We cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment, or fear. So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well. Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life. ~ Dalai Lama
According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us or the shock of terminal illness to force us to look at our lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make of every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare – wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind – for death and eternity.
Despite all our chatter about being practical, to be practical in the West means to be ignorantly, and often selfishly, short-sighted. Our myopic focus on this life, and this life only, is the great deception, the source of the modern world’s bleak and destructive materialism. No one talks about death and no one talks about the afterlife, because people are made to believe that such talk will only thwart our so-called progress in the world.
If our deepest desire is truly to live and go on living, why do we blindly insist that death is the end? Why not at least try to explore the possibility that there may be a life after? Why, if we are pragmatic as we claim, don’t we begin to ask ourselves seriously? Where does our real future lie? After all, very few of us live longer than a hundred years. And after that there stretches the whole of eternity, unaccounted for…
Ignorance about the Reality of Impermanence
One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty in facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence.
In our minds, changes always equal loss and suffering. And if they come, we try to anesthetize ourselves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestioningly, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But in fact impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life – difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquintance far friendlier and less unnerving than we could have imagined.
We are Only Travellers
In Tibetan, the word for “body” is lü, which means “something you leave behind,” like baggage. Each time we say lü, it reminds us that we are only travelers, taking temporary refuge in this life and this body. In Tibet, people did not distract themselves by spending all their time trying to make their external circumstances more comfortable. They were satisfied if they had enough to eat, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads.
Why do we live in such terror of death? Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is that we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique and separate identity; but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up; our name, our “biography,” our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards… It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?
Sri Ramana Maharshi had an intense experience of death in his seventeenth year. After the experience of death has ended, he was established in the realisation of his true Self and the illusion of death died forever.
Here is in part Bhagavan’s description of what happened:
“The shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally, without actually framing the words: ‘Now that death has come; what does it mean? What is it that is dying? This body dies . . . But with the death of the body am I dead? Is the body I? . . . The body dies but the Spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death. That means I am the deathless Spirit.’ All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as living truth which I perceived directly. . . From that moment onwards the ‘I’ or Self focused attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death had vanished once and for all. Absorption in the Self continued unbroken from that time on.”
Shortly after that experience, Bhagavan left for the holy hill of Arunachala and spent the next 53 years in that vicinity.
In those years, people often asked him questions about death.
Here is what Sri Ramana Maharshi said on death and dying:
MOURNING IS NOT the index of true love. It betrays love of the object, of its shape only. That is not love. True love is shown by the certainty that the object of love is in the Self and that it can never become non-existent. There will be no pain if the physical outlook is given up and if the person exists as the Self.
There is no death nor birth. That which is born is only the body. The body is the creation of the ego. But the ego is not ordinarily perceived without the body. It is always identified with the body.
If a man considers he is born he cannot avoid the fear of death. Let him find out if he has been born or if the Self has any birth. He will discover that the Self always exists, that the body which is born resolves itself into thought and that the emergence of thought is the root of all mischief.
Find where from thoughts emerge. Then you will abide in the ever-present inmost Self and be free from the idea of birth or the fear of death.
The birth of the ego is called the birth of the person. There is no other kind of birth. Whatever is born, is bound to die. Kill the ego: there is no fear of recurring death for what is once dead. The Self remains even after the death of the ego. That is Bliss – that is immortality.
The concept of death itself is fragile. The dead do not have their existence interrupted but are temporarily transferred to another vibrational level – they keep on living. They can communicate with those that remain incarnated on Earth and can establish a new line of exchange.
The severe pain that accompanies death of a loved one can contain loads of unbalance emotions. The pain of the physicial separation can last for a long period of time, and this can’t be denied. However, it should be dealt with the hope of the re-encounter and communication with the loved one.
Our loved ones are driven by life to return to one’s origins where everyone of us will go back one day. No one belongs to no one, beside one only loses what one has.
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Source: Extract from: Sogyal Rinpoche’s book on Living and Dying
“Talks with Ramana Maharshi”