Those with superior mindfulness of Buddha, have excellent and wonderful auspicious signs, including in advance knowing the time of reaching Pure Land, which inspires all with faithful confidence in the Pure Land teachings.
— Verses On The Excellent And Wonderful (1)
Which is better? To know when you are going to die, or to not know when you are going to die? Those who prefer to be ‘carefree’ might prefer to not know, so as to be ‘carefree’ to their very last day, or even moment. They tend to be the less spiritually inclined, who focus more on the transient, material and worldly, with little, if any regard, for what might happen after this life. Even though with a ‘come what may’ attitude now, it will be challenging to hang on to it while dying with pain from sickness. Possible physical obstacles aside, there might also be regrets for things done or undone, leading to reluctance to let go, mixed with fears and worries. Thus, it is better to know when you are going to die, so as to be better prepared.
Which is better? To die with sickness or with an accident? Neither is pleasant, with the first usually more gradual and the latter more sudden. Accidental death is usually unprepared for, with its disadvantages already explored. Although possible to depart without sickness, this is difficult without much spiritual cultivation, which the average person lacks, especially if with habitual clinging to this transpiring life. Anyway, statistically, most do die from sickness. Unfortunately, with ‘advances’ in medical science, there are increasingly more methods to prolong life, even when very sick, despite severe decline in quality of life. Serious sicknesses are however reminders that death is near, hopefully offering adequate time to tie up the loose ends in life, and to untie knotty issues. Thus, it is better to die with sickness.
Which is better? To die younger or older? The younger one is, the more clinging to life there might be, if there is still much unfulfilled. Yet, the older one is, the more clinging there might be too, to much of that ‘fulfilling’. Statistically, with infant mortality rate falling, more are departing older. However young, if the body is already ailing with suffering beyond meaningful repair, and if there is a clear spiritual destination in mind, it might be better to depart sooner, than to suffer on needlessly and indefinitely. If without a clear goal, having more time to figure it out will be useful – even if one is already old. In this sense, the young departing sooner might be better, just as the old departing later might be too. Thus, it is better to depart when ‘old or young enough’, when with adequate preparation for departure.
To conclude, it is better to know when you are going to die, even if with sickness, when with adequate preparation. If so, why do we still fret impending death, hope we will never get sick, even when ageing, and procrastinate spiritual preparation? It is natural to prefer a long and fruitful life without any ailment, but both the Buddha’s teachings and science are already clear, that once born, ageing, sickness and death are inevitable. Although science has yet to offer a solution, the Buddha already offered the precious path of birth in Pure Land, through which ageing, sickness and death will be transcended – with attainment of ever youthful bodies impervious to disease, endowed with immeasurable life and powers, for the swiftest progress towards Buddhahood. As proof of practice, there are even extra proficient practitioners, who clearly announce knowledge of when they are departing, without sickness or accident – and when young! This is surely one of the best ways to depart.
Without old age then reborn, without sickness then departing, without death then ‘ending’, attaining the unsurpassable birth in Pure Land.
— Verses On The Excellent And Wonderful (2)