- For The Aged and The Sick
- By Ven. Thich Thanh Tu
- Translated by My Thanh
Today, my talk is especially addressed to the sick and old persons. The
reason for this talk is that there was a Buddhist layperson who came and asked if I could
give a small Dharma talk to his parents who were old and dying - and because he wanted his
parents to be alert, clear-minded when the time came. I sympathized with him and also in
order to help the sick, old persons during this critical time, we are giving you
First of all, death is not frightening. Everybody thinks that birth is
happiness, death is suffering; birth is happy and death is scary. As for all of you here
Are you afraid of dying ? Actually, dying is not frightening at all. Old age and
sickness are two out of four kinds of suffering which the Buddha had mentioned, namely,
"Birth, Old age, Sickness, and Death". Old age and illness are suffering. If one
is no longer concerned with old age and illness, then one is free. In brief, if one dies,
one leaves old age and sickness behind that means one should be happy for one is
finally free from them. Therefore, we say death is not frightening at all.
Secondly, as Buddha always says " where there is life, there is
death". Life and Death are natural phenomena, no one can escape them. Like the
Buddha, He lived and died when He was eighty years old. Some called themselves
immortals, like the Eight Fairies in Chinese legend, but the truth is
that they did actually live longer than so-called mortals.
Nevertheless, there were Eight Fairies but now you cannot
even find one who still survives. As we see, the Buddha who attained enlightenment;
however, when His body deteriorated, He had to let it go. Therefore, death is natural and
it happens to us all, with no exception. To be frightened of the inevitable is not wise.
To be worried of the unavoidable is useless. Death will come to us all, and we all have to
accept it matter-of-factly. It is a natural process, there is no need to be scared.
Thirdly, as Buddhist laypersons practising the five precepts or even
the ten precepts diligently, they know for sure that they will come back as human beings
with all good opportunities. As one practices the five precepts which are :
- abstaining from killing, one can enjoy longevity.
- abstaining from stealing, one can enjoy prosperity.
- abstaining from adultery, one can be beautiful and respectful.
- abstaining from falsehood, one obtains melodious voice, is trusted by people.
- abstaining from alcoholic drinks and drugs, one can be intelligent and wise.
Being reborn as a human being with all these good qualities, suitable
conditions and lacks nothing is the result of practicing the five precepts.
As one leaves ones rotten body, one obtains a
better body in ones next life, so there is no need to worry. If one
practices the ten precepts diligently and correctly, one will be reborn in heaven with
better conditions than in human realm.
We always say that dying is like exchanging an old car for a new one.
If we know that once we leave this body, we will have a new better one, then we do not
need to be sad or worried. Death is not frightening, the frightening fact is that we did
not practice the precepts properly.
Hereby, I want to remind all of you who are presently sick / dying,
think about what I have to say and try to change or go on diligently with your practice.
The Buddha had spoken of Death-Proximate Karma. This kind of karma is really
powerful. It could lead us to a better or worse realm after we die. If the Death-Proximate
Karma is good if will lead a dying person to a good realm and vice versa.
For we see that in a human or animal realm, there are some people or
animals who live and die in a short period of time, and the reason for which they came and
stayed shortly was conditioned by the Death-Proximate Karma. After this lifetime, they
were led to other realms according to their Habitual Karma (Accina). To remind all of you
even when you have good Habitual Karma, you had better keep your mind calm and alert,
think of only good deeds during dying moment; so that you can go on with a better life. If
at the moment of dying, you get angry or become attached to people or things, these
reactions will have a negative effect on your next rebirth despite your good Habitual
Karma. On the contrary, if you think of wholesome or good things at the moment of dying,
you could benefit a good rebirth in spite of your bad Habitual Karma. Nevertheless, the
Death-Proximate Karma only plays an important role for a short time; after that the
Habitual Karma is the crucial one which will give you a good rebirth for a long period of
time. Therefore, at the dying moment, make sure that we stay alert, calm, clear-minded and
especially do not let impure thoughts arise. The sutra tells us the story of Devadatta,
who committed all possible cruelties should be condemned to hell. However, at the moment
of dying, Devadatta repented and asked the Buddha for forgiveness. Later, Buddha told
Ananda that even Devadatta was condemned to hell for his bad deeds; but because of his
repentance before dying, he will then come back as a human being and work out his bad
deeds and finally will become a Buddha in the future. Devadatta committed lots of
cruelties during his lifetime, but before his death, he had repented. Thus, after having
paid all his debts, he would come back as a human being and work his way through
Buddhahood. The Death-Proximate Karma can help to shorten our bad rebirth. Another story
told us about a Deity who foresaw his next rebirths. This Deity saw that when he died, he
would reincarnate as a son of a rich Brahmin in the human realm, and after this rebirth,
he would go straight to hell. Stricken by this knowledge, he cried out for help. A Deva
then came and told him the only one who could help him is the Buddha who now stayed at the
Bamboos Grove. The Deity then kneeled down and headed his prayer to Buddha. He
stated thrice his name and vowed to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha, then he
died. He did reincarnate as a son of the Brahmin. One day, he saw the Buddha taking his
alms, as soon as he saw the Buddha, he decided to become a monk.
Later, in accordance with the Buddhas teaching, he worked
diligently and became an Arhat, free from birth and death. Thus, his condemnation to hell
was annihilated. Throughout this story, we understand that the Death-Proximate Karma is
quite important, it could lead us to a better rebirth and could give us a second chance to
walk on the right path.
Thereupon, we, as Buddhists, should remember and comprehend well the
working of the Death-Proximate Karma, without forgetting that the Habitual Karma is also
important because it is the lifetime Karma that we depend on for our next rebirth which is
created by accumulating our good / bad deeds.
Here are some instructions for the dying :
- Do not get angry- pay attention to the dying moment, take care of your death. Do not get
angry- at this critical moment, if you are angry, mad, you will be reborn in a lower
- Forgive and forget do not think of your enemies or vengeance, because you will
reincarnate and take vengeance at each other endlessly. When this occurs, you accumulate
more negative deeds and cannot go on with the right practice.
- Do not become attached to loved ones or wealth, etc. This attachment will lead you to
lower realm (e.g. animal realms).
In the history book of the thirty-three Zen masters, there is a story
about one of the Zen master who went out for alms, passing by a rich mans house. The
rich man was out, but inside came running out a dog that barked at him loudly. The Zen
master looked at it and reproved ,
" How dare you barking at me, because of the attachment of wealth
that you came back as a dog, shame on you!" After having heard the masters
reprimand, the dog became sad and refused to eat. Lately, the rich man came back and
realized that his beloved dog refused to eat, he asked his servants the reason. The
servants told him that in the morning, there was a Zen master who passed by and said
something to the dog and afterwards it refused to eat. The rich man was so upset that he
went out to look for the Zen master. He queried , " What did you say to my dog this
morning that has made him sad and refused to eat ?" The master replied ," Please
do not get angry at me. The dog is your father." The rich man got even angrier and
asked , " Why is that dog my father ?" The master said , " If you do not
believe me, go home and see if the dog is lying under your fathers bed. Right where
the dog is lying, you dig up and will find a bowl of gold. When your father passed away,
he did not get a chance to tell you the secret; so he came back as your dog to guard it.
Just go home and dig up then you will understand." The rich man immediately went back
home, dug up under his fathers bed and found the bowl of gold. Afterwards, he ran
back to the master and asked the master to help his father. The master convinced the rich
man to use that gold for charity work. The rich man obeyed the master and few days later
the dog died.
Likewise, because of wealth attachment that the man came back as a dog
to guard his property. This is apprehensive. Here I have mentioned the three donts
at the dying moment, as a Buddhist, please remember and do not let them happen. I repeat,
firstly- do not get angry; secondly do not think of vengeance; thirdly do
not become attached. Remember, do not have these three thoughts, otherwise, they will take
you to lower realms.
On the contrary, at the dying moment, think of good deeds. Firstly-
think of helping poor people the best you can. Secondly as a Buddhist, think of
offering to the Three Jewels ( Buddha, Dharma, Sangha); or as non-Buddhist, think of
taking refuge to the Three Jewels in order to cultivate a true spiritual path. Thirdly-
think of freeing all captured animals, and saved them from being killed.
Giving alms, helping the sangha, and freeing all captured animals are
good deeds. By practicing good deeds, we gradually walk on the right path, and these are
good thoughts that we should have at dying moment.
The Buddhist who practices correctly, should know how to apply the
Dharma at this crucial moment. Firstly, for Buddhist who recites Amitabha Buddhas
name, when confined in bed because of illness, please remember to recite Buddhas
name continually, neither thinking of beloved ones nor property. Following this practice
properly, one will surely go to the Buddhas realm.
Secondly, for people who do not recite Buddhas name, but are used
to reading sutras, should at least remember a stanza .
Thirdly, for people who meditate, remember to stay with your
awareness, do not run after your thoughts. Remember that in the deterioration of the
body, there is something else which is never deteriorated. Thinking like that, you will
not be frightened, but stay with your Buddhas nature, your pure
awareness. The body is not real, you have it and then you lose it. The
Buddhas nature is the only thing which is timeless and deathless, and
that is the good thought you should keep in mind at the dying moment.
For the three different situations mentioned above, people who recite
Buddhas name should only think of Buddhas name, forget everything else. People
who are used to reading sutras, should remember a stanza. People who meditate, stay with
your pure awareness, do not be afraid, do not be worried; just letting go .
These are some of the reminders for that crucial moment.
Now, I am talking about the funeral. Lots of people tell their families
to do this, to do that. It is not important. Why ? Because the body is composed of the
four elements (earth, fire, water, wind); when we are alive, we drink water to maintain
the water element, we eat to maintain the earth element, we breath to maintain the wind
Thus, in order to keep the four elements together and have them work
properly, we must borrow similar elements from the outside.
When we die, we stop borrowing, then the four existing elements will
automatically dissolve by themselves. In foreign countries as well as in our motherland,
the four elements are alike. The body is dust so let it return to dust. Do not think that
leaving your body in a foreign country is a loss. Dying without being alert, calm and
clear-minded is the real loss.
Let family members decide among themselves to perform the funeral
properly according to their means. That is if there is a crematory nearby, then cremation
will be performed. If there is a patch of land, then let them perform the inhumation. The
important role is our pure thoughts and good deeds which will lead us to happiness. The
funeral ceremony plays second role, so do not overestimate it.
These are my reminders to you all, and hope that when we get old and
pass away, we will not be a problem for family members.
I only mentioned some of the most important things to do at dying
moment. You have the free will to choose your own direction, just do not let bad,
uncontrolled thoughts overcome your pure mind. This is important.
I wish that after having listened to this Dharma talk, all of you will
go home and practice diligently and correctly. The practice will help you to save yourself
and this is also the Buddhas teaching which will help us walk on the right path and
eventually Buddhas teaching will get us out of this suffering world.