Zen Teachings on Death

Whenever someone we love departs from this life, our hearts are always touched by the untimeliness, shock and heartache we experience.
We can’t help but ask, “Why did this happen?”
We know that life is only with us for a short time, but we seek a reason for such a young one’s being taken from us.
But, the more we ask this question, the more we suffer.
We cannot explain life and death in this way.
Instead, let us recall the story of the beautiful cherry blossom.
There is an old saying in Japan which compares human life and destiny to this delicate blossom.
Picture a gorgeous cherry tree in full bloom.
It is simply beautiful.
But, when the time comes, the lovely flowers start to be blown away by the wind.
When the spring winds begin to blow, some of the cherry blossoms are quick to go with the breeze. And yet others stay in bloom a little longer.
But, sooner or later, even the very last cherry flower on the tree will someday be blown away by the wind.
We must think of our lives, and the lives of our loved ones, in this manner.
Life is ever-changing and unpredictable.
We never know what it will bring, or how long it will last.
We have this in common with all other people, and with all the rest of existence.
We should not think of ourselves as distinct from the great stream of life, but as part of it.
As the wind blows, so do we go.
The wind in life is death.
The wind can blow in the springtime of life, or in the summer of life, or its autumn or in its winter.
When it blows, it often takes some of the young flowers with it.
When a flower comes into bloom in the spring, we know than it will fade someday.
For this reason, we say that life and death are one.
The flower that opens its petals to the sunshine of the day closes them with the darkness of the night.
And yet, night and day are actually one.
They blend into one another at dawn and at dusk.
Everyone has his dawn at his birth, and each also has his dusk at his death.
Let us think of life and death as a dawn and dusk.
At dusk, we are sorry to see the day fade away, but we should think of the beauty of the day, not the darkness of the approaching night.
When the petals of a flower close at dusk, we should think of the beauty of the blossom that is now taking its rest.
Slightly adapted from the words of Matsuoka-roshi 

By Ian Marshall

Ian Paul Marshall has been initiated by the Dalai Lama, is trained in Zen as transmitted through the teachings of the Venerable Dr. Thich Thien-An and Seung Sahn Dae Jong Sa and is the founder of based out of Toronto, Canada.