Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

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Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby jzpowell93 » Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:47 pm

Hello all! ^^

Sorry if there's lots of ranting, but I've been struggling with this for a while.

So this was something that hit me a bit again last night, and I thought I'd ask around about it.

Over the past year I've had a few (what I would term) "existential crises," in that I've become acutely aware of my mortality to the point where I cannot sleep or think about anything else.

I remember once about this time last year where I stayed up until 5 am, thinking about death (mine, my family's), how we won't be here, and how the entire world will cease to exist and there's nothing to be done about it.

It goes a lot farther than just my death - its the inherent cessation of existence of everything, how not just I will come to an end but the entire universe, this entire existence will come to an end, and it can't be stopped.

The thought of the world continuing on without me I feel is so unfair; that we are born against our will and, just as we come to desire life, we will die against our will; that even this world that will continue on without me will cease to be one day.

And things I should find solace in, I can't: that when we sleep every night, in a way we cease to exist; that we did not "exist" or were not conscious of our existence before we were born (more like before we reached an age where we can conceptualize existence and its cessation); so in a way, having already experienced some form of non-existence, shouldn't it not be so frightening?

Perhaps it is the knowledge that this time, there's no coming back from it. Unlike sleep, you can't just wake up.

But anyway, just thinking about all this... my mind just continues to spiral downwards, and I get caught in this grip of anxiety and usually I start crying :D it's quite upsetting ^^;

I feel like it was these episodes that lead me to Buddhism in the first place... I don't remember exactly how, but I'm sure the two were related. So recently I've just been trying to tie what I've been feeling to some of the concepts I've been reading about:

- Is this a form of realizing the emptiness of inherent existence? Or is this more the impermanence of existence?
- Is the fear and anxiety I've been feeling what I've heard of as "clinging to samsara"? That, upon realizing impermanence, instead of accepting it the fear becomes more acute and we cling even more strongly to the desire for life?
- If so, how can I go about decreasing my anxiety/accepting impermanence without fear? I suspect meditation on it might help, though I can only imagine thinking myself into a panic attack - but perhaps this is a necessary step I must take to overcome it?

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for any help! I'm reading other articles etc. about this, but I just wanted to see what you guys had to say :3
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby AlexanderS » Thu Oct 31, 2013 7:02 pm

Amithaba related practices have greatly transformed my attitude to dying.
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Oct 31, 2013 7:50 pm

I have the same problem..especially as i've gotten older and have to deal with the occasional health problem.

I think it's best not to over-analyze it, if it's causing you misery, then something is wrong.

I haven't solved the problem myself, but so far the best advice i've gotten and put into practice is: follow the fear in vipasanna meditation, try to find it's root. If you have good shamtha this will work, but sometimes you get caught in the fear and need to return to the breath etc. Other than that, keeping busy and simply redirecting your thought pattern when it goes in this direction helps too.

I really feel for ya man, here's my thread from not too long ago on the same subject:

viewtopic.php?f=34&t=13615
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby KonchokZoepa » Thu Oct 31, 2013 8:02 pm

jzpowell93 wrote:
- Is this a form of realizing the emptiness of inherent existence? Or is this more the impermanence of existence?
- Is the fear and anxiety I've been feeling what I've heard of as "clinging to samsara"? That, upon realizing impermanence, instead of accepting it the fear becomes more acute and we cling even more strongly to the desire for life?
- If so, how can I go about decreasing my anxiety/accepting impermanence without fear? I suspect meditation on it might help, though I can only imagine thinking myself into a panic attack - but perhaps this is a necessary step I must take to overcome it?

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for any help! I'm reading other articles etc. about this, but I just wanted to see what you guys had to say :3


nice that you can write openly about this here. Death and impermanence is one of the four thoughts that turn the mind (towards Dharma) so it is very worthwhile to contemplate death. maybe you might want to read the book by Lama Zopa Rinpoche called '' Wholesome fear - transforming your anxiety about impermanence and death ''

to answer your questions, no i dont think its a form of realizing the emptiness of inherent existence, i think you have got it all wrong. empty of inherent existence means there is no inherently existing self and other anywhere to be found. although that doesnt mean that things are non-existent.

as you can see, its more about impermanence of existence and death. from what you write. From my observations it is ''clinging to samsara'' but to translate it more clearly it is about clinging to the root of samsara, that is clinging to the false notion of me, i , self as an inherently existing entity.

i think best way to go is not try to supress it cause that wont cure the problem and is no antidote. getting a good understanding of the doctrine of emptiness ( madhyamaka ) will help a lot. also gaining sort of a direct experience of the view ( emptiness ) having a correct intellectual understanding as the basis for that.

from what you wrote that i didnt include in the quote you seem to point out that death is the end of everything, pointing out to the non existence of everything. that is not a buddhist understanding. there is the concept of anatta but that does not mean there is nothing after death. it implies again to the false notion of an inherently existing self entity. also what helps in understanding and experiencing emptiness, is the understanding knowledge and experience of interconnectedness of all phenomena.

i would suggest that if you want to know about the buddhist understanding of after death experience. there is quite detail accounts what happens with the body, winds and the subtle winds after clinical death onwards into the bardo and next life. this has lessened my fear of death.

also making a strong connection with Avalokitesvara or Amitabha and reciting the approriate mantras will benefit greatly and reciting Amitabha's pure land aspiration prayer.

hope this helps a little.. :anjali:
If the thought of demons
Never rises in your mind,
You need not fear the demon hosts around you.
It is most important to tame your mind within....

In so far as the Ultimate, or the true nature of being is concerned,
there are neither buddhas or demons.
He who frees himself from fear and hope, evil and virtue,
will realize the insubstantial and groundless nature of confusion.
Samsara will then appear as the mahamudra itself….

-Milarepa

OMMANIPADMEHUNG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls6P9tOYmdo
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby futerko » Thu Oct 31, 2013 8:08 pm

jzpowell93 wrote:The thought of the world continuing on without me I feel is so unfair; that we are born against our will and, just as we come to desire life, we will die against our will; that even this world that will continue on without me will cease to be one day.


I found it very transformative to consider that I did will it exactly as it happened (and will also do so in the future).
It might make it no less unfair, but it does mean that you shoulder that burden and put yourself in a position where you can actually start to accept things as they are and work with that.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby Alfredo » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:53 pm

While fear of death is...a realistic fear, I wonder--are you otherwise prone to depression or anxiety attacks?
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby jzpowell93 » Sat Nov 02, 2013 12:27 am

Alfredo wrote:While fear of death is...a realistic fear, I wonder--are you otherwise prone to depression or anxiety attacks?


I actually am, haha ^^; I've been officially diagnosed with social phobia :emb:
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Nov 02, 2013 1:01 am

Welcome to the beginnings of renunciation.

This is great sign of spiritual progress. You should be gleeful and welcome your fear.

Experience it. Imagine your death. Imagine the universe imploding. Imagine everything single thing you encounter decaying and dying. Imagine it until your fear disappears.

But everything is reborn. You are reborn in another body. The universe bursts forth and expands. Everything arises in another form in another place.

This has happened for eternity and will happen for eternity. You and everything else are locked into a cycle of endless decay, weakening, and death.

So what is important? What matters if everything ends?

You escaping the cycle.

What can be trusted and relied upon if everything ends?

The Buddha, his teachings, and those he has taught. Because they lead to liberation.

Some quotes:

“Friends, birth is suffering. Birth itself is also suffering. Once one is born, there arise many fears of suffering. From birth, fears of sickness arise. From sickness, fears of aging arise. From aging, fears of death arise.”
-Arya Sanghatasutra Dharmaparyaya eng pg. 19

"Bhaishajya-séna, some young sentient beings here do not understand birth, although they have seen it. Cessation, aging, sickness, sorrow, weeping, separation from loved ones, coming into contact with what is unpleasant, parting with friends, dying, untimely death — they do not understand any of these unbearable sufferings. Even though they have seen them, they are not moved and revolted by them, so how could they possibly understand them? Bhaishajya-séna, they must be taught again and again.”
-Arya Sanghatasutra Dharmaparyaya eng pg. 71

“In short, we do not mean merely reciting words when we speak of ‘taking refuge.’ Just as a criminal seeks the protection of an official, we must fear the lower realms, samsara and so forth and must be convinced that the Three Jewels have the power to protect us. Then we must think most sincerely, using our primary mind and its mental factors, that we are entrusting ourselves to the Three Jewels. This is criterion for taking proper refuge. Whether we have developed refuge in our mind-stream depends on whether we have developed these thoughts in our mind-stream.”
-Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pg. 417

“From The Transmission of the Vinaya: All collections end up running out, the high end up falling, meeting ends in separation, living ends in death.”
-Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand pg. 484
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby Konchog1 » Sat Nov 02, 2013 6:59 am

Look at what was just translated!:

The Sūtra on Impermanence

Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!

Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was dwelling in Anāthapiṇḍada’s park, in the Jeta Grove in Śrāvastī, along with a large monastic assembly. The Bhagavān addressed the monks as follows:

“Monks, four things are appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone. What are those four?

“Monks, good health is appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone. Good health, however, ends with sickness. Monks, sickness is neither appealing, nor is it singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, or highly appreciated by anyone.

“Monks, youth is appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone. Youth, however, ends with the ageing of the body. Monks, the aging of the body is neither appealing, nor is it singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, or highly appreciated by anyone.

“Monks, prosperity is appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone. Prosperity, however, ends with its decline. Monks, the decline of prosperity is neither appealing, nor is it singled out, nor considered valuable, pleasant, or highly appreciated by anyone. [F155.b]

“Monks, life is appealing, singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, and highly appreciated by everyone. Life, however, ends in death. Monks, death is neither appealing, nor is it singled out, considered valuable, pleasant, or highly appreciated by anyone.”

Thus spoke the Bhagavān, the Sugata, and having spoken the Teacher added these words:

“Good health is impermanent,
Youth does not last.
Prosperity is impermanent,
And life, too, does not last.
How can beings, afflicted as they are by impermanence,
Take delight in desirable things like these?”

When the Bhagavān had thus spoken, the monks rejoiced and praised his words.

This completes the Sūtra on Impermanence.

Translated and edited by the Indian scholar Surendrabodhi and the principal editor-translator, the monk Zhang Yeshé Dé. It was then also reviewed and finalized in accordance with current language reforms.


http://read.84000.co/#!ReadingRoom/UT22084-072-009/10
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby oushi » Sat Nov 02, 2013 8:31 am

Death is the greatest enemy of attachment. No attachments, no fear of death. Unfortunately, sometimes fear of death is multiplied by the view of what will happen after death, which often is a totally pessimistic projections. Projections that cannot be validated. At the end, a fear of death is just a fear of big unknown. Mind looks for a firm grip of something solid.
Samsara is like a quicksand that slowly sucks the mind into the abyss, and a drowning mind will grasp a razor to stay on the surface.
But what is this abyss? Is it worse then suffering of samsara?
If we keep the attitude of samsara, we will fall from one quicksand to another. Or we can fall into the abyss while being alive, and liberate those fears for ever.
Say what you think about me here.
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Re: Existential Crises (Fear of Dying/Death Anxiety)

Postby jzpowell93 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:20 am

oushi wrote:a drowning mind will grasp a razor to stay on the surface.


I really like this imagery :) thank you for that.

@Konchog1 funny that that Sutra was just translated! Thanks for your insight :) I thought that meditating on it might help some - I like your idea to imagine my death, the implosion of the universe - but also it's re-expansion, the rebirth of everything :)
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