“Growing Old is Not for Sissies!” I remember this great bumper sticker making the rounds a few years ago. Unless life ends tragically, suddenly, we will all experience old age and the result of old age, which is death.

If we live long enough, on the way to death via old age, we begin losing things. Perhaps our mobility, our health, our energy, our memory, our parents, our friends and spouses, our brothers and sisters, and maybe even some of our children who die before we do.

Many times, we eventually may even lose our surviving children’s respect as they shoulder the additional financial, physical and psychological burdens of taking care of us, that, when piled on top of their other problems and responsibilities, becomes a huge burden.

And at some point, although we hold this off as long as possible, we might also lose our self-esteem; our reason for living. We may even lose our future as we find ourselves sitting in our rocking chairs cherishing the good old days of the past which are all that we have left now.

It’s at this point, if we are at all sensitive and intelligent, that we might wonder if this is all there is to life, a life that has gone by so swiftly that it is now merely a blur.

But it’s way too late to do any investigating now into the meaning of life. We just don’t have the energy. Our fate has been cast. The good and bad kamma that we have made for ourselves in a lifetime of activity will shortly dictate our destination as we are hurtled into our next existence.

What was our lifestyle? All we have to do is look back at what we did every day to see where we are going. What was our level of consciousness? What were our strategies in life? What were our ambitions? This is the level at which we will seek our new existence and these will be our strategies the next time around.

The problem is; if our strategies were merely aimed at seeking endless pleasure, comfort and satisfaction for ourselves and those around us, we might have burned up all our good kamma from previous existences. Then, like the mighty gods who have it so comfy that they believe that their constant pleasures will last forever, we will fall from our deluded sense of security no differently than the Gods will fall from their temporary heavens when their good kamma is all burned up.

Because these existences are all impermanent, the Buddha explained how to transcend existence all together, whether that existence is in the human realm or the god realms. Eventually, if we just enjoy our good kamma - our good luck so to speak - that kamma will eventually exhaust itself. Unless we use whatever good kamma we have accumulated to free ourselves from existence, rather than simply enjoying it, our future existences will be uncertain and possibly much more stressful and troublesome than our present existence.

The Buddha said that the tears we have cried in our past existences would fill the oceans. And the tears we will cry in the future may even be greater. Therefore, isn’t it time to get out of this endless cycle of old age and death?

Old age and death is dependent on birth. Unless we are born, there will be no old age and death. So what causes birth? That is, what causes our consciousness, when released at death, to seek another form in which to continue existence?

The psychic and spiritual impetus for this transference of consciousness from one lifetime to another, one form to another, is our desire to live. We cling to our bodies and minds, we are attached to our bodies and minds, and as such, a powerful desire persists at death to somehow continue. This is called the thirst for existence in the form realm.

So, how does this great craving for continuance of our “selves” come about?

It begins with our distorted view of life. We see life as desirable, fun, and . . . actually we love life! In contrast, the Buddha said that life is “Dukkha,” suffering.

We also see life as something permanent, that we and the things and people around us will never change. We buy a new car and never think that it will soon become worn out, unfashionable, and obsolete. We choose a partner in life and never consider that he or she will soon become old and diseased. We live life in the fast lane and never see the long term consequences until it is usually too late. The Buddha said “Anicca,” that all things in material existence change.

And the most insidious thing we misunderstand, the very quintessence of that which catapults us into one lifetime after another of endless births and deaths, is the mistaken, deluded idea that there is someone behind it all, a little man or woman, a little self that is control of everything. The Buddha said, “Anatta.” There is no self, there is no soul.

The realization that there is no self, that there is no continuing soul, that everything changes and we can’t control anything for long, and further that life is constant stress and discontent that must be dealt with endlessly – these simple truths, when understood in the heart, are the very things that free us from future existences. Understanding these things require more than intellectual consideration, however; it requires a shift in consciousness. And every time we shift our consciousness, we alter our destiny in the next lifetime.

When our consciousness shifts, we find ourselves gravitating toward a different lifestyle from our previous one. Usually, the new lifestyle is much simpler, less complicated, and the strategies change as well.

Strategies of securing pleasure and comfort change into strategies of discovering that which does not change, that which does not lead to discontent and stress, and that which understands at a very deep level the idea of self, the idea of ego, and subsequently seeks to dissolve that delusion which keeps the mind imprisoned and circulating from one existence to another.

In other words, we take on a new strategy that will be there for us when the end comes, and which we always face alone. If you are involved in a horrific car accident tomorrow where your body is pinned and the blood is flowing so fast that you know you have only a few minutes to live . . . what will be your refuge? Your parents? Your spouse? Your children? Your house? Your career? Your knowledge and titles? Your religion?

This new strategy to face death with courage and calmness will involve what is commonly called spiritual training. It is a voluntary responsibility that can only be pursued with a mind that is strategizing toward liberation. A mind that has not yet shifted consciousness and is still caught in the idea that worldly things and people will somehow create happiness if all our strategies and combinations work out, falls short of the necessary courage and conviction required to deepen the training to an extent that all strategizing ceases. When all strategizing ceases, this is release.

Full release is the complete freedom that the Buddha called enlightenment. All his teachings, which were not religious nor did they depend upon faith or belief, were aimed either directly or indirectly at this goal of liberation.

As one’s consciousness shifts again and again, deeper and deeper, and as one’s mind catches on to the incredible potentiality of liberation, worldly pleasures and strategies naturally fall away until the mind becomes one-pointed and focused toward this ultimate freedom.

The consciousness level of the unrefined, unliberated mind is one of very coarse vibrations. As the mind understands at deeper and deeper consciousness levels, these vibrations become more and more subtle until the mind barely vibrates at all. This is incredible stillness where nothing moves, yet the mind is fully aware and awake. This is where a mind, that is no longer subject to the endless rounds of birth and death, naturally resides, full of creativity, insight and potentiality.

This kind of mind reaches beyond all material and non-material forms as well as the formless, beyond all that can be thought of, beyond beginnings and ending, beyond time and space, beyond discontent, beyond ego, beyond change.

This is a liberated mind.

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock (anagarika eddie) is a meditation teacher at the DhammaRocksprings Theravada Buddhist Meditation Retreat Center: dhammarocksprings.org and author of “A Year to Enlightenment: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Enlightenment-Steps-Enriching-Living/dp/15641... His 33 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk.
He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.