Whether we are discussing the life and death of a person or the beginning and end of a bowl of candy or of the universe, we notice, using Nagarjuna’s reasoning, that beginnings and endings, starting points or initiating moments and final points or last moments, only exist as conventional understandings, and even as such are logically indefensible fictions or perspectives. Because the middle path leaves us without a belief in permanent beginnings and endings, all our confusion about birth, and death drops off, leaving us dramatically and emphatically more peaceful than had we had a more traditional Abrahamic or purely secular understanding of death. So death, or birth and death, is just a useful conventional story, nothing more, and certainly nothing to attach to, either in us or in others. Understanding the meaning of death leads directly to a more meaningful life and provides a pathway to lessen our suffering.
Tibetan Meditation on Death
Consider contemplating this classic Tibetan death meditation, not to learn more about death, but to learn more about how to live a happy, healthy, beneficial life. Start with Root One, Point One. Arrange yourself comfortably in a sitting meditation position, chair or cushion, your choice, then read point one aloud several times. Close your eyes, take 10 long slow breaths, then begin thinking about what this first point means, what it tells you about yourself and how you live and how to relate to others; what it means in the big picture, in the small picture, how it might be understand in terms of the meaning of life, and so on. Contemplate it in this way for three or four minutes (you can use a timer), and then move on to the second, and then third points, contemplating each in the same way.
Repeat each day for a week, then do Root Two for the next week, and finally contemplate Root Three each day on the third week. Repeat the cycle through all three roots and nine points every few months until you feel you have deeply penetrated its meaning to you in your life. (See Contemplative Meditations for further contemplation instructions.)
Three Root Meditation on Death
Root One: Death is Certain
- There is no possible way to escape death. No one ever has. Of the current world population of over 7 billion people, virtually none will be alive in 100 years’ time.
- Life has a definite limit. And although it is not defined, each moment brings us closer to death. We are dying from the moment we are born.
- Death comes in a moment and its time is unexpected. All that separates us from the next life is one breath.
First Conviction: To practice the spiritual path, to cultivate positive, wholesome mental qualities and abandon unwholesome, negative mental qualities.
Root Two: The Time of Death is Uncertain
- The duration of our life is uncertain. The young can die before the old, the healthy before the sick, etc.
- There are many causes and circumstances that lead to death, but few that favor the sustenance of life. Even things that sustain life can kill us.
- The weakness and fragility of one’s physical body contribute to life’s uncertainty. The body can be easily destroyed by disease or accident.
Second Conviction: To ripen our inner potential now, without delay; to practice being beneficial in every moment as though it were our last.
Root Three: The Only Thing That Can Help Us At The Time of Death Is Our Mental/Spiritual Development
- Worldly possessions such as wealth, position, money can’t stop death
- Relatives and friends can neither prevent death nor go with or for us.
- Even our own precious body is of no help to us. We have to leave it behind like a shell, an empty husk, an overcoat.
Third Conviction: To work with great diligence on purifying body, speech and mind, without staining our efforts with attachment to worldly things and concerns.