Death and Dying
Ajahn Pasanno, Ajahn Yatiko, Debbie Stamp and Jeanne Daskais
Upāsikā Day, May. 9, 2014
Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, California
2 sessions, 43 excerpts, 2:43:20 total duration

Sutta readings, reflections, personal stories, and questions about dying, death, and grief.

External website

Session 1: Practical and Social Aspects of Death and Dying

Session 2: Personal Experiences with Death and Dying

Session 1: Practical and Social Aspects of Death and Dying – Ajahn Pasanno – May. 9, 2014 Download audio (1:39:55)

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1. [0:00] Introduction to the Death and Dying Upasika Day

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2. [5:17] Reading: Five qualities of good patients and nurses (Kd 8.26.5) [Sickness] [Health care]

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3. [8:00] Reading: AN 6.16: Nakula's Father [Sickness] [Relationships]

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4. [16:11] Reading: SN 41.10: Death of Citta the Householder [Great disciples] // [Deva] [Faith] [Three Refuges] [Generosity]

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5. [22:20] Reading: SN 55.24-25: Sarakāni [Stream entry] [Intoxicants]

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6. [26:50] Recollection: Traditions around dying in Thailand. [Culture/Thailand] // [Tranquility] [Chanting] [Teaching Dhamma] [Clear comprehension] [Rebirth]

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7. [30:18] Readings: MN 143, SN 2.20: Death of Anāthapiṇḍika [Great disciples] // [Sense bases] [Relinquishment] [Teaching Dhamma] [Lay life] [Deva]

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8. [41:06] “What is Jeta's Grove?” [Buddha/Biography] // [Great disciples] [Ajahn Sucitto]

Vinaya: Anāthapiṇḍika purchases Jeta's Grove (Kd 16.4.8). [Generosity]

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9. [44:27] “Why is the story of Sarakāni controversial in Sri Lanka?” [Stream entry] [Intoxicants] [History/Sri Lankan Buddhism] // [Stages of awakening]

Sutta: SN 55.24-25: Sarakāni

Comment by Ajahn Karuṇadhammo regarding the wide range of views about stream entry. [Views]

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10. [49:24] “The suttas say 'The wise protect their diligence as their greatest treasure.' How does one protect one's diligence?” [Heedfulness] [Ardency] // [Sickness] [Mindfulness] [Discernment] [Mindfulness of mind] [Right Effort] [Happiness] [Spaciousness]

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11. [51:55] “Is there a meditation practice to use with someone who is dying?” [Meditation] // [Faith] [Simplicity] [Happiness] [Recollection/Death] [Ageing] [Sickness]

Story about Ram Dass's dying mother: "Richard, shut up!" [Ram Dass] [Fear] [Restlessness and worry]

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12. [55:20] Comments about uncertainty, impermanence, and denial of the reality of one's own death. [Impermanence] [Culture/West] [Heedfulness] [Virtue] [Recollection/Death]

Response by Ajahn Pasanno.

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13. [57:14] Comment: We can't know the kamma or state of mind of someone who is dying. Because the dying person's consciousness can be very open, it's useful to remind them of their wholesome actions. Contributed by Jeanne Daskais. [Kamma] [Consciousness] [Spaciousness] [Recollection/Virtue]

Story: Sri Lankans keep a lifelong record of the good things they have done. Friends and relatives read this to them at the time of death. Told by Ajahn Pasanno. [Skillful qualities] [History/Sri Lankan Buddhism]

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14. [59:52] Story: A woman dies peacefully while retelling the story of their life together with her partner of 60 years. [Relationships] [Family] [Recollection/Virtue]

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15. [1:01:03] “Living in the West, chances are most of us will die in a hospital, which could be quite chaotic. Any advice?” [Culture/West] [Health care] // [Spiritual friendship] [Community] [Saṅgha]

Story: The Abhayagiri community attends to a dying lay supporter. [Abhayagiri]

Comments about hospitals contributed by Ajahn Karuṇadhammo.

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16. [1:06:05] Story about creating sacred space around her dying husband. Told by Beth Steff. [Health care] [Devotional practice] [Relationships]

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17. [1:06:57] Comment: One can sign oneself out of hospital against the physician's wishes. [Health care]

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18. [1:07:37] Comments about hospital care and advance directives. [Health care] [Commerce/economics]

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19. [1:18:50] “Is it possible to dedicate merit to our four-legged companions after they pass?” [Animal] [Merit] [Grief] // [Generosity]

Sutta: AN 10.177: Jāṇussoṇī

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20. [1:21:52] Comment: As a Westerner who hasn't participated in dedication of merit until this winter–it's worth trying. [Culture/West] [Merit]

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21. [1:22:27] “Can you dedicate merit to someone who is approaching death?” [Merit]

Story: Ajahn Paññānanda speaks out against superstition but tells the story of a shipwrecked sailor who benefited from dedication of merit. [Ajahn Paññānanda] [Superstition] [Suffering]

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22. [1:26:17] “I read about the advice given to dying devas. Should more people know about the cosmological background of the Buddha's teachings?” [Deva] [Realms of existence]

Sutta: Iti 83: Five omens that appear when a deva is about to pass away. [Rebirth]

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23. [1:27:11] “In Vajrayāna you visualize a column of light and going out the top of your head in preparation for death. Is there a related practice in this tradition?” [Vajrayāna] [Visualization] [Recollection/Death] [Theravāda] // [Tranquility] [Mindfulness]

Reference: "Our Real Home" in Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, p. 145.

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24. [1:29:16] “If beings are reborn immediately, how does ritual [sharing of merit] benefit the person who has passed?” [Rebirth] [Ceremony/ritual] [Merit] // [Theravāda] [Realms of existence] [Goodwill]

Sutta: AN 10.177: Jāṇussoṇī

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25. [1:32:06] Comment: Merit is faith driven, so there aren't any limitations to where that can take you, and it has real value. [Merit] [Faith] [Realms of existence]

Story: Two Thai doctors take temporary ordination to make merit to rejoin their deceased brother in a future life. [Culture/Thailand] [Monastic life/Motivation] [Temporary ordination] [Family] [Rebirth]

Story: The mother of a woman killed in a bus crash dedicates merit so that the dead woman will be reborn in the family. Told by Ajahn Pasanno. [Wat Pah Nanachat] [Ghost] [Relinquishment] [Ceremony/ritual] [Kamma] [Volition]

Quote: “We live in a fairly limited concept of the world; it's very material in the West. There's a lot more happening than what we can see.” — Ajahn Pasanno [Nature of the cosmos] [Culture/West]

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26. [1:37:12] “If a family member who has passed turns into a hungry ghost, how might one help them when they're in that realm?” [Family] [Rebirth] [Ghost] [Compassion] // [Merit]

Sutta: AN 10.177: Jāṇussoṇī

Follow-up: “Does it work the same way if the person hasn't made much merit?” [Kamma] [Skillful qualities] [Unskillful qualities] [Human]

Session 2: Personal Experiences with Death and Dying – Ajahn Yatiko, Jeanne Daskais and Debbie Stamp – May. 9, 2014 Download audio (1:22:45)

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1. [0:20] Introduction to Ajahn Yatiko's reflection. [Christianity]

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2. [0:50] Information about the memorial service for Iris Landsberg. [Abhayagiri] [Funerals] [Culture/West]

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3. [2:55] Reflection by Ajahn Yatiko: "Authenticity and Freedom": Ajahn Yatiko reflects on his brother Glenn’s life, values, and suicide from the perspective of a “Siamese twin joined at the soul” and from the perspective of a Buddhist monk. Originally offered at Glenn’s memorial service on September 30, 2013, at Ascension Lutheran Church in Edmonton, this talk was replayed during the 2014 Upasika Day on Death and Dying. [Family] [Suicide] [Truth] [Liberation] // [Christianity] [Monastic life/Motivation] [Mental illness] [Idealism] [Spiritual search] [Judgementalism] [Impermanence] [Kamma]

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4. [18:18] Reflection by Jeanne Daskais: How Dhamma practice helped me be with my mother's death and support my family through the process. [Family] [Sickness] [Buddhist identity] // [Grief] [Christianity] [Health care] [Relationships] [Recollection/Death] [Generosity]

Sutta: SN 47.19: The Bamboo Acrobat

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5. [29:51] Reflection by Debbie Stamp: Caring for dying and grieving Abhayagiri supporters and family members. [Abhayagiri] [Sickness] [Family] [Grief] [Health care] // [Ajahn Pasanno] [Christianity] [Forgiveness] [Fear] [Impermanence] [Merit] [Doubt]

Reference: Debbie transcribed Ajahn Pasanno's 2008 Metta Retreat, published it as Abundant, Exalted, Immeasurable, and dedicated the merit to her mother. [Meditation retreats] [Dhamma books]

Story: Ajahn Ñāṇiko hikes to the top of Mount Dana to dedicate merit to deceased relatives. [Ajahn Ñāṇiko]

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6. [53:06] “Have you found a difference between being afraid of death and being afraid of dying?” Answered by Debbie Stamp. [Fear]

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7. [54:00] Comment by Jeanne Daskais: The reflection on kamma has helped me watch this person [my stepmother] disappear through the course of Alzheimer's disease and other loss. [Kamma] [Sickness] [Grief] // [Recollection/Virtue] [Compassion] [Right Speech]

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8. [58:05] Comment by Ajahn Karuṇadhammo: It's hard to convey the naturalness of death in Western culture. [Naturalness] [Culture/West]

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9. [59:14] Stories about being with dying relatives. Told by Debbie Stamp and Jeanne Daskais. [Family] [Children]

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10. [1:02:28] Comment: I appreciate the Buddha's saying that the real stable investment is your merit. [Merit] [Commerce/economics]

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11. [1:03:01] Comment: When we stop fixing the dying process, we can be with it in such a different way. [Naturalness]

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12. [1:04:21] Comment: In Western culture, we're not given enough space to be with death. [Culture/West] [Spaciousness] [Grief]

Story: Hospice workers took the body of my father-in-law away too quickly. [Health care]

Story: When my husband died, we kept and washed the body. [Ceremony/ritual]

Response by Debbie Stamp.

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13. [1:08:24] Stories about ageing and dying relatives. [Grief] [Humor] [Ageing] [Sickness]

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14. [1:10:25] “Ajahn Pasanno, in your Dhamma talk "Letting Go of the Wheel," you described a driver who saw an oncoming car cross into his lane and let go of the wheel. Is this a metaphor?” Answered by Ajahn Pasanno. [Relinquishment] [Similes]

Quote: “When there's death in your face, you don't start negotiating. You have to be willing to let go.”

Follow-up: “So do you let your merit carry you?” [Merit]

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15. [1:11:46] Stories about car accidents. [Clear comprehension] [Perception]

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16. [1:14:31] Stories of two dreams about deceased Abhayagiri supporter Iris Landsberg. [Dreams] [Abhayagiri]

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17. [1:15:55] Comment: You spoke of death as the dissolution of the body and awareness coming home. The life that we think we're leading is not the life that we know about when we're aware. [Form] [Knowing itself] [Nature of mind]

Response by Ajahn Pasanno: When death comes, our life is like something that is built up out of crystal that becomes a pile of rubble in the end. It's so important to recognize that within that there is this possibility of awareness and purity of heart. [Similes]