POSTCARD #157: Hat Yai: The 15th day of the 10th lunar month, October 12th, was the annual Respect for the Dead day in Thailand. Facebook busy with the exchange of photos showing the preparation of food offerings to the Dead and the large social events that took place in the temple grounds afterwards. Communities sharing the food they made in their own homes and ‘offered’ to the boowa in the temple’s cemetery area where the ashes and remains of the ancestors are kept. The people of the old world built a narrative around the enigma of death, life and the whole question of why we are here. It explains the mystery in a way everyone in the community can understand, something consciously shared. It also explains it to me, a westerner, 30 years in Asia, having one foot in both worlds – maybe I’m more asianized these days. With this awareness of death, I find I’m not alone anymore, all of a sudden… wow! In the West we somehow forgot there was anything we were supposed to know about life and death so we stopped looking. Forgot about the subjective world and spent most of the time browsing internet pages about quantum mechanics instead.
It’s not that we just don’t talk about death, we pretend it’s not there. Death is what happens to other people… something obscure, like spirituality; words cloned from an ancient artefact wrapped in the strangeness of another age. Jesus, Mohammed, Shiva, Buddha discovered the truth was inside, a seed germinating from ancient beginnings. They and all the revered persons in the history of the world were teaching people to find it for themselves (comes with the software). It’s not about having somebody else do it on our behalf.
But conjurors, alchemists, science developed and the Object elbowed its way into our lives, shoved Subjectivity out of the way, and we started to focus on what’s inside, thinking it’s out ‘there’. Instead of the actual experience, I’m listening to a story about what’s happening, watching a movie in my head; inventing a self that’s satisﬁed sometimes, or dissatisfied other times, a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth and what’s real, and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Thinking I am the only one that’s me, or is that just a thought thinking it’s me? And when, in the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment, there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving urge to have, to possess, to be… it’s possible to see that this world of suffering can be brought to an end.
“… death is as near to him as drying up is to rivulets in the summer heat, as falling is to the fruits of the trees when the sap reaches their attachments in the morning, as breaking is to clay pots tapped by a mallet, as vanishing is to dewdrops touched by the sun’s rays …” [Visuddhimagga, Mindfullness of Death]