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Dying with no faith

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    • #715

      In my work as as hospice chaplain I meet more people with no faith than of faith. People will say ‘I don’t believe in anything’ I always say ‘well that’s OK. I’m not here to change your mind’, but the truth is I wish I could change their mind. I can’t imagine not connecting with the idea of something beyond myself. How do we support someone of ‘no faith’ to die in peace? I can chant, I can offer up prayers to Amida whilst sitting on my own. Any other suggests?

      It’s been a day surrounded by a great deal of non-faith, and I always find these days a challenge.

    • #717

      It is difficult to be with other people’s suffering. I guess you could be faithless and suffering, or faithless and at peace.

      Back before I found Buddhism, I was a self-described faithless atheist, and yet even then I found a way of being at peace in the world, and with the idea of no life after death, and so on.

      I took solace in the great mystery of the universe unfolding. Ironically I might describe my faith that way, these days.

      In terms being with other people’s lack of faith, I try to remember Saiko Sensei’s counselling model: the counsellor has faith that Amida holds the client, even when the client can’t. But this process of the client catching faith themselves doesn’t happen overnight, and this is what can be hard to sit with. I guess this is the bitter sweet reality of samsara, heartbreaking to see someone suffering and have a sense that the Buddha is just there, if only they would look.

      Sometimes it helps me to remember the lotus flowers in the Pureland. People with karmic traces are born inside closed lotus flowers. I think the lotus protects them from the brightness of Amida’s light, which might otherwise be overwhelming. As the softer light, filtered through the petals, dissolves the karma, they are able to receive more and more light, and the lotus slowly opens.

      It’s true in this lifetime too. Sometimes we can only receive a little light. Our defences are like the lotus petals, protecting us from being overwhelmed by love.

      We can, perhaps, trust that people receive what they can, and leave the rest to Amida. Who knows when the flower will open?

      It is also worth being curious about our own process: are any of our self-defenses being triggered in meeting someone without faith, are we taking it personally in someway, or just connecting with what Suzuki Roshi called the great grief?

      Either way, we can remember that we are not called to be perfect, just to know that we are loved just as we are.

      Namo Amida Bu

    • #828
      Ross Palmer

      Could it be that people find it easier to describe themselves as having ‘no’ faith rather than try to search for or put words to, what they actually have faith in?  Being new to exploring this I still struggle with describing what I have faith in, I believe in an ‘other’, I believe in the existence of spirituality across the universe, I believe in the being of human nature.  When it comes to pinpointing what I exactly have faith in, that’s where it gets harder.  It is only by making an effort to find my faith through reading, talking and meditating that I am beginning to see kore clearly where my faith is.  This amount of work and ‘soul-searching’ can put people off and therefore could they be saying they have ‘no faith’ when at times it is more of a ‘nameless faith’.

    • #829

      Aloha All,

      Thank you Kusumavarsa, Kaspa and Ross for this discussion. Being with suffering is very difficult. I see a lot of suffering in the work I do. Often we (I) want to fix other people but, of course, that is not possible. Each person needs to find their own way. We just live our faith, alleviate what suffering we can, and trust in Amida. In Process Theology they talk about God as one of the many influences in one’s life.  It is always there, nudging away at us. Even if we are completely dead spiritually, the influence is still there, though it may be hardly detectable. I think there are a lot of parallels between the way the Process God influences us and how Amida’s light works on each of us. Hopefully, through our connection with Amida, a little of the pureland surrounds us and touches those we encounter.

      Kaspa, I really like you explanation of the individuals born in closed lotus buds in the pureland. The light (Truth) is often too intense for us to take in directly, thus we have to be shielded from its blinding glare until we can process it. Very insightful!!! (I am reminded of some of the imagery of heaven from Emmanuel Swedenborg.)

      Namo Amida Bu!

    • #832
      Steve Durham

      I find it hard to sit with someone with no faith, above all in a terminal situation.  They seem relatively comfortable with it — in my experience — but I personally find it tremendously desolate and sad. There is no hope, save for the “sleep” of annihilation and utter lack of consciousness.  I taste ashes when I contemplate that.  Of course, that’s just me, and I’m projecting it onto the other.

      However, to end on a more positive note, I very much appreciate Kaspalita’s reminding us of the meanings of the lotus flowers in the Pure Land.  Maybe Amida’s Light is indeed overwhelming for someone “unaccustomed” to it from the relatively stopped-down exposures we have to it in this life.  I never before pondered what the metaphor of the lotus flower in the Pure Land might mean.  That was enriching — thank you!

    • #1581

      I think in these situations where the dying person sternly refuses to have faith, the thing to do would be to persuade the dying person to authorize some good deeds (i.e. give to the poor etc.) so that he or she would have some merit to rely on for the rebirths ahead. Moreover, the name of Amitabha is efficacious, so you could do some clever name dropping (as you are no doubt already doing now) to plant  seeds of Bodhi that will blossom in a future time. Moreover, the moment of death is so scary no living person could imagine, thus, it is possible that there might be a leap of faith at the critical juncture, and when paired will skillful counsel and supportive chanting, Pure Land rebirth could be attained.

      Lastly, as I have mentioned elsewhere on the forum, I translated a supportive chanting guide (Last Rites of Amitabha) book for the benefit of an old people’s home last year. It is free and in the Public Domain. Moreover, it includes sections on shattering doubts, speeches that could be used to convert the dying and methods to increase faith.

      Online Interactive version (with PDF)

      Hope this can be of some help.

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