Aug 5, 2019
The root cause of all our suffering that we do not take enough time, through mindful observation, prayer, and meditation to come to know ourselves -- our true, awakened nature. Our true nature is wisdom and great love and compassion. We contemplate death and impermanence as a way to relate to our true nature, which is more than this body and this life. We are a traveler, bound beyond this life. If we can relate to our deeper, spiritual self, we naturally want to care for it. How do we care for our true nature? Only through spiritual practice. Whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation or nothing beyond death, it’s still very valuable to live our lives with an awareness of our mortality. It helps us to prioritize our lives. When we come to the time of our dying, won’t most of us want to feel we have led a meaningful life? Will we not wonder, is the world is a better place because I was here? Realizing that we will someday die helps us discover--AND ACT ON--what is most important to us.
Today may be our last. There is no guarantee we will see tomorrow. This way of thinking can motivate us to live this day like it is our last! We hug our loved ones tighter and we are truly present with them. Is it any wonder that a University of Kentucky study found that “thinking about death fosters an orientation toward emotionally pleasant stimuli.” The researchers who conducted the study, C. Nathan DeWall and Roy F. Baumeister, said, “We have shown that the common response to contemplating death is a nonconscious orientation toward happy thoughts.” Awesome! Buddha was right :)
If we believe that our spiritual awakening for the benefit of all living beings is the most meaningful function of our human life, then becoming mindful of death can lead to the conviction that we must practice today. Further, the realization that our true nature is unconditional compassion breaks through the feeling we are not enough. Like the acorn and the great oak tree, and the acorn becomes angry at itself because it can not yet provide shade or shelter like the giant oak. We can discover that the acorn is the same nature as the oak tree, even if it is still in the process of development. Likewise, we are in the nature of enlightenment, of great compassion and wisdom, even if we are still in the process of awakening.
Why the laughter, why the joy,
When flames are ever burning?
Surrounded by darkness,
Shouldn’t you search for light? (146)
Look at this beautified body:
A mass of sores propped up,
Full of illness, [the object] of many plans,
With nothing stable or lasting. (147)*
This body is worn out—
So fragile, a nesting ground for disease.
When life ends in death,
This putrid body dissolves. (148)*
What is the delight In seeing these dull-white bones
Like white gourds in autumn?
This city is built of bones,
Plastered with blood and flesh,
And filled with
Aging, death, conceit, and hypocrisy. (150)
Even the splendid chariots of the royalty wear out.
So too does the body decay.
But the Dharma of the virtuous doesn’t decay [For it is upheld when] the virtuous teach [it] to good people. (151)
--Buddha, The Dhammapada
Baumeister, Roy F. and DeWall, C. Nathan. From Terror to Joy: Automatic Tuning to Positive Affective Information Following Mortality Salience. University of Kentucky, 2007.
Buddha.The Dhammapada. Translated by Gil Fronsdale. Shambala, Boston and London, 2011, pp. 38-39.
Je Tsongkhapa. Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, Volume 1. Pages 143-159. Translated by the Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee. Joshua Cutler, Editor-in-Chief, and Guy Newlan, Editor.