Zen is telling us “When you are living realize also that you are also dying”!
The vast majority of people who listen to this statement would react almost violently: “This is terrible, too pessimistic, too morbid.”
On the contrary Zen is simply teaching us to live our lives plentifully and to be aware of our own ineluctable mortality.
If birth occurs death will follow. No way out. Fear of death and aging are our most powerful fears and resisting or denying them is one of our greatest causes of anxiety at our subconscious level.
Death may happen anytime since our life and everything else around it is transient and unpredictable whether we like it or not. This is not a morbid and macabre thought, just the reality that we have to face and accept.
To avoid subconsciously this reality is pure denial and illusion based on strong ego generated self-preservation.
After 50 years of verbal teaching, while lying down peacefully and waiting for his death the Buddha was asked about his most important message. Without hesitation he replied:
“Listen to me carefully. Everything is transient, nothing last. Be mindful to it and behave accordingly day after day with all your will.” What did he mean? Was the Buddha so pathologically pessimistic?
On the contrary, his message was simply the following. We must appreciate the current present moment, as it is the best you can since we do not have the knowledge or the control of what is coming next, in few hours, few days, few months or few years.
What is permanent?
Look around and ask yourself: “What is permanent?” “What or who lasts forever?” Nothing absolutely nothing including you, your love ones, civilizations, living beings, universe, space, time, beliefs, thinking, the bad and good stuff, our thoughts, emotions, etc. remain permanent. Everything is in perpetual mutation.
Without this perpetual change nothing would be possible, life and its evolution would not exist. An acorn has to die to become an oak, a cloud has to disappear to become rain, the sun is dying slowly to give us energy (another 5 billions years to go!). Everything that comes to life will pass away to become something else.
Being aware of our own destiny such as the approaching death of our own body should help us to be more alive during our day-to-day robotic life. Sounds paradoxal but it is not. Knowing that nothing is predictable helps us to live each present moment with full awareness.
All major monotheistic religions talk about resurrection after death especially the Christian. Zen Buddhism has a somewhat a different view. There is no definitive birth, no death, no beginning, no end just an endless continuous change through a reborn process.
All living beings are made of material and non-material entities such mind and consciousness.
The analogy for our material/ physical component is the ocean wave. It has a beginning (birth) then the rolling (life) and finally the end (death). The wave dies only physically but remains water forever. Like the wave, our material component such as our body is just a transient manifestation changing from one state to the next one indefinitely.
Our non-material entity can be called God by some, global consciousness by others or energy or x, y, z. This non-material entity is common to all living beings, lasts forever and cannot be comprehended by human mind.
Thoughts to contemplate:
1- Can you list what is permanent and what is transient in your life? What is the ratio?
2- Are you troubled by the reality of impermanence? Is this present moment permanent?
3- If you were to die anytime, do you have any unfinished business that you would regret having left undone? Such, for example, reconciliation with a loved one or a friend.
4- Are you contemplating, once a while, your own mortality? Don’t be afraid of doing so while practicing meditation and you will realize that your day-to-day is not as bad as you feel too often.
5- Consider the impermanence of everything and the vulnerability of your love ones.
6- Realize that your own body, health, wealth, loves ones, best friends, work, are all temporary states. Appreciate them now and accept that everything comes and goes without too much control.