[The Buddha] again asked a Śramaṇa, ‘Human life has what duration in between?’…
There seems to be a shockingly large number of Buddhists, who seem enthusiastic in ‘learning and practising’ the Buddha’s teachings, which is surely wonderful. However, they are spiritually shortsighted, not accidentally, but by ‘misdirected’ choice, to focus mainly on ‘making the Buddha’s Dharma a part of (daily) life’ (佛法生活化). This is sometimes called ‘practical Dharma’. If by now, you still do not see any potential problems, you might be one of them… Do read on to check for yourself.
Surely, the initial idea of teaching and learning the Dharma to make it an indispensable part of life is to promote Dharma practice in more and eventually all aspects of everyday life, be it schooling, parenting, socialising, working, playing… etc. You get the drift. This list seems sensible and fine… except that it consistently misses the final, yet most significant phase of life — dying. This is partly due to efforts to change the perception of Buddhism, from being death-centric to being life-centric.
In the Chinese Great Vehicle’s (大乘: Mahāyāna) context, the historical need for systematically shifting such a perception came from almost a century ago (1925), when Buddhism has devolved to centre on funeral rituals, on ghosts (鬼) and death (死); lacking emphasis on humans (人) and life (生); their opposites. This movement thus came to be called ‘human life Buddhism’ (人生佛教); not to be mistaken as ‘humanistic Buddhism’ (人间佛教) which arose later. In other words, the refocus was for actively improving this human life, with promotion of observation of the precepts and doing of good, which also improves this human world on the whole.
Although originally part of this great reformation, but overlooked by many in future generations, is that those with the Dharma practices above should also aspire for attaining better future lives, for advancement towards self-liberation and even Buddhahood. About a hundred years later today (in 2023), with substantial reestablishment of Buddhism in daily life, there is however some conditioned reluctance to look at what comes after this short human life, on how to most skilfully handle dying, death and rebirth, for further and definite progress towards Buddhahood.
There can be so much focus on entering the worldly (入世间) for betterment of the world, that there is mostly ignoring of that world-transcending (出世间), which leads to complete enlightenment. This is to forget the original purpose of the Buddha’s teachings, which is to lead all to Buddhahood; not just to make this world a better place for mainly humans only. The universe contains much more than this human world and much more than human beings. Yes, there are ghosts and others too, who were ex-humans like you and me, who require guidance for deliverance too.
A fine line divides life and death. Without adequate focus on the complete Dharma, it takes only one moment to cross the line to be deceased, and a short while longer to become a wandering spirit, with no clear path for the safest and best rebirth, in where swiftest progress to Buddhahood is assured — a Buddha’s actual Pure Land (净土)… instead of an idealistic ‘Pure Land in this human world’ (人间净土), which technically cannot exist as Pure Lands transcend the three realms (出三界), which include this defiled human world entering this Dharma-Ending Age (末法时期).
The very First Noble Truth (第一圣谛) taught by the Buddha is the truth of suffering (苦谛), which culminates in cyclical death. How then, can we forget the urgency and importance of preparing for death, that will surely come and can come at any time. If a so-called Buddhist does not clearly know how to handle death and secure the best rebirth, how can one be called a true Buddhist practitioner? Thus, mastering the Dharma of how to handle the dying, deaths and rebirths of oneself and others is most practical as they are inevitable for all. Life is running out now. It is time to ‘make life (and death) aligned with the Buddha’s Dharma’ (生活[与死亡]佛法化).
In reply, ‘That of breathing out and in between.’ The Buddha said, ‘Excellent, you know the path.’
The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death
What To Chant When Dying, After Death, During And After Wakes
The First Lesson(s) Of The Buddha-(To-Be) For Us
Should Buddhism Focus On Humans Only?
How Pure Lands Transcend The Three Realms
Can This Human World Become A Pure Land?
The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks Of The Dharma’s Complete End
With Every Breath You Take