Saturday, January 14, 2006

Death and Dying

Last night, the Tel Aviv yoga studio I frequent when I'm up to taking classes held a "movie night" for practitioners. 20 or so people showed up for a pre-screening "cocktail hour" of hot tea, wheatless/sugarless/additive-less/tasteless cookies, dried apricots and fresh strawberries followed by the Big Picture projected on the studio wall.

No, it wasn't Friday the 13th: Jason's Return...Think: Yoga People. The documentary (ahem, oh how very sophisticated of us) was on The Tibetan Book of the Dead . I was specifically interested in the subject because I attempted to slog through the book a few years back for the Buddhist take on death after having a series of detailed dreams on the after-death interim period.

My efforts were in vain, however. It was laborious reading so I opted instead for the remedial reader, 2nd best version: Sogyal Rinpoche's interpretation of the original, or The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

In short, the books and the documentary address the stages of death and after death or the Bardos - a 49-day, interim period between life and death after which the soul either enters Nirvana or is re-born.

There were numerous messages in the film: letting go of attachments to people, things and the living world when it's time to go, living a compassionate life so as to die a gentle death, striving towards awakening in life and understanding that all of life is a projection created by our experiences and minds.

Key for me was the message that even life is a bardo or interim stage - it's simply one where we are awake, not dead.

Then I got to thinking: What is Judaism's belief vis a vis an after-death interim period? So I turned to my bookshelf for consultation and right there in the very first sentence of the Olam Ha-Ba (Afterlife) section of Jewish Literacy was stated: ..."Olam Ha-Ba is rarely discussed in Jewish life"...So no wonder I have questions.

In my brief research, however, I found that Judaism does, indeed, believe in afterlife and in preparing for it. The intense, 7-day, month long and 12-month mourning and prayer periods are to not only help the bereaved recover from the loss but to help purify the soul as it prepares to enter the world to come.

Call me a sicko for delving into matters of death but it is a part of life, after all. Incidentally, my parents said they started to worry back when I was ten and reading the obituary page over my Cheerios each day at the breakfast table.

That said, here's the closing line of last night's documentary for ponder-ability: We enter this world crying while others are happy for our arrival and leave in silence while others mourn our departure. Perhaps we should question our perceptions?

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