|English:||old age and death|
|Glossary of Buddhism|
Jarāmaraṇa is Sanskrit and Pāli for "old age" (jarā) and "death" (maraṇa). In Buddhism, jaramarana is associated with the inevitable end-of-life suffering of all beings prior to their rebirth within saṃsāra (cyclic existence).
Jarā and maraṇa are identified with the Buddhist teachings in the following contexts:
- As aspects of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness) within the teachings on the Four Noble Truths
- As the twelfth link within the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination
Within the Four Noble Truths
Within the teachings on the Four Noble Truths, jarā and maraṇa are identified as aspects of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, unsatisfactoriness). For example, The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth states:[a]
- "Now this, monks, is the noble truth of dukkha: birth (jāti) is dukkha, aging (jarā) is dukkha, death (maraṇa) is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.
Ajahn Sucitto explains that in addition to the physical discomfort or suffering involved in aging, jarā also involves mental discomfort:
- Jarā, the Pāli word for the aging process, means maturing—not only just getting old. Growing up is unsatisfactory because you start to get affected by all the stuff of a confused world. There’s a lot said nowadays about having been emotionally (let alone physically) damaged as a child. Is there anybody who hasn’t been damaged—by their parents, their uncle, their school, or their dog? Then what about falling under the influence of social prejudice, competitive behavior patterning, sexism, racism . . . whatever happened to our childhood innocence? It’s scarred and stained by something sooner or later, isn’t it? Psychologically we start to develop instincts and habits, and even good habits that provide comfort and security blunt the joyful wonder of childhood consciousness.
Maraṇa refers to physical death and dying as well as the ending of experiences. Ajahn Sucitto explains the difficulty or suffering (dukkha) involved in maraṇa:
- Death and dying generally involve a certain amount of pain and degradation, as well as grieving. We imagine that death only happens to older people, but that’s not true—human beings are always surrounded by forces of destruction that can terminate their lives at any moment. Life involves a lot of stressful holding on, even for ducks and squirrels, let alone for human beings who have surrounded themselves with, or invented, fire, electricity, cars, and lots of weapons. These are all created to make our life more secure, yet they are all very common sources of wounding and death. The fear of discomfort or of loss of security fills our life with potentially deadly things. As the Buddha explained it, death may also refer to the disappearance of any mental or physical experience. When something pleasant ends, we can feel sad, or, if it wasn’t too important, we can remember it and form some kind of view or opinion about it. When it’s something you’ve created, perhaps a painting, for instance, you might feel critical of your work; or, maybe if you have no self-criticisms in the present moment, that feeling of success might set up a pattern of expectation for your next painting, or for someone else’s painting. This can happen with anything that you’ve done; you think back on it and see its flaws. Alternatively, if it was something you enjoyed doing and now it is finished—that also brings an unhappy feeling, a feeling of longing or nostalgia. Death is the ending of the known and the familiar. So when we come to the end of something, we reach out for something new to hold on to. For example, after a meal, we can go for a walk, or maybe have a rest, or there’s conversation in which we can bring back the pleasant past, or plan for a pleasant future, or create and sustain a pleasant present. All of that is the movement toward birth (jāti).
Within the discourses
Jarā and maraṇa are identified within the Buddha's first discourse, The Discourse That Sets Turning the Wheel of Truth, as aspects of dukkha (suffering):
- "The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering..., death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering."
Elsewhere in the canon the Buddha further elaborates on both terms:
- "And what is aging? Whatever aging, decrepitude, brokenness, graying, wrinkling, decline of life-force, weakening of the faculties of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called aging.
- "And what is death? Whatever deceasing, passing away, breaking up, disappearance, dying, death, completion of time, break up of the aggregates, casting off of the body, interruption in the life faculty of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called death."
- I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging....
- I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness....
- I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death....
In the Pali Canon, aging and death affect all beings, including gods, humans, animals and those born in a hell realm. Only beings who achieve enlightenment (bodhi) in this lifetime escape rebirth in this cycle of birth-and-death (saṃsāra).
Late in his life, the Buddha expresses disgust with aging and death in the Jarā Sutta:
- I spit on you, old age —
- old age that makes for ugliness.
- The bodily image, so charming,
- is trampled by old age.
- Even those who live to a hundred
- are headed — all — to an end in death,
- which spares no one,
- which tramples all.
Echoing the Jarā Sutta's verse, the closing couplet of the Soṇā Sutta records the words of a newly enlightened bhikkhuni, celebrating her transcendence of saṃsāra:
- In this translation by John T. Bullit, Bullit leaves the term "dukkha" untranslated. The main article that presents this translation is The Four Noble Truths.[web 1] Links to each line in the translation are as follows: line 1: First Noble Truth; line 2: Second Noble Truth; line 3: Third Noble Truth; line 4: Fourth Noble Truth.
- See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 279, entry for "Jarā," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:1721.pali. More than simply "old age," the PED provides the additional meanings of "decay, decrepitude"; and, these additional translations are reflected in the Buddha's reputed words in the Jarā Sutta (below). However, for the sake of semantic conciseness, the compound term jarā-maraṇa is here represented as "old age and death."
- See Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 524, entry for "Maraṇa," retrieved 19 Nov 2008 from "U. Chicago" at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.2:1:3896.pali. The PED further contextualizes maraṇa with "death, as ending this (visible) existence, physical death...." That is, in Buddhism, maraṇa does not refer to death of the conscious process or the end of the associated suffering.
- Ajahn Sucitto 2010, pp. 38-39.
- Ajahn Sucitto 2010, pp. 40-41.
- Boldface added. This formula can be found, for instance, in the Buddha's first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Piyadassi, 1999), as well as in his famed Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Thanissaro, 2000). (Note that the former sutta also includes the phrase "... sickness is suffering ..." which has been elided from the quote used in this article to reflect the common text between the two identified discourses.)
- See, for instance, SN 12.2 (Thanissaro, 1997a) and DN 22 (Thanissaro, 2000).
- AN 5.57 (trans. Thanissaro, 1997b). Elided from this text is the recurring phrase: "... one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained"
- In other words, a significant distinction between Buddhist and Judeo-Christian-Muslim cosmologies is that, in Buddhism, even gods and hell-born beings age and die in their respective realms and are destined to be reborn, possibly in another realm (whether hell, earth, heaven, etc.).
- In the Upanisā Sutta (SN 12.23; e.g., trans., Walshe, 1985), the Buddha describes a set of conditions that leads one from birth to enlightenment. In this "transcendental" sequence that leads out of saṃsāra, birth leads to suffering (dukkha) – instead of aging-and-death – which in turn leads to faith (saddha), which Bhikkhu Bodhi describes as "essentially an attitude of trust and commitment directed to ultimate emancipation" (Bodhi, 1980).
- SN 48.41 (trans., Thanissaro, 1998a).
- Thig 5.8 (trans., Thanissaro, 1998b). For this nun (bhikkhuni), "there now no further becoming" (Pali: natthi dāni punabbhavo) because she has become enlightened.
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (1980). Transcendental Dependent Arising: A Translation and Exposition of the Upanisa Sutta (Wheel Nos. 277-278). Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society. Retrieved 18 Nov 2008 from "Access to Insight" (1995) at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel277.html.
- Piyadassi Thera (trans.) (1999). Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth (SN 56.11). Retrieved 2007-06-13 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.piya.html.
- Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.) (1921-5). The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary. Chipstead: Pali Text Society. A general on-line search engine for the PED is available at http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/pali/.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997a). Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of Dependent Co-arising (SN 12.2). Retrieved 2007-06-20 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/sutta/samyutta/sn-12-002-tb0.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1997b). Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation (AN 5.57). Retrieved 18 Nov 2008 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.057.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1998a). Jara Sutta: Old Age (SN 48.41). Retrieved 18 Nov 2008 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn48/sn48.041.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1998b). Sona: Mother of Ten (Thig 5.8). Retrieved 18 Nov 2008 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.05.08.than.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (2000). Maha-satipatthana Sutta: The Great Frames of Reference (DN 22). Retrieved 2007-06-20 from "Access to Insight" at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.22.0.than.html.
- Walshe, Maurice O'C. (trans.) (1985). Upanisaa Sutta: Upanisaa (excerpt) (SN 12.23). Retrieved 18 Nov 2008 from "Access to Insight" (2007) at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.023x.wlsh.html.
- Ajahn Sumedho (2002), The Four Noble Truths, Amaravati Publications
- Ajahn Sucitto (2010), Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching, Shambhala
- Bhikkhu, Thanissaro (1997), Tittha Sutta: Sectarians, AN 3.61, retrieved 12 November 2007
- Bodhi, Bhikkhu (2000), The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Boston: Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-331-1
- Brahm, Ajahn (2006), Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook, Wisdom Publications, ISBN 0-86171-275-7