Graceful Exits

Sumerian Enoch

In the midst of begats and died one name stands out – Enoch. In the Christian Bible book of  Genesis the story is told that “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him” .
I know that I am not the only one who has wondered about this story. Later in the Bible the story is told of Elijah who was taken up to heaven in a chariot – no mention is made as to what happened to him or Enoch afterwards. Did they die ? Did Enoch live forever ? I don’t think we will ever find the answer to those questions. And don’t even get me started about the Sumerians and the Annunaki ! I am fascinated with something that happens to everyone – everyone dies. Most people don’t like to talk about such a supposedly morbid subject , but I find the topic to be of great interest. One of my favorite stories about the death of anyone is the story of the death of Socrates. I believe that every learned person should take the time to read this story. The story of the death of Socrates that has come down to us is a quick read. Written by Plato the story describes the trial of Socrates and his subsequent death which was brought about by drinking hemlock. Socrates meets his death in a stoic fashion. I can’t remember when I first read the story , but it is one of my favorite stories. Death is fascinating – it is life’s greatest and final mystery – which brings me to the point of this post – two books on the subject that describe the death stories of beings who seem to be much more prepared for death than most. When Socrates took the hemlock he did so with no apprehension of what was to come . He had expressed the notion that in his belief system death was NOT the end. It would have been very nice if Socrates could have come back in another life and elucidated for us the details of his journey from this world to the next and back again. Alas , no one has done so ? Or have they ? My answer to that question will have to wait for a future post as it is not the subject of this particular post . The subjects of this particular post are two books that describe the death events of mystics and masters.

Wheel of Death

Book one is one of my long time favorites – “The Wheel of Death ” by Philip Kapleau. This book was first published in 1971 by Harper & Row. This is a collection of stories that are mostly from the far east . The book starts with a discussion of death and the opinions of numerous spiritual Masters about death. It proceeds to a discussion of Karma and rebirth , then describes the death stories of a number of spiritual masters and then concludes with some practical instructions concerning dieing. My favorite section of the book deals with the actual death stories of these enlightened beings. Included is the death of Socrates and the death of the Buddha. One of my favorite stories in this book is the story of the death of Master Hofuku (Pao -Fu ) -“The master called his monks together and said “During the last week my energy has been draining – certainly no cause for worry . It’s just that death is near.” A monk asked “You are about to die . What meaning does it have ? We will continue living. And what meaning does that have ? “They are both the Way ” the master replied. “But how can I reconcile the two ? ” asked the monk . Hofuku answered ” When it rains , it pours” and wrapping his legs in the full lotus , calmly died. ” I find this to be a very powerful and moving story. The book is full of similar stories.

Graceful Exits

Book two is a recent find  – “Graceful Exits – How Great Beings Die” it was compiled and edited by Sushila Blackman and published by Shambhala in 2005. This book also devotes it’s first chapter to a general discussion about life , death , Karma and the like , but is mostly devoted to stories concerning the last days of Hindu , Tibetan ,  Buddhist and Zen masters. Being a student of eastern religion and philosophy I have been acquainted with the lives of some of the people who’s death stories appear in this book. Many of these stories describe the last days of beings who endured profound physical discomfort to end their days in as calm a fashion as possible. While I was , prior to reading this book, somewhat familiar with the teachings and lives of some of these individuals , I was not as familiar with the circumstances surrounding their deaths. There are death stories of 108 individuals. They stories range from recent years to antiquity. Some of the deaths described are those of Zen master Dogen to one of my personal heroes – the great master Ikkyu. It is hard for me to find a favorite story in this book – too many of them are extraordinary , but one of the most extraordinary and certainly on of my favorites is the story of the great master mistress Nogami Senryo. This great master had but one apprentice. Nogami practiced the awareness of the moment in all of her actions. Whether she was cleaning her house or wiping her face – she taught that beings should be completely involved and aware of the present moment. She taught her apprentice that a skilled practitioner of Zen should be aware enough of the moment to die sitting with full awareness or to die standing with full awareness. This is taken from the book – “On a crisp November afternoon in 1980 Nogami’s adamantine voice pierced the silence – “It’s time for Zadatsu Ryubo !” Her apprentice Kuriki , not knowing what to expect , rushed to the dim hallway. There he saw Nogami slowly walking toward the bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha , sitting in full lotus on the altar in the Worship Hall. Arriving just in time to witness the stout 97 year – old nun in simple black robes take a final step to perfect her stance. Kuriki pealed “Congratulations” as Nogami died standing.

Many years prior to finding either of these books I found “The Tibetan Book of the Dead ” by W. Y. Evans – Wentz. It is likely that that particular book fostered my interest in the other two !

This is a topic of great interest to me . I hope that it is of interest to my readers. I will continue the discussion at another time !



I am –

John Pollard

Brick and Mortar and on the Net

Member IOBA

Full of insatiable curiosity  and determined to stay that way!