Unleashing wisdom through life

- through Francois Leclercq

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“My life flashed before my eyes.”

These are the words of someone who had a near-death experience. In the moments, perhaps even seconds, before a person is about to die, they can take stock of their life – an episode of deep contemplation during which an individual experiences a brief account of his life journey. This review or flashback offers insight into how someone lived their life. The wisdom gained through thoughtful examination of one's life can indeed guide the trajectory of one's remaining days.

The theme of life review and the corresponding second chance constitutes popular entertainment. I remember three different stories told in movies and a TV series.

A filmed story, adapted from a play, exists in three distinct versions: a 1941 version titled This is Mr. Jordan; a 1978 version called Heaven can wait; and the 2001 remake, retitled Down to earth. Each of these films weaves a complex narrative around a man who, upon his death, returns to the various acts – both virtuous and villainous – that he committed during his earthly life.

In each of these three remakes, our protagonist is mistakenly taken to heaven before his death by an overzealous angel. He is given a second chance at life on Earth, albeit inhabiting a newly dead corpse, and the resulting comic mix-ups underscore the film's underlying theme: the importance of seizing the opportunity to do good in the world.

A 1943 film, also coincidentally titled Heaven can wait, tells the story of a man who, convinced that he is destined for damnation, voluntarily presents himself to the devil. A similar theme can be found in the 1991 film Defend your life, which presents an intriguing storyline: a deceased man on trial in the afterlife, forced to justify his life choices and actions to determine whether he will be reincarnated on Earth. The film raises profound questions about the nature of fear, growth and enlightenment.

As Buddhists, the claims of protagonist Daniel's defense attorney in Defend your life are particularly intriguing. The lawyer posits that humans, due to their limited use of the brain, live their lives dominated by fear. If Daniel can demonstrate that he has overcome his fears, he will elevate to a higher plane of existence where he can use his brain more and experience the vast offerings of the universe. Otherwise, he will return to Earth for another attempt to transcend his fears.

This theme of personal development and redemption also permeates the television series. The right place. Here, the central characters navigate the afterlife, grappling with the uncertainty of whether they are in heaven or hell. The series spans four seasons, with each episode emphasizing the idea that every individual is capable of redemption.

The right place proposes that every person in the universe has countless opportunities to evolve into a better version of themselves.

The stories described above present the experience of death largely from a Western Judeo-Christian perspective. Conversely, in the graphic novel A guided tour of hell,* Sam Bercholz, a Western Buddhist, writes about his own real-life near-death experiences after having heart surgery and coming close to death:

Under the guidance of a luminous being, Sam's encounters with a series of hellish beings trapped in repetitive cycles of misery and illusion reveal to him how an individual's own habits of fiery hatred and icy disdain, of greedy desire and nihilistic boredom, are the source. horrible agonies that hammer at the consciousness for seemingly endless cycles of time. Comforted by the compassion of a winged goddess and sustained by the kindness of his Buddhist teachers, Sam ultimately emerges from his ordeal with a renewed faith that even the worst of hell contains the seed of enlightenment. (Random Penguin House)

The valuable lessons learned combined with the opportunity to come back and make better life choices, it's almost like experiencing a rebirth. In this case, instead of dying and returning to a different life, you almost die and return to your current life. Most of us aren't likely to have a near-death experience, so how can we access the benefits of such an enlightening life review?

Look around you, within yourself, and you will see that you have everything you need in the teachings of your Buddhist practice.

Consider the act of performing good deeds. It is not only a way to cultivate positive kamma, but also a reminder of how to live life skillfully. By consciously choosing to act with kindness and compassion, you can significantly reduce the suffering you cause to others and to yourself.

Keep doing good deeds, keep meditating, and take time to reflect on your day. At the end of each day, give yourself a moment of introspection. Think about your thoughts, emotions, and interactions with others. If you come across something that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, take some time to think about how you can fix it and come to terms with it.

Maybe you shared harsh words with someone. Consider going back to that person and apologizing. If for some reason this apology is not possible (maybe the person was a stranger), you can always apologize, at least in your heart. And once this daily inventory has been completed, work on releasing the things that no longer serve you.

The goal of this practice is not to scold yourself or feel sorry for yourself. It’s about cultivating compassion and forgiveness towards oneself. It's about calming the storm in your mind, because only with a calm mind can you move forward, better equipped to do good and foster healthier interactions with others.

As you undertake this practice, you will find that you no longer need the narrative of films like Heaven can waitou Defend your lifeou The right place to guide you. You will have already developed your own narrative, filled with wisdom, compassion and understanding.

* A guided tour of hell: Illustrating the underworld in a Buddhist graphic novel (BDG)

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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