|Spirituality For Life|
|Page: Meditation on Death|
Thousands of people died today, and more thousands will die tomorrow. Sooner or later we will be one of them. However, from the perspective of the Sacred Word, death is not to be overly feared and pushed to the back of our minds. It is a great teacher from whom we can learn the secrets of life. Death is a reality of life. It is the ultimate challenge of life – and is our final journey, which we must undertake alone. The Scriptures urge us not to ignore death but to put it into correct perspective. Ultimately, death is not a meaningless tragedy – but the final initiation of life.
The Tibetan sage, Drakpa Gyaltsen, observed that, “humans prepare for the future all their lives, yet meet the next life totally unprepared.” By contrast, the ancient Pagan sage, Plato, declared that, “the best life is spent preparing for death.”
To address the topic of death is not macabre. Rather, remembering our death:
· Helps us realize the value of life.
· Stops us from deluding ourselves with a false sense of permanence.
· Forces us to question our identification with the mortal body and urges us to consider life beyond the grave – the Sacred Word holds out greatly reassuring hope.
· Teaches us not to become preoccupied with the transitory things of life that we must leave behind us, but rather to develop those spiritual qualities that become part of our inner nature.
· Reminds us to appreciate those we love and to be deeply grateful for the opportunity of life.
· Enables us to see clearly what is important and what is trivial.
· Allows us to become conscious of the inevitability of death while we are healthy, and then when illness and/or old age come, it will not be a shocking surprise, but the expected fulfilment of life.
Meditating on Death
Many spiritual traditions encourage actively contemplating the inevitability of death. This is challenging but can be a rewarding spiritual practice. It forces us to go beyond any superficial ideas we may have and which are inadequate before the enormity of death. Here are several ideas:
1. Tomorrow May Be Too Late: Death can be a disturbing prospect, not only because it is a great unknown, but because there may be much in life left unresolved – such as things that need to be said, wounds that need to be healed, enmities and resentments that need healing, and loved ones left unappreciated. Most of us put up with years of partial communication, until it is too late. Use the awareness of death to give you the motivation to break through the barriers of fear and inertia that prevent you from opening your heart. Here is a meditation:
a. Sit quietly and imagine yourself unexpectedly on your deathbed surrounded by your loved ones.
b. What is it you need to tell them? Have you taken the time lately to let them know how much you love and value them? What enmities and resentments need healing?
c. Whatever it is you need to do or say, resolve to do or say it today. Don’t hesitate. Tomorrow may be too late.
2. Regular Graveyard Walking: A simple way of developing a spiritual awareness of death is to spend time regularly walking in a graveyard. Surrounded by monuments to those who have left this life, it is hard to avoid the sobering awareness of our own mortality. As you walk, become aware that in life we are constantly surrounded by death. At first this can seem shocking, even terrifying. But acknowledging the transitory nature of everything focuses the mind on what really counts. Day-to-day worries and hassles suddenly become insignificant, and the urgency of nurturing our spiritual awakening becomes obvious. Contemplating death shows us just how identified with the body we are. It reminds us that life is a precious opportunity not to be squandered.
3. A Buddhist Death Meditation: Consider the value of the following Buddhist meditation on death (from Kunkyen Longchen Rabjam, a Tibetan Buddhist monk).
a. With your heart contemplate the certainty that all your relations and all your wealth will be as nothing, like a deserted city. Everything is impermanent, so be detached.
b. With your heart contemplate the inevitability of death. When it comes, your home and possessions, your friends and famous colleagues, will not accompany you. Realize the absolute Truth.
4. Sacred Word Meditation on Death: The Holy Scriptures hold out great hope for life beyond the death. One can sit and meditate on a number of passages (for example, 1 Corinthians 15 or Revelation 21-22), or on such themes as:
a. The Bible shows that the dead go to their graves when they die – their physical bodies return to dust. However, their spirit – the spirit in man – separates and returns to God who gave it.
b. In death, humans and animals share the same fate – they no longer possess the breath or spark of life that enables the performance of life’s functions and activities. However, unlike animals, humans are promised a future resurrection. The living cosmic Christ will call them out of their graves and their spirit will be reunited with a glorious new body.
c. While the Sacred Word gives profound glimpses into what happens after death, in the resurrection, the details have not been disclosed. Some matters belong to the realm of the deep or secret things of God which are not revealed to humankind (see Deuteronomy 29:29). Nevertheless, all believers can live in the assurance that God, who is love, has a just and merciful plan for humanity – and that the fate of all will be fair and gracious.
The following article can be used as the basis for a meditation on death: Death of Two Young Men
Finally, Hindu sage (Rabindranath Tagore) stated: “Death is not the extinguishing of the light, but the blowing out of the candle because the dawn has come”. All spiritual traditions are agreed that death is but a new beginning.
Source : I am indebted to Timothy Freke, Encyclopedia of Spirituality: Information and Inspiration to Transform Your Life (New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2000), 140-141; 224-227 from which many of the thoughts in this summary have been taken.
Photo credit: Intellimon Ltd.