Gomchen Lamrim review: The importance of remembering death
Gomchen Lamrim review: The importance of remembering death
- Reflecting on death helps us in this life and at the time of death
- The carrot and stick approach to reflection on death
- The six disadvantages of not remembering death
- The six benefits of remembering death
- The subtle and gross impermanence of the person
- Consider each of the disadvantages of not reflecting on death:
- We don’t remember to practice: How much time do you spend accumulating wealth, fame, and possessions? How much time do you spend averting discomfort? Is the Buddha’s teachings even on your radar most of the time? How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- We remember to practice, but we procrastinate: Do you find that there is always something better to do than practice? What things distract you from the spiritual practice you want to do? Reflect that practice doesn’t mean we give up our family and every day activities, but rather that we transform the way we relate to them, integrating them into our life in a meaningful way. How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- We practice, but we don’t practice purely: How does attachment to gain and aversion to loss pollute your practice? How does attachment to praise and aversion to blame pollute your practice? How does attachment to fame and aversion to shame pollute your practice? How does attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain pollute your practice (this includes pleasant tastes, sounds, smells, tactile sensation, and sights)? How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- We lose the determination to practice intensely or consistently: Have you had the experience of tuning out during your routine practice, feeling disconnected from and not present for your practice? Do you find your practice dry and unsatisfying? How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- We do destructive actions that create negative rebirth and prevent us from liberation: What destructive actions have you done in the past to attain the pleasures and avoid the discomforts of this life? How does living in this way prevent us from liberation? How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- We die with regret: What have you spent your life doing that at the time of death won’t matter? Have you spent this life purifying and creating merit? If not, we’re likely to have deep regret at the time of death which will surely come and we don’t know when. How does contemplating death and impermanence overcome this?
- Consider each of the advantages of reflecting on death:
- We will act meaningfully: Imagine that you have the inner discipline and enthusiasm for practice. Imagine that even when you don’t feel well or things aren’t going your way, that you use the experience to progress on the path and benefit sentient beings. Imagine not being distracted by worldly activities. Imagine being completely focused on creating the causes for a series of precious human lives so that you can progress on the path and be of greater and greater benefit to sentient beings. What does thinking in this way do for your mind? How does contemplating death and impermanence achieve this?
- Our actions will be powerful and effective because we won’t be attached to worldly things: Imagine not reacting with attachment and anger towards worldly things, but with virtuous states of mind like kindness, fortitude, and generosity. Imagine being able to concentrate on whatever it is you are doing. Imagine freely giving to others since you know you cannot take anything with you at the time of death. Imagine being able to monitor your actions, always reflecting on what you are doing and why, and what the results will be so that you can mindfully create only virtue. Imagine not having any doubts about what you are doing or worrying about what others think because you know what you are doing is meaningful and beneficial, and you are so grounded in the Dharma that you have great courage, fortitude, and confidence. What does thinking in this way do for your mind? How does contemplating death and impermanence achieve this?
- It gets us started at the beginning of the path: Contemplating death compels us to seek out the Dharma to discover the meaning in our life. Have you found this true in your own experience?
- It keeps us going in the middle of the path: Contemplating death helps us to persevere, not lose interest, and encourages us to not give up. Have you experienced times of discouragement? How has/might contemplating death help you to persevere?
- It keeps us focused on the goal of liberation at the end of the path: Imagine having the great energy and focus to accomplish the path due to the force of meditating on death and impermanence. How might contemplating in this way help beings at the end of the path achieve their goal?
- We die happily and pleasantly: Imagine dying, having spent your life cultivating love, joy, contentment, peace, forgiveness, fortitude, generosity, etc. Imagine leaving this life like a bird taking off, flying away, and never looking back. How does that make your mind feel? How does contemplating death and impermanence achieve a happy and pleasant death?
- Consider the saying that if we don’t think about death in the morning, we waste the morning. If we don’t think about death in the afternoon, we waste the afternoon. If we don’t think about death in the evening, we waste the evening. Instead of being depressing, this actually fuels our life with energy, peace, and joy. How can you bring a greater awareness of death and impermanence into your day?
- If we think about life and death in this way, it makes us examine how we might live our lives differently; we see that the importance we place on the pleasures of this life are futile. What are things in life that are worth doing? What are things in life that distract you from the path that you’d like to abandon? How can you transform your motivation to transform ordinary activities into virtue? Make a determination to use the reflection on death and impermanence to inform your priorities in very specific ways in your life.
Venerable Thubten Semkye
Ven. Semkye was the Abbey's first lay resident, coming to help Venerable Chodron with the gardens and land management in the spring of 2004. She became the Abbey's third nun in 2007 and received bhikshuni ordination in Taiwan in 2010. She met Venerable Chodron at the Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle in 1996. She took refuge in 1999. When the land was acquired for the Abbey in 2003, Ven. Semye coordinated volunteers for the initial move-in and early remodeling. A founder of Friends of Sravasti Abbey, she accepted the position of chairperson to provide the Four Requisites for the monastic community. Realizing that was a difficult task to do from 350 miles away, she moved to the Abbey in spring of 2004. Although she didn't originally see ordination in her future, after the 2006 Chenrezig retreat when she spent half of her meditation time reflecting on death and impermanence, Ven. Semkye realized that ordaining would be the wisest, most compassionate use of her life. View pictures of her ordination. Ven. Semkye draws on her extensive experience in landscaping and horticulture to manage the Abbey's forests and gardens. She oversees "Offering Volunteer Service Weekends" during which volunteers help with construction, gardening, and forest stewardship.