Our personal journeys are often messy and chaotic, and our collective evolutionary journey is also messy and chaotic. I hear people say, “I can’t just sit here on the cushion. I need to do something. I need to stop this from happening.” Yes, there is a lot to be done, but whatever we do must be based on right understanding. On the ultimate level, nothing can be gained or lost, but in our conventional lives, there is a lot to lose.
Another form of maraṇasati is to follow a newly-dead body through all its stages of decay. First the skin and flesh gradually fall away, leaving only a skeleton, and finally the bones slowly crumble into dust and blow away. Nothing is left after that. We can also engage in a similar reflection for the planet by visualizing a landscape ravaged by refineries, fracking wells, and open mines. We could imagine how the Earth might be 20 years from now, 50 years from now, or 100, 200, or 500 years from now. Then we can fast-forward to a billion years from now, when the sun might have turned into a red giant and our oceans are boiling. If we keep fast-forwarding, we’ll come to a time when there is nothing left of the Earth but dust.
It’s important to remember that we are not engaging in this contemplation in order to arouse a sense of fear or guilt or hopelessness. Death contemplation is a tough maturing practice that we undertake in the service of waking up. Reflecting on what we humans have inflicted on the planet is also a tough maturing practice. Really taking in and integrating these truths is difficult, and it requires a lot of courage and determination to meet what is actually happening with our bodies and with the planet.
This reflection by Ayya Santacittā is from the book, Leaving It All Behind, (pdf) pp. 34-35.