Dying in Three Acts II

Tony Robert Cochran

Act II

Prelude

For my 24th birthday I gifted myself a month at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. Remote and quiet, the monastery – a refurbished middle-school – sits in a clearing among verdant forests. Little did I know that my birthday fell during the week of Parinirvana Day, a time when Mahayana Buddhists reflect on impermanence and death. For Great Vow, a Soto/Rinzai Zen monastic community, like other Mahayana Buddhists, this deals with the death of the Buddha, and impermanence in general. In complete silence, avoiding eye contact, reading, or anything that might activate the “discursive mind,” the intensity of that week-long Parinirvana sesshin (meaning “touching heart-mind”) stuck with me. We envisioned dying on the cushion during meditation; watching how others might react to our drooping, falling ‘flesh sack of bones;’ we contemplated graveyards, and even dissected a dog that had been hit by a car…

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