Watching Death / Staying Aware

@Andrew @aholecek Dear Andrew, Dear All,

I hope these words all find you in the best of physical health and ease. Watching death of two people in the last few weeks, pushed me even furthur inwards. Witnessing the process of death, atleast from a outside point of view, is something which I was also very thankful for. Thankful to be there for the loved one, and thankful to be face to face with every of my own emotional rollercoaster throughout the witnessing. All fear, whilst witnessing, is my own fear of my own death. This was a grateful (not to be mistaken with always pleasant vibrations) experience / practice.

Personally, for me the best “practice” / way of life / experience / is resting in our own being / awareness moment to moment. Night and Day. Of course, this is easier said than done. Self realization only is a moment, stabilisation is the KEY. Resting in awareness, fear is impossible, it is only a thought.

I do not know if there is a being alive who maintains this awareness throughout every moment of our 24h time circle. Catching myself “falling asleep” numerous times through out the day, be it in conversation with others, or in my own thoughts, or whilst in activity.

Even tougher at night, becoming lucid in dreams on a regular basis throughout the last years, after having many experiences throughout my childhood. My dream practice, is to jump into mirrors, to exit a dream, and to stay alert in the void, for any new appearance that my arise, not to get involved, but to stay in this alert awareness of our own being. often times, losing this in a blink of an eye to a false awakening, or switching to the waking state. Only in one occasion, have I had the experience of becoming aware in deep sleep (where I must add, the “gap” between two dreams, which i consider the void when exiting a dream through a portal) for a blink of an eye, before mind realized this and waking up to the waking state.

Having also had more than enough of psychedelic experiences with mushrooms and DMT, and also in meditations, It is so clear to me that “ground zero” is plain awareness of awareness, whatever may arise after the dissolution of body, is just another appearance in awareness / conciousness, manifesting itself in which ever way.

I would never dare to say “I am not scared of death”. I believe nobody can truly say this, as long as we are not in the process of acually dying. As mind is the only thing to be afraid of death, mind may panik, the question is, can we stay relaxed as the witness to this, and maintain stability in witnessing throughout the whole process. To my understanding when correlating to the buddhist teachings, staying aware and NOT REACTING to all arisings after and during the dissolution of body/mind, is key and freedom of rebirth. Please correct me if im wrong.

To summarize, self realization is the tool, to navigate through life and death. life is there to stabilize realization, throughout all change. a life long task, or many life tasks.

thank you for all of your time.


Very well said. Your words bring two books to mind, C.W. Huntington, “What I Don’t Know About Death” and Ponlop Rinpoche “Mind Beyond Death”. I highly recommend C.W. Huntington. The book is him, after a career as an academic and scholar, facing his own death.

Huntington came to this realization too after much study and experience in hospice, working with the dying. He realized his past experience of death was always experience of someone else’s death. I always cringe when I hear people speak of death from the comfort and security their intact delusions are providing. Studying, writing, watching and thinking about death are very different from meeting death, I believe.

You would find yourself on the same page with Ponlop too, if you haven’t read the book. I appreciate your thoughts.

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Thank you very much for your reply davjak. Thank you for the book recommendations! I fully agree with you. In life, in all aspects, theory is always different than the action itself. Or as the saying goes, easier said than done. I believe, you could practice much throughout life, to prepare for death. Psychedlics, Meditation, and never avoiding, but rather inviting your fears on every occasion possible. Realization that we are awareness, knowing all experience, is the first step and tool to navigate through life. This is what I can say so far from experience. Stabilisation, and full transformation (life long process), can then prepare the calmness to experience death in a fully relaxed state of awareness, aweness, and curiousity. But also this is only theory as of now, as I am calmly sitting behind the computer screen, free from pain and thoughts with extreme pull for attention.

There are practice world champions in sports, and then when its game time, the pressure makes them crumble.

Watching two deaths within the last 9 weeks, really forced me in to giving up explanations, theories. it is so clear, mind trying to find a “way out” / security. It forces one to reside in oneself, in the only place of security, awareness itself.

Thank you very much for the exchange of thoughts!

I read the book on your recommendation and followed his journey of discovery–going from the academic to the potential realization of self/no self. I liked his observations and realizations covering many of the ideas that are discusses here at NC and encountered in so many of the experiences I’ve had over the past four years (and longer). He has a nice way of expressing Buddhist philosophy for a beginner, like me.

“We simply must act as if physical objects really exist as they appear to exist all the while knowing they do not. Similarly, we must act as if there is really a path and a goal, even though there isn’t. You must follow the path that is not a path so that you can see for yourself that it leads nowhere or, perhaps more precisely, that it leads back to exactly where you started. You must wake up in the dream in order to see the dream for what it is, to see that waking up is itself, in some inexplicable manner, an illusion, because there was never anything other than the dream.”

One of my teachers from an online Sangha in upstate NY knew him and we had a nice discussion about his work. He promised to mention to his wife Sandy that I liked the book.

So glad to hear you read this. I recently heard Alan Wallace reference Huntington, and he said he knew him. This was during a 2009 retreat. He mentioned his other book, The Emptiness of Emptiness and said it is a fine translation.

One of the things that touched me about him and his book, was that for all his erudition, he was no Buddhist master. It was interesting to me, how one type of personality prioritizes the academic study over the application and practice. He was a brilliant guy, and yet so fallible, so human and vulnerable. And, he had come to a point of brutal honesty. This was someone opening a window to himself as he truly was face to face with death and no longer thinking about it from the armchair. I shed a tear for him. Despite his intellect and career of study and exploration, there was still that separation.

I am curious what you make of this point. Were you struck by the difference between those who make the path their practice vs. one who studies it? It’s a curious thing to me.


I would like to say more, but have to go to work now, and am on a tight schedule until Friday. But, I will respond then.

I remember reading “Death Be Not Proud” by John Gunther in High School, way back in '61 which got me thinking about death at an early age, just as much as some of the death I saw around me at home, in the military and in other areas.

I’ve spent a good deal of my time amongst both camps so when I read the book, I perceived it much the way you did, though filtered through my own rainbow-colored cracked and dirty spectacles. I liked his writing style and analogies, knowing all the while he had the clear light at his back during his final revisions. That makes a difference. "Do not ask for whom the bell tolls . . . " I think that when one studies, one practices as well, just in a different way. Head work is not heart work, but they are connected. If one’s academic career covers Dharma, but the person herself/himself is a dumpster fire, how far can they get? I’ve known people such as this. I see Huntington as being good at what he did and feel compassion for his family, much the same as I feel for others I have encountered over the years. Just random thoughts . . .

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Yes, will there be clinging? We don’t know. Whatever idea might arise now, will not exist then. As you are alluding, the best path is to produce good seeds now, I think. But then, whether I do or I don’t, is out of my hands, ultimately, I believe. Prior causes and conditions… and ‘I’ am a drop in the ocean. Another quote from the Huntington book: It’s a quote of Epictetus: “True education consists in this: learning to wish that everything should come to pass exactly as it does.” Surrender to what is.

Sometimes I have the thought that, yes, death may not be what I would hope for it to be. Perhaps there will be awe and bliss, perhaps it will be hellish, perhaps it will be somewhere in between. But whatever. What will be, will be. Perhaps there is terror awaiting. What good does fretting now do?

I think estimates are that approximately 110 billion humans have existed in this go round so far. So, perhaps 103 billion of us have lived and passed though the only exit door, not to mention the gazillions of other beings coming into existence and dying every second. What shall I do, cling to this shell as if it were special in all this carnage and creation? If I do or don’t, it won’t be ‘me’ doing it. It all makes me just want to shut up. It’s a better option than trying to fathom it all.

I agree, and I think it can also be seen as surrender, mindfulness, “be here now”, resting in the “I am”, resting free of mind projection… take your pick.

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davjak, Thank you very much for your reply! Enjoyed it, and I cannot add anything to your words at all. You said it best: “It all makes me just want to shut up. Its a better option than tryin to fathom it all” :sunny: :grin:

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