Special Topics

Making a Will in Advance and Facing Death Head-On

Ordinary people are afraid of death. However, Buddhism teaches people to face life and death directly,  contemplate impermanence at all times,  be prepared for death at all times, and most importantly,  seize the present moment to make vows and fulfill them. Only then, can we bid farewell with a smile as death approaches, and go to the next life without fear. 

People who often write articles and do research projects are certainly no strangers to deadlines. Whenever they finish a written piece, a task, or a project, it is like crossing a "deadline", which marks the beginning of something new. 

Professor Aming Tu, the author of "Healing through Hearing the Dharma: 10 Lessons on Life and Death as Taught by the Buddha" is particularly sensitive to deadlines. Despite battling cancer for 10 years, he always motivates himself with the sentence "Today is the last day of my life": treating every class, every meeting, every gathering, and every conversation as a farewell ceremony. He remarked: "When you bid farewell to everyday, you naturally have gratitude in mind and learn to cherish every moment."

Impermanence strikes quickly, and life and death are matters of momentous importance. As stated in the "Sutra on Impermanence": "In this world, aging, illness, and death are three things that are not pleasant, not radiant, not wanted, and not agreeable." Ordinary people are afraid of death, and have always avoided talking about death, even pretending that they will never die. However, in many end-of-life cases, the more one avoids the fact that "death is approaching soon", the less time and energy one may have to realize their unfulfilled wishes in this life, as well as express their unspoken gratitude or guilt towards someone. In this case, when we really face  death, how can we truly let go of everything and embark at ease on the next journey of life?

On the deathbed, what most people find hard to let go are the attachments to worldly things. Therefore, Master Hongyi reminds everyone in his book "The very last step of our life (人生之最後)": "At the moment of death, do not ask the dying person about his wills, nor engage in idle chatter and unnecessary conversations, since it may trigger his craving and attachment to this world, thereby hindering his rebirth in the Pure Land. If you wish to leave a will, you should write it when you are in good health and entrust someone to keep it." 

Huang Yingzhu, a member of the Life and Death Education Committee of the Buddhist Lotus Hospice Care Foundation who is dedicated to promoting making wills in advance, shared that a will is not only a basis for after-death arrangements, but can also serve as a personal "manual for preparing for death." Through the act of writing a will, we can do a comprehensive life review, clearly see what's on our bucket list, and thus seize the opportunity to fulfill them in this lifetime. By creating advance directives, including signing a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), specifying hospice care preferences, expressing our intentions for organ donation, and making arrangements for property distributions and posthumous matters in advance, we can avoid bringing troubles or disputes to our families and friends. Most importantly, preparing a will is a practical method to ensure that our life ends without any regret.

Being well-prepared for death at any moment

Venerable Master Sheng Yen stated in his book "At Ease with Life and Death (生死皆自在)": "When understanding death, one will not be afraid of death. In order not to wait for death and fear death, the prerequisite is to have the correct understanding of death and be well prepared for death at any moment." Through his own life and death, Master Sheng Yen has provided a solemn lesson in life education for people; its influence continues to resonate to this day.,

Five years prior to his passing, Master Sheng Yen left a will in 2009, instructing on his after-death arrangements: "After I pass away, do not issue the obituary notice, make meal offerings, build the grave, stupa, or monument, erect my statues, or collect my relics, if any. Please invite one to three eminent elder Dharma masters to respectively preside over the rituals of sealing the coffin, bidding farewell, cremation, ash burial, and so forth. All this must be carried out in a simple, frugal manner, and never in an extravagant and wasteful way."

In Master Sheng Yen's memoir "A Wonderful Life in My Late Years (美好的晚年)", we can see the "preparations" made by the Master before the end of his life. For example, he presided over the first Dharma Drum Mountain Dharma Transmission Ceremony in 2005 before receiving a surgery in the hospital. Subsequently, he gradually completed rules, regulations and systems to ensure the sustainability of the monastic community. In 2006, he elected a successor, nominated by DDM's Sangha Council, as the second Abbot to continue to carry on the mission of propagating the Dharma.

Related articles:

Making a Will in Advance and Facing Death Head-On

The Buddha's demonstration of his final journey 

The Buddha Teaches You to Say Goodbye Properly

Contemplating death with a remembrance of impermanence

Remaining Steadfast in the Face of Aging, Illness and Death

Resource: Issue 417 of Humanity  Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: 可馨 
Editing: Keith Brown, YKL