A Zen master was once asked by a student, “Where do you go when you die?”
The master replied, “I’m going straight to hell.”
The puzzled student asked, “Why?”
The master replied, “Because that’s where I’ll be needed most.”
With the chapter of 2023 about to close, we sit atop a planet consumed with hatred, greed, deep suffering, and loss. To be awake and alive means facing the truth of our dying planet and so much darkness around us. We remain scarred from the fear and grief of COVID-19, and find ourselves waking up to images of warfare and carnage throughout the world. Multiple countries are sliding towards authoritarianism and zealotry is spreading.
How can we be happy, joyous, and free when so many things are dying or ending?
From the beginning, Buddhism taught that all things that emerge in time will fade and cease to be. The foundational concept of impermanence (Anicca) emphasizes the transient and ever-changing nature of all phenomena, including Buddhism and life itself. All things are subject to decay and cessation. This perspective centers the fact that death is a natural and inescapable part of the human experience. Our foundational kinship is that our bodies will stop functioning one day and then forever.
The First Noble Truth in Buddhism acknowledges the existence of suffering. Death is one of the aspects of life that entails inherent suffering. The cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death is part of the human condition, and we experience various forms of suffering throughout this cycle.
May we all continue to practice alone and together, and cultivate awareness of the “dharma of death.” May we return to our practice of being fully present to the current moment without attachment to the past or anxiety about the future.
*** For those in the Los Angeles area, you are welcome to join our final in-person Mindfulness and Grief and Loss Workshop/Retreat on Sunday December 31, 2023 at 1:00-4:00pm (PT). If money is the only barrier to your participation, please reach out for assistance: