Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Dalai Lama: On Impermanence, Detachment and Death

"One day old and dear friends will separate, goods and riches obtained by great effort will be left behind. Consciousness, a guest of the body, this temporary dwelling, will depart. From this moment on, to renounce all attachments to this life is a practice of the bodhisattva."
-- H.H., the XIVth Dalai Lama --
The great paradox of humanity, one philosopher observed, is that we all realize that everyone dies, yet we have an unconscious and irrational belief that it will not happen to us - at least, it won't happen today. Who, after all, is prepared in reality for their own inevitable death?
"Let us say we have searched for solitude and found it, and that we have abandoned our home" writes the Dalai Lama. "This is not all we have to abandon. We must renounce our attachment to this temporal life, we must see that this existence is impermanent, whether it ends soon or later. Death will separate us from everything. To prepare for this departure, nothing else can be of use except the practice of Dharma."

"If we have acquired a noble mind," he observes, "that will help us. Even our closest friends  cannot help; we may have all the friends in the world and they could do nothing for us. . . ."

"This body, which is always with us and is precious to us," he notes, "must be left behind. We do not know when this will happen. Human life is uncertain; young people naively say, "I am young and healthy, so I will go on living." This is neither reason nor proof. . . . (N)ot one person can affirm with 100 percent certainty: "I will be alive tonight."

"In short," the Dalai Lama points out, "we will all die, we have no idea when, and aside from the practice of Dharma, there is no escape from this fact. So detaching yourself from the bonds of this life is valuable and useful, while the contrary is harmful. If we were to die this evening, we could prepare ourselves for this passage; and if we were to continue living, all the better. In any case, our preparation will not have been in vain."
[Dalai Lama, "Essential Teachings," pp. 21-22.]
In the attached video, the Dalai Lama recognizes our universal illusion about the permanency of life. He then discusses the process of coming to terms with one's own mortality, and the mortality of others from a radically different perspective from that adopted by Western philosophers and psychologists like the noted scholar, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Nonetheless, like Kubler-Ross, the Dalai Lama observes that "tragic experiences also have some good aspects," and that by facing our mortality consciously we will develop useful insights on how to live well, as well as insights on how to die well.

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