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I began by remembering that I will definitely die and there is no way to prevent this.  I remembered that there was no way to know when this would happen – maybe tomorrow – maybe today.  And I remembered that when I die, the only thing I will be taking with me will be my Karma.

I began to think about how I normally think about my death – that I recognise it as a possibility, but it is buried under layer upon layer of denial, deception and mental camouflage.

I gritted my teeth and imagined my own rotting corpse under layers of white cloth. I mentally peeled the layers of cloth away one by one, always knowing what was underneath. As I went, I was trying to imagine that I was pulling off my mental barriers to my realisation that I will die. Eventually I removed the last layer, and saw my own rotting corpse before me.

I felt a horror at the sight finally meeting my eyes. Then I realised the horror was misplaced. Why should it be so horrific. Was this not just an inevitable part of life? Was this not as natural as being alive. The horror faded, and I was left with the plain fact that I will die. When I am dead, I won’t be able to practice Dharma: my precious opportunity will be lost.

Bearing this in mind I repeated the thought ‘I will definitely die’. I felt a deep need to practise Dharma right now, before I transform into this corpse, and lose the opportunity. I felt a kind of bulging need to practise throughout the day in all my activities. I stayed with this for the rest of the meditation.

I rose from meditation and my mind had an added component – the awareness of my corpse in a corner of my world. It will remind me to abandon meaningless activities and transform all my actions into the path to enlightenment.

Wrapping a corpse

To keep death from touching them,
The nurses chatter around the corpse,
Gossiping, joking as they perform
Its last ablution.
The movement of hands is quick and deft
Even as they turn it, palms flat
Against the still-warm back and buttocks
Where the blood is draining to.
They tie the mouth shut,
Fold the arms,
Then swaddle the body in plastic,
(so it won’t freezer-burn?)
Attaching a tag to the toe,
Because already he has forgotten his name. 

Lillian Susan Thomas

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How to Understand the Mind

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Modern Buddhism

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