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Atisha on death and the meaning of life

JeroenJeroen Do it with a smileNetherlands Veteran
edited August 9 in Buddhism Today

I wrote this to myself as a short summary of Atisha’s nine point meditation on death (see here), it’s something that he might very well have said.

“You know death is coming. That is certain. You don’t know when. Every day makes the time that remains shorter. And there is nothing you can do to help. Your body won’t help you. Your possessions won’t help you. Your friends and family won’t help you. Only the spiritual path remains, it is the only thing that makes sense.”

But if so, the walking of the spiritual path is the ultimate meaning of life, beyond the basic needs of man and maybe even before that, that one should attend ones spiritual path before one attends the basic needs.

person

Comments

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited August 9

    Surely the two are not mutually exclusive, and could be addressed hand in hand?
    It might be a simple thing to be able to say 'do this rather than that', but only a person who has but those two tasks, can prioritise one over the other.
    For the lay person, nothing is ever as simple as that. Try telling a mother with three young children, a husband who works erratic hours, an ailing elderly mother, and a dog, rabbit and 3 goldfish, to prioritise her Spiritual Path over 'basic needs'...

    Fosdick
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    I think that is the ideal and in the Tibetan tradition there was often an emphasis on the importance of taking advantage of our brief time in this life to practice.

    I would avoid making it into a should though. I think its the sort of thing that needs to be arrived at with true intention and desire. If someone's not comfortable living like that they're more likely to just reject the idea than give up any attachment to material security.

    Ren_in_black
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @federica said:
    Try telling a mother with three young children, a husband who works erratic hours, an ailing elderly mother, and a dog, rabbit and 3 goldfish, to prioritise her Spiritual Path over 'basic needs'...

    Obviously the first step would be to simplify her life ;)

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Put the kids up for adoption, put the Mom in a nursing home, eat the rabbit, flush the goldfish and tell the husband someone kidnapped the kids. That should keep him busy.
    Keep the dog.

    My Goodness, @Kerome , you're RIGHT!!

    lobsterJeroenFosdick
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @federica We haz plan!

    Atusha (bless you) updated:

    1. All of us are alive
    2. Your life span is unknowable
    3. Life is here
    4. Your life span is fixed
    5. Existence has many causes
    6. Your body is strong and vulnerable
    7. Love life
    8. Your material possessions can help you live
    9. Your mind cannot help you when death comes

    and now back to real life and dog recipes

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:

    @federica said:
    Try telling a mother with three young children, a husband who works erratic hours, an ailing elderly mother, and a dog, rabbit and 3 goldfish, to prioritise her Spiritual Path over 'basic needs'...

    Obviously the first step would be to simplify her life ;)

    Sounds like she found the spiritual life a little too late!

  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    Fine advice for monastics, perhaps, or maybe laypeeps who have not accumulated any entanglements, but it looks to be unworkable for those of us who have already become stuck like B'rer Rabbit in a tar baby.

    lobster
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    Only the spiritual path remains, it is the only thing that makes sense.”>

    But if so, the walking of the spiritual path is the ultimate meaning of life, beyond the basic needs of man and maybe even before that, that one should attend ones spiritual path before one attends the basic needs.>

    Reflecting on this a little more, I find I may be more in agreement than I at first supposed, though I might take issue with the way it is stated.

    Since before I had even heard of Buddhism, I felt that the purpose of life was to learn from it. Learn what? Learn wisdom.

    Wisdom is, I think, both a spiritual and a material quality and it cannot be achieved without both spiritual and material inquiry, so perhaps I object mainly to the suggestion that one should attend ones spiritual path before one attends the basic needs, and amend it to suggest that attending to basic needs must be made a part of the spiritual path, not something separate and apart from it. I think @federica said much the same thing, but more succinctly.

    lobster
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    I understand it to mean the certainty of death is what cannot be helped by the body, possessions, etc. Basic needs during life still count for what they are.

    It reminds of when I first read about thinking of a precious glass or plate as already broken. This way you don't get attached, don't suffer, because you understand the impermanence of the plate (and hopefully, by extension, everything else.)

    Much later on, I found another reading which warned to not break the plate just because you understand it's already broken. Don't be careless with it. Take care of it, use it, enjoy it until its time comes. There's no need, and really no sense, in being careless with it just because you know it is impermanent.

    I take this to mean the same with the body, family and friends, and yes even some possessions.

    federicalobster
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran
    edited August 11

    @Ren_in_black said:
    Much later on, I found another reading which warned to not break the plate just because you understand it's already broken. Don't be careless with it. Take care of it, use it, enjoy it until its time comes.

    Certainly, but does that mean that a beggar should make the effort to become a stationmaster in the railways, for example? A beggar’s basic needs are often also fulfilled, he just chooses a different path, away from the Protestant work ethic, towards their fulfillment. You could say that a meditator does less than a beggar.

    But as a person with a spiritual path, should you go to the gym to work out and lose weight? Should you go running to stay fit? Should you engage in business to keep your financial health at an optimum peak? Should you build up a pension, so that people don’t need to take care of you in your old age?

    All of that builds certain habits, engages you with samsara, and was not included by the Buddha in his teachings. The Buddha seemed to say, spend your precious time on practice. And other enlightened people also seem to have trended that way.

    Osho for example didn’t seem to care, he just spoke to his sannyasins until his body gave out. Krishnamurti also went on world tours while already losing weight and died quickly of cancer. Ramana Maharshi stayed in very humble surroundings until his followers set up an ashram for him.

    Ren_in_black
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Kerome said: But as a person with a spiritual path, should you go to the gym to work out and lose weight? Should you go running to stay fit? Should you engage in business to keep your financial health at an optimum peak? Should you build up a pension, so that people don’t need to take care of you in your old age?

    Yes, absolutely, why not? I swim and take cold showers. That doesn't detract anything from the meaning of my life and my attitude...

    Osho for example didn’t seem to care, he just spoke to his sannyasins until his body gave out. Krishnamurti also went on world tours while already losing weight and died quickly of cancer.

    It's all a choice. Nobody made them, they chose to go that way.

    Ren_in_black
  • Ren_in_blackRen_in_black Georgia Explorer

    @federica said:

    It's all a choice.

    Very much agree, and @Kerome, you said something similar above in your follow-up comments: "A beggar’s basic needs are often also fulfilled, he just chooses a different path."

    We choose our metaphorical plate based on where we are at the time, I think. Perhaps the beggar sees a plate with a gold-lined rim. Initially he's excited about having it, but with more thought sees (for him) potential attachment and suffering in it. So he moves on and chooses a circle of sun-dried mud instead, in more alignment with his path.

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