Not long ago, your consciousness was wandering alone.
Swept along by karma, it took this present birth.
Soon, like a hair pulled out of butter,
Leaving everything behind, you’ll go on again alone.

Be careful—a powerful enemy is approaching. Not an ordinary enemy, but an invincible one: death. No plea, however eloquent, can persuade death to hold off for a few years—or even for a second. Not even the most powerful warrior, at the head of all the armies of the earth, can make death turn a hair. Death cannot be bribed by wealth, however vast, nor stirred by even the most enchanting beauty.

 

Image: Cittipitti, the protectors of the female Buddha, Vajradakini. Tibetan thangka, 19th century. Courtesy Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation/Moke Mokotoff
Image: Cittipitti, the protectors of the female Buddha, Vajradakini. Tibetan thangka, 19th century. Courtesy Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation/Moke Mokotoff

The best approach, you might think, would be to spend about ten years trying to get somewhere in the world, so that you would then be set up to spend another ten practicing the Dharma. But who can say with certainty that he will live twenty more years? Who can say that he will definitely see tomorrow’s sunrise? Who can even be sure that he will draw his next breath? As you light the fire in your mountain retreat, think to yourself, “I wonder if I’ll be lighting this fire tomorrow?” Some people die while sleeping, some while walking, some while eating, and some at war; some die young and some die old. Any circumstances of life may turn out to be the cause of death. In a hundred years’ time, how many of all the people now living on earth will still be alive?

We were born alone and we will die alone. Yet even while alone we still have our shadow with us; and alone after death, our consciousness will still have with it the shadow of our actions, good and bad.

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