Ageing and death – urgently practice the Dhamma

There have been a few disasters happening recently. I have been feeling a bit low on energy for spiritual practice while being distracted by worldly matters. I noticed some friends were also struggling. It is timely to develop a sense of urgency for Dhamma practice.  

SN3.25 The Simile of the Mountain in the Kosalasa.myutta

The whole sutta translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu may be read here: 

I have pasted just the verses from the end of the sutta which convey the message very clearly.

Like massive boulders,
mountains pressing against the sky,
moving in from all sides,
crushing the four directions,
so aging and death
come rolling over living beings:
noble warriors, priests, merchants,
workers, outcastes, & scavengers.
They spare nothing.
They trample everything.

Here elephant troops can hold no ground,
nor can chariots or infantry,
nor can a battle of wits
or wealth win out.

So a wise person,
seeing his own good,
steadfast, secures confidence
in the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha.

One who practices the Dhamma
in thought, word, & deed,
receives praise here on earth
and after death rejoices in heaven.

The sutta outlines a conversation between Lord Buddha and King Pasenadi of Kosala and uses a metaphor of massive mountains rolling in from the four cardinal directions, crushing and killing all living beings in their path as they roll towards you.  The idea is that death is inevitable to everyone regardless of their background – rich and poor.   King Pasenadi is a confident Buddhist and understands that even though he is a powerful king, he may not resort to his usual remedies such as military forces, his diplomats or bribes. Just like four rolling mountains, death and ageing are relentlessly powerful and cannot be defeated by material resources.

The solution to this dilemma is to establish confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and then to practice the Dhamma in thought, word and deed.  This much will achieve a happy rebirth in a heavenly realm though death and ageing are still not defeated.

Although this sutta doesn’t go as far as explaining the way to defeat death and ageing – the Noble Eightfold Path, the sutta is very good for stimulating spiritual urgency and reminding Buddhists to waste no time in practicing the Dhamma in thought, word and deed.

Although a heavenly rebirth may be pleasant and relatively long-lived, it is also temporary. Eventually, even the devas must die and take rebirth in any of the various realms (hells, ghost, animal, human, heavens, and brahma realms) depending on their kamma. Without the Noble Eightfold Path, the cycle of rebirths will continue, on and on – Sa.msaara.

This reminds me of the story of Lord Buddha’s younger brother, Prince Nanda. This is a well known story about the young prince about to be married to a beautiful woman.  Lord Buddha took Prince Nanda on a quick tour of one of the heavenly realms. Nanda agreed that the deva ladies were many times more beautiful than his human bride to be. Lord Buddha then motivated Nanda to ordain as a bhikkhu and initially aspire to a heavenly rebirth so Nanda could be with the lovely deva ladies.  Nanda then abandoned his fiancee and ordained.  He later realised that this aspiration for a heavenly rebirth was too low and gave up his desire for deva ladies and any further rebirth in heaven or elsewhere by attaining Nibbaana.  You may read the Nanda Sutta translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu for the full story.

For those of us who come to Buddhism in this human realm and struggle to practice the Dhamma to the extent of attaining Nibbanna, we may be consoled by the thought of a heavenly rebirth.  It appears that unlike most humans, devas are usually able to remember a few past lives and will probably associate with Buddhist devas who will encourage the newly arrived deva to practice the Dhamma.  There are likely to be a great number of Buddhist devas who can teach the Dhamma.  Readers interested in this topic may enjoy reading an early blog posting “If you pentetratively study the Dhamma but die confused“.

May all beings develop the Noble Eightfold Path and realise Nibbaana.


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