Bhante Sujato’s most recent guided meditation on the topic (death):
I struggle with this topic all of the time.
I don’t need to be told everything is impermanent and my dukkha in dealing with is because of attachment.
I see it up close for myself at least several times a week.
If you posted a summary of the video that it had something to MORE to offer about dealing with 1 certainty of life ( aside from taxes ) then just those two observations I would be glad to watch it.
No insults, sarcasm, or disrespect meant.
Fair enough @Jhana4
Thanks for your feedback.
It is a topic not for everyone.
Feel free to mute the topic if it really disturbs you.
For those not able to play the video and curious about its message see below the transcript extracted from YouTube:
in our waking hours for much of our
lives we’re granted an unwarranted
luxury a sense that we are in mortal our
organs function normally our joints give
us no pains we are focused on the next
few financial quarters in the business
dropping dead is the last thing on our
minds but this is not the case in the
early hours suddenly there’s an odd
gnawing twinge in the stomach it isn’t
anything major and it might pass by
tomorrow but this might also be the
start of a tumor that will fell us by
the new year also our chest feels a bit
tight when we breathe that can sometimes
be a sense of strain there was an
incident a little while back at the
airport running for the distant gate
could it have been a heart attack a
quiet one that passes largely undetected
but tears fatefully at a valve what
about the slightly odd mole on one’s
back has it always been there or is it
spreading aggressively and malignantly
why can’t we remember the name of that
really nice colleague we worked with a
few years back his reason beginning to
crumble this would be just the moment
for a stroke which will leave us half
paralyzed paramedics will urgently wheel
us along the AE corridors on a trolley
bed we’ll need to have our bottom wiped
by a nurse and be fed with a tube coming
out of our nose the sheer implausibility
of being and remaining alive grows
overwhelming how is it possible that one
can keep living given everything that
might go wrong it isn’t hypochondria
anymore that McCobb almost fun state of
mind you can adopt as an adolescent this
is a realistic assessment of the risks
it’s the imagination correctly deployed
this present ache or twinge might not
announce the end but something will
happen the abstract possibility of death
turns at night into a concrete decisive
fact perhaps will fall off a ladder
trying to get a suitcase out of a high
up cupboard and lie on the floor for
eight hours with a broken neck blood
filling our lungs before anyone finds
our discolored limp body well maybe
we’ll be lucky and it will be a quick
aneurysm on the way back from a party
celebrating a friend’s birthday whatever
it will be it’s getting closer
others will be deeply distressed for a
while a few people will be sad even
years later when they happen to think of
us but they’ll cope it won’t matter to
anyone the way it matters to us right
now we’re appalled and awed by the deep
strangeness of being alive it’s so
fundamentally improbable that the
delicate web of our thoughts and
feelings is being sustained by a bunch
of pulpy fragile organs
all our complicated ideas and lovely
movements of the soul depend upon tiny
mindless white blood corpuscles oxygen
molecules and the rhythmic spasms of the
sinoatrial node why does this machine
keep going why aren’t we dead already
the thoughts are horrific and the full
panic may go on for half an hour or more
but as we gradually grow used to the
idea of being obliterated and forgotten
the thought of death sharpens our
resolve we have to do the important
things while we can we need to finish
our work and dare to take up new
initiatives we need to forgive more we
can let a stupid comment pass we can
give up on a feud even though the other
wronged us the visceral knowledge of our
approaching death renews our
appreciation of existence
it’s incredible to be able to hear a car
accelerating in the distance it’s
fascinating to have feet the pillow
feels so nice on our cheek it will be
lovely to look tomorrow at a tree or to
hear a song or bite into a fig we’re
brought back to a proper sense of the
charm of things that ordinarily seem too
slight to notice but which are close to
why life is worth cherishing the Vale of
jaded familiarity is pulled back at
least for a little while
a year starts to look like a huge
privilege to have a day when nothing
much happens won’t be boring it will be
a magnificent opportunity to continue to
I have outlived my father for decades and have found no other way to deal with that other than by being grateful for each day he didn’t have. The suttas help with that.
I’ve found the suttas to be mostly grim, cryptic, and anti-life. The basic message being
“Life sucks, don’t allow yourself any sensual pleasure, train your mind & morals”.
I’ve always wanted to inspiration there, but have not.
Would you mind giving some examples of how the suttas have helped you cope with death?
I meditated for many years and found peace only while meditating. Sadly, when going about daily life, that peace was elusive. Instead, I saw suffering caused by myself and others all around. And I felt fear and dread. Will I hurt others? Will others hurt me?
Abiding in and dealing with that fear and dread proved difficult, even after hours and hours of struggling at a time. I was deeply afraid and could not bear it other than by obsessive distraction. But then one day it occurred to me that some part of the fear might be unfounded, a delusion if you will. This tiny tiny insight unlocked the prison of “I am afraid” and provided a tiny gap of doubt that I could widen as “this is fear. this is fear arising. this is fear letting go.”. The Mulapariyaya Sutta explains in detail how regarding something as “mine” is the hook to be released. Instead of “my suffering”, we train with"there is suffering". It took me ten years to widen that gap of doubt and eventually subdue my fear of death in daily life. The fear and dread has become now a simple love and respect for life and is no longer an endless scream in my ear.
I personally wouldn’t say the suttas themselves provide the full means to cope with death. They only provide a full recognition of the problem, and some insight into the nature of attachment, grief and illusion. They testify that a path to the end of suffering exists. The training and the path are required from there.
For example, in the famous narrative about Kisa Gotami, the story does not conclude with Gotami conquering her suffering and achieving nibbana. It concludes with her understanding the futility of her worldly attachment and delusional hope for a “cure” for her dead child, at which point she begins the training.
I have found mindfulness of impermanence to be helpful in coming to terms with the inevitability of ageing and death. Noticing transience.
“going to die”…the fabrication.
In trying to deal with how negative and unsupportive the suttas and other Buddhist teachings seem to be, several years ago I started a list in Google Docs. The list includes everything Buddhist that promotes happiness or helps a person cope.
The tactic of looking at your thoughts and your emotions as not being yours, but impersonal phenomena floating across your awareness is on that list.
I’ve found it helpful ( though not completely so ).
It’s an interesting point. Maybe one thing to acknowledge is that the perspective a person approaches them with may make a real difference.
I personally found the truth of suffering a real relief and genuinely uplifting, in very crude terms it was like, “phew, so I’m not making it up then, life actually is like that! Oh and wow, I’m not completely nuts when I can’t see the big ‘whoop’ in all these weird pursuits most of society has told me I should be excited about.” I could likewise say a similar-ish thing about the teaching on death.
I really understand how easily it is to read the suttas “sternly” and can sometimes get that impression as well, but the more I’ve consider them I feel they’re actually jam-packed with positivity. However, perhaps out of respect to the OP further consideration of that outside of the context of death could be followed in another thread.
I suppose I have a little advantage, in that I have had a couple of near death experiences. In my experience, everyone who surprisingly survives a NDE, experiences a change in perspectives and values. The ‘important’ things become highlighted, as well as the appreciation of each day of life. So from this perspective the contemplation of death is useful.
For me, as the suffering of impermanence and delusion and craving becomes more and more clear, so the relief of liberation becomes sweeter. As perception changes, to identifying wordly pleasures as burdens, then renouncing them brings relief and happiness. The joy in simplicity, and not being tossed about by reactive, conditioned thoughts and emotions.
IMHO this only works when one has seen through the ‘delusion’ to some extent. If one is enjoying sense pleasures, living in ‘good’ and satisfying conditions in samsara, then it appears crazy to exchange renunciation of pleasures, for an ascetic life. My friends and relatives all think I’m crazy lol - some of them even resent the fact that I have embraced the Buddhas teachings. To them it makes no sense to deprive oneself of the ‘best’ things in life - on purpose!
But renunciation to me is freedom, relief and liberation. I watch them tossed about on the ocean of impermanence, the emotional struggles they have when expectations aren’t fulfilled, and the continuous struggle to control something that it is impossible to control. I know that they would be able to reduce the resultant suffering if they were better able to see the delusion involved in their conditioning. But we are all at different places in our karmic journey. So just as I don’t preach to them, I appreciate that they allow me to pursue the buddhist N8fp.
With regards to the OP specifically, contemplation of death assists in gaining a better perspective on the ‘important’ things in this short and unpredictable life span no matter if you’re on the N8fp or in pursuit of sense pleasures. When one realises that there is a short and unknown length of time available, it spurs motivation, not to waste ones time. It is helpful even if one is not interested in renunciation, as one doesn’t put off things of importance. Carpe Diem!!
If following the N8fp, one realises that each day is precious to advance instead of leaving it to the next rebirth. Someone recently was reflecting humourously on this, and said they needed to put in more effort than their previous rebirth, who left so much stuff to be done > ie left so much of the burdens to the next life. If one is fully committed and has integrated the path within themselves, then realising the very short time we have in this life is a huge motivator. To me ceasing to exist in samsara then becomes the ultimate liberation and and all efforts are expended in moving in the direction of absolute renunciation, where nothing is me, mine or myself, no craving, no volition. The ‘fuel’ is no longer sought out and the action/process of samsara is ended. I feel ‘satisfied’ (have no regrets) if I am doing my best to move in this direction (so much work yet to be done!!), before it is my turn to die - so as to spare the next rebirth as much suffering as possible
I feel death and usually, dying, is short lived and nothing to fear about. Life can cause so much more suffering- we need skills to survive life!
Each day I feel the impermanence of life and the very temporary existence of my organs as my lungs deteriorate and my breathe gets shorter and more difficult. I am not saddened by this-but of course occasionally frustrated and depressed in the moment that my breathing becomes difficult- but also reminded that my time here is short, and to treasure every breath I take.
But Buddhism isn’t an ascetic life in the idea of tormenting oneself without meaning. After trying that and seeing it didn’t work he decided to try a bit of moderation + added jhana to the mix, [plus Right view, morality, etc…] got it to work!
Thank you for sharing, Rosie.
May each breath bring you peace.
I asked Ajahn Appichato how we can live every moment as if it is our last. He mentioned death contemplation and emphasized the importance of combining it with mettā.