From Faculty & Friends: Andrew Holecek

What is death from the perspective of your tradition?

As with many questions about death and dying from the Buddhist tradition, this question is addressed from the absolute and relative levels. From an absolute perspective, death is an illusion. The great contribution of Tibetan thanatology is the death of death. Death only occurs in the realm of form. If one can discover the formless dimensions of being, of who we truly are, “Nothing happens” at the moment of death, as His Holiness the 16th Karmapa proclaimed a few days before he died. Formless means deathless. The goal of the bardo teachings (the Tibetan approach that deals with death) is this: to discover that which cannot die because it was never born. In this regard, death is a homecoming, a return to the unborn and undying source. 

From a relative perspective, death is only the end if you think the story is about you. So what dies is that narrative, that sad story, embodied in the script that is the ego. Ego is exclusive identification with form, and form (body) does come to an end when we die. In technical terms, death is the exhaustion of karma, our bad habits, and the worst habit that ego maintains is the habit for existence itself, the habit of reification, the mis-take of believing that form, and therefore ego, truly exists. In this sense, death is a wrathful form of liberation (because it’s uncompromising and non-negotiable) from this mistaken story. 

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