18. The mahayana instruction for ejection of consciousness at death is the five strengths: how you conduct yourself is important.

The previous slogan was about how to live, and this slogan is about how to die. It may seem that living and dying are two very different things, but they are completely interconnected. We learn how to live by learning how to die and we learn how to die by learning how to live. Each informs the other.

According to this slogan “how you conduct yourself is important.” This is actually quite provocative. We usually divide our experience, viewing some things we do as a big deal and very important and viewing other things as trivial or insignificant. It is easy to think of dying as an end to our ability to do anything of significance and living as what really matters and where we get things done. But the idea here is that how we conduct ourselves in every single action matters and is important in and of itself.

As in the previous slogan, the point is that acting properly takes strength and exertion. To start with, you have to set your mind in the right direction. If you are just drifting along in a haze, you will easily be thrown off course. It takes real determination to maintain a sane and compassionate approach even in the face of death. When we are threatened, it is so easy to lose both our sanity and our compassion.

Determination goes a long way, and it gains even more strength to the degree that you develop an ongoing habit of mindfulness. By practice, by repetition, mindfulness becomes familiar territory for you. It is like the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Through practice you begin to uncover obstacles that may arise in facing death, such as fear and attachment, so you have a way of dealing with them. And when you really look into such obstacles, you see that they can all be traced back to the fixed belief in a solid separate ego, which seems to be being threatened. Examining even further, you realize that there is no such thing as a solid separate ego—it has no true existence, so nothing, in fact, dies.

Today’s practice

Spend some time contemplating the things that make you afraid, and how you react. Contemplate times you are in pain, and how you deal with it. Notice whatever causes you to lose your mindfulness. Determine to hold the perspective of mindfulness and compassion even in the midst of fear, pain, or dying.

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