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Buddhism in the News


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Christopher Hitchens on the Why the Universe Doesn't Care About You.

Christopher Hitchens is a thorn to some and a champion to others, but to the cosmos he's nothing. The famous (or infamous, depending on your beliefs on religion) British Atheist is known for being up for a good fight; he now has a fight that is even daunting to his larger than life personality. That fight is against cancer but his acerbic wit is still, thankfully intact. In addition, his daunting challenge hasn't shaken his acceptance that none of us have guarantees in this life, which has prevented him from using too much of his precious days left to ask, "Why me?" His response to that question is almost koan material, which is ironic for not only a committed Atheist but a passionate advocate against religion altogether. To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

It's not an easy thing to admit because it feels like we're losing control over our life. However, this life was never "ours" to begin with, which I think it partly why so many people go through the "5 stages of grief" when facing the exacting, unbending and non-discriminating bringer of death (but also other crises in our lives). It is said that the ego-driven mind goes through 5 stages of grief before finally accepting the inevitable. The stages are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. Interestingly these stages seem to mirror the Buddhist process of accepting the reality of suffering and the impermanence of all phenomena. It's a thought that itches my brain with wondering, "Do awakened people such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh go through such a process when faced with death?" The answer chimes clearly like a temple bell calling all to meditation, "No, because if one hasn't accepted the unwavering power of impermanence and the delusion of our ego; how can one be fully awakened?" It makes me wonder too if most Buddhists are better prepared for death than others?

The Buddhist teaching that always comes to mind when I meditate and contemplate about the impermance of life comes from the famous and beautiful Diamond Sutra:

The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, if a man had a body as huge as a mountain, would he be a great man?” “No, Lord. Because “a great man” is only words, and being a great man is an illusion, created by the belief in ego.”

"So listen to this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. --
So should you understand the world of the ego.”

James: And so it is with all things too; not just death. The sooner we accept that our ties to this body, personality, accomplishments and pleasures aren't anchored in rock after all but sand slipping through the fingers of time, is the sooner we overcome suffering to bloom like a lotus in the bright, clear, sky of radical acceptance. Letting go is when we are the most free like a rock climber floats suspended in the mid-air after letting go of a rock wall. If you've ever been rock climbing and been stuck on the rock wall out of fear of falling you cling to what little grip you have as if your life depended upon it. You have to face your deluded mind and make it let go of the fear of falling to free oneself from the panic and fear that is keeping you stuck in an unstable and uncomfortable state.

Just as with life, it is terrifying to let go of all that we know but that rock we are clinging to is not giving us much comfort, which makes us cling to it tighter. Yet whether our mind lets go of trying to control life or not; sooner or later it will have to let go. Christopher Hitchens has let go and is accepting the possibility of death. It must be said, however, that some cancer survivors have said that cancer was the best thing that happened to them. They state that it freed them from a lot of emotional baggage and suffering that was preventing true peace and happiness from blossoming in their life previously. Everything happens for a reason--so let go. You won't regret it because that letting go might just allow you to fly high into the peaceful heavens of awakening.

---End of Transmission---

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qbrick said...

'Why me?' - 'Why not?'
As a nihilist, you feel quite lonely. The universe doesn't care about you and your suffering. My way out: Buddhism. I'd go so far to say, that without practicing, nihilism as an idea of western thinking is incomplete. Sitting, standing, walking and lying with mindfulness, just to be aware of what is and to drop words and concepts, because they 'aren't reality' is perfected nihilism.

Jeff said...

Coming to grips with death, in some manner, is pretty much a necessity, religious or otherwise. Montaigne, a French Renaissance writer who created what we now know as the essay, wrote, "To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned to die has unlearned how to be a slave."

It's a defining fact of life, and the inherent... irrationality of non-existence to a mind evolved for life and survival means that confronting death really is it's own very fundamental koan, religious or not.

Was Once said...

With my brush with death, and then the fun follow-up of a coma. My body was in distress, the nurses were intubating me, and then quickly doing a CAT scan....but I was already out of my body, and feeling no pain. I was quickly out of the room and traveling near the ceiling in the adjoining hall. Something warm and embracing was more fun and seemed very natural. The nurse looked at my face and realized I was gone by looking at my eyes and called my name, in a panic was the only thing tying to this life I guess. But it was not frightening at all...I was almost returned to the universe. It will be too soon, but I have come back to help others.

They call him James Ure said...


@Jeff...Thanks for adding that quote. It's perfect and is valuable wisdom and insight. I would go so far as to say that we have to learn how to die before we can learn how to live.

@Was Once...Wow, what a life-changing experience.

Sabio Lantz said...

Fantastic Post !
Very true. Thank you.
Love the rock climber analogy

Yana Davis said...

Our consciousness enables us to care, and since we are aspects or manifestations of the universe, waves on the great ocean of being, at least this aspect of the universe cares.

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