Solving a Tough Paradox

“ 'The fear of death is rooted in an instinct for self-preservation that humans share with other species. Although we share this instinct with other species, only we are aware that death is inevitable – that is, that our self-preservation instinct will inevitably be thwarted. This combination of an instinctive drive for self-preservation with an awareness of the inevitability of death creates the potential for paralyzing terror.' Eddie Harmon-Jones et al

… from a Buddhist viewpoint the existential question that death poses to human beings can be solved in life, in fact it can only be solved in life. Furthermore, it not only can be solved; it must be solved. … this requires ‘an intimate confrontation with the painful and disappointing tendency of the body to fall apart and die. It is the practitioners’ belief that only by coming to terms with this truth can one ever escape from being emotionally subject to it.’ Alan Klima

One can undertake (the) practice of bringing one’s own mortality into present-moment awareness through mindfulness of the breath. Mindfulness of each breath just needs to be yoked firmly to awareness of the fact that this breath could be the last breath one will take.

The actual practice I like to recommend for this involves relating the perception of one’s own mortality especially to the inhalations. In this way with every breath coming in one is aware that this could be one’s last inhalation, and with every exhalation one trains oneself to let go and relax.

Practicing in this way enables one to adjust the intensity of one’s recollection of death so as to maintain mental balance and to proceed in accordance with one’s personal abilities and the requirements of the present situation. At times the thought of one’s death can become quite challenging, even leading to fear and agitation. If this should happen, one emphasizes being aware of the exhalations and of letting go. This helps to calm the mind. At other times it can happen that practice has become somewhat sluggish or automatic; the fact of one’s own mortality is not really making an impact on the mind. In such a situation one puts more emphasis on the inhalations, one the fact that this could be the last breath taken in.

There can be no doubt that one will breathe one’s last breath sooner or later, and with equal certainty this moment is coming closer and closer with ever breath one takes. Therefore the present breath, even if not the last, is certainly one breath closer to death.

Every breath, closer to death.

Every breath, closer to death.

Every breath, closer to death.”

Analayo. "Mindfully Facing Disease & Death: Compassionate Advice from Early Buddhist Texts.” Wisdom, 2016.

See also:

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags