To Live and Die Well

Venue: TIMS

During the Buddha’s time, there was a king named King Pasenadi of Savatthi who approached the Buddha and asked whether there is anyone living that will never grow old or die. The Buddha said there is none who will never grow old nor die, not even the richest nor highest class people. Even arahants will have to experience decay and dissolution of their body.

This sutta (SN 3:3) teaches us to realise and understand that we are impermanent. When we understand this properly, we will be better prepared for old age and can accept death gracefully and in peace. Otherwise, we would have to suffer more as we are unable to accept these facts of life. As recommended by the Buddha in another sutta (AN 5:57), we should regularly reflect that we are subject to ageing, illness, and death. Those who are mindful of such things are more receptive to the vicissitudes of life.

On another occasion (recorded in SN 3:4), the king told the Buddha that, in solitude, he reflected thus, “Who treats themselves as dear and who treats themselves as a foe? Then it occurred to me that those who engage in misconduct of body, speech and mind treat themselves as a foe even if they may say that they regard themselves as dear.” Isn’t that true? He who does wrong hurts himself with his own mental defilements. A good simile is of an angry man who wants to hurl a lump of shit at his enemy but even before he has managed to do it, he has soiled his own hands with foul excrement. Furthermore, he bears the evil kamma, which shall ripen as soon as it meets the right conditions.

The thoughtful king continued, “Yet, a person who engages in good conduct of body, speech and mind holds himself dear even if they may say that they regard themselves as a foe.” Wouldn’t you agree? An example would be a person who practises metta (loving-kindness). He experiences happiness even as goodwill occurs in his mind.

Upon hearing the king’s meaningful words, the Buddha replied, “So it is, great king, so it is.” (This is one of certain suttas where the Buddha only plays the role of acknowledging what someone else has said.)

Now, let us ponder upon the lessons from these two suttas. Since none of us can escape old age and death, we should value the life that we have now and be kind to ourselves; in other words, let us be heedful in doing what is good and not doing what is bad. In that way, we shall live and die well.

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