Since I am from Ireland I like to browse the news at the Irish newspapers online. With a population of less than 4 million, there is often smaller news, such as local accidents, news that would not be in a national newspaper in a country the size of the USA for example.
A few days ago while reading the paper I read the unfortunate story of two women who died in a traffic accident. The best friends were walking on the pavement around 5:30 p.m., when two cars collided, and one car veered into the women. They were hit, and both died at the scene. Both women were in their 50’s, were married with families, and were well known in the town in the west of Ireland. People in the community were very shocked by this tragedy.
There are a few points about this that I want to address here.
The first is that we learn in Buddhism that life is impermanent, that today could be our last day. But we don’t think that this day could be my last. Rather we live secure in the belief that we will live for many years to come. These two women could not have believed they would not live to see the end of that day. They had probably arranged to meet that evening and walk for whatever reason, maybe for exercise. They could not have imagined they would die that evening while walking. It is beyond our imagination that we can die at any unforeseen ordinary moment.
Another point. One person who lived in the town said that this kind of thing is something he hears on the news happening somewhere else. These are the deaths of other that we learn about in the Reality of Mankind parable, the white bones scattered all around. We think this is something that will happen to someone else and not to ourselves. It happens in another town, but not here. We are encouraged to think that I might be the next to die. The more seriously we feel our own impermanence the more seriously we will listen to the teachings and the sooner attain true happiness.
Next point. The following day I read the same newspaper and saw the story of a man in his 40’s who had been killed the day after the two women, again in a traffic accident, while he was on his bicycle. That accident also happened around 5:30 p.m. I imagined that maybe that man had heard the news of the death of the 2 women on the news the night before, or that morning. He might have been surprised hearing it. While he was listening to the news, he could not have imagined that he would die that evening in an accident too. Again, our own impermanence is beyond our imagination. This is one reason why we don’t take the message of Buddhism seriously. If we truly felt we could die at any moment, we would no doubt listen with all seriousness.
“Take to heart the crucial matter of the afterlife, and believe in Amida Buddha”, says Master Rennyo in On White Bones. We don’t know when we will be thrown into the afterlife. It is scary to think about, but at the same time it does not mean to be frightened about life. Rather it means to face the reality of life, impermanence, head on, and seek the solution to the issue of what happens to us after we die, that is taught in Buddhism.