Back to listOct 18, 2008

Boston Research Center Hosts Lecture and Response on "Enjoying the Rhythm of Birth and Death"

081020brc_lifedeath_kawada.jpg Dr. Kawada (2nd from right) and Dr. Bateson (left) share insights into birth and death

On the afternoon of October 18, 2008, an overflow crowd gathered at the Boston Research Center (BRC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, to hear Dr. Yoichi Kawada and Dr. Mary Catherine Bateson share insights on the topic "Enjoying the Rhythm of Birth and Death: A Buddhist Perspective." The event was the last in a series of three BRC seminars investigating the topic "Understanding Death, Appreciating Life," a focus for this year inspired by a lecture BRC founder Daisaku Ikeda gave at Harvard University in 1993 on the Buddhist view of life and death.

Dr. Kawada, director of the Tokyo-based Institute of Oriental Philosophy, spoke about how living in accord with the core Buddhist principle of dependent origination--the interdependence of all things--can prepare a person to meet death in the most positive manner possible. "In order to confront death and greet death with a sense of security and even joy," said Kawada, "we need to strengthen the bodhisattva tendencies in our own lives," bringing out "those compassionate, caring, connected qualities with people" right up to our final breath.

During her response, Dr. Bateson, a cultural anthropologist and best-selling author, explored how birth and death are both perceived as forms of separation. If the parent's task after birth is "to take that moment of separation as a challenge for building a new integration, a new connection...through which both will grow in love," the same might be said of death. In response to Dr. Kawada's earlier mention of the bodhisattva spirit, Dr. Bateson elaborated by saying, "He is raising the question of dying as an affirmation of connection." The inescapable fact of death, she said, gives us reason to live a more connected and altruistic life.

Given the American culture of "extreme individualism," she added, it would be valuable to look for comparable ideas to Buddhism's dependent origination in various traditions. As an example, she said, such an exercise could refresh an understanding of Christian love with how it suggests a pervasive, all-encompassing sense of connectedness.

The plenary Q&A session delved deeper into the theme, with the first questioner from the audience asking how one reconciles a call for greater commitment to others--and to life as a whole--with the need to honor, develop and promote human individuality. In his response, Dr. Kawada said that, in Buddhism, when "each unique existence comes to full fruition," it is then able to contribute to the whole through positive and creative interactions with others. Dr. Bateson added that, from a biological perspective, it is the simplified ecosystems that are, in fact, most vulnerable. "Diversity and life," she said, "are fundamentally connected."

[Adapted from a BRC report on http://; and an article in the November 7, 2008 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan; photo courtesy of Marilyn Humphries]