Based on a discourse by Luang Por Boontham, translated from Thai.
How can you bring your eyes along with you when you die? No one can carry their eyes along with them; when we die, the eyes will remain right here, turning soft and being consumed by others, or being burned into ashes. It is true for each and every one of us. This being the case, why do we try so hard to preserve our eyes, love them, save them, why do we consider them our own? Only because do not realise that we must leave them behind. We unknowingly think we can bring them with us, and we do not see that we cannot depend on them whatsoever.
If we could really depend on our eyes, they would save us from death, they would act as a refuge by being deathless. But they are not. What can we then depend on, when the eyes are dead and can no longer see?
It is the same with hearing: when the ears are dead, they cannot hear, and that sense of hearing upon which we depend is also dead, it has also failed us. The sense of smell too is dead, how could we depend on it? When we die, how can our tongue taste? The tongue remains there, without tasting, dead and lifeless until it is consumed. This body that provides the sense of heat, cold, softness, hardness and all kinds of pleasant and unpleasant physical sensations, when it is dead and cold, what will you use for sensing?
Was it ours then, was it ourselves? Which part can we consider to be ourselves or to belong to us? Why do you assume that this mass of senses and organs is yourself – seeing ‘yourself’ and thinking that you are this ‘self’?
This self can never be well. What is the use of trying so hard to create ‘wellness’ when ‘being well’ is only understood to mean the possession of good eyes, good ears or a good nose, yet inevitably they are all destroyed? This is not the meaning of ‘being well,’ for it depends on things that are destroyed. Your time for living does not last even 100 years. Most people die when they are between 80 and 90 years old, 100 years at most. And we are caught here, living right here with this awaiting us, not knowing the way out. Morning, evening and night pass by in such a short time, soon you will reach the age of dying. Aren’t you scared yet?
This trap, this cycle of death is endless; there is no way to an end within it. Death is wrongly thought of as an end, but it is not the end, since birth follows after death. If death were truly such an end, we would not be here as a human now; and the fact that we are here now means that there must have been a death before we were born. We are born from death, and after we die, we must face more sufferings again and again, in one place or another, according to our right or wrong actions. The place where we are born for the last time, in which we can finally end our everlasting samsara, is determined only by whether we find awareness and wisdom, or not. Only with wisdom can we find the true end, which is when there is no more death. Yet how can we find wisdom? How can we come to know that end which is deathless?
When we do not find it, over and over again, it is because of not having had the chance to listen to one who is experienced in these matters, wise. This is the greatest misfortune, worse than being pursued by a violent enemy all your life. Do not underestimate the horror of having no chance to listen to one with wisdom, nor, on the other hand, the good fortune of encountering one who is wise. We have to understand that we are without awareness in ourselves, without wisdom; and in order to remove this unawareness, we must associate with the person who has knowledge, learn from him, listen to him and stay close to him.
Without this kind of friend, we can never develop right knowledge by ourselves, we will die without having had the chance. Any other kind of knowledge we might possess is of no real benefit, because it is without wisdom; one still knows nothing about oneself or the nature of things. It cannot save us from death; the knowledge dies when the body dies. Living in this way, unknowingly entangled with kilesa, is just like rowing a boat in a bowl, round and round. And what is this bowl? It contains the sun and the moon and all that we know. Days and nights pass by until you die in there, unable to find the way out. In fact, you are already dead while living, without even the wisdom to see the anguish of your own existence.
So then, what can we depend on? We must realise that we cannot depend on any part of ourselves and what we consider ours, because all of it will die, and thus all turns out to be ultimately worthless. We can only rely on that which is deathless, but we never think of searching for such a thing. We always give importance to that which is not important; we give no attention to that which is truly important. We misunderstand wrong to be right, and right to be wrong. These physical eyes of flesh, blood, lymph, pus and tears – they decay and die, but we look for and give value to these, instead of searching for the eyes that see Dhamma.
The physical eyes are what they are, but the eyes that see Dhamma will never die. This is what the Buddha teaches us to develop; the ability to see, which is described as two phrases in the teachings: panna vimutti (the liberation through awareness), and ceta vimutti (liberation of the heart). The meaning of Panna in this sense is to fully know how to pierce through unawareness and ignorance. When we fully know, it means that we know where the end is. If we know where the end is, we will be free from death.
So where to learn the knowledge of an end?
Or to look from another direction, where is this fact of ‘being born’ to be found?
It is only within our own mind; nowhere outside of us. The Buddha announced ‘Mano pubbam gama dhamma. Mano settha mano maya mano sa ce’’ (Mind is the first and foremost in all things; mind is their maker, mind is their master.) The Dhamma which has an end is the end of all suffering. It is found in our mind. And likewise, the unending suffering is within our mind too, nowhere else. The mind is our battlefield and the field of learning; a hugely extensive school. All that we learn in Dhamma is to be thoroughly learned here; but we need the voice of another to point to us where to look. We need to graduate at this school, complete our training here; this is what it means to find panna vimutti, and ceta vimutti. If we find these, then we will have found wisdom – we will be at least a Sotapanna, with at most seven lives remaining in Samsara. If not, we will be stuck there, still endlessly rowing our boat in this bowl.