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The Buddha Freestyles: Florence and the Machine and the Reality of Death

The Buddha Freestyles is a new column where I will take a quote from music and flesh out how it can relate to living a life of mindfulness and compassion. Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.

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“My boy builds coffins he makes them all day
But it's not just for work and it isn't for play
He's made one for himself
One for me too
One of these days he'll make one for you.”

- Florence and the Machine, from My Boy Builds Coffins (thanks to Alina P for this week’s suggested song)

Within this striking song Florence and the Machine articulate the simple truth that death is a natural part of reality, for everyone. It is the great equalizer. While not a truth owned by Buddhism, by any means, the contemplation of the reality of death is one that has been an important part of the Buddhist cannon over the last 2600 years.

Florence discusses a friend, lover, or some acquaintance whose job it is to make coffins. However, they are quick to point out that the production of the coffin is not for work and is not some hobby, but is perhaps a part of this individual's musings on mortality. The boy in the song has made a coffin in preparation for his own death, for Florence, and will be available to make yours upon your passing.

Within Buddhism, there is a common contemplation which goes “Death comes without warning, this body will be a corpse.” No one knows the time of their death. You could live a long and fruitful life, dying in a bed surrounded by loved ones, or be hit by a bus tomorrow. In either case, you will die, and this body that you cherish so fondly will end up a corpse.

Another common contemplation that can be helpful is reflecting on the idea that everyone we know will die. As Gampopa points out in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, even the Buddha died. If he cannot overcome this simple reality, then we cannot either. If you look over the annals of history, you cannot find one person who did not die. So we have to come to grips with the fact that we will die, and everyone we know will die.

At this point, you may think, “God, this week's post is pretty morbid.” However, the point of contemplating the truth of death is not to freak yourself out. It's to realize that because we know we will die, and because we do not know when, we have to live this very day as best we can. We have to treat it as precious, because we do not know if we will have another. As Gampopa says, "Awareness of the impermanence of all composite phenomena leads one to release attachment to this life. Further, it nourishes faith, supports perseverance, and quickly frees one from attachment and hatred."

In this sense, there is an argument that Florence is not asking us to frequent her coffin-making friend's shop, but instead to consider our own mortality so that we can live our lives with more meaning, appreciating the incredible opportunity we have in this precious human life.

 

Have a suggested lyric? Send it over.

(please note that comments are open for five days, then Lodro gets to work on the next column)

Lodro's book, The Buddha Walks into a Bar, can be found here

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