There is only one certain fact, and that is that every one of us
will die one day. Yet, most of us go about our lives as if death
only happens to other people. As young people, we feel immortal.
As we get older, we study ways to prolong our lives through
exercise, diet and a range of other precautions. Our society goes
to incredible lengths to conceal death from us. It is even
possible to go for many years in the West, even an entire
lifetime, without ever seeing a dead person.
All of this is an illusory way to live. The one inevitable
prediction we can make is our own death. However, it seems to
affect very little of what we do on a daily basis. So, what
should we do and how can we live healthily, and yet also have an
awareness of our own mortality to guide us?
The first thing to say is that your attitude to death is largely
determined by the meaning you give to it. The life you live
results largely from this one belief. If you believe that
death is the end, you will naturally tend to focus entirely upon
this one life, and attempt to extract maximum pleasure,
prosperity and longevity from it. However, if you believe in
rebirth, your attitude will be quite different. Thus, the life we
live is largely determined by our views on death.
Excessive focus on acquiring earthly possessions, purely for
their own sake, is a foolish approach to life. As you know, you
will not be taking any of it away with you when you go. The
Buddhists paint an interesting picture of a man who has fallen
off a cliff and is rapidly heading to his death. On the way down,
he achieves great wealth, builds a palace for himself, and even
has other people, who have also fallen off the cliff, give him
praise and attention. Yet, the only certainty is that he is going
to hit the ground, and when he does, it is all over! Funny
analogy? That is what almost every one of us is doing right now.
Understand this. There is nothing wrong with experiencing
abundance and seeking the best in life in all ways possible.
However, the attachment, the mental attitude, is key. Instead of
materialistic obsessions, we should work to develop detachment.
This does NOT mean you have to abandon your wealth, possessions,
your friends. In and of themselves, these are not evil in any
In “Joyful Path Of good Fortune”, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso lists the
eight worldly attitudes we should strive to be free of:
(1) Being pleased when receiving resources and respect;
(2) Being displeased when NOT receiving resources and respect;
(3) Being pleased when experiencing pleasure;
(4) Being displeased when NOT experiencing pleasure;
(5) Being pleased when enjoying a good reputation;
(6) Being displeased when NOT enjoying a good reputation;
(7) Being pleased when receiving praise;
(8) Being displeased when NOT receiving praise.
If you can work with these ideas, and seek continually to reduce
their effect upon you, your life will rapidly gain more balance
and spiritual richness. Interestingly, none of the above
injunctions prevent a full participation in life. It is the
ATTITUDE of that participation that counts.
At the end of your life, all you can take away is who you are and
what you have become. If you leave with little more sense that
that which you arrived with, your life has indeed been wasted.
However, if you have laid your treasures up in heaven, then your
death will be a peaceful one.
When Jesus told us to do precisely this, he was talking about
cultivating your spiritual life with all your strength. The
Buddhists say the same thing. Even though reincarnation is a firm
part of their teaching, they eèvertheless believe that our great
opportunity is RIGHT NOW, and that rebirth as a human being is
Imagine a vast ocean, and on that ocean floats a single rubber
ring. At the bottom of that ocean lives a turtle. This turtle
surfaces only once in a hundred years. Now, the Buddha asked, how
long do you think it would be before his head should chance to go
through the rubber ring? The disciples replied that it would take
an unthinkably long time. And that, said the Buddha, is how rare
and precious your human life is, and how difficult it is to be
reborn as a human being again!
Think on this story the next time you consider yourself
immortal, or waste hours over frivolous activities! Such a
meditation would give you a very different attitude to life and
death. It would certainly galvanize you into action; to work
within a spiritual tradition for the seeking of the spiritual
answers you need. We stand on the edge of a bottomless pit, yet
all we do is party all day long!
Again, according to Buddhist philosophy, our mental and emotional
state at death largely determines the type of rebirth we take.
This is why it is so important to work upon ourselves throughout
our lives. When death comes, we are ready and our mental state is
such as to promise the best conditions for the journey ahead. By
contrast, most people never consider death much at all, and are
totally unprepared when it calls. Thus, their mental state is
filled with fear, their spiritual treasure chest is empty, and
they face a bleak future.
Here are a few steps you can take to put these thoughts into
(1) Meditate upon Death. Here is a sentence, taken from the
Buddhist tradition, that you can ponder frequently in meditation:
“I will definitely die – and I could die today.”
This statement is in total contradiction to the way people live
their lives. We seem to think will definitely NOT die, and
certainly not for a long time anyhow. Nobody really think that
they could die TODAY. Yet, it happens all the time to yòung and
old alike. There is no set time or allotted span.
Therefore, meditate upon the above statement frequently and make
a mantra of it. In doing so, you will become gradually aware of
your own mortality in a very real sense. Far from being morbid,
it will actually teach you to value each moment you have and not
waste it AS IF you are immortal!
(2) Meditate upon the process of dying and death. See yourself in
the process of death and the disintegration of your own body,
whether through natural causes or through accident. If you have
seen the death of another person, ponder it and realize that
something similar will happen to you too. Continue the process
until everything rots away and even the bones turn to dust. Do it
frequently until you realize that death really will happen to you
Incidentally, this is NOT some form of goal-seeking visualization
on death. You do not increase the danger of causing your own
death by doing it! The point is to do it unemotionally and with
detachment; as a mere observer. You do not place any degree of
positive energy into it, as you would with visualization to
obtain a definite result. You are merely observing and developing
within yourself a realization of an inevitable truth about
(3)Live your life with an awareness of death. Do not look upon it
as an enemy, but rather as a friend. Through death, you will have
a chance for a better rebirth, where you will be in an even
better place to make spiritual progress towards the goal of
liberation. With this awareness, it becomes easier to create
meaningful priorities. Your focus will be more upon developing
what you can take away at death, rather than with the things you
have to leave behind. Increasingly, you will want to benefit
other living beings and not merely yourself.
(4) Choose and engage in a spiritual tradition, and follow it
with a sense of URGENCY. Most of our pretensions to spirituality
are like a hobby; similar to Tennis twice a week or a routine
visit to the Church on Sunday morning. Develop within yourself a
realization of how rare a human birth is for you. Realize that
you could lose it TODAY simply by walking down the street at the
Then, you are likely to seek the answers you really need, and to
do so with a real sense of urgency. You will not put this most
crucial task off for another day. After all, that day may never
come, and it will then be too late.
In conclusion, a true awareness of death in the midst of life, is
a powerful inducement to live a healthy life and develop correct
priorities. We should live our lives as authentically as
possible. Acting as if death does not happen is NOT authentic and
leads to distortions of our values, our priorities, and
consequently of our entire lives. making death real to us
gives us what we need for a healthy life; one that we truly value
as precious. It also equips you with the necessary resolve to do
what it takes to find the spiritual answers you need NOW!
Copyright 2001, Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.
Asoka Selvarajah is a writer on personal growth and spirituality, and the author of “The 7 Golden Secrets To Knowing Your Higher Self”. His work helps people achieve their full potential, deepen their understanding of mystical truth, and discover their soul’s purpose. You can subscribe to his FREE ezine, and get his FREE ebook “Inner Light Outer Wealth” at:
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