I recently read an article in a Buddhist Periodical describing the stages of death.
We die (if we die in a natural, systematic way, rather than instantly) in a systematic way – it’s not difficult to record it and research has been done on the practical observation of different types of death, as well as the stages involved.
Two important books in this field include “How We Die“, and ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. (TBOLD)”.
In How we Die, the author explains death via the medial model, not the experiential. A horrific example of a young girls death (brutally stabbed to death by a psychiatric patient for no clear reason). The attitude taken in describing this event was one of childlike wonder. The girl’s body maintained a permanent expression (throughout the event, and after death); a mixture of surprise, happiness and shock.
Deduce whatever you think is appropriate from this observed fact. It could be she, as the TBOLD proposes, experienced the death of a karmically advanced person. At the moment of death, her positive karma manifested and she let go of attachment easily. The horror or “struggle” to cling to life wasn’t present – nor the often cited sensation of “falling uncontrollably.”
Her mother watched on. Clinically, she died of blood starvation – the lack of blood/oxygen to the brain killed her more than any other cause.
The TBOLD is a compendium on the subject of death in Tibetan culture. Death is absolutely central to Tibetan Buddhism; it embodies impermance – it’s inevitability is reflected upon in daily rituals. It’s also formally meditated upon (in many forms of meditation).
What am I getting at? The search for spiritual wisdom if the search for self. When we die – the self died. Poof. What could be a more concise lesson in how this occurs and how we can learn from it? We literally (according to many Buddhists) witness the systemic disintegration of the false personality – the sentient seed remains – I’ll leave it at that for now.
I could use any theory here, but two particularly important theories in the academic world are the Trait Theory and the Jungian based theories.
We all have a personality; if we venture to understand our personality formally, we can vaguely formulate, through writing, who a person is – a point by point construction. Michael is, for instance, the traits of: Curious, Averse to conflict, Pleasure Seeking … and we can become more specific. The more specific and well constructed our compendium of traits is, the more we’re looking at, literally, a “model” or “statue” of the person. At its most complex, and if you could magically “animate” all of those traits, it might be like having “Michael” again (although my experience and development would have been different).
Ok – so what’s my point – again?
We’re not really much more than the compendium of traits that compose us. The deeper “us” is much too discrete and universal to allow itself to be captured with a simple box-tick trait.
But here’s the exercise that’s useful in deepening our understanding: Take the time and effort to put together an understanding of your personality; a good one. A research oriented one (use the trait theory or the 5 Factors – not pop-psychology rubbish). Or even, simply, compose all of your traits on your own.
Ok, so now we’ve generated an elaborate illustration of ourselves – something to describe our actions, behaviours, cognitions, emotions, likes, dislikes.
Now you’re ready to deepen your understanding of intrinsically important spiritual truths by systematically killing off these traits. Simply undermine them – use whatever technique you’d like to erase them.
Michael likes pleasure: Ok. That’s not Michael, though. It’s a trait.Michael scores highly on the scale for neuroticism: Good; but that’s meaningless. It’s not me – it’s just an isolated trait.in the end, they’re all isolated traits. So is every behaviour, so is every cognition – and more importantly, so is every deeply attached belief.
You’re all set to systematically “kill” your image of yourself – characteristic by characteristic. None of them is really YOU; they’re all just relative terms and observations of “something”.
What you actually are – what the point of the exercise must reveal, is what you really are. This is the point of all good meditative exercises. Most likely you’ll conclude you’re none of those things (yet all of them). It’s ok to include this alternate line of paradoxical reasoning as a conclusion.
Now, you’re dead.
Only, you’re not.
Use other tests available if you’d like – they’re everywhere. The enneagram, the Myers Briggs are ok (the trait theory is the most comprehensive by nature). Elaborately deconstruct your constructed self – die. Someday you WILL die physically as well, and this exercise is recreating the death of the perception of the “self” will have aided you.
Reflect on what’s remaining, though. Don’t forget – even after every last single trait is discarded … here you sit analyzing and observing what I’m writing. Whatever “that” is, that’s what you (and I) are.
“That” is beyond fear, beyond pain.
One die you’ll die and you’ll get to witness it all step by step – but it will happen quickly, and it might be scary; so prepare yourself every day by contemplating death and the inherently empty composition of this perceived reality.