The disadvantages of not meditating on death The disadvantages of not meditating on death are numberless but can be summarized under the following six headings:
1. If you do not meditate on death you will not be mindful of your Dharma practice. All of your time will be lost in mundane pursuits. One of the early Kadampa geshes said, “If you do not meditate on death upon waking in the morning, your entire morning will be wasted; if you do not meditate on death at noon, your entire afternoon will be wasted; and if you do not meditate on death in the evening, your entire night will be wasted.” In this way most people waste their entire life.
2. Although you may practice some Dharma your main practice will be procrastination.
Many Tibetans told their gurus that they would soon do retreat but, having meditated insufficiently on death, put it off year after year and died before managing to do so.
3. Your practice will become impure. It will become mixed with worldly ambitions, such as the eight worldly dharmas. Many practitioners fix their eyes more on becoming scholars or celebrities than on attaining spiritual realization. Jowoje (Atisha) was once asked, “If someone wishes for the happiness of this life alone, what shall he gain?” Jowoje answered, “Just what he wishes for!” “And what shall he gain in future lives?” the disciple asked. “Rebirth in the hell, hungry ghost or animal realms,” was the reply. It is said that in order to practice perfectly, this life must be abandoned. What does that mean? Not that you must abandon your present lifestyle, home, possessions or position, but that you must give up the eight worldly dharmas: wishing to experience wealth, fame, praise or happiness and to avoid poverty, notoriety, slander or discomfort. To differentiate between a true spiritual practitioner and a non-practitioner is simple. A practitioner is one who has abandoned the eight worldly dharmas; a non-practitioner is one who is controlled by them. Geshe Potowa once asked Lama Dromtönpa, “What is the line between Dharma and non-Dharma?” Lama Drom replied, “That which contradicts the beliefs of samsaric people is Dharma; that which does not, is non-Dharma.”
4. Your practice will lack stamina. Although you take up a practice, at the first setback you’ll give it up. A small thorn bush grew outside the cave of Kadampa Geshe Karag Gomchung. Every time he entered or went from the cave its thorns would rip his flesh but that bush remained there until he died because this great meditator practiced with such intensity that he never wanted to waste the few moments necessary to cut it down. Geshe Karag Gomchung had realized the fruits of meditating on death.
5. You will continue to create negative karma. Without continual awareness of death, attachment to the things of this life persists. Friends and relatives are held as more worthy of love than are strangers and beings who bring you discomfort. This emotional imbalance gives rise to an endless string of mental distortions, which in turn results in the generation of infinite negative karmas. In this way, you lose the happiness of this life and that of all future lives as well.
6. You will die in a state of regret. It is certain that death will come. If you do not live in mindfulness of it, it will come as a surprise. At that crucial moment you will realize that all the materialistically oriented attitudes that you have cultivated all your life are of no value and that your wealth, family and power are similarly useless. When death comes, nothing but spiritual realization is of value but, having neglected to practice death awareness, you have neglected to practice Dharma and now stand empty-handed, regret filling your mind. In his Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva writes:
When grasped by death’s agents,
What value are friends,
What value are relatives?
At that moment, the only protection
Is the force of goodness,
But to that I never attended.
Kadampa Geshe Kamaba once remarked that we should fear death now while there’s still time to act and at the time of death be fearless. Worldly beings are the opposite. While strong and healthy they never give death a thought, but when death comes they clutch at their breasts in terror. Most practitioners never really begin to practice but procrastinate day after day. Then, lying on their deathbed, they pray for just a few more days of life, but it’s too late: they are now between the jaws of the Lord of Death and the time for practice is but a memory-like a piece of meat that we held in our hands but did not eat, dropped, and is now in the belly of a dog and cannot be brought back. Although regret is pointless, regret arises.