Death does not wait to see what has been done or is still to be done. (Shantideva)
Every moment of our lives has tremendous value. Yet we let the time go by, like gold dust running through our fingers. What is sadder than coming to the end of one’s life empty-handed?
We need to be aware that every second of our life is inestimably precious and have the intelligence to decide to make the best use of it for our own good and the good of others.
First of all, we need to get rid of the illusion of believing that we have “our whole life ahead of us.”
This life passes like a dream that can be interrupted at any time. We should take care of what is really essential without further delay so as not to be filled with regret at the hour of our death.
It is never too early to develop our inner qualities. We can see the ephemeral nature of all things before us in two ways: gross impermanence—the changing seasons, the erosion of the mountains, the aging of the body, the fluctuations of our emotions—and subtle impermanence, which takes place in the smallest conceivable unit of time.
At each infinitesimal instant, all that seems to exist in a sustainable way inexorably changes. It is because of this subtle impermanence that Buddhism compares the world to a dream or an illusion, an ungraspable constant flux.
The thought of death should always be present in a practitioner’s mind. However, it should not be morbid or depressing but serve as an encouragement to use every minute of life to complete the interior transformation to which one aspires.
We tend to say, “First I will take care of my current business and finish all my projects, and when that’s all done, I’ll see more clearly and be able to devote myself to spiritual life.”
But thinking like that is fooling ourselves in the worst way, for not only will our death inevitably come, but the timing, causes, and circumstances that will bring it about are utterly unpredictable. All the situations of everyday life, even the simple acts of walking, eating, or sleeping can suddenly turn into a cause of death. That is something that a sincere practitioner should always keep in mind.
In Tibet, hermits who light their fire in the morning train themselves to think that they may no longer be there the next day to light another.
They even consider that they are lucky to be able to breathe in again each time they breathe out. The thought of death and impermanence is a spur to encourage them each day to pursue their spiritual practice.
Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.