2022-05-05 Satipaṭṭhāna (70) Aware at the Time of Death
3:53PM May 5, 2022
most challenging aspects
So good morning. We are coming to the penultimate talk on the Satipatthāna Sutta. After all these months now – over four months – of going through it slowly, we are coming to the end. We will all come to an end at some point.
This Satipatthāna practice is considered to be one of the greatest practices to do as we are dying. If we wait until we are dying to begin our practice, we will not have developed our practice. We will not have the practice. It will not be there as a strong resource for us at those times.
What I have learned through the Satipatthāna practice, and doing this practice for many decades – it generally gives me a very positive feeling about dying. My relationship to my death – if I am lucky to die consciously, without dementia, or too much pain – is that I anticipate it to be one of the great things to be present for. This letting go that undoubtedly happens as we are dying, is one of the best things going, a really wonderful thing to do.
The experience that I have had of letting go deeply, deeply, deeply. I now associate that with dying. I do not feel that dying is so much an end, as it is a releasing and letting go. A letting go into? I do not know. It does not matter so much to me what we are letting go into, maybe nothing. But the letting go is so wonderful, so peaceful, happy, and freeing.
Consider this practice we have been doing all these months. One of the purposes for it is to come to terms with, find our peace, our center, our freedom, in relationship to some of the deepest and most challenging aspects of human life. This is represented by how the text begins, and how it ends. In the end in reference to this it says, "This is a direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the way, for the realization of nibbāna, namely, The Four Foundations for Awareness."
In some Theravādan countries, or temples, often there is a practice of reciting the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta as someone is dying or after they have died. It is associated very closely with the practice of Satipaṭṭhāna as we are dying.
One of the ways to appreciate this is to know as we are dying that all kinds of things are no longer that important. When we are in our last breaths, we are not concerned about whether or not we need to buy more socks. Or what are we going to have for supper?
To be able to let go of concerns and thoughts which are not relevant at that time. To be able to let go of fears, desires, and distress. To really not have that get in the way of the fullness of the moment, the opportunity of the moment. The Satipatthāna practice teaches us that we have something better to do than be distressed. Something better to do than be afraid. Something better or to do then be lost in fantasy, thoughts, projections and ideas.
Not that we can necessarily put all those things aside, but our life and interest, the energy, the attention, does not go there anymore. We can let go of it, and focus on this practice of Satipaṭṭhāna. Practice being aware, being awake, being present. That is the better alternative than so many of the ways our minds can go.
To practice Satipaṭṭhāna, this practice of mindfulness, a lot, helps us to see over and over again in a deeper, clearer way, how it is the better alternative. This is where life is found, freedom is found, peace is found more often than the other things the mind is doing.
The compulsion to have certain thoughts, feelings, and attitudes – as much as they might seem important to us – through this practice, we see that there is something better to do. There is something much more freeing, more peaceful, more alive, and more satisfying to do then to think about our resentments, how other people are wrong, or the regrets we have had over our lifetime.
All those things can have a place in life, but realize that they are not the best alternative. They are not the best place, the most valuable place to be. Do not invest so much in so many things which are to our detriment, that diminish us, that are wind drag for ourselves. To know what is the best alternative. To see that being awake, being aware, being present is the best alternative going.
Even at the very end this last breath that we have, what is the best thing to do at that point? Do you know that? Do you have a feeling for how you want that last breath to be? I hope it is not wondering who is going to get your socks when you die. I hope that there is really something there. Maybe there is a letting go of the world around you even – in the relationship for that breath. Maybe there is a letting go into being awake, into being aware. Letting go into release, letting go.
So all these months we have been doing Satipatthāna, it comes to this. It is really about some of the most essential, deepest aspects of our life and death represents that. There are all kinds of suffering that human beings have. The human realm is filled with suffering and challenges. How do we meet it? How do we address it? How do we find our way through it?
For the Buddha, this is the unified way. This is the direct way. This is the way. I think of it as the simplest, most uncomplicated way, all the way through to freedom, to liberation.
So, thank you. We do our last talk tomorrow. I look forward to our time. Thank you.