‘The End In Mind’ Conference Answers Questions About Psychedelics For End-Of-Life Patients

By Benjamin Adams

As they say, “memento mori.” The end is inevitable to all of us, but we have tools available to provide comfort—even in death. With psychedelics’ growing promise in therapies for trauma and grief, there are endless questions. Take the similarities between near death experiences and psychedelics, for instance.

End Well recently announced it will host “The End in Mind,” the largest-to-date annual virtual conference dedicated to the future of psychedelic medicines in care for people facing serious illness or end-of-life situations, taking place on October 14.

The conference will include panelists such as Melissa Etheridge as well as Dream Corps founder and political commentator Van Jones, along with a roster of healthcare, policy, culture, business and psychedelic leaders.

Conference tracks will cover psychedelic medicines and their uses—from Indigenous practices to recent clinical trials—and the current and future role of psychedelics in care for serious illness, grief and end of life. The science behind psychedelic drug development will also be pored over in detail.

End Well Founder Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, said that psychedelics could be a “paradigm shift in modern medicine,” creating new possibilities for end-of-life patients.

The event is sponsored by Palo Santo, a U.S.-based psychedelic investment fund that recently launched with $35 million in capital raised and an active portfolio of 20+ companies. Daniel Goldberg, cofounder of Palo Santo will be among the panelists, discussing the opportunities and concerns about the future of psychedelic medicine for people seeking to improve the quality of life at the end. Goldberg founded the diversified venture fund last year with Tim Schlidt and Tony Eisenberg. He noted the variety of voices that are expected this year.

“Our panel at this year’s End Well annual symposium is made up of an interdisciplinary group of professionals that are all psychedelic medicine advocates but with very different perspectives: Dr. Jerry Rosenbaum, Director of Harvard Mass General’s new Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics; Dr. Julie Holland, a renowned psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist who has been an advocate in the space for decades; and Shelby Hartman, a talented journalist who founded DoubleBlind, a media business focused on psychedelics,” says Goldberg.

The conference will provide interactive breakout sessions to answer questions and provide a deep-dive into the cultural, regulatory and industry shifts. “The four of us have very different vantage points yet all of us have unique exposure to the psychedelic private sector,” Goldberg says. “We will be exploring the rapid pace of innovation happening in psychedelics and what we are most excited about (and concerned about).”

Also on the panel will be Rick Doblin, Ph.D., American drug reformist, advocate and the founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) as well as Ira Byock, MD, a leading palliative care physician; and Patricia James, Cheyenne pipe carrier, among others.

The conference will also investigate the stigma attached to psychedelics. “Finally, we seem to be moving past the stigma around plant medicines,” said Etheridge, who tackled tragedy and cancer, “and into a whole new era of understanding that will hopefully enable more of us to experience the benefits of these powerful medicines—especially in the most dire times of need when we are confronting illness, grief, mortality, existential fear and death.”

The conference is also sponsored by Reset Pharma, biotechnology company Cybin, the first psychedelics company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange; atai Life Sciences, a biopharmaceutical company aiming to transform the treatment of mental health disorders; and Microdose, a psychedelic-focused media platform.

“I’m also excited to share a bit about why our Psychedelic VC fund made a huge bet on Reset Pharma, which is developing and commercializing a novel psilocybin-based therapy to address mental health in patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases,” Goldberg shares. “For its lead asset, the company is using the licensed research of Dr. Stephen Ross’ (NYU) seminal 2016 phase 2 clinical trial data. We believe this could help pave the way to change how we address end-of-life care as a society.”

Psychedelic medicines continue to evolve at a rapid pace. As a fund manager, Goldberg says he’s concerned when he sees valuations get bid up for certain early-stage psychedelic businesses that are based on hype. His fund, for instance, passed up on more than a few deals in the event that his scientific advisory board couldn’t get comfortable with the science—or lack of—behind some deals in the marketplace.

“We stay very focused on due diligence in order to assess a company’s ability to navigate the regulatory path and ultimately the likelihood of successful commercialization,” Goldberg says.

Based on Goldberg’s experience, not all of these psychedelic pharma startups are going to make it, regardless of the positive press they receive or the names on their board. “Clinical trials are incredibly expensive and while it might be easy for start-ups to raise $10-50 million, it’s tougher to come up with $100-300 million for trials unless you have the right product and team, as well as validating investors that have access to downstream capital,” he says.

Given that psychedelics were stigmatized for so many decades, Goldberg stressed the need for a focus on the science.

“Unless we can continue to prove safety and efficacy, doctors will be slow to move patients off of SSRI’s and give these new treatments a go,” Goldberg said. “Ultimately, we hope that patients will be able to try psychedelic therapy before being put on SSRI’s, which are hard to get off of and often have nasty side effects. Currently, psychedelics are still often viewed as a “last resort” but I believe eventually they will become the standard of care for many indications. We need that to be the case in order for insurers to get on board, which is critical as it relates to affordability.”

If we truly want to make these new drugs and treatments accessible to more people, developers need to jump through the regulatory hoops. That process has already been put into motion, for some substances. “The good news is that, even though psychedelics might have a colorful history and backstory, the FDA doesn’t really see psilocybin and MDMA any differently than amoxicillin or penicillin, in the sense that they are just drugs that have to go through the same arduous process to get approved,” Goldberg says. “In fact, because some of the ‘generic’ psychedelics, like psilocybin, have been around so long and have been proven to be safe, they have been granted ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation, which speeds up the process.”

Currently, the Palo Santo fund is invested in more than 20 businesses across the psychedelic ecosystem—with a focus on biotech and drug development. Given the range of early-stage investment, Palo Santo will have the ability to lean into the most promising companies in our portfolio and support them with downstream capital as they progress. “We are also in tech and service businesses related to the space, and we see quite a bit of cross pollination within our portfolio,” Goldberg says.

“We have a very exciting pipeline of opportunities centered around ‘2nd and 3rd generation’ psychedelic compounds,” he adds. “The innovation, accelerated by the incredible scientific talent jumping into psychedelics, is astounding. We see ample room for improvement in psychedelics and do not subscribe to the point of view that innovation is at odds with the broader psychedelics movement.”

Goldberg says it’s possible to respect the rich history of plant medicine while also supporting legalization measures at the same time. By investing heavily in the private sector, it’s possible to achieve improved versions of MDMA, LSD and create new chemical entities.

Psychedelic experiences vary widely, especially when used improperly. There is a vast range of intentions. “I want everyone who wants to go on an expensive ayahuasca retreat to Peru to do so, but I also want safe, prescription drugs—that are reimbursed by insurers—available to those who are more comfortable with that route. We need to meet people where they are with all of this,” Goldberg says.

The End in Mind will take place on October 14, from 11:45am to 5:00pm EDT/8:45am to 2:00pm PDT. Registration is free until September 26. It’s free and open to the public.

Complete Article HERE!

A Physician in the Patient’s Chair

Susan D. Block, who has taught and researched doctor-patient communication and severe illness for decades, found herself on the other side of that relationship in the fall of 2018, which would transform her work, teaching, and practice.

By Tamar Sarig

In the fall of 2018, three weeks into Susan D. Block’s first semester teaching a freshman seminar on death and illness — “The Heart of Medicine: Patients and Physicians and the Experience of Serious Illness” — she learned that she had a mass on her pancreas. In the worst way possible, her field of work and personal life had collided.

As the founding chair of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Block, a psychiatrist, had spent almost 40 years treating patients with serious illnesses like cancer, trying to figure out how to make their last months more meaningful and less frightening. Now she found herself in the patient’s chair.

Block had been undergoing routine tests for pancreatic cancer as part of a research study for over a decade, due to a strong family history of the disease. Luckily, her preliminary screenings caught what seemed to be cancer at a relatively early stage. “People were looking for it and then they finally found it,” she says. “It was terrifying.”

That terror lasted for about three weeks, as Block prepared for a surgery to remove most of her pancreas. When she finally went into surgery, however, her doctors discovered that, against all odds, she had been misdiagnosed. The mass was the result of an autoimmune disease.

“People had told me that there’s a 95 percent chance that it’s cancer. I wish to be in the 5 percent, but I don’t ever assume that I am,” she says. “It was wonderful, amazing, incredible good news.”

Even after recovering, Block’s brush with cancer would touch all aspects of her life — her attitude toward work, her presence in the classroom, and her conversations with her own patients.

Block’s lifelong interest in the social and emotional aspects of serious disease began during her internal medicine residency program at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, where she found herself gripped by “how poorly we cared for people who were at the end of their lives.” Drawn to understand her patients’ psychological experiences, she ended up completing a residency in psychiatry as well.

At the time, Block says, “there was no field of palliative care, and there was barely a field of psycho-oncology” — the study of the social and psychological dimensions of cancer. “There was sort of no way to go forward.”

If Block couldn’t follow traditional paths to change the way medical institutions supported critically ill patients, she was determined to forge a path herself. In 1998, she started a new job at Dana-Farber with a substantial mission: to build a psycho-oncology and palliative care program from scratch.

By the time Block landed in the operating room herself, she was a leader in her field. But even after 40 years of teaching about severe illness care and doctor-patient communication, when she found herself on the opposite side of that relationship, Block discovered that some things could still surprise her.

“The one really bad part of my care was being in the hospital after the surgery,” she remembers. Struggling to recover from the operation, Block shared a two-bed hospital room with another woman. “I had to crawl over her to get into the bathroom,” she says. “It was so cramped, and so small.”

At night, after her crowd of visitors had left, the woman began sobbing, and Block’s instincts as a physician kicked in.

“There I was, half doped-up still from the anesthetic, I was trying to comfort her,” Block says. “How can you not respond to somebody who’s that vulnerable?”

In that hospital room, she also saw another, uglier side of the health care system up close. “[The woman] felt like the nurses weren’t taking good care of her because she was Black,” Block says. “Because [nurses] put on their best behavior when the doctor comes in the room. I’d never seen that kind of dismissive, seemingly racially-driven behavior, as I saw from nurses.”

Back home from the hospital, readjusting to normal life after the surgery brought its own set of challenges.

“​​I had a pretty hard recovery,” Block says. “And I thought a lot about how much stress was safe to put my body under.” This was especially challenging after decades of juggling a fast-paced career of clinical work, field-building, teaching, heading departments, and research.

Three years before, she had been by her husband Andy’s side through his own struggle with and, ultimately, death from an aggressive lymphoma. The pain of that experience instilled in her a philosophy of “do it now,” and in the wake of her own treatment, she’s focused on putting it into practice.

She built her own house in western Massachusetts — something she’d always wanted to do. She gave herself permission to cut back on the parts of her career that drained her energy, and focus on teaching and seeing patients instead. When she met a new partner, she allowed herself to find love again.

“I’ve been really lucky in terms of my material circumstances, and I have just wonderful people in my life,” she says. And, of course, she feels lucky to be back in the classroom, teaching undergraduates.

Leaving her seminar three years ago was bittersweet — she didn’t want to stop teaching, but she knew her experience with illness would be an arduous one.

“I felt this obligation to the students,” she says, “but it was really clear that I couldn’t teach a class on serious illness, death, and dying, while I was in the middle of this very terrifying personal experience.”

Her class focuses on encouraging difficult discussions about health; she often brings in speakers ranging from doctors to chaplains to seriously ill patients. At the beginning of the semester, she asks students to fill out a survey about their own attitudes toward death, and for freshman family weekend, she asks them to interview a family member about their goals for end-of-life care.

“I love the idea of trying to teach about this very difficult topic to younger people who hadn’t had the kind of indoctrination or socialization into either the pre-med world or the medical culture,” Block says.

At the end of fall 2018, she returned to the seminar class she had to leave behind when she began her treatment and told them her story.

“They didn’t really know me that well, but it was still sort of a traumatizing, discombobulating, upsetting experience for the students,” she says. She believed sharing her story would serve as a valuable learning opportunity. “I don’t like the word closure that much, but it brought things full circle in a way.”

This semester, Block is teaching “The Heart of Medicine” for the third time. The seminar looks different today than it did in the fall of 2018, but not necessarily because of her own harrowing diagnosis. She’s modified the course to incorporate a discussion of Covid-19, and to focus more on health inequities. She says she doesn’t go out of her way to bring up her story, although she does touch on it when the class opens up about personal experiences with death.

“I want them to name their experiences. So I can’t just stand behind a sort of wall of neutrality and pretend I don’t have relevant experiences,” Block says. “That would not feel right, as a teacher.”

Complete Article HERE!

Everything Dies

It’s the Buddha’s basic teaching. It’s life’s universal truth. It’s what we most want to deny. Sallie Jiko Tisdale on how this hard but liberating truth can transform your life.

Death and Life” by Gustav Klimt.

by

Most Buddhists put flowers on the altar. We know flowers are beautiful, but that isn’t their purpose here. Flowers begin to die as soon we cut them; we carefully lay death in the place that symbolizes our awakening. We bow and make offering to this crucial truth, built into the bones of the world.

The Buddha spoke volumes of words, an immense canon, but most of what he said comes down to this: Things change. Change cannot be avoided. Change hurts. The fundamental teaching of all Buddhism can be stated as everything dies. The Buddha taught this, it fills the sutras, it is repeated by our teachers. But most of all, we learn this from our own daily lives.

Do we believe that we will dissolve? No. Not deep down in the root of the small self, because the small self plans to live forever.

You have probably learned a traditional formula or two for this insistent teaching about the transitory nature of all things:

Anicca vata sankhara: “Impermanent, alas, are all formations!”

Sabbe saokhara anicca: “All conditioned factors of existence are transitory.”

In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta: “[One] abides observing the phenomenon of arising…abides observing the phenomenon of passing away…”

As a new practitioner, I learned the catechism this way: “All compounded things are subject to dissolution.” The language was strange when I first heard it, and as a young practitioner I found myself parsing the words: Compounded. Dissolution. Notice, I was told, how everything is put together from other things and will be taken apart. I began to notice. A table, a house, a nation—I could see this.

But if all things are compounded and will dissolve, then I am compounded and I will dissolve. And this was not something I could easily accept.

I pretend to accept my own death. Most senior practitioners do; many of them may even believe they accept it. Buddhists have their own peculiar points of pride, outside the usual stream of things we pride ourselves on, like humility and asceticism. Plenty of us are proud of our equanimity in the face of extinction, at least until we see the headlights bearing down.

So how deep does this acceptance really go? It’s not just Buddhists who kid themselves about being prepared for death. It’s people. It’s all of us who don’t want to admit that we are organisms fighting for life, that we can sagely repeat, “Annica, annica, all compounded things are subject to dissolution,” without really confronting what it means.

Do we believe that we will dissolve? No. Not deep down in the root of the small self, because the small self plans to live forever. When we say that “Everything dies,” we mean everything dies but me. And we can get kind of fancy about this point: Everything dies, including my body (but not my awareness—not me). Everything is subject to dissolution, but something passes through to a new form and doesn’t ever go away (that’s me). In a thousand ways, most of them not entirely conscious, we hold on to the hope that something of this self, somehow, will remain, and we hold on to that even as everything we touch slides away like sand in running water.

Why should we pretend to more confidence than we feel? Everyone is a beginner when it comes to death. We can’t practice it. When my mother died, it was the very first time that my mother died, and I didn’t know how to do that, to be a daughter whose mother was dying, to be a daughter whose mother had ceased to exist. When my best friend died—when my teacher died—I didn’t know how to do it. Each death I’ve known has been the very first one of its kind. Even with experience—I know how grieving feels, I know the altered state of a vigil, I know a lot about that—I can’t entirely prepare. And when I die, it will be the first time this particular me dies, and I will be a beginner.

Yes, I know that we are all dying all the time. That’s what it means to be a compounded thing dissolving—this self, this moment, gives way to the next as the girl gives way to the woman who gives way to the crone. I know that the me of today is not the me of yesterday, and I was also taught that if you die once, you never need to die again. But the real teaching of that formula, the falling away of body and mind for a ceaseless moment, is that you are already dead. I know this, but I don’t think my body does.

Slay the demons of hope and fear. My teacher would say this to me at a time when I was knocking up against deepening anxiety. My stubborn refusal to submit to the meaning of that anxiety made me more anxious still. The stronger I resisted, the deeper my anxiety became, until I sank well into true fear. How could I slay that demon when I was afraid to walk out the door?

We need to talk about death bluntly, honestly, and often.

“Vanitas Life, Death, and Resurrection by Ezio Gutzemberg.

The original Pali word for aversion, dosa, is various and shaded. It can be translated as anger or hatred, denial, projection, distortion, aggression, repulsion, even disgust. That is how it can feel to talk about death, about our own death. But I want you to think about it and I want you to talk about it. Even if you have considered your own death deeply, how often do you talk about it? Do you talk about your private conflicts or confusion, your questions, your plans?

How do we begin? Begin with the fear. Begin with the resistance. We know the question. It is why we begin to practice in the first place: Why do we suffer? And we know the answer. It is why we keep practicing: We suffer because of change and resistance to change.

But knowing the answer does not stop the question from being asked, and knowing an answer today doesn’t mean we will remember the answer tomorrow. Ignorance is the first link in the twelve-fold chain of causation—ignorance of impermanence, of anicca, of anatta, of no-self. This chain feeds itself endlessly—our ignorance of the ephemeral nature of the self building a self over and over. The chain is broken only by the transformation of that first mistake, being ignorant about the compounded nature of the self, which is not separate or bounded at all.

What do you fear about death? Make a list. Be honest. Autopsy? Being alone? Pain? Loss of privacy? Do you fear soiling your bed? Do you fear needles? For what do you hope? Make a list. Be honest. Do you want to see it coming? Do you want to be asleep? Do you want to be very old?

Ask the question again. Why am I afraid? Because I will die. What does that mean? (Wait a minute. Will I die? Do I have to die?) Ask yourself: Are you ready to die? Don’t answer too quickly, because that last one is a doozy. Even people who have made great strides in accepting the fact of their own inevitable dissolution will be flooded with adrenaline when the headlights bear down. The body has its own hopes.

Talk about death. Talk about everything. Imagine it. Write a description of the scene of your death. Where are you? What do you see? What do you smell, taste, touch? Who is there? Are you inside or outside? Is it warm or cool? Is there music, or words?

Imagine it. Write it down. Then tell everyone who needs to know—your family and friends and teacher and doctor—what you want. Make a record of your wishes and don’t forget to decide how your body should be handled after you’re done with it. Make copies and pass them out.

Then tear it up. Let it go with all your heart. This will be the work of the rest of your life.

We can do all this. We can make a plan, buy a plot, fill out the advance directive, decide what music we want to hear as we go. But we can’t plan not to die. The essence of dying is the loss of control. This is the hardest part for many of us—not that death will happen, but that it will happen without our hand on the controls. It will happen as it happens, when it happens, where it happens, and chances are it won’t go according to plan. The only thing we can control, and only with practice, is how we face whatever happens.

These days it is common to talk about a “good death.” (There are many official, even government-issued, definitions of a good death.) A good death is usually defined as one where a person is comfortable and at peace.

For myself, I want to think about a right death, a death that fits the life I’m trying to live. Most deaths include what anyone might call good moments and bad moments, desired and undesired consequences. So it is with our lives, and so it is with death. Right deaths are all different; you can’t define the details. For me, it means a death unhidden—from me and from those who love me. It means a death met with grace and willingness when the time comes. Achieving this will be the work of the rest of my life.

If we can face it, recognizing the reality of death will transform our lives.
Flowers are beautiful because they are brief. Beauty is a measure of fragility and brevity and transformation, created in part by our awareness of the precious value of this moment—this moment is what we love. Death is utterly natural, shared by all; it is also heartbreaking. That equation isn’t dissonant; it’s the nature of love. With our eyes open to change, each thing we meet is luminous and sparkling. To love means to lose. To lose means to love. The last breath allows us to cherish another without reservation, holding nothing back.

Slay the demons, my teacher told me. That meant accepting my anxiety, my fear. It meant coming to see that hope and fear are one thing: fantasies of the unborn future. Hope pulls and fear pushes and together they keep us stuck in what has not happened, living a half-life of imaginary events. I exhausted myself on that mountain, until I gave up. Giving up was the key. Accepting the demons of hope and fear until they slew me, which was what my teacher had been saying all along.

The parable of the burning house told in the Lotus Sutra is a familiar one. The children do not know the house is on fire, so they won’t leave until their father tempts them with carts full of treasure. So we are with our own suffering, our ignorance. The Buddha offers us treasures, including one so great we couldn’t even imagine it.

Some years ago, I had a brief, vivid dream. I saw a room completely engulfed in flames, and several people were walking calmly through the room, smiling. One turned and looked at me and said, “I can’t tell you how safe I feel in this house.”

When I begin to truly accept myself as this compounded thing—a dewdrop, a bubble, a cloud—when I really believe for a moment that my precious me is a passing sigh in the oceanic cosmos of change, then I begin to find safety inside the burning house. I don’t need to escape if I know how to live inside it. Not needing to escape, I no longer need rewards. I just walk through it, aware of dissolving.

Complete Article HERE!

My wife wasn’t one for tradition, for formal. So I’m writing this instead of an obit.

She’d rather you write a note … to your husband, your wife, your son or daughter, your mother or father. Not a text. Not an email. A note. On paper.

By EJ Montini

In lieu of a wedding gown she wore blue jeans, a white blouse and a pullover sweater. I had on a corduroy jacket.

There had been no invitations or RSVPs. No rented hall. No church.

In lieu of a minister, we had a mayor.

She did not take my name. She had one of her own.

Unsuspecting friends had been invited to our apartment for pizza and beer.

In lieu of a reception, there was a party.

That was her way.

Her wishes were clear. Her instructions unambiguous.

In lieu of anything formal, there is casual.

Always.

Even now. Especially now.

In lieu of flowers, cacti

So there have been no announcements, no invitations or RSVPs. No rented hall. No church.

No funeral home.

In lieu of a cemetery, there is the desert.

In lieu of a procession, walk the dog.

In lieu of a headstone, there are river rocks or boulders or hollowed-out sandstone.

In lieu of flowers, there are cacti.

In lieu of sympathy cards she would suggest you write a note … to your husband, your wife, your son or daughter, your mother or father. Not a text. Not an email. A note. On paper. With a pen. Then put it in an envelope and write the address on the front, and attach a stamp to the upper righthand corner, and mail it.

In lieu of speed and convenience, there is reflection and permanence.

In lieu of dropping off a casserole, order a pizza and beer, then invite unsuspecting friends to your place.

In lieu of a eulogy, read a short story. Something by Alice Munro or Eudora Welty. (“Powerhouse,” maybe, with that line she loved: “… and they are all down the first note like a waterfall.”)

In lieu of sadness, celebrate. Though not too much. A glass of wine. Maybe two. A piece of blueberry pie. A movie. A long drive. A kiss. Maybe more than one.

In lieu of an obituary, this.

The futility of the thesaurus

Her wishes were clear. Her instructions unambiguous.

In lieu of anything formal, there is casual.

Always.

Even now. Especially now.

In lieu of mourning, there should be reminiscing.

In lieu of crying, there should be laughing. Although they often seem to go together – the laughing, the crying, the reminiscing.

Complete Article HERE!

Goodbye and Good Journey

Buddhist funeral traditions around the world help both the dead and their loved ones let go and move on.

Funeral ceremony at Jigenji Soto Zen temple in Yamanashi, Japan.

by

Final Ordination

At the heart of a Zen funeral is ordination. In the ceremony, the deceased is ritually ordained in the same way that living monks and nuns are. This is done because total dedication to spiritual life, of the kind undertaken by monastics, is seen as the natural endpoint of life, even if that wasn’t the case when the person was alive. Ordination is also seen as increasing the probability of a favorable rebirth.

To begin the funeral ceremony, a vigil is maintained by relatives for a day and a night while Zen priests chant from scripture and an altar is prepared in the household. Attending mourners offer okoden, or “condolence money,” to the family of the deceased. The centerpiece of the altar is a portrait of the deceased, alongside candles and offerings of flowers and fruit.

The dead’s ordination is the same as a living nun’s or monk’s. The precept master asks the body three times if the deceased will observe and embody the five precepts. Where a living monk or nun would offer their vow, the corpse’s silence is interpreted as acceptance.

The deceased is then given a Buddhist name and presented with a lineage chart connecting them with enlightened masters stretching all the way back to the Buddha himself. The family of the newly ordained is provided with their own tablet with the deceased’s Buddhist name on it, and the tablets are either kept in the local temple or displayed in the family’s household altar afterward.

Some Zen funerals also feature a shout which is meant to sever the deceased’s bond to the earthly plane. Those who have attended such ceremonies say this also provides a moment of catharsis for the mourners. The funeral concludes with the cremation of the deceased’s body.

What, then, are Zen funerals like for those who are already ordained? The funeral of a monk or nun can take different forms, both long (involving a procession including the deceased’s robes and lineage papers) or very short. The funeral for the founder of the Soto Zen, Dogen, is famously said to have consisted of just a short moment of chanting by his most senior disciple.

Sharing Merit with the Dead

White cloth, a symbol of virtue, marks a Theravadan funeral in the Sri Lankan tradition. Fringed palm fronds and white banners, often with a picture of the deceased, mark the way to the home of the deceased. A white banner declares in large writing: “All conditioned things have the nature of decay.” In the house, mourners in white are greeted by relatives of the dead, the men dressed in sarongs of white cloth and white shirts, the women in white saris. Having been washed by family members, the body of the dead is also attired in white.

The wake, during which the deceased’s family greets and feeds the guests, lasts for several days, which allows those traveling to reach the funeral house. Guests sometimes bring gifts of food for the family.

The funeral ceremony truly begins with the arrival of the monks. They enter the front room of the funeral house, where their feet are washed by a male member of the household. The monastics are guided to chairs draped in white cloth and the deceased’s family kneels before them in respect.

Then the coffin is brought to the front room, or remains in a tent in the front yard if there isn’t room in the house, and a salutation chant to the Buddha is offered, followed by the chants of the three refuges and the five precepts. Parcels of white cloth are presented to the monks, and the mourners chant, “We offer the ‘cloth of the dead’ to the community of monks.” This gift of cloth has a practical origin. Monks in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere in Theravadan societies, rely on the community to feed and clothe them. Payment for presiding over the ceremony comes in the form of white cloth.

In this merit-sharing culture, the Theravadan funeral also features a bowl filled with water by the deceased’s family until it overflows, representing giving merit to the dead so their rebirth will be a promising one. As the water is being poured, the monks chant: “Just as rivers full of water fill the ocean full / Even so does what is given here benefit the dead.”

After a sermon based on Pali scripture is delivered by the senior monk, the mourners chant “Sadhu!” three times, an expression of gratitude connected to the attainment of arahatship. Speeches by family and neighbors follow and then the coffin is conveyed to the burial ground or crematorium under a white umbrella.

Two important dates continue the remembrance ceremonies after the day of the funeral: Mataka-bana, when a monk returns a week later to deliver a sermon to the family and other mourners, and Thun masa-dana, an alms-giving three months after the funeral to support the monastics who officiate at funerals and other ceremonies in the community.

Guiding the Dead Through the Bardo

A Tibetan thangka painting of the pure land of the primordial buddha Amitabha, known as Amida in Japanese.

The Tibetan approach to death and dying is guided by the teachings of the Bardo Thodol, popularly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This text describes what happens to us in the bardo, an intermediate period or gap between death and rebirth. During this time, it is possible to advise and help the deceased so they can achieve enlightenment or at least a favorable rebirth.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are a number of meditations and rituals that can be performed after someone dies or during their dying process. These include reading them the Book of the Dead over a forty-nine-day period to guide them through the various stages of the bardo journey, and powa practice, in which an accomplished master can help the dying person transfer their consciousness directly into an enlightened state.

The sukhavati ceremony is traditionally performed shortly after a person’s death. In this ceremony, their loved ones, friends, and fellow practitioners, guided by a Buddhist teacher, pray they will be reborn in Sukhavati, the Western Paradise or Land of Ultimate Bliss. This is the enlightened pure land of the primordial buddha Amitabha in which they are free of all karma, defilements, and suffering.

In this ceremony, the congregation generates loving-kindness and compassion toward the deceased, who may be suffering confusion and fear in the bardo. They urge the deceased to let completely go of their previous identity and karma and ask the buddhas and bodhisattvas to guide them to the pure land. Here is a prayer that is typically recited in Sukhavati ceremonies in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism:

Wonderful Buddha of Limitless Light [Amitabha], to his right the Lord of Great Compassion and to his left the Bodhisattva of Great Power, surrounded by an infinite retinue of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
The joy and happiness is limitless and wonderful in this pure land called Dewachen [Sukhavati].
As soon as this life has passed away, without the diversion of other births,
May [name of the deceased] be born there and thus behold the face of Amitabha.
All buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, please grant your blessing that the wish expressed in this prayer be accomplished without hindrance.

In some versions of this ceremony, a photograph of the deceased is burned at the climax of the ritual so the deceased does not hold on to their former identity. As the photograph becomes ash, the prayers conclude and in the silence, the teacher intones the single syllable HUM, the mantra of great compassion. All pray their loved one will take the excellent opportunity of the bardo state to enter Sukhavati, the paradise that is freedom from karma and suffering.

Taking Refuge in Amida Buddha

The funeral rituals of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, as practiced in the Buddhist Churches of America, remind practitioners that through taking refuge in Amida Buddha, the central figure in Pure Land Buddhism, one can transcend time and space, and join together in the pure land as buddhas before returning to samsara to help others. In this way, death is understood to be a beginning rather than an end, and funeral rites offer comfort, solemnity, and the opportunity to express gratitude to the surviving family and friends.

After a person’s death, the minister is contacted by the family and the Makuragyo (literally “pillow service,” or bedside service) is performed. The home altar is decorated with white cloth and flowers, as is the body. The minister will chant one of the gathas from the Larger Sutra of Immeasurable Life, such as Juseige or Sanbutsuge.

Often, relatives live too far away for the body to remain long enough for them to travel to the funeral, so a cremation is done and the funeral takes place with a photo and urn. The funeral service itself begins with the ringing of the calling bell, reminding listeners of the impermanence of all things, an important remembrance in times of death.

Next, the presentation of the Buddhist name occurs. If the dying person has not already received a Buddhist name, the chanting of Kisamboge, by Shan-tao, helps to confirm the person; for those who have already received their name, the chanting is considered a rededication.

Then there is a chanting of Shoshinge, by Shinran, during which guests come up to burn incense, symbolic of the purification of one’s heart and mind to receive the truths of the Buddha. After this, there is an opportunity for eulogies by friends and family, followed by a dharma teaching and the recitation of Rennyo’s “White Ashes” from the minister, which concludes with the line: “By so understanding the meaning of death, we shall come to fully appreciate the meaning of this life, which is unrepeatable and thus to be treasured above all else.”

Traditionally, the service ends with some words of acknowledgment and a meal afterward, held at the temple or a nearby restaurant.

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Some primates carry their dead infants for months as a form of grieving

By Tibi Puiu

Scientists have documented hundreds of instances in which ape or monkey mothers continue to groom and hold on to the corpses of their infants for days, weeks, and in some exceptional cases, even months after the babies passed away. In a new study, scientists have analyzed more than 500 such documented cases among 50 primate species, finding that the behavior is more widespread than previously believed. The distressing behavior is seen as an expression of grief.

“Our study indicates that primates may be able to learn about death in similar ways to humans: it might take experience to understand that death results in a long-lasting ‘cessation of function’, which is one of the concepts of death that humans have. What we don’t know, and maybe will never know, is whether primates can understand that death is universal, that all animals – including themselves – will die,” Dr. Alecia Carter, a researcher at University College London, said in a statement.

A striking coping behavior

The practice of carrying around dead infants didn’t have a clear explanation until now, considering it is costly and provides no apparent benefit to the parent. However, the widespread nature of the practice across time and many species motivated primatologists at the University College London in the UK to embark on a study.

The team analyzed reports dating from as far back as 1915 to 2020, compiling 509 cases of infant corpse carrying among 50 primate and monkey species, 80% of which engaged in this practice regularly.

Our closest relatives, the great apes — bonobos, eastern and western gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans — had the highest frequency of cases, along with Old World Monkeys. Both of these groups carried their dead infants the longest.

For instance, in their study, the researchers describe a case recorded in 2017 involving a female macaque in an Italian wildlife park who carried her dead infant for four weeks, before eventually cannibalizing the mummified corpse. One of the most extreme cases of this activity was observed in 2003, when the corpses of two infant chimpanzees were carried around by their mothers for months.

Although we can never be sure what are the motivations behind this behavior, there are some patterns that point towards a form of stress management. Some of the primate mothers would shriek in alarm when the corpses of their babies were taken away from them, which suggests carrying the corpse is a form of coping strategy to alleviate the great stress caused by infant separation.

When live primate babies are separated from their parents, both the infant and the mother show signs of significant anxiety. A 2011 study showed that rhesus monkey babies do not fully recover from the stress of being separated from their mothers at birth, leaving them prone to a life of anxiety, poor social skills, and depression.

The researchers in the UK found that the younger the infant, the more likely it was for the mother to carry the babies for longer, perhaps because the bond between them was the strongest then.

The age of the mothers was also an important factor. Young mothers were more likely to carry their dead babies. The researchers write that older mothers may be experienced enough to recognize that their infants are gone and may be more psychologically equipped to deal with the broken bond with the baby.

Traumatic deaths, such as infanticides or accidents, were less likely to result in corpse carrying compared to deaths caused by non-traumatic events, such as illness. A death resulting from an illness may not make it immediately clear to the mother that her baby is lifeless.

“We show that mothers that were more strongly bonded to their infant at death carry the corpse for longer, with emotions possibly playing an important role. However, our study also shows that, through experience with death and external cues, primate mothers may gain better awareness of death and therefore ‘decide’ not to carry their dead infant with them, even if they may still experience loss-related emotions,”  said co-author Elisa Fernández Fueyo of University College London’s Department of Anthropology.

Clues about the origin of human mortuary practices

The findings have important implications not only for advancing our understanding of how non-human primates grieve, but also how we’ve come to deal with death among our own species. Human social bonds are very similar to those of chimpanzees and bonobos due to our shared evolutionary history. Human mortuary practices and grief may have their origins in these shared social bonds.

“The thanatological behaviours that we see in non-human primates today may have been present in early human species as well – and they may have transformed into the different rituals and practices during human evolution,” said Elisa Fernández Fueyo.

“However, we need more data to enable us to further develop our understanding of this, and of how much primate behaviours relating to death may not only be explained by bonds but also by the associated emotions and, thus, resemble human grief.”

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What you should know about a Taoist Funeral Service

Taoists believe in concentrating more on health and longevity than on the afterlife. In Singapore, Taoist funeral services differ according to the language group of the dearly departed. The goal particularly in early Taoism was to achieve eternity, with the practice and cultivation of several tasks classified as Neidan and Waidan. Moreover, the Chinese traditionally avoid talking about death there is very little written about Taoist Funerals. Besides all, Taoist funerals becoming more simplified with each passing generation.

Taoism, for most of Chinese history, co-existed with Buddhism and Confucianism. There is therefore some influence from Buddhism in the Taoist practice of some Singaporean families. For the funeral, both Monks and Taoist Priest performing rites for the deceased during a Taoist Funeral wake.

Taoist Funeral Ceremonies

Preparation of the Body

The first thing that happens for any death in a Taoist family, is the preparation of the body of the departed soul. Family members gathered and clean the body with a wet towel dusted with talcum powder. Afterward, they dress the deceased in their nicest clothing, usually something white, black, brown, or blue. But never use red because it could cause the deceased’s spirit to become a ghost.

After that, a yellow cloth is used to covers the face and a blue cloth covers their body before putting them in the casket. Mirrors must have coverings so no one sees the deceased’s image, as this could cause another death.

A white cloth is then placed over the doorway of the house, and a gong is placed to the left of the door for women and the right for men. A sacred ceremony also takes place before the funeral. Using a sacred lamp signifies the light of wisdom, while two candles express sunlight and moonlight. There’s also tea, rice, and water. Finally, red, yellow, green, white, and black fruit means the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. They arrange the fruit on plates and fragrance burns in the middle.

Taoist Funeral Service

As far as the Funeral Services Singapore is concerned, At a Taoist funeral, smells of perfume and flowers and photos of the deceased surround the area. During the service, a priest chants manuscripts while others play drums, symbols, and woodwind instruments. Then, the priest circles a fire where nine tiles rest to represent the levels of the underworld. Then the priest waves a sword to ward off evil spirits and breaks the tiles to free the deceased from the underworld.

Funeral Feast

After the burial or cremation, there’s a funeral feast with a seat left for the deceased’s spirit. Since the number eight rhymes with the Chinese word meaning good fortune, they serve eight dishes. They eat sugar water dessert first, which is a sweet soup, so it’s a sweet and happy celebration. The other dishes usually contain fish and other meat, but never beef or horsemeat.

Ward off Evil Spirits

To ward off evil spirits, everyone gets a yellow piece of paper to the funeral. The paper has their name, address, and birthday on it. Then after the funeral, they burn it in their doorway and cross over it while it burns. It says that this ritual is done to stops any spirits from chasing them home and bringing bad luck.

Also, during the funeral, everyone needs to be cautious of evil spirits. Whenever the casket is open or people move the body, everyone should turn away or may leave.

A Funeral Gift

Funeral invitees give the deceased’s family a white envelope with money to help with cremation payments. However, the money amount should be odd because an even amount means immense happiness. Along with a money envelope, they also give a funeral gift. However, it should only be one gift because two gifts suggest more than one death. The deceased’s family also gives guests a traditional funeral envelope with a one-dollar coin and fruit candy.

Funeral Director in a Taoist Funeral Practice

In Taoist practice, there is some form of influence of Buddhism and funeral services are aware of the Taoist practices regarding funerals. There is essentially a funeral director who plays a key role in the funeral service of the Taoists. The Funeral director not only offers supervision services but also has expertise in the practice of Singapore Taoist funeral services as well. Besides that, the director offers family members advice and guidance to ensure the smooth process of the funeral.

Other than just providing the arrangements, a funeral director, experienced in Taoist Funeral practices and customs will be able to provide advice and guidance to the family to ensure their loved ones are properly honored with a meaningful and dignified funeral.

Post-Funeral

Taoist funeral ceremonies last for 3 days, 5 days, or 7 days commonly. After the burial, the ritual states that the family must have a meal for the guests who visited the funeral. Some families prefer to restrict the number of courses in this meal to the lucky number seven. Afterward, guests are offered a red packet filled with money, and everyone must burn the clothes they wore to the funeral. The funeral does not mark the end of the rituals, as families are expected to mourn for 49 days with prayers occurring every seven days.

Taoist Beliefs

In addition to prescribed rituals, Taoism also teaches that several actions are taboo during burial ceremonies and many other activities may have negative consequences. It is prohibited to dress the body in red clothing, as some Taoists believe it will cause the spirit to come back as a ghost. Similarly, Children and grandchildren of the deceased must not cut their hair for 49 days after the funeral. Some believe that people who see the deceased’s coffin reflected in a mirror will soon have a death in their family, and so all mirrors are removed from the house while the coffin is inside.

Summoning of Soul

This is a method done by calling out the deceased’s name, in the hopes of the return of the soul, so that the loved one might be resurrected.

Ritual Cleansing

An act of acquiring water from Earth goddess that is usually done by the elder son, to signify the ‘letting go of earthly attachments, and to clean the deceased’s spirit for the next world to come.

Burning of Paper beside Coffin

This serves as an entry pass to go smoothly to the otherworld, where the paper is to be burnt piece by piece.

Chanting

One of the main rituals includes chanting to break hell, reciting most ofutras, and asking for repentance of sins. The priests will sing songs and to bridge them the deceased to crossover from earth to heaven.

Some other Rituals in Taoism

Encoffin Service

This ritual during funeral service is done by placing items inside the casket such as the incense and joss paper to be used by the deceased on his/her journey to the other world.

Placing of Pearl

The meaning of this activity signifies that the deceased have a rebirth with a better life. In the past, only the Kings or Royals family members was entitled to such practice but now they have opened it to everyone.

Offering of Food

This belief during funeral service implies that whether spirit or human, both are equal beings. For Buddhist funeral service, the food to be offered should be vegetarian-based. For good karma, a part of the grieving process will be to avoid killing innocent animals, nor digesting meat or seafood dishes. After that, red, yellow, green, white, and black fruit symbolize the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. They arrange the fruit on plates and incense burns in the middle.

Wake and Vigil

The children and offspring are to stay awake, pray and hope that the deceased will come back to life.

Red String

For guests, a promising practice during funeral service, wait for it to come off naturally, but must remove it before entering a home.

49 Days Ritual

As per the teachings of Earth Store Bodhisattva, to create merits, generous actions will be done and dedicated to the deceased in the next 49 days, to rescue them from their sufferings.

100th Day Ritual

After a hundred days, the comprehensive departure from this world is ended. This is also the dateline for the completion of the tomb construction. Complete prayers are offered to the divinity overseeing the tomb.

1st/3rd Anniversary

The 1st year consists of 12 months, while the 3rd year is the 24th month of the date of death. Post-funeral ceremonies are observed to symbolize the unity of the deceased with the ancestors.

Conclusion

Taoists believe in focusing more on health and longevity than on the afterlife. The goal especially in early Taoism was to achieve immortality, with the practice and cultivation of various tasks categorized as Neidan and Waidan. There are many different denominations within Taoism, rites, and rituals for the deceased can differ. Taoist Funerals typically last 3, 5, or 7 days.

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