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The Buddha teaches on old age, illness, and death

December 11, 2014
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 15:58 -- Anonymous (not verified)

An excerpt from In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.


1. Old Age, Illness, and Death

(1) Aging and Death

At Savatthi, King Pasenadi of Kosala said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, is anyone who is born free from aging and death?”

“Great king, no one who is born is free from aging and death. Even those affluent khattiyas—rich, with great wealth and property, with abundant gold and silver, abundant treasures and commodities, abundant wealth and grain—because they have been born, are not free from aging and death. Even those affluent brahmins…affluent householders—rich…with abundant wealth and grain—because they have been born, are not free from aging and death. Even those monks who are arahants, whose taints are destroyed, who have lived the holy life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached their own goal, utterly destroyed the fetters of existence, and are completely liberated through final knowledge: even for them this body is subject to breaking up, subject to being laid down.

“The beautiful chariots of kings wear out,
This body too undergoes decay.
But the Dhamma of the good does not decay:
So the good proclaim along with the good.”

(Samyutta Nikaya)

(2) The Simile of the Mountain

At Savatthi, in the middle of the day, King Pasenadi of Kosala approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One then asked him: “Now where are you coming from, great king, in the middle of the day?”

“Just now, venerable sir, I have been engaged in those affairs of kingship typical for kings, who are intoxicated with the intoxication of sovereignty, who are obsessed by greed for sensual pleasures, who have attained stable control in their country, and who rule having conquered a great sphere of territory on earth.”

“What do you think, great king? Suppose a man would come to you from the east, one who is trustworthy and reliable, and would tell you: ‘For sure, great king, you should know this: I am coming from the east, and there I saw a great mountain high as the clouds coming this way, crushing all living beings. Do whatever you think should be done, great king.’ Then a second man would come to you from the west…a third man from the north … and a fourth man from the south, one who is trustworthy and reliable, and would tell you: ‘For sure, great king, you should know this: I am coming from the south, and there I saw a great mountain high as the clouds coming this way, crushing all living beings. Do whatever you think should be done, great king.’ If, great king, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, the human state being so difficult to obtain, what should be done?”

“If, venerable sir, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, the human state being so difficult to obtain, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

“I inform you, great king, I announce to you, great king: aging and death are rolling in on you. When aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?”

“As aging and death are rolling in on me, venerable sir, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

“Venerable sir, kings intoxicated with the intoxication of sovereignty, obsessed by greed for sensual pleasures, who have attained stable control in their country and rule over a great sphere of territory, conquer by means of elephant battles, cavalry battles, chariot battles, and infantry battles; but there is no hope of victory by such battles, no chance of success, when aging and death are rolling in. In this royal court, venerable sir, there are counselors who, when the enemies arrive, are capable of dividing them by subterfuge; but there is no hope of victory by subterfuge, no chance of success, when aging and death are rolling in. In this royal court, venerable sir, there exists abundant bullion and gold stored in vaults and lofts, and with such wealth we are capable of mollifying the enemies when they come; but there is no hope of victory by wealth, no chance of success, when aging and death are rolling in. As aging and death are rolling in on me, venerable sir, what else should I do but live by the Dhamma, live righteously, and do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

“So it is, great king! So it is, great king! As aging and death are rolling in on you, what else should you do but live by the Dhamma, live righteously, and do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

This is what the Blessed One said. Having said this, the Fortunate One, the Teacher, further said this:

“Just as mountains of solid rock,
Massive, reaching to the sky,
Might draw together from all sides,
Crushing all in the four quarters—
So aging and death come
Rolling over living beings—

“Khattiyas, brahmins, vessas, suddas,
Outcasts and scavengers:
They spare none along the way
But come crushing everything.
“There’s no hope there for victory
By elephant troops, chariots, and infantry.
One can’t defeat them by subterfuge,
Or buy them off by means of wealth.

“Therefore a person of wisdom here,
Out of regard for his own good,
Steadfast, should settle faith
In the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

“When one conducts oneself by Dhamma
With body, speech, and mind,
They praise one here in the present life,
And after death one rejoices in heaven.”

(3) The Divine Messengers

“There are, monks, three divine messengers. What three?

“There is a person of bad conduct in body, speech, and mind. On the dissolution of the body, after death, he is reborn in the plane of misery, in a bad destination, in a lower world, in hell. There the warders of hell seize him by both arms and take him before Yama, the Lord of Death, saying: ‘This man, your majesty, had no respect for father and mother, nor for ascetics and brahmins, nor did he honor the elders of the family. May your majesty inflict due punishment on him!’

“Then, monks, King Yama questions that man, examines him, and addresses him concerning the first divine messenger: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the first divine messenger appearing among humankind?’

“And he replies: ‘No, Lord, I did not see him.’

“Then King Yama says to him: ‘But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man, eighty, ninety, or a hundred years old, frail, bent like a roof bracket, crooked, leaning on a stick, shakily going along, ailing, youth and vigor gone, with broken teeth, with gray and scanty hair or bald, wrinkled, with blotched limbs?’

“And the man replies: ‘Yes, Lord, I have seen this.’

“Then King Yama says to him: ‘My good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to old age and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’

“’No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’

“Then King Yama says: ‘Through negligence, my good man, you have failed to do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind. Well, you will be treated as befits your negligence. That evil action of yours was not done by mother or father, brothers, sisters, friends or companions, nor by relatives, devas, ascetics, or brahmins. But you alone have done that evil deed, and you will have to experience the fruit.’

“When, monks, King Yama has questioned, examined, and addressed him thus concerning the first divine messenger, he again questions, examines, and addresses the man about the second one, saying: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the second divine messenger appearing among humankind?’

“’No, Lord, I did not see him.’

“’But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man who was sick and in pain, seriously ill, lying in his own filth, having to be lifted up by some and put to bed by others?’

“’Yes, Lord, I have seen this.’

“’My good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to illness and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’

“’No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’

“’Through negligence, my good man, you have failed to do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind. Well, you will be treated as befits your negligence. That evil action of yours was not done by mother or father, brothers, sisters, friends or companions, nor by relatives, devas, ascetics, or brahmins. But you alone have done that evil deed, and you will have to experience the fruit.’

“When,monks, King Yama has questioned, examined, and addressed him thus concerning the second divine messenger, he again questions, examines, and addresses the man about the third one, saying: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the third divine messenger appearing among humankind?’

“’No, Lord, I did not see him.’

“’But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man one, two, or three days dead, the corpse swollen, discolored, and festering?’

“’Yes, Lord, I have seen this.’

“’Then, my good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to death and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’

“’No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’

“’Through negligence, my good man, you have failed to do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind. Well, you will be treated as befits your negligence. That evil action of yours was not done by mother or father, brothers, sisters, friends or companions, nor by relatives, devas, ascetics, or brahmins. But you alone have done that evil deed, and you will have to experience the fruit.’”

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