Do you find yourselves being sad about what is happening in the world now? The covid-19 pandemic is still out there and millions had lost their lives. Then a war started in Ukraine and the news showed us scenes of senseless death upon the civilians. Just yesterday, I heard that a plane crashed in China. With news of death happening around us, it is inevitable that some of us feel a sense of loss and sadness. We wonder what is happening in this world?
As usual, our minds ran amok and sadness can also lead to fear. What if that same fate befall me? We feel anger or helplessness towards the situations that we witnessed. We mourn the world.
Being Buddhist, do you wonder if Buddha will mourn a death? Will an enlightened person feel sad about death?
I think it is important that we do not confuse our runaway emotions with Buddhist compassion.
A seasoned practitioner may not react to death in a similar manner to beginners or non-practitioners. This is because a Buddhist practitioner had familiarised with death. Death comes to all beings without exception. If you do not feel sad about death, please know that there is nothing wrong with you. Don’t beat yourself up because of that. We mustn’t confuse our peaceful state of mental abiding as lacking in empathy or condoning the evilness of war.
The important point to note here is that Buddhists don’t allow their minds to run astray. We try our best not to be influenced by our surroundings. In that manner, we do not attach unnecessary meaning to death or the cause of death.
For example, when I heard about the plane crash in China, the 1st instinctive reaction is where? Then which airline? How many passengers died? The answers to all these questions will trigger a corresponding emotive response in my mind. For example, I used to fly by that airline when I was in China. Immediately, my mind would propose, “You could be on that plane.” Thus, I become personally engaged in that news. But what if there is only 1 passenger who died? Would my mind behave differently?
If we step back and look at the deaths being reported in the news today, how do we feel and what is actually upsetting us? It boils down to death. We are all sad about the inevitable death. However, mankind tried to make sense of death by prescribing certain logic to it. In that manner, if someone were to die at 90 years old, peacefully in bed, then it is acceptable. Any other occurrence of death is deemed untimely, violent, senseless, etc. They trigger much restlessness, fear, and unease in our minds.
However, it is important for us to look at this issue with wisdom. There are countless “senseless deaths” in the world every day. We are not bothered by those deaths because we are not aware of them. Does that mean ignorance is bliss?
So how do all the above questions come together for a practitioner?
- We have to familiarise ourselves with death. There are 100 thousand deaths per day in the world, and it comes down to an average of 2 to 3 deaths per second. In another word, there is someone dying every second. Not all of them are 90 years old and comfortably in bed. A Buddhist will try to be mindful of this fact. From such mindfulness, we come to terms with it.
- We mustn’t impose any man-made logic or justification to the cause of death. In short, don’t try to make sense of death. Death is simply a part of living. When there is birth, death will follow. For a Buddhist, that translates to treasuring every living moment that we have. Live at the present moment and practice well to become enlightened.
- Try not to project ourselves mentally into that situation. This is because it doesn’t help anyone and we end up being miserable, angry, fearful, or generating some other negative emotional responses in our minds. When we have negative emotions in our minds, it doesn’t help those who are suffering in the world out there. Instead, we end up making everyone in our immediate surroundings miserable. I do not think it is wise.
That doesn’t mean we become non-compassionate. Being compassionate means we wish to help those that are suffering. There will be some proactive actions that come from compassion. Some will volunteer while others may find some useful way to help and contribute. That is compassion.
Being depressive or mobbing around is not compassion. Letting our minds run astray and getting worked up with negative emotions isn’t compassion. It is just our monkey minds pulling us into a deluded abyss.
There you have it. Buddhists are actually very rational people who don’t allow their emotions to get hold of them.
Foremost, take care of ourselves. Then take care of people around us. If we have the capability, we help more people. If not, do what we can and cut back accordingly. If everyone in the world knows how to take care of their own mind, then the world would become a better place immediately.
May all be well and happy.
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