The Wisdom of Death: What We Can Learn About Dying

As I write this, it’s October 31st, the day before the celebration of All Saints’ Day. Here in the Philippines, we call it undas, a term derived from the Spanish word “honra” which means to honour. It is the day when we commemorate and honour the saints and martyrs of the Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church, founded by Christ himself.

Meanwhile, on November 2, the celebration focuses on honouring the souls of the baptised Christians suffering in the purgatory because of the venial sins that they have committed. Intercessory prayers are often recited, asking God’s mercy and kindness, and bring these souls into the glory of heaven, the everlasting Paradise, the Kingdom of God.

Death is one of the subjects that most of us refused to discuss. The word in itself brings fear and the thought of it, brings chills down our spine. However, death is part of our reality. Everything that has life will soon die. It’s part of the natural order. One day, we will find death is on our way and there’s nothing we can do to avoid it. Just like what the Judeo-Christian scripture has said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”

Death actually teaches us several wonderful things.

First, it teaches us about impermanence.

Because life and all other things in this world are just temporary, we need to practice the art of detachment. In Buddhism, detachment is one of the most important things in life that we must learn. Detachment only means not depending our happiness and joy to things, to concepts, thoughts and outcomes. Whatever the outcome of our activity, be it positive or negative, we will not let these things get into our way of achieving happiness and ultimately, spiritual freedom.

This teaching has a parallel wisdom in Christianity. Master Jesus told his disciples one time that they need not to worry about clothing, food or shelter; God will provide everything that they need. All they need is to trust the divine process. We are often worry too much, and expect too much, that we deprive ourselves the enjoyment of being alive and being at the present moment. Moreover, being too attached to material things and even to our relationships , emotions, and experiences, blur our vision of attaining spiritual liberation.

This having said, death also teaches us how to live. Since our existence will cease anytime soon, we need to live a life of goodness, compassion, and love. By doing so, we are leaving a legacy of goodness.

Live honestly to a higher note. Life is too short. So, do the best you can and live your life to a higher note. — Kimora Lee Simmons, entrepreneur, fashion model, and philanthropist

It is important to enjoy life but enjoyment does not mean to indulge in things that can bring temporary happiness.

Death, furthermore, teaches us to know the true nature of ourselves and our existence.

In different sacred scriptures and even in ancient philosophies, we are taught that we are not the body, neither are we the mind. We are the Soul, the primordial and immortal one.

In Christianity, we are taught that we are formed in the very likeness or image of God. What makes us alive (for those who believe) is the very breath of God that is living within us. This spirit of God that dwells in us makes us divine. However, because of our “falling away from grace,” we lost that divine spark or connection; therefore, forget that we belong to the spiritual world, and not into this world.

Death also teaches us about unity.

In Facebook, whenever we saw our friend posting about the demise of his or her loved one, we often reply “Our sincerest condolences, or our deepest sympathies.” During the time of mourning and pain caused by the death of someone, we usually gather ourselves together to comfort one another and show our friend or loved one that we truly care about them, and that we share their grief during this hard time. It seems that death can be a tie that bonds us together.

In addition to this, death also teaches us to face our fear of death.

Death is part of the natural process. All things that live will soon die.

J. Krishnamurti in one of his lectures in England in 1982 has to say:

And so we should together go into this question of death. What is it that dies? And what is it that lives? Both of them go together. When you use the word ‘death’, dying, it means that you have also lived. The two cannot be separated. That is a basic truth, that it cannot be separated, as you cannot possibly separate relationship as though by itself, like a hurt, like a wound, like a fear. They are all interrelated. There is no one problem. One problem if it is properly understood psychologically, then in that problem all problems are included. But if you separate and say this is one problem I must solve, then you are reducing life into a shoddy little affair. But if one examines one problem completely, and that to understand the nature of that completeness one must understand how one approaches a problem. So we must be very clear that life and death go together. They are not something in the distant. When one is young, full of life, enjoyment and a great deal of energy, one doesn’t ever think about the other end. As one grows a little bit older, watches one’s son die, then you begin to question, then you begin to shed tears and the anxieties of life. Death is there for all of us.

He continued:

So what is it to die? And so what is it to live? One cannot ask what it is to die without asking what it is to live. If we don’t understand the living then we will be frightened of the other, naturally. But if we understand the nature of living then we will comprehend also, deeply, the nature of dying…

Did you ask yourself why, during the wake, we often come and peek into the face of the demised lying peacefully in their caskets? For me, the answer is simple: Subconsciously, we recognize the fact that one day, we will cease to live and will be put inside a casket and buried in a cemetery, or burned and our ashes will be put inside an urn. Sounds creepy, isn’t it? But it is the undeniable and inevitable truth.

As we commemorate the day of the dead, I encourage you to meditate on the lessons that death has been teaching us. Let the wisdom of death be part of our everyday living. I can vividly remember what my elder sister taught us (she was our Values Education teacher in high school):

“Whenever you think deeply about death and dying, you will never violate God’s commandments.”

Happy Halloween, folks!

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Noel Sales Barcelona

Noel Sales Barcelona

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A former freelance journalist, art and cultural critic, and an intuitive from the Philippines. I am the new species of weirdness.