Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

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Alvaro MDF, modified 11 Years ago at 2/26/11 1:47 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 2/26/11 1:47 PM

Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 18 Join Date: 11/11/10 Recent Posts
Hello,

I just finished reading MCTB. It is the most refreshing dharma book I've read in a long time and it certainly helped me drop a lot of the baggage I had been consciously and unconsciously dragging along the path. The section on the Models of the Stages of Enlightenment was particularly instructive. In that section, however, there was a model not expressly mentioned and yet is worthy of exploration, namely the Graceful Exit.*

The Graceful Exit Model (GEM) straddles several of Daniel Ingram's enlightenment models, but I'd like to pull it out and invite the DhO to examine it on its own.

Death is a huge part of the dharma. The Zen han reads: "Great is the matter of birth and death." And it's right there in the beginning: the third of Siddhartha Gotama's Four Sights. The awareness of, the certainty of, and the overcoming of death inform every school of Buddhism that I know of. For many the knowledge and fear of death draws and motivates people to practice.

The GEM is the example that masters set when they die. The mythology** and lore of how awakened beings pass away and how they, very often, go out in style holds an implied promise for the rest of us deluded slobs. The promise is that awakening is the release from samsara and freedom from the existential dread of annihilation.

Does the GEM of enlightenment hold true? Will practice, carried to the end, annihilate annihilation? Have all Arahants and Buddhas shaken off the fear of death? Does awakening provide the wisdom to look the grim reaper in the eye and a laugh? Based on the myths, lore and teachings it would seem so. My sense, however, is Dr. Ingram and others would say: "Not so fast..."

Thank you,
Alvaro

*In case your wondering, the model name is a total rip-off of Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die by Shushila Blackman.
**I use the word mythology the way Joseph Campbell interprets it: a myth is truth as metaphor.
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 11 Years ago at 2/28/11 9:50 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 2/28/11 9:50 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 2227 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Alvaro MDF:
Does the GEM of enlightenment hold true? Will practice, carried to the end, annihilate annihilation? Have all Arahants and Buddhas shaken off the fear of death? Does awakening provide the wisdom to look the grim reaper in the eye and a laugh? Based on the myths, lore and teachings it would seem so. My sense, however, is Dr. Ingram and others would say: "Not so fast..."


certainly an enlightened being does not fear death... Buddha, for example, seems to have decided at one point, "81 years is too old, my body is falling apart.. hey Ananda, should I stick around a bit more?" "No it's ok" "alright, time for me to go! ::bluup::".

What is your model getting at, exactly? I'm not sure what the idea of it is... by annihilate annihilation do you mean live forever?
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Alvaro MDF, modified 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 4:58 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 4:58 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 18 Join Date: 11/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Claudiu,

By "annihilate annihation" I do not mean live forever. I'm not that crazy. emoticon I used that phrase because I thought it was a clever bit of writing.

What I'm getting at is this; the stories we hear of the final moments of awakened beings are fantastic. They die, if not in joy or peace, then with great (sometimes comical) equanimity. These stories constitute a record and a paradigm that I've called the Graceful Exit Model. Given that some practioners are inspired and motivated by this model makes it worthy of analysis.

I've never heard or read a story of an enlightened master dying in fear or regret or overwhelming sadness. Why is that? Has that never happened? Is the GEM a fact ie., Enlightenment + Death = No Problem. Or could it be that we only hear the good death stories because they make for better marketing?

Thanks again,
Alvaro
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 5:16 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 5:16 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 2227 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Alvaro MDF:
Hi Claudiu,

By "annihilate annihation" I do not mean live forever. I'm not that crazy. emoticon I used that phrase because I thought it was a clever bit of writing.

What I'm getting at is this; the stories we hear of the final moments of awakened beings are fantastic. They die, if not in joy or peace, then with great (sometimes comical) equanimity. These stories constitute a record and a paradigm that I've called the Graceful Exit Model. Given that some practioners are inspired and motivated by this model makes it worthy of analysis.

I've never heard or read a story of an enlightened master dying in fear or regret or overwhelming sadness. Why is that? Has that never happened? Is the GEM a fact ie., Enlightenment + Death = No Problem. Or could it be that we only hear the good death stories because they make for better marketing?

Thanks again,
Alvaro


Oh I think I see what you mean. You're saying - how do we tell that someone is Enlightened? If they Exit Gracefully.

I posit that that is a necessary but insufficient condition. Lots of people exit gracefully but are not Enlightened... it also is of limited use as we have to wait until someone dies to see if it holds true.

I can also imagine ambiguous circumstances... say we have an Enlightened Tibetan Forest Monk, abiding. In his mindfulness he hears a jaguar (or whatever wildcats they have there) sneaking up on him. He decides he doesn't want to get eaten, so bolts up and starts running away... the jaguar pounces, a struggle ensues, and soon he is left without innards. We have no way to tell whether that was a Graceful Exit - whether he was feeling fear during the struggle or not. So we'd have to look for other indicators in that case, anyway =P. Though parts of him are still left to Gracefully Exit from the jaguar, after a bit of digestion...
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Alvaro MDF, modified 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:32 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:32 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 18 Join Date: 11/11/10 Recent Posts
Exitng gracefully through the jaguar. That's lol funny.

Yes, you're right. It's typical of GEM stories that the setting is somewhat idealized. The master knows he/she is about to die, their students and devotees are present and are able to recount the event later and there are usually no wild animals around tearing yogis to pieces. I speculate that the reason we don't hear those types of stories is because people are to busy running for their lives to pay close attention. And I don't blame them.

Check out this Graceful Exit story (courtesy of livingworkshop.net) it's got violence and fleeing. Zen Master Yantou Quanhuo met an untimely and violent death. Bandits and looters entered the monastery in a time of political upheaval, all the monks fled to the forest, but Yantou stayed sitting in zazen meditation. When a bandit stabbed him to death, Yantou let out a roar that could be heard for 10 miles. In another version of this story Yantou shouts right before he is decapitated.
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:42 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:42 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 2227 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Alvaro MDF:
Check out this Graceful Exit story (courtesy of livingworkshop.net) it's got violence and fleeing. Zen Master Yantou Quanhuo met an untimely and violent death. Bandits and looters entered the monastery in a time of political upheaval, all the monks fled to the forest, but Yantou stayed sitting in zazen meditation. When a bandit stabbed him to death, Yantou let out a roar that could be heard for 10 miles. In another version of this story Yantou shouts right before he is decapitated.

Heh that wasn't too smart of him, eh? there's a time to meditate, and a time to flee...
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Florian, modified 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:58 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/1/11 10:58 PM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Alvaro,

Counterexample: Jesus. His last words, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" don't really support the GEM. Though since that's a quote from a psalm, maybe it falls under the comic equanimity thing, after all.

Socrates certainly supports your model, Epicurus as well, and both died unpleasant deaths.

Maybe it's also a cultural matter: ancient Greeks valuing this stoic, graceful attitude towards death; Christianity going for spectacular and messy martyrdom instead. But then, even among the martyrs, some were reported as cracking jokes during their execution, such as the one they roasted on a grill, and after a while he said, "turn me over, this side's done". That kind of ideal also fits your GEM.

So yes, there's something to that model; some idealized, dogmatic outgrowth of mindfulness of death practice, maybe. Because as practice instructions, mindfulness of death is really quite powerful. Many of the screwed up models about enlightenment come from idealizing practice instructions, after all.

Cheers,
Florian
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Alvaro MDF, modified 11 Years ago at 3/2/11 11:05 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/2/11 11:05 AM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 18 Join Date: 11/11/10 Recent Posts
Florian Weps:
Many of the screwed up models about enlightenment come from idealizing practice instructions, after all.


Hello Florian,

What you wrote above is powerful. It serves as potent reminder to keep our practice of this world and in our life. Idealizing awakening to the point of absurdity can become a formidable obstacle to practice. And that's what I'm trying to do with the Graceful Exit Model. Is the GEM an ideal worthy of aspiration or could it too easily become an obstacle to practice. The answer, obviously, is some combination of each. Most of the models seem to have this dynamic at play. The models are true as long as they remain grounded in reality. The moment they enter the realm of fantasy they become "screwed up".

Claudiu makes the point that equanimity in death is not indicative of enlightenment: Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raliegh, among others, make his point well. I agree with him, however, the Graceful Exit Model and the accounts of the deaths of awakened beings go hand in hand.

It's very interesting that you bring up the case of Jesus. There are two versions of his death. The first is charcterized by sadness and despair (see gospels Matthew and Mark). The second version is filled with love, compassion and equanimity (see gospels Luke and John). In the story of the death of Jesus we can actually see the Graceful Exit Model taking shape. The real being interwoven with the ideal.

Thank you for your perspective and insight,
Alvaro
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Florian, modified 11 Years ago at 3/3/11 1:35 AM
Created 11 Years ago at 3/3/11 1:35 AM

RE: Death and the Graceful Exit Model of Enlightenment

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Alvaro MDF:
Florian Weps:
Many of the screwed up models about enlightenment come from idealizing practice instructions, after all.


Hello Florian,

What you wrote above is powerful. It serves as potent reminder to keep our practice of this world and in our life. Idealizing awakening to the point of absurdity can become a formidable obstacle to practice. And that's what I'm trying to do with the Graceful Exit Model. Is the GEM an ideal worthy of aspiration or could it too easily become an obstacle to practice. The answer, obviously, is some combination of each. Most of the models seem to have this dynamic at play. The models are true as long as they remain grounded in reality. The moment they enter the realm of fantasy they become "screwed up".


So the moment they enter the realm of fantasy seems to be a very important moment. Better to be on my toes here. I wouldn't want to be found dead in a fantasy about graceful exit. ;)

Alvaro MDF:
Claudiu makes the point that equanimity in death is not indicative of enlightenment: Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raliegh, among others, make his point well. I agree with him, however, the Graceful Exit Model and the accounts of the deaths of awakened beings go hand in hand.


The death of awakened beings. What does that mean? Does it even make sense?

Alvaro MDF:
It's very interesting that you bring up the case of Jesus. There are two versions of his death. The first is charcterized by sadness and despair (see gospels Matthew and Mark). The second version is filled with love, compassion and equanimity (see gospels Luke and John). In the story of the death of Jesus we can actually see the Graceful Exit Model taking shape. The real being interwoven with the ideal.


Yup. To the extent that Christianity is almost exclusively a cult of the dying Jesus nowadays, and anything he had to say about practising his teachings is all but forgotten. Also, notice how John is apparently the most popular gospel, but it's also the one with all the idealistic "I am ..." sayings where the other three have actual practice instructions.

Interesting topic... I'm all for dismantling the realm of fantasy (in the sense of fantasizing about our experience), freeing up the resources it binds up for its maintenance. So it's always good to see how the realm of fantasy co-opts the very means we use for freeing up said resources.

Cheers,
Florian

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