37 Practices-Practice #4

This life is transient and impermanent. All the goods we’ve accumulated and relationships we’ve enjoyed will change or come to an end. The mind is like a temporary guest in our bodily house; it will someday pass beyond. Learn to think of the larger picture beyond this one life-time. The Sons and Daughters of the Buddhas all follow this practice.

Lama Das’ Commentary:

The Buddha said that an awareness of death can be our greatest teacher. Tibet’s great yogi, Milarepa, sang:

  • Fearing death, I went to the mountains.
  • Over and over again I meditated on death’s unpredictable coming,
  • And took the stronghold of the deathless unchanging nature.
  • Now I am completely beyond all fear of dying.”

Asia is not alone in expounding this precious universal wisdom. Here in the West, the Native American Crowfoot sang in 1890:

  • What is life?
  • It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
  • It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
  • It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses iteslf
  • In the sunset.”

Self-Examination:

Am I living with consciousness of my mortality, as if each day, hour, or minute could be my last?

Shihan Henderson’s Commentary:

In the martial arts we must be fully aware of death and mortality. It is a responsibility we have to ourselves and to others around us. This is true for varying reasons. Firstly, we are being taught special techniques that are designed to either incapacitate an individual or cause death. Thus, with that knowledge we must be keenly aware of the precious nature of life. By definition, an understanding of the precious nature of life requires an appreciation of and understanding of death and its ability to redefine life. By being aware of the potential of death to appear at any time we grow wiser to the frailty and fragility of life, we therefore see life as more precious and not something that is a given or entitlement. That is, life is a blessing.

Secondly, and very practically, we must be aware of death so that we practice our martial art with a true heart. That is, we must know that the potential exist that we may die at any time due to a myriad number of reasons, most completely out of our control and cognition. With this knowledge of the precarious nature of life we gain the wisdom of knowing that each opportunity to practice the art that we love becomes more and more vital as time goes by.

Thirdly, the above is true not only for your own world but also for the world of your co-conspirators. That is, your Budo brothers and sisters will not always be around for you to interact, practice, learn and teach with. Thus, the opportunity to practice becomes even more important once you layer on top of the everyday this thought.

Fourthly, and from a Karmic perspective, it is important to keep the thought of death in our minds in order to better prepare ourselves for that moment, both when it happens to others and importantly to ourselves. It is believed that the state of mind of the individual at the time of death will determine the nature of the after life and the next life. Thus, we should wish to have a placid mind at that time in order to calmly pass into that stage of existence.

Fifthly, an understanding of one’s own mortality is important for the martial artist so that he or she may calmly face the enemy without fear or apprehension. This is naturally a benefit when facing another individual in combat. The placid mind is an effective weapon against a harried opponent. However, what about the moment when the opponent is yourself or a thing. What about the time when your moment of truth arrives which may require you to give up your own life to save a loved one or otherwise put yourself in the position where that is a possible eventuality. How you react to this will be determined by your appreciation of death and your understanding of your own mortality.

Very philosophically speaking death does not occur only once in a life time. Death visits us continually when other people pass on, so we get to experience it even at the most inopportune times. Death by many philosophers is considered the supreme teacher because it so effectively focuses the mind on what is important. But we also experience our own death, in a matter or speaking, many times over. In our life we have many aspirations, many hopes, many dreams and not all those will be answered. When they go unanswered are we not experiencing a type of death of sorts: the cessation of something we hold dear.

Also, on the difficult side of life we all experience hang-ups or hurdles that prevent ourselves from growing, maturing and truly being what we would like ourselves to become. For some, it might be a problem with alcohol or drugs, for another it might be a preoccupation with sex or money and still with another it might be a continuing lack of self-esteem. No matter what the root, we all have something that we need to work on in order to improve. When we are successful in dealing with some such life obstacle we are in essence experiencing a death. We are putting to death an obstacle and giving birth to a new opportunity and a new individual. We become something greater through the death process. The cosmic cycle of birth-death-birth continues. Elevated individuals see this relationship and understand that death in and of itself is not something of which to be fearful. It is a learning process.

Lastly, an understanding that life is transient and impermanent should be paramount in all our minds. An understanding of death helps us to focus on the important things in life and helps us remove the other less necessary things that could just be filling up time and space restricting us from growing and fulfilling our true inner nature and purpose. Materialism and the wanting desire of mere objects should be understood for the immediate gratification that they provide and nothing more. We should be careful not to imbue our lives with a lot of trinkets in an elaborate game of dress-up. We must focus on the real issues and important aspects. We must understand that we are not our possessions, for they are of this world, and this world only. We, on the other hand, are so much more than that.

Budo-Examination:

Do you have a good appreciation for the frailty of life and the possibility (eventuality) of death? Does your understanding of death, as a great teacher, help you to better appreciate the gift of life? Do you feel that the time you have to practice your art is precious or do you find yourself putting off the important things in life until tomorrow? Are you prepared or preparing for your moment of truth (death)? Do you find yourself caught up with the need to possess material objects effectively clouding your perception of the basic joys of life? Or, are you freeing yourself through a better understanding of the moment. Are you aware of the many mini-deaths and rebirths you experience as you progress through life and your Budo lessons? Practice today for there may be no tomorrow.