by Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda
“Life is uncertain – Death is certain” This is a well known saying in Buddhism. Knowing very well that death is certain and it is a natural phenomenon that everyone has to face, we should not be afraid of death. Yet, instinctively, all of us fear death because we do not know how to think of its inevitability. We like to cling to our life and body and so develop too much craving and attachment.
A child comes into this world bringing joy and happiness unto all near and dear ones. Even the mother who had to bear extreme labour pains is pleased and delighted to behold her newborn child. She feels that all the trouble and pain borne by her ere well worth it. However, by crying, the child seems to suggest it too has its share of suffering for coming into this world. The child grows into and adolescent and later into an adult, performing all sorts of good and bad deeds. He eventually grows old and finally bids farewell to this sorrow. Such is the nature of existence of a human being. People try to evade and escape from the clutches of death but no one is able to do so. At the moment of death, they have their minds hovering over their hoard of acquired wealth, unduly worrying about their dear children surrounding them. Last but not least, they keep evincing much concern over their own precious bodies, which despite the tender care and attention, lavished by them are now worn out, decaying and exhausted. It grieves one’s heart to separate oneself from the body. It is the way most people take leave in this world – with moans and groans. The pangs of death are considered dreadful, an attitude fed by ignorance.
Fear of Death
Men are disturbed not by external things, but by beliefs and imaginations they conjure up in their minds with regard to the form of their future lives. Death, for example, is not by itself dreadful: the dread or terror exists only in our minds. It is not often that we brave enough to come face to face with the thought pf our own mortality. Insistence upon the truth of suffering may seem horrible and unacceptable to the mind which is unable to face realities, but it certainly helps to reduce or eliminate the dread of fear by knowing how to face death. Once life is launched, like a bullet it rushes to its destination – death. Realizing thus, we must bravely face that natural occurrence. To be considered free in life, we must also be free from the fear of death. Fear only comes to those who are not able to comprehend the laws of Nature. “Whenever fear arises, it arises in the fool, not in the wise man,” says the Buddha in the Anguttara Nikaya. Fears are nothing more than states of mind. Remember what science teaches us about the process of dying? It is only a physiological erosion of the human body. We needlessly frighten ourselves with imagined or anticipated horrors which never come to pass. As a famous physician, Sir William Osler puts it:- “In my wide clinical experience, most human beings die really without pain or fear.”
A veteran nurse once said: “It has always seemed to me a major tragedy that so many people go through life haunted by the fear of death – only to find when it comes that it’s as natural as life itself. For few are afraid to die when they get to the very end. In all my experience only one seem to feel any terror – a woman who had done her sister a wicked thing which it was too late to put right.”
“Something strange and beautiful happens to men and women when they come to the end of the road. All fear, all horror disappears. I have often watched a look of happy wonder dawn in their eyes when they realized this is true. It is all part of the goodness of Nature.”
Attachment to life on earth creates the unnatural fear of death. It creates strong anxiety on life; the man who will never take risks even for what is right. He lives in fear worrying that some illness or accident might snuff out the precious little life he cherishes. Realizing that death is inevitable, the one who loves life on earth will go into a devout prayer expressing the hope that his soul will survive in heaven. No man can be happy in such a tempest of fear and hope. Yet it is hard to despise or ignore these manifestations of the instinct for self-preservation. There is however a method of overcoming this fear. Forget the concept of self; turn one’s love of the inward outwards, i.e. provide humanitarian service and to shower love on others. Whoever constantly keeps in mind the fact that he would someday be subjected to death and that death is inevitable, would be eager to fulfill his duties to his fellow human beings before death, and this would certainly make him heedful in respect of this world and the next. Being engrossed in service to others, you will soon release yourself from the heavy selfish attachments, hopes, vanity, pride and self-righteousness.