Of all the challenges we face as humans, none is more difficult than death. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the death of thousands in some natural disaster, or the fear of our own eventual demise, death is the terrible problem that won’t go away. Nothing causes more suffering.
Confronted with age, sickness, and death, the Buddha strove with all his might to find an answer to the problem of human suffering. Through immense effort and penetrating inquiry into the mental nature of things, he eventually made a historic breakthrough in understanding the nature of mind and its relationship to the body and matter.
This “answer” to the problem of suffering wasn’t a new set of metaphysical suppositions one was supposed to believe in to be saved. Nor was the answer to suffering hoping for a heavenly afterlife—assuming you weren’t going to the other place!
Rather, the Buddha outlined a process of awakening that anybody can learn and immediately put to work in his or her life. This process involves learning and cultivating mental skills and gaining deep insights into the mental origins of becoming, of cause and effect.
With his revolutionary insight into our psychological and cosmological world-making, the Buddha was able to look deeply into the problem of death and see its final solution. There is a path to the Deathless! And we can have a foretaste of the Deathless even in this life.
What We Can Do About Death in This Life
Here is the very good news of Buddhism: even though we can’t avoid death, that doesn’t mean we can’t do a great deal in this life to alleviate the suffering associated with death. We can even begin to weaken and break the chains of cause and effect that bind us to cycles of aging, sickness, and death.
In these dharma talks, below, three very skilled, very compassionate dharma teachers share their insights into how the Buddha’s teaching can help us find refuge from aging, sickness, and death. I hope they will be both a comfort and inspiration to you.
We can all do far more in this “precious human life” than we might realize to bring an end to death and the suffering of death.
Three Dharma Teachers Talk about Old Age, Sickness, and Death
Meditation on Death (6 min.)
(This first talk is an excerpt from an audio CD called “Buddhist Meditation for Beginners” by Jack Kornfield.)
A Refuge from Death (19 min.)
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Old Age, Sickness, Death, and Peace (41 min.)
by Gil Fronsdal