Loneliness is an obsession of a person when facing old age and death. How should one practice the teachings of the Supreme Buddha in order to overcome this obsession?
Samatha (tranquility) meditation using anapanasati (meditation with in & out breathing) can be used as a method to overcome loneliness & distress.
I tell you, monks, that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body among bodies, which is why the monk on that occasion remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert & mindful — putting aside wanting & distress with reference to the world.
So if a monk should wish: 'May neither my body be fatigued nor my eyes and may my mind, through lack of clinging, be released from fermentations,' then he should attend carefully to this same concentration through mindfulness with in-&-out breathing.
If a monk should wish: 'May my memories & resolves related to the household life be abandoned,' then he should attend carefully to this same concentration through mindfulness with in-&-out breathing.
This is actually an interesting problem that is personal to me, how do you introduce the teaching of the Buddha to a person who has no inclination in practicing the Dharma. While a practitioner might recognize the power of meditation to alleviate distress, your average person has no clue what it is and no interest to learn it.
This is where the cultivation of Upaya skillful means comes in.
My own paternal grandmother for example, passed away after experiencing a lot of suffering in her final days. One of her regrets was not taking up a more vegetarian diet (my relatives consume a lot of meat) and believed it to be one of the cause of her pain. One of the things we did in her final days were to play recordings of Buddhist music, which seems to help calm her somewhat.
So one could suggest to the person to start a basic practice, for example chanting the name of a buddha or bodhisattva or mantra for a certain number of times.
Example: Namo Amitabha
Namo Sakyamuni Buddha
(x100 every day)
You can couple this with buddhist prayer beads to aid counting.
If they find this too simple, you can add more challenging tasks such as longer dharani or even a short sutra.
Sukhavati Vyuha Dharani (往生咒)
Great Compassion Dharani (popularly known as Great Compassion Mantra)
These are highly effective form of meditation, and is a lot easier than telling someone to do sitting meditation.
Buddhist music are also easy and good gentle introduction cheer up lonely souls. In Chinese culture we actually have something called a 'chanting box', which is a music player with chanting installed. This is also great for someone who is sick.
Ideally you would want this person to participate socially at a community temple if possible.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.” May Sarton (1912-1995) “We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and the movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.” - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
As Aristotle has rightly stated that man is a social animal, Men wish to live in society, enjoy companionship, and happy to be crowded by fellow beings. Brahmajala sutta maintains that the initial feeling the first being to reappear in the present age of world reformation felt was loneliness. He wanted company. So, according to the Buddhist story also, the need of company and consequential necessity of interpersonal relations is ingrained in living beings.
The Buddha’s practised (and, of course, made the followers also practice) seclusion only till they attained spiritual heights. After the attainments, they return to society to be in service for the benefit of many (bahujana). The Buddha once said “I, Udayi, sometimes, stay crowded by monks and nuns, lay disciples both men and women, by kings and chief ministers, by leaders and disciples of other sects.” (Majjhima Nikaya 11.8) According to Balakrishna Govinda Gokhale, the Buddha’s refusal of Devadatta’s five proposals is evidence to the fact that he did not want to make monks totally outside the social relationships.
Making those conditions compulsory would have meant a complete termination of all inter-personal relations even among the members of the Sangha.