The Great Matter
Q: I have been studying Zen Buddhism's history and have begun practicing shikantanza at least once a day. I believe I have a solid understanding of Buddhism. However, my question is this: Life is the same as death in that it is impossible to draw any clear distinction between the two. I have taken the view that one should not be afraid of death, since it is simply another aspect of everything. However, I was asked by someone without any knowledge of Buddhism the following question: "If life and death are the same, why not simply choose death? Why go on living?" This question has caused me some trouble, and I have been thinking about it lately. What is the Buddhist answer to this question?
A: If it's "impossible to draw any clear distinction" between life and death, then what is there to "choose?" Simply be awareness itself and both life and death are complete. That's the Ch'an/Zen answer.
The Buddhist answer is that it isn't whether you choose life or death, but WHY you choose life or death. If you "choose" death in order to save a baby girl who's about to be run over by a bus, it's a selfless act which is based in Wisdom and Compassion; if you "choose" death because you just lost your job and your girlfriend, it's an egocentric act based on the Three Poisons of craving, anger and delusion.
Why go on living? Because it enables us to walk the Path of Awakening. Plus, it's FUN!