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Lojong 1.b.) First, learn the preliminaries (2 of 4 parts)

1. Preliminaries (1a - d)

1) First, learn the preliminaries. (a. Appreciate life & hearing the Buddhadharma, b. Know the reality of death, c. Accept Karma, d. Accept the inevitability of pain)

This is the second of four admonitions defining the preliminaries:

b. Know the reality of death

When I started posting Lojong sayings on Twitter, I began with #2 primarily because I thought this saying was too Buddhist and would turn people off.  (I have plenty of skill at doing that despite my best efforts, so I probably should not have worried about that issue.)  This part of the saying, mentions death which unfortunately feeds the stereotype that Buddhism is negative or even nihilistic. Knowing the reality of death, is understanding that there is no self.   

I find it amusing that many who are initially attracted to Buddhism come looking for the opposite reassurance related to the issue of death.  By this I mean, those who are seeking reassurance that the self they are so attached to will not die, but that he or she will be reincarnated into another life. 

This saying is making it clear, attachment to the belief in the existence of a self consistent with philosophical dualism is better replaced with knowledge of the reality of death, as a step toward release from suffering. As long as I cling to a faulty conceptualization of self, I will be prone to suffering, and it will be a barrier to my correct understanding.   

Insisting that I have a self (that lives forever) may provide a momentary reassurance (until I have to convince myself over and over this is true), but it does not provide the release from suffering that Right Understanding provides.  It is a little like insisting that having possessions or money provides release from suffering, because in the same way we have to constantly support this proposition with more stuff.  Getting more stuff only sets the occasion for more worry like "what if I lose my stuff".  And the same is true of anything like this that we insist is the source of our happiness, like love, respect, connection to others, etc.  All these things are good things, but release from suffering only comes when I realize my happiness does not depend on them.  In fact, the demand that death not be real is another of these temporary fixes, that bring momentary happiness while setting the occasion for the next bout of suffering.

By the way, the Buddha was clear he did not know what happens after death.  Likewise, I do not need to convince myself that there is no life after death.  This is not the point.  If I had to convince myself of this (like a devout atheist) to assure my peace of mind, I would be stuck in the same faulty loop as the demand that it be the opposite.  

I merely have a correct understanding of the nature of the self.  I do not know what comes after death, and do not need to know, to achieve peace of mind in this life.

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