Having reached my ninth decade, I’ve passed through many phases and experiences. It would be surprising if I as a Zen practitioner had given no thought to death and its implications. In my youth I thought I’d ‘dance forever and a day’.Years passed and nothing changed; death was for old people. In my life as a Buddhist since 1995, I’ve found that the question of death is unavoidable. So inevitably  the teachings of the Buddha have had a profound effect on my outlook.

I remember my pre-Buddhist life with sadness and some guilt. I used to be an expert swearer, a dedicated drinker, a sex-obsessed sensualist and a time-waster. I’m glad to say that I’ve extinguished three out of these four unwholesome inclinations. (Guess which !) I had a few more redeeming interests : humanism, socialism, egalitarianism, etc etc. My only moment of curiosity about Buddhism came when I found a book called ‘The Teachings of the  Compassionate Buddha’ dated 1955. When I read ‘This being, that becomes’, I instantly gave up. I still have this tattered paperback. Buddhism was for cranks. I simply wasn’t ready. It’s only now that I realise that this is one of the most profound and revolutionary teachings on causality.

Through my Zen lens, I detest the superficial attitudes to death which have become embedded in British culture. it’s the great unmentionable. Funerals are generally dedicated to hiding the facts of death and a profitable industry has grown around a sentimental avoidance of the issues. Many of you will have attended a funeral at a crematorium where the corpse (safely nailed inside a coffin) slides away behind the curtains into a hidden furnace. This is nothing but amateur theatricals.