Dealing with Fear

Fear of Death

Right now we cannot do anything about dying, so there is no point fearing death itself.

Generally, our fear of death is an unhealthy and unrealistic fear-we don’t want to die, so we ignore the subject, deny it, or get morbidly obsessed by it and think that life is meaningless. However, right now we cannot do anything about dying, so there is no point fearing death itself. What kind of fear is useful?

A healthy fear of death would be the fear of dying unprepared, as this is a fear we can do something about, a danger we can avert. If we have this realistic fear, this sense of danger, we are encouraged to prepare for a peaceful and successful death and are also inspired to make the most of our very precious human life instead of wasting it.

A healthy fear of death would be the fear of dying unprepared, as this is a fear we can do something about, a danger we can avert.

Preparing for Death

This “sense of danger” inspires us to make preparations so that we are no longer in the danger we are in now, for example by practicing moral discipline, purifying our negative karma, and accumulating as much merit, or good karma, as possible. We put on a seat belt out of a sense of danger of the unseen dangers of traffic on the road, and that seat belt protects us from going through the windscreen. We can do nothing about other traffic, but we can do something about whether or not we go through the windscreen if someone crashes into us. Similarly, we can do nothing about the fact of death, but we can seize control over how we prepare for death and how we die. Eventually, through Tantric spiritual practice, we can even attain a deathless body.

In Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully, Geshe Kelsang says:

Dying with regrets is not at all unusual. To avoid a sad and meaningless end to our life we need to remember continually that we too must die. Contemplating our own death will inspire us to use our life wisely by developing the inner refuge of spiritual realizations; otherwise we shall have no ability to protect ourself from the sufferings of death and what lies beyond. Moreover, when someone close to us is dying, such as a parent or friend, we shall be powerless to help them because we shall not know how; and we shall experience sadness and frustration at our inability to be of genuine help. Preparing for death is one of the kindest and wisest things we can do both for ourself and others.

Preparing for death is one of the kindest and wisest things we can do both for ourself and others.

We are Travellers

The fact of the matter is that this world is not our home. We are travellers, passing through. We came from our previous life, and in a few years, or a few days, we shall move on to our next life. We entered this world empty-handed and alone, and we shall leave empty-handed and alone. Everything we have accumulated in this life, including our very body, will be left behind. All that we can take with us from one life to the next are the imprints of the positive and negative actions we have created. If we ignore death we shall waste our life working for things that we shall only have to leave behind, creating many negative actions in the process, and having to travel on to our next life with nothing but a heavy burden of negative karma.

Cultivating Positive Minds

On the other hand, if we base our life on a realistic awareness of our mortality, we shall regard our spiritual development as far more important than the attainments of this world, and we shall view our time in this world principally as an opportunity to cultivate positive minds such as patience, love, compassion, and wisdom. Motivated by these virtuous minds we shall perform many positive actions, thereby creating the cause for future happiness. When the time of our death comes we shall be able to pass away without fear or regret, our mind empowered by the virtuous karma we have created.

When death actually comes we shall feel like a child returning to the home of its parents, and pass away joyfully, without fear.

Using Our Life Meaningfully

The Kadampa Teachers say that there is no use in being afraid when we are on our deathbed and about to die; the time to fear death is while we are young. Most people do the reverse. While they are young they think, “I shall not die”, and they live recklessly without concern for death; but when death comes they are terrified. If we develop fear of death right now we shall use our life meaningfully by engaging in virtuous actions and avoiding non-virtuous actions, thus creating the cause to take a fortunate rebirth. When death actually comes we shall feel like a child returning to the home of its parents, and pass away joyfully, without fear. We shall become like Longdöl Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist Master who lived to a great old age. When the time of his death came he was overjoyed. People asked him why he was so happy and he replied, `If I die this morning I shall be born again this evening in a Pure Land. My future life will be far superior to this one.’ Longdöl Lama had prepared carefully for his death and chosen the specific place of his rebirth. If we use our life to engage purely in spiritual practice we can do the same.

For more information on the subject of death and dying, see Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully .

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© 2007 Dealing With Fear. All rights reserved worldwide.

All quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books copyright The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union, all rights reserved worldwide. For more information on Geshe Kelsang's books visit Tharpa Publications.