By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
Sorrow in the Pali word is called soka. Encounter sorrow things & the mind has displeasure feeling of mental factor is called soka. Every time soka arises, including dosa (hatred). The deep sadness of sorrow is quite common in people of today. Sorrow comes from the loss of one’s loved family member, from lost one’s fortunes & the fortunes of friends, etc.
All these are called soka. Here sorrow (soka) has a connection with loss & pain. The non-returner & arahant overcome sorrow. For others only by practice & wise contemplation. First has to know about the sufferings come from soka so that we can let go off it. Here I want to tell a true story of a man when encountered with death, which created sorrow for him & the family.
This story had some good lessons for us to contemplate. I was living on the eastern coast of Taiwan. On every new year, I use to pay a visit to see my very old mother. For this purpose, I had to stay for a few days in this layman’s home. He was a cigarette smoker. Last year he had found out with the lung cancer of the second stage. Two or 3 years before I urged him to has a medical check-up for lung cancer more than one or two times.
He did not take my suggestions & responded lightly as he would have no problem. This was one of his first great mistakes. He was a successful businessman & dealing with many businesses. Every year during my few days at his home, I was always invited him to discuss the Dhamma & practice.
Even both of us had free time; he never took it seriously. During these few years of our friendship, I always urged him to discuss Dhamma. He came for 2 or 3 times only & never stayed very long. When he came to the eastern coast in his free times to see our group, he only came & paid respect to me. He always discussed & argued about Buddhism with other friends and never with me. So he had very limited knowledge of Buddhism with wrong views which came out from his thinkings. Thinking of business, money & Buddhism are two quite different things. Someone had success in business with his brain did not mean he was wise & intelligent.
No-one can know about Buddhism very well without a good teacher & study. So when death came & knocked on his door, he was fear & frightened. He had to take treatment with chemotherapy for a year without success. Even he lost his faith on the triple gems for his survival. He took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha recently to come out from dangers. It was the same as like other faiths. Instead of relying on his inner qualities, he turned towards outside power. Instead of using the right view for contemplation, he used the wrong view.
At last he had doubt & lost his faith in the Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha. The Buddha was not a savior & also did not has such a thing in nature. He wanted to see me the day before he died. I just came out from the hospital for an operation and rushed to see him. He passed away the next day.
What did he learn from his illness & death we did not know? For me, this book came out from the result of his illness. He misused his time, energy & chances for wealth only. Most people may think someone can make a lot of money & success in business is bright, intelligent & smart.
A mind influenced by lust, craving & greed cannot be wise. When illness & death come; money, power & status are becoming useless. After death, we cannot take anything with us except the unwholesome & wholesome actions (their results) will follow us. A few years ago, a monk who I knew had committed suicide. His old mother also out of grief and sorrow, followed him with suicide.
Most people do not want to hear or see old age, sickness & death. They would try to stay away from these things as much as possible. We do not benefit anything by running away from these things. These are natural processes & everyone will encounter it. Public big hospitals are very good for studying & observing these things.
In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, there was a discourse by the Buddha for the Five Subjects for Contemplations. These were very important for everyone. There are five facts that one should reflect very often. These are:
The Buddha continued to talk about the reasoning of these reflections.
- There are beings who are intoxicated with youth. Because of that, they conduct themselves in a bad way, in body, speech & mind. But when they often reflect on that fact, intoxication with youth will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who are intoxicated with health. Because of that, they conduct unwholesome way, in body, speech & mind. With the often contemplation, intoxication with health will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who are intoxicated with life. Because of that, they conduct unwholesome way, in body, speech & mind. With the often contemplation, intoxication with life will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who feel desire & passion for the things they find dear & appealing. Because of that, they conduct unwholesome way, in body, speech & mind. With the often contemplation, that desire and passion for the things they find dear & appealing will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who conduct themselves in a bad way, in body, speech & mind. With the often reflection, their unwholesome actions will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
There was another discourse connection with the death in Aṅguttara Nikāya. It was called Fearless Discourse. If we understand why we are fear of death & can know how to deal with it properly & successfully. Without it, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair will arise.
Janussonin brahmin went to see the Buddha, & said to him as follow. “I am of the view & opinion that there is no one who, subject to death, is not afraid or in terror of death.” The Buddha responded as it was not true. Some of them were afraid or in terror of death, & some were not. In truth, the majority of living beings are afraid or fear of death. The Buddha gave four reasons for each of them. The person who is afraid or fear of death:
- Someone who has not abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever & craving for sensuality. Then he comes down with a serious disease. As he is sick, the thought occurs to him as those beloved sensual pleasures will be taken from him, & he will be taken from them. He grieves & is tormented, weeps beat his breast & grow delirious.
- Someone who has not abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever & craving for the body. Then he comes down with a serious disease. As he is sick, the thought occurs to him as his beloved body will be taken from him, & he will be taken from his body. He grieves & is tormented, weeps beat his breast & grow delirious.
- Someone who has not done what is good, has not done what is skillful, has not given protection to those in fear, & instead has done what is evil, savage & cruel. There is a bad destination for him after death. For that, he grieves & is tormented, weeps beat his breast & grow delirious.
- A person in doubt & perplexity, who has not arrived at certainty about the True Dhamma. (This is a worldling who dies with doubt & wrong view).
From above the four reasons, someone afraid or fear of death is, attach to sensuality, to one’s body, done evil things & a worldling dies with doubt & wrong view. So someone who is not afraid or fear of death is the opposite. We had been seen some yogis who died with a smile on their faces (both Theravadin & Mahayanist Buddhists).
Therefore everyone, instead of running away from dukkha or unpleasant things, such as old age, sickness & death, should have intimate knowledge about them. Accept them as reality, natural process & learn how to deal with it skillfully. Only by learning & practicing we can deal with it successfully to overcome sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief & despair.
There was a very interesting jataka story related to death. The Buddha in one of his lives as a bodhisatta was a farmer. His family members were; his wife, his son, his daughter, his daughter-in-law & their maidservant. Once he & his son were working in the field & suddenly the son was bitten by a poisonous snake & died.
Therefore the bodhisatta sent a message to his family & asked them to come to the field by bringing meal only for one person. The mother knew what happened to her son. After taking his meal, they prepared for the funeral. All five of them did not show any sorrow or grief. This made the King of the 33 gods (Sakka) curious about it & came down to the earth disguised as a human being for inquiry. Each of their answer to Sakka was as followed.
(1) The bodhisatta (the father): It was like a snake changing its skin. With deep sorrow & crying for the dead one, it brought no benefit to anyone. The dead one also did not know anything for their sorrow & crying. Even the dead body was burnt with fire; it did not feel anything about it.
(2) The bodhisatta’s wife (the mother): Her son was not invited by them (parents) to come & leave (i.e., by his kamma to be born & to die). Therefore he came to them by himself & left them by himself.
(3) The sister (the bodhisatta’s daughter): Crying with sorrow brought disadvantages. It made others had worry & concern.
(4) The daughter-in-law (the son’s wife): Crying with sorrow for the dead was like a child crying for the moon. Expecting or desiring for something which could not be attained was a kind of foolishness & stupidity.
(5) The maidservant: Crying with sorrow for the dead one was like a pot after broken apart could never come back to normal. So it was useless & unprofitable.
If we observe & contemplate; what they had said, these people were not ordinary ones. Their minds were quite mature with the practice of contemplation on death. So worldlings also can overcome sorrow with practice & contemplation. Sorrow arises by wrong view & wrong thinking.
The Buddha gave many ways of Dhamma to deal with kilesa. With regular practice & contemplation, the mind will become mature & easily to overcome their worldly dhamma. With satipatthāna practice also can overcome sorrow & lamentation. At the beginning of the Satipatthāna Sutta,
the Buddha said; “Monks this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of dukkha & discontent, for acquiring the true method & realization of Nibbāna.”
Tha-bye-kan Sayadaw gave the example of Mallikā, who was the wife of Bandula. At the time when she was serving the monks with foods & receiving the news of her husband & their 30 sons were killed. She continued to serve the monks without emotion. And suddenly a butter pot fell off & broken.
Ven. Sariputta saw it & comforted her. Then she showed the letter to the venerable & said that even she had been overcome sorrow & grief on the death of the family members. The reason for her sorrowless was coming from her practice. She was already a stream-winner (sotāpanna).
Here to include two stories of the Buddha’s two female greate disciples. They were Theri Patācāra & Theri Kisā Gotami. Both of them were suffered from deep sorrow when their beloved ones died. After meeting with the Buddha overcame their sorrow with Dhamma & practice. And then both became unshaken & sorrowless. Patācārā:
She had lost her husband & her two sons, as well as her parents & 3 brothers. So she was driven to near insanity. When she met the Buddha, he comforted her with Dhamma. She should not has fear because he could protect & guide her. Throughout saṁsāra (the round of existence), the number of tears she had shed on account of the deaths of the family members was voluminous.
Even it was more than the water of the four great oceans. The Buddha taught her you should not think too much about those who were already gone. Then the Buddha spoke the two following verses.
Verse 288: “Not sons, nor parents & close relatives can protect one assailed by death; indeed, nobody can give protection.”
Verse 289: “Knowing this, the wise restrained by morality should quickly clear the hindrances to the path leading to Nibbāna.”
After the discourse, Patācārā attained the Path & Fruit as a stream winner. Later she becomes a bhukkauni. One day she was cleaning her feet with water. As she poured the water for the first time, it flowed only a short distance & disappeared. And then she poured for the 2nd & third time successively & it had the same nature. She came to perceive the three stages in the life of beings.
The Buddha knew these all. So using his supernormal power from the Jetavana monastery sent forth his radiance & appeared to her. And then said the following verse.
Verse 113: “Better than living a hundred years without seeing the arising & passing away of the five khandhas is the one who lives a day & discerning of it.”
At the end of the discourse, Theri Patācārā attained arahantship.
At last she met with the Buddha for help. He asked her to get some mustard seeds from houses where there had been no death. She could not find a single house where death had not occurred. As soon as she realized this point, her attachment towards her dead son had changed. She discarded the dead body & went back to see the Buddha.
The Buddha said to her; “Gotami, you thought that you were the only one who lost the son. Death comes to all beings. Before their desire is fulfilled, death takes them away.” With this talk, she penetrated the inconstant, suffering & not-self nature of the five khandhas & entered the stream (became a sotāpanna).
Later she became a bhikkhuni. One day as she was lighting the lamps & observing the flames flaring up & dying out. The Buddha, through supernormal power, saw her from the monastery, & sent forth his radiance & appeared to her. And asked her to continue the contemplation on the impermanence nature of phenomena. The Buddha spoke the following verse.
Verse 114: “Better than living a hundred years without seeing the Deathless (i.e., Nibbāna) is the one who lives a day & seeing it.”
At the end of the discourse, Theri Kisā Gotami attained arahantship.
Therefore, contemplation on death is a very important meditation subject for everyone to transcend dukkha. If we talk about it from the suttas & stories, there is a lot to say. The weaver girl became a sotapanna before she died with the accident was the outcome of this practice. Her father out of grief for her death, later ordained & practiced became an arahant.
Ven. Yasa in one of his past lives, he was helping to bury & cremated corpses. Because of the frequent contemplation on death, in his last life easily to give up all his wealth & pleasures by seeing the women as corpses. And then he met the Buddha by listening to his talk and attained arahantship.
Frequent contemplation can lead to love, compassion & concern for others as we share the same nature. And then we shall not waste our precious lives & time for many useless things & matters. Instead, we become heedful & diligent in wholesome dhammas.
The Buddha’s teachings were always based on right views & right thoughts or thinking. Without it, any experience becomes fruitless & even harmful. We can see many doctors & workers are working with corpses. Do deaths & loathsomeness of the body have any effect on them? Mostly not! In the beginning, it might be unpleasant for them dealing with corpses.
In the long run, it becomes a habit & they used to them. People are doing evil things with wrong views & thoughts, even worse. Battles between drug gangs & terrorists, deaths become their pleasures. Media on violence become a pleasure for a lot of people. This is one of the causes of violence in societies (e.g., gun shootings in the US).
cited from https://oba.org.tw/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=4702&p=36999#p36999 (posted on 2019-11-22)
- Content of "Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing"
- Content of Publications of Ven. Uttamo
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