Mindfulness of Death Series : Part 4 : Why Bother?

 


So we come to the fourth article for this series. I’ve decided to make this a five part series like metta or else this article would have been too long, so next week will be the final piece. Before that final piece I wanted to discuss two suttas from the Aṇguttara Nikāya 6.19 & 6.20, Maranassati Sutta: Mindfulness of Death (1 & 2). I want to put these in here to emphasize the importance the Buddha put on this practice.

AN 6.19:

“The Blessed One said, “Mindfulness of death, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit & great benefit. It gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its final end. Therefore you should develop mindfulness of death.”

  • When this was said, a certain monk addressed the Blessed One, “I already develop mindfulness of death.And how do you develop mindfulness of death?”
  • “I think, ‘O, that I might live for a day & night, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal.’ This is how I develop mindfulness of death.”
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “I, too, already develop mindfulness of death……“I think, ‘O, that I might live for a day…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One…..“I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to eat a meal…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One……”I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up four morsels of food……
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “…… “I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food…..
  • Then another monk addressed the Blessed One, “…… “I think, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal.’ This is how I develop mindfulness of death.”
  • When this was said, the Blessed One addressed the monks. “Whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for a day & night… for a day… for the interval that it takes to eat a meal… for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up four morsels of food, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’ — they are said to dwell heedlessly.
  • “But whoever develops mindfulness of death, thinking, ‘O, that I might live for the interval that it takes to swallow having chewed up one morsel of food… for the interval that it takes to breathe out after breathing in, or to breathe in after breathing out, that I might attend to the Blessed One’s instructions. I would have accomplished a great deal’ — they are said to dwell heedfully. They develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.
  • “Therefore you should train yourselves: ‘We will dwell heedfully. We will develop mindfulness of death acutely for the sake of ending the effluents.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”

So the Buddha called even those who dwell in mindfulness of death for the length of time it takes to chew some morsels “heedless”, now that’s rough! Having mindfulness of death in every breath is a lofty goal but one we can work towards. The breath is a wonderful tool because it shows us the life cycle. The breath comes in, it arises, is born. It fills the lungs and comes to a climax, a point where you cannot get any higher, the lungs are full to capacity. This is like a person who is born and then is in the prime of life. That’s not the end though is it, all things being impermanent. From that high peak there begins a decline, a decay, the breath slowly exits the body until it is no more, that is where we can see death, until the arising of new life with the intake of yet another breath, and the cycle continues on and on. This cycle can be seen in the very small (cells) and the very large (galaxies), it permeates existence.

When we are heedful, then we are fully aware of this cycle, of birth, life, and death, and its sway over us begins to lessen. Mindfulness of death helps us move towards equanimity of our situation, a situation that we are utterly powerless to change, no matter how hard we try.

There are those in the scientific community who are currently working on ways to stop the aging process. Even if we became near immortal beings who expanded into the cosmos, one day trillions of years from now the universe itself will be a dead empty hulk, unable to support life, or it will collapse in on itself, either way we will die with it. With a cycle that not even the universe itself can escape, I don’t hold out any hopes that humanity can succeed in its quest, nor frankly would I want to live forever, better to live mindful and heedful here for as long as we have, this is the way of peace. Moving on to the next Sutta:

AN 6.20

“Monks, mindfulness of death — when developed & pursued — is of great fruit & great benefit. It gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its final end. And how is mindfulness of death developed & pursued so that it is of great fruit & great benefit, gains a footing in the Deathless, and has the Deathless as its final end?

“There is the case where a monk, as day departs and night returns, reflects: ‘Many are the [possible] causes of my death. A snake might bite me, a scorpion might sting me, a centipede might bite me. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me. Stumbling, I might fall; my food, digested, might trouble me; my bile might be provoked, my phlegm… piercing wind forces [in the body] might be provoked. That would be how my death would come about. That would be an obstruction for me.’ Then the monk should investigate: ‘Are there any evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by me that would be an obstruction for me were I to die in the night?’ If, on reflecting, he realizes that there are evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by him that would be an obstruction for him were he to die in the night, then he should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. Just as when a person whose turban or head was on fire would put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness to put out the fire on his turban or head, in the same way the monk should put forth extra desire, effort, diligence, endeavor, undivided mindfulness, & alertness for the abandoning of those very same evil, unskillful qualities. But if, on reflecting, he realizes that there are no evil, unskillful mental qualities unabandoned by him that would be an obstruction for him were he to die in the night, then for that very reason he should dwell in joy & rapture, training himself day & night in skillful qualities.

“Further, there is the case where a monk, as night departs and day returns, reflects: ……

“This, monks, is how mindfulness of death is developed & pursued so that it is of great fruit & great benefit, gains a footing in the Deathless, and has the Deathless as its final end.”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the monks delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

The Buddha implores us twice a day, when the night comes, and when the morning comes, to be aware that you can die at any time for a variety of reasons. Because of this he implores us to look at our mind and see our unskillful, harmful qualities, and then to abandon them like your head is on fire! We don’t have enough time in this life to bother with a negative and aversive mind-states, it will do nothing but keep us mired in ill-will and hatred.

In the words of a famous internet meme a few years back “ain’t nobody got time for that”. As the sutta from part two tells us, aging and death are rolling in like mountains on all four sides, this human life is short and precious, don’t waste it.

The final article will return in two weeks, as next week I will be busy preparing for my ordination on 10-31-15. We will wrap it up and put it all together into a practice you can do in less than 10 minutes that will help your general practice and your life in the long run.


This is the Fourth in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Mindfulness of Death Series : Part 4 : Why Bother?

  1. This morning, as I was hosting an online meditation, I had this strong wave of realization come over me that I could die just sitting on my cushion at any moment. This was after sitting for about 30-40 minutes with a chatty mind and then I felt very still.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s