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AN EYE ON DEATH: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Not the Only One

WE CAN CONTEMPLATE death by comparing ourselves to seven kinds of people, saying: 1) Those of great fame have died; 2) Those of great merit have died; 3) Those of great strength have died; 4) Even those with supernatural powers have died (for example, Mahamoggalana, one of the Buddha's chief disciples, who was a master of psychic power, who could go up to the highest Brahmalokas, who could rock the palace of heaven with his big toe and who had tremendous psychic potency, even he succumbed to death); 5) Those of great understanding, such as Sariputta, Buddha's other chief disciple, have died; 6) Even all the great spiritual beings have died; 7) If all those great people couldn't escape death, how am I going to escape it? These are some of the ways we can reflect on death.

Another way of reflecting on death is to become aware of how we share our bodies with many others. We think this body is our body, but, unknown to us, other beings inhabit it. Many kinds of worms feed on the inside of this body and microbes feed on the surface of the skin. Moreover, larger animals, such as tigers and lions, would like to make a meal of this body. many animals regard us only as a good meal. When our body dies, it may become their meal.

We can also reflect on the frailty of life. Many internal malfunctions or disorders could cause us to suddenly stop breathing and our heart to stop beating. Externally, there are innumerable accidents and disasters that could snuff out our lives without warning. A tornado, a hurricane, a flood, or a fire could grab this life in a split second. These things happen to people thousands of times a day all over the world.

Another way we can reflect is on the "signlessness" of life. That is to say, our life span is unpredictable, with no sign of when it will end. People die at every stage of life, from one day old up to 90 or 100 years old. They even die in the womb. They die five minutes after coming out. A certain percentage of those born don't live beyond 10 or 15 years old. Therefore, we know neither the time nor the circumstances of our death.

We cannot predict when that time might occur, but it is certain that at some point this breath will stop going in and out and we will die. This body has only a certain, limited life span because of other factors, karmic factors, inner or outer forces.

As a dew drop...

DEVELOP THE FOLLOWING reflections. Develop this train of thought in your mind. As mushrooms come out of the earth, dust upon their heads, so living beings are born, and with birth comes aging and death. Just as the rising sun moves on to its setting, the lives of mortals, too, move toward death. Just as a mountain torrent rushes on downward, so, too, the life of a mortal rushes to its dissolution. Like lightning, a bubble, dew drops or a line drawn on water, life arises and vanishes. As all of a potter's earthen jars must eventually break up, so, too, the life of mortals must eventually come to an end.

Death slays those of great success, strength, virtue, power and wisdom. Even great spiritual beings must succumb to death, let alone ordinary people like us. And as fruit, when ripe, has to fall, so, too, the material body of all beings will fall back to the earth. Due to a lack of life supports or to some inner or outer misfortune, we could die in the blink of an eye. The young and the old, the foolish and the wise, all move in the grip of death. All finally ends in death.

Before long, this breath, having been expelled, shall no longer be drawn back in. And this body will lie cast away upon the ground, bereft of consciousness, like erupting lava. Such is the nature of the material body. Death is completely normal and natural. It is nothing to be feared. Only its time, place and circumstances cannot be known in advance.

So we must train our minds now for this eventuality and let go of greed, hatred and delusion, so when our time comes, we will have no fear, regrets or confusion, but will let go, without resistance, into the light, with lightness, merging into the ocean of pure being, joy and love.

Are you ready or that inevitable moment?


Beyond God, Heaven, Hell and Karma by Bhanta Rahula


"From Drugs 2 Dharma": A Q-and-A With Bhante Rahula, 5/99

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