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Monday, February 26, 2024


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Something to deeply meditate on.

"We should come back to this."

That's a good piece of personal advice. The Buddha prescribes "Five subjects which are to be frequently considered/reflected upon", and one of them is ‘Maraṇadhammomhi, maraṇaṁ anatīto’. "I am of a nature to die, I have not gone beyond death". The "dhamma" bit in the first word is intriguing, and means not just that we are liable to die sometime hence, but that death is inherent in what we are, or take ourselves to be.

The other four subjects are

1. The same with regard to ageing;
2. The same with regard to sickness;
3. That all that is dear and pleasing to us will change and be separated from us; and
4. Our individual ownership of kamma and its results.

“What is true is that we are all disposed to die. Every animal, even in the full bloom of health and fitness, bears within itself this disposition. Its realization, however, is inevitable.”

These three sentences expose a horrible truth, the knowing of which is both good and painful. And you have a way of expressing it here that stayed with me all day yesterday and again this early morning. My perhaps naïve reaction to this truth, it is this: (1) Once acknowledged, it makes anti-natalism if not convincing—I am thinking of your critique of Benatar—then at least an understandable philosophic position, one that is too easily dismissed; and (2) the religious explanations for death and especially that of beings who are conscious of its reality, while not to be dismissed, seem somehow feeble and grasping. Something is at work here, deep in the very structure of contingent reality, that is not the result of any human failing, whether, on the one hand, a supposed Fall that results in the lose of immortality or, on the other hand, some blindness to the Truth through misdirected desire or from the separation from the One through ignorance, both of which result in a repeated pain filled cycle of birth and death. Again, speaking as someone without any philosophic training, I come away from all of this frustrated and irritated both at the truth of the disposition of all creatures to die and, even more, or of our ignorance of why this should be so.


That is a deep and well-articulated comment and response. That deserves some meditation itself.

Thanks for the comment, Simon. You write, >>The "dhamma" bit in the first word is intriguing, and means not just that we are liable to die sometime hence, but that death is inherent in what we are, or take ourselves to be.<<

But that is exactly what I am saying. You seized upon the word 'liable,' and apparently this means something different from what it means to me, but I used 'disposed' and variants several times. As I say elsewhere, "But that is not to say that the disposition is a mere possibility. The disposition is as actual as the thing that has it. Don't confuse a disposition with its manifestation." https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/10/an-elementary-confusion-regarding-dispositions-and-potentialities.html

The disposition to die is actually present at each moment in the life of the mortal individual. That is why I said that we should return to the Epicurean argument/sophism. It is not quite true that when I am, death is not; for when I am, no matter how robust I may be at any given time, there is also at every time actually present the disposition to die.

By the way, Simon, if you have time, tell me if I persuaded you with respect to the NT verse's offering no support to occasionalism.

That's a very fine comment, Vito. I agree entirely with your (1). I met Benatar. He is a very 'chipper' and cheerful fellow, not at all gloomy. Very receptive to criticisms. I read a paper in Prague at a conference devoted to his work. He listened very attentively and respectfully to my criticisms. He is a better philosopher than I am, sharper and more productive, without any arrogance or 'ego' on display. It angers me to hear his work dismissed or denigrated.

Your second main point raises a number of vexing questions. Our predicament in this life is decidedly unsatisfactory as the Buddhists insist: Sarvam dukkham, all is ill, suffering, unsatisfactory. It is plainly unsatisfactory even if the Buddhist theories are extreme and untenable. Is our predicament due to a Fall from a higher prelapsarian state? And what triggered it? Original Sin? Or Original Ignorance (avidya)? Is death a punishment for Original Sin?

Adam = Man? or a man? How can we all be justly punished for the sin of one man? Or is the species being punished? And what could that mean? The problem of universals is lurking in the background. This is connected in some way I don't quite understand with Marx's notion of der Mensch als Gattungswesen, species-being.

Well, it's all very troubling but also fascinating as hell for some of us.

Is death evil? How evil can it be if it releases us from this unsatisfactory predicament? Death is Janus-faced: Grim Reaper and Benign Releaser. On the other hand, there is something unspeakably horrible in the thought that a beloved PERSON, a child, a spouse, a friend, will soon be blotted out forever. As Schopenhauer says, "the heart cannot believe it is true."

And then there is the evil of being left in ignorance about all of this, not to mention the evil of the dogmatic fools who think they have the answer and are willing to torture others to accept it.

My answer? Pray, meditate, study, observe the Ten Commandments, rein in your appetites, avoid the Seven Deadly Sins, limit your consumption of media dreck, live in accordance with the best in the great religious/wisdom tradition, avoid both dogmatism and nihilism, look beyond this life with faith and hope.

Yes, I hoped I was saying what you were saying. My intention was to show how a different approach was supportive of your thoughts, not to oppose them.

What I take from the reflection is that our inherent disposition to die means that we could do so at any moment, and that this disposition is inescapable until the point of our actual death, which is inevitable. Death is not a risk, like getting a certain disease or having a particular type of accident; it is (along with the subjects of the other four reflections) completely unavoidable. As much our "nature" as anything else could be, and therefore a companion to our every thought, word, and deed.

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