At what point do you have to stop saying ‘It’s never too late’?
We say that a lot, to help us feel better about all the missed opportunities, etc; and sure, you should never feel like you’re too old to get fit, or take up pottery, or whatever. And of course you’re never too old to practice Dharma. But if you wait until you’re on your deathbed, you will certainly feel like you’ve missed the boat. Some things take a bit of preparation, and dying gracefully is one of those things. I don’t want to be one of those people who are in denial up until the last moment, still planning my next holiday when it’s obvious it’s never going to happen.
It’s all about being prepared, isn’t it? Like, if you’re going to cross a road and don’t know about cars, you might just run straight out into traffic. Splat. If you know the danger, you’ll make sure you’re prepared. Meditation on death is the Green Cross Code of life. It will make us take better care to not run in front of a metaphorical car, and when we have to cross the road into our next life we’ll do it with eyes wide open, not screaming and dodging traffic.
You know those mornings when you oversleep and have to scramble madly to get ready? When it’s time to leave and your bag isn’t packed? I don’t want the end of my life to feel like that. I want to wake up now, nice and early, so I can pack my bag with everything I might need (love, compassion, and wisdom, for example), so when it is time to go I can leave without panicking.
In Joyful Path of Good Fortune, Geshe-la says:
When a traveller stays a few nights in a luxurious hotel he does not develop strong attachment to its comforts because he knows he will soon be moving on. When he has to leave the hotel he does not feel miserable, because he has never regarded it as his real home. In the same way, if we cease to think of this life as our permanent home and begin to regard ourself as travellers bound for future worlds, we shall be less attached to this life and we shall naturally develop great interest in Dharma, for Dharma alone helps us in all our future lives.
The purpose of meditating on death is to bring us to this point of acceptance; we can relax because we’ve taken refuge in the Dharma and can face death calmly. It was a nice hotel, 3-star at least; but I’m not going to cry when the holiday’s over. If I’ve packed enough virtue, maybe my next accommodations will be 5-star.