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Our Attitudes Toward Death
You should understand that your physical death does not mean the end of your conscious existence. You have lived before in countless previous lives in countless other bodies in this beginningless cycle of existence called Samsara. Whatever actions you have done consciously in these past lives, whether positive or negative, are deposited in the dark unconscious depths of your stream of existence as karmic traces. When the appropriate circumstances arise in some future life, these karmic seeds become activated, germinate, and bring their karmic fruits. Thus, the situation in your present life, even your present physical body, is the result of your past karma. But, in the same way, with each choice of your actions you make in this present life, you create new karma, whether positive or negative, that will determine the course of your next life. So, the situation is far from hopeless. At this present moment, you are actually creating your future lives through your thoughts and actions. All of us carry the seeds of our future karma with us, lifetime after lifetime.
Each of us is like a mighty river, without any beginning in time, which flows through many different and varied landscapes. Each landscape is a lifetime. Know that your individual stream of consciousness is like this mighty river. It is a river whose waters change from moment to moment, so that it is never the same, and yet it is the same river. In the past you have been many people, in the future you will be many more. In each of these lifetimes, we have a lesson to be learned. Know that you are called “nobly born” because you now possess a precious human existence. Such an existence is precious because it takes an exceedingly large accumulation of meritorious karma, accrued over many lifetimes, in order to realize a human rebirth. This is a unique opportunity that should not be wasted. On this planet earth, it is in such a human existence that the opportunities for spiritual evolution are at their maximum. There are many other possibilities of rebirth, both higher and lower, and there is no guarantee of another human existence, except through your actions here and now in this present life.
Yes, for the time you have being this precious human body. But all things are impermanent; all great monuments will eventually crumble into dust. Even the great mountains over millions of years will be washed away by the rains and even the great ocean will eventually dry up in the fires of the sun. Eventually the sun itself will fade, grow cold, and die. All things are impermanent, including this physical human body you now possess. It is certain that you will die eventually. Even though the hour of your death is uncertain, it is certain and sure that it will come, unwelcome and unannounced, for old age, sickness, and death follow all of us relentlessly like the shadow follows the body. You cannot flee your shadow, you cannot escape the inevitability of your death. You can only face it by discovering who you really are.
This frail body of yours, produced from many past karmic causes and conditions, is unreliable and fragile, like the flickering of the flame of a candle left outdoors in a violent wind storm. Certainly, it will not endure long. Nowhere will you find a physical body that is not a vessel for death. No one knows when the Lord of Death will come, for he is unannounced and unexpected, but it is certain that he will come. Therefore, you should always be mindful of the signs of approaching death, whether these be external, internal, or secret, and you should exert yourself on the spiritual path.
Truly, we human beings face two kinds of death: Death by untimely accidental conditions and death caused by the exhaustion of our life-force. Before the conclusion of our natural span of life, untimely death may be turned away by means of the methods of long life practice. But where the cause of death is the exhaustion of our natural span of life, then these methods will be of little value. Our situation is like that of a oil lamp empty of its fuel. In that case, there is little hope, save that the flame will soon be extinguished.
The time for the death of your physical body has come upon you, as it must come sometime to all mortal beings. What you are experiencing at this time is the Bardo of Dying, which began with your present terminal illness. You now lie on your death bed, your final resting place. Although the time for your death has come, fear not, for this is not the end. Even as you drawn your last breaths, your stream of conscious experience will continue. What is most important now is for you to keep your mind peaceful and calm, but fully alert. There is nothing more to be done in this life. Now is the time to let everything go.