Death, Peace, Environment

Select a link to find the Dalai Lama's answer.

Q: In your opinion, is death a biological and medical event, or is it simply personal and spiritual? Is a right that we do everything in our power to save or at least prolong for a few years the life and human being? Or conversely, is it un-fair to impose the risk that death will occur in a highly technical medical context, where the patient is cut off from family and friends? Do you think death is good or bad? And finally, do the efforts of western medicine to thwart death seemed questionable to you? If, on the contrary, death belongs the dying and they close friends and family, at what point should the physician withdraw? Under what conditions must we inform the patient that death can no longer be avoided?

A: First of all, we should realise that death is truly part of life and that it is neither would not bad in itself. In the Tibetan book of the dead, it says "what we called death is merely a concept." In other words, death represents the end of the gross consciousness and its support, the gross body. This happens at the gross level of the mind. But neither death nor birth exist at the subtle level of consciousness that we call "clear light. "Of course, generally speaking, death is something we dread. However, death, which we want nothing to do with, is unavoidable. This is why it is important that during our lifetime we become familiar with the idea of death, so that it will not be a real shock to us at the moment it comes. We do not meditate regularly on death in order to die more quickly; on the contrary, like everyone, we wish to live a long time. However, since death is inevitable, we believe that if we begin to prepare for it and an earlier point in time, on the day of our death it will be easier to accept it.

I think that there is no general rule with regard to the intensive care often given to patients in order to prolong their lives. It is a complex problem, and in examining it we must take numerous elements into account, according to each set of circumstances, each particular case. For example, if we prolong the life of person who is critically ill but whose mind remains very lucid, we are giving him or her the opportunity to continue to think in the way only a human being can think. We must also consider whether the person will benefit from prolonged life or whether, on the contrary, he will experience great physical and mental suffering, physical pain, or extreme fear. If the person is in a deep coma, that is yet another problem. The wishes of the patients family must also be taken into account, as well as the immense financial problems that prolonged care can create. I think the most important thing is to try and to our best to ensure that dying person may depart quietly, with serenity and in a peace. There is also a distinction to be made between those dying people who practise a religion and those who do not. Whatever the case, whether one is religious or not, I believe it is better to die in peace.

Q: Just as one often asks a doctor if the day will come when there will no longer be any disease, do you think that after dozens or hundreds of meetings like this one, the day will come when the world will truly be at peace?

A: I do believe and continue to hope that we can attain universal peace on earth. But, of course, there will always be minor problems here and there.

Q: The film "Why Did Bodhidharma Go to the East?" allowed us, through its very beautiful images, to gain experience and understanding of the extent to which spiritual liberation goes hand-in-hand with the enlightenment of consciousness that comes about in the interaction of human beings with their natural environment. But Buddhism also professes the absence of the actual existence of phenomena which, naively, we consider to be "natural." Would you tell us what place the idea of nature nonetheless occupies in Buddhism, and how the recognition of the emptiness of phenomena can lead us to alter our way of looking, at the environment?

A: It is said that inanimate objects do not have an inherent existence but a conventional one. This applies not only to inanimate objects but also to animate objects-- that is, to beings endowed with conscious-ness. In this respect, the inanimate world is on an equal basis with the animate world of living beings. As far as the relation between the external world and the inner world (the mind) is concerned, according to certain philosophical schools, in particular the Yogacara Svatantrika (a sub-school of Madhyamika) and the Cittamatra, external phenomena do not exist; all that exists is of the nature of the mind. Relativity is explained principally by the Prasangika branch of the Madhyamika school. According to the Madhyamika-Prasangika school, external phenomena exist and are not of the nature of the mind. They have no inherent or ultimate existence, but their nature is different from that of the mind. The outer world exists in dependence on the mind, insofar as it exists as a designation made by the mind. It does not, therefore, exist independently from the mind's imputation, nor is it of the nature of the mind. Therefore, an external world which can be examined objectively does exist.

Buddhism perceives the environment, in general, to be composed of infinitesimal particles; in particular, it views human beings as part of nature and for this reason -- there is, naturally, a link between human-kind and our environment. Clearly, our happiness depends a great deal on the environment. This is why Buddhist texts explain how one should behave with regard to nature. For example, one of the monastic rules forbids the contamination or destruction of vegetation.

According to accounts of the Buddha's life, it would seem that he had a very deep relationship with nature. He was not born in the royal palace but in a park, under a sala tree. He attained complete enlightenment under the bodhi tree and left this earth to enter Parinirvana, again, between three sala trees. It would seem that the Buddha was very fond of trees.

The material on this page has been collected from the recent book, "Beyond Dogma: The Challenge of the Modern World", (c) 1996 North Atlantic Books, translated by Alison Anderson and Marianne Dresser from talks given during His Holiness's visit to France end 1993.
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