Brother David, the first question I have for you
is perhaps the most creative question, and so let’s begin there. What do you think is missing for most people with regard to death and dying, their
attitudes toward death and dying? What’s missing, the presence of which would transform their approach to death and dying? Well I just tell you what
comes to my mind off hand and that is what’s really missing
is to be fully alive, because if we were fully alive right now
we wouldn’t have to worry about being fully alive
when it comes to dying, and, uh, at that time we would know
how to deal with it. Uh… You have to be very alive to deal with dying,
It’s something very active, uh, even the word to die has in the English language, and in
many other languages, no passive voice. You can’t say I am being “died”. If you’re being “died/dyed”
you come out green or blue but not dead. You can be killed, and you will be killed
sooner or later by something, but you have to die.
That’s something that you have to actively do. And so, uh, if you really know how to live actively,
you will…you will also be able to die actively when life asks that from you.
– Sure. Well and let’s, um, let’s follow that up with the obvious question about how one goes about living fully so that one then can die in the proper way fully. Right. Well, that turns the thing around now
and that…let me put it this way, you can only live fully, and that means come alive fully
if you’re willing to die. Because uh, and I mean that
really concretely right now, Abraham Maslow, the great psychiatrist said, he had found in his practice
that most people were afraid of death and of dying. But there
was one thing that even more people were afraid of and that is living. And we are afraid of living because if you’re really alive it means letting
go and meeting the unknown and meeting surprise, and that is a little death. In other words,
unless you die to this present moment you won’t be alive to the next moment, and so you have to let go and let go.
And that is, uh… uh, one of the main things, maybe the
main thing, that we have to learn in order to come fully alive.
– I see. So really what I’m hearing you saying now is that in order to be able to die, we have to be able to live fully.
In order to be able to live fully, we have to be willing and able to die
even before we die. [Right.] That is now. Let’s, let’s focus on that for a moment. Dying before dying. Now here you are seated, um, in a monk’s garb and I take it that in some sense, as a monk
you actively practice dying. Could you speak a little bit about that, not
necessarily even in just your own tradition but this whole practice, the monastic practice of, of welcoming death into life each day. Well, that’s interesting that you should ask that question. Uh, it… first of all, in all the
different monastic traditions death plays a very important role, this awareness of death and
that’s really nice to die and all that. But in my personal vocation when I
was a student a fellow student lent me The Rule of St. Benedict, which is the little book written some, uh, twelve hundred years ago that, uh, the Benedictines live by
and they arranged their monasteries by. And when I read it for the first time there was one
sentence that most struck me of all the things in there, and that was the little sentence: “To
have death at all times before your eyes.” And when I read that I thought, oh, gee, uh, when it comes to dying, even if that is in eighty years or a hundred years – at that time that was
still a possibility – uh, I would like to have had death at all times before my eyes.
Because that seems to me then I would have lived the way I would like to have lived. Uh, so that really struck me that much.
And actually in the acceptance of a… of a novice into the monastery,
for instance, when you become a monk, uh, this is not done in that climactic way, in this climactic way any more
but it used to be done that even some funeral rites were performed. For instance,
that you were covered with the pall with which the casket is covered, but still you
stretch out as, as if you were dead on the ground. And then you are raised
up to the life in a monk. You die and then raise to new life. And the same with the saffron robes.
Most people don’t know why the Buddhist monks wear saffron robes and the Hindu monks wear saffron robes. Well, uh, that is, uh, the cloth after it has gone through cremation. It is
scorched, that is the idea, you see. So they are wearing them as if they had gone through death,
and it’s the same thing uh, in the Hindu tradition. For instance, the
monks, when they become monks they will, uh, everything will be taken away from them. So to say by the guru now give us this and give us this and give us this and now give us
your body, even your body, they will say. But you will need a body to serve others
so we give you back your body, But you have sort of lost it already in that ceremony.
[I see] So, uh, and then, as you live this monastic life, because you have gone literally through this, uh, death and rising, you are invited to live every moment
as a dying to that present moment. That means not clinging. Not clinging to anything.
Let it go and come alive to the next one more fully alive therefore. So I would think that a person who was able to do
that wouldn’t have the same problem with death, uh, that a person would have
who couldn’t do that. Because then when the actual moment of
death shows up, it’s just another one of those dyings, another one of those.