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How deep does the dharma go?

JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matterNetherlands Veteran

So here is a question for you: say you have lived a meditative life and followed the dharma, been peaceful, generally an advanced practitioner. Then when you are 70 you get Alzheimer’s and you become grumpy, cantankerous, and you start hitting your wife. What has happened to that peaceful practitioner? Is all that you’ve worked on gone, was it just a thin surface layer?



  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    Everything is fluidly chaotic and in constant change. Ego is just our rejection of this.
    Within all of this, the meditative practitioner can find the graces of renunciation as opposed to the world's view which tends to only offer an appropriation of a dream as the measuring stick of anything's value.

    The depth and efficacy that the Dharma can point to, largely depends on how much of any moment of your life is egoless as opposed to how much is ego dependent.

    I find the 4NT & the 8FP to be an excellent vantage point from which to explore the answers you seek.

    The entirety of you, or of a relative, has always just been this one momentary, fleeting, nanosecond of an experience of it. What is a dream and what is an awakening from it?

  • I hear speculating on the finer workings of karma just makes a person cross-eyed. It likely would depend on how other factors work which can't be determined. Like how karma travels across death and rebirth.

    Some things for certain though. Influences on others often persist in and through those others. Kindnesses can have big impacts on someone so the work is still there rippling on across other people's lives. Both kindnesses and unkindnesses probably are. That's the nature of the human condition, a mixed bag of wholesome and unwholesome karma in tow slowly changing life after life, choice after choice.

    Samsara goes on until it doesn't and while the immediacy of living that described ending of this current life is an unsettling one akin to being dragged by strong men toward a pit of hot coals, many things are not within our control. We're all born, are aging, growing ill, and will die. And we are influenced by the actions and karma of others as we persist and interact. It's just what these bodies and minds do. What we get is the opportunity to make choices and use this borrowed body and mind to carry them out until we inevitably can't any longer and move on to the next one.

    @Jeroen while the picture painted is a somber one, in every lashing out an opportunity arises for others to practice compassion and kindness. An opportunity to take what's been offered and generate good karma. I have never gone for alms before but imagine on some days, in some regions, occasionally some monks don't get very good food. I don't know what they would be thinking about or feeling on those occasions but maybe they know.

  • Shoshin1Shoshin1 Veteran

    So here is a question for you: say you have lived a meditative life and followed the dharma, been peaceful, generally an advanced practitioner. Then when you are 70 you get Alzheimer’s and you become grumpy, cantankerous, and you start hitting your wife. What has happened to that peaceful practitioner? Is all that you’ve worked on gone, was it just a thin surface layer?

    According to neuroscience the seven parts of the brain control
    Thoughts and decisions.
    Memories and emotions.
    Movements (motor function), balance and coordination.
    Perception of various sensations including pain.
    Automatic behavior such as breathing, heart rate, sleep and temperature control.
    Regulation of organ function.
    Speech and language functions.

    Also one has to take into account what happens to the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers, its gradual deterioration...which includes the part of the brain which controls the central nervous system for example....

    The hypothalamus handles information that comes from the autonomic nervous system. It plays a role in controlling functions such as eating, sexual behavior and sleeping; and regulates body temperature,emotions, secretion of hormones and movement.

    No doubt there's also a Karmic element to it...bearing in mind karma is neither good or bad it's just results of past ( this life or past lives) actions...

    And in a sense we are just vibrating bundles of energy flux held together by karmic glue...the physical part (the part which we need to communicate with other sentient beings) is prone to deterioration...making communication difficult...

    The more we can understand what the person with Alzheimer’s is going through, may assist us in how we react to their often 'incontrollable' nature...

    It must be a very scary time for them...and their loved ones...

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    A couple different perspectives come to mind.

    One of karma and rebirth. Their existence is pretty unknowable, but it offers a possible answer to the question.

    The other is that even calm abiding and absorptive meditative states are conditioned and temporary. Even though they feel good, from a Dharma perspective they're not an end in themselves, they allow for a deepening of insight which is where lasting progress is said to occur.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    @FleaMarket @person

    It seems that whatever karma you have accumulated in this lifetime would likely stay untouched by the personality change that Alzheimer’s brings. So in a way the good work of having spent time with the dharma is not entirely wasted. But if calm abiding and the good cheer of equanimity are lost, it also seems likely that the prospects of further steps along the path are not good.

    It feels to me that the path is supported by one’s faculties — memory and intelligence. That if you lose those through an accident or illness that it takes time and extra focus to rehabilitate oneself if that is possible, and that if it isn’t you’re stuck.

    Alzheimers is a difficult illness because it is degenerative, it just gets worse and worse, you lose more and more faculties as time goes on. Sometimes it is moving a little quicker and sometimes a little slower, and sometimes there is a temporary reverse where things seem to get better, but there is no cure.

  • The dharma has taught me something that goes beyond what scientific materialism or other religions ever stressed: the only thing that, for now we can say is eternal and for all of us, is change. The way we engage in this changing world is an important field of exercise. This meaning impulse control, fostering good, avoiding the bad, becoming less automatic in some aspects, to become more thoughtful in others; and viceversa.

    What a mystery this world and life!

    Regarding Alzheimer's disease, it could be compared to a good practioner that suddenly has to face death because of a car accident or a disability because of an injury sustained during the crash. The tragedy of degenerative diseases is their "unexpectedness" as in, there is no crash, no trigger apart from certain genes, ambiental factors, and other variables that happen to establish this outcome. This is a good reminder of not wasting time like Dogen says and practice the best we can during this present moment.

    Who knows, maybe all the good practice he partook on has rewarded him with the care and love / support web he requires now.... still, it is tragic, mental illness I mean...

    I once asked Ajahn Punnadhammo what mental illness means? Is it like a karmic punishment? He soberly replied "it definitvely is a product of karma", but that's it.

    My warmest support Jeroen.... I know it is not easy.

  • How deep does Dharma go?
    How deep does life go?
    Same question.
    When you begin to understand that life, your life, extends from your deepest core within to envelope the entire universe, you will have a a glint of a glimmer of the depths of the Dharma.
    Good hunting.

    Peace to all.

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