revised on 2021-03-16
By Venerable Uttamo Thera（尊者 鄔達摩 長老）
Sorrow in the Pāli word is called soka. Encounter sorrow things and 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 and the fortunes of friends, etc.
All these are called soka. Here sorrow (soka) has a connection with loss and pain. The non-returner and arahant overcome sorrow but for others only by practice and 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 and 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 used 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 three years before, I urged him to have a medical check-up for lung cancer more than one or two times.
He did not take my suggestions and responded lightly as he would have no problem. This was one of his first great mistakes. He was a successful businessman and dealing with many businesses. Every year during my few days at his home, I always invited him to discuss the Dhamma and 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 two or three times only and never stayed very long. When he came to the eastern coast in his free times to see our group, he only came and paid respect to me. He always discussed and 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 thinking. Thinking of business (or money) and Buddhism are two quite different things. Someone had success in business with his brain, it did not mean he was wise and intelligent. There are more intelligent fools than the wise. The Buddha Dhamma is the best education for becoming an intelligent wise.
No-one can know about Buddhism very well without a good teacher and study. So, when death came and knocked on his door, he was fear and 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 and Saṅgha recently to come out from dangers. It was the same as 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 and lost his faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha. The Buddha was not a savior and also there was not such a thing in nature. He had wanted to see me the day before he died. I just came out of the hospital for an operation and rushed to see him. He passed away the next day.
We did not know what he learnt from his illness and death. For me, this book came out from the result of his illness. He misused his time, energy and chances for wealth only. Most people may think someone who can make a lot of money and success in business is bright, intelligent and smart.
A mind influenced by lust, craving and greed cannot be wise. When illness and death come; money, power and status are becoming useless. After death, we cannot take anything with us except the unwholesome and 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 and 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 and everyone will encounter it. Public big hospitals are very good for studying and observing these things.
In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, there was a discourse by the Buddha for the Five Subjects for Contemplation. 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 and 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 and 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 and mind. With the often contemplation, intoxication with life will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who feel desire and passion for the things they find dear and appealing. Because of that, they conduct unwholesome way, in body, speech and mind. With the often contemplation, that desire and passion for the things they find dear and appealing will either be entirely abandoned or grow weaker.
- There are beings who conduct themselves in a bad way, in body, speech and 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 (AN. 4.184 Abhayasuttaṃ). If we understand why we are fear of death and can know how to deal with it properly and successfully. Without it, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair will arise.
Jāṇussoṇi brahmin went to see the Buddha, and said to him as follows. “I am of the view and 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, and 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 and 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, and he will be taken from them. He grieves and is tormented, weeps to beat his breast and grow delirious.
- Someone who has not abandoned passion, desire, fondness, thirst, fever and 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, and he will be taken from his body. He grieves and is tormented, weeps to beat his breast and grow delirious.
- Someone who has not done what is good, has not done what is skillful, has not given protection to those in fear, and instead has done what is evil, savage and cruel. There is a bad destination for him after death. For that, he grieves and is tormented, weeps to beat his breast and grow delirious.
- A person in doubt and perplexity, who has not arrived at certainty about the True Dhamma (this is a worldling who dies with doubt and wrong view).
From above the four reasons, someone afraid or fear of death is, attach to sensuality, to one’s body, done evil things and a worldling dies with doubt and 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 and Mahayanist Buddhists).
Therefore, everyone, instead of running away from dukkha or unpleasant things, such as old age, sickness and death, should have intimate knowledge about them. Accept them as reality, natural process and learn how to deal with it skillfully. Only by learning and practicing we can deal with it successfully to overcome sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.
There was a very interesting jātaka story related to death. The Buddha, as a bodhisatta in one of his lives, was a farmer. His family members were; his wife, his son, his daughter, his daughter-in-law and their maidservant. Once he and his son were working in the field and suddenly the son was bitten by a poisonous snake and died.
Therefore, the bodhisatta sent a message to his family and 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 and came down to the earth, disguising as a human being for inquiry. Each of their answer to Sakka was as follows.
- The bodhisatta (the father): It was like a snake changing its skin. With deep sorrow and crying for the dead one, it brought no benefit to anyone. The dead one also did not know anything for their sorrow and 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 and leave (i.e., by his kamma to be born and to die). Therefore, he came to them by himself and left them by himself.
(3) The sister (the bodhisatta’s daughter): Crying with sorrow brought disadvantages. It made others had worry and 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 and stupidity. (Mogok Sayadawgyi said: “There is no other crazier than someone takes something which is non-existence as me and mine.”)
(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 and unprofitable.
If we observe and 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 and contemplation. Sorrow arises by wrong view and wrong thinking.
The Buddha gave many ways of Dhamma to deal with kilesa. With regular practice and contemplation, the mind will become matured and easily to overcome their worldly dhamma. With satipaṭṭhāna practice, one also can overcome sorrow and lamentation. At the beginning of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta,
the Buddha said; “Monks this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of dukkha and discontent, for acquiring the true method and realization of Nibbāna.”
Tha-bye-kan Sayadaw gave the example of Mallikā, who was the wife of Bandhula. At the time when she was serving the monks with foods and receiving the news of her husband and their 30 sons were killed. She continued to serve the monks without emotion. And suddenly a butter pot fell off and broken. (DhA. i. 228f, 349 56; J. iv. 148 ff; MA. ii. 753f)
Ven. Sāriputta saw it and comforted her. Then she showed the letter to the venerable and said that even she had overcome sorrow and grief on the death of the family members. The reason for her sorrowless came from her practice. She was already a stream-winner (sotāpanna).
Here are two stories of the Buddha's great female disciples. They were Therī Paṭācārā and Therī Kisā Gotamī. Both of them suffered from deep sorrow when their beloved ones died. After meeting with the Buddha, they overcame their sorrow with Dhamma and practice. And then both became unshaken and sorrowless.
She had lost her husband and her two sons, as well as her parents and three brothers. So, she was driven to near insanity. When she met the Buddha, the Buddha comforted her with Dhamma. She should not have fear because he could protect and 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 and 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, Paṭācārā attained the Path and Fruit as a stream winner. Later she becomes a bhikkhunī. One day she was cleaning her feet with water. As she poured the water for the first time, it flowed only a short distance and disappeared. And then she poured for the second and third time successively and 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 super-normal power from the Jetavana monastery, The Buddha sent forth his radiance and appeared to her. And then said the following verse.
Verse 113: “Better than living a hundred years without seeing the arising and passing away of the five khandhas is the one who lives a day and discerning of it.”
At the end of the discourse, Therī Paṭācārā attained arahantship. (DA. iii. 746; MA. i. 188; UdA. 127 or ThigA. 47, 117, 122)
She was from Sāvatthī and a rich man daughter. After she was married and a son was born to her. Unfortunately, her son died just like a toddler. She was stricken with sorrow and grief. She carried her dead son’s body and went about asking for medicine to restore her son’s life.
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 and went back to see the Buddha.
The Buddha said to her; “Gotamī, 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 and not-self nature of the five khandhas and entered the stream (became a sotāpanna).
Later she became a bhikkhunī. One day as she was lighting the lamps and observing the flames flaring up and dying out. The Buddha, through super-normal power, saw her from the monastery, and sent forth his radiance and appeared to her. And the Buddha 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), it is the one who lives a day and seeing it.”
At the end of the discourse, Therī Kisā Gotamī attained arahantship. (ThigA. 174ff; Ap. ii. 564f; DhA. i. 270ff; AA. i. 205)
Therefore, contemplation on death is a very important meditation subject for everyone to transcend dukkha. If we talk about it from the suttas and stories, there is a lot to say. The weaver girl became a sotāpanna before she died with the accident was the outcome of this practice. Her father out of grief for her death, later ordained and practiced became an arahant.
Ven. Yasa in one of his past lives, he helped to bury and cremated corpses. Because of the frequent contemplation on death, in his last life easily to give up all his wealth and 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 and concern for others as we share the same nature. And then we shall not waste our precious lives and time for many useless things and matters. Instead, we become heedful and diligent in wholesome dhammas.
The Buddha’s teachings were always based on right views and right thoughts or thinking. Without it, any experience becomes fruitless and even harmful. We can see many doctors and workers are working with corpses. Do deaths and 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, and they used to them. People are doing evil things with wrong views and thoughts, even worse. Battles between drug gangs and 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).
Nearly everyone has to encounter with sorrow, grief and pain for a loved one who suffers with severe illness, at dying and death. No one can escape from this situation because it is a natural process. But the thing we can do is to overcome sorrow by both sides. The most important is the one who experiencing illness and dying and how he is dealing with it. Because the dying moment is very important for his next rebirth. Illness, dying and death is an extensive subject. I had completed some Dhamma talks by Mogok Sayādaw in three volumes which were very good to deal with this matter. Here I want to include the dying and death of my mother and a 14-years old female yogi.
A Tribute and Memory to a Selfless Mother
Near the Chinese New Year of 2019, I went to see my mother in Taipei. A few days there I had a strange feeling about her. Her face looked like an innocent child and with longing for something. At that time, I did not know what it was. That year April the 4th was 99th year of her birthday, according to the Chinese calendar, it fell on 1st April. As a birthday memory, mother and her daughters’ family had lunch together at a restaurant. She said to her four grandchildren as it may be the last time with them together. After coming back in the evening, she had stomach pain and vomiting. They took her to a nearby clinic. After the medical checking up, the doctor took it as stomach problem and gave some medicine to her. She was not allowed to take solid foods and only pure rice gruel. After two days, she felt better. On the 4th April evening, I phoned to my mother and said birthday wishes to her. That was the last communication between us. On the 8th or 9th April, her illness returned again. They worried about the situation and sent her to the Chung-ho Hospital. My youngest sister informed me on her situation on 10th April.
On the 13th, after finishing my before mid-day meal, my sister phoned me that mother could passed away at any time, so I should come to see her. I took the morning train on the 14th (Sunday) to Taipei. I met mother on the hospital bed with the breathing machine attached to her. Her heart beat was fast and the inner organs could not function very well. By seeing her discomfort with difficult breathing, it made my heart painful. For two days I stayed there to look after her with others. It could not be known the time of mother passing away that I went back on the 18th (Thursday). That was my mistake. On the day of 18th over 1 p.m., a very strong earthquake struck Taiwan. The magnitude of the earthquake was 6.1 and it’s shaking the whole building. Before the earthquake, mother was awake and stared at her children faces quite a long time. Mother face was calm and without any trace of sorrow or sadness. This was the last eye contact between mother and me. I will always remember these kind and gentle eyes of mother who taught me many things as an example.
On the 19th I was taking the meal before noon, and my sister informed me about mother passing away peacefully at 11:30 a.m. There was another earthquake between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. In her last moment of breathing it dropping slowly to zero. With the last breath mother’s head turned a bit towards the right side and passed away peacefully. Mother struggled with her life into the hospital 9 or 10 days only. She had many wholesome actions in her life, a good daughter, wife and mother. She was very healthy and had been to many countries until her 97th year. She did a lot of dāna practice in her whole life. This was also the Buddha’s exhortation. “Not to do evil, to do good and purify the mind.”
I dedicate this “Dhamma protection with Blessing” to my mother and all the mothers out of gratitude and respect for their selfless love to their children.
Ma Htet Htet Aung—An Outstanding child
The information on Ma Htet Htet Aung came from a video record on her funeral and her meditation teacher U Sunanda (Dhammaraṃsi—Mogok). According to Sayādaw U Sunanda, Ma Htet Htet Aung was from Kyauk Mae City in northern Shan state, Burma. She was the only child of her parents. She was number one or the top outstanding student in the state. She was well known and loved by all. In the video, her school principal talked about her with tears. She was very good in all ways, a dutiful daughter to her patents and a nice girl to all. She started to study and practise meditation at the age of eleven.
In 2005, at the age of fourteen, she contracted with dengue fever. It seemed to be it was threatening her life; instead of staying in the hospital, she came back at home. She knew her death a week earlier and said to her mother: “Mom! I will not live longer than seven days and if my schoolmates come to see me, please receiving them on my behalf. Let me concentrate on my own practice.”She requested her mother to prepare some Dhamma tapes for her, including Dhamma talks on death and dying by Mogok Sayādawgyi—such as, “Dying with Smile and Grimace”, “How to Deal with Feeling”, “The Sick Bhikkhu Phegguna”, “Four Ways of Dying”, “The Seven Factors of Enlightenment”, etc. We can see the intelligent and wise nature of this girl who knew what kinds of Dhamma she had to listen at the time of dying.
In the video I had seen the date of the record in it. I cannot remember the exact day, only the month and year i.e., in April 2005 (just a coincidence, the month which my mother passed away). April is the hottest month in Burma in summer. In the video record, it started to show the guests come to her home for the funeral. Her lifeless body was lain on the carpeted floor. The body signs were not like most of the ordinary corpses. The eye-lids were closed, the complexion was clear, the body muscles were soft and pliable, so that the whole body could be bent easily. The most remarkable thing was it did not emit a bad smell, even though it was already three days at the time of very hot summer. Ma Htet Htet Aung was a pretty girl, and it looked like The Sleeping Beauty of Snow White. Even though her skin was not like snow but her mind was.
It was a great loss for her parents. The father was receiving guests and making all the arrangements for the funeral calmly, but the mother was in grief and tears. The body was carried away to an open field and cremated there. Ma Htet Htet Aung lived a very short life span of fourteen years comparing with the heavenly time span which is only a few hours. She used her life wisely—a wise child (paṇḍita) even though it was very short. Many are using their lives and time foolishly and become fools (bāla) with their enjoyments in polluted media. For more information on Death and Dying, I refer to Mogok Sayādawgyi’s Dhamma Talks.
revised on 2021-03-16; 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
According to the translator— Ven. Uttamo's words, this is strictly for free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma—Dhamma Dāna. You may re-format, reprint, translate, and redistribute this work in any medium.