One of the public events Little Dust ran in Newcastle during January was a Death Contemplation at Wallsend Cemetery. The Buddha recommended going to a charnel ground to confront the reality of Death’s presence in our lives. He frequently taught the importance of reflecting on death to create a sense of urgency and to develop wisdom. In many ways, thinking about death allows us to understand the very meaning of life and can be a positive vehicle for shaping how we live.
The event, organised by the Newcastle Sit-In was well attended, with over 30 people showing up, including members of the Sit-In, some new friends we met at a Thai restaurant and members of the Sri Lankan community. It was wonderful to see people coming together to practise together.
We began by gathering as a group under the shade of a grove of trees to discuss our attitudes and feelings towards death and listen to some of the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence and the brevity of life. We then wandered through the grave stones, looking at the names, ages and manner of death recorded on the gravestones with some folks finding their own names inscribed there, or, seeing the ages of the deceased, realising that compared to many people in the past, we have already lived a long life! We also contemplated the meaning of the sculptural imagery commonly found in western grave culture, such as flowers, covered urns and broken columns.
Then we regrouped under the trees as the sun was setting to practise a guided meditation, the Nine Cemetery Contemplations, where we visualise nine stages of decay of a corpse, from a bloated blu-ish tinged corpse just a few days old, to being eaten by creatures, then the bones getting scattered and eventually far in the future becoming nothing more than dust. This practice can be confronting without the proper preparation but after doing dozens of these contemplations with folks around the world, most people report a sense of calm acceptance that helps them come to terms with the natural and unavoidable process of death.
The Nine Charnel Ground Contemplations can be found in the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (MN 10)