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Nat. Geo. article on what science is learning about death

karastikarasti BreathingMinnesota Moderator

It's a little long but it's got some good information in it. There is a section where they talk about a team of scientists that is studying Thukdam, where advanced Buddhist practitioners are able somehow to sustain their bodies for many days, or weeks, after they have died.

There is a picture in the article of 2 parents who are standing with their hands on a man's chest. Their son's heart was transplanted into the man after a car wreck. It made me cry, as the other night when my 7 year old was sleeping, I put my hand on his chest and felt his little heart beating away. It made me think a lot about our connection to who someone is via their physical being. I wondered how I would feel if my son's heart were beating in someone else and if I'd want to feel it despite knowing that the force or essence of who he was is no longer attached to those tissues/organs/physical attributes.

It's an interesting article but I guess it kind of disturbs me that medical science seems so very focused on extending life as long as possible despite quality. That even if you are 90 (and don't have arrangements in place otherwise) people can try to keep you alive out of their own fear of death and loss. Death is obviously the most ultimate loss of self from the way most look at it, and it's why people are so afraid of death. But when you learn how to start severing that tie, even a little bit, perhaps even only understanding that it is possible to do so, death takes on a whole different view, I think.




  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited April 2016

    I'm going through the material bit by bit, and doing some related searches on the side. There's a lot to think about.

    RE: hospital staff and/or doctors keeping people alive no matter what--this is frightening to the elderly. They want to go peacefully in their sleep, but one elderly friend of mine had the wits scared out of her when her roommate "died" in her sleep, but when the nurse came and realized she'd passed away, the nurse started smacking her face back and forth, screaming her name at her, telling her she had to wake up, or something. Her poor roommate, my friend, was right there in the nearest bed, and was utterly terrified that the same thing could happen to her!

    I never really understood why the nurse did that, except that maybe they're under orders not to let people die on their watch?? But your comment about caregivers' fear of death makes sense. If someone has a fear of death, they shouldn't go into the health care field.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    My mother, who died at 98 a couple of years back, once told me wistfully: "I'd die if I knew how, but I don't know how."

    Everyone has his of her own way of greeting death (think Woody Allen: "I don't mind dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens") but I think the insistence by others that they go on living is disrespectful and unkind.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I agree. I can't imagine being ready and having to deal with family and others begging you to stay. Or worse, trying to insist that doctors save you when you want to go. We are starting to have these conversations about end of life care more than we used to, thankfully. But i think we have a long ways to go. My ex's father died gasping for breath waiting to get to the ER. I think that would be pretty horrible, and I'd really like the option to choose how and when to end my life in the case of terminal illness. But I haven't reconciled that desire with the Buddhist teachings about death.

    My grandma had wanted to die since my grandpa died in the mid 80s. But she still mostly enjoyed life for a long time. the past couple years she had a lot of health problems and really just wanted to die. She told me every night "I'm hoping this is the night I have my coronary!" In the end, it was a brain hemorrhage and was probably a more restful and less violent way to go. I was grateful how wonderful the hospital was, they explained things very well to us and I did a lot of my own research on the process so I could support her. Whatever it is that makes us, us, was gone 2 days before she actually died. She was there, and then she was just a body in the bed with cellular processes taking place. She left before her body completed the death process. So that was interesting.

    I'm not 100% ok with the idea of death. For myself, I mostly am. I'm not really afraid to die, of what happens. My fear lies in my kids not having their mom, and of me not getting to see them grow up (despite understanding that that is an attachment). But I wouldn't want to live forever. Whatever the end of life brings, I want to find out what it is, LOL.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran


    This short TVNZ Sunday programme clip is about a Tibetan Lama here in NZ, had the Kiwi scientists scratching their heads...

  • Here is a classic example of death and resurrection

    The investigation of neurons in the heart is in scientific infancy

    Things like phowa are currently outside of science

    Death is a contemplation, reason and means of practice in dharma. Good to have it explored and enter mainstream scientific exploration ...

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    @Shoshin thanks for the link, that was really interesting!

    @lobster, yes, I have been on a Phowa retreat with my teacher. I found it quite helpful when my grandma was ill and dying. Though she was not Buddhist, she was no longer a devote Christian and she enjoyed my reading some of Sogyal Rinpoche's phowa prayers to her. We didn't focus a lot on the afterlife portion, as she was very focused on getting to see my grandpa in heaven, so we went with her belief in that. it was nice.

    Interesting link on Anna. It's interesting how much cold water helps with the ability of someone to come back from such an experience. We had a little boy who fell into very cold (ice just off the lakes) water while he was at the family cabin with his grandpa. His grandpa is a diabetic and passed out from low blood sugar and the boy, 2 years old, fell in the lake. No one knows for sure how long he was there, his grandpa woke up and found him and drove him into town while his son did CPR. He had no signs of life either. He left the hospital perfectly happy and healthy after a few days. I find it interesting that water seems to be so important, as people who suffer the same fate but are out in the open and not in water most usually die.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    I always liked the old bumper sticker that read, "Death is nature's way of telling you to slow down."

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited April 2016

    @Shoshin That was Part 1 of the story. Would you be able to find and post Part II for us?

    @lobster Science is slowly getting there. I think we need to push it. :) But there's a theory floating around that consciousness is a field, like the gravitational field and electromagnetic fields, that shows qualities of existing outside the body and of not being confined by the physical perimeter of the body or the brain or skull, and of communicating across space, somehow. (See: Entanglement Theory) More study in that realm needs to be done. But there's a heart surgeon who looked into the science of it, after years of having patients tell him about their NDE's (which for a long time he didn't believe). He took what scientific knowledge there is about it as far as it could go (whether he took it too far is for the physicists to decide), and published a book about it:
    Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near Death Experience, Pim Van Lommel

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    @Dakini when i watched it, there was a link on the bottom of the video window to other videos, and the second part was one of them. I tried to get the link, but the web address didn't change when I started the second video.

  • @Dakini said:
    @lobster Science is slowly getting there. I think we need to push it. :)

    Yes indeed.
    My feeling is a legitimate interaction and complimentary enhancement is always possible. People versed in both traditions/methodolgies are available ...

  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited April 2016

    @lobster Well, the Dalai Lama has his annual science-and-Buddhism conferences, "Mind and Life", but as far as I can tell, no serious scientific research is being done. They need to engage some physicists who are more into using their lab equipment than polite philosophizing.

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