Old Age, Sickness and Death – The Divine Messengers

In Pali, there is a passage
“I am subject to aging…………………
I am subject to sickness…………………..
I am subject to death………”

Those verses are chanted daily by monks and wise lay people.
In reality, Sickness is normal…………………….Death is normal…………old age is normal………….. It is part and parcel of Life.

Society however acts as if these things are not normal! Ajahn Brahm used to teach us that when we are Sick, we are Normal! For everyone gets sick, everyone falls ill! We pretend that aging, sickness and death don’t have a right to be there. They get in the way of our lives, plans, expectations and so forth. We act as though they have no business to upset our lives forgetting that they are in fact very much PARTS OF OUR LIVES! With that attitude we will suffer a lot, because these things inevitably come. They inevitably come, simply because they are normal

The most important training we can do is to prepare the mind for the inevitable.

To take on the training that teaches us how to take on aging without suffering,
to take on sickness without suffering,
to take on death without suffering
is the way of a Noble Being.

The Buddha taught us the Truths of Life and some Truths can be “unpleasant”.

The reason the Buddha has us look at death, old age, sickness is not to be morbid or to get depressed but to see they are realities that we face. The important thing is that we see them and be prepared for them

If we are going to Harbin to see the Ice sculptures but did not prepare for the cold weather, would we NOT be very foolish? But that’s how most people live their lives. Wandering along we live with cosmetics on the outside and silicone on the inside in a vain attempt to remain young and pretty; and we are actually surprised when we see ourselves aging, as though we OUGHT NOT to age.

And when we fall sick, we ask repeatedly “Why me!?” to which I always reply “Why NOT you!?”

What makes anyone of us think we can be immuned to sickness and aging?

And then there is death. What’s amazing is how we are surprised by these things when they happen. Much of this surprise comes from a society, popular culture, that tries to make us forget about the normalcy’s of old age, sickness, and death. Tries to convince us that we can some how hide from, or escape these realities.

Let us be sensible and avoid intoxication with youth, with health, and with life. To remember these things are temporary, and reflect on how we want to use this time effectively. Which is why monks, and lay people chant those phrases daily about their subjectivity to old age, sickness, and death.

Divine Messengers (deva-dūta) is a symbolic name for old age, disease, and death in that these three remind humans of their future and rouse them to earnest striving. In the Numerical Discourses, Book of the Threes, Discourse 35 (AN III.35), it is said:

“Did you, O good person, never see in the world a man or woman eighty, ninety, or a hundred years old, frail, crooked as a gable-roof, bent down, resting on crutches, with tottering steps, infirm, youth long since fled, with broken teeth, grey and scanty hair, or bald, wrinkled, with blotched limbs? Did it never occur to you that you also are subject to old age, that you also cannot escape it?

Did you never see in the world a man or woman, who being sick, afflicted, and grievously ill, and wallowing in their own filth, was lifted up by some people, and put down by others? Did it never occur to you that you also are subject to disease, that you also cannot escape it?

“Did you never see in the world the corpse of a man or woman, one or two or three days after death, swollen up, blue-black in color, and full of corruption? Did it never occur to you that you also are subject to death, that you also cannot escape it?”

Do you not see the Divine Messengers?

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