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Is Dying Younger More Unfortunate?

Better than a hundred years
in the life of a person who is idle and inactive,
is a day in the life
of one
who makes a zealous and strenuous effort.

— The Buddha
(Dhammapada Verse 112)

Is dying younger due to having much negative karma, thus being more unfortunate? The answer is not so straightforward. While having a long life is usually regarded as a result of having much positive karma (from the present and/or past lives), more important than knowing how to have a long life is knowing constitutes a good life. For instance, it is possible to have a long yet miserable life. It is also possible to have a long life abused for harming many. Despite lengthiness, these instances of having much personal suffering and causing much suffering for others are surely not examples of leading good lives.

Of course, the ideal good life would maximise spiritual and physical benefitting of oneself and others. At the other end of the spectrum, the minimum criteria for a good life is that there must be a good death, as in having departure for a better rebirth, with the best being in Pure Land, where swift progress to Buddhahood is guaranteed. As long as this is met, the length of life is of arbitrary importance. Even details and amount of good and evil done and not done become secondary. This is so as where we are going to matters much more in the long run, than how we were for a handful of decades in this one short life.

Thus, with the three factors of life’s length, spiritual fruitfulness when living and its manner of ending, there are these eight possibilities together, and how they can occur, from the most fortunate to the least –

[1] A long spiritually fruitful life with a happy ending: This is naturally karmically possible. A longer life allows more spiritual learning and practice too, in preparation for one’s smooth departure. [2] A short spiritually fruitful life with a happy ending: This is possible as it is not the quantity of life’s years but their quality that matters more[3] A short spiritually unfruitful life with a happy ending: This is possible despite not having enough positive karma to have a long life, if there is enough of it from a past life, to have a good-knowing friend arrive in time to encourage mindfulness of Buddha and such. [4] A long spiritually unfruitful life with a happy ending: This is possible despite not having enough positive karma to learn and practise when alive, while there is enough of it from a past life, to have a good-knowing friend arrive in time to encourage mindfulness of Buddha and such.

[5] A long spiritually fruitful life with an unhappy ending: This is possible if strong negative karma from a past life bears fruit on the deathbed. (Positive karma from the present life can still bear fruit later.) [6] A short spiritually fruitful life with an unhappy ending: Likewise, this is possible if strong negative karma from a past life bears fruit on the deathbed. (Positive karma from the present life can still bear fruit later.) [7] A short spiritually unfruitful life with an unhappy ending: This is naturally karmically possible. [8] A long spiritually unfruitful life with an unhappy ending: Likewise, this is naturally karmically possible.

Indeed, in the end, it is truly the manner of ending that matters – for better or worse. Despite life being long or short, it can be said that we truly start living only when our spiritual lives begin – with diligent spiritual learning and practice. Prior to that, we were merely ‘existing’ in various off-tracked mundane ways.

Thus, as long as spiritual life arises in time, dying relatively younger, be it by accident or severe sickness, it need not be negative in nature. More broadly speaking, even after death, if in the bardo state, since yet to be reborn, there is a window period, during which spiritual life can still arise with a good-knowing friend’s timely guidance. Due to possibilities [2] and [3] above, one might even be much more fortunate than others, by reaching Pure Land faster, to no longer deserve the suffering of being trapped indefinitely in the cycle of birth and death!

May all have good-knowing friends.
May all be good-knowing friends.

— Shilashanti

Related Articles:

When Can There Be Rebirth In Pure Land?
何时能往生净土?
https://purelanders.com/2019/08/16/when-can-rebirth-in-pure-land-be-attained
How We Guided Our Baby To Āmítuófó’s Pure Land?
https://purelanders.com/2016/07/27/how-we-guided-our-baby-to-amituofos-pure-land

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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