Buddhist Dharma Teachings Chapter 5
Overview of the Path
Wednesday 17 March 2010, by
We have been on a series of teachings dealing with the basic issue of mind and conscious experience. From there we have delved into the area of appreciating that our human existence is very precious, termed recognition of the precious human rebirth. This is a good meditation. If one has a sense of drawing the value from something, the precious human rebirth is very powerful for that. In meditating on that, if you can think of just how much freedom, liberty and opportunity you have, that can bring you a lot of inspiration to take advantage of yourself. Whom you are. The existence you have. The opportunities you have. Often we let the days slip by, weeks, then months, then years, and suddenly we find ourselves five years older than we were a while ago, and yet we have not done an awful lot. And it is not that we want to become work-aholics or something, but we want to take value from our existence.
The more valuable things are not material accomplishments. Rather, they are inner realizations. If we were to demonstrate something which appears to be unique to human existence, it is the realization of qualities and aspects of what we would consider beneficial things. Realizing those is very special. It is something only humans can realize. Such as love, compassion, generosity, empathy, the things which make human existence special. And certainly, what we recognize in others when they have those qualities, as being special things. Someone who has the time to listen to us. Someone who offers their time towards caring for others. People that have values and are not just being nasty, caring only for themselves, but concerned with the betterment of the world, the improvement of our human situation, and even the situation of non human things, animals and so on.
So those are qualities worthwhile striving for because they are things which can never be taken from you. They are inner qualities, inner jewels versus materialism, wealth, money, possessions, or something you need that way. You might have it for five or ten years, but it does not mean it cannot be taken away from you. Whereas if you develop inner quality, and in developing it if you stabilize it, then it is something which is with you and only you will give it up by abandoning that particular attitude in that particular quality you are fostering yourself.
This brings us around to the next topic. I think it is the most beneficial meditations that one can do in that it is bringing us into the reality of whom and what we are, and the existence we have. the Buddha said that all which is born will die. So we are all in the having been born category. Therefore we have waiting for us at the end of our lives, death. It is something I am sure not many of us think about unless something reminds us that death is there. But it is an important thing. A very positive thing. It is not negative to think about death.
For Buddhist meditations, one of the most beneficial meditations we can do because it makes us a more real person, more kind, it makes you have time. Because in realizing that all you have at this time is your life, until you no longer have the capacity to breathe, so that you cease. All you have is whom you are. And therefore it is important to try to make whom you are something special and worthwhile. Something that when you come to your death time, you can say, I did well. I am alright.
They say of levels of spiritual realization, at the time of your death, is when you can feel the fruit or results of your life as a meditator. So they say that the most minimal realization or feeling you should have at the end of your life, is that you should say, I am alright. I feel good for the actions which I have did. That is the most minimal level of spiritual attainment that you should have if you are cultivating spirituality. The next level that you could have if you aspire a little, is if you have some higher realization. And so they say, although you are approaching death and might be slightly nervous about it, generally speaking, you are actually looking forward to the experience of it. Because if you are a good meditator, they say you can die consciously. And with that you have the opportunity to do things when you enter into the intermediate state. And the highest level of meditator has absolutely no particular problem with death whatsoever because of their level of realization in their meditation, death is no obstacle whatsoever. k They are well prepared for it. When their consciousness absorbs to their heart, they already have a great deal of experience of dealing with the sensations and the visions of what will happen. Therefore they have no problem whatsoever. So death is merely just another process like falling to sleep at night.
Those second two levels, of course require that there be some aspiration and some attainment of yoga or meditative power. But the first level is certainly something that we should try to find in our lives. I think the easiest way to refer to it is just a clear conscience. That when I finally find death, that I will have a very clear conscience. I did well in my life, at least I did not harm anyone. I was a good person. So when I die, I never feel, I did not say goodbye to this person. I didn’t resolve that problem. Those sorts of things.
To help us realize those goals, those emotional states, it is important that we beat on our mind and try to make our mind realize. Because if we do not, we are actually cheating ourselves. We are not making ourselves appreciate the actuality of death. Death is a definite thing. The Buddha said because you are born you are going to die. That is reality.
So how definite is death? We might think death might be avoided somehow. Well, in the world if you think of it, no it is not! You cannot go somewhere, Antarctica, Hawaii, or something and somehow be missed by death. It will come to you wherever you go. Because somehow people think, if I go and live in Arizona, there is no pollen, so I do not need to worry about dying sooner! Like they are not dealing with death, they are rather thinking if I live this way, I might sort of live forever. And so they go to Arizona because the air is better. Maybe they eat a particular diet. People do that! But the actual reality is, death will get us where ever we are.
And then we might think, it is possible, if I practice spiritually, somehow I might be able to avoid death, that way, physical death. But even that is not possible. If you think of all of the great saints. They have all at some point given up their body. The Buddha died physically. Jesus Christ was crucified and although they say he obtained a body of light which in Buddhism is acceptable, there is what is termed the rainbow body if you are a good meditator. But even though, they had to stop their physical existence. And this means, although you might say you could avoid death if you do a particular practice, if you look in the world, every spiritual practitioner from every religion, all their bodies are gone. You can not go somewhere and find some great yogi who is three hundred years old. Again, you should not think that death is avoidable. Death is definite.
The second phase of meditation on death, is being conscious of the fact that death is immanent. The teaching says that death is literally one breath away. If the next breath does not come, death is there. So death is very immediate. You can not say, I am going to live to be eighty or ninety and death is not going to come sooner. It happens to everyone, young, middle aged or old. So often you think death happens to everyone else but me. Or death only happens to old people. But we should try to be more conscious of, is that all sorts of people die at all different ages. A lot of the time it is a big shock. It can happen to a child. Even very special people.
If you start to develop an awareness of death and that death is inevitable, at some point in your life you will hear of a friend or maybe it will be your pet cat, something will die around you. And at that moment you have a very stark experience that death is there. That is wonderful! It is one gift that people or animals that die around us give us. They give us the realization that we are also mortal and that we are going to die too. In that way, death is definite, the time of death is indefinite. It happens to any of us. It can happen at any time. There are many circumstances for death. People who appear to have healthy bodies are actually turning into the causes for dying.
The other thing is that the time of death is undetermined is that when death comes, you cannot say, I need another ten minutes please, because there is someone I want to call and say I am sorry. Death is there. That is it. You are taken. So the time of death is indefinite so you should not leave much unfinished business in your life. you should try to have a clear conscience about what you are experiencing. Of course, that is from your side that you should try to have a clear conscience. Sometimes people get a teaching and think, I have to resolve all my issues and bring them to a conclusion. That is not sometimes possible. Some people that you might have difficulty with in our lives, you can never resolve the issue with them because they will not let you resolve it. But you need on your side to say I am sorry. And from your side resolve it as in being truly sorry for whatever problems you have caused. In that way, you have a clear conscience.
So the time of death is indefinite. And so,if you were to die with some sort of bad feeling about something, that is not good. It is unpleasant to die with. There are a lot of dharma stories about those who seem to be very good people. But when it comes to the end of their lives, they become very distraught, very emotional, very anxious. And when they finally die, they die in hysteria because they cannot accept it. They cannot finish off the business of their life. I am sure some of you know of people that have clung to life, even in the most bitter things, not willing to accept death as possible. And in some way trying to not let go of people or things or relationships or such. Incredible suffering! And it is because their mind is not accepting of the fact that they have to die.
Finally, what helps you you at the time of death? What is a suitable object to rely on? There are three areas which basically cover everything we rely on in the material world. The first is property wealth, possessions. We think we are going to spend our whole life amassing money, wealth, cars, all these sorts of things. This is a suitable object to rely on. But when you come to die, all of the things you have acquired become other peoples property. There is a terrific expression that says you are the caretaker of another person’s possession. So if this watch is the most precious watch, I always put it in a special pocket, and think of it as my precious watch, all I am doing is that the next guy that gets this watch is certainly going to have a well taken care of watch.
That is an interesting thing! It makes you realize that putting a lot of time and energy into something, you might think there is wonderful feeling in that, like if I am going to give a gift to someone and it is going to be well taken care of, but the reality is, the next person in line might remember for maybe two or three days that that was from you. And they will not remember that any more! So some people live in a thought pattern that says my on going gifts to the world will be my heritage or gift! But I can think of things that my mother has given me, things from my family. And I am sorry to say I don’t immediately come to mind and say, this is a gift from my mother! It is sort of an object after awhile. And it is not that I am nasty about my mother! It is just it is not that way. So some people put a lot of sentimental value into their possessions but it is a mistake because that will not be the case. Maybe in their mind it will be, but they are deluding themselves. So in that way putting a lot of emphasis to reliance upon possessions will not be a worthwhile thing to do with ourselves because all those objects will be taken away. And it is like hair taken from butter. You go, but everything that you have is left behind. All you take with you when you die is the way you interacted with those objects.
So if you did not cultivate some aspect of quality about yourself, if you did not cultivate a sense of generosity and kind heartedness, things which are of qualities that we as humans enjoy. Then you will find that you take with yourself a lot of miserliness, a lot of attachment, and a lot of suffering. So relying on material possessions is not a very suitable thing to have as reliance because at the time of death it will only cause suffering.
Next of course is friendships. We sometimes think that friendships are precious things. they are. Having friends is very important. Because with friendship, with relationship, with those you live with, in that a lot of special feelings are generated. But if we rely on our friends saying this friendship is the most important thing and therefore I am going to give everything for the cultivation of this friendship, again we are going to be at a disadvantage at the time of death. We are going to be very unhappy.
In the teachings they say that if your parents were to drive your left and your right leg, and your lover was to grab your arm, and the most dear person in the world, maybe your guru, was a to hold your head, still you will die. Still you will leave your body. So if you think that friendships are a place to put a lot of reliance, it is not a suitable object. Again it is like material possessions. What you do with your friendships is what you will take with you. The friends you will not take with you. Therefore you should become more conscious in your relationships. And cultivate relationships where there is something beautiful being shared with that person. Something with quality of kindness. In that way, then you are cultivating something which is beneficial for you which is a positive attitude and good feelings. And what you are going to leave with that person is a pleasant thing. You were a good person. And that is something that other person will be inspired by so you were even doing something nice in that way. Whereas if you have relationships where there is clinging, you have the relationship because you need that person, they make you feel solid and stable and such, in that way it is a lot of suffering because at death you will not have anything within yourself and that other person will leave because you are dying.
The final thing we have attachment about is our own body. We think our body is the most wonderful thing. Every morning you get up, wash it, feed it, make it feel good and comfortable. You do all this and more for the body and body enjoyments. But at the end of your life,l your body is killing you. So if you put a lot of energy to your body, and to that you can go a step further. Like people who are health nuts. they feed their body the best quality food, vitamins, they work out every day and have a terrific reliance on their body. For them, there is incredible suffering at the time of death. One friend of mine was a material artist who cultivated his body to be powerful and perfect. He was really into his body. He ate ginseng everyday, outer exercises, inner taoist exercises, and had a powerful body. But ever time he got sick, he got neurotic. Illness shouldn’t happen to him. He would push really hard to make himself healthy again. Mind over matter sort of thing. Finally, he killed himself because he was so uncontrolled in a sense.
The point is if you put a lot of energy into your body, you cultivate this wonderful machine. But at the time of death, it will be the thing which will kill you. And so, to put a lot of energy, like extra energy to your body, is really impractical. You have to feed, groom and clean your body. You should do that. But if you put emphasis to the extreme, if you think of the word vanity, vanity is most interesting. You should try to observe someone with vanity. They live in a world of images about what they think they should be like. And maybe they were like. And as they grew older, vanity leaves them empty.
I knew one woman who had three babies. In her twenties, she had had a wonderful figure. Now she was in her forties and had a few rings of flesh about her body. The thing is, in talking with her, she lived in this world as a twenty year old, but she was forty. She was nice. The thing which hurt me the most was she was a wonderful person but she kept flipping into this I am a twenty year old body. Her vanity would not let her go. She still felt there was something there! Something attractive which she had. It was sort of a shame.
The point is, we all have bodies and rely on our bodies, but we should not put emphasis to our bodies to be the end all of all end alls. All three things. You possessions, your friends and your body are all wonderful things to utilize, but if you make it as the object to rely on solely, then there will be a lot of problems at the end of your life. And you will experience those. Therefore you should try to change your attitude.
Regarding possessions, use them in a positive way. Regarding relationships, try to give in relationship rather than take. Finally in regards to your body, use it, take care of it, but do not make some physical attributes of your body as being too important. j At the end of your life you will suffer having invested in that type of thing.
The main point is to try to cultivate inner quality versus reliance upon external things. Sometimes people misunderstand quality. Some get angry at their teachers and things. In their practice, sometimes things do not happen fast enough. And there is a lot of reliance on teachers. When we rely on teachers, we somehow expect that the teacher is going to do things for us. And therefore we set up a situation, when things don’t seem to happen we get angry and experience unhappiness. The problem is we have to realize that we have to cultivate our selves, the inner qualities that we want. So if we have a spiritual practice, then it is not that we do not need a teacher, we do not want to reject the teacher, but rather we need to take what the teachers give us and then cultivate the inner qualities. Then when we come to our death, we will be confident and comfortable with what we have within ourselves.
The reason I bring that up is because I know for my own spiritual practice, I had many teachers and felt they were incredible! Magicians! They had the spiritual power, energy, and realizations. All sort of wonderful things! You would see and experience the most incredible things around them. Because you are with people like that, very often you sort of think they are going to take care of you. That they are going to be there for you when you need them. In many ways they are. It is not to say that is not true. But, for myself personally, when I was in retreat, one of my teachers died and I went into a state of shock because I had some felt he should have taken me with him!
Reality is, in our practice, the gurus give us teachings for us to gain some stability in our practice. But because there is that relationship, very often we somehow feel dependent. Because of that we do not do too much with ourselves. Then when we loose our teacher, we feel that we have lost.
Therefore we get angry, or we do things like that! The mistake is on our side. It is not on the side of the teachers. So we should try to cultivate inner realizations or qualities. Whether you have a strong spiritual practice or not, lets say you do not have too strong a practice, you just sort of have the fact that you are a living person and you would like to be fairly positive and have good realizations, even in that case, then actually your guru is your own mind. In regards to your own mind, you want to put yourself in the best possible position that you can. From that perspective, think about your own personal death. It is the best thing you can do for yourself because it makes you impeccable.
If you have a good realization of death, your actions become very impeccable, very beautiful, perfect. When you do something, you do not do it sloppily. You do not do it in a haphazard way. when you say hello to someone, you really say hello. When you shake someone’s hand and want to be warm with them, you are really warm. And when you do an action of generosity, when you feel empathy with someone or listening to someone’s story, they are trying to resolve a problem, and you are there to listen and be with them, at that time then, you are really there. You have compassion. You have those things. Because you are impeccable. You are with the activity.
So death is the most wonderful thing you could ever think about. Death will make you very real and wonderful. If will make you a person that lives in the moment. And then, if you have an aspiration you have good attitude, and develop good qualities, it will help you do that because it is there to assist you. The problem of course, is that we always sort of forget our practice. We do a lot of other things and do not integrate our life very well. Suddenly we remember we are going to die one day. And I have not done a lot with myself. And then we sort of feel guilty, bad and such things. That happens quite a bit.
We need to not put ourselves down or think we should run away maybe and meditate on the mountains. We have to take hold of the immediate moment and say, alright, if death is a reality, all I have is this moment. So let me create me in a very powerful mode right now! Create me in avery real way! Right now! This is not sitting there thinking I am going to die one day and I didn’t get my act together. I have not done meditation for three or four days now. That creates yourself as being neurotic. It really does. So when you think I am going to die one day, what head space am I going to create right now. Because if death was to be here right now, what would I do? Well I would try to compose myself and be right in the moment, enter into a very positive thought, try to cultivate a very good head space, and when I die, I try to die in the most positive way that I can without fear and anxiety and being uptight.
So if that is the case then, when you reflect that death is imminent, death can happen at any time and death is a reality, then you should try to do that! Cultivate a tranquil together powerful head space. Like I say, where you are impeccable. And then you have got it. You have conquered death right there because you suddenly got your act together. Instead of being neurotic, sitting there thinking I do not do any meditation, the hell with it, I don’t want to think about it now anyway, it is too much work, and then you sort of try to forget about it totally, and then you go off and try to do something else, that is really silly. Because, you still have to deal with the issue that you are going to have to die. And then maybe you are going to have to deal with the issue of the fact that you maybe did try to cultivate some awareness but then you didn’t do it. So when death comes, you really feel bad about yourself.
The point is, you have got to get yourselves. To do that you have to break the shell of your own unconsciousness which does not want to think about death. And when you bring death up to your mind, you should try to do it in such a positive manner that it makes you calm, together, and here and now. And that is the real results you want from being aware of death. If you are going to die one day, then you are going to live the most incredibly full life that you can. And by full I mean, full and positive attitude, being avery beautiful person creating very wonderful things about yourself and the world around you. That is the positive results of how the death meditation should be. Rather than making yourself unhappy or depressed, neurotic.
The only thing I would like to offer is, whenever you hear about death or see or hear about someone dying, when death happens with something close to you, try to consciously take the experience of that and make it fully part of yourself because you do not get many opportunities to realize that you are a mortal being and you are going to die. We forget so fast and so easy and we become very insensitive. We sort of think that we will die wonderfully and I will not be any problem. Sorry! When we die, it will be a big problem and we will be very upset. So we have to make our mind more and more open to what death is all about. So when someone dies, try to allow yourself to fully experience that as to what it means. And what it means in regards to that person, from that person’s experience so that it makes something of benefit for your life.
Or, try to spend some time with someone who is dying. In a nice way. Be there to share with them and let them unload whatever they need to unload. But in doing that, allow yourself to become familiar with death and the experience of death. Because it will be very beneficial for you. You get your act together, help you become a better person. So it is worth while. And it might be worthwhile for the person who is dying in front of you because you can be there for them.
The final thing to do is to be conscious that life is impermanent. As you are going about, you might see dead insects, birds and so on. When you see that reflect that I will be dead too, one time! In that way bring yourself back into reality. It makes your life more here and now. So try to use death in a positive way. If you think about death you should try to bring about the conscious realization of being tranquil, peaceful, and in the here and now. That isn’t the results you want from death.
This lecture was transcribed by T Vd Broek and is originating from Daka’s Buddhist Consulting.