When we are young, we must consider that although we are young, in time we will grow old. When we prepare ourselves wisely for decay, ageing, sickness and finally death, it will not be nearly as difficult to bear. Understanding that these are worldly conditions, which everyone has to face, we can bear suffering with fortitude. This is the strength, the ‘refuge’ that the Buddha promises.
To avoid the pain that misfortune can bring we must strengthen our minds through understanding.
There is nothing or nobody who has come into existence who can escape the natural process of “coming to an end”. There has to be an end. Otherwise things cannot exist. We need not be afraid of this perfectly natural phenomenon. We can all consider that even at death it is not the end of life but only the beginning of another.
We know with the poet Wordsworth that: “The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, has elsewhere had its setting, come from afar”. When we disappear from this world physically, the life appears else where – so why worry? Aren’t we simply getting a new passport in our journey through Samsara?
Nations grow and die out; empires arise and fall a part; mighty palaces are built and crumble in the dust – such is the way of the world. Beautiful flowers blossom and attract all who pass by; but the next day they fade and dry up. Their petals all drop one by one and soon they are forgotten altogether. All enjoyments and high attachments of the world are only a momentary show. Nothing lasts in this world so one should not hope to get ultimate happiness from it. The Buddha’s advice is to contemplate on this transitoriness of the world and the various forms of unsatisfactoriness latent in all existing worldly phenomena.
The world, the sun, the moon, galaxies, the universe itself are all subject to the same inexorable law of impermanence.
If we follow the teachings of the Buddha we will not be upset at the prospect of separating from loved ones, property and wealth. This does not mean Buddhists must not experience worldly pleasure. We must follow the Middle Path. We can gain pleasure in moderation, without violating moral principles, without becoming slaves to them but with the understanding that this must not hinder spiritual development.
Husbands and wives, parents and children develop strong attachments to each other. This is perfectly natural. It is important for them in order to lead a worldly life. At the same time however, we must face the fact that this same attachment is the source of enormous pain and suffering. It can even lead to suicide. To eradicate problems, attachments must be allowed to develop with understanding. It is one’s duty to develop affections by knowing that one day there will be separation. Under that condition one will know how to cope with separation when it happens. One will avoid the typical approaches and views of death simply because one has trained one’s mind.
What the Buddha contributed to mankind was to console us by helping us to realize how all our problems arise and how to face them. Most modern solutions and approaches do NOT encourage us to embrace and be prepared for the inevitable which is akin to taking two painkillers when you have a headache. After three hours the pain will come back because the headache is not the sickness but merely its symptom. Painkillers are not the medicine for sickness. Those who understand this are in a position to remove the cause of suffering. The Buddha’s teachings gives us that understanding.
Peace and Love, Jim