How to Care for Dying Children

One of the activities of Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche during his visit to Thailand this year is that he gave a keynote lecture at the international conference on child palliative care at Landmark Hotel in Bangkok. The topic was “How to Care for Dying Children.” Here are some excerpts of what he talked.

Rinpoche started by talking about children in general. It’s a very sad situation when children are afflicted with very serious diseases and that they had to leave this world after only a short time. What is important to dying children is that they need to realize that death is nothing terrifying. It is only a transition, a movement from here to there, and if one is prepared and knows what they will expect after the journey, then there is nothing to worry about or to be afraid of. Caregivers need to reassure the children that death is only like a journey. They will leave this place and arrive at another where there are good and kind people waiting for them.

The quality of the mind at the moment of death is very important. When children or adults for that matter suffer from illness, usually they let their minds be controlled by emotions such as fear and anger. In either case the mind is not still and thus is ill prepared for the journey to the other side. The mind should be cheerful and happy even when one is in full pain. Even though the body may be in pain, if the mind is strong and cheerful then the bodily pain will not do too much harm. On the contrary, if the mind is weak and controlled by negative emotions, then even mild illness can develop into more serious one. This cannot be emphasized enough. Buddhism pays very keen attention on the quality of the mind. Those who are cheerful even though they are very sick shows that they are able to control their pain. Their pain can even be reduced this way.

Rinpoche also gave us a trick. Instead of letting the illness take hold of us, we should instead look at it as our own instrument, our own way of making life better. What we are experiencing as our illness is only a result of past karma. This does not mean that we are bad persons for having done bad karmas that result in our illness right now. But it means that what happens at present is a consequence of what was done in the past. So we should look at the illness we are having now as our past negative karmas coming to fruition. If we survive the illness, then we will be cleansed of these past karmas and can start things anew without being weighed down by the karma. This is a very positive condition because we could achieve much greater things when we are not weighed down.

However, if the disease is so serious that we have to die anyway, then we should look at it as a means by which we have an opportunity to experience life to the fullest extent. Before we got the illness we may not be living to the full; we may think that we have so much time in our lives that we forgot to practice the Dharma and make our lives really worthwhile. But now that we know that we are having this life-threatening disease and that we may have a short while to live, we should make the best use of the remaining time. We should prepare for the journey and learn what to expect after we arrive at the other side. If we are caring for dying children, then we should tell them that they should understand how precious every moment of life is. One of the very good ways of making the situation positive is to make a wish that our own illnesses happen only to us so that countlessly many will not get it. Suppose we are having cancer, we could make a wish that the cancer happen to us alone so that countlessly many sentient beings will not get it any more. May the cancer that is taking place in my body now be the one that draws all other instances of the disease in all sentient beings to us, so that we have the disease alone and that nobody else have it. This is a very powerful wish. When the wish is genuine, then it goes a long way toward alleviating the situation. Even though we may not be able to escape the cancer, at least we are doing a positive action which will only result in our becoming better from now on.

So we can make this wish. Whenever we have a disease or are suffering in any other way, such as suffering from being misunderstood by others or from being a target of harm by others, we make a strong and sincere wish that what we are suffering happen to us alone and as a result all other sentient beings will not have to suffer like this any more. Suppose we are suffering from a headache, we can say to ourselves, making a wish, like this: May my headache be the headache of all sentient beings! May sentient beings be free from headaches and may my headache now take in all the sufferings of all sentient beings! This is a really powerful wish. It is a great way to make merit and a great preparation for the other life after we die. Even if we do not die now, the wish can be a powerful factor in our progress in Dharma practice.

As for children, we can gradually teach them to do this. We can gently teach them to look at their pain and disease as something wonderful. This is hard to do, but the irony is that the more you do it, the less pain you will feel, since the mind will be at peace and is happy. We need to realize that when children fear death, in many cases it is our own fear that is projected onto them, but if we look at the situation in a calm and spiritually uplifting manner, then there will be no fear and the passing away will be a great moment for the children and for us too.

Mantra of Buddha Shakyamuni

We are still on the topic of Buddha Shakyamuni. He is the historical Buddha, meaning that he lived among us in flesh and blood, setting the Wheel of Dharma going for us in our days and age. He was the founder of Buddhism and was the first teacher of the unbroken lineage of monks that come down to us today. His mantra is at once a homage to him as well as an expression of the supreme quality of Enlightenment that the Buddha embodies. This supreme quality is not limited to Buddha Shakyamuni himself; on the contrary anybody can have this quality, can become one with this quality, if they follow the Buddha’s teachings wholeheartedly. So when you recite this mantra, you reflect on the quality of the Buddha and express this quality out loud by yourself. So it is a very, very powerful mantra. It says “Om Muni Muni Mahamuni Shakyamunaye Soha.”  The chant is sung by Ani Choying Drolma:

 

A Talk with Sennaya Swamy

Recently I was interviewed by Sennaya Swamy for the reasons behind my writing this blog and other matters. The interview can be found here. As a return gesture Sennaya offered me an opportunity to interview her, which is transcribed below. Her book, The Egyptian Code, is on sale at Amazon.com.

Here is the interview:

How many years of research went into this book?
I have spent almost 10 years of research to come up with the results and analysis to write the book. I must say I have just started my journey and there are many miles to cross to further improve or clarity the concept of the book.
How did you come up with the title?
Choosing the title for the book is really a challenging task for me after completing the book. The title “Egyptian Code: The Secret Code Used by Pharaohs that Can Turn Small Businesses into Empires” has been though for almost a week and then the title is confirmed.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Swami Vivekananda life history has influenced me a lot to change the path of my life

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Yes, I travelled all over the country to meet some spiritual individuals to form the shape for the book content.

Tell us your latest news?
Please check my blog http://www.egyptiancode.com/
 Frequently to know about the latest news

Where can we get a copy of the book?
You can purchase a copy of the book at Amazon. Here is the link

Avatar and Spirituality

Last Saturday my son Ken and I went to see the movie Avatar together. It was Children’s Day in Thailand, and I first thought of taking Ken to the newly opened “Thailand Knowledge Park” at the Central World Shopping Mall. We did spend some time there but in the end we went to see the movie which was already shown at the same shopping mall. It was a very big movie, both in length (almost three hours) and in the content.

The theme of the movie is the fight between those who want to exploit nature for private gains and those who fight to protect it. This is of course a very well worn theme, but the setting of the movie, in an imaginary, remote planet far, far away from earth, kind of made up for this redundancy. The remote setting also adds to the urgency of the theme. It kind of made us think the matter through again. A group of people went all the way from earth to the planet Pandora to mine a very expensive kind of mineral there. The journey takes more than five years on board of space ships, and it takes more than five years to travel there. Those who have their missions at the planet have to have their bodies frozen up. The main character in the movie said that it felt like a bad sleep.

Pandora is not exactly uninhabited. There is a tribe of people there, the Na’vi, who is twice taller than an average human and much stronger. Their problem, however, is that they are forest dwelling people and do not have much technology beyond bows and arrows. Their sacred dwelling place, a very huge tree where they live inside, happens to be on top of a huge amount of deposit of this mineral so desired by the earth people. So this is the seed of the conflict. All efforts by earth people to persuade the Na’vi people to leave their sacred tree have failed, and the only way out was a violent conflict. Much of the movie then is on this fight scene which is really exciting for my son and others of his age. I don’t need to say who wins in this fight. This is easy to guess.

However, what I would like to say about this movie is that it encapsulates some very interesting ideas in philosophy and spirituality. The Na’vi people believe that the world and their forest is an expression of the Mother Goddess they call “Eywa.” Eywa is nature and everything else; thus everybody is already part of Her. We learn that she “does not take side” in conflicts between people. She only takes care of the “balance of life.”

So there have been some blogs (such as this one) saying that the movie is perhaps advocating pantheism, the idea that everything is identical to God. However, some (like the author of the same blog) say that instead of pantheism, the idea presented is more panentheism, the view that everything is included in God, that God exceeds the whole totality of nature. The difference between the two is that pantheism believes that everything is God and God is everything. God is nature (‘nature’ is the catch all word for everything, anything whatsoever) and nature is God. Like Spinoza said, ‘God’ and ‘Nature’ are two interchangeable words, meaning absolutely the same. Panentheism, on the other hand, believes that God is more than nature. Nature is part of God, and here panentheism agrees with pantheism, but God is more than nature. There is part of God that is not in nature.

Nonetheless, I am not saying here whether pantheism or panentheism is the correct interpretation of the movie. What I would like to say is about my reflection of the movie, its spiritual message, so to speak. The message is clear enough. We need to protect nature. For the Na’vi people, their sacred tree and the Tree of Souls, which is some kind of center nervous control for Eywa herself, cannot be exchanged for anything. These are their lives, their very beings; thus they are very sacred places indeed. We moderns have lost much touch with this idea of nature being sacred. For us nature is merely an object to be exploited, bought and sold, but for the Na’vi and close to home for many indigenous people it is very different.

Another message from the movie concerns globalization and its role in changing indigenous cultures. This is very close to us, but somehow we need a setting light years from our home to get the message across. Now globalization does not limit itself only to earth, but spans across the galaxy. This illustrates how greed is really limitless, a message that the Buddha gave us more than two millennia ago. Thus, apart from the philosophical discussion on pantheism and panentheism (I believe, contrary to others, that the message is rather pantheistic, but I have to talk about this in another post.), the message is that greed is to be avoided or at least limited. There is indeed no end to what we want to take. Even the whole universe would not be enough, let alone an extra-solar planet like Pandora. But before we really get to be able to travel to Pandora, perhaps we need to learn to live within our means and control our exploitation of nature within this earth. Otherwise going to Pandora might be nothing more than mere fantasy.

Spiritual Computing

Last Thursday my colleague and friend Craig Smith gave a talk on “Spiritual Computing” at Chulalongkorn University. The talk was quite well attended considering the sheer number of talks and meetings that are always going on at the university. Anyway the content of the talk was really interesting, something that we should be reflecting upon.

Basically the theme of the talk concerned how spirituality and technology could go together. This might sound at first odd, but that is where Craig’s original idea came in. His focus was on technology design. How the new breed of technology, especially information and communication technology, could be designed in such a way that is informed by spirituality principles? Craig’s example was on how computer games could be designed so that, instead of promoting violence and anger, they could promote compassion and loving kindness instead? Thus there has been a game developed so that in order to pass to another level, you have to get control of your breathing. (This might raise an issue whether this is actually in line with Buddhist meditation, for example. In practicing Buddhist meditation you should not explicitly aim at any goal. To do that would subvert the meditation process and ironically you won’t go anywhere. So in order to achieve the goal you must not set any goal — but perhaps this is also the intent of the design of the game.)

Craig mentioned that technology has been used to promote spiritual purposes for a long time. The prayer wheel has been around for centuries to turn the mantra up in the air, and it uses some technology to produce it. So why shouldn’t we in the twenty-first century develop our own technology for the same purpose? In what way could technology and spirituality be integrated with each other?

Usually this is done in the context of spiritual principles informing the direction of the technology, a sort of regulatory framework, we might say. But Craig went further than that. The idea is not only that spiritual principles providing a guiding light, but spirituality itself should be infused with the technology from the design stage up. It is going to be a kind of technology that is totally informed by spirituality since the inception stage. It could be designed to serve spiritual purposes, the same way as the prayer wheel is, or it could be designed so that it brings spirituality back to our contemporary lives.

It would be good, I think, to enlist technology to help us with spiritual purposes. One thing that has already been developed in Thailand is a wristwatch that beeps at a regular interval, say one minute or five minutes, to remind the wearer to be mindful. So instead of reminding oneself every now and then to be mindful and not to lose track of the act of watching the mind, the beeps kind of helps with this activity. But there is the possibility that the wearer will be so engrossed with his activities that he completely forgets about the beeps. And I would imagine that in meditation practice or in daily life the beep could become rather annoying. That is one way technology has actually been developed to serve spiritual purposes. As for computer games, perhaps a game might be developed so that it blends with meditation. So instead of sitting alone in a room or outdoor for meditation, one could actually do the meditation in front of the computer. That would be really interesting.