Death

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nights watch
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Post by nights watch » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Mortality has been on my mind as of late, and it has the power to simply overwhelm me. The notion of coming to a point where there is simply NOTHING ELSE is mind boggling, and though i accept the fact that i will one day die, the notion is somthing that is slightly unsettling. I love that it gives the moments i experience now tremendous meaning, as it does, but when thinking about the severing of consciousness...what IS that, you know? When I contemplate it deeply I feel almost as if i can indirectly see it, and again it just overwhelmed me. Have any of you deeply contemplated this? do you have any good campbell quotes regarding this? thanks
My Soul, Do Not Seek<br>Eternal Life, But Exhaust the Realm of the Possible.<br>-Pindar
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi nights watch!

I have a little keyholder of the famous figure in the painting "The Scream" because I can relate to what your saying. If you have ever seen the figure, it is of a figure screaming it's heart out.

If we are candid with ourselves we all fear death!

Joseph Campbell said that it was probably man's puzzlement and reflection on death that gave rise to the mythologies of the world.

As your interest in mythology matures you will eventually come to a point where you will accept the inevitable. Myths are really spiritual or psychological medicine to ease what you are descibing.

What's helped me is knowing that it's a blessing that I even exist. The chances of me never being born were tremendous. When I replace fear with gratefulness it helps.

I'm grateful that I was given life. Even though I know I'll die someday, I always remind myself that I came out of some void that no one understands and will be going back to that same void. All I can do is make the best out of what I do have.

If you think about it the universe is a miracle! What is happening really shouldn't be happening! The fact that it does makes me want to jump up with joy!

It's nice to be sitting here thinking these thoughts.

I think I'll go and enjoy a good cup of coffee with a doughnut! This shouldn't be happening but it is! Ahh it's nice enjoying this miracle. It could all disappear so I better not waste time.

As you can see, I'm mythically inspired and as a consequence a nut case. Mythology does that to you!

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Post by Poncho » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm grateful that I was given life. Even though I know I'll die someday, I always remind myself that I came out of some void that no one understands and will be going back to that same void. All I can do is make the best out of what I do have.
Great post, Ruiz.

Hope that doughnut's a good'un. All part of enjoying the eternal now.


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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2004-10-12 13:27, nights watch wrote:
Mortality has been on my mind as of late, and it has the power to simply overwhelm me. The notion of coming to a point where there is simply NOTHING ELSE is mind boggling, and though i accept the fact that i will one day die, the notion is somthing that is slightly unsettling. I love that it gives the moments i experience now tremendous meaning, as it does, but when thinking about the severing of consciousness...what IS that, you know? When I contemplate it deeply I feel almost as if i can indirectly see it, and again it just overwhelmed me. Have any of you deeply contemplated this? do you have any good campbell quotes regarding this? thanks
Joseph Campbell devoted much thought and attention to mythologies of the afterlife - most notably, Osiris in the Underworld, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (and every man is Osiris in his own life, as Pharoah is Osiris in Egypt), and the Bardo Thodol - the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Both works address the transition between Life and Death.

The Bardo Thodol is a set of instructions a lama whispers into the ears of a dying man, easing his transit - continuing the bulk of the recitation after death, guiding the soul toward either dissolution and immersion with the Infinite, or - if gravity kicks in, courtesy of karma and attachment to the Wheel of Causation (the material world of cause and effect which we inhabit) - guiding the soul back through the portals, to a rebirth in heaven, hell, or on this earthly plane.

Does Campbell literally believe this?

His interpretation seems more psychological, with Jungian shading. Campbell does note resonance and
correspondence between various myths of eternity. Of course, Joe points out that "heaven" is not a place "out there," with a tangible, physical existence. Eternal does not mean "forever." Eternal comes from the Latin: e = outside, ternum = time,

so eternity is experienced in a moment outside time, when we shed ego (my experience of me as me, how i perceive myself) and forget ourselves, such as in meditation, sexual union, artistic rapture, shamanic trance, and similar modes.

In these moments, we aren't thinking about how to meet the rent, or the argument with the girl/boyfriend, or what we're having
for dinner, or work deadlines. We look up from our painting, from our writing - from our playing - as the light dims...and, for a brief disorienting instant, wonder if it wasn't morning just minutes ago, when we sat down - and now, here the sun has set, and we have been so absorbed in the rapture of creation - or of making love - that time is transcended.

Eternity is experienced, here and now

Yet Campbell, like the Buddhists, seems to believe in something surviving after death. Not the personality - not ego - but consciousness, qua Consciousness.

For what is it that dies?

Ego awareness (that sense of me, i, this stephen or betty or paul), mired in the physical body - this, along with body, ceases to be.

Nevertheless, this ego-consciousness - this I, my experience of myself as separate, individual - is not the only experience of consciousness available to us.

One of Campbell's favorite anecdotes, mentioned in other conversations onsite, might shed some light: Joe is addressing a class of middle school students, trying to explain the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation - and not doing a very good job, for when we discuss death, we are discussing a Great Mystery, something which transcends the experience of the waking ego. That which transcends time and space can't be expressed in words - for language exists and refers to what is within the field of time and space - but can best be approached obliquely, via metaphor

(it's only when the metaphor breaks down, and is understood concretely - we really do walk streets paved of gold in heaven - that we get into trouble).

Campbell looks up, seeking inspiration - and notices the lights suspended from the ceiling. Directing the students' attention to those lights, he points out that we can say "the light is on," or "the lights are on." When a bulb breaks, the custodian doesn't say "that was my particularly favorite bulb" and hold a memorial service - he replaces the bulb, and we say the light is back on.

The word "light" can refer to an individual bulb - the vehicle - or to the energy, the current that flows through and illuminates each bulb.

So it is with each of us - i can identify with ego, with the body, with "me", the individual vehicle of consciousness -

but i can also identify with consciousness qua Consciousness, the Consciousness which flows through me, out of which this "I-drop" emerges, back into which this I-drop dissolves, and which animates and informs my individual consciousness while "I" am here.

Campbell makes the point that we automatically identify with the ego-self - this Joe, or this Mary, or this Hans - but on the mystic path one learns to identify with that which transcends the individual, through an experience (an actual experience,
more than just an understanding) of "consciousness as the one presence made manifest though us all."

To be whole in this life, JC suggests we embrace the paradox - identify with the individual, with the frail body and the fragile ego,

as well as identify with the transcendent at the same time.

He uses the example of the wild gander (Sanskrit: hamsa), which is at home in the three worlds – on the water, in the air, and on land.

Hamsa is also the sound we hear as we sit and meditate on our breath - ham on the inhale, sa on the exhale, over and over - repeating the name of the wild gander ...

but if we hear it exhale first, our breath says sa-ham, sa-ham - "I am that":

"Every breath is telling you that what you really are is the spirit that informs the universe."

Of course, these are just words, limited in scope, attempting to express the indescribable...

...and i'm just one blind man, describing the part of the Elephant i know best...

If i identify with ego, with me - the vehicle of consciousness - then death is something to fear, for it seems the dissolution of individual existence

but there is still unqualified consciousness

which can be accessed through a variety of portals

like meditation, shamanic trance, near-death experiences, etc. One has to wonder about the parallel patterns reported by those who have experienced this state - until, of course, one touches that realm oneself, transcending the empirical world.

Campbell places much value in these experiences (note his description of the peyote quest in the Historical Atlas of World Mythology), emphasizing that eternity is best experienced in the here and now

...but he also suggests a link between eternity now, and the Stillness which precedes and follows this brief and passing moment.

fascinating subject

keep breathing
bodhibliss


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Bodhi_Bliss on 2004-10-16 23:29 ]</font>
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

but i can also identify with consciousness qua Consciousness, the Consciousness which flows through me, out of which this "I-drop" emerges, back into which this I-drop dissolves, and which animates and informs my individual consciousness while "I" am here.
This is exactly the point that I come up against - is this meant to be taken literally or as a metaphor? After insisting that spiritual imagery is all metaphorical, Campbell does often seem to talk as if this "Big C" Consciousness antecedent to our "little c" consciousness is a fact. It is confusing. Personally I'm inclined to the idea of metaphor, as this seems to accord best with my experience of that which is beyond words, but as Campbell said "there is no single way to read a rich symbol" which has to include the concept of Consciousness I think.
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi nights watch, ivor orr, Bodhi_Bliss, and Robet G!

Robert, you brought up a very good point that has confused me too regarding what appears to be Joseph Campbell misreading a spiritual metaphor.

Bodhi_Bliss, I see that you too interpret Joseph Campbell as actually believing in the literal existence of a Consciousness with a big "C."

You quote:

"Yet Campbell, like the Buddhists, seems to believe in something surviving after death. Not the personality - not ego - but consciousness, qua Consciousness."

Do the buddhists actually believe in a literal Consciousness?

The reason I ask is because just as I train myself that metaphor is the point of departure to the unknown of which we know nothing because it is clouded in mystery suddenly we find that there is something there; a Consciousness with a big "C."

A metaphor can only suggest not actally affirm something. It's "as if" there is a Consciousness behind the forms of sensibility.

Did Joseph Campbell commit an error in interpretation because he so wanted to believe in the literal existence of a Consciousness with a big "C?"

The notion of the one who became the many (Undifferentiated Consciousness becoming differentiated consciousness) is ultimately a metaphor it seems to me. It suggests that it's "as if" there is a "Grand Consciousness" behide all that we see.

Shouldn't we apply the metaphors of religion and myth properly as only "suggesting" the existence of something?

Many times Joseph Campbell seems to be affirming the actual existence of spiritual metaphors then at other times he stresses the fact that a spiritual metaphor has one foot in time and the other in an eternity that is clouded in mystery. In other words we know nothing about that mystery; the mystery has no qualities we can attribute to it such as consciousness.

I would appreciate any comments you have. Maybe Joseph Campbell was just stressing the metaphor too strongly and it "appeared" as if he actually believed in it's literal interpretation.

Since this topic is about death it matters to me psychologically whether I believe in the myth that I'm going to join a universal consciousness

or

whether I'm ultimately going into the unknown of which nobody knows anything.

Which interpretation would help night watch most from a Joseph Campbell perspective?

It's very probable that what the human heart needs most in moments of despair is a "strong suggestion!"

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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I wonder if eventually you don't have to accept the metaphor as real in some sense to get the full benefit of it. I mean, to engage all those aspects of your Self which are meant to be energized and directed by the symbol maybe you have to drop the focus from the 'as if' and really give yourself to this thing, whatever it is for you. Campbell notes often that if someone is one hundred percent serious about their action that they are likely to not do as well as someone who brings in some aspects of play to their role. Likewise, it may be necessary to bring in an element of seriousness and reality if your attitude all the time is "all this is play, all this is metaphor" etc etc.

If that's the case, it may be that where Campbell seems to leave the scholarly track and talk about these metaphors as real, that we are getting glimpses into what really engaged him personally. I don't know that that's the case, but it's certainly an intriguing idea.
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi Robert!

I think we are in deep trouble because we might have stumbled onto something that is not going to go very well with other associates.

A myth or metaphor has to finally be accepted as fact to really work!

It kind of reminds me of hypnosis which is based on the suggestions of a hypnotist. Strong suggestions are very like literal facts. (for example the suggestion to someone that they are a great singer may make that person believe that they really "are" a great singer.)

Metaphors also operate by way of suggestion so it seems.

In a way metaphors are like the suggestions of a hypnotist. They work if we take the suggestion to heart. (pushing the suggestion to the point of it seeming like fact)

Was Joseph Campbell hypnotised by a metaphor?
I know metaphors hypnotise me all the time because there is a part of me that so wishes to believe. I really do push the metaphor to the breaking point.

From now on I'll be speaking in code:

[email protected]#*^%%$__(*&^%$$.*&%$$##*

about our little apparent secret on Joseph Campbell.

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Post by ruffles899 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi,
My favorite Joseph Campbell quote is "Eternity is in love with the forms of time and space". I don't know where the quote is from.
If "Eternity" always was, doesn't it follow that "time and space" also always was?
Perhaps there was no "first moment" from which we all spring, and maybe its because energy is always in motion rather than being fixed. If there is no beginning there is no end, and in and out of time we go, energy and matter weaving millions, billions and trillions of patterns and hidden within each of us is a thread that will become yet another world.
Maybe its possible for different truths to stand side by side.
I know I have a tendency to concretize things and I do it because it is comforting to me. I love to think of "Eternity" as a sort of male principle or "father", being in love with the forms of time and space, or "mother" and out of this love we are all joyfully poured forth into creation (or cast out, depending on your point of view or experience), but in any case, here we are (it would seem). In one moment we are as one, in the next, we are so very many, all rushing back towards each other, with our arms outstretched.
Maybe the purest, actual "bliss" is deep recall.
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Post by nights watch » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

ruiz,
I have sort of thought along the same lines as you; after reading in power of myth when campbell said something along the lines of, "I mix all the parts [of various metaphors], and as such i have a broader view, but i will never have the experience comparable to, say, a saint." It seemed to me that once you recognize these things AS metaphors, it does indeed give you a broader view, but then makes it harder for them to operate on you. So i was going to ask for a more detailed description of undifferentiated consciousness, because it was a concept that eluded me slightly, as i don't think that i have read it in campbell (aside from the lightblub metaphor, which i interpreted differently to mean that your consciousness is an extension of your body, a product of your body). Is it, undifferentiated consciousness, a dualist view? That there is actually a THING out there that is informing us all, giving us what makes us US? And if so, what is it, or why is it, that it seems to manifest itself only in humans? It seems more like its an extension of the thou art that principle, that we are all connected, we have arisen out of the earth, out of that transcendent field Campbell speaks of, and we shall eventually dissovle back into it. Is there some sort of experience after life? I dont know, and the though of it has been debilitating lately to me.
But i think it has something also to do with our understanding of time. I dont think we can possibly understand the nature of time, and, as one of my friends put it, i think part of this may be because we are so enmesshed in it. We cannot even think on a timelessness. What is the start of the universe? it is incomprehensible. Even if you were to say that a god created the universe, who has existed forever, that latter notion still cannot be grasped. it is beyond us. so perhaps this is key to our understanding of death, which is a cessation of our existing in space-time. i dont know. I still love the idea (and the truth) that though all things fade, there is beauty in everything, and the dance (to use Joethedragon's post) this produces is a beautiful thing, but it does still hurt and seem even be frightening at times to even think of these things fading. It seems like there is still a giant hole here that needs to be addressed before i can have some damn peace of minf :wink:. i think some of this can certainly be attributed to the massive amount of change i am experiencing as i adjust to the new college experience, but still...
My Soul, Do Not Seek<br>Eternal Life, But Exhaust the Realm of the Possible.<br>-Pindar
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Post by Robert G. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I read somewhere that sanity and health can be measured by the strength of your desire for life, and maturity by the degree to which you accept the fact that it ends.

Just one of those little sayings that's not really very well defined or reasoned, but this one has stayed with me.
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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi nights watch, ivor orr, Bodhi Bliss, Robert G,and ruffles899!

It seems that the images of myth and religion are ultimately only metaphors. It's a way of comparing the mysteries of existence to the things we know. Ultimately nobody really knows why all this is happening. It is beyond human understanding. That's all transcendence really means; nobody knows! It's seeing all things as manifestations of a deep mystery we know nothing about.

ruffles899 the quote of eternity being in love with the forms of time and space is also one of my favorite quotes. It's a metaphor if there ever was one. It "suggests" that it's "as if" there is an eternal fatherly or motherly principle that is in love with us. The universe is permeated with love so we shouldn't feel afraid.

I liked your fatherly and motherly metaphors especially the motherly who joyfully pours us forth into creation with love. I can relate to the mother casting me out metaphor though. This would suggest a mother universe that wants us to grow up and stop whining. :smile:

The problem I'm having is the same problem that night watch alluded to. Once we know that all these wonderful descriptions are only metaphors to replace our ignorance of why we exist in the first place then it's hard to embrace any metaphor because ultimately it really is only pretend.

I remember Joseph Campbell saying in one of his audio tapes that he once stopped his car next to a boy who told him he couldn't park there. When asked why the boy responded that he was a fire hydrant. Joseph Campbell said that like the boy a priest sometimes does take it too far. I guess we all have to be on guard that we don't take it too far with our metaphors but maybe that is the only way they will work.

nights watch, the image of undifferentiated consciousness and differentiated consciousness is just another metaphor similar to the one ruffles899 mentioned of eternity being in love with the forms of time and space.

We look around us and get the feeling that everything is conscious. We eat food and something is conscious in us that there is food there to be worked on. We go out into the woods and see all these different consciousnesses relating to each other such as the plants, insects, and animals. After a while we get a strong feeling or intuituion that it's "as if" the whole universe is aware or conscious. We can't imagine consciousness coming out of something not conscious so we get the feeling there is a grand consciousness or undifferentiated unbroken apart consciousness that divided itself and gave rise to all the multitude of consciousnesses we see relating to each other.

(differentiated consciousness means consciousness enclosed in something such as you, a dog or cat. Undifferentiated consciousness is consciousness not yet enclosed or encased in anything; it's kind of just floating there assuming that is possible. Remember this is a metaphor!)

If the metaphor works then we should not be scared of death because nothing is really happening. Differentiated consciousness is just rejoining undifferentiated consciousness. As ruffles899 implied there is just a continuous process of differentiated consciousness and undifferentiated consciousness flowing back and forth between each other.

Sounds beautiful?

Well it's only a suggestion not a fact! It's "as if" this is what is happening.

Mythology is really the study of the metaphors people live by.

nights watch so what are we to do? Like Robert said maybe part of maturity is facing the reality that nobody really knows why we are here and why we will die and what happens after that.

I've noticed that as I get older I'm pushing my favorite metaphors to the breaking point.

I wouldn't be surprised if I die in the full embrace of a loving metaphor. It's a lot better than screaming in terror!

I do have gratitude for the life I've been given. It's been a good life! My life experiences do suggest something. It's "as if" I'm a part of a fantastic dream in which I have been given the opportunity to enjoy my friends and family. To experience the joys and sorrows of being alive. I know that this experience wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for some mysterious source I can't put my finger on; some grand wizard.

I know it's a metaphor but since it speaks deeply to me I can live with that! Sometimes it's nice to go with the flow of a metaphor; let yourself be hypnotized so to speak.

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Whooee - great questions, Ruiz - worth addressing with thought in detail.

Unfortunately, this is a hit and run post (major computer problems - took over an hour to log on tonight - so need to deal with that - and i have lots of conversations to catch up on, and have planned to devote most of the weekend to the next Practical Campbell column)

... but this is unfolding into such a fascinating discussion that it will doubtless capture much of my attention this weekend.

For the moment, i'll just touch on one point you raised (the easiest to address)
On 2004-10-20 11:55, Ruiz wrote:
You quote:

"Yet Campbell, like the Buddhists, seems to believe in something surviving after death. Not the personality - not ego - but consciousness, qua Consciousness."

Do the buddhists actually believe in a literal Consciousness?
A mistaken emphasis on my part: i was suggesting Campbell - like the Buddhists - does not believe the individual survives death (individual personality, individual consciousness, etc.) but, like the Buddhists, seems to suggest that something does survive.

However, i should have made clear the next statement, about "consciousness qua Consciousness," wasn't a blanket reference to all Buddhists.

Of course, from a Western perspective, that's the same as nothing surviving after death (Bob doesn't go to heaven, or doesn't get reborn as a locust or Penthouse Playmate, but ceases to exist as Bob - that's pretty much the same as not surviving, in most people's minds).
Do the Buddhists actually believe in a literal Consciousness?
Depends to which school of Buddhist thought one subscribes. Generally Buddhists accept the idea that something transmigrates from one lifetime to another, but that doesn't necessarily mean the personality or memories, or even the atman survives. There are literally hundreds of sutras and commentaries composed over a fifteen hundred year period which address this - all with a great deal of overlap as well as contrast - though conflicting approaches often boil down to a difference in vocabulary.

For example, the Yogachara (Way of Yoga) or Vijnanavada (Doctrine of Consciousness) schools of Mahayana Buddhism influenced both Hinduism and Far Eastern thought, and yet stand in contrast to the nihilism of Nagarjuna's Madhyamika school of thought.

Vijnanavada Buddhism - sometimes called the school of Consciousness-Only (Wei-shih) claim Asanga and Vasubandhu - great Indian teachers from the fourth century A.D. - as founders, and evolves in China into the Dharma-Character or Fa-hsiang school

... which is probably more information than we need to know.

The basic thrust of this esoteric doctrine is that of consciousness as the only reality - but this consciousness is described as the alaya-vijnana, or storehouse consciousness

... and what transmigrates between birth and death are seeds of this storehouse consciousness - but then, it gets really wonderfully complex from there (for those who love brain bending metaphysics), and my brief description is but a vast oversimplification, for which i apologize.

But then, i find no contradiction between this and schools that speak of the Ultimate Void, or the Consciousness-that-is-No-Consciousness. There is a lot of verbal wordplay in the many Buddhist treatises, which i'm sure some enjoy more than others

(though i'll admit i find much relief in the simplicity of Zen - though even Zen's Rinzai and Soto schools have generated some complex literature of their own).

So the best answer i can come up with to your question about whether Buddhists believe in an "actual Consciousness" would have to be Yes

and No

depending ...

We can explore this theme more - but i am really drawn to the discussion of the nature of metaphor, and what Campbell believes about the existence of an upper case "Consciousness" ... is it even possible to pin down?

Keep in mind that Campbell's favorite quote from Goethe is "Alles Verganglich ist nur ein Zeichnis" - which he sometimes translates as "All that is, is but a metaphor" (or reference, or symbol) ... and if everything that exists is a metaphor, then so are you and i

... but i feel pretty damn real to me.

Alas, Destiny awaits.

No, not that destiny - but my wife Destiny - it's my turn to slay the dinner dragon tonight.

More later, though ...

namaste
bodhibliss

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Post by Ruiz » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi Bodhi Bliss!

We missed you!

Your thoughts are always appreciated and worth waiting for!

Ruiz
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Post by Bobby T. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Having live in a state of pure agape love for well over twenty years, and fully aware of the existence of agape love and its power within this plane of existence, I do not view death as a quantized break but as a mere gradual transition from birht to death. It is the state of agape love that is most evidence of an eternal existence for it is so rare and powerful that, presently, ti is the ONLY path that will deter us from mankind's eternal self-destruction. As it is, as a bodhissatva, I love death so dearly, that I love live even more. No fear of death can be felt by one who lives a life of love and gentle kindness, this I am perfectly certain of.



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