Best to think I’ll die today

Sep 15, 2022


We know we’ll die one day, but we can’t stand the thought of it so we live in the fantasy that somehow we’re permanent. But best, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, to think that we’ll die today.


It’s too shocking! We think that if that happens, then why bother doing anything? Why not just sit down and wait for death? What’s the point?


We think that because we think things are permanent! When we fall in love we think, finally I’ve found happiness. We’ll be together forever. We always hungrily want things to last forever and think that somehow if it doesn’t it’s not worth it. 


It’s just not true. Anyone with half a brain can see that things change, people leave, houses collapse, beloveds die. The Buddha’s approach is that getting in touch with this reality can transform our lives, focus us, help us prioritize.


So if we could die today, what to think? What’s the point? Given that my mind came into this life programmed with my own tendencies, given that everything I say and do and think programs me and will produce my future happiness and suffering, and given that I want happiness and don’t want suffering, then I’d better start creating the causes right now. 


The fact is, when we realize that things are impermanent, that they won’t last and we don’t know for how long, then that’d galvanize us into action and we will make the most of this precious life, not waste a minute.


When I was living in California at Land of Medicine Buddha surrounded by these great big redwoods, these enormous trees, in the winter it was all drippy and wet, and you look up and all you can see is these huge trees, you can’t see the sky – and I like the sky. 



One year someone invited me to Puerto Rico for the winter – I’d often do an editing retreat. It was wonderful! I had this nice place in a resort, a pink building, this pink resort, just by the beach. I was in heaven!


I had nine weeks. It was impermanent. And every day I’d look at the calendar, I was one day closer to having to leave. So of course I didn’t waste time! I had a real sense of urgency. 


I didn’t think, “Oh well, what’s the point of enjoying something? It’s not going to last forever!” In fact, I enjoyed it all the more. 


Imagine if I’d forgotten it was impermanent. I’d wake up in the morning. “Oh, I don’t feel like going to the beach today, I’ll go to the beach tomorrow,” and then turn over and go back to sleep. Of course not!


And I’d get totally caught up in attachment: this is my apartment and my possessions. Then I’d get upset with the guys next door playing rock and roll, or I’d get angry that the stove didn’t work and obsess about it. How silly! It’s impermanent! 


But because I knew I’d have to leave soon, I made the most of every minute. Up early, down to the beach, off for walks, going to this restaurant and that one. Making the most of it. And of course this is just a samsaric analogy. But we totally get it.


When my darling sister Jan fell down the stairs and died six weeks ago, at the top of the stairs she, like the rest of us, felt permanent; she felt like a living person, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche said. Three seconds later she was a dead person.


As Pabongka Rinpoche says in his Heart Spoon: “This is will happen to me.”


So let’s not waste this marvelous life of ours, these amazing internal conditions we have: this intelligence, this aspiration to grow our wisdom and compassion. Then when we die, we’ll be totally ready, perfectly programmed for the future so we can carry on this job of becoming a buddha.

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