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The Transitoriness of Life and the Certainty of Death

by Vajradarshini

The third talk in a five-part series from Tiratanaloka's retreat on the 'Four Mind Turnings' of the Tibetan tradition.

This is a beautiful piece on the hardest of subjects. Using zen poetry and a happily wide-ranging series of quotations (from Tibetan lamas to Ezra Pound), Vajradarshini explores her own father's death as a way to approach attitudes to death and dying. She considers death in the light of the four mind-turning reflections of Atisha: the result is an inspiring, funny, truly challenging look at the heartbreak of our mortality, and how the Dharma helps us to meet and be present with the ultimate experience.

Talk given at Tiratanaloka Retreat Centre 2005.

This talk is part of the series The Four Mind-Turning Reflections.

Tracks (click play to listen)

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1. Challenging material; Nagarjuna on the breath; life as precious and fragile; the structure of the talk (3:35) 
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2. Dew in zen poetry; Issa the poet's story; Dogen's insight; dew and autumn; dew on the flower - which lasts longest? Dewfrost; dewdrops as tears; dew and the lakshanas (7:08) 
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3. Sadness and awakening - sabi; nothing beats real experience; being moved by impermanence; death as the ultimate koan (4:28) 
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4. Death is certain; disassociating from your own death; Vajradarshini's death imagined; not being that significant - freedom in this (5:03) 
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5. Imagined hierarchies of permanence; samsara is a disaster; Longchen Rabjam on death (3:53) 
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6. The time of death is uncertain; near misses; provisional plans; Patrul Rinpoche on the nearness of death; not yet (7:19) 
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7. At the time of death only the Dharma is of benefit; you go alone, unprepared, unfinished; dying with fearlessness; Thagme Zangpo on death and the Bodhisattva; reflection galvanizing practice - doubt as luxury; faith and the need for a refuge (7:21) 
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8. Death and liberation from unfocussed practice; urgency; being in the moment; how do we want to spend our time? Killing time; Ezra Pound - "And the days are not full enough" (4:39) 
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9. Practising purely - with Insight in mind; Buddhism is not being better at samsara; not relying on the material plane; Lama Guntang Konchdron on the Lord of Death (4:32) 
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10. Other koans in the dewdrop world; Dennis Potter on being close to death - blossoms (1:44) 

Total running time: 49:42