SuttaCentral

Old age, sickness and dying: how is it possible to accept and remove the fear


#42

In MN 23 SuttaCentral, one still need to exert effort even after having wisdom. I wonder if the sequence of throwing away in the sutta is to be taken literally?

I think there is a sutta in which Buddha is asked (accussed?) why someone who die after living holy life (brahmacari) has the same (or worse) destination than a lay person, to which replied because the lay person has wisdom, and stressed if both aspect perfected no one will know where they go.


#43

My experience is that contemplating on decay and death has a very sobering effect on the mind, but it does not eradicate existential fear entirely. Sometimes it makes things worse and a crippling sense of helplessness takes over my mind as the tide of disease and aging becomes a baleful shadow from which there doesn’t seem to be an escape. This feeling is further accentuated when I think about facing this alone, in complete isolation - which is what wandering ascetics did, back in ancient times. No health insurance, no ready access to hospitals and medical care and above all, no human or familial attachments to provide some support in case a debilitating ailment strikes one down. The Sangha was there and we have accounts of the Buddha himself cleaning and washing a fellow monk who was sick with diarrhoea and covered in his own excrement, but I still see a picture of isolation and self-reliant asceticism when I read verses said by hermits - in the Therigatha/Theragatha, for example.

I think that if we contemplate on this subject, then eventually the mind is drawn to the idea of cessation, completely liberated from decay, aging, death and attain a form of release that is attained by the complete renunciation of the entire world - both external and internal. I like this excerpt from the Nibbana Sutta :

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support. This, just this, is the end of stress.

My opinion is that we shouldn’t accept it. To do so would mean that the mind slides into a state of Stoic indifference, simply making one a convict inside the prison of worldly pursuits and attachments and the vicious cycle of desire, unrest and dissatisfaction. Seeing decay in everything and seeing how futile it is to build little fortresses to keep fear at bay should instead be used to stimulate the mind and make one transcend aging and death altogether and touch Nibbana. Anything else, including the supposedly brave acceptance of the inevitability of death are just palliatives for the mind, IMHO.

Unless one has attained Nibbana, then I think this means that fear could have been subdued to some extent, not eradicated. And it’s also possible that people console themselves with theories of God. To believe that one is going to fall into the embrace of an omniscient God after death and thus be rid of this world of struggle and strife is a very soothing lullaby for the mind…