The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Take Control of Your Life”
Before we begin, I would like to mention the passing of Pope John Paul II. Not that I am becoming a Catholic in my old age, but I was baptized a Catholic and I feel a connection with this spiritual leader who has spent, apparently from the time of being a young priest, four hours in prayer every day. I think that that pure intention and that kind of motivation and that kind of spirituality in the world is precious no matter what flavor it comes in. So when we lose somebody like that from the world, there is always a reason for sadness.
It’s amazing that His Holiness was really the first and only religious leader that I know of who died so publicly, not only with so many people watching the windows in St. Peter’s Square, but with cable news and all the news networks also covering this event. What an opportunity really to offer human beings—the opportunity to study death, to remind ourselves of this human condition that we all share together. None of us will avoid death. We may all die differently. Some of us may die a conscious death, hopefully, through practice; others might die an ordinary death. But we will all definitely die, and His Holiness reminded us of that fact. Kind of stuck it under our noses again. In our culture, we like to forget that. Even though we age literally every minute every day, we like to forget that part. We like to forget that death will definitely come.
As Buddhists, that’s an important factor for us; but culturally, as Westerners, we don’t like to think about death. In the West our dead people are carried away very quickly before we even get to notice them practically. Death is covered; it’s sanitized. We even make our dead pretty. This is a corpse, you understand, this is meat. We make them pretty. This is our custom. It’s like we lie to ourselves about death. It’s like we don’t want to face that that person has died, so we have a mortuary beautician come in and fix them up. Interesting way of thinking about death. I mean, just interesting.
His Holiness reminds us of the truth of death. That even those of us who practice, those of us who pray, we are all practicing really and praying for an auspicious rebirth. In his case, he was praying to go to heaven. We are praying for an auspicious rebirth. We are constantly reminded as Buddhists that everything is impermanent—that our lives are impermanent, that our youth is impermanent, that our physical appearance is impermanent, that it’s constantly changing. And while suffering is impermanent, so is happiness. We are reminded of that because we have actually witnessed this life that was so vigorous and so intending to work to its full capacity.
This Pope has traveled to many countries. Even when his health was not good, he would persevere. That was a miraculous thing to allow us to watch, to see how amazing is a life that is dedicated that way. And so we all mourn his passing. I hope that each of us in our own way, however we pray, whatever religion (he was definitely an inclusive Pope), that we should make prayers for him—perhaps a few moments of silence—and celebrate as well the fact that he’s reminded us once again that life and death are really pretty much the same. That one follows the other. And just as we have to prepare for life, we have to prepare for death.
Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved