Friday, 21 August 2009

Reflection On Death

“I am subject to death, I have not overcome death – thus should everyone – men, women, the laity and the monks – constantly reflect.” - Unknown 

There are in this world, people in various walks of life, who resent the very word ‘death’, let alone reflect on it. Infatuated by long life, good health, youth and prosperity, they completely forget the fact that they are subjected to death. Immersed in the evanescent pleasures of the five-fold senses, they seek only after material progress in this world completely disregarding a future life, and indulging in vice through the mind, body and speech. They regard this impermanent and evanescent life as permanent and everlasting. 

It is to rouse a sense of dissatisfaction in such blind and ignorant people, to allay the pangs of sorrow caused by the separation of animate objects like parents and children, and inanimate objects like wealth and property, to inculcate the doctrine of impermanence in all beings, and thereby convince them of the unsatisfactorines of life, and direct them towards the attainment of everlasting peace, that the Buddha preached these words.

A person who has not comprehended the doctrine of the Buddha, is infatuated by long life and considers himself as immortal, even though he may see deaths around him: he is infatuated by good health and considers himself free from disease even though he may see countless diseased persons around him; he is infatuated by youth even though he may see many aged persons and considers himself as one who is not subjected to old age; he is infatuated by wealth and prosperity even though he may see countless persons rendered destitute through loss of wealth; and he never thinks for a moment, that he too might be subjected to such a state.

Thus infatuated, the ignorant ones lead a life of vanity, heedless of the perils of this world and the next, deluded by the evanescent pleasures of life. Their only aim in life is to satisfy their five fold senses. To such persons who are blinded with the greed for worldly pleasures and worldly honours, death comes quite unexpectedly. Since they had not even dreamt of disease, old age and death, they are taken aback when such calamities strike them and they lose their senses; they are frightened and they lament, not knowing what to do. To such blind persons, immersed in the satisfaction of carnal pleasures, reflection on death certainly gives a true view of life. It also helps them to destroy their vanity and pride.

Furthermore, reflection on death affords solace to the multitudes who lament and torment themselves, unable to bear the pangs of sorrow caused by separation from their beloved ones.

Whoever constantly keeps in mind the fact that he would someday be subjected to death and that death is inevitable, would be eager to fulfil his duties to his fellowman before death, and this would certainly make him heedful in respect of this world and the next.

To the average man, death is by no means a pleasant subject for talk or discussion. It is something dismal and oppressive – a veritable killjoy, a fit topic for funeral house only. The average man immersed as he is in the self, ever seeking after the pleasurable, ever pursuing that which excites and gratifies the senses, refuses to pause and ponder seriously that these very objects of pleasure and gratification will some day reach their end. If wise counsel does not prevail and urge the unthinking pleasure-seeking man to consider seriously that death knock at his door also, it is only the shock of a bereavement under his own roof, the sudden and untimely death of a parent, wife or child that will rouse him from his delirious round of self – gratification and rudely awaken him to the hard facts of life. Then only will his eyes open, then only will he begin to ask himself why there is such a phenomenon as death. Why is it inevitable? Why are there these painful partings which rob life of its joys?

To most of us at some moment or another, the spectacle of death must have given rise to the deepest of thoughts and profoundest of questions. What is life worth, if able bodies that once performed great deeds now lie flat and cold, senseless and lifeless? What is life worth, if eyes that once sparkled with joy, eyes that once beamed with love are now closed forever, bereft of movement, bereft of life? Thought such as these, if wisely pursued, will ultimately unfold the potentialities inherent in the human mind to receive the highest truth.

According to the Buddhist way of thinking, death, far from being subject to be shunned and avoided, is the key that unlocks the seeming mystery of life. It is by understanding death that we understand life; for death is part of the process of life in the large sense. In another sense, life and death are two ends of the same process, and if you understand one end of the process, you also understand the other end. Hence, by understanding the purpose of death, we also understand the purpose of life. It is the contemplation of death, the intensive thought that it will someday come upon us, that softens the hardest of hearts, binds one to another with cords of love and compassion, and destroys the barriers of caste, creed and race among the peoples of this earth, all of whom are subject to the common destiny of death. Death is a great leveller. Pride of birth, pride of position, pride of wealth, pride of power must give way to the all-consuming thought of inevitable death.

It is the contemplation of death that helps to destroy the infatuation of sense-pleasure. It is the contemplation of death that gives balance and a healthy sense of proportion to our highly over-wrought minds with their misguided sense of values. It is the contemplation of death that gives strength and steadiness and direction to the erratic human mind, now wandering in one direction, now in another, without an aim, without a purpose.

The Buddha emphasized death as the most forceful reminder of the true nature of existence. Death has always been a puzzle to mankind; it leaves man in a helpless, pitiable condition for none can escape its inevitable sting. The sudden and unexpected occurrence of death all around a person should urge him to find a solution to the inexplicable recurring death. To meditate on death is to seek the elusive meaning of life.

Death had to be accepted as universal and inevitable. But death is not the end; this is a fundamental doctrine of Buddhism. Death is only a passing phase – a brief incident between one existence and another. Thus the meditation on death leads one to the recognition of law of Cause and Effect and the Doctrine of Dependent Origination.

- Source Unknown 

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