Lets tackle a tough topic for most – death. Its a bridge we all must cross, so understanding it can help us when the final curtain call arrives.

People are dying everyday. We cannot delay here: not in our joy, not in our shock, not in our grief. We have to move on: no planning or worry can protect us. Today may be your last day here: are you ready to go?

But it harms us to think of death in a fearful way. There is nothing to gain from fearing death. Its a truth we are born into (yes, born into for some irony). The Buddha explained this in his “Discourse on Fear and Terror.” Fear arises from an undisciplined mind, like a flame from wood. The logs are craving, aversion, impatience & remorse, and undue doubts. If you remove the logs, fear cannot form. What you can do to remove these logs is develop the seven factors of awakening: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, calm, concentration, and equanimity.

I also think it harms us to think we can help those who have gone. We try to bear the unbearable burden. In Buddhist circles, it can become tempting to think “Well, if they’re going to be reborn, maybe we will meet again in another life.” or “If they’re going to be reborn, I’ll develop the so-called powers (siddhis) to contact them in the next life.” — such views are not what the Buddha taught, nor do they have any foundations in reason or logic and thus should be dropped immediately.

Think of it like a long cross-country race in the wilderness. It’s rainy and muddy and the course has many hills and places with uneven ground. But you are a runner, and you have to run this race. The first batch of runners to finish get awards, the rest have to keep training for the next race. So the gun goes off, and everyone’s running. People trip in the mud — teammates and rivals alike — and are literally out of the running. There’s no time to lose, so you must simply keep going ahead and apply what qualities you have into the race: endurance, discipline, breathing, cadence, running form, hydration, and nutrition — in order to win the race. If you were to stop for every runner who tripped, you would just slog along and be distracted from the finish line. You may, yourself, trip.

In the same way, you have life. You are born, and life is already happening. You have been born and time stamped to some degree along with everyone else. You have to go forward through the days of your life and apply what qualities you have into it: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, calm, concentration, and equanimity — in order to attain freedom. If you keep looking back, trying to save or mourn what has passed, you miss the present moment, you miss the point and often you miss the life meant to be lived.

Now you may be thinking “Wait, what about good sportsmanship awards? Those exist!” and of course if you’re a runner and you see someone trip in real life, race or not, for goodness sake help them. But as the Buddha said in the Sedaka Sutta, you have to look out for your own mind first and make sure that you’re doing the right things — so that you aren’t a burden onto others. You cannot worry about what others are doing. You cannot clean away their suffering like a vacuum. That is simply not how life works or unfolds.

But what you can do is take stock of the time spent with others, the smiles, the races ran together and the victories you and the other runners learned from the races ran. Focus upon the good qualities of endeavoring and learning. Think of the many moments shared, each with their own lessons. And honor these moment not at a gravesite, but in every day of your life yet before you — one by one as they occur.

Peace and Love, Jim

Image Courtesy of Deanna O.

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