Which got me thinking about death and about the Five Subjects for Frequent Recollection. Normally, these subjects (the first four anyway) are evoked to induce non-attachment.
I am subject to aging,
I am not exempt from aging.
I am subject to illness,
I am not exempt from illness.
I am subject to death,
I am not exempt from death.
There will be change and separation from all that I hold dear and near to me.
I am the owner of my actions (karma), Heir to my actions, I am born of my actions, I am related to my actions and I have my actions as refuge. Whatever I do, good or evil, of that I will be the heir.
I haven’t read it yet, but I am confident in recommending Larry Rosenberg’s book Living in the Light of Death explores these reflections in detail and also offers meditational practices on death. I also know of at least one MP3 recording of a guided medtiation on death by Ayya Medhanandi.
Sometimes I say that I am looking forward to my death. It’s a peculiar thing to think and say, so I want to explain what I mean. First of all, I am certainly not looking forward to it in the sense that “I want to die.” Life is a precious and beautiful thing that I love and treasure. Furthermore, I know that I am afraid of death as much as the next person: afraid of the unknown, afraid of parting from those I love.
I am also not looking forward to the process of dying. A few years ago I read with fascinatio ]n Sherwin Nuland’s book “How We Die” and I have no romantic illusions about a “beautiful death”. As a former surgeon, Nuland is uniquely qualified to witness that death comes in all manner of forms, some of them painful and extremely unpleasant.
But I am “looking forward” to death in this sense – Dharma teachers often say that this day-to-day practice of mindfulness is about preparing for death. And Buddhist teachers invite us repeatedly to “let go”. But what other experience in life requires more a complete letting go than the transition from life to death? In a certain way death is the culmination of practice.
Although I have no clear idea about the “after life” or the “next life” – I do sense that the intelligent awareness in which I am partaking in this (currently) embodied conciousness actually belongs to something much greater than myself. I think one of the things you must let go of at death is the “self” that most of us are haunted by most of our lives. I may be mistaken that the self disolves at the time of death, but I hope it does and I do look forward to that.