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Death. Something to consider when you’re still alive…

Do you ever think about death? Do you ever stop to realize that there will come a time when you will die? Most of us know somewhere that death awaits each of us, but we prefer to focus our attention on other things. We think death is something for when we are old, and we live as if we are immortal.

Afraid of death

In our Western society, death is an uncomfortable subject. It is a topic that has disappeared from everyday life and is little discussed. We have made death invisible. Many people are afraid of death. Because of the uncertainty about what will come after death, when death will visit, and what it will be like to die. And because of the fact that there is nothing you can take with you when you’re crossing over, so that you have to say goodbye to everything you have in this life.

Death is beyond our control and that can make it feel uncomfortable or even terrifying. The easy solution is to forget death's existence. But then death suddenly rattles at the gate, knocks on the door. An unexpected death of a loved one. A terminal diagnosis. An accident that you miraculously survive. Suddenly you can do nothing but look reality in the eye: death is part of life.

Death and meaning

And then it turns out that death can also be a purifying experience. In the face of approaching death, priorities are suddenly very different. If you only had one more year to live, what would you do with your precious time and energy? When the clock is ticking, what is really important? Death puts life in a different perspective: in the light of death, all nonsense falls away and you focus on what really matters in life.

Death therefore carries with it an enormous gift: meaning. Purpose. Death makes us think about the most important questions in life: Who am I? Why am I here? What makes my life worth living? How can I give meaning to my life? People who involuntarily face their approaching death often automatically visit this philosophical realm. Just look at the participants of TV programs such as 'Over mijn lijk’. As horrible as they feel about (knowing that they soon will be) dying, they are also grateful for the clarity that approaching death gives them. They appreciate life more than ever and it is crystal clear what is important to them.

Back to the essence

And where death in our Western society has become our greatest enemy, many spiritual traditions see death as our greatest friend. Because death is our only certainty. And because death sets us free. Of suffering, of pain and of everything we have come to identify with in life.

Death silences us. He brings us back to the present moment and to who we really are. Because who are we, when everything falls away? When your body stops functioning slowly, when life folds around you and gets smaller and smaller? What remains? Love. Light. In the presence of death, only the essence remains.

According to Buddhism, death frees us from our ego. When you die and when you detach from your body, you can no longer identify with your appearance, with your thoughts, the life you have created, the people you have bonded with… and then you are free. Death brings us home, Buddhism says, back to our true nature: the pure, clear, light state of being. In which there is deep silence and peace and in which you are connected to everything and everyone, part of the bigger picture.

The little death

And according to Buddhism, dying is a physical and mental experience that does not occur just once in a lifetime. The same thing happens when you fall asleep. Even then you let go, let yourself slip into another level of consciousness in which you are not your body and not the story you tell about yourself. While falling asleep, you can experience the same mental state of mind as when you die. Buddhism calls this moment "the little death" and believes that you can use this moment to prepare yourself for the moment you will die. The little death is an opportunity to train holding that mental state of clear light in the transition from life to death.

What can we learn from the Buddhist view of death? How can we prepare to die? What good brings it to be consciously concerned with death during our lives? The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tulku Lobsang will talk about this during his visit to Yogasite on Thursday, May 18, 2023. In his teaching, themed ‘Our relation with death', he will tell us more about what we can learn from the Buddhist view of death and how we can prepare for death.

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