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) is about to sink, we don't seem to want to rock that boat -- and face that sinking feeling that may emerge. Yet, at a fundamental level, it seems to me that until we do, we will not be able to engage our lives fully and directly with an open heart and clear mind.
Buddhism makes no bones about it. 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. 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, and is 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?