A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment


Recently euthanasia has reappeared in the news.  The Buddhist perspective is death is the most important crises that we all approach. It is the ending of this life, and the transition to preparing for our next life or rebirth. Given our past karma, how we approach this moment in our thoughts is seen as an important factor in our next rebirth. Some schools of Buddhism, such as the Pure Land it is even possible to avoid rebirth in this realm, instead being born where we can concentrate fully on achieving enlightenment. For this reason a Buddhist does not want to die, in a drug induced stupor, they would rather die experiencing pain, if it meant they could die with a clear mind. My father passed away from cancer, and when he knew his days were few, refused any medication stronger then aspirin, as he wanted to die calm, free from agitation or worries. He passed away, quietly in his sleep, having informed myself, his doctor, and his best friend of his wish to leave this life in this manner. His last days were spent talking about the joys he experienced, how he missed my mother who predeceased him by a year, and listening to me recount some of the joys he brought to me as I grew up, as well as giving thanks for the lessons he taught me. He wouldn’t accept the doctor’s offer of staying in a hospice, he wanted to die in his home, he would never have shortened his life through suicide or euthanasia. He had a living will however that if he wasn’t capable of thought, and then no extraordinary measures were to be taken to prolong his physical existence. He explained to me during the last year of his life, that shortening a life, does not eliminate the karma that is being used up, so by shortening the suffering, it just meant that it carried over to the next rebirth. Karmically caused suffering is not shortened by death, so there is no benefit to ending one’s life sooner than it would occur naturally. The approach of death is to be accepted, as it comes to all of us. In the west they say we experience 5 stages as we approach death: shock or denial, anger, bargaining with fate or God, depression and finally acceptance. Buddhist philosophy is to work on acceptance and letting go. We learn to accept our feeling of anger, pleading, depression, but these will pass. We accept death, not as an ending but rather as the beginning of our next life. Learning to die properly, is about accepting the circle of existence, we are born, live, die, and then prepare to repeat the cycle until we achieve enlightenment. We learn this is the natural order of the universe, which to every being is allotted a time upon this earth. Life is a continuous cycle of beginnings and endings. When you have finally learnt the lesson of death, you have not learnt to die, but rather learned how to truly live.


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