“The Buddha’s path means giving up attachment to all we are holding on to. It means giving up our cherished views about ourselves and the world. This can be as scary as death itself.
In order to find the courage to be able to make that leap, we need to realise just how dangerous the situation we find ourselves in is. For example, one might be very frightened about jumping out of an aircraft with a parachute on one’s back. However, if you are aware that the plane is on fire and it’s going to crash, it is much easier to find the courage to jump.
An advantage of having reflected on death very strongly again and again, is that we are more able to open to our own and others’ death. We are not trying to pretend it is not happening or it couldn’t happen and we are not seeing the dying person in a category apart. This is already very helpful for a person who is dying.
Another important point about reflecting on death is that as we open to it the more obvious it is that our whole world could collapse any time. This opens us up to realising the ungraspable nature of reality: ’emptiness’. To suddenly experience this in meditation can be very frightening, like death itself. We quickly want to grasp on to our life and world and perhaps do not want to go near the path to Awakening again for quite a while.
Some people sense that if they were to look too carefully at the nature of the world they are attached to, they would lose interest in it and somehow become alienated or different from their friends and family. These kinds of fears often stop people from pursuing the path to Awakening whole-heartedly.
These and other deep-seated habits of mind cause us to cling to this world and neglect to follow the path to Awakening, even if we are vaguely inspired by it. We try to convince ourselves that really samsara is not that bad, life is okay, we don’t really need to give up attachment or, at least, not all of it or not yet. But when we reflect deeply on death we realise that this is just deception, and that we need to gather the courage to face that deception and the fear that gave rise to it, in order to dare open our hearts and turn towards our true nature.
It is easy to have doubts, thinking that maybe the whole idea of Enlightenment or Awakening is a pipe dream or a fantasy. Deep reflection on death, however, can help us cut through this kind of doubt. At death it is sure that we will be cut off from all we cling to in this life, but there is no evidence to suggest awareness itself will die.
The more we look at the nature of awareness, the more we realise it is not of the nature of something that dies. This realisation combined with the recognition that death severs us from all we cling to in life, makes reflection on death our dearest friend. It is the friend that drives us into the arms of our own salvation.”
Lama Shenpen Hookham
This is an excerpt from the book ‘There’s More to Dying Than Death’ available HERE.