For those who are scared of growing old and death, what would be a well thought out response be? My first thoughts on it would be, if you learn to meditate, you are going to enjoy your old age, and you will never fear death. But that is not an answer that will go down well with many people. So this is a question that cries out for a mature, seasoned response?
Once two old people approached the Buddha, Upasaka Saptha Visuddhi, and told that they missed to made merits, now fearing death. The Buddha, honest forward, for the sake of benefit for many listening to it, Simply said, that they fear righteously and then utterd:
It's swept along:
life, its next-to-nothing span.
For one swept on by aging
no shelters exist.
Keeping sight of this danger in death,
do meritorious deeds
that bring bliss.
Whoever here is restrained
in body, speech, & awareness,
who makes merit while he's alive:
that will be for his bliss after death.
Often it's good that the Ox sees the down so that he moves faster, if one still does not hurry, one is no match even for on ox, as Ajahn Chah once told.
If having done merits, having arrived to all blessing (Upasika Nina van Gorkom, now over 90 already if still alive, once gave Atma one of here teachings on it, to be shared as gift of Dhamma further), what has one to fear? And no need to hurry any more.
Look at all the youth, all those who are drunken in youth, health and live, yet they do not really fear, wasting this precious time that could be over even today.
[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other wordily gains]
Similar to a modern counselor, the Gautama Supreme Buddha was 'client centered'.
Due to psychic power, the Gautama Supreme Buddha taught people what was suitable for them.
However, because you don't have psychic power, a starting point is to ask (with equanimity) the other person what they think will happen at death.
Relief from the fear of death comes from the recognition of the true self. When one recognizes that the body is not the self, the mind is not the self, etc., and that one's true nature is timeless, the fear of physical death subsides. Death is a stripping away of all of those things that are not self anyway.
One could take the opportunity to explain the Dhamma or give instructions on insight meditation practice.
The only way to really overcome this is to take the fear as the object of meditation and learn about it and understand it by discovering its characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self - The Three Gateways to Liberation.
Scared of growing old is a nagging kind of a fear. It is not like the fear for one’s future, one’s financial situation, ones separation from a loved one, of having a terrible accident. These are false fears that actually never will happen. But death is inevitable and the fear of it is very real when people are really possessive of their bodies.
There’s this old gospel song, “When I'm growing old and feeble, When the storms of life are raging, Stand by me”. Also the key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement - the song "We Will Overcome" comes to mind. Unlike praying for this, or hoping for such, we can look to the scriptures for some advice as to what concrete steps that we can take to get rid of this nagging fear. The Buddha says there are four reasons why death scares us, as us in fear. First is attachment to the body. Second is attachment to sensual pleasures. Third is the knowledge that we’ve done cruel and horrible things to other people, to other beings, and fear that after death we’re going to be punished for it. And the fourth reason is not having seen the true Dhamma, having doubts about the true Dhamma. If we are to learn to overcome these four causes of fear, death won’t bring suffering. If we are to learn to deal with our fear of death so that it won’t freak us out, we must see these four points in ourselves.
Take the first two of the four points. It’s easy for us to see that there are lots of drawbacks to sensual desire but part of the mind refuses go that way. It’s afraid, because if we don’t get immersed in sensual desires, we fear there is going to be no pleasure in life at all. Even if the first two points may sound rather difficult, could we not be true to the third point? Then at a later date we can take up the first two.
Regarding the third of the four points, Thanissaro Bhikku once wrote:
“These are the activities that we have to engage in order to prepare, in order to withstand the storm—not just before the storm hits, but all the way throughout the storm. Being generous, observing the precepts, and meditating keep us strong, keep us from getting blown away. If your survival is accomplished without generosity, without virtue, without meditation, it’s not worth much. It’s not the sort of survival that keeps you healthy and well-nourished. You look at survivors of war, who had to go and kill and steal and cheat and bomb, and then go into a lot of denial about it. Look at all the veterans of past wars, emotionally scarred for life. They did survive, but at a huge cost, the cost of the skilful roots in the mind. It’s by nourishing the skilful roots that the health of the mind survives. Even if we have to leave this particular body, at least the mind has the potential for sending out skilful roots wherever it finds itself the next time around. It’s nourished with its inner sense of well-being, truthfulness, self-honesty. You look at your behaviour and there’s nothing you have to hide from yourself.”
Regarding the fourth point, the purification by overcoming doubt (kankhāvitarana-visuddhi) 'purification by overcoming doubt', is the 4th of the 7 stages of purification (saptha visuddhi). But this a another subject altogether.