#1: Death and impermanence

6 January 2010 - 4:10pm Comments Off

Buddhists are often labelled as being pessimistic, always talking about death and impermanence. Buddhists are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We are realistic. While there can be arguments or debates with regards to the impermanent nature of many objects in this universe, known and unknown, no one will deny the impermanence of life – death.

We all know that a wheel that is balanced makes things run smoothly. If we were to check our life right now, we will have to accept that it is full of ups and downs and at times wobbly.

What is missing in our life that makes it unbalanced?

Not thinking about death and not caring about our future lives. We become unbalanced in our views when we  do not have the limbs of past and future to support us. Our life has little meaning without the two extensions. To be spiritual means at least to have some concern for one’s future lives. While we only have one present life, there are countless future lives to come. In that sense, future lives are more important.

It is not within the scope of this essay to establish the existence of past and future lives. When we look at photos taken as we grow up, we cannot deny we have had many past lives as a baby, a toddler, a teen; remembered a lot of yesterdays; and have some certainty at this point in time there will be a tomorrow. Although our past states of being had ‘died’ , our consciousness continues on despite physical changes.

If we cannot prove the existence of past and future lives, to have a balanced view, we must also accept we cannot disprove the same. This is called balanced doubt. It is positive because it motivates us to want to find out more, to embark on a journey of discovery.

The truth does not depend on us believing in it. Most of us do not know how to prove the existence of gravity nor really know what it is. But as long as we don’t jump from a 10 storey building it’s okay even if you don’t believe there is such a thing as gravity.

Even without a firm belief, if we live in accord with the truth or reality, we will still be able to experience happiness and peace. This is another meaning of ‘going with the flow’. The reason our life is unsatisfactory, filled with fear and push and pull is a sure sign we are not living in accord with reality.

A strong belief in past and future lives will help conquer fear of death. How?

We accept the reality that we are only a migrator on a brief visit in this realm in time and space. It helps us learn to let go in the same way when we visit a foreign country for a holiday. When it’s over we are happy to return home. To be happy, we don’t need to carry the country back with us except for some souvenirs. Our memories and experiences are the real source of happiness.

We fear/despise death because we think of death as an absolute end that removes everything and the good and bad we have done. There is no continuity, no hope of doing more, to be more. The moment we adopt such a view, we have placed limitations on ourselves.  Everything is cut short – no hope to continue to do more good, no hope to repair the bad we had done and no hope to fulfil all our wishes. If there ever was a definitive meaning of hopelessless it would be the moment when one is confronted with death.

The scenario and our life brightens up tremendously and immediately if we believe there is continuity after death. Contemplating on this even as a possibility help us gain correct view of death.

One should not fear death for the wrong reasons – negative fear leads to hopelessness.

One should fear death for the right reasons – a fear that motivates us to do something about it because there is real hope.

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