This article was written by my uncle in Bhutan and sent to me while mum was really ill in the hospital. Reading this has brought some comfort to me and I feel it may benefit others to read it too.
Death is Inevitable
It is rather paradoxical that although we so often see the death-taking toll of lives, we seldom pause to reflect that we too can soon be similar victims of death. With our innate strong attachment to life, we are disinclined to carry with us the morbid thought, although a reality, that death is a certainty. We prefer to put this awful thought as far away as possible – deluding ourselves that death is a far away phenomenon, not to be worried about. We should be courageous enough to face facts. We must be prepared to face reality. Death is a factual happening. Death is a reality.
Coping with the disease is the right attitude. We should not regard disease and suffering as something, which will destroy us completely, and thereby giving in to despair and despondency. On the contrary, we can look upon it as a test of how well we have understood the Buddha’s teachings; how well to apply the understanding we have supposedly learnt. If we cannot cope mentally, if we break down, it shows our understanding of the Dharma, our practice is still weak. So, in this way, it is a test and an opportunity for us to see how well we have mastered our practice.
Then also, the disease is an opportunity for us to further enhance our practice of patience and develop perfections such as patience if we are not tested if we are not put under difficult and severe conditions? So in this way, we can look at the disease as an opportunity for us to cultivate more patience.
We can also look at the health as not just the mere absence of disease but the capacity to experience a disease and to learn and grow from it. Seeing how disease can never be completely eradicated and how we have eventually to succumb in one way or another, doctors have come up with a definition of health that can help as to adjust to disease when it comes. That no matter how many sophisticated machines, procedures, and drugs we may come up with, people still succumb to cancer, AID, heart disease and a host of other ailments.
Ultimately there is no escape. We have to understand and accept the fact so that when it comes and we have to go down, we can go down gracefully. No doubt, we will treat the disease as best as we can, but when despite our best efforts, we fail and the disease continues to progress, we have to accept and reconcile with the inevitable.
In the final analysis, it is not how long we live but how well we live that counts, and that include how well we can accept our disease, and finally how we can die. So it can be quite wonderful after all that our life can be healed even though our disease may not be cured. How? Because suffering is a teacher and if we learn our lesson well, we can become surprisingly better persons. Have we not heard accounts of how people after having born went through great suffering?
If they had been impatient, selfish, arrogant and thoughtless before, they might become more patient, kind, gentle and humble. Something they remarked that the disease was a good thing for lifestyle and the more important values in life. They come to appreciate their family and friends more, and they now value the time they spend with their loved ones. And if they were to recover, they would find more time for their loved ones, and to do the things that are really more important and meaningful.
Even if we were to succumb to the disease we can still learn and grow from it. We could understand the precariousness of life and how true the Buddha’s teaching was – that there is an essential flaw in life. We could become kinder and more appreciative of the kindness we have received from people. We could forgive those who had hurt us. We could love more richly, more deeply. And when death comes, we can die with acceptance and peace. In this way, we can say that our life is healed because we are reconciled with the world and we are at peace.
We can meditate. When we are sick and bedridden, we need not despair. We can meditate even if we are in bed. We can observe our mind and body. We can obtain calmness and strength by doing breathing meditation. We can observe the rising and falling of the abdomen as we breathe in and out. Our mind can follow the rising and falling, and become, as it were one with it. This too can give us calmness. And from such calmness, understanding can arise.