U turn on the telly and every other story
Is tellin’ U somebody died ~ Sign o the Times
I wonder if celebrities everywhere are getting nervous?! But of course it was forever thus. None of us gets out of here alive, famous or otherwise. As a friend put it, rather well I thought: “We all have a shelf life. When our expiration date is up, that’s it. … We are all at the big funeral everyday.”
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life.
I liked Prince but wasn’t intending to write anything about his death – that is, until I saw this arresting Facebook post by the same person who wrote this last article:
What I Learned from Prince’s Death
* Death can come suddenly at any time – no one is immune.
* Fame means nothing at the time of death.
* Everybody loves you when you’re dead, but it’s too late then.
* It’s only when you’re dead that you would realise from everyone’s reactions what your life meant to them, but you’ll never see it.
* When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.
* Whether you have lots of talent and are famous, or not, death treats everyone the same: extinction of ‘you’.
* Death shows there is no real meaning in this ordinary human life: everything you were ends instantly, unexpectedly and finally.
* Your wealth means nothing as it becomes someone else’s – even your clothes aren’t yours.
* Life is an unfinished story because it ends for you but not for everyone you know.
This got me thinking. And wanting to add something to these points in particular: “Everybody loves you when you’re dead but it’s too late then” and “When you’re dead, from your point of view, what you did means nothing. It’s like a dream that has passed.”
How is it that we keep affecting people after we’re dead? And I mean not just emotionally, but karmically? Prince is dead, yes, but he has not inherently ceased and still has a connection with the beings of this world, whose love and well wishes are having some effect on his mental continuum – that’s how transference of consciousness and other prayers for the deceased work too. His music will still give pleasure – so, providing he had the intention to give people happiness, he will still create some merit, or good karma, from it.
I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain.
According to Van Jones, his friend and a CNN commentator, Prince was a humanitarian but wasn’t allowed to talk about his numerous good deeds as he was a Jehovah’s witness. So news of these is just emerging now.
It’s not all over
The dream that was Prince’s life is ended, for sure, but it is not inherently over, any more than yesterday or even the moment before this one has inherently ceased. Our life is a cause leading to an effect, not to non-existence. Of course there is no more access to his body or gross personality or the identity “Prince”, but Prince was only ever mere imputation anyway. We are still all connected to that living being, just as we are always interdependent with all living beings. We cannot separate ourselves out from others and they in turn are affected by everything we do. As Geshe Kelsang puts it:
It is closer to the truth to picture ourself as a cell in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. ~ Eight Steps to Happiness
And this truth spans life and death. We are each waves made up entirely of one another and all arising from the ocean of clear light, the very subtle mind. (More on this later.)
This is why love is the answer, as it is the natural response to reality; and why what Prince did does mean something, not nothing, though he most likely won’t remember. (As for the fame part, I agree that fame is meaningless after we die, which makes it meaningless now too, unless we are using it for good.)
We need to make our lives count with our mental actions, for sure, because they are the most creative actions – with our thoughts we create our world. But we also make our lives count with physical and verbal actions, leaving something intentionally helpful and uplifting behind us too if we can, such as a temple or other tangible improvement in others’ lives. Geshe Kelsang says, for example, when talking about helping at Kadampa centers, “We are working for future generations.”
Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.
How we use our creativity as modern Buddhists is still new territory over here in the West – in Tibet, there was no art outside of painting Buddhas, no music outside of spiritual chanting, and so on; the culture was entirely different. But over here, to “remain natural while changing our aspiration” may mean that between us we need to hijack today’s culture to our own and others’ spiritual ends as much as we can. That’s why I am hijacking some of Prince’s lyrics and quotes for this article
My take on it so far — and I am totally open to ideas in the comments — is this. The ultimate spiritual goal of human life is attaining enlightenment for the sake of all living beings because that is the way to fulfill all our own and others’ purposes. That is our main job, our main creativity. And making Buddha’s teachings accessible to as many people as possible by helping meditation centers and so on also seems important because if we don’t do it, who will, plus it is powerful karma. Within that, with an increasingly good motivation and skill, we can embrace and enjoy our creativity however it manifests — eg, film-making, painting, music, song-writing — and channel it into helping others. A lot of people are doing this already, it is I think inevitable; and I also think it will make Buddhist meditation relevant to more and more people — bring it into the global mainstream as an idea whose time has come. For example, this readable new novel, The Forgetting Time, is bringing the idea of past and future lives to a huge audience that possibly would never have considered it otherwise.
New world needs spirituality that will last.
Good night and thank you
Wishing Prince a swift rebirth in the Pure Land surrounded by the celestial music of offering gods and goddesses. Or, to hijack the Bard:
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.