Awakening to Life, Awakening to Death


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D. Alan's picture

I just listened to your first session on Awakening to life and to death. One of the things I see in this practice that is so very important is the idea of intimacy with all things, all time...that is part of this awakening, it seems to me. 

My question is, " how is it that the idea of non-duality fits into this perspective you have taken on awakening? Did the Buddha have such an experience? Or does it even matter?


Thank you for the time,




Philip Ryan's picture

A note to those posting questions for Stephen Batchelor here in the Discussion: There is a specific link above, just below the Retreat Schedule, where you can ask a question that will be sent to Stephen directly.

Sheryl Hastalis's picture

Thank you for the coherence of your interpretation of the dharma. I sometimes get caught in the  bittersweet sadness of the awareness of one's own impermanence, while practicing this awake attention to each moment in mundane life. How does one work with this in moment to moment mindfulness during daily life ( not during formal sitting practice), so as not to become paralyzed by fear of death?'s picture

Thank you very much Stephen for sharing the results of your forty years of studying Buddhism with us.

The things you are saying make so much sense to me. Since discovering Buddhism about 4 years ago I have been reading voraciously everything about Buddhism I could lay my hands on. This left me bewildered at first because I discovered many different traditions and beliefs and which one was the one for me. But then I read Buddhism without Beliefs and I knew that I had found what I had been looking for. But you didn't stop, you went on making things even clearer in Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. The book is an attempt to retrieve as much as possible of the Buddha's basic teachings! Whether you have been entirely successful in that I don't know, but for me it sounds true!

When I was reading it, I couldn't stop myself thinking: he's been doing all that hard work and I only have to sit back and read and nod. Now, that feeling of guilt must be a leftover from my orthodox upbringing. Fortunately, I am now able to recognise it for what it is. Thank you again!

ehoffserf's picture

Thank you for this teaching. I especially appreciate how you blend practice with everyday life, and make it so accessible--regardless of my spiritual beliefs, amount of knowlege about Buddhism, years of practice...I feel as if I can "begin" at any moment, at any time during the day.

isolde100's picture

I found this talk valuable because it encourages me to focus on being present and aware of my daily experiences. In the past, I have felt as if my spiritual development is not progressing because I don't have all those amazing experiences that other people report (seeing deities, elevated mental states). But I realize from hearing Stephen Batchelor's talk that Buddhist practice is NOT about those things and awakening has nothing to do with flying through the air, walking through walls, seeing past and future lives, and so on. 

Alex Kelly's picture

Thank you Stephen for some useful points for contemplation and practice.

Contemplation of death is a very useful strategy and practice to do a times. Especially when one is feeling complacent or indifferent to whatever is happening internally or externally. It can be a cause for generating heedfulness which is the one vital quality of mind which is always beneficial for one who wants cultivate the Buddha's training. Appropriate attention (yoniso manasikara) is important in regard to when a certain straregy should or should not be practiced. Contemplating death when the mind is in a mood of dispondency would probably not be very helpful.

kenwass's picture

I very much enjoyed your talk.  It always amazes me how much more powerful is the spoken word than the written, especially when see the speaker.  I also feel tha the teachings take a different form when spoken; that one can read a thousand times about returning to the breath; but to accompany that with the idea of your own mortality seemed totally new to me; though I am sure I read about it before.

Also, I have read most of your just published book, and though I have always found the real life experiences of seekers to be interesting; it was your tracing the life of the Buddha rather than your experiences that interested me most; probably because his life had been so encrusted with myth that to see how he really lived was liberating.  It also brought out clearly what were his teachings, and through your experiences what has happened to them as they spread to different countries. If I had been the editor of your book, I would have led off with the life of Siddhattha Gotama.

I really look forward to listening to you on the 12th.

wasmd1's picture


Thanks so much for your teaching.

Since, as you point out, the truth of reality needs to be internalized to become a true change in your approach to life, what is your advice on other techniques to help achieve internalization such as the Jaunas as a prep for insight practices. 

paul's picture


 I am in the middle of your new book and enjoying it very much.  I was looking forward to hearing your talk.  Thank you.


djswarm's picture

When you say "this may be my last day" you are doing no different than planing your vacation. It may be I will die today. It may be I will go on vacation. May, may, may...but what is happening right now?

I am breathing. I am alive. I am aware.

Also I see no intrinsic benefit in morbid musings, despite Buddhism's almost goth facination with death. Perhaps there can be an eventual "paradoxical" effect, but why not just cut to the chase?

If one needs to face fears of death then death seems a good starting point, but one is awake now and to be awake is to be fully alive which is what you are doing now.

Ultimately all "may be"s are not now, no matter how helpful they may seem paradoxically.

paul's picture


I think you missed the point.  But of course, I could be missing your point.  

djswarm's picture

My point is that if one is thinking "I may die today" they are still in the furture and still dealing with conditionals. One is trading the objects vacation and death, but not the action. I am suggesting that if it is not awakening to plan vacation, it is no more awakening to plan death. Instead the quinetecent moment of awakening is the return to this moment of living. To yawn and breath in existence without care about it being long or short. To streach with the joy of awakening itself.

Meditating has its value. Contemplating death or vacations has its value.

But awakening is more visceral, more a moment's transition, a state shift or an "ah ha!"

Nor is it something to pit agaisnt sleep. Without a good night's sleep there is no good awakening.

Nor is it anything to cling to.

But as you say I could be missing the point entirely. What did you see as the point?

jancooper's picture

I want to wish you a very happy birthday...we all hope you enjoy a long and full life of teaching.




samwc50's picture



Thank you for your interesting and informative presentation.  I now understand why meditation on the breath will enable me to appreciate what I am experiencing and to live life more fully.   I enjoyed your comparison of awaking from my morning sleep to Buddha’s awaking.  I found your discussion easy to understand and apply to my daily life.   Looking forward to reading your publications and next presentation. 


eorchant's picture

Happy Birthday Stephen! (tomorrow. I noticed in your biography on this web page), As always, I found your dharma talk both lucid and energizing. Having had the opportunity to sit with you and Martine on retreat in Santa Fe last fall, I am very excited for my fellow dharma friends to experience your teaching through cyber space. The new book is fantastic! I hope to see you next year when you return to the US on teaching tour.

Ed from Upaya

Philip Brett's picture

I really liked this talk. I became a subscriber to hear this series and I'm not disappointed.


flyrcairplanes's picture

I often wonder if I meditate to avoid the pain and suffering rather than to realize it.  It seems contradictory at times to consciously focus on the breath (or whatever) to hopefully experience the now.  What are your thoughts on this?  Hopefully I am making sense.

lisbell's picture

I am currently reading Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart" and she addresses this very issue. If you have not read it you may find it helpful. She has a great way of explaining things so that we all may understand them. I found this very interesting as I hadn't explored the possibility of using meditation as another escapist tool, but it certainly holds true some days!

Notron's picture

Buddha's first sermon after 'awakening' is entitled Turning the Wheel of Dhamma.  In it, he refers to the twelve aspects of the four noble truths. 

"Such is suffering.  It can be fully known.  It has been fully known."

"Such is craving.  It can be let go of.  It has been let go of."

"Such is cessation.  It can be experienced.  It has been experienced."

"Such is the path.  It can be cultivated.  It has been cultivated."

Looking at the three aspects of the first noble truth, the Buddha says that suffering (anxiety/stress) can be fully known.  This suggests something that one can do.  I've heard Stephen use the phrase "fully know suffering".  I take this to mean that we must be willing to go into the anxiety...feel it in the body/mind.  This is difficult for most people because we'd rather get rid of anxiety than experience it. 

Would meditating, to avoid the pain and anxiety, be helpful in 'fully knowing anxiety?'

flyrcairplanes's picture

Thank you very much for your response.  I will keep sitting through the confusion.

MoonWoman's picture

Thank you :-) 

Orange-ruffy's picture


Thank you, quite interesting! You say the idea of bodhi as enlightenment is original to Buddha, would you say this is this His primary contribution to our way of thinking, that is, is this is His main idea and what makes Buddhism Buddhism?

Thank you very much, blessings to you.

Charlie Clements's picture

Thank you Stephen.