Ch'an and Dying
Q: I am a radiation therapist. Some of my patients or young and terminal. What do I say to someone who should not have cancer at such a young age and should live another 50 years? I am trying to find the right words or philosophy to help them be positive in their last months of life.
A: I think the thing to remember is that life may be short, but it's very, very broad. This can be especially true for terminal patients given the right guidance. My first teacher used to say, "The sorrow of life is not in its brevity, but in our inability to make supreme use of the present moment." Good words.
Perhaps this is indicative of an approach you might take: helping these folks to make supreme use of each moment they have left, even if it's from a hospital bed. From our Ch'an and Buddhist perspectives, a universe of time exists in each moment of life, so if we can see each moment of life as directly as we can we can see the universe in all its glory.
In our Meditation Hall is a traditional wooden bell which has this verse written on it:
Birth and Death are the Great Matter;
Impermanence is swift;
Time does not wait for anyone;
Do not ignore this chance.
It's possible for someone with little time left to live as full a life as one who lives 100 years. This might be a hard sell to a terminal cancer patient, but as you know sometimes they can surprise you. So maybe you can build on that and encourage your patients not to ignore this chance!
Another of our teachings says that our essential nature is that of a fully enlightened being. This being the case, we are fully capable of waking up to our true nature if we bring energy, sincerity and patience to that journey, regardless of how much time remains. This is making supreme use of the present moment.