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Friday, September 04, 2009


Real or not—revisited

I was visiting the Biological Sciences Building again. When I walked past the room where I'd seen the dead bodies I peeked in. They were still there. Maybe not the same ones but ones in a similar state of dismemberment. There was a class of medical students busily cutting them up. I wandered in and had a chat with their teacher and here is what I learned.

People will their bodies for medical research and/or study. After death they are put in chemicals to preserve them. Two years later they arrive at MSU where they are kept for one year.

The university uses them to teach human anatomy to students of medicine, nursing and other relevant courses. In this case the students were second-year medical students. Anatomy is seen as belonging to the Biology Department so the bodies are kept by them and students from other faculties visit for their anatomy lessons.

I stayed about ten minutes for this chat but admit I was feeling mildly queasy again. I chose to not look too closely at the corpses. These young med students, on the other hand, appeared to be completely comfortable as they hacked away and pulled out bits and pieces that they compared to the pictures in their anatomy text books.

Denial of death is very strong in Western society and perhaps humanity in general. I've written before about the use of the euphemism 'to pass away' because, for some reason, we are afraid to mention death. The idea that we should die and end completely is something we seem to not be able to accept. We have to go to heaven or be reborn.

While Buddhism appears to accept the concept of rebirth it is a little vague on what is reborn as Buddhism denies the existence of a soul.

Buddhism teaches detachment from the body we are living in and also from any others that we might happen to become attracted and attached to. Theravada Buddhism in particular teaches one to contemplate one's own or another's body as a rotting corpse as a means of bringing about this detachment. I'm not aware of any lay Buddhists here who put this into practice. A friend who considers himself to be a staunch Buddhist could not bring himself to look at any of my photos of the corpses.

I suspect those young medical students have learned detachment in a very practical way. Maybe we could all gain something by this type of interaction with the dead.

This is a follow up to an earlier blog.

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