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Lions Roar : May 2016
IN THE MYSTICAL TRADITION of oneness known as Zen, the jise, or death poem, was a way for teachers to offer a final lesson before dying. The poems were an observation of the meaning of their imminent passing and an exegesis of their spiritual journey. It’s not always clear how much the influence of Buddhism was at play in David Bowie’s life. We do know that he studied Tibetan Buddhism and claimed to have considered becoming a monk. We also know that in his will he left instruc- tions to have his ashes scattered in Bali “in accordance with the Buddhist rituals.” What can be said with certainty is that the art he gave us before his transition is akin to a death poem. In 2004, after thirty years as a rock icon and arguably one of the most profound artistic talents of the last century, Bowie had a heart attack while onstage. He dis- appeared from the music scene for nearly a decade, focusing on being a dad, doing occasional film work, and quietly residing in New York with his wife and daughter. In 2013, Bowie returned to music with The Next Day, an album with a sound reminiscent of his so-called “Berlin era” of the 1970s. The Next Day’s hauntingly beautiful single “Where Are We Now?” revealed a man looking back at his life and reexperiencing the sense of alienation he’d felt in youth, now gentler with age. In 2014, a cancer diagnosis, kept quiet, helped a new creativity burst forth. Bowie began to record Blackstar (his twenty-fifth album!), he created a sequel to his film The Man Who Fell to Earth in the form of the play Lazarus, and he provided artifacts from his career to the exhibit David Bowie Is. Facing death, he was giving us a final gift and message. Bowie once said that what he had learned about Buddhism as a young man had stayed with him throughout his life, not least of all the teaching of HEART & MIND The Death Poem of David Bowie Always fearless and inventive, he saved some of his finest art for last. TONY STULTZ on what Bowie taught us about death. VIDEOCAPTUREVIAVEVO SENSEI TONY STULTZ is the director of the Blue Mountain Lotus Society. On February 8, he presided at a special Nirvana liturgy for his community, accompanied by the music of David Bowie. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2016 21 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE