Death is inescapable for all sentient beings, it is one of the four great rivers of suffering. Just as all sentient beings have a common impulse to seek happiness and avoid suffering, we all will also have to experience death. Likewise, we all have to experience the results of our actions. These are states of being that unite and equalize us, and can be used as a basis for keeping an open and compassionate attitude towards others.
Contemplating your own death and it‘s unpredictable nature will give you an appreciation of your time being alive. Our lives are fleeting and death may greet us at any time. It is not uncommon for Rinpoche to ask us to look around during a teaching, and think how some of us may not be here next time we are together. We really do not know if we will wake up in the morning. Death and impermanence!
There is nothing random in this world of ours. We should become convinced of the infallibility of Karma. Nothing arises without cause and condition, and all things that come together will come apart.
Do not take this to mean that all things are predetermined – that is not what Karma tells us. I once heard of Karma to be described as a huge web, with many, many interconnections between the threads making up the web. Now think of a drop of water sliding down one thread, changing course where another thread crosses it’s path. The drop of water can go this way or that way. We are making up the interconnections in the threads with our actions, and accordingly we do control our Karma. The only “predetermination” we will find is that virtuous action results in happiness and non virtuous action results in suffering.
Karma is action, great or small, and follows us like a shadow. Let us not make this mistake of disregarding small actions, virtuous or non virtuous. Small actions comprise the majority of our time, and the devil is in the details. We must work to improved our attention to these “details”, even our mundane actions have a consequence. The great master Patrul Rinpoche tells us:
Do not take lightly small misdeeds
Believing they can do no harm
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain of hay.
Do not take lightly small good deeds
Believing they can hardly help
For drops of water one by one
In time can fill a giant pot.
Every action we take will have a corresponding consequence, although this may not always be immediately apparent. Sometimes we may not easily see the shadow of our Karma, but it is always there. Given the right conditions, which can take time to come together, we will experience the result of our actions. Like death, our Karma is inescapable.
Jigme Lingpa describes Karma in this way:
“Imagine an eagle. It is flying, high in the sky. It casts no shadow. Nothing shows that it is there. Then suddenly it spies its prey, dives, and swoops to the ground. And as it drops, its menacing shadow appears.”
Through contemplating the inevitable and unpredictable flavor of death and increasing our conviction in the power of Karma, we will find that patience for and diligence with our practice will become strong. It is urgent that we take advantage of this precious opportunity to practice, for when death arrives, only Dharma can help us.
You may have seen the bumper sticker that reads “ He who dies with the most toys wins.“ Quite a statement about the attachments and confusion of samsara! But even the King has to die, and what can he take with him? At the time of death, how will it help you to have the most “toys“, status, riches, friends, or even a strong body? These samsaric attachments do not benefit us – we don’t get to carry them along with us. But at the time of our death, we do get to carry the Dharma and we do get to experience the results of our actions.
Do you take the time to contemplate your own death? Have you thought about how you would like things to be when you die? Which of those things are self directed, things you can choose and prepare for? What keeps you from making preparations?