For The Aged and The Sick
By Ven. Thich Thanh Tu
Translated by My Thanh
Today, my talk is especially addressed to the sick and old persons. The reason
for this talk is that there was a Buddhist layperson who came and asked if I
could give a small Dharma talk to his parents who were old and dying - and
because he wanted his parents to be alert, clear-minded when the time came. I
sympathized with him and also in order to help the sick, old persons during this
critical time, we are giving you today's talk.
First of all, death is not frightening. Everybody thinks that birth is
happiness, death is suffering; birth is happy and death is scary. As for all of
you here - Are you afraid of dying? Actually, dying is not frightening at all.
Old age and sickness are two out of four kinds of suffering which the Buddha had
mentioned, namely, "Birth, Old age, Sickness, and Death". Old age and
illness are suffering. If one is no longer concerned with old age and illness,
then one is free. In brief, if one dies, one leaves old age and sickness behind
- that means one should be happy for one is finally free from them. Therefore,
we say death is not frightening at all.
Secondly, as Buddha always says "where there is life, there is
death". Life and Death are natural phenomena, no one can escape them.
Like the Buddha, He lived and died when He was eighty years old. Some called
themselves ' immortals', like the 'Eight Fairies' in Chinese legend, but the
truth is that they did actually live longer than so-called mortals.
Nevertheless, there were 'Eight Fairies' (HV - I think this is refering to Ba't
Tie^n??) but now you cannot even find one who still survives. As we see, the
Buddha who attained enlightenment; however, when His body deteriorated, He had
to let it go. Therefore, death is natural and it happens to us all, with no
exception. To be frightened of the inevitable is not wise. To be worried of the
unavoidable is useless. Death will come to us all, and we all have to accept it
matter-of-factly. It is a natural process, there is no need to be scared.
Thirdly, as Buddhist laypersons practising the five precepts or even the ten
precepts diligently, they know for sure that they will come back as human beings
with all good opportunities. As one practices the five precepts which are :
abstaining from killing, one can enjoy longevity.
abstaining from stealing, one can enjoy prosperity.
abstaining from adultery, one can be beautiful and respectful.
abstaining from falsehood, one obtains melodious voice, is trusted by people.
abstaining from alcoholic drinks and drugs, one can be intelligent and wise.
Being reborn as a human being with all these good qualities, suitable conditions
and lacks nothing is the result of practicing the five precepts.
As one leaves one's 'rotten' body, one obtains a 'better' body in one's next
life, so there is no need to worry. If one practices the ten precepts diligently
and correctly, one will be reborn in heaven with better conditions than in human
We always say that dying is like exchanging an old car for a new one. If we know
that once we leave this body, we will have a new better one, then we do not need
to be sad or worried. Death is not frightening, the frightening fact is that we
did not practice the precepts properly.
Hereby, I want to remind all of you who are presently sick / dying, think about
what I have to say and try to change or go on diligently with your practice. The
Buddha had spoken of 'Death-Proximate Karma'. This kind of karma is really
powerful. It could lead us to a better or worse realm after we die. If the
Death-Proximate Karma is good if will lead a dying person to a good realm and
For we see that in a human or animal realm, there are some people or animals who
live and die in a short period of time, and the reason for which they came and
stayed shortly was conditioned by the Death-Proximate Karma. After this
lifetime, they were led to other realms according to their Habitual Karma
(Accina). To remind all of you even when you have good Habitual Karma, you had
better keep your mind calm and alert, think of only good deeds during dying
moment; so that you can go on with a better life.
If at the moment of dying, you get angry or become attached to people or things,
these reactions will have a negative effect on your next rebirth despite your
good Habitual Karma. On the contrary, if you think of wholesome or good things
at the moment of dying, you could benefit a good rebirth in spite of your bad
Habitual Karma. Nevertheless, the Death-Proximate Karma only plays an important
role for a short time; after that the Habitual Karma is the crucial one which
Give you a good rebirth for a long period of time. Therefore, at the dying
moment, make sure that we stay alert, calm, clear-minded and especially do not
let impure thoughts arise. The sutra tells us the story of Devadatta, who
committed all possible cruelties should be condemned to hell. However, at the
moment of dying, Devadatta repented and asked the Buddha for
forgiveness. Later, Buddha told Ananda that even Devadatta was condemned to hell
for his bad deeds; but because of his repentance before dying, he will then come
back as a human being and work out his bad deeds and finally will become a
Buddha in the future. Devadatta committed lots of cruelties during his lifetime,
but before his death, he had repented. Thus, after having
paid all his debts, he would come back as a human being and work his way through
Buddhahood. The Death-Proximate Karma can help to shorten our bad rebirth.
Another story told us about a Deity who foresaw his next rebirths. This
Deity saw that when he died, he would reincarnate as a son of a rich Brahmin in
the human realm, and after this rebirth, he would go straight to hell. Stricken
by this knowledge, he cried out for help. A Deva then came and told him the only
one who could help him is the Buddha who now stayed at the Bamboo's Grove.
The Deity then kneeled down and headed his prayer to Buddha. He stated thrice
his name and vowed to take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha, then he
died. He did reincarnate as a son of the Brahmin. One day, he saw the Buddha
taking his alms, as soon as he saw the Buddha, he decided to become a monk.
Later, in accordance with the Buddha's teaching, he worked diligently and became
an Arhat, free from birth and death. Thus, his condemnation to hell was
annihilated. Throughout this story, we understand that the Death-Proximate Karma
is quite important, it could lead us to a better rebirth and could give us a
second chance to walk on the right path.
Thereupon, we, as Buddhists, should remember and comprehend well the working of
the Death-Proximate Karma, without forgetting that the Habitual Karma is also
important because it is the lifetime Karma that we depend on for our next
rebirth which is created by accumulating our good / bad deeds.
Here are some instructions for the dying:
Do not get angry- pay attention to the dying moment, take care of your death. Do
not get angry- at this critical moment, if you are angry, mad, you will be
reborn in a lower realm.
Forgive and forget - do not think of your enemies or vengeance, because you will
reincarnate and take vengeance at each other endlessly. When this occurs, you
accumulate more negative deeds and cannot go on with the right practice.
Do not become attached to loved ones or wealth, etc. This attachment will lead
you to lower realm (e.g. animal realm's).
In the history book of the thirty-three Zen masters, there is a story about one
of the Zen master who went out for alms, passing by a rich man's house. The rich
man was out, but inside came running out a dog that barked at him loudly. The
Zen master looked at it and reproved, " How dare you barking at me, because
of the attachment of wealth that you came back as a dog, shame on you!"
After having heard the master's reprimand, the dog became sad and refused to
eat. Lately, the rich man came back and realized that his beloved dog refused to
eat, he asked his servants the reason. The servants told him that in the
morning, there was a Zen master who passed by and said something to the dog and
afterwards it refused to eat. The rich man was so upset that he went out to look
for the Zen master. He queried, "What did you say to my dog this morning
that has made him sad and refused to eat ?" The master replied,"Please
do not get angry at me. The dog is your father." The rich man got even
angrier and asked, "Why is that dog my father?" The master said,
"If you do not believe me, go home and see if the dog is lying under your
father's bed. Right where the dog is lying, you dig up and will find a bowl of
gold. When your father passed away, he did not get a chance to tell you the
secret; so he came back as your dog to guard it. Just go home and dig up then
you will understand." The rich man immediately went back home, dug up under
his father's bed and found the bowl of gold. Afterwards, he ran back to the
master and asked the master to help his father. The master convinced the rich
man to use that gold for charity work. The rich man obeyed the master and few
days later the dog died.
Likewise, because of wealth attachment that the man came back as a dog to guard
his property. This is apprehensive. Here I have mentioned the three don'ts at
the dying moment, as a Buddhist, please remember and do not let them happen. I
repeat, firstly- do not get angry; secondly - do not think of vengeance; thirdly
- do not become attached. Remember, do not have these
three thoughts, otherwise, they will take you to lower realms.
On the contrary, at the dying moment, think of good deeds. Firstly- think of
helping poor people the best you can. Secondly - as a Buddhist, think of
offering to the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha); or as non-Buddhist, think
of taking refuge to the Three Jewels in order to cultivate a true spiritual
path. Thirdly- think of freeing all captured animals, and saved them from being
Giving alms, helping the sangha, and freeing all captured animals are good
deeds. By practicing good deeds, we gradually walk on the right path, and these
are good thoughts that we should have at dying moment.
The Buddhist who practices correctly, should know how to apply the Dharma at
this crucial moment. Firstly, for Buddhist who recites Amitabha Buddha's name,
when confined in bed because of illness, please remember to recite Buddha's name
continually, neither thinking of beloved ones nor property. Following this
practice properly, one will surely go to the Buddha's realm.
Secondly, for people who do not recite Buddha's name, but are used to reading
sutras, should at least remember a stanza .
Thirdly, for people who meditate, remember to stay with 'your awareness', do not
run after your thoughts. Remember that in the deterioration of the body, there
is something else which is never deteriorated. Thinking like that, you will not
be frightened, but stay with your ' Buddha's nature, your pure awareness'. The
body is not real, you have it and then you lose it. The 'Buddha's nature' is the
only thing which is timeless and deathless, and that is the good thought you
should keep in mind at the dying moment.
For the three different situations mentioned above, people who recite Buddha's
name should only think of Buddha's name, forget everything else. People
who are used to reading sutras, should remember a stanza. People who meditate,
stay with your 'pure awareness', do not be afraid, do not be worried; just
These are some of the reminders for that crucial moment.
Now, I am talking about the funeral. Lots of people tell their families to do
this, to do that. It is not important. Why? Because the body is composed of the
four elements (earth, fire, water, wind); when we are alive, we drink water to
maintain the water element, we eat to maintain the earth element, we breath to
maintain the wind element, etc... Thus, in order to keep the four elements
together and have them work properly, we must borrow similar elements from the
When we die, we stop borrowing, then the four existing elements will
automatically dissolve by themselves. In foreign countries as well as in our
motherland, the four elements are alike. The body is dust so let it return to
dust. Do not think that leaving your body in a foreign country is a loss. Dying
without being alert, calm and clear-minded is the real loss.
Let family members decide among themselves to perform the funeral properly
according to their means. That is if there is a crematory nearby, then cremation
will be performed. If there is a patch of land, then let them perform the
inhumation. The important role is our pure thoughts and good deeds which will
lead us to happiness. The funeral ceremony plays a second role, so do not
These are my reminders to you all, and hope that when we get old and pass away,
we will not be a problem for family members.
I only mentioned some of the most important things to do at dying moment.
You have the free will to choose your own direction, just do not let bad,
uncontrolled thoughts overcome your pure mind. This is important.
I wish that after having listened to this Dharma talk, all of you will go home
and practice diligently and correctly. The practice will help you to save
yourself and this is also the Buddha's teaching which will help us walk on the
right path and eventually Buddha's teaching will get us out of this suffering
Minh Quang uploaded August 14, 2001