So yes, it’s a big question isn’t it, because we are all going to die, at some point. I wonder how much we understand what’s involved or how much we’ve reflected upon it. It’s a big part of life and getting to the point where we can meet it consciously, that’s quite a challenge and a wonderful thing if we can get to that place.
So whatever our personal beliefs are about what happens when you draw your last breath, and I think it is a very personal thing; we have to think this through for ourselves, I think to assume that it all comes to cessation when the heart stops, just because it is convenient to do so, may not necessarily be the approach that’s going to best serve us in the long run.
So actually, I asked a question on a retreat a while back. I asked my students, “If you knew that the day after you died you where going to be born again…” and I’m not suggesting that you are, because it was a hypothetical question, but, I asked them, “if you knew the day after you died you were going to be born again, back here, would you lead your life now the way that you are living it now?”
It’s quite a reflection isn’t it.
So let’s look at I another way. “If you knew that you would be coming back to start again in 10/20/30/40/50 years, and start again for another 60/70/80/90 years, how would you live your life, to pave the way to the one you come to next?” Its an interesting thought isn’t it.
The Buddha used to talk about how unfathomably rare and fortunate this life that we have is. I wonder if you’ve stopped to reflect upon it – but, if we really look at it, in all of history, to be as supported as we are is extremely rare. So in what ways are we supported, generally? Basically the requisites for a fortunate human life are:
- to not be struggling to find food
- to not be struggling to find shelter
- to be of sound mind
- to be of sound body
- to be born in a time and palce free from overwhelming social strife
So, we have a very fortunate set of circumstances in this life and to assume it would always be like that, might be, airing towards complacency to say the least! Because I think if we were to look out across history we would very rarely find circumstances like this. And even today these circumstances are rare. In short we are the most fortunate of human beings to appear on the Earth through this world cycle. That’s quite something.
So, looking around us, if we’re finding life difficult, well, it has been a lot harder and it can get a lot harder than this.
One of the things that we might reflect upon is:
- What would be the grounds for a life as fortunate as this?
As our meditation matures, we begin to see evermore clearly, how the past has conditioned the experience we are having right now and how we meet the experience we’re having now will condition our future.
So, somewhere in the background, the grounds for a life as fortunate as this only will come as a result of some accumulation of merit somewhere. It is not an act of random chance. You don’t have a random universe here. Life is an expression of a very pure and high intelligence and it’s not random – when you come to understand it deeply you’ll see that there isn’t actually a hair out of place. However it expresses itself in all the myriad ways is does, you can always see how it could be like that.
So this fortunate life is the result of an accumulation of merit which we have most likely completely forgotten. To come to such good fortune as this again would require the renewal of such merit during this life; something we might not reflect upon often enough while we’re busy enjoying the good-fortune we have. Now of course we should delight in a life as fortunate as this, it would be a terrible shame not to. But to delight without reflecting upon how we might continue to sow the seeds that would fruit with such good fortune in the future might again ‘air towards complacency.’
A friend of mine died last week. He was a very fortunate human being right up until the point where his life started to go wrong for him. He didn’t have any sign at what point his good fortune would run out. He got sick maybe 20 years ago and dealt with a degenerative sickness for 20 years and finally, he died last week. That is of course very challenging. It’s not until you really get close to someone who is in that position that you might start to ask yourself: “If that was me, would I find the courage, the humility and the grace to live that way?” I couldn’t say that I could! We just don’t know until we find ourself in such a position as that.
Somewhere inside, a challenge such as that is either going to be our undoing or our making. Although he died last night I am inclined to think that it was the making of him, however challenging it was. I knew him well and he was a good man, but he did not have the strength of character, patience, humility, or grace, as a young man that he died with, and this was a result of what he went through for 20 years.
So this is a testimony to how it really doesn’t matter what comes your way. It would be nice if it would all go swimmingly for us but we don’t know that it will. What is really important is that you find the courage to meet what comes your way and be with it so that it becomes your teacher, so that your challenges are an invitation to evolve and not your undoing.
I’ve seen a few people battle with similar sort of challenges and often I’ve seen it be the making of them… but I do ask myself: Isn’t it shame that it takes a challenge such as that to find such qualities within oneself” – it’s often the case that adversity becomes our making.
I would say that while life is going well for us it would be a jolly good idea to see what we could do to find those kinds of qualities within us. There is a danger that we might fall into complacency or a sense of entitlement. It would be foolish to assume that its always going to go our way and we can always have what we want, because we can’t.
I often say that the answer to most of our problems is a slap in the face with a wet fish. That is to say, that we should to take our knocks on the chin, get up and carry on, learning from the experience. Thats what they mean by a ‘wake up call’.
So, remember: reflect from time to time when you think it may be a little bit tough, just how fortunate and how much good fortune there is, and how much is swinging your way – and remember every now and then to say thank-you. I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody to learn what my friend learnt in the way he did, but there are many people out there who have to.
I can tell you this: If, when you find yourself breathing your last breath.If you could find it within yourself to say ‘thank-you’ at that very moment that will most definitely fare you well. If you can gladden your mind with a sense of gratitude for what you’d had as you let it go that will serve you well.
But as well as saying thank you it is important also to seek ways to renew our field of merit in this life. Somewhere, somehow, in the past you worked extremely hard for this extraordinary opportunity that you have. We need to honour it so that at the end of it you can say to yourself ‘thank-you, that was awesome!’ but we also need to take time to put something back into the good fortune bank that we have drawn on in this life.
The Buddha said that he who is of few needs and easy to serve is really close to being at peace but he who is of many needs and hard to serve is so far from being at peace and finds it hard to be happy. When you can delight in simplicity and realise your cup is already full, when you awaken to what you are a part of and recognise it for what it is, you know your cup is full. You won’t need much more than that and you’ll tread relatively lightly on this Earth and hopefully not be too much of an inconvenience to others. It is easy to reach the point where we have something to give back when our needs are few, but hard if we are constantly struggling to fulfil our many and elaborate desires.
We could all benefit from reflecting consciously on what might happen when we pass. What kind of mind do you think you will take with you when you go? What makes you think it would be any different from the one that you’ve lived with 24 hours of every day of this life? What makes you think that it would suddenly change and be something completely different to that? No. This passing on afer we die is a conditioned process every bit as much as our life is. The mind you have now is a result of the mind that you have had before and each moment you sow the seeds of how your mind will be in the future.
- The quality of your life right now is the fruiting of certain kinds of seed
- The quality of your mind right now is the fruiting of other kinds of seed
- The quality of this body is the fruiting of other kinds of seed
But it is not the case that bitter seeds produce sweet fruit, it’s not.
So: think about what you do/ what you choose: what you want/what you wish to apply your energy to – and ask,
“Is what I’m doing, the way I’m thinking, behaving and living, sowing seeds that fruit sweetly?”
My friend came to understand clearly: “OK, fair enough” and he took it on the chin and he carried it well and he didn’t die with an ounce of bitterness in him; but he might have. One thing’s for sure, last night he did not take that stricken body with him, but the mind that lived his challenge as his teacher wanders-on. So think about it like that, because your challenges can either be your invitation to evolve or they can be your undoing and that is entirely up to you.
The only indicator we have as to what we can expect in the future, is the quality of mind with which we meet our experiences now.
So don’t be afraid to take a knock on the chin and get over it; much better than carrying it with you like a sack of rocks on your back your entire life so that it is still with you when you die.
So when you live in conflict with the intelligence of life, sooner or later you come to recognise that there’s no peace, and no matter what you’re doing you don’t feel happy. When you live in alignment with it there is an extraordinary sense of wonder to what it is you’re a part of and it doesn’t actually matter what you are doing, it’s ALL extraordinary. There is a very profound difference between those two positions.
Try to work out where you are in conflict and let it go. Find your way. Come into alignment with the intelligence that sits in the background of your life.
Trust it, trust this life, it reflects itself perfectly everywhere. What you meet within you right now is a pure and perfect expression of the conditions that brought you to that point. So meet it there each moment and it will show you completely and utterly, exactly what is going on, because it is the same process at work everywhere all the time and it does not vary; It is one process and we are a part of it and it’s not behaving differently for you than it behaves for the next person. It is a single process that expresses itself through each of us perfectly. So make your peace with it, with what you’re a part of. Making peace with yourself is making peace with that. It’s not about you. It’s not personal. Unique and personal your experience indeed it is but what you are a part of is not personal so don’t take it personally. Just meet it with acceptance, love, compassion and gratitude.
My friend didn’t take it personally and that was the making of him. I think he has a lesson for us all.