Death Is The Doorway To Life - Three Ways To Prepare (Part 2 Of 3)
2. Living consciously. (From a talk by Ajahn Jagaro, the abbot of Wat Pah Nanachat when Janet and I trained in Thailand as a Buddhist monk and nun in 1981)
Now this (contemplating death) really does free us up, enabling us to live our lives more fully. The contemplation of death, rather than making us depressed and morbid, can actually help us live our lives more fully, with more joy, with more gratitude and appreciation. If we live our lives as though we were going to live forever, we don't appreciate them. We take them for granted and live in a very foolish and heedless way. We all live in foolish ways, simply because we don't consciously contemplate the fact of death.
How do we live our lives in foolish ways? Just consider how much time we waste. For a start, how much time have we wasted today worrying about next year, about the next twenty years, thinking about the future, so that we are not fully living this day: I'm looking forward to Wednesday. Then two more days to go... Thursday, Friday... then it's Saturday. I'll go to the football, the cricket. Sunday morning... meditation at the Buddhist Society. Great, I'm really looking forward to that.
That's the mentality of our Australian society. Five days of the week are spent waiting for the weekend. So you live two days out of seven. Most people just endure five days of the week. From nine to five is a dreary existence, then in the evening they live for a couple of hours. We don't really appreciate life. We don't live our lives fully. We take it all so much for granted, as if we're going to make it till Saturday. You may not make it till Saturday! I may not make it till Saturday. If you or I really aren't going to make it till Saturday, we'd better make the best of today.
This is how the contemplation of death helps to break this habitual way of living, where we take so much of life for granted, constantly overlooking the present and looking to the future. That is one of the foolish aspects of the way we live when we're not contemplating the reality of death.
Another, which is even worse, concerns some of the things we do to each other. We can be very cruel and mean, holding on to hatred and resentment: Oh well, let him stew for a few more days. Or: Let her suffer for a few days, I'll apologise next Sunday. We do a lot of things to each other in unskilful ways in the expectation that next time we can fix it up.
Next week, next month, I'll smooth it over. But what if there is no next month, no next week? What if there is no tomorrow? Suppose you have an argument today? You may die tonight, she may die tonight. You really wouldn't want to part having some terrible argument as your last memory, would you? It's better to apologise now before it's too late. That's the effect of contemplating the reality of death. It makes us live more wisely, resolving these unfinished matters. Don't let them linger: the fights, the hatred, the conflicts, the feuds, the debts, whatever. We have the chance, let's get it in order. That's very important. That's a benefit of contemplating death, it affects the way we live our lives. We live them more fully, with gratitude. We don't let things linger on, we don't leave unfinished business.
And our values in life will change. What is important in life? What is motivating you? What is the drive in your life? If we really contemplate death it may cause us to reconsider our values. It doesn't matter how much money you've got, you can't take any of it with you. It's true about everybody, about every religion. You can't take anything at all with you. Whether you have a million dollars or just ten cents, you can't take it with you. Your own body has to be left for others to dispose of in one way or another, it's just refuse left behind. You can't take your body with you, you can't take your wealth with you, you can't take your cars or your houses with you; we can't even take our Buddhist temples with us. That should make us consider how important these things are to us. What is important in our lives then? Is there anything that we take with us? What do we take with us? What is important?
Maybe the quality of life is more important than material acquisitions. The quality of life is primarily the quality of our minds. How we are living today may be more important than a lot of these other things. Considering that the Buddhist perspective of death is not the end, but the condition for rebirth, and that rebirth is conditioned by death and the quality of the mind, there is one thing you take with you. There is one inheritance that you don't leave behind for others:
I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, Born of my kamma, related to my kamma, abide supported by my kamma. Whatever kamma I shall do, for good or for ill, of that I will be the heir.
That is all that follows, the qualities that we develop within us, the qualities of mind and heart, the spiritual qualities, the good or bad qualities. This is what we inherit. This is what conditions rebirth and shapes the future. So again this gives rise to a new value in our lives. The contemplation of death may change our values. Then we may not think it so important to strive so hard to make that extra million. We may not live long enough to enjoy it; we may as well enjoy the million we've already got, living more peacefully and starting to build up some spiritual qualities. It can have a very good effect on the way we live our lives and on the values we develop. It's not just a matter of being successful, it's how we become successful. What we're developing within us is more important than becoming successful.
(Next; The third way to prepare for death; dying peacefully)