Are you prepared to die?
The ancient samurai of Japan would prepare for death each day of their life. The first line in the core text of bushido (”way of the warrior”), the Hagakure reads, “The way of the warrior is found in death.”
There is another line about when faced with life or death, the samurai should always choose death. I don’t believe this is meant to say that death is to be desired, or that death is preferable to life, but merely that we should always be prepared for death, and unpacking it a bit further, that when we are confronted with hard choices, we should not be fearful of taking the most difficult option.
Being a samurai, a warrior, meant facing death on a constant basis. Each day could be the last. It is no different for us. Each day could be our last, we could be hit by a car or…
Tao and Buddha-dharma practitioners endeavor to train and tame their unruly minds. Pull the mind back into itself rather than focus on the external. Death is a metaphor for facing the unknown, the difficult, the unavoidable. Death is non-attachment.
We can love life and cherish it while at the same time be unattached to the “things” of life. This detachment helps us to prepare for face ordeals. An unshakable mind, that holds on to only itself, is prepared, when suffering arrives, to see suffering as a materialization of the Noble Truths. Suffering, especially physical death is a natural phenomenon, a natural aspect of life.
Some methods early Buddhists had to prepare for death was to meditate on death, meditate next to a corpse, or spend a night meditating in a cemetery. For us, it is enough perhaps to train our minds so that we are not afraid to think about death or talk about it. We can also reflect on death, and meditate on impermanence, which is a powerful anti-dote to self-cherishing and attachment.
We should be aware that from the moment we are born the process of old age, sickness and death begins. Of course, as we reflect on this subtle aspect of impermanence, we should also keep in mind what Dogen said in Genjo Koan (“Actualizing the Fundamental Point”),
[It] is an established way in buddha-dharma to deny that birth turns into death. Accordingly, birth is understood as no-birth. It is an unshakable teaching in Buddha’s discourse that death does not turn into birth. Accordingly, death is understood as no-death.
Birth is an expression complete this moment. Death is an expression complete this moment. They are like winter and spring. You do not call winter the beginning of spring, nor summer the end of spring.