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LIFE AND DEATH

 

Since ancient times, people have devoted more energy to the problem of death than to any other. Nothing is more terrifying than death, which puts an end to all happiness and hopes. Yet with the exception of certain special cases, the majority of deaths are caused, one might say inevitably, by sickness. Most deaths occurring before the age of ninety result from illness are, in other words, unnatural. The natural human life span would be terminated not by sickness, but by aging and gradually increasing physical debility. For this reason, people who die in this natural way do not suffer and usually can forsee the end. The corollary is that deaths accompanied by suffering do not represent the natural termination of life. People are merely resigning themselves to their lot when, in a case of premature death, they seek comfort in words such as "His time had come." The famous Zen priest Torisu Etsuzan, who died a few years ago at the age of one hundred and twelve, foresaw his own demise. He called a considerable number of immediate family members, relatives, and friends to his side, said some parting words to each, and meditating until the prophesied time arrived, died quietly and painlessly. This is an excellent example of a "natural" death.

 

1939

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