Death Cleaning. Death Practice. Out of Empathy for Others.

I told a friend that I am spending many hours in organisational mode at home. I had a major clear out of old accounts. Accounts more than 10 years old went for recycling. The UK law states that accounts for the self-employed (I prefer non-self-employed) must be kept for seven years. I also organised the current accounts from April 2017 to January 2018  rather than leave it to the end of the year.

I went through my library of 2000 plus books and gave bags of books to the charity shops and friends. More than 90% of the books still fill the shelves of my office and little library in the small bedroom.

A friend, a grandchild and I put into chronological order around 380 letters posted home between 1967 and 1977 – the years on the road including time as a Buddhist monk. We put some 2000 recorded mini-cassette Dharma talks into order with a view to transferring a number to MP3 format.

I also organised into themes several hundred photographs from the 1980s,1990’s and early part of this century. They were mostly family photos, photos of Sangha friends and nature.

My next step is to start the various arrangements for my funeral on the Sharpham Estate (http://www.sharphamtrust.org/ceremonies/natural-burials). I have opted for a burial. I like the thought of  this bundle of elements buried down in the earth in the company of similar elements. I will suggest a certain poem or song or two for the funeral. I believe the preparation shows a small expression  of empathy for Nshorna (my daughter) and Dharma friends, who would possibly like to know my preferences.

My friend said to me: “Sounds like you are getting ready for your death. “

I responded: “Well, yes. I am getting the house in order. So, Nshorna doesn’t have a headache going through a lot of disorganised stuff. There is a pleasure in getting as much as possible up to date.

It is not the same as planning for a long holiday or a movement to another part of the world but there are some similarities.

Sweden has a word for this kind of preparation for death – döstädning. The word translates as death cleaning. This is a process for dealing with all possessions and financial matters before we die. I find myself reflecting on what I wish to keep and what to leave behind in terms of all the contents at home. We might consider these preparations in spiritual terms as our Death Practice. Such a Death Practice falls into the area of wisdom, mindful living and empathy for others, who have to manage all the details after death.

Average life expectancy of a male in UK is 78.6 years. This wallah has currently reached the age of 73 years and 9 months. That means it is less than five years away for this wallh to reach the average life expectancy. Much can happen beforehand, of course. Age encouraged the Death Cleaning practice

A friend told me he went to visit his parents and have a meal with them. Both parents are approaching 70 years of age. He asked them if either of them had any wishes when they come to end of their life. Both parents appreciated his concern. They started writing down together their wishes. All three agreed it was a relief to have some clarity around death – before, during and after. Another friend told me she approached her parents (both psychotherapists) on their wishes  around their death, as both parents were well into their 70s. They told her not to mention the word “death” in the house again. Oh, dear.

We often forget how much we love letting go and enjoy the inner-outer space that comes with letting go. I appreciate having the contents in the two filing cabinets in order and more space on the bookshelves. Our ability to let go of what we don’t need expresses a certain death of those objects, few or many, which entered our live as purchases or gifts. We can also let go of our body before we die to reduce significantly the fear associated with the last stages of life.

Retirement

I am asked if I plan to retire as Dharma teacher. Later this month (January 2018), I offer the retreats in India for the 45th year. The Buddha taught for the same length of time – from the age of 35 to 80. I teach in Sarnath, near Varanasi, the same place where he started teaching. This will be the 20th year of teaching in the Thai Monastery in Sarnath. It is a privilege. Living in Brighton, UK, Dora from Poland, our manager, looks after us. Mahaveva and his team cook the meals for the retreatants.

I wish to be a small servant of the Dharma until the nature squeezes out the last exhalation. Deterioration of mind (such as dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, coma) or body (sickness, disease or accident) also can put an end to the teaching process.

A deep expression of death cleaning and deep death practice confirm the Deathless.

I have the privilege of encouraging and giving support, for as long as they wish, a network of international Dharma teachers, facilitators and agents of change. I have no interest whatsoever in leaving behind a legacy. That’s what politicians and corporate leaders like to do.

I have lived in the same house for 35 years. My daughter and friends tell me that one of the joys of moving to a new house, despite the stress, is in the massive clear-out of so much accumulated stuff in every room. One can make a fresh start.

There is a certain sweetness of going through one’s home with a view to declutter the place and have a simple, basic order. We need to remember the joy of letting go in many areas.

Plenty of Dharma friends make a very light footprint on the Earth. These remarkable Dharma wallahs of all ages live incredibly modest lives – in one or two rooms, house-sharing, house-sitting, live in small city or rural communities and  on the road, They are a generation of Dharma practitioners, who do not have the security of the monastery and numerous lay supporters. These practitioners have to earn money – social care, driving a taxi, waiters in restaurants, farm work, casual work, on the road, alone, with a friend/partner/kids.

The way of life of such dedicated Dharma practitioners is much tougher than those who have taken ordination.  Householders take care of all the daily needs of the monks and nuns – accommodation, food, clothing and medicine, if needed. You need a lot of inner strength and wisdom to live a rather austere way of life as an expression of something deeply spiritual.

Five Areas for Death Cleaning, Death Practice

There are five areas that will make it easier for loved ones to sort out affairs after our death. You can consider all five – regardless of your age. We know not the day, nor the hour….

  1. A clearly written outline of your requests for the funeral – burial, cremation/other. Ashes? Write any message (dated) that you wish to leave anybody.
  2. Your will needs to detail your assets, finances and the beneficiaries, including family, friends, charities and organisations. Make sure you detail the locations of your money – bank, saving accounts, trusts, ethical deposits, stocks and shares, government bonds etc.
  3. Consider an environmentally friendly funeral. This includes a bio-degradable coffin.
  4. Ensure your computer has an orderly system of folders for word documents, photographs, email etc. Remember to leave in your will your password for your computer. Cleaning up your immediate world will save your family members from stress and headache.
  5. Ensure a sense of tidiness/order in your possessions from household items to books, DVDs and photo albums. Ensure that every drawer and cupboard stay tidy rather than jammed tight with papers, envelopes and unrelated stuff. Make clear what you wish to happen to your personal letters and diaries.

There are two important aspects of Death Cleaning and Death Practice. The first is a wise approach to cleanse the mind from the notion of belief in ‘I’ and ‘my.’.

Second, a Death practice confirms the emptiness of death as a personal event. There is nothing to worry about, nothing to be afraid of. There is barely a margin of difference between life and death.

The question “What happens to me after I die?” belong those who believe in and identify with the notion of contrasts between life and death. Any exaggeration of the contrast generates aversion to death, and for a small minority, an attraction to death.

A final reminder: A deep Death cleansing and deep Death Practice confirm the Deathless.

May all beings be free from attraction and aversion

May all beings embrace the life-death dynamic

May all beings know the Deathless




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