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Buddhism in the News


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Worms Crawl in and the Worms Crawl Out.

When I was a young boy I spent some years in the Boy Scouts, which is a survivalist organization that trains young men on how to live in the wilderness. As well as teach them other life skills. When the leaders weren't around we kids would sing songs that, naturally, were deemed by our elders as, "gross." You know how kids are. The one that comes to mind today is something called, "The Hearse Song" which is about death and stems from the 19th century when it was documented among British soldiers serving in the Crimean War. Here are the full lyrics as I learned them:

If you ever laugh as the hearse goes by
You may be the next to die.

They wrap you up
in a bloody sheet
and drop you six feet

The Worms Crawl In,
The Worms Crawl Out,
Into your stomach,
And out your mouth.

They eat your eyes, they eat your nose.
They eat the jelly between your toes.
A big green worm with rolling eyes
crawls in your stomach and out your eyes.

This is how
It is to die
You end up looking
Like apple pie!

James: This "gory" topic was brought to mind from a post by the no non-sense Buddhist blogger Genkaku. In this post he was speaking about his experience attending funeral homes here in America. This got me thinking about death, which is something that I came to terms with years ago. Studying Zen Buddhism and having had to struggle with suicidal thoughts from a mental illness forces you to face death whether you like it or not. So, anyway, part of Genkaku's post is about how quickly some recoil and run away from anything related to death. Or how we're not supposed to laugh about death, as if doing so shows a sign of disrespect to the dead. Or by laughing we're cursed to die next. I find all that superstitious mumbo-jumbo to be funny in and of itself!! Cursed to be the next to die? If you wanna use those words and look at it in that manner then we're all "cursed."

That's the way Buddhism sees it too--not as a curse but definitely as a fact of life to come to terms with sooner than later. That's because we're all dying from the minute after we take our first breath as a fresh and snappy-skinned baby. Buddhism teaches us that death is nothing to be feared because it is just another change in the many changes leading up to it. As another online writer says it, "It is the temporary end of a temporary problem." Now, some think that contemplating upon death is depressing, leads to despair and suicidal thinking.

Actually, in my own experience, (and from that of others who have embraced death and come to terms with its reality) it opens one up to live with less suffering. When you realize that death could come at any minute then you truly understand how precious each present moment really and truly is. This has allowed me to savor and enjoy life on a much deeper and profound level. This blunt assessment of death and suffering isn't nihilism but a pragmatic acceptance of life as it is, and not how we want it to be.

As for the specifics of death, I personally find the way we deal with death in Western culture to be a bit silly. We buy dressy, expensive clothes to wrap our dead shell in, which are quickly going to rot away. Then we buy a really expensive, fancy, box that we're only going to use once. We fill it with our finely dressed, bag of bones, which we promptly bury in our bejeweled box under six feet of dirt. And we do this in a fancy park that could be used to house homeless instead of rotting bags of flesh. As if all that isn't enough to stroke our egos we top it all off with an intricately etched headstone proudly stating our name. Or, rather the name of the body.

According to Buddhist standards our name, and that body are long expired the minute our last breath escapes. In fact, our name is pretty much meaningless while we're living as well!! Some people are so attached to their lives that even after death they even want a fancy house (mausoleum) to surround and protect their buried box!! They don't want their "special bones" sitting next to the bones of some lowly, average citizen!!

Upon my death, I just want my body cut up and pieced out to use in helping sick, yet living bodies live longer, healthier lives via organ donation. I highly support organ donation by the way. If there is anything left I simply would like the rest of it cremated and have my ashes spread around, so that perhaps other living things can benefit from it. Or possibly the sky burial they do in Tibet if I could find a way to get away with it. Or perhaps just take my stinkin' pile of bones up into the mountains I love so much and prop me up against a tree to serve as compost for flowers and mushrooms and such. If all else fails just donate my bag of bones to science. So, sing, "The Hearse Song" and enjoy this present moment.

~Peace to all beings

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Philip Rodgers said...

my dad use to sing a version of this song that went like this:

the worms crawl in the worms crawl out
and ants play pinochle on your snout
you stomach turns all slimy green
and you scoop it up with whipping cream
you put it on a piece of bread
and that's what you eat when you are dead.

Kind of a morbid song to sing to kids but now it's in better perspective.

Shinzen said...

Good post...Life and Death...just notions from a scared perspective. You are right, when we open up and face the transition of this body to dust or ashes, we see life from a new place and live better. The study of Zen is to study the great matter of life and death. It should be part of our educational curriculum.

They call him James Ure said...

@Philip...Ha!! Yeah I think most kinds like gross things. At least I did.

@Shinzen...Thanks. Yeah, the irony of fearing and worrying about death is that it takes time away from that person's life!! It shortens the very life that they don't want to end!!

Yeah, Buddhism is a great tool when dealing with matters of life and death.

L.B. said...

I don't get that whole business about dressing the body up like that. The essence has gone on; what will it care? Then again, the funeral is mainly for those left behind. If it makes them happy....
Peace upon your journey, James.

Adam said...

Donate my organs, light me on fire, and plant a tree in my memory if you want to put something in the ground to remember me by. I don't need a monument to myself after I die.

Yay! the captcha worked!

nothingprofound said...

The thought of death is a wonderful tool to sharpen the mind and senses.

charlie brown said...

This is a very useful reminder for us all when sometimes we allow ourselves to be bogged down in the silly trivia of life. As ever, such an inspiring source of handy wisdom, James. Thank you.

Just one question though arising from your comments about organ donation etc. It's something that I often wrestle with myself. On the one hand, I agree with you - the body post-mortem is just a useless bag of bones and fluid. And of course, the Buddha would remind us, it's pretty much that pre-mortem too :))

But you also mention Tibetan practises concerning disposal of the dead. So you'll be aware that in that tradition, there is much care taken with the dead body immediately after death. That it is seen as extremely important that the body is not disturbed unnecessarily or mutilated while the person is undergoing the state of Bardo. The worry being that this can influence unduly the journey that the 'soul' takes and cause it to be reborn into the lower realms.

It's for this reason that Tibetan Buddhists look aghast at the way in which the West treats the dead while often the body is still literally warm. And again, many would argue that this would prohibit organ donation as it has to be done so soon after death.

As I say, it's more of a question than a point as it's something that I am still not sure on. So if you have any thoughts on this, would love to hear them!

Either way, best wishes from London.

Love and blessings,


They call him James Ure said...

@L.B....Agreed. I hope my loved ones don't make my funeral a morbid affair. I don't mind if people feel the need to mourn but don't spend a lot of money on my empty carcass.

@Adam...I like it!! I'll toast some marshmallows over the fire. ;) I too like the idea of a tree if people want to have a spot to remember at but don't wast land and money on a burial or I'll haunt ya!! LOL

@Nothing profound...Agreed.

@Charlie...Being a Zen Buddhism I know more about that tradition, so I hesitate to respond on the Tibetan heritage.

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