“When Milarepa was young he killed thirty-five people. That’s a serious karmic load that would guarantee a difficult time in the bardo and almost certain rebirth into a lower realm. When he realized the karmic implications of his actions, he practiced as if there was no tomorrow. After twelve years of legendary hardship, Milarepa purified his karma and attained liberation….It was Milarepa’s fear of death that led him to conquer death….We should instill a similar level of wholesome anxiety….With Milarepa as our inspiration and guide, the uncompromising truths of Buddhism can speak for themselves. Let’s not dilute them for Western consumption…. Buddhism is an elegant but raw description of reality. It’s our job, as practitioners of the truth, to align ourselves with reality—not our versions of it.” [Italics added by Cindy Hoag] Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek, p. 40-41
The Eightfold Path is composed of “Right”: View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. If there is a “right” something, then that creates its dualistic opposite, the “wrong” something.
Wrong mindfulness is all about the present moment without context, as if our actions now affect nothing later—if “later” even exists. This is pop spirituality at its most pernicious. People will pay lots of money to be told that their actions now have no consequences ever.
What draws me to Buddhism has always been its unflinching examination of the mind, life, and death. Living in a culture in denial regarding death has left me feeling alone and adrift. Birth and death are the bookends of this physical existence. Pretending we will never die is delusional. Life has limits. One of my favorite quotes from Shunryu Suzuki comes from his dying process. “If you had a limitless life it would be a real problem for you.” What an understatement.
I am trying to give meaning and purpose to my actions, to give myself good karma. Given that I could easily live another few decades, I need to be functional in this life. Death is the default, like gravity. Life requires effort, like pulling oneself out of a hole. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for death and now I’m trying to build a reality-based life. Post-modern America is not a great place to do that.