Someone I know (let’s call her Jill) shared with me about an encounter she had and her tale got me stun like a vegetable. The level of insensitivity is mind-blowing insane: Jill was struck unfortunately with cancer and someone told Jill not to come near her in case she spread bad luck.
The reason? She was getting married.
What on Wakanda just happened? Did Dr Strange just activated the Eye of Agamotto and transported us back in an era when superstition reigned over wisdom? Even in modern Singapore, I couldn’t believe someone just said something so messed up in your face and justify it as a legit reason to tell you to get lost.
Therefore, I am determined to call out these 3 commonly accepted superstitious thinking associated with death and dying, and categorically seek to address them.
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1. Getting near a dying person brings bad luck
Since we are already at this subject, I will address this first. Biologically, our heart is the first organ to be developed in the foetus and after which, the mighty heart has no retirement plans until we breathe our last. Since death can only happen to those that are alive, as long as we are living, we are also dying.
This is no crafty play of words, just highlighting the other part of reality people tend to ignore – almost like asking if the glass is half full or half empty.
Because both answers are technically right – each presents only but a partial truth.
Hence, to avoid getting near any dying person means you have to live as a hermit in the mountain with no social contact because every single living organism is actively dying. The Buddha knows this well and brands this phenomenon as impermanence. Not seeing the quantum or molecular changes beneath an exterior body does not mean all is well.
This is an illusion that life brings.
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2. Auspicious event cannot clash with inauspicious event
This has more cultural connotation and influence. The overarching origins of such a belief system could be said to contain elements of Hedonism, of which it endorses a philosophical view that humans should always seek to maximise total pleasure. This is done by avoiding suffering and constantly seek things that is good for an individual (therefore nett pleasure).
Inauspicious event invokes painful emotions and unpleasant feelings. Hence, from a hedonistic point of view, such occasions are to be avoided whenever possible. Over the years, auspicious event just become a culturally legit reason to avoid ‘inauspicious’ ones, because you want good events (like marriage) to remain good forever. So to achieve this, we have to eliminate any possible variables that may ‘taint the goodness’ and transform it otherwise.
Here’s a brutal truth: coming from a social worker, the failure of today’s marriage has less to do with how many funeral you attended or how many dying persons you had encountered just before you walk down the aisle. This logic behind is completely spurious – this is akin to saying that every time I fart, ten relationships fail. (I am sorry Singapore – 7,207 divorce in 2016 has something to do with my intestinal wind).
And if these relationships should fail, honestly, it would have been any other thingy except my stinking gas. Really.
Sometimes, such event acts as a convenient blaming scapegoat for good phenomenon that gone astray. It allows us to blame something ‘external’ such as a mixing auspicious and inauspicious events, rather than examining inwardly, our judgement and actions made within the context of our failing relationship. Pinpointing to the right cause would allow appropriate means of intervention, of which, superstitious and spurious reasoning leads to distraction from potentially helpful solution and personal growth.
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3. Because I cannot determine for certain if the superstition is true, hence I prefer to stray on the safe side and accept it as a possible truth.
Every man dies. Not every man really lives. – William Wallace
Finally, a boss concept that screws up our thinking some ways or another.
There are no real certainty in life or finding objective truth through subjective values. The ultimate measure of things lies with the human being that operates within those belief system; we decide what is important and discard what is not. Essentially, there is no safe or dangerous side to choose between – life only has one path ahead.
Hence, the one question we should be asking ourselves is:
What sort of person I want to become?
If we accept that death is universal, inescapable, certain and one-track – then when the time comes for you, would you prefer to receive compassion and love from others? Or would you prefer others throwing superstitious discrimination and emotional isolation as your farewell gift?
Becoming a greater person is not something you do when the tides are favourable or when circumstances are looking good on your end; it is an intentional, deliberate attempt to cultivate a greater self every moment in your life, even more so when life has temporary dealt you with poor cards. The choice to discard a superstitious thinking in exchange for an opportunity to develop kindness towards a dying person has huge spiritual growth value that pays more enduring dividends in aspects you could never have imagine.
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Though there are many kinds of bizarre superstition in our culture, death and dying related superstition easily smash the record and top the chart.
Choose to reject because we don’t want to give death more power than it should have over us.
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