Preparing For the Inevitable

Are we prepared for the final exam that each one of has to face in our lives? In life there is no set syllabus, and most of the times we have to face questions which we least expect and which are always out of the syllabus we have set for ourselves.

“So children”, began the teacher. “How was the English paper?” Almost in unison the children replied, “Difficult master. Some questions were not even in the syllabus”. The teacher smiled. He closed the books for the day to give them a life lesson.

Such real-life situations begin to gather larger proportions as we grow older. We are completely befuddled when we have to face situations which are ‘out of syllabus’. How many situations can we foresee as a surety of occurrence?

When a child is born, parents make all kinds of plans in terms of his schooling, education, marriage or monk hood. Some parents even go as far as planning his career. However, in this euphoria of meticulous planning of seeming certainties ahead, one vital truth tends to get lost: Preparation for death, of oneself and of those dearest to us.

Death is a mystery to most of us. While we are uncertain as to how and when it will come, we are certain that it will. All things compounded die to change form. The question is: Are we prepared for the event? There are two options before us. One, we choose not to think about it. Two, we try and understand the prospect and when it does eventually come we reduce our suffering of facing the upheavals of emotions that come with it, for as long as the process lasts. Either way we cannot overcome the surety of the event.

There is transition and impermanence all around us. In death is creation of new life as in nature old leaves fall to give rise to new shoots. In cosmic happenings stars are collapsing every second to give rise to the new. Our own body sees constant death of cells that give way to new ones. What we perhaps fear most about death is fear of the unknown. Perhaps no friends, family, known faces; possibly all alone in a foreign land. Also, what we are afraid of is the ignorance about who we really are, essentially because we live in a make-believe understanding of ourselves.

How we eventually die, and what form we assume is the result of many factors, our accumulated karma or deeds, our genuine remorse and practices in overcoming our bad karma, the intensity of intention, action and culmination of every karma, good and bad, the state of our mind in life and death.

This is determined by conditioning the mind, calming it, observing closely the actual process of thoughts arising in the mind. And the responsibility we attach to dealing with each one of them. Specifically those from anger, attachment and fear amongst the other non virtuous ones, because these eventually will translate into speech and action, affecting our relationship with other sentient beings.

Being ever watchful of our emotions, and not merely religious rites, norms and practices, will determine how we actually live our life and how we will eventually die and be reborn. This is the essence of Buddha’s Dhamma too.

Having explained this, the teacher said to the students: “If we are mindful of this, we would be in a position to score well in our final examination, since now, death and the process of it will never be out of syllabus”. The students smiled.

Based on a lesson imparted to young monks at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery.