Yet, in mainstream society today, it seems that most of us assiduously avoid bringing that aspect of the journey into the our awareness. Until our boat (or that of a loved one) sinks, or is about to sink, we don't seem to want to rock that boat -- and face that sinking feeling that may emerge.
Yet, it seems clear that death is an integral part of the fabric of life. Until we actually face death's inevitablity, we may not be able to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind. We'll always be somewhat haunted, skating over the thin ice of our own subconscious fear of one of the truths of our existence. IMHO, this is no way to live.
Buddhism makes no bones about this.
If you are going to perceive the truth of our existence, death has to be acknowledged. In the Theravadan tradition, Asian teachers still cite the Satipatthana Sutta of the Pali Canon and send monks off to meditate on corpses at the charnel grounds as a practice. That may be a bit hard core for Western practitioners who, unlike their Asian counterparts, are generally shielded from the reality of death and dying. Yet, even the Mahayana traditions that practice here in the West call for some focus on death. A recognition of the inescapability of death is one of the Four Reminders in the preliminary contemplations seen as necessary to begin the Lojong Trainings of Tibetan Buddhism. The inevitability of death is also one of the Five Remembrances chanted regularly in Zen services.
So what is the deal here? Why is an awareness of our inevitable demise so important?
We can turn to the Shaman Don Juan as chronicled by Carlos Casteneda years ago for one insight. Advising Castenada to keep an awareness of the presence of death accessible all times (over his left shoulder) he went on to say, "An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you. "
Talk about hard core values clarification!
The point is clear, and quite helpful when I remember to stay in touch with the larger perspective. When my vision expands to include an awareness of the End Game, the heart's wisdom naturally emerges. As Practice has deepened, I've found myself not climbing as many mind-created mountains as I had in the past, more readily seeing them for the molehills that they are.
Here's the Deal!
I've found that in embracing the magnitude of death, in accepting the absolute finitude of my individual life in this particular body, the Exquisite Preciousness of Life in this very moment comes into clearer focus. From a position of gratitude and wonder I can then bring myself to do what needs to be done as best my heart understands it.
It seems to me that this is the Heart of Bodhisattva Practice.
Moment to moment in the course of our everyday life, we can open our hearts, relax our grasping (and the tightness in our jaw, in our belly) and turn to engage our lives with as much kindness, care, compassion and skill as we can muster -- or not. At a certain point you realize this a life choice you can make and you commit to it. (See Bodhisattva Vows) Then, at a certain point you realize you have no choice. It is built into the fabric of who you are this time around.
As we take on the Practice, we come to see that it takes time, effort and skill to actually be aware of -- and let go of -- the layers of armor that shield our hearts. Conditioned as we are in a world where support for Love (as opposed to romantic desire) is in short supply, we have all learned to protect ourselves from actually feeling the tender vulnerability and accepting spaciousness that embrace one another in our heart of hearts. We've learned to toughen ourselves, again and again. Then all the congealed fears, judgments, graspings, and disappointments of a lifetime, like ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, operate to prevent us from experiencing our connection to the One Love.
|Day of the Dead Celebration in Mexico City|
It just takes Practice.