Traditionally meditating on Death can involve using an actual human corpse. Since these however are both in short supply and illegal to possess in most countries we need to use other methods. One way of using a corpse as a meditation tool is when someone we know dies. I had the blessing of being with my first father-in-law when he died in Malaysia. I was able to sit with his body shortly after he had died and over the coming week of his funeral spend time near the coffin which had a glass window in it that showed his face. By the end of the week, an unrefrigerated and very dead father-in-law was showing that the personality I had known and loved for 15 years was simply not there. Dad had left. I was able to meditate on the fact that this will happen to myself, that my body will behave in exactly the same way Dads had done.
Of all the meditations, these meditations are the single most confronting and powerful. Treat them with both care and respect. These meditations are where things can go genuinely pear shaped.
Meditating on Death is genuinely interesting. It isn’t something the West does naturally. We prefer to live as if there are no tomorrows, as a result we live incredibly careless and selfish lifetimes. These meditations will address this.
Initially expect to have the shit or more precisely the bullshit frightened out of you. These meditations will rearrange your life with a speed and a completeness that none of the other meditations will. If you find yourself becoming depressed or suicidal as a result of these meditations give them up, they aren’t for you.
In the face of Death and Impermanence, just how much of the petty grudges and dislikes are really worth our attention? You see that everything is temporary and a lot of what occupies us is essentially worthless. When you see just how utterly trivial an argument is, you will let it go.
The founder of Apple, the late Steve Jobs, found great freedom in death.
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address, 2005
Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Abiding in death unlocks so many doors. We have a choice as to how we want to die. We can live and die in utter fearlessness or we can live and die huddled in the corner. When we embrace death we can take long, hard looks at our lifetimes and then make decisions about how we want to live.
The short term outcomes of this can be pretty traumatic in terms of relationships, careers and how we perceive ourselves. When Maranasati begins to impact on us there should be a moment when we sit down or take a long walk or even get drunk and honestly examine exactly who we are, where we are and what it is that we value and want in our lifetimes. Everything gets put on the table, examined and if need be, discarded. You are likely to find that the life you are living is not the life you want.
You have to ask yourself the following questions once you get over the feeling of being hit by a bus that usually accompanies this meditation:
Who am I?
What is deeply important to me?
Am I the sort of person I like being?
Am I in a place in this lifetime I want to be in?
Do I like the people I am surrounded by, especially those I choose to be with, including myself?
Have I lived my dreams?
What are my dreams?
What were my dreams and have I lived them?
Am I in touch with what moves me deeply?
Am I in the place emotionally where I would be content if death came today?
Maranasati should give you the motivation to answer all of these questions. If the answers to the questions are a string of “No’s”, then there is no other time than now to change the answers to “Yes”. Even if there are just a couple of “No’s” on the list, then now is the time to go make the changes you need to. Be gentle with those who will be affected by your actions.
I found that I was more willing to tell the people I love that I love them. I also realised that I had given the arsehole chromosome fair expression and had been what is known colloquially as “A complete cunt”. Attempts at becoming a nicer person followed.
Maranasati provided and continues to provide the incentive for deep personal growth.
In recent years I have begun to pursue personal and emotional goals over financial ones. Having read this far in this book it is clear that embracing Tantra has for me been about just this. Likewise in hindsight so was ending a marriage that was simply not working and never likely to work...and the 100% casualty rate amongst the friends of the time. My personal and emotional goals whilst always engaging in a certain amount of friction with my marriage began to dominate. In hindsight, the need for children and an equal marriage were asserting themselves. I’ve never really cared about money. For me it has always been a quality of life that has been paramount.
The introspection leads us down some surprising avenues. You are very likely to have at least one “Fuck this!” moment and then decide something or someone has to leave your life. A decision to abandon a meaningless career or marriage may also follow a Fuck this! moment, so may the writing of a very different list of life goals.
This introspection is meant to accompany the formal meditation on death. We read it, we sit quietly and ask ourselves these questions. Things will happen away from the formal meditation. We will find ourselves actively reassessing our lives. You might find yourself researching the El Camino de Compostela....an 800 km walk in Southern France and North- west Spain, or Chakra or our continued participation in friendships that really are not good for us. You might just find yourself willing to take more risks and begin to set some serious goals, like walking the El Camino. Fearlessness is a desired outcome of Maranasati.
Death is normal and natural. My own Death is certain. There is no possible way for me to escape, bribe or out run my Death. My lifetime has an absolute limit and every breath brings me closer to the ending of my life. Every moment brings me closer to my Death. Death can and does come without warning. Death often arrives unannounced. I will die on a perfectly ordinary day, a day just like today.
I can be alive one moment and planning my days and the next moment I can be dead. The world is utterly unpredictable and random. Accidents can and do happen all the time. Also people can and do simply drop dead. And I am not excluded from the fact that this can happen to me.
It is the simple, ordinary and every day things that can and do kill. Food, IPods’ and cars kill us. Food can kill us through eating the wrong foods, foods we have allergies to, by eating too much food. Ipods can kill by distracting us from our environment.
It is only the practice of Dhamma that will help me deal with and accept my Death. The clutter of possessions, relationships, careers will not help me when I am dying. Often these things make it harder to die with many things left undone and unsaid. I must have my lifetime in such a place that should I die today, that nothing truly meaningful to me will be left unsaid or undone, especially acts and words of love. I must be ready to leave this lifetime immediately.
I must live with great gentleness and kindness, for how I live will determine in a very large degree the state of my mind when I die. I can choose now to live and die without great mental suffering in both myself and those I love. My friends and relatives cannot do my dying for me.I can however lessen their pain at my Death by living and dying well.
As surely as I came into this lifetime naked and bereft of possessions, I will have to leave it the same way. This body if not treated with proper care will often be the cause of death, so why should I turn to it for help at the time of Death? It was never mine in the first place.
I am the owner of my kamma,
Heir to my kamma,
Born of my kamma,
Related to my kamma,
Abide supported by my kamma;
What ever kamma I should do, either for good or for bad, to that kamma I am the heir.
I guess it is my Aspergers that has me liking this particular meditation. It’s the meditation where all pretence of us having anything other than total responsibility for our lives goes out the window or down the toilet.
This is the one meditation where we never leave ourselves as the subject. This meditation is about accepting that we are in charge of our lifetimes, accepting that if we are in a bad place that we have contributed towards our arrival at that place and that is up to us to get ourselves out of it. This meditation kills the idea that sucking up to some invisible sky fairy is going to help us. It is also the perfect companion to both Metta and Maranasati.