Three months to live (hypothetical question)

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Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Digger » Sat Nov 06, 2010 11:12 am

Hypothetical question:

An old acquaintance of yours contacts you. He knows you are Buddhist and wants you to help him. He knows nothing of Buddhism. He is very sick and has three months to live. He wants you to put him “on the path” in his brief remaining time. What would you do? Where would you start? What would you teach?

Thanks in advance for your replies.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:57 pm

The Four Noble Truths.

Also, if possible:

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Bucket_List

to complete the reasonable items left on his "bucket list."
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 07, 2010 6:19 am

Hi Digger,

Your question brings a few thoughts to mind:

1) There really are no shortcuts in Dhamma practice. For many of us it will take years (if not lifetimes) of practice to chip away at our defilements. If your hypothetical friend was not interested in Dhamma his whole life then would 3 months of practice really make much of a difference? Maybe, the Suttas do say that you only need one auspicious night to realize enlightenment.

2) If we found out we only had 3 months to live perhaps our own mortality and the dangers of Samsara would appear much closer to home than they did previously which might make us want to practice more dilligently.

3) ...However, if the reason we are diagnosed as having only 3 months to live is due to some degenerative disease, would we have the energy required to be able to practice? For example, would the degenerative disease affect our ability to meditate? This would probably be different on a case by case basis.

4) We can't know how much time we have left anyway. We could be dead tomorrow, or even later today. Sometimes a doctor makes a wrong diagnosis. I heard of one monk who was told by his doctor that he had cancer and it was terminal and inoperable. His doctor told him he only had a very short amount of time to live (I forget the exact amount...maybe a month? not sure) so he said to his doctor "okay, I will go and die in my monastery". So that's what he did....20 years later! He died from old age, not cancer. The future is uncertain.

5) Tell him to make lots of merit, to keep the precepts, to practice meditation, to hang around other practitioners, to listen to Dhamma teachings, to read books about Dhamma, to think about Dhamma. These factors, if they don't lead to enlightenment in this lifetime, may help to contribute to a favourable rebirth where he can continue to make progress on the Path. The fact that he is interested in Dhamma to begin with is a good start.

Metta,

Guy
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2) Throwing things away
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4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:46 am

I'd send them to someone who knows what they are talking about. I don't think I'd be qualified to teach Buddhism.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:08 am

What do you mean by "on the path"? Is he Buddhist or Christian? It really depends a lot on who this person is and the details you gave are too vague.

If he is a stubborn atheist or doesn't like religion, it's unlikely anything you could say or do would be helpful.

If he's a Jew, Christian or Muslim, you should talk to him on his own terms: tell him that God is all-loving and all-forgiving, that the important thing is to have faith in God, and that death is not the end, only another beginning. And that although he may be afraid, he can look forward to being free of the pain he's in right now and experiencing God's grace. Tell him that during the death process, he can find strength from angels God sends, to ease his pain during the process.

If he is interested in a more Buddhist perspective, I would say: Tell him to face death with the attitude of profound universal love (boundless love for oneself and others) and fearlessness. Tell him, in his last 3 months, to focus on the four brahmaviharas:

  • Lovingkindness -- through being friendly and kind to others, or at least focusing on it mentally
  • Sympathetic Joy -- through making others happy, being appreciative, being joyful in their positive mental qualities, including being happy for their happiness
  • Compassion -- through being helpful to others, in any way he can, or in his case, trying not to be a burden
  • Equanimity -- through not being for or against anything, not desiring death or fearing it, not desiring life or being afraid to lose it.

If he could maintain just half of those four qualities consistently for the 7 days leading up to his death, he would be assured that he would be reborn in a wonderful heaven.

Also, tell him to look for a kind of happiness that is independent of the circumstances he's in right now. He could find this place by thinking about all the good things he has done in his life, all the people he has loved and who have loved him. :)
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Laurens » Tue Nov 09, 2010 8:08 am

Individual wrote:What do you mean by "on the path"? Is he Buddhist or Christian? It really depends a lot on who this person is and the details you gave are too vague.

If he is a stubborn atheist or doesn't like religion, it's unlikely anything you could say or do would be helpful.

If he's a Jew, Christian or Muslim, you should talk to him on his own terms: tell him that God is all-loving and all-forgiving, that the important thing is to have faith in God, and that death is not the end, only another beginning. And that although he may be afraid, he can look forward to being free of the pain he's in right now and experiencing God's grace. Tell him that during the death process, he can find strength from angels God sends, to ease his pain during the process.

If he is interested in a more Buddhist perspective, I would say: Tell him to face death with the attitude of profound universal love (boundless love for oneself and others) and fearlessness. Tell him, in his last 3 months, to focus on the four brahmaviharas:

  • Lovingkindness -- through being friendly and kind to others, or at least focusing on it mentally
  • Sympathetic Joy -- through making others happy, being appreciative, being joyful in their positive mental qualities, including being happy for their happiness
  • Compassion -- through being helpful to others, in any way he can, or in his case, trying not to be a burden
  • Equanimity -- through not being for or against anything, not desiring death or fearing it, not desiring life or being afraid to lose it.

If he could maintain just half of those four qualities consistently for the 7 days leading up to his death, he would be assured that he would be reborn in a wonderful heaven.

Also, tell him to look for a kind of happiness that is independent of the circumstances he's in right now. He could find this place by thinking about all the good things he has done in his life, all the people he has loved and who have loved him. :)


I don't think the OP is referring to a real friend. It's an imaginary scenario.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 09, 2010 1:15 pm

I guess I can't blame him for wasting my time since I should've read, "hypothetical scenario," a bit more mindfully.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Laurens » Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:20 pm

Individual wrote:I guess I can't blame him for wasting my time since I should've read, "hypothetical scenario," a bit more mindfully.


You can't blame anyone for wasting your time :P

The only person who can waste your time is you.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Individual » Tue Nov 09, 2010 2:36 pm

Laurens wrote:
Individual wrote:I guess I can't blame him for wasting my time since I should've read, "hypothetical scenario," a bit more mindfully.


You can't blame anyone for wasting your time :P

The only person who can waste your time is you.

:namaste:
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Digger » Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:53 pm

Not trying to waste anyone's time with this question.

I was trying to see what others thought were the core "distilled" elements to get someone on the path quickly. Maybe I should have worded the question differently.

I agree with David's post - to me if you grasp the Four Noble Truths, even if only on a mundane level, you are "there".

Regarding a "bucket list", what would be on everyone's list?

Personally I'd like to (and plan to) visit the place Buddha achieved enlightenment and spend some time teaching others.

Thanks all for your replies.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Kenshou » Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:59 pm

Well, here's a sutta dealing with a similar thing, it seems. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .olen.html The gist of which is, apparently, all-around non-clinging. Which is just about the first bit of dhamma I'd share if asked, by a dying person or not. In addition to the 4 noble truths and generalities of the eightfold path if possible.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Viscid » Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:31 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:The Four Noble Truths.


Is it really possible to 'teach' someone the Four Noble Truths, or just the path to the realization of the Four Noble Truths?
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Paññāsikhara » Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:16 am

Digger wrote:Hypothetical question:

An old acquaintance of yours contacts you. He knows you are Buddhist and wants you to help him. He knows nothing of Buddhism. He is very sick and has three months to live. He wants you to put him “on the path” in his brief remaining time. What would you do? Where would you start? What would you teach?

Thanks in advance for your replies.


Like any person who turns to the Dhamma, it depends on whereabouts they are at present, depends on their faculties, etc.
The only difference with one who only has a few months to live, is perhaps they will be more urgent, and may be willing to give more time, though they may just as easily be without hope, too.

One starts where one is at, and nowhere else.
If, for example, they don't know anything about the Triple Jewel, then start there. Let them know, let them arise faith and confidence.
If they don't yet have basic ethics, then encourage them into the five precepts.
etc. etc.

Most hypothetical questions provide too few details, so discussing hypothetical answers is extremely limited.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Annapurna » Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:22 pm

Laurens wrote:I'd send them to someone who knows what they are talking about. I don't think I'd be qualified to teach Buddhism.


I would do that too. However, if that was no option, I'd try.

I would start with what is already clear:

Impermanence.

He would understand that instantly, condsidering his illness and immanent death. Then the 4 Noble truths.

I admit I would have to think about rest a bit more, since I am NOT an authorized Buddhist teacher.

Kamma, and selected sutthas explaining it.

I would probably be guided by his questions anyway and play it by ear.
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Re: Three months to live (hypothetical question)

Postby Hanzze » Thu Nov 11, 2010 1:56 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:The Four Noble Truths.

Also, if possible:

http://www.dhammawiki.com/index.php?title=Bucket_List

to complete the reasonable items left on his "bucket list."

:goodpost:
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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