Ready to embrace mortality? The concept of death and mortality has likely created fear and confusion since the first Homo Sapiens walked the earth. As a species that kills for food with ease, we have a level of denial and discomfort of our own mortality.
Early philosophy offers a freeing insight into how embracing the reality of our short stay can bring contentment to our life.
Western society generally avoids active discussion on our own mortality. Creating a general unease at best. Humans have created a number of ‘post-death’ scenarios to both put them at ease and at times create fear to ensure a more moral life. Heaven and Hell, reincarnation, Valhalla are the more common beliefs on what happens after death. Many scientists simply say ‘nothing’, there is nothing after death.
So should we avoid a deep think on death? Stoic philosophy, in particular, says we should embrace our mortality in order to live a virtuous life. Seneca in particular seemingly had a dim view on religious dogma and erred towards logic in regards to death.
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”
Stoics seemingly understood death as an intrinsic component of the Nature of Things or Logos, an inevitability that should not be feared, but rather close to one’s thoughts each day in order to lead a full and virtuous life.
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.Seneca
A sobering thought after a weekend-long Netflix binge or another day in an unfulfilling job. Better perhaps to fill your day with good companionship and virtuous pursuits. If today was our last day, how would we live it?
Similar concepts around our mortality exist within Buddhism. Though worth noting many Buddhists hold the belief of re-birth, re-birth isn’t the same as reincarnation (where you yourself are reborn). Re-birth is (vast simplification here) the idea that a short time after death the consciousness separates from the physical body and depending on your Karma the consciousness will be born into a higher, similar or lower physical form.
Re-birth is a challenging concept, however death itself is dealt with in a very logical manner:
- Compound things are impermanent (things created from aggregating atoms – for want of a better description)
- The human body is a compound thing
- Death of the human body is therefore certain
- The time of our death is uncertain
To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.
Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.
You can always rely on Buddha for some good common-sense logic! The last part rather than being sombre is intended to be liberating, much in the same way as many Stoics. The inescapable fact we will die and the additional dilemma of not (generally) knowing when that will be, should create a sense of urgency and desire to live well and waste little time. Buddhists add in some Karma to encourage us to lead a good and compassionate life, whereas the Stoics underpin this with the virtues; Wisdom, Courage, Self-control and Justice
Ready to embrace your mortality to really live?