1) Recalling death in
the sense that we do not remain long in this life
This section also
has three subsections: (1) the disadvantages of failing to recall death; (2) the
advantages of recalling death; and (3) the actual method of recalling death.
a) The disadvantages of failing to recall death
subtopic has six divisions: (1) the disadvantage that we will fail to recall
dharma; (2) the disadvantage that, although we might recall dharma, we will fail
to practice it; (3) the disadvantage that, even though we might attempt to
practice dharma, we will not do so correctly; (4) the disadvantage that our
practice will not be carried out in earnest; (5) the disadvantage that we will
develop a bad character; and (6) the disadvantage that we will feel regret at
the time of our death, and then have to die in that state of mind.
The disadvantage that we will fail to recall dharma
The result of
our failing to recall death is that we will always be thinking only about this
life. And so our preoccupation with food, clothing, and many other presumed
necessities will prevent us from practicing dharma. On the other hand, if we're
able to recall death properly, we will concern ourselves only with preparing for
future lives. We'll become like the visitor from Kham, who, because it was time
to leave, spent all his time gathering provisions for his upcoming
The reason for our great attachment to such things as food,
clothing, and reputationthree primary concerns of this lifeis that we have
failed to contemplate our impermanence. And whenever we fail to remain mindful
of our impermanencewhether it lasts one day or any other length of timethat
entire period is lost to the concerns of this life.
disadvantage that, although we might recall dharma, we will fail to practice
When we fail to recall death, we assume that it is not going to
occur any time soon. Then we are overcome by procrastinating thoughts, such as:
"I can practice dharma tomorrow or the day after tomorrow." So, even though we
may recall dharma, we will not actually practice it. Instead, we will distract
ourselves with concerns such as the need for money, and waste our lives without
ever having been able to practice dharma. As Je Tsongkapa explained, we all know that
eventually we are going to die. But day after day we have this evil thought that
keeps telling us: "You won't die today, you won't die today." And this thought
can stay with us right up to the time of our death [169a].
disadvantage that, even though we might attempt to practice dharma, we will not
do so correctly
The fault of attempting to practice dharma but
failing to practice it correctly comes from our inability to overcome thoughts
related to this life. Our efforts at
hearing and contemplating dharma degenerate into the desire to become a scholar
or the desire for fame. We also come to regard meditation, mantra recitation,
and other dharma practices as methods for removing the problems of this life.
Even some great meditation practitioners who live in complete isolation cannot
avoid becoming tainted by nonvirtuous deeds.
When the great
Atisha was asked, "What result does a person acquire by thinking only
of this life?" he replied, "He acquires a result right there." And when asked,
"What does he acquire in the future?" he said, "He is born in the hells, as a
hungry ghost, or as an animal." Thus, the result of such actions is that we
achieve some small purpose in this life, and in the future we are reborn into
the lower states. If this is all that those of us who are monks can accomplish
with our lives, then we will not have distinguished ourselves in any way from
To practice dharma, we must first abandon attachment to
this life. But this does not mean that we should become beggars, since even
beggars wander around without having abandoned attachment to this life.
Therefore, the things we must abandon are the eight worldly dharmas.
endeavor that becomes mixed with the eight worldly dharmas is not dharma. For
instance, Neljorba Chaktri Chok asked Lord Atisha, "Should I meditate,
teach, or meditate some of the time and teach at other times?" But he was told
that none of these activities were beneficial. When he asked what sort of
practice he should follow, Lord Atisha replied, "Renounce worldly
Although you've never pursued a single dharma practice,
vainly think you are a dharma person. What a fool!
The first dharma act is to
renounce desire for this life.
So check your mind and see whether you have
done this or not.
Geshe Tīlungba also once said to another practitioner,
"Brother, it is indeed virtuous to perform acts of generosity. But it would be
even better if you practiced dharma." These examples all illustrate the meaning
of the expression that "dharma and worldliness are complete opposites." Potowa
also made similar remarks, such as: "You can't sew with a two-pointed needle."
Unless we recall death, we won't be able to abandon our attachment for
this life. And if we fail to do this, we will become pleased when we gain
something of material value, and upset when we don't. We will also react in this
same inappropriate way toward well-being and suffering, fame and disrepute, and
praise and scornthat is, we will come under the influence of the eight worldly
Nagarjuna described the eight worldly dharmas with
Gain and loss, pleasure and pain,
Fame and dishonor,
praise and scorn
World-knower, be indifferent to these eight
dharmas and bar them from your mind.
illustrate how we should act toward these eight conditions, Kyabje Pabongka
Rinpoche related an incident in which someone offered a turquoise to Potowa.)
The zombie of the eight worldly dharmas
Wanders in samsara's
city of thoughts.
There's your terrifying cemetery.
Therefore, we should renounce our attachment for this
life and, as our ultimate aim, dedicate ourselves to the dharma. Once we've done
this, we may begin to have thoughts such as: "Will I be able to find a
livelihood and other material things?" Then we must dedicate ourselves to a life
of poverty as our ultimate form of dharma. This means to resolve that it doesn't
matter whether we find material things or not.
When our Master left home and
entered the homeless state, he abandoned all his royal fortune and clothed
himself in garments gathered from garbage heaps. This act and others illustrate
how he dedicated himself to the dharma as his ultimate aim and how he dedicated
himself to poverty as his ultimate form of dharma. Je Rinpoche also pursued a
life free of attachment.
After devoting ourselves to poverty as our
ultimate form of dharma, we might think to ourselves, "But won't I die if I
can't find food?" When we have this thought, we must devote ourselves to the
ultimate form of poverty, which is to remain in poverty even if it brings our
death. We reflect this attitude when we think, "If I should die because of
austerities done for the sake of dharma, then so be it."
having renounced all worldly life in this way, no dharma practitioner has ever
starved to death because he was unable to find food. In fact, our benevolent
Master dedicated to the material well-being of his followers an amount of merit
greater than sixty thousand times the merit that would bring rebirth as a
wheel-wielding monarch. For this reason, although the world may se e famines
where kernels of grain become equal in value to pearls, no follower of the
dharma will ever starve to death.
(Kyabje Rinpoche then cited several
passages to illustrate this point:
If great meditators fail to come
gobs of food may well go rolling up.
Geshe Ben said:
When I was a
householder, I fastened the triple weaponry to me like
thorns; yet my foes remained many and my friends few. When I lived alone as a
bachelor, I had a field that yielded forty kel of grain; so
people called me "Forty Earner." During the day I
was a bandit on mountain passes and at night I was a robber in the town. Even
so, I rarely had any food or clothing. But now that I've taken up dharma, I
never lack food or clothing, and my enemies have all disappeared.)
also these lines:
If you cast off attachment like a human
Material things will come thronging down like
Moreover, Je Tsongkapa and others achieved the ability to
accomplish spiritual deeds as vast as space through renouncing all concern for
their current lives and conducting themselves according to the dharma. (Kyabje
Rinpoche then related how a certain follower of the Sakya tradition thought that
Je Lama must
have achieved the great prestige he enjoyed through the power of subjugation.
This prompted the Sakya monk to ask Je Tsongkapa what, in his opinion, was the
most profound method for acquiring this power.
Rinpoche further explained in great detail how we need to cultivate the
attitudes taught in the Kadampa instruction known as the "Ten Jewels of Ultimate
Commitment." This instruction addresses such mundane thoughts as the belief that
we have to make all arrangements for our death in advance, including how to
dispose of our body. As the teaching explains, the proper response to this
thought is to dedicate yourself to dying in a barren ravine as your ultimate
form of death. That is, we should abandon all concern about the circumstances
that may surround our death. In connection with this point, Kyabje Rinpoche also
quoted Milarepa, who said that his wishes would be fulfilled if he could die
with no one weeping nearby or gathered round his corpse.)
we might think it's important to set aside money for the disposal of our
lifeless body, the truth is people will be revolted by it and quickly have it
removed. There is absolutely no need to worry that our corpse might be left to
lay on our deathbed.
If we succeed in renouncing the eight worldly
dharmas as described, and if we are able to do so with conviction, we will find
three major concerns of this life; pleasure, happiness, and fame coming to us in
To put it briefly, a worldly person is anyone who
concerns himself with the eight worldly dharmas and a dharma person is anyone
who has renounced this life. When Potowa asked, "What is the dividing line
between dharma and nondharma?" Dromtinba replied, "If something acts as an
antidote to the mental afflictions, it's dharma. If it doesn't, it's not dharma.
If something is at odds with everything that is worldly, it's dharma. If it's in
agreement with everything worldly, it's not dharma."
This is what is
meant by the axiom that dharma and the world are completely incompatible.
Nonetheless, it is possible for someone both to recite dharma and manage
an estate. On
the other hand, there are some monks among us who continue to hold the eight
worldly dharmas as their most deeply cherished aims. While these individuals may
physically resemble dharma practitioners, their minds are no different from the
minds of ordinary householders.
The principal method by which we can
renounce attachment for this life and successfully carry out a pure dharma
practice is to meditate on impermanence in the form of our impending death. On
the other hand, if we fail to renounce this life, whatever dharma practice we
may in fact undertake will be just another worldly endeavor.
Thus, it is
from our side that we must develop indifference to the eight worldly concerns
and renounce our attachment to the three objects of food, clothing, and
reputation. Moreover, the standard for determining that we have successfully
abandoned our attachment to this life is for us to become like the Lord of
Conquerors Kelsang Gyatso and Panchen
The Lord of Conquerors Kelsang Gyatso declared that the only things he
considered as belonging to him were his vajra, his bell, and his three monk's
robesnothing else. (Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche also described how Panchen Losang
Yeshe once expressed displeasure when a hundred "horse-hoof" ingots were
presented to him as an offering.)
Of the three main objects for which we
most often have attachment; food, clothing, and reputation; some persons are
bound by their attachment to one, some by their attachment to two, and some by
all three of them. Among the three, however, the most difficult one to abandon
is desire for reputation. It doesn't matter if one is a scholar, a
well-disciplined monk, a teacher, or a meditator; there are many such persons
who desire fame and a good reputation. (Kyabje Rinpoche then quoted a lengthy
passage by Geshe Drowey Gīnpo that includes
The great learned and disciplined meditators who are
attached to this life
Want to become known as learned and disciplined for
this life's sake.
They are great meditators who refuse to meet with
They go into retreat and write admonitions above the door.
great meditators want to be known as devout for this life's sake.
more lines state:
Even an offering to the precious Triple Gem
with the hope that others will notice.
Some persons vainly think of
themselves as great meditators or as practitioners who have achieved spiritual
They forsake all interest in food or clothing and diligently undertake such
austerities as the flower or mineral chalen practice. Still,
it would be rare to find such an individual who did not harbor some desire for a
good name in the deepest recess of his mind.
The work Edifying
contains the line "a grouse, close by one's threshold, a fox, and a weasel,"
which relates to this topic. For instance, in preparing to go on a journey we
might well overlook a fire pit that's close by our threshold and only
investigate places and roads that lie far from home. Similarly, we might always
be trying to find out what we can about Buddhahood and such high paths as those
found in the Mantrayana, while making no effort whatsoever to overcome
our attachment to the concerns of this life. But in so doing we fail to liberate
ourselves from these bonds. This is a fault that stems from not recalling
iv) The disadvantage that our practice will lack
The failure to remain mindful of death prevents us from
developing a dharma practice that has intensity. Because of this, we are unable
to practice continuously and without interruption. We may find that we have a
tendency to get tired quickly whenever we attempt to undertake some virtuous
activity. This inability to exert ourselves greatly is a fault arising from our
failure to recall impermanence in the form of death.
By contrast, Geshe
Karakpa practiced virtue so earnestly that he couldn't find time even to cut the
thorn bushes growing next to the door of his meditation room. This attitude
arose from his having recollected impermanence. Milarepa was also so devoted to
his practice that he wouldn't take the time to sew such things as his clothing
or his tsamba sack when they became torn from use. And if our efforts to
recall impermanence prove successful, we too will be able to put aside all other
endeavors and always strive only to practice virtue. Moreover, each time we
undertake such practice, we will be able to generate a keen enthusiasm that is
free of all lethargy.
v) The disadvantage that we will develop a bad
By failing to recall death, we become greatly attached to
this life. So as we pursue the aims of this life, we react toward others with
either desire, hatred, or ignorance, depending on whether they have tried to
help or hinder us. We also fight and argue with others, and they in turn accuse
us of having a bad character or treat us unfavorably in other ways. As a result,
we end up causing ourselves all manner of harm, ranging anywhere from such
things as a cut on the head to other more serious injuries. In short, we bring
ruin upon ourselves both in this life and in future lives.
disadvantage that we will have to die in a state of regret
to recall death, our practice becomes a mere semblance of dharma. Because our
efforts are mixed with this life's pursuits, we fail to accomplish any true
dharma. Then, one day, the enemy known as death appears suddenly. At that
moment, we see that the power, status, material wealth, and so forth that we
pursued before is of no benefit whatsoever. Moreover, we also realize that we
have failed to obtain that which truly does benefit usthe holy dharma. A feeling
of unbearable regret also arises in us. However, all we can do at that point is
accept our plight, for it is too late. This is like the monk from Mīndro Ling
monastery named Chīdrak, who came down with a fever. When he realized he was
going to die, he uttered all the things that he regretted.
We must fear death now, so that we can avoid being afraid when we
are about to die. Instead we do the opposite! We don't fear death now; but when
we are about to die, we clutch our breasts with our fingernails.
practice of meditating on the impermanence of death, we must begin by fearing
death so that we can lose that fear when we are about to die. Typically, though,
we do the opposite. That is, right now we remain complacent and avoid giving any
thought to the fact that some day we will have to die. Then, when we are on the
verge of death, we find that all we can do is ask ourselves anxiously: "What can
I do? Is there anything that will help me now?"
When we are about to
die, it wouldn't matter if we were so rich that we could fill a hundred
storerooms with our gold or we were a king with dominion over an entire country.
At that moment even such wealth and power are utterly meaningless and without
value. Moreover, there is a common emotional reaction that persons have after
being stricken with an intensely painful and terminal illness. When they realize
that they are about to die without having achieved anything that would allow
them to feel secure about their future lives, they think to themselves, "If I
could only avoid death this one time, then I would surely practice dharma." But
by then it is too late. This is like the saying: "The person who doesn't eat
food while it's in his hands gains nothing if he thinks of eating it after a dog
has carried it away."
This concludes the discussion on the six
disadvantages of failing to meditate on death.