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Our Attitude toward Death (Part 3) — To be continued

By Matthieu Ricard on May 06, 2010

(Radio Canada interview) 

Because they have the notion of a ‟stream of consciousness,” Buddhists see death as a transition, whereas, in the West, death is experienced in a very different way: if at times there are funerals with inspirational moments drawn from the deceased's life, which is then celebrated, we must admit that in general such an event is a rather somber occasion. In the East, at least in the Buddhist world, a cremation almost resembles a celebration. 

A great spiritual master is invited to preside over the rite. Family and friends are gathered, and after the ceremony, people often exclaim, ‟It went well! What a beautiful ceremony!” Then, everyone partakes in a sort of picnic or celebration: all express their joy to see that a great lama could attend, that many monks and nuns prayed for the deceased, that everyone could get together and meet. The atmosphere is a rather festive one.

I remember the death of Marilyn Silverstone, an American friend who was a nun and a great photographer. The U.S. ambassador, who had come for the cremation, exclaimed, ‟It's unbelievable, everyone seems happy!” It truly is different, very much so compared to what goes on in the West because [in the East] we think of death as a transition, difficult to be sure, yet something we seek to prepare for in the best of conditions so that it will happen as smoothly as possible.

In short, the deceased is a bit like a sailor who has succeeded in crossing the ocean and who is greeted by cheers, ‟Bravo! Now that he has arrived safe and sound, we can at present sleep in peace…”