Zen Road
Zen Road
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Long life to death

 

Who has not watched or listened to a television or radio program, or read a news or magazine article about the recent scientific research into aging and death?

 

Personally the first time for me was while watching the National Geographic channel . . . . Bewilderment . . . .

Yes, how bewildered I was facing the perspective of a genetically modified human being capable of defying death with a body full of nano-robots which would remain in perfect health over centuries. Restore our veins, destroy cancerous cells, eliminate fat, patch up organs. Live and go on living for hundreds of years, no more diseases, a perfect body. I love life, so why haven’t I shed a few tears of joy before these promises of such a bright future? Or even divine?read more

 

At first sight one might consider this just a logical extension of the concern of medical science to keep a human being alive for as long as possible. Going a bit deeper we might find the ancient quest for the fountain of youth or immortality.

Yet, what struck me watching this program was the hugeness of the human ego. An ego mixed with an understandable fear of death and an instinct for self preservation. read more

 

It is true that scientists engaging in this kind of research have a materialistic vision of existence, and view the human body as a mechanical system similar to an automobile, with a pilot situated in the cerebral cortex. On one side the body, on the other cerebral functions. On one side the individual, on the other the exterior world full of “things” just as mechanical . . . . . . That is why I shall begin my questioning of this research with considerations which are purely material.

There are around 7 billion of us human beings living on the earth. Living as we are presently, with 20% of the population (Occidental) consuming 80% of the resources, the survival of the human species is already threatened . . . . . Now, imagine that instead of living 50 to a hundred years, human beings started living several hundreds of years . . . .

 

être ici, peinture de Guy FaureOf course these considerations probably never occur to the scientifically minded with their nose deep in their experiments and thus stuck at a purely theoretical level. They probably don’t come to mind either to those who would like to take advantage of these scientific advances, those who will easily accommodate themselves to seeing the benefits go to an elite they belong to.

 

If not, in case of a democratization, one could claim, that those who advocate immortal human beings, or multi-century humans are partisans of a world where there will be no room for procreation. In other words, their egotism, their sick attachment to themselves, is such that they would steal their own children’s place on this earth to be able to continue their existence.

And what’s to become of the genetic evolution of the human species? Do we think ourselves so perfect that the human species can simply stop evolving there where it is?

 

I must say, the very positive aspect of this research is that it leads us to a reflection on life and death. Who dies? Why does anything die? One doesn’t have to look much beyond ourselves to see that without death there wouldn’t be any life. Earlier I spoke about the place we leave to our children by dying, but everything, all around us, exists only thanks to this constant exchange of energy which must make place for new cells. The death of plants and animals that we eat to subsist, for example. The death of body cells which must give place to new cells. And it’s the same everywhere on this earth for plants and animals who give life to one another by eating, digesting, shitting, dying, rotting, not to mention all that we do not perceive happening on a molecular or atomic level. So where does life end and death begin? Life is nothing but a permanent exchange, an incessant circulation of energy that does and undoes all forms of life. Finally there is no death, there is only life, “A river which flows unceasingly” Shakyamuni Buddha tells us. Thus, how to imagine being able to escape death when, in a certain way, everything is born and dies instant after instant.

 

Let’s look at the psychological aspect of the problem. Here is a quote from the Tibetan Master Chögyam Trungpa:

“In certain periods of history, a great number of people went looking for a fountain of youth. If such a fountain should exist, if would be terrible for most of us. If we had to live a thousand years in this world without dying, we would no doubt kill ourselves well before our thousandth birthday. And even if we had the power to live eternally, it would be impossible to avoid the reality of death and suffering around us.

Actually, even if we were stuffed with nano-robots or genetically modified, accidents, murder, or the emergence of new diseases would still be possible and thus the presence of death in our lives would remain inescapable. It’s possible that even if these dangers were pushed aside, death being so embedded in our flesh, and so evident around us, the anguish it drives would seize us again and always . . . . This eternal human unable to accept the possibility of his own end, this anguish would even doubtless be increased tenfold making life impossible for him, constantly bringing him back to the first truth announced by Buddha, “Life is dukkha, suffering” and this not because of death, but because of the non-acceptance of death, because of a neurotic attachment to his own existence.

And who could bear living for hundreds of years? Man already feels obliged to resort to a thousand deceptions to avoid getting bored if only for a few minutes, knocking himself out trying to fill the empty nothingness of his life with all the trivialities, illusions and nonsense that he can find.

 

zazen, peinture de Guy FaureAnd finally, what would the flavor of life be without death? Here’s a quote from the Zen Master Taisen Deshimaru:

If you set off from death to go toward life, this life will be a true life. Whereas if you want to avoid death to retain life, this life will become dead.”

Only the wise man who lives each instant fully, as though it were the last, could perhaps bear to live an eternity, since he finds even eternity in each instant. But is such wisdom, the fruit of a deep inner process, possible if one does not accept his natural condition of living being, his place in the natural order of things? Could the human being reach this wisdom if he knew that each instant he could die? If he knew that one day the life he called his own will die out?

« Everything that is born must die. » says the dying Buddha to his disciple Ananda.

 

Guy Faure, Nantes, April 2009.

 


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