscription on an old tombstone that reads: ‘Dear friend, please know as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now so you will be. Prepare yourself to follow me. ‘

What this inscription teaches is that rather than live in fear, it’s infinitely wiser to embrace death as part of the natural cycle—or way—of being. The degree to which you can consciously come to terms with this existential inevitability also determines the depth to which you live this life. “

The second seeker, who’d been silent, finally chimed in:

“Oh, venerable seer, my soul knows the truth in your wise words. But my mind is frightened at what lies beyond the end of the body. Please tell me, what is death and what’s in store for us beyond it?”

The mountain goat carefully gathered its thoughts before explaining:

“Death is, and death is not. Death is taking off the tight shoe. Death is the entrance into a world without beginning or end. Death is the continuance of a sacred cycle in which the soul drops the body and continues its quest to enlightenment. Death is the survival of pure awareness beyond the contours of the flesh. And death is the inner realm by which the soul reflects the light of its own luminous essence.

“Death is to reunite with the eternal Brahman and the one within all. Death is the entrance into the deepest realms of consciousness and where one goes interminably in preparation for rebirth in a new body. Death is a karmic bridge between the memories of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow. Death is to be fully present and clear of illusion. Death is to merge in complete union with the Eternal One—who alone is true.”

Monk and layman walking across bridge

The second seeker looked in awe at the mighty being before them, and asked:

“If death is all this, wise master, and elemental to the way of being, why are people in my own culture taught to fear it?”

The mountain goat fixed an emphatic gaze on both seekers and said:

“Delusion! People in your culture live in Delusion! Well maybe not all the people of … but surely those with any measure of influence and power. Your teachers and celebrities contribute to the cloud of delusion surrounding death. Your media spokesmen and politicians, too. And even your very parents … those inspiring souls who raised you with tender love through your innocent youth.

“However, none keep you more blind to death’s true nature than your high priests, rabbis and preachers. You see, here in the West, there’s a peculiar and arrogant tendency among your religious figures to attach their own fears and insecurities about death to their sermons and interpretations of scripture.”

The second seeker grew silent as they digested the sheer honesty of the mountain goat’s words. Finally, after a few moments of reflection, the first seeker spoke once again:

“Oh Noble One, how may we learn not to fear death?”

Before the mountain goat could reply, the second seeker quickly added:

“And how shall we, oh Illumined Being, come to accept death as part of the way?

The mountain goat stared lovingly at both seekers of wisdom and replied:

“What’s required now is for both of you to find the courage to prepare for the inevitability of your own deaths. Only through such preparation will you discover the truth of how to live right now. Be brave, learn how to sit still and meditate upon death. Make meditation a daily practice and come to study the sacred cycles of life and death in nature.

“Stroll through the woods in all four seasons and observe the unique qualities of each. Note the innocence of spring, the vitality of summer, the crispness of autumn and the stillness of winter. You’ll come to feel that each are beautiful, each are transcendent and each are interrelated. Finally, come to experience death not as an end but as a return to your purest essence.”

The wise seekers raised their heads up and looked reverently at their great teacher. The mountain goat bowed its head to both its disciples and suddenly transformed into a soaring eagle.

Both humbled aspirants burst into tears as they watched God’s first messenger fly above the enchanted blue mountain range and into the heavens. As the eagle flew out of sight, the last words that this soulful duo heard were:

Look within. Be free. Fear not the inevitable approach of death.”