15. The Uncertainty of the Time of Death
Longchen Nyingtik Meditation 15
Take refuge and arouse bodhichitta.
Think that the nature of our lifespan is never increasing but ever diminishing, at each moment, we move closer and closer to death. When our life is moving toward its built-in expiration date day and night, there is no way to prolong it, not even by an extra day. A day’s passing means a day less to live, an hour’s passing means an hour less to live, so does a minute’s or a second’s passing, and life is exhausted eventually.
However, ordinary people are too oblivious to notice this inconvenient truth. New Year’s Day is usually celebrated with much cheerful fanfare, when in actuality, everyone has inched toward death by a year. This situation is well illustrated by a story told in the Lotus Sutra: A house has caught fire from outside, but the children inside are still playing blithely, completely unaware of their imminent calamity.
Therefore, think: My life is like a stalk of grass that is being snipped away by the white mouse of day and the black mouse of night; soon I’ll plunge down the precipice of death. Yet I took this matter lightly and am still making lots of future plans as if I’ll live to be several thousand years old.
That’s why the Kadampa masters assert that what ensues from a poor meditation on impermanence is a poor outcome of spiritual pursuit. Really, death can happen in many different ways and at all sorts of places, and there is no telling what is in store for me. Only one thing is assured: that is, I definitely will die, and its time is imminent.
Therefore, resolve: I should be gripped by the fear of a prisoner condemned to a suspended death sentence, for whom years pass like days. I must seize whatever time I have left, and practice the Dharma immediately. If not now, when will it be?
Because of their deep realization of impermanence, Buddhist sages of the past in Tibet or Han China have never slacked off in their practices, even for a day. I have, on the contrary, fallen prey to sleepiness or distractions. I must bear the thought of impermanence constantly in my mind. Above all, the uncertain time of death and the definite arrival of death are what I must mull over again and again.
Dedicate all the merit of your practice to all sentient beings.