May 10 : Maintaining Awareness of Death

When we hear about someone who died unexpectedly, we should remember, “I too am aging, and I could even die today.” Most people who die on any given day do not wake up in the morning and think, “I’m going to die today.” Even those in the hospital or a palliative care or hospice facility will think, “Well, I’m dying, but it’s going to happen later, not today.”

When we listen to teachings on death, the mind is always going, “This teaching doesn’t directly pertain to me at the moment because death is going to come later.” This kind of mind makes it very difficult to immerse ourselves in the Dharma and to practise purely. The appearances of this life are so strong that we get carried away and forget that we could die at any time. We should always take the news of others’ deaths as personal instructions to maintain this awareness and ask ourselves if we are prepared for death: “Are we content with our Dharma practice? Have we sufficiently purified our negative karma? Have we created enough merit? Do we know how to guide our minds when we are dying? What practice will we do, and are we even going to remember to practise when the moment arrives?” Asking ourselves these questions will give us a lot of energy to practise in a pure way without getting side-tracked by the eight worldly concerns. If we can do this, it is a breeze when death actually comes. For great practitioners, death is like going on a picnic.

A former abbot of one of the branches of Drepung Monastery spent eighteen days in clear light meditation after dying. Death for him was happy and joyful because it offered the opportunity to meditate on the clear light of death. This is the kind of person we want to be when we die, rather than one who is clutching and clinging to something ungraspable. Then at the time of death, we can say, “Wow! Oh, how nice! Meditation in clear light, and then I get to go forward and continue working for the benefit of sentient beings!” To be able to relax and enjoy our death, we need to maintain an awareness of death at every moment of our lives.

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