By Bhante Yogavacara Rahula
In March 1999, Bhante Rahula led a weekend retreat at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia on death. The following is the main thrust of his first Dhamma talk.
ALTHOUGH DEATH OCCURS around the world many times a day, because it doesn't often directly influence our own lives, its impact is not always immediately significant to us. Directly focusing on death as the object of our contemplation deepens its meaning to us in our daily lives.
I want to start this talk with a few statistics. Our current world census puts about five billion beings on this planet, and every day about 250,000 of us die. That means that every year about 75 million die, by accident, by disease, by murder or other causes. Many die in terror and confusion, not accepting their death. Others die surrendering to death with an open mind, and with love and peace.
In 80 years, we will all have been replaced. In fact, our replacements are being born every day, every second. But most deaths, unlike births, take place in relative secrecy, although we may read about the few murders and other deaths caused by unexpected disaster. These deaths take place in secrecy because we insulate ourselves from them in order to preserve our false sense of security. When we do hear about them, we just shrug off the impact and say, "Oh, how unfortunate." We have a kind of survivorship mentality in which, despite the fact that we might see other people sometimes die, we remain secure in the certainty that "I've survived and they've perished."
However, death happens and not only to us, it happens to animals, too. Animals, even insects, are dying and being born every second. Not only animal life, but plants, trees and flowers are dying., shedding seeds and being born again. We can even say that mountains are being born and dying, if we want to consider geological change as a kind of death. Rivers are born and die, and, according to astronomers, even solar systems and universes are subject to destruction.
The Only Certainty
SO WE SEE THAT that the whole nature of existence, from the tiniest atom to the largest sun, is subject to the laws of birth and death. Some die and others are born to take their place. This cycle has been in operation since the beginning of time.
Death doesn't only apply to the physical world. It also applies to the mind. The mind is undergoing birth and death every moment. According to psychologists, our thoughts are constantly arising and passing away. Our moods arise and pass away. It is said that in seven years every cell in our body will die and be replaced.
Death is not a popular topic. Even though births and deaths occur every moment everywhere, we don't see these events happening, especially as they relate to our own selves, and we don't talk about them. Only when we read or hear the news that somebody died, do we sometimes reflect on our own death. Otherwise the phenomenon tends to be pushed to the back of our mind. But, ultimately, death is the only certainty we have in life.
To the average person, death is frightening. It's considered an aberrational defeat to an invading enemy or an unfortunate error or imperfection in God's place for the universe. People live with uneasiness, fear and the denial of the existence of death because our desire to live is so strong. Even though, deep down, we know we will die, we still try our best to mask this knowledge. We cover it up.
PAGE 2: The Four Horses of Death