Q: What is Buddhist meditation, and what are the benefits of it?
H.H. Karmapa: Buddhist meditation is a way to relate to death, but the term we use is known as impermanence. So it is possible to see the beauty of impermanence finally through meditation. Before meditation we have to focus on learning and contemplating on impermanence.
Q: How do you relate to death?
H.H. Karmapa: Often one relates to death mainly by fear, and also by hope. So the Buddhist approach is to approach it without the two.
Q: Are Buddhists afraid of death?
H.H. Karmapa: Sentient beings are not born as Buddhists, so due to that it becomes a very difficult question to answer. Buddhist terminology is something that has evolved based on our language, culture, the mixture of languages and so on. Otherwise, it would be better to talk about “the Buddhist approach” to death, or a better term would be a “dharma practitioner”. But by now the terms “Buddhist” and “Buddhism” are so popular that it will be difficult to change.
Anyway, the Buddhist approach to death is that it’s no different from life, no scarier than life. Of course, on an individual level we have lots of hope and fear, but the Buddhist approach itself is very mild, very equal, both with regard to life as with regard to death.
As individuals we have so much hope and fear concerning death. Sometimes, when we have a difficult life, we wish for death, and when we are close to death we wish for life. So the individual approach is chaotic, but the Buddhist approach is equal, balanced. So a true practitioner should not be afraid of either life or death.
Depending on an individual’s mind there are countless methods one can apply. If we are too laid back so that we waste our time and energy, then it is good to concentrate on the impermanence of life, meaning death. But if we are too consumed, too preoccupied by all kinds of fear, then it’s best to take a more relaxed approach.
But either way, meditating on the impermanence of phenomena and life remedies both laziness and an overly preoccupied mind. Because everything is impermanent, there is nothing in particular to hope for, nor is there any reason for excessive fear.
Otherwise, whether we are Buddhists or not, it’s the unknown and the uncertainty of death and its aftermath that brings both fear and hope.