Dear zen friend
1) October sesshin: 10/07 to 10/11.
2) Soto zen is based on Buddhism. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Shakyamuni, which is called Buddha dharma. The Buddha dharma is the teachings about life, aging, illness, and death. So we should know what death is. In reality things are not simple.
For last two years few close friends including my teacher died. I newly had to think about loss of life.
I did funeral ceremonies few times this year. Each time I said the deceased now is in Buddha’s house and watches us how we live. Funeral service is expression of respect and entering ceremony for the membership of Buddhas’ house. He is not alienated, so that memory on him comes and stays. We are not separated from her, so that we feel intimacy with her legacies. Where is he or she? They are in the Buddhas’ land.
Where is Buddhas’ land? It is unseen. Isn’t it illusion or fiction? What is merit for funeral service? Isn’t Sotoshu local truth? We look for the universal answer. Buddhism is a story when science was nonexistent. In the modern age, soul, spirit, and tradition are not trendy. Our bodies and the world are matters, only matter exists. When a person dies, both body and mind die out. That is it. It is not worth thinking of the meanings of death.
I know these arguments because I had modern education. Modern knowledge is based on materialism and logic of reduction. I was just like you arguing about death and life in a philosopher’s room. I understood it well. At the same time I was uncertain about such clear knowledge. My anxiety did not go away.
When death was discussed, nobody had sure answer. All the philosophers avoided to have spoken about death by saying like ‘Death is the last issue for philosophy.’ Philosophers are experts for handling logic and understanding the world. We understand the world through logic. Death may not solely be understood through logic accordingly.
I have been surprised at unexpected gifts bestowed by Sotoshu after having jumped into Antaiji. Funeral service is one of them. The service at least has given me hint in which death cannot be grasped by ordinary thought. This does not mean we must cease thinking about death, but find the certain way to search the true dharma in Buddhism. Remember that Shakyamuni explained death in his original teaching.
Having read Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji was sure that the understanding of death leads to the understanding of life. My search began again.