In answer to “What teachings from the great wisdom traditions sustain you at this very threshold of your own death?”, Huston Smith moves one to tears as he describes how to “die before you die” in the world’s religions starting with the ancient Greek tradition of incubation. His words and luminous presence, embellished by exquisite footage and family photographs, cannot help but deeply touch our hearts. He shares his final life goal with us and the words he would most love upon his tombstone, among many other profound and beautiful insights.
After detailing Hinduism’s four life stages, he concludes, “The prime opportunity of life is to die before we die — every disappointment may be received as a blessing. Because it is just my ego being punctured in that disappointment!”
In describing his daughter’s (a Jewish convert) death process with cancer, he introduces us to the Kabbalistic view of angels. We, too, weep as he describes her last words to him, the departure of her spirit from her body, and his experience alone with her afterwards.
After guiding us through the process of Buddha’s enlightenment and death, he discusses the fleeting nature of time and the soul’s essential emptiness. With great admiration he speaks of the effect of his wife’s four Rains Retreats, where for three months each time there was no reading, writing, or speaking, and always down-cast eyes.
It is forgiveness in Christianity which stands out most for Huston in the spiritual work of dying before you die, because it is a letting go. He tells one of his favorite teaching stories of a friend’s near-death experience in which he vividly experienced Accountability, which though painful, ultimately led to Forgiveness. For Huston the central project of Christianity “is to shift the ballast of one’s life from self-centeredness to Other-centeredness.” The crucifix is the outward manifestation of inward death, “for we all have to die to the world and to our egos.”
He recounts that he fell in love with Islam through reading the lives of contemporarySufi saints, whose presences were for him “an open door to God.” In Islam, the surrendering of oneself to God is supported by the rosary and the practice of the Remembrance of God through the repetition of sacred formulae — and these we experience in the film.
This film is about Huston’s dream for the culmination of this life: self-naughting.
Additional footage includes: “Getting Rid of Things” “The Roshi Dies” and “Further Reflections on the Death of my Daughter and Parents”
Watch an excerpt of his video