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Fundamentals of the Dharma: Death and Denial

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Teacher: Rodney Smith
Date: 2012-01-10
Venue: Seattle Insight Meditation Center



In this series we open an exploration of a few fundamental dharma principles. Students will already have some familiarity with many of these topics, and some may seem trivial. But the reality is there is no trivial truth. Any and all truths can only take us as deeply as we allow them to enter. Most of us reach a comfort level with these fundamentals and then build our practice on top of that partial understanding. If our practice is to move forward these principles must be reexamined and thoroughly realized, then the simplest truth can have a profound impact.

This first homework is looking at death as an expression of denial – the unwillingness to face facts. Death is an example of the many ways we refuse to face life on its terms, the many ways we turn away and pretend life is other than what it is. But the dharma rests on facing facts without distortion, and unless we renew our commitment and trust to doing just that, our understanding will remain superficial.


Begin each sitting meditation this week reflecting on your death. Sense the fragility of your heart beat, the tenderness of each breath, the irreversible aging of the body. What assumptions are you making about the continuance of your life? Are you certain there will be an in breath after this out breath? Feel the edge of fear as you allow the uncertainty of each moment to surface. Off the cushion, start bringing death into your day-to-day observations by intentionally reading the obituaries in the newspaper, observing road kills, noticing the dying leaves of autumn, and perhaps visiting nursing homes or hospitals. Be sensitive to your fear of the subject. Is it too much? If not, learn all you can about the immediate reality of death.


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