|Art by Alex Grey|
Meeting the Next Life Unprepared
Human beings spend all their lives
preparing, preparing, preparing...
Only to meet
the next life
~ Drakpa Gyaltsen
Die before you die
According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us or the shock of terminal illness to force us to look at our lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make of every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare - wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind - for death and eternity.
Despite all our chatter about being practical, to be practical in the West means to be ignorantly, and often selfishly, short-sighted. Our myopic focus on this life, and this life only, is the great deception, the source of the modern world's bleak and destructive materialism. No one talks about death and no one talks about the afterlife, because people are made to believe that such talk will only thwart our so-called progress in the world.
If our deepest desire is truly to live and go on living, why do we blindly insist that death is the end? Why not at least try to explore the possibility that there may be a life after? Why, if we are pragmatic as we claim, don't we begin to ask ourselves seriously? Where does our real future lie? After all, very few of us live longer than a hundred years. And after that there stretches the whole of eternity, unaccounted for...
One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty in facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence.
In our minds, changes always equal loss and suffering. And if they come, we try to anesthetize ourselves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestioningly, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But in fact impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life - difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquintance far friendlier and less unnerving than we could have imagined.
Ask yourself these two questions: Do I remember at every moment that I am dying, and that everyone and everything else is, and so treat all beings at all times with compassion? Has my understanding of death and impermanence become so keen and so urgent that I am devoting every second to the pursuit of enlightenment? If you can answer "yes" to both of these, then you really understand impermanence.
We are Only Travelers
In Tibetan, the word for "body" is lü, which means "something you leave behind," like baggage. Each time we say lü, it reminds us that we are only travelers, taking temporary refuge in this life and this body. In Tibet, people did not distract themselves by spending all their time trying to make their external circumstances more comfortable. They were satisfied if they had enough to eat, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads.
Going on, as we do, obsessively trying to improve our conditions, can become an end in itself, and a pointless distraction. Would people in their right mind think of fastidiously redecorating their hotel room every time they checked in to one?
In that Moment, Absolutely Everything Counts
Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die. And everything, absolutely everything, counts.
Collapse of all Illusions
Why do we live in such terror of death? Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is that we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique and separate identity; but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up; our name, our "biography," our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards... It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?
.. This world can seem marvelously convincing until death collapses the illusion and evict us from our hiding place. And what will happen to us then if we have no clue of any deeper reality?
Cultivating Peace to Attain Peace at Death
We cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment, or fear. So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well. Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life. ~ Dalai Lama
Death: Supreme Mindfulness Meditation
Even Buddha died. His death was a teaching, to shock the naive, the indolent, and the complacent, to wake us up to the truth, that everything is impermanent and death an inescapable fact of life. As he was approaching death, Buddha said:
Of all footprints
That of the elephant is supreme.
Of all mindfulness meditations
That on death is supreme.
~ from Sogyal Rinpoche's book Glimpse After Glimpse: Daily Reflections on Living and Dying
* Sogyal Rinpoche
* Sogyal Rinpoche - Death and Dying (interview on youtube)
* The Essence of Meditation by Sogyal Rinpoche
* What Meditation Really is
* The Top 5 Regrets of The Dying