Death is the biggest unknown. That's why it is man's biggest fear.
It is the ultimate truth and there is no running away from it. Countless people have tried to do that in the human history, but everybody has failed.
It is certainly not a good idea to remain ignorant of something that is so universal and so inevitable.
"I know three things – first, death is certain; second, the time of death is uncertain; and third, nothing remains with you except your Dharma at the time of death," said Dipankar Khanna, a master coach of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) from Bangalore. Khanna, also a renowned author and a trustee of the Garden of Samadhi Research Center on contemplative practices, was in Kathmandu these past four days to take part in a special event – Death, Dying and Phowa, a 4-day intensive meditation retreat. He was one of the 800+ participants coming from 25 countries across the world to take part in the event held at Tergar Osel Ling Monastery near Swayambhu.
The meditation retreat was a specialized teaching by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche on the stages of human mind at the time of death. "Dying is the opportunity to truly connect with our true nature. It is a great opportunity to free ourselves," Rinpoche said.
"Death is our ultimate fear. We ignore it and try to suppress our minds if the thought of death comes. But if you try to suppress, it goes deeper inside you and one day it explodes," Rinpoche said. "It is like the monster in the basement."
"Not only death, but every moment in life can be our teacher. From birth till death, a lot of changes happen. Each one of them is a great opportunity to learn and grow."
Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master from Nepal, is one of the most celebrated contemporary meditation masters and a bestselling author. His first book, Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, has been a primer of meditation for many people around the world. It has been translated into more than 20 languages.
Rinpoche came to international limelight when American neuroscientist Richard Davidson scanned his brain and did various tests at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to declare that his happiness levels exceeded those of common men by several hundred times.
"In the West, people don't even like to talk about death. There is a great fear about it," Rinpoche said. "But by understanding about death, we can transform this fear to grow ourselves, grow our wisdom, and grow compassion for others."
According to Olga Lasota, an Austrian general practitioner living in Nepal, talking about death is not considered good in the West. "In Europe, the public does not show any interest to talk about death. There is very big denial. They find it very depressing. Some people think that talking about it might bring death faster, which is not true."
But does denial of the fact of death help? Not really.
Rinpoche gave teaching on the importance of living in awareness, which would prepare one for the dying moment.
Known for his unique ability to present a complicated subject matter in a light, humor-filled, and easily understandable manner, Rinpoche explained the rare Buddhist teachings about the stages of change in a human mind during the time of death.
Learning to live in the present moment and developing keen awareness about one's own mind are the most important things to learn during life, Rinpoche said. "It will help you live a joyful and meaningful life, and it will prepare you to embrace your dying moment gracefully."
Olga, a longtime meditation practitioner, said, "Knowing about the changes happening to us during death teaches us to prepare ourselves at the moment that is very scary. Closing our eyes toward it is not going to help."
"According to the Buddhist teaching, it is very important to prepare for your dying moments. I have not encountered this type of teaching in any other spiritual or non-spiritual teachings or books. With this teaching, if something happens, I will be less scared."
Jeannie Chou, a traditional medicine expert from Hong Kong, said that death was a sure thing to happen and running away from it would only make one more miserable. "If you understand it beforehand, you can live a more meaningful life," Chou said, "If people knew this would be their last day of life, what they would do? They would only do the most important things. If they understood the impermanence of life, they would learn to treasure the moments of life."
For Harris Mitsouras, a yoga teacher from Greece, death could be a great teacher. "Sooner or later, we need to face it. It can be a great teacher, if we are open," he said. "If we understand this fact of life, we can be more humble. It removes your attachment to unworthy things. We can live more joyfully and not waste time in complaining."
Yuan Xin, who came from China to take the teachings, said that people in good physical health would never bother to think about the impermanence of life. "But impermanence is the law of the world. Change happens every moment," Xin said, "When dying really comes, it's very hard to let go of anything because all your life you have not prepared yourself for it!"
"As a meditation practitioner, I have learned to accept impermanence and accept death. And accept everything as it is. That way, I feel life is more enjoyable and brighter."