Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nonattachment & the most powerful question in the world

In the Balance and Moderation post, I mentioned practicing taiqi and qi gong. The studio that I go to is Embrace the Moon, and a recent posting entitled 100 Days of Practice on the blog, contains a testimony from one of the practitioners, William Wittmann. His voice and learnings are full of power. The post opens with:

This isn’t the most powerful question in the world –Is today a good day to die?

This is –Is today a good day for Suzanne to die?

Holy Poop! If I have any doubt about the nature of life and death, this question will flush it out. If I have any doubt who my wife, Suzanne, truly is, this question will slap me awake.

This brought to mind a quote from buddhism related to nonattachment – “A buddha would not flinch from a piercing sword or shed a tear at the loss of a loved one.” This is a powerful statement and one that I often return to when witnessing my own emotions in action. To a lot of people, this sounds cold and unfeeling, and I can see how it can appear that way. Though, this is the exact opposite of the intent. The intent is that when losing a loved one, you can accept and even rejoice in the freedom of that person’s soul from the form of the body. Death of the body is not a loss for the person dying, it is only a loss for the living people missing the interactions with the person in the body. This merits further explanation… The Sanskrit term buddha is often translated to “the enlightened one” or “the awakened one.” This is not a god or God, and buddhism is not a religion (and the spell check dictionary keeps requiring a little extra effort to un-capitalize these words). A buddha is someone who completely knows the point of life and existence, because a buddha is completely awake to this purpose. When one is complete awake or present, one knows that the loss of the form of the body is not something to be lamented, because lamentation does not add anything. The loss of the body is a fact to be accepted and in some beliefs (mine included) is a cause for celebration and rejoicing … the soul has joined the Oneness of the universe, that person has shed unstable form and awakened to true being, the person has gone to Heaven. I look at it as a selfish (this is not a judgment against selfishness. In fact, I believe that selfishness is a virtue) to mourn the death of a loved one.

I shared the blog link with my friend, with whom I have been having lots of discussions on awakening and being present. Here’s her response:

Thank you -- This does shed some light on the subject. It is a beautiful image, that of his wife appearing in the curve of the earth, the poplar tree and the cherry blossoms.

I want to ask him:
what do you mean "she appeared" each day in a different part of his surroundings? How did you recognize her?

My understanding is that he felt it was a good day for his wife to die because he felt her presence all around him, expanding beyond the form of her body, and thus he felt he could never really lose her. Is that what you thought?

It may be "…because he felt her presence all around him, expanding beyond the form of her body, and thus he felt he could never really lose her. " It may be because he felt connected to everything, including his wife. It may just be confabulation (the conscious mind’s fabricated explanation for something that is only truly known to the unconscious mind), as in his mind coming up with an excuse for something that he felt deep down inside himself that cannot have words, structure, or form and the mind's desire to come up with something. Or, it could be something else entirely. Maybe William will respond to this post and share his thoughts and feelings.

I tend to feel that something like this is so powerful that understanding only gets in the way. Feeling or knowing is more likely to yield truth. As such, it's hard to put into words. I recognize that such statements are unsatisfying, so I fall back on a tool that helps me, a piece of advice that a friend gifted to me from his math professor: "You don't need to understand it, you only need to know it." Understanding is something that the mind—or what Eckhart Tolle refers to as the ego does—knowing and feeling are what a Being or soul or spirit does when it connects with the world spirit or heaven or Oneness or Universe. I give multiple labels not because I feel that these labels are meaningful, but to demonstrate that labels, by their nature, are limiting. The multiple labels are to connect with a concept, rather than the meaning that you may have attached to a single word.

The importance lies in what it means to you individually, where you feel the truth in his words. Words are imperfect, though sometimes allow truth to show through. The message of truth is the key; the words are only the delivery vehicle. An analogy: truth:words::spirit:body. It's like a monarch riding in a broken down carriage. Like the Pope in a jalopy. Like Buddha in a rickshaw.


  1. Understanding onnly gets in the

    Yep, I don't want to try to understand this too much. I just want to hold the presence lightly.

    Deep questions, Ed.

    William Wittmann

  2. William, thank you for coming by and for keeping up such a great site. I just added a link to your blog's posting directly.

    If I have any readers, check out William maintains a meaningful site with a lot of wisdom.

    Thank you, William!

  3. Ed, thanks for the kind words and the link.

    Another piece – when I am deeply present, there is no William. There is no Suzanne. There is no birth. There is no death.



  4. Some of the ideas in this post are echoed in The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky's most recent and beautiful work. I recommend a viewing.

    Personally, I am agnostic about the existence of a soul, but still find these spiritual notions appealing and soothing. At the same time I am cautious about their temptation as given my agnosticism they seemingly pull me away from my connection to reality.

  5. Hmm, my diagnosis is Zen Disease. Buddhism is about being REAL, acknowledging your humanness, and knowing that, yes, there is no birth, no death, no William, no Suzanne. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Your postings sound like aversion to me.

  6. I love that so many people are participating and sharing on my blog. I started sharing my thoughts publicly primarily to get discussions going and to connect with friends the world over who are pondering these same things. I love the sharing that is happening.

    William -
    Thank you for sharing.

    Twigs -
    I appreciate the pointer to The Fountain. I intend to check it out. I also realize that my post seems to assume the existance of the soul as a basis for the belief system. I did not mean for it to come off this way. I am planning another post to clarify this.

    Mariah -
    Thank you for sharing.

    I looked up the term "Zen Disease" and found it described as "the euphoria that immediately follows the experience of true meditational transcendence" (which I think is also called Kensho, or maybe Nirvana). Is this what you meant?

    Regarding your comment on aversion, I write from where I am (probably samsara). What clues to aversion do you notice in my writings?

    Btw - what are your motives for sharing?