The Aged and The Sick
Ven. Thich Thanh Tu
by My Thanh
my talk is especially addressed to the sick and old persons.
The reason for this talk is that there was a Buddhist layperson
who came and asked if I could give a small Dharma talk to his
parents who were old and dying - and because he wanted his parents
to be alert, clear-minded when the time came. I sympathized
with him and also in order to help the sick, old persons during
this critical time, we are giving you todays talk.
of all, death is not frightening. Everybody thinks that birth
is happiness, death is suffering; birth is happy and death is
scary. As for all of you here Are you afraid of dying
? Actually, dying is not frightening at all. Old age and sickness
are two out of four kinds of suffering which the Buddha had
mentioned, namely, "Birth, Old age, Sickness, and Death".
Old age and illness are suffering. If one is no longer concerned
with old age and illness, then one is free. In brief, if one
dies, one leaves old age and sickness behind that means
one should be happy for one is finally free from them. Therefore,
we say death is not frightening at all.
as Buddha always says " where there is life, there is death".
Life and Death are natural phenomena, no one can escape them.
Like the Buddha, He lived and died when He was eighty years
old. Some called themselves immortals, like the
Eight Fairies in Chinese legend, but the truth is
that they did actually live longer than so-called mortals.
there were Eight Fairies but now you cannot even
find one who still survives. As we see, the Buddha who attained
enlightenment; however, when His body deteriorated, He had to
let it go. Therefore, death is natural and it happens to us
all, with no exception. To be frightened of the inevitable is
not wise. To be worried of the unavoidable is useless. Death
will come to us all, and we all have to accept it matter-of-factly.
It is a natural process, there is no need to be scared.
as Buddhist laypersons practising the five precepts or even
the ten precepts diligently, they know for sure that they will
come back as human beings with all good opportunities. As one
practices the five precepts which are :
from killing, one can enjoy longevity.
from stealing, one can enjoy prosperity.
from adultery, one can be beautiful and respectful.
from falsehood, one obtains melodious voice, is trusted by
from alcoholic drinks and drugs, one can be intelligent and
reborn as a human being with all these good qualities, suitable
conditions and lacks nothing is the result of practicing the
one leaves ones rotten body, one obtains a
better body in ones next life, so there is
no need to worry. If one practices the ten precepts diligently
and correctly, one will be reborn in heaven with better conditions
than in human realm.
always say that dying is like exchanging an old car for a new
one. If we know that once we leave this body, we will have a
new better one, then we do not need to be sad or worried. Death
is not frightening, the frightening fact is that we did not
practice the precepts properly.
I want to remind all of you who are presently sick / dying,
think about what I have to say and try to change or go on diligently
with your practice. The Buddha had spoken of Death-Proximate
Karma. This kind of karma is really powerful. It could
lead us to a better or worse realm after we die. If the Death-Proximate
Karma is good if will lead a dying person to a good realm and
we see that in a human or animal realm, there are some people
or animals who live and die in a short period of time, and the
reason for which they came and stayed shortly was conditioned
by the Death-Proximate Karma. After this lifetime, they were
led to other realms according to their Habitual Karma (Accina).
To remind all of you even when you have good Habitual Karma,
you had better keep your mind calm and alert, think of only
good deeds during dying moment; so that you can go on with a
better life. If at the moment of dying, you get angry or become
attached to people or things, these reactions will have a negative
effect on your next rebirth despite your good Habitual Karma.
On the contrary, if you think of wholesome or good things at
the moment of dying, you could benefit a good rebirth in spite
of your bad Habitual Karma. Nevertheless, the Death-Proximate
Karma only plays an important role for a short time; after that
the Habitual Karma is the crucial one which will give you a
good rebirth for a long period of time. Therefore, at the dying
moment, make sure that we stay alert, calm, clear-minded and
especially do not let impure thoughts arise. The sutra tells
us the story of Devadatta, who committed all possible cruelties
should be condemned to hell. However, at the moment of dying,
Devadatta repented and asked the Buddha for forgiveness. Later,
Buddha told Ananda that even Devadatta was condemned to hell
for his bad deeds; but because of his repentance before dying,
he will then come back as a human being and work out his bad
deeds and finally will become a Buddha in the future. Devadatta
committed lots of cruelties during his lifetime, but before
his death, he had repented. Thus, after having paid all his
debts, he would come back as a human being and work his way
through Buddhahood. The Death-Proximate Karma can help to shorten
our bad rebirth. Another story told us about a Deity who foresaw
his next rebirths. This Deity saw that when he died, he would
reincarnate as a son of a rich Brahmin in the human realm, and
after this rebirth, he would go straight to hell. Stricken by
this knowledge, he cried out for help. A Deva then came and
told him the only one who could help him is the Buddha who now
stayed at the Bamboos Grove. The Deity then kneeled down
and headed his prayer to Buddha. He stated thrice his name and
vowed to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha, then
he died. He did reincarnate as a son of the Brahmin. One day,
he saw the Buddha taking his alms, as soon as he saw the Buddha,
he decided to become a monk.
in accordance with the Buddhas teaching, he worked diligently
and became an Arhat, free from birth and death. Thus, his condemnation
to hell was annihilated. Throughout this story, we understand
that the Death-Proximate Karma is quite important, it could
lead us to a better rebirth and could give us a second chance
to walk on the right path.
we, as Buddhists, should remember and comprehend well the working
of the Death-Proximate Karma, without forgetting that the Habitual
Karma is also important because it is the lifetime Karma that
we depend on for our next rebirth which is created by accumulating
our good / bad deeds.
are some instructions for the dying :
not get angry- pay attention to the dying moment, take care
of your death. Do not get angry- at this critical moment,
if you are angry, mad, you will be reborn in a lower realm.
and forget do not think of your enemies or vengeance,
because you will reincarnate and take vengeance at each other
endlessly. When this occurs, you accumulate more negative
deeds and cannot go on with the right practice.
not become attached to loved ones or wealth, etc. This attachment
will lead you to lower realm (e.g. animal realms).
the history book of the thirty-three Zen masters, there is a
story about one of the Zen master who went out for alms, passing
by a rich mans house. The rich man was out, but inside
came running out a dog that barked at him loudly. The Zen master
looked at it and reproved ,
How dare you barking at me, because of the attachment of wealth
that you came back as a dog, shame on you!" After having
heard the masters reprimand, the dog became sad and refused
to eat. Lately, the rich man came back and realized that his
beloved dog refused to eat, he asked his servants the reason.
The servants told him that in the morning, there was a Zen master
who passed by and said something to the dog and afterwards it
refused to eat. The rich man was so upset that he went out to
look for the Zen master. He queried , " What did you say
to my dog this morning that has made him sad and refused to
eat ?" The master replied ," Please do not get angry
at me. The dog is your father." The rich man got even angrier
and asked , " Why is that dog my father ?" The master
said , " If you do not believe me, go home and see if the
dog is lying under your fathers bed. Right where the dog
is lying, you dig up and will find a bowl of gold. When your
father passed away, he did not get a chance to tell you the
secret; so he came back as your dog to guard it. Just go home
and dig up then you will understand." The rich man immediately
went back home, dug up under his fathers bed and found
the bowl of gold. Afterwards, he ran back to the master and
asked the master to help his father. The master convinced the
rich man to use that gold for charity work. The rich man obeyed
the master and few days later the dog died.
because of wealth attachment that the man came back as a dog
to guard his property. This is apprehensive. Here I have mentioned
the three donts at the dying moment, as a Buddhist, please
remember and do not let them happen. I repeat, firstly- do not
get angry; secondly do not think of vengeance; thirdly
do not become attached. Remember, do not have these three
thoughts, otherwise, they will take you to lower realms.
the contrary, at the dying moment, think of good deeds. Firstly-
think of helping poor people the best you can. Secondly
as a Buddhist, think of offering to the Three Jewels ( Buddha,
Dharma, Sangha); or as non-Buddhist, think of taking refuge
to the Three Jewels in order to cultivate a true spiritual path.
Thirdly- think of freeing all captured animals, and saved them
from being killed.
alms, helping the sangha, and freeing all captured animals are
good deeds. By practicing good deeds, we gradually walk on the
right path, and these are good thoughts that we should have
at dying moment.
Buddhist who practices correctly, should know how to apply the
Dharma at this crucial moment. Firstly, for Buddhist who recites
Amitabha Buddhas name, when confined in bed because of
illness, please remember to recite Buddhas name continually,
neither thinking of beloved ones nor property. Following this
practice properly, one will surely go to the Buddhas realm.
for people who do not recite Buddhas name, but are used
to reading sutras, should at least remember a stanza .
for people who meditate, remember to stay with your awareness,
do not run after your thoughts. Remember that in the deterioration
of the body, there is something else which is never deteriorated.
Thinking like that, you will not be frightened, but stay with
your Buddhas nature, your pure awareness.
The body is not real, you have it and then you lose it. The
Buddhas nature is the only thing which is
timeless and deathless, and that is the good thought you should
keep in mind at the dying moment.
the three different situations mentioned above, people who recite
Buddhas name should only think of Buddhas name,
forget everything else. People who are used to reading sutras,
should remember a stanza. People who meditate, stay with your
pure awareness, do not be afraid, do not be worried;
just letting go .
are some of the reminders for that crucial moment.
I am talking about the funeral. Lots of people tell their families
to do this, to do that. It is not important. Why ? Because the
body is composed of the four elements (earth, fire, water, wind);
when we are alive, we drink water to maintain the water element,
we eat to maintain the earth element, we breath to maintain
the wind element, etc
Thus, in order to keep the four
elements together and have them work properly, we must borrow
similar elements from the outside.
we die, we stop borrowing, then the four existing elements will
automatically dissolve by themselves. In foreign countries as
well as in our motherland, the four elements are alike. The
body is dust so let it return to dust. Do not think that leaving
your body in a foreign country is a loss. Dying without being
alert, calm and clear-minded is the real loss.
family members decide among themselves to perform the funeral
properly according to their means. That is if there is a crematory
nearby, then cremation will be performed. If there is a patch
of land, then let them perform the inhumation. The important
role is our pure thoughts and good deeds which will lead us
to happiness. The funeral ceremony plays second role, so do
not overestimate it.
are my reminders to you all, and hope that when we get old and
pass away, we will not be a problem for family members.
only mentioned some of the most important things to do at dying
moment. You have the free will to choose your own direction,
just do not let bad, uncontrolled thoughts overcome your pure
mind. This is important.
wish that after having listened to this Dharma talk, all of
you will go home and practice diligently and correctly. The
practice will help you to save yourself and this is also the
Buddhas teaching which will help us walk on the right
path and eventually Buddhas teaching will get us out of
this suffering world.