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Eastern philosophy on dying

By Ian Nance - posted Friday, 9 October 2009

A number of my Aussie friends and I are Buddhist, and belong to a Taiwanese order. Buddhism is deeply philosophical, psychological, and spiritual; each of us came to it via different paths late in our lives.

It has two main strands with a number of different schools in each. It originated in what we know now as Nepal, and spread rapidly throughout the East.

Many people classify Buddhism as a religion, but that is not really true. It is a practice based not on faith, but on fact.


The Buddha was not some sort of divine being, just a determined man seeking fact and truth. The name “Buddha” is actually Sanskrit for “enlightened one”, and was bestowed on him when he became enlightened about the origin and effect of everything in existence, then commenced to teach others.

Buddhism is atheist. It discounts any supernatural, or divine being, and is a lifestyle whose purpose is to teach truth. A great deal of enjoyable learning and practice flows from its study, because it is simply reasoned commonsense. A key teaching is about impermanence; that every thing is changing constantly - nothing is permanent.

A case in point is our own body. Every second, millions of our cells are dying, but at the same time, every one of them is being replaced with a new one - a scientifically proven example of rebirth. Rebirth is probably the ultimate form of recycling.

Another side is that with this constant ending and rebirth, there is no reason to regard death as anything more than the normal ending of one living period, yet most people are terrified of it; they want to hang onto their life, their attachment, and what it means to them. They see it as some form of retribution, not a process of evolution.

This article is drawn from a philosophically challenging Tibetan writing on living and dying. It may give you a different slant on life and death, and evolved out of a strand of Tibetan Buddhism which has existed for more than 2,000 years, in which large emphasis is placed on understanding rebirth, therefore a hereditary transmission of learning.

Incidentally, a factor which works in favour of the historical consistency of this Tibetan strand is that the country remained landlocked in almost total isolation for many centuries, and was not subject to the kind of social changes that other Buddhist nations such as China, India, Japan, Korea and many South-East Asian countries experienced.


Look deeply into impermanence, and you will find it has another message, another face, one of great hope, one that opens your eyes to the fundamental nature of the universe, and our extraordinary relationship to it.

If everything is impermanent, then everything is what we call “empty”. That means lacking in any lasting, stable, and inherent existence - all things when seen and understood in their true relation, are not independent, but instead inter-dependent with all other things.

The Buddha compared the universe to a vast net woven from billions of brilliant jewels, each one having countless number of facets. Each jewel reflects in itself every other jewel in the net, and in fact is at one with every other jewel.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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