Can Death Be Prevented?

Every once in a while I write an opinion piece on this website in which deeper reflection is required on the question as well as trying to answer this question by referring to Buddhism. Today, I would like to discuss whether a life could be spared if, by some circumstance, we were in the right place at the right time or had some ‘correct’ conditions prevailed. Believe it or not, it is a very common question, one in which every single one of us have asked ourselves for every death we have experienced.

When death happens, it is not the best thing in the world, and naturally, we look to blame anyone and everything under the Sun for our circumstances and the torture it brings us. However, such attempts are futile, and no matter how many people we blame, we can only do so with our own self power. What is done is done. Punishing the person involved or singling out a single party or element does not and will not aid in bringing the person back to life. We should therefore learn to accept the circumstances and move on with our own lives.

I will give you an example of a situation that happened to me, the passing of my own mother. Actually, it didn’t happen all that long ago (about 5 months ago), and so a lot of what I was feeling at the time I still remember and can fully express it in an accurate way here.

This year, I went to Japan for a working assignment for about 6 months – first month being March. I always called my mother to make sure she was doing OK (about 3 times a week) since I knew she was always going to the doctors and whatnot. She never really had an official ‘disease’, just a lot of general old-age issues like diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, etc. I was actually on my way to a Buddhist lecture that Friday night, so I thought I would call to catch up with my mom. Unfortunately, no one picked up the phone. Friday night is Friday Morning in the US, so I figured that at the time that I called she might have been on her way to some doctor (as was sometimes the case), so I just dismissed it. Apparently, that Friday night was the last time anyone heard from her. The next time she was discovered was Monday afternoon when she was taken to the hospital that night. I got a call on about Wednesday that week, and was on the next flight out from Japan (got there same day).

I don’t know what exactly happened, but all I really had to go by was that she was sleeping in the hospital bed in critical condition. Long story short, she suffered many, many small strokes and no one really knew the signs until it was too late. But actually, that was not the final diagnosis. She ended up having some rare disease that was not detected by virtually every doctor that she was seeing. It was a rare disease, after all and doctors usually do not test for these types of rare diseases as there was no risk factors for it. It was ultimately this rare disease catching up to her that caused the strokes, and after a short weeks time, her death. In case you are wondering, the disease was Cryptococcosis.

Personally, I don’t really blame anyone for what has already transpired. I never have, and I never will. Although, other people I know have. Some people blamed the doctors, claimed they were not doing their job correctly. Others harbored hatred for other individuals close by – but not me, I did not for one moment feel that anyone should be blamed nor anyone at fault. In a sea of people around me with only blame and hatred as their way of coping with the tragedy, I believe I was the only calm one. However, I owe it all to my Buddhist training and study. If not for Buddhism, I would have suffered in the same way as the others around me.

That being the case, I am always reminded of the words of Shinran Shonin:

I, Shinran, have never even once uttered the nembutsu for the sake of my father and mother. The reason is that all beings have been fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, in the timeless process of birth-and-death. When I attain buddhahood in the next birth, each and everyone will be saved.

What happens to us in the present time and what is destined to happen is a result of the karma which we have accumulated from eons past. It is all apart of the Alaya mind (where the karma energy is stored) and there is no way to really reverse this energy force that powers over us unless we receive other power faith and attain enlightenment. This, in effect, is the universal law of cause and effect working its due course.

In essence, what has happened has already happened. Sakyamuni Buddha once said (when speaking of whether fancy ceremonies have any benefit to the dead) that once a stone sinks to the bottom of the ocean, there is nothing that anyone can do to make it rise again on its own. The course of death, as such, is more like the same. Once a person dies it is their karma alone which has caused it to happen to them at that particular time and place, and under the circumstances. No matter how many times you go over it, the same result will happen.

So, the answer in this case is that no death can be prevented. Everyone must face death 100% of the time, although it is uncertain where and when they will be facing it. These factors are all determined by one’s karma. Even though you do attain enlightenment and enter into other power faith, this still does not immune you from death in this lifetime. However, if you do accomplish that task, you will not be bound by the chains of Samsara after your life in the present ends. You will be born into Amida’s pure land where you will resolve to attain Buddhahood.

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