In this article, we’re going to talk about how to find happiness when we’ve been told that our lives will soon end. In other words, we’re going to talk about how to make heaven a place on earth. But, to get there, we need to revisit Buddha’s last days.
Different scholars and different sects of Buddhism offer somewhat different views of precisely how Buddha died. The most widely-supported version is recorded in the Mahaparinibbana Sutra, although there’s a Chinese Sutra that offers a somewhat different account. You don’t need to memorise those long, perplexing titles. But, different Buddhists have slightly different ideas as to how Buddha died.
My temple teaches that Buddha knew that his death was imminent. A devoted follower had made Buddha a meal without realising that the meat was bad. Buddha knew that the meat was bad, but he also knew that his time on earth was due to end, so he accepted the meal and endured the pains of death with great peace.
The critical points here are that Buddha accepted death, was not saddened by it, and chose what his last days would mean. Buddha is teaching us that our final days can be whatever we choose them to be. Buddha’s choice was to celebrate life in the face of death.
Someday, if we live long enough, we’ll all be in the position of counting down our final days. Many of us will have to decide what our last days should mean. What they should be is a celebration of life; not a funeral dirge of death.
Dreams come with risk and I won’t lie to you, not all fairy tales end well. But there’s a lot that we can do to make our final days the best days ever. If you’re in your last days, be careful who you spend those days with. Avoid killjoys and surround yourself only with insanely positive people. In the end, our lives should be about the decisions that we made; not the decisions that we didn’t.
When we’re ill, we tend to lie in bed and watch TV to distract ourselves. But, if you turn off the TV, you can rediscover that life is really supposed to be a parade of unpredictable and enchanting moments between friends and family.
Why not dedicate your final days to making heaven on earth last a lifetime for those you leave behind? Write a lifetime of birthday cards for your children.
Put 100 Christmas tree ornaments in 100 hand-wrapped boxes to be opened once a year for those who survive you, or take your family on the vacation of a lifetime; leaving memories that will last a lifetime.
And while we’re at it, there is no thank you letter better received than one that’s been penned by hand. There is no greater paradise on Earth for a surviving loved one than a handwritten thank you, or a hand-painted watercolour card.
In a world of smartphones and social media, perhaps we all need to remember that it is our human connection to each other that makes life worth living. God forbid that we ever get a terminal diagnosis, but if we do, perhaps it’s time for us to rediscover the heavenly paradise that can be found in nothing more than each other’s simple touch, or a loving hug.
We opened this article by asking ourselves why it rains? Buddha’s last days proved that it only rains when someone is praying for us – when they’re praying for our sadness to be erased.
Heaven on earth is when we become each other’s rain because, when we do this for each other, life becomes a collection of never-ending and breath-taking rainbows… and over those rainbows is a touch of Buddhist heaven on earth.
The best of times truly is now. Would you please be my rain?
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.