Thursday, 27 October 2011

Are you prepared to die?

Excerpts from an article written by Shen Shi'an about death:

Death is often portrayed as the grim reaper of life itself - a creepy and sneaky skeletal old man in a cloak, holding a giant unforgiving scythe. Death is simply the ultimate killjoy - the one who threatens all with the impending loss of everything, who is tough to bargain with... the dark and mysterious stranger who will claim us all. However, there is a refreshing alternative depiction of Death. It's the direct opposite take of the grim persona. Death becomes a good friend to all, who casually yet wisely counsels those about to pass away, helping them to resolve their regrets, teaching them to let go of their worldly attachments. She belongs to a family called the Endless, who represent the timeless "realities" of the universe. 

Yama, Lord of Death
In Buddhist culture, death is personified as Yama in paintings. Indeed, as long as unenlightened, we are in the clutches of Yama. Some see him as a literal being, while some see him as a metaphor for the terror of death. Either way, it's rather effective imagery as a wake-up call on the nature of transience - to treasure life but not be attached to it, and to seek wisdom for liberaton. Though wrathful in form, Yama is never unfair, for death is the great equaliser, which occurs only according to the natural laws of karma. But what is death really? It is change. 
As Stonepeace put it, "Dying can be gradual, and death can be sudden. But life is always now - even when dying or dead. As there is rebirth and redeath, there is no true birth or death. Seek then, for the truth - the unborn; the deathless - Nirvana."The wheel that Yama holds up for us to see is like a mirror for spiritual reflection. Indeed, death is a mirror, for reflecting upon the significance of our lives. Given that death's eventual, what is it we should accomplish, that would make this life well-lived, meaningful? Without death as a mirror, life would feel largely aimless and inconsequential. Death might reap our physical lives, but viewed wisely, it "bestows" spiritual life too. Death then, can be seen as either an enemy or a friend. Whether death is more grim or cheery depends on your perspective. Perhaps, it is better to see death as grim when we have taken life for granted, and to see death as cheery when we have taken life too hard and seriously, urging us to lighten up with kind good humour. The "Middle Path" of seeing death is probably the best - as empty of any fixed characteristics. How well you live decides how well you die. Will you have a happy ending? 

- Shen Shi'an

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