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Heart Failure to Buddhism

Hi everyone.

I'm 34 years old and have gone through some serious strain the last 10 months.

Back in October I went for some routine open heart surgery. I had a dilated aorta and it had to be fixed, the process to the surgeon was routine, and all throughout the surgery there were no issues, and everything seemed perfectly fine. Then it happens, upon trying to restart my heart at the end of the operation, it failed, it simply wouldn't restart. The next day they tried a double bypass, but it didn't work at by this time the left side of my heart had failed...permanently. on the 3 day, they decided to put an LVAD in, its basically a pump installed directly into the heart with a wire coming out my rib cage and into a controller i carry around my waist. This left me in a coma, well a propfol induced coma for 3 months in which time my lungs also failed, but recovered. I died twice, and saw and remember nothing of "death". its nothing but a memory that isn't there. Imagine trying to remember being in the womb...the memory is just...nothing.

After a month in recovery I am now home, but live everyday like its my last, as it could be, as until I get a transplant, they don't know how long the LVAD will sustain me.

Anyway, while in hospital I read books from the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism in general. But now, I seem a little lost. What state does having an implant keeping me alive place me? am I unnatural? Should I have died a natural death? I found Buddhism, but now feel lost and even more confused than before i found a religion.

I have signed up for mediation lessons at a local Theravada (Tibetan?) temple in my city and have requested to meet with the resident monk as I want to talk about my experience one on one and gain some, or his insight. is this a good start?

Any other suggestions how I begin to walk this path? I fear my time is coming sooner than later due to my health, and would therefore like to make the most of the time I have enjoying with my wife, and Buddhism, although isn't being married a form of indulgence that I should let go off?

Thank you for letting me ramble



  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    Is the Theravada monk proficient in English. At the Thai Theravada temple I go to there are 4 monks. There is only one whom I think could carry on that kind of conversation with me.

    P.S. Welcome, and best of luck to you!

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    Much of what we find in Buddhism was intended for Buddha's audience, which were monks. They often do not apply in the same way to householders/lay people. You do not have to give up your wife. Nor should you (at least for sure not because of Buddhism!) And you are not unnatural. Not at all. One of the most well known teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, suffered a severe stroke a few years ago, and received extensive medical treatment and rehab. The Dalai Lama is seen regularly at the Mayo Clinic in MN.

    Theravadan and Tibetan schools in Buddhism are completely separate :) It's a lot to explain, so I wouldn't worry about the differences much at this point.

    If I had to explain Buddhism in few words to someone new, I think I would tell them that it is the best way I have found to know myself so intimately. To recognize and know the inner workings of the mind and work to change it and thus how we get along in the world as a result is life changing. Try not to worry about the details of the teachings and look for the forest for the trees.

    I find HHDl a little...scholarly and sometimes dense (as in information wise, not thick-headed, lol). I highly recommended 2 books to new people, which are the ones I started with. The Heart of Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche. Don't mind the Tibetan title, there is a lot of really valuable stuff in the book that has little to do with Tibetan. The stuff that does and gets confusing towards the end, you can skip if it doesn't speak to you. Both helped my understanding of Buddhism immensely. Truly grasping the 4 Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold path are are a good starting point, as they continue all of Buddha's teachings within them. Simple, but not simplistic. But still easy to get confused by, but that is why we are here.

    Welcome! You have been through quite the journey, I'm glad you are here.

  • Hello <3

    Hope you stay with us for a long while. Your situation of possibly living your last moment was always the case. It is the case for everyone. You are just more aware of it due to having a very direct and constant reminder. So thanks for that insight B)

    So what to do on ones potentially last day? Start the day with some calm meditation. Yep will be doing that. Stay attentively in the moment (mindfulness). Be kind to those one meets. Buddhism is what one does on the best days ... :)

  • silversilver In the beginning there was nothing, and then it exploded. USA, Left coast. Veteran

    @lookingforlight said, "Anyway, while in hospital I read books from the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism in general. But now, I seem a little lost. What state does having an implant keeping me alive place me? am I unnatural? Should I have died a natural death?"

    @lobster said, " Your situation of possibly living your last moment was always the case. It is the case for everyone. You are just more aware of it due to having a very direct and constant reminder. So thanks..."

    I like what @lobster said there.

    Welcome to NB anyway, @lookingforlight. :star:

    My main hope is to help you find something helpful and wonderful in MY favorite book, which is called Old Path White Clouds by Master Thich Nhat Hahn (TNH). It happens to be the biography of the Buddha and it is an enchantingly told story of the Buddha's life and found it very helpful in explaining the basics. Studying about Buddhism has meant awesome things and constructive changes in my attitude/life.

    (I too had open heart surgery - a triple bypass in June of 2014.)
    Wishing you all the best.

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

    That's quite a journey @lookingforlight I can imagine it has left you a little confused.

    You asked "am I unnatural?" Well many people take pills of one form or another, so I don't think your dependence on western medicine is that different. I certainly don't think it will make a difference to what happens when you do eventually die.

    I think wanting to discuss your experiences with a monk is a very natural and good impulse. Finding your feet within Buddhism tends to be a lengthy process, because of the many streams which all have significantly different views. But at least you've found it.

    In terms of how to proceed I would focus on the basic teachings, the 4 Noble Truths, impermanence, interbeing, maybe some of the teachings around death. Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teachings is a good place to start. And of course make use of NewBuddhist, there are many people here with quite a few years of cushion experience and different approaches to the dharma who are very willing to answer questions.

  • Being married is not an indulgence for lay men and women. If death seems close then a clear mind is the best protection you can have. My goodness what an experience you have had.

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Hey, @lookingforlight, Welcome to the "I've been to the Other Side and Lived to Tell the Tale!" Club!
    Not that I am a member, but I'm on the Waiting List.... ;)

    Whatever is, is. You would not have lain in Hospital on your (literal) death-bed and told the Doctors, "Hang on Guys, I just gotta check if you should be doing this or not...."

    Heck, whatever Life-line Experience throws you, grab it by both hands and hold on!

    You're here, you're among the living, among friends and still with your loved ones.
    Cherish every moment.
    See, you actually have the 'advantage' over us. You've had advanced warning and are maybe on Stand-by. So you may well have a radically-altered outlook on life.

    We? For the most part (and I'm really only speaking for myself) we are conscious of Death, aware it will come for us, but hey, not yet, ok...? :mrgreen:

    I, for my part, take it far too much for granted that yes, I am going to die, and yes, I meditate on Death, but it's not going to hit me until I'm well into my dotage. That's what I like to think, and it's what I tell myself.
    But as you well know, and are testimony to, you can sail that notion up the Swanee.
    I often bring to mind, and refer myself to those poor souls during the 9/11 attack...on the upper floors, ABOVE the site of impact.
    They were alive, kicking, but ill-fated and never going home.

    The possibility of such a turn of events never even touched their consciousness that morning.
    2 weeks earlier, my husband was in one of those towers, admiring the view.... huh...

    The point I'm making is that actually, you and I - and all others here - are in the same boat. It's just that you have been made painfully, visibly and evidently aware that we're ALL of us, living on borrowed time.

    We should all bow to your example, and live each day in Serenity and Joy. It may be the last one we ever see. \better to die with love, kindness and Compassion fully manifest, than fear and ignorance (small 'i').

    Welcome, buddy. Very nice to have you with us.

  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran

    Hi...nice to meet you! Welcome! =)

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

    Welcome @lookingforlight. Hope you find something useful here. Besides your reading adventures, I suggest you take up a small agenda of meditation. In this way, what is called Buddhism will not become a crystal slipper you feel you must adhere to and care for like some Cinderella. Get it straight from the beginning: Without you, Buddhism would not exist. This is quite literally true, so relax and lay off any thoughts of what is "natural" or "unnatural." You are who you are and who you are is not different from Buddhism in a single particular. If you die tomorrow or in 50 years ... still this is true. So relax and make friends with your good friend.

    How and what to practice. I come out of a Zen tradition and thus favor the simplest possible approach. What could be simpler than the breath? Without it, we'd all be dead. So, here is a pretty straight-forward description of how and what to do: It's got some Buddhist gobblety-gook, but I think you can read through it and get the drift: Sit down, erect the spine, sit still, shut up, and count or watch the breaths coming and going ... one to ten and begin again. If you think this would bore the pants off a wet cat, you'd be right. Do it anyway. One to ten and begin again. For starters, maybe 10 or fifteen minutes is enough. Use an egg timer. More is not necessarily better: Just decide what to do and then do it. Every day at a time that is convenient to your schedule. If you skip a day, don't say, "I had to wait for the plumber and couldn't do it." Say rather, "I choose not to sit today." That is enough. Make a promise, keep a promise. Every day. Once finished, get up and go about your daily chores. At the end of a week, review your meditation experience. Was it too much? Was it too little? Revise your schedule as you -- you, the only Buddhist in this equation -- see fit. Meditate when exhilarated. Do it when bored stupid ... or scared or laughing or ... do it anyway.

    Read anything you like. Learn to talk "Buddhist" if need be. But keep after the meditation. This is your life, your breath, your Buddha. It's plain as Middle C on a piano ... just one note, clear as a bell. Bit by bit Buddhism won't need to be special or holy or natural or unnatural. Hell, it's just you ... and you're doing fine. Any school, any text, any temple, any teacher .... your breath comes with you wherever you go.

    And never forget the words that I got from a fellow Zennie ... "I'd like to die with a smile on my face, but I guess I'll take what I get."

    All best wishes.

  • NMADDPNMADDP SUN Diego, California Veteran


    And never forget the words that I got from a fellow Zennie ... "I'd like to die with a smile on my face, but I guess I'll take what I get."

    I just happened to see this video few hours ago. It is just like your fellow Zennie's words.
    "Mỉm Cười Thấy Phật Vãng Sanh" (Smiling seeing the Buddha and reborn)

    This was in Ha Noi, Vietnam. The man was 63 years old. After other buddhists chanted/recited Amitabha Buddha to support the spirit of the dead man. At the end, the man's body is soft, mouth smiling and eyes looking at the picture of Pure Land Three Sages.

    Pure Land Three Sages = Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta(left) Amitabha Buddha (middle) Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (right)

    A Mi Tuo Fo

  • First of all thank you, everyone, for your feedback and welcoming posts. I vanished for a couple of days as I am currently on home IV antibiotics, as I had a blood infection, so they have to make sure it doesn't attack my implant; the combination of antibiotics and well, heart failure meds are kicking my butt. I will start replies, and will finish tomorrow :)

    However, I feel a little more energized right now so I wanted to respond to everyone equally.

    @Vinlyn Yes, the appointment I have is with Monk who is fluent in English, I’m somewhat nervous to meet him as I fear meeting a Monk for the first time after accepting this path could be intimidating.

    @Karasti Thank You for your response. If the Buddha's teachings were directed towards Monks, his audience, where to lay buddhists fit into Buddhism? If the goal is to reach enlightenment, then should not all Buddhists take the path of the Monk and give up wants and needs, such as a wife etc? I’m trying to figure out where lay buddhists….fit..

    I think I feel unnatural because I have a implanted pump keeping me alive, which isn’t that against buddhist teaching? How will having this effect my rebirth, and as for me having to have a heart transplant, where does that fit? Benefiting from someone else's this point I think I would rather pass on the transplant if it means it will effect my path and rebirth. Although new, I like to think I will have some kind of rebirth….

    @lobster Thank You for the welcome, I believe you are right, having the LVAD (left Ventricular Assisting Device) strapped around my waist is a constant, every second, reminder of my demise, that my heart is running of a machine that could stop working any moment. I try to not think about it but it’s hard.

    @Silver I am glad you have recovered well from your bypass. I hope your continued health carries on getting better! I will order this book tomorrow, and once read, report back to you :)

    @Kerome Thank you for your advice and time. You speak of the 4 noble truths, is this the same as the 8 fold path, or do the 4 noble truths make up the 8?

    @grackle You see this is where I am confused as to where the lay buddhist stands… the point of Buddhism is to one day become enlightened and reach buddhahood. Now to do this, shouldn’t buddhists, even lay buddhists take on the same practice as monks? That is no wife, sex etc. by not, are you simply blocking your path to enlightenment?

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I am grateful for your energy today, make sure you keep resting to recover from your infection!

    i wouldn't look at it as benefiting. You didn't cause the death of any potential donor. they made the decision previously to donate their organs to save someone else in the event they couldn't continue living. It's not a punishment for receivers of organ donation. It's a gift! As an organ donor, that is absolutely how I view it. You wouldn't be killing me to take my heart. You would only get it if something happened that my body couldn't stay alive. I would love to give the gift of continued life to others if possible, so they may continue their wonderful journey even if mine was over. As they say, it is extraordinarily rare to be born a human in a time where Buddha's teachings are accessible. Take full advantage! It's a wonderful thing.

    As far as lay people versus monastics, it really depends exactly who you ask. The Dalai Lama has said before, be the very best "whatever" that you happen to be. That is best for you, and for the rest of humanity. Retreats I've been on with Lamas and other teachers, I have always been told that enlightenment can come from the most simple man. It doesn't require status or title, but rather wisdom and insight, which is available to all of us. There is immense learning and growth to be had in living a lay life. Opportunities for understanding and growth abound, whereas in monastic life they don't, not in the same way.

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @lookingforlight said:

    @Vinlyn Yes, the appointment I have is with Monk who is fluent in English, I’m somewhat nervous to meet him as I fear meeting a Monk for the first time after accepting this path could be intimidating.

    Perhaps you will be lucky in that regard. I recently FINALLY began going to the Thai Theravadan temple near me, and I was welcomed with open arms...literally. Tonight, for example, I went to chanting and meditation (which I do about once a week now), and 3 of the 4 monks literally hugged me, and the abbot always chats very informally with me. I even remarked to them one day that I wasn't used to Thai monks being so outgoing, and they said that there is an effort in Thailand for monks to be closer to the people than in the past.

    So good luck!

  • @lookingforlight. Monks have struggles on the path. Lay persons have struggles on the path. However the path of Dhamma may be walked by anyone. To be a monk is not always so lofty. To be a layman not always so low. That you feel called to follow the Dhamma is what is important. Austerity is not to be sought but may eventually become a part of practice.

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

    @lookingforlight the 4 Noble Truths is the first teaching given by the Buddha. The story goes he encountered the 5 ascetics who used to live with him, and he told them, these are the four Noble Truths...

    Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

    Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering: it is this craving which leads to re-becoming, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for becoming, craving for disbecoming.

    Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it.

    Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering: it is this noble eightfold path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

    And one of the five immediately attained enlightenment. But you can see that there is a relationship between the 4 noble truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran

    I have some understanding of your issues. I have atrial fibrillation, which is incurable, gets worse over time, and will probably be "taken out" by a massive stroke at some unpredictable time in the future.

    I found Buddhism to be very valuable for adjusting to this. After all, everyone has suffering at times in their life, and I should not expect to be the only exception to this truth. My heart condition is only as sad as I make it seem.

    Yes, taking lessons is THE way to start Buddhism. From one who has been trained in Buddhism, and a monk is an excellent source of teachings. Theravadan, in particular, seems best-adapted for Westerners (as opposed to the Mahayana teachings of Zen and Vajrayana). It may take 3-10 years to start to gain insights and benefits from your practice, so don't try to force it.

    In the meantime, don't try to force your attitudes/thoughts into preset shapes. "Should" you have died a natural death? The only "shoulds" in Buddhism are our attempts to avoid harming others. You yourself harmed no one in receiving the surgery, and the donor was not hunted down and murdered to obtain this heart.

    Your awareness this "this moment" might be your last moment ... well, this is so for all of us. We just don't want to face this truth. We could die at any moment.

    I remember, early in my lessons in Buddhism, how the Lama was amused at watching people buying Xmas wrapping paper on sale shortly after Xmas ... he explained that this was based on the assumption that we would still be alive next year. While the fact is, he said, that none of us know when death will find us.

    You, my dear, are merely more open and aware of this truth than most people are.
    How to cope with it? Take your lessons, do the meditation .. learn to live in this moment, because this moment is indeed all that we truly have. The past - even just 3 minutes ago - is now just a memory. And the future has not happened yet.
    “One can appreciate & celebrate each moment — there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more!”
    Pema Chödrön

    Finally, in terms of self-indulgence. Observe your self-indulgence. Don't try to pretend it isn't there ... and as long as you are not doing harm, allow it. In Buddhism we don't artificially repress, suppress, or pretend we don't feel what we actually do feel. Whatever renunciation occurs, will occur when we naturally outgrow it ... much in the same manner as how we no longer suck our thumb. Just follow your practice as your teacher gives it to you, and the rest will follow in its own good time.

  • I'm 34 years old and have gone through some serious strain the last 10 months.

    Did you die again? How's the dharma living going? Can you eat curry ... you might need mustard seed ... o:)

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