(3) Contemplating that when we die nothing except the dharma can benefit us

This third root category is also made up of three supporting reasons: (1) our wealth is of no help; (2) our family and friends are of no help; and (3) even our bodies are of no help.

(a) Our wealth is of no help

If we were Brahma, Shakra, or a wheel-wielding monarch, at the time of our death we could not take even a single servant with us. And since we can't take the slightest amount of wealth or possessions, they will not benefit us at that time either.

When it's time to die, the most powerful king in the world cannot take even a single grain of barley with him. Even a beggar must move on, leaving behind the staff he previously never went anywhere without. As several lines state:

A king goes leaving behind his kingdom;
A beggar goes leaving behind his staff.[1]

The Tree Sutra also declares:

Though we have food to last a hundred years,
The day after our death we go hungry.
Though we have clothes to last a hundred years,
The day after our death we go naked.[2]

Engaging in Bodhisattva Activities states:

I have performed many kinds of evil
For the sake of those I liked and disliked.
Yet what I failed to consider is this:
One must move on and leave them all behind.[3]

The same work also states:

A living being is born all alone
And quite alone indeed he also dies.
When no one else will share his misery,
What use are loved ones who do but hinder?[4]

Once a man was rubbing a large stone, trying to wear it down into the shape of a cube. When asked what he was going to do with it, the man replied, "I'm not going to do anything with it. I'll just throw it away." This is what it's like for us to be constantly striving to acquire wealth and material goods in this life. In the end, we'll have to leave them all behind.

(b) Our family and friends are of no help

Our family, relations, students, attendants, and servantsall those who are as dear to us as our own heartsmay gather round our deathbed and cling to our hands and feet, but they can't prevent us from dying. [181b] Nor can we take a single one of them along with us. All alone, we must set out on that narrow and treacherous path of the intermediate state. As the great adept Mitra Yogi declared:

However great your wealth, O Supreme Lord,
When you have left and reached the other world,
You'll be alone without your prince or queen,
Like someone crushed by foes in a wasteland.[5]

Engaging in Bodhisattva Activities also states:

For someone who's been caught by Yama's aides,
What good are family? What good are friends?[6]

Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyeltsen also expressed this point, by saying that at death we will be "forever parted from our dear and cherished kin."[7]

If someone were absolutely sure that he was going to die during the coming winter, what reason would he have for undertaking some task related to next year? Nowadays, most of us get all excited about traveling to some place like India or China. We think of it as something very important. When going on such a journey, we're able to take along horses, donkeys, servants, and attendants. But when we set out on that long journey to the next world, we go by ourselves without companions or even the smallest amount of provisions.

(c) Even our bodies are of no help

When we die, it wouldn't help us at all even if all the mountains were to turn into gold, or if every person alive were to become our friend. But we can forgo thinking about such things as our wealth, possessions, and family; for we must even leave behind our very bodies. The body is what we emerge from the womb with at birth. It is an object which we worry might get cold or hungry, which we can't bear to have pricked by a thorn, and which we constantly and dearly cherish as if it were some wishing gem. Thus, we should also reflect how we will even have to part with our bodies which we care for so dearly. As Je Losang Chokyi Gyeltsen said: "This dearly cherished [182a] body, when needed, betrays."[8]

Once we've contemplated these three reasons, it won't do us any good just to sit there paralyzed by fear. We must recognize that when it comes time for us to die, the dharma will be the guide that shows us the way. It will also serve as our caravan leader and as the provisions for our journey. As Gungtang Tenbey Dronme said:

Dharma is the guide for those who don't know their way;
Dharma is the provisions for a long voyage;
Dharma is the leader for an arduous journey;
So fix your three doors on the dharma from now on.[9]

Je Milarepa also declared:

Listen, O disciple Peldar Bum,
Hear me, O wealthy and faithful one.
Future lives are longer than this life.
Have you arranged food and provisions?
If you haven't arranged provisions,
Gain them through practicing charity!

Several lines later, the song continues:

Listen, O disciple Peldar Bum,
Hear me, O wealthy and faithful one.
Future lives cause more fear than this life.
Have you arranged a guardian escort?
If you haven't arranged an escort,
Gain one through practicing pure dharma![10]

We should reflect how bad it would be if we were to die without having practiced dharma, like some old and grizzled stray dog. We should conduct ourselves like visitors who are about to return to their homeland. Such individuals avoid any of the activities that persons who are planning an extended stay might undertake. Instead, they concern themselves exclusively with the task of gathering provisions for their journey. In short, we must avoid becoming tainted by our attachment to this life, and generate the conviction to devote ourselves exclusively to the practice of dharma [182b].

Meditating on the nature of death

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