Birth, Aging, Illness, & Death

§ Whatever appears and takes shape is bound to give rise to stress.

§ If we lay claim to unstable things as our own, our lives will have to be unstable too.

§ When pain arises, stay right there with the pain. When pleasure arises, stay right there with the pleasure. Get to know them. Get to know what arises when. When you stay with them, really focus on being observant, to see them all the way through. Ultimately, they’ll fade away, in the same way as when we place a rock on a lawn, the grass underneath it gradually dies on its own.

§ When pain arises, you can focus your attention on something or somebody else in order to forget the pain, all right, but that’s just mindfulness, not alertness. Your awareness has to be right at what’s happening within you if you want to have both mindfulness and alertness together.

§ Aging, illness, and death are treasures for those who understand them. They’re Noble Truths, Noble Treasures. If they were people, I’d bow down to their feet every day. It’s because of illness that I’ve been able to stay a monk as long as I have.

§ Eating just a little food is very useful in the practice. When I want to make a careful survey of my breath, I eat as little as possible. When the body is hungry, I can see right where all the painful breath sensations arise. If the body is well-fed, it’s hard to observe these things, because nothing usually happens in the body in its normal state. So from my point of view, when I’m hungry or sick it’s good for the practice. When I’m really in pain, so much the better. I can close the door and don’t have to get involved with anyone else.

§ The body is “death.” The mind is “birth.” If we can separate them from each other, we’ll gain release from birth and death.

§ If the mind is endowed with defilements and mental fermentations, it will have to experience birth, aging, illness, and death as a matter of course. It’s like grains of rice covered by their outer coating and kept in a granary. As soon as the conditions are right in terms of the soil, moisture, sunlight, and air, the grains are bound to sprout and grow into rice plants resulting in even more grains of rice, without end. But if we scrape off the covering and roast the grains in a pan, they won’t be able to sprout. In the same way, if we use the effort of the practice to burn away the defilements that arise in the mind—by practicing concentration and constantly contemplating the qualities of the mind in line with the four frames of reference (body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities)—the defilements will pop out of the mind in the same way that roasted rice will pop out of the pan. When we reach this point, we reach the mind that doesn’t die, that gains release from death. When we see the aspect of the body that doesn’t die and the aspect of the mind that doesn’t die, that’s when we reach the truth.

§ Wise people see that death is like stripping off old ragged clothes and throwing them away. The mind is like a body; the body is like ragged clothing. There’s nothing of any real essence to the rags, but they have us scared. As soon as we see that there’s the tiniest hole in our clothes, we rush to find something to patch them up. The more patches we put on our clothes, the thicker they get. The thicker they get, the warmer they feel. The warmer they feel, the more we get attached to them. The more we get attached to them, the more deluded we become. As a result, we’ll never get away.

Wise people, though, see that the issue of whether we live or die is not as important as the issue of whether we can serve a purpose. If living on will serve a purpose for themselves or other people, then even if their clothes are nothing but rags, they’ll put up with wearing them. But if they see that living on will serve no purpose at all, then when the time comes to take off their clothes, they immediately let them go.

§ Practicing concentration is like gathering vegetable seeds and storing them until they’re mature. As soon as they get moistened, they’re going to sprout into plants with branches and leaves and flowers. In the same way, our concentration will sprout into discernment, giving us all-around insight into the affairs of the world and the affairs of the Dhamma. We’ll come to know what the elements, aggregates, and the sense media in the body are—to the point where we see that there’s no reason to fear aging, illness, and death. It’s just like when we grow up, and our childishness disappears.

§ Don’t make an issue out of whether or not you’re going to die. Don’t even think of it. Just purify your mind, and that will take care of everything.