Roger Ebert passed away this morning, a man who has illuminated my life for decades. I grew up with “Siskel and Ebert At The Movies”, and now they are both gone. Fine men, at least, what I know of them. Perhaps the most lovely part of this loss is how gracefully Roger did it. On Tuesday, he wrote a final post on his blog, where he spoke of “taking a leave of presence”. How prophetic, he must have known. Read it, the final line is such an adorable exit, if you ever saw his TV program.
But even more interesting, Ebert wrote about life and death quite eloquently in one of his books,
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.
How beautiful, to be in this place. I strive for it, and yet Roger was here well before his passing. Of course, I’m healthy and he was not – there’s nothing like impending death to bring our days into sharp focus – he must have felt his life ending, and he certainly had a pile of projects going! I’m learning how to acknowledge my impermanence, and also my permanence, many times every single day.
It just so happens that I’m learning “The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training of the Mind”, thanks to Lama Palden. This training is pretty much a life-long road map for becoming more conscious, compassionate and enlightened. I love this study, and am slowly adapting the many parts of it into my awareness. There are two little parts that I want to share, part of Point Four, “The Utilization of Practice In One’s Whole Life”.
In life, practice the five strengths.
The Mahayana instructions for the ejection of consciousness at Death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.
Of course, this is why we have lamas, so that we can understand what these brief instructions mean. One of the strengths is ‘repudiation’. My notes say this about repudiation in life:
Let go of ego-clinging. We are not the most important thing in the universe. Samsara (suffering) is a state of mind. Feel how tired we are of suffering, and our desire for awakening.
And in death:
Repudiation of our body and body sensations, release the relative ground of the body to find the ultimate ground. We let go of identifying with the body, and the body sensations. We step back a bit from the ground that our body has provided, so that we can find the ultimate ground, the awareness and peace and love our practices have prepared us for. Recognize that no one has died, no one was born. Let go that anyone is dying.
It sounds so simple, but of course, none of this is easy, or familiar. That’s why we call it ‘practice’. In vajrayana, reincarnation isn’t just an idea or concept, it is the basis for all of our actions and thought, what we say, what we do, how we think. To fully believe in reincarnation, I have to start to look at my life the way that Roger did. This life is ultimately like a trip to France, a set of memories and experiences that I will carry forward after my body is gone.
So I’m contemplating the ejection of consciousness at death, in order to inject more consciousness into my life. Thank you, Roger, for the gift of all you shared with us. You inspire me.