Looking back at this life

We will all be dead soon, waking up in our next life. This’ll happen within a few hundred months at most, or maybe even next year, or next month, or next week, or tomorrow, or even today. All that’s going with me is my mind, more or less purified and controlled, and the karmic potentials from the actions I have done.

Trish, a friend of mine aged around 55, once asked me with great interest: “What would you do if you had only two months left to live?” This wasn’t just a theoretical question — she had just been diagnosed with cancer and deathdied two months later. And if you think about it, this never is just a theoretical question, for we have no idea how long we have left in this life.

A very helpful practice, I find, for instantly getting perspective on what is valuable today is to think that I’m already in my next life looking back on this life, which is now my past life, and seeing whether I am satisfied with what I did in this life? Would I thank myself?! Would I have done anything differently? What is important?

(You know those interviews where people describe, for example, “52 things I wish I could tell my younger self”?! It’s a bit like that, only on a more cosmic scale.)

This makes me appreciate what a precious human life I have now, and how, as Buddha said, this world is not my permanent home, I am just a traveler passing through.

Life is suffering, of course, while we remain in samsara, and we have many challenges. Lots of horrible, sad things happen, including the loss of everything we like sooner or later, having to encounter things we don’t like on pretty much a daily basis, and so on. However, a characteristic of a precious human life, such as the one you have now, is that we are not so overwhelmed by our sufferings that we can do nothing about them.

What upsets us the most?
chickens scratching in dirt
Looking in the wrong place?!

I think it’s always worth remembering is that whenever we do not succumb to inappropriate attention, delusions cannot arise, and our mind remains peaceful and free. It remains peaceful and free because it is naturally peaceful and free. Our mind free from delusions is happy, content, and whole. We have everything we need. The ONLY thing that upsets our happiness and makes us experience mental pain is our delusions. The delusion of ignorance also make us believe that both solutions to this pain and ways to be happy are to be found outside the mind, so we waste our time scratching around; when in fact there is nothing there outside the mind.

However, the sooner we are convinced of the entirely creative power of our own minds, the sooner we will know that we can make ourselves happy; and that if we can gradually gain control over our thoughts and lives, the good times, no the best times, lie ahead, not behind, starting now. This is a proper relief. Looking back, I know I will appreciate the times I stopped myself following just my short-term preoccupations, and used my thoughts to fulfill my deepest wishes for happiness and freedom rather than subverting them. Instead of wasting valuable time thinking, for example, “Oh woe is me! I wish that person would talk to me! My life is going nowhere! My job is exhausting! My taxes are stressing me out!” I could be thinking “I’m so darned lucky, I have everything I need to make spiritual progress every single day and hour. I don’t care if that person talks to me or not, my happiness doesn’t actually depend on them but on love, and I can love them unconditionally whether they like it or not. My life is so going places because I’m training my mind. My job gives me a chance to help people, practice patience, remember other’s kindness, etc. Nothing will stress me out if I look at it the right way and I have that choice.”

Those are just examples, of course, off the top of my head – but whenever we notice ourselves experiencing any disgruntlement or mental pain whatsoever, it’s guaranteed that inappropriate attention is at work. We can learn to change our thoughts to take our minds and lives in another happier direction, on the path to liberation and enlightenment. Looking back, we’ll be very pleased that we did.

planet earth from spacePlus it’s a win-win because with the same positive thoughts we also enjoy ourselves now, in this life, as well as setting ourselves up for a great future – the same minds work for both.

Imagining ourselves as the person we’ll be in our next life and looking back at this one also helps us stop identifying so tightly with the self and hang-ups of this life – maybe a bit like someone in space looking back at Planet Earth. Space solves problems, grabbing on tightly does not.

Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha

Geshe-la meditating in his roomWhen I look back, what always strikes me the most is how lucky I am to have found my teacher, Geshe Kelsang. I feel like he’s been around me this entire life. His real nature is omniscient bliss and emptiness, and I consider him to be the kindest emanation of enlightened beings, who will take me wherever I want to go if I let him. I want to be sure that I never take this cosmic connection for granted, but to make it stronger in this life. I need for him to follow me into the next life and to stick around until I attain enlightenment. That is the one thing that is guaranteed to end my suffering and enable me to help others once and for all.

Looking back at this life from the next, I am quite amazed at this unprecedented opportunity to generate renunciation, love, compassion, wisdom, and Mahamudra realizations. These have the power to solve my problems both now – instantly – and in the future, and to make me and others totally happy. I have not found a problem yet that cannot be solved by applying the so-called “five seeds” of renunciation, bodhichitta, the wisdom realizing emptiness, generation stage Tantra, and completion stage Tantra. And I have access to all of these, maybe for the first time in aeons, if ever; as well as the companionship of tens of thousands of people also practicing this Dharma, including some spectacular friends. My life need be no different to the lives of the past Yogis, Mahasiddhas, and scholars whom I so much admire, who took advantage of their teacher and the Buddhist teachings. This includes of course Geshe-la himself, whose devotion to his own teacher Trijang Rinpoche I find inspiring.

If I look back and see that I have wasted my chance to gain deep realizations — to partake of this banquet of delight while it was all laid out before me — what would I say to my past self?

Forget the sideshows

side showWhat kind of relationships do we really want to have had with others, once we are looking back at these? Surely not sticky relationships that are built on the inappropriate attention of attachment? For not only do these end in pain, but in retrospect they seem like a massive waste of time, sideshows distracting us from the main attraction of this life.

An arresting (for me) verse in Geshe Kelsang’s new book The Oral Instructions of the Mahamudra:

Like mistakenly  believing
A poisonous drink to be nectar,
Attachment with grasping at objects of desire
Is the cause of great danger.

I have been deeply attached to every single living being at one point or another over countless previous lives, I have suffered grievously on their behalf; and where exactly has that got me, or us? Also, because attachment undermines our interest in anyone other than our object of attachment, it thwarts our love and compassion too, it seems to me. It’s about time I gave up the attachment that has sabotaged all my previous lives, and cultivated bodhichitta in its place.

Kind people

speaking of kindnessI find it helpful to look at my connections of this life and see how I would have wanted these to go if I was looking back at them, especially perhaps for people who have been kind to me. Hindsight is 20/20 after all. Today, for example, thinking about my parents, I realized again that I could never have asked for better ones, I couldn’t have invented better ones. Half a century of unconditional love and support, and counting. Wonderful people, kind examples; and my life has been interesting and brilliant thanks to them. Even Geshe-la said, rubbing his heart, that they were “very spiritual”. Chances of having such good parents the next time around?! Very slim. Depends on creating a huge number of good causes. So, am I making the most of these ones? And am I doing as much for them as I can? Maybe I need to ask them – hey, anything more I can do for you, ma and pa?! (They are reading this, because they also support my blog 😉  They are probably also embarrassed because they are modest and British. But, hey, life is short, and why wait to say stuff like this in the obituaries.)

I’d be interested to hear the perspective you gain when you look back at yourself in this life?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

33 thoughts on “Looking back at this life”

  1. Trisha was one of the people who helped establish my center in Northern California (I think?). I don’t know anything about her. I wish I did. I often think of all of the people who worked hard to establish my center in the beginning, long before I had even the slightest inkling about Dharma. This is sort of the same idea as “looking back on this life, which is now my past life, and seeing whether I am satisfied with what I did in this life? Would I thank myself?” From a cosmic perspective, I’m working hard to help Dharma to flourish in my town and in my world for every living being (of course!) but also for the future “me” of my future lives! In one way, I’m exactly like Trisha in that way in this context – doing what I can while I can for future people. It’s that thing about planting trees under whose shade you don’t expect to sit, only I’m certain I’m sitting in the shade of trees I planted right now because it’s the only explanation for the wild good fortune of having found this path! 😊 Anyway, having just logged off of my center’s monthly powa live-stream prayers when I read this, the profundity of everything you said feels amplified. And powa already felt extra meaningful to me today because I participated on behalf of a woman in my community who died this week. She was my age and died suddenly, leaving behind a young son. I am so thankful (and blown away by the fact that) Dharma gives me tools for coping and benefiting others in absolutely every instance. THANK YOU for writing this! 💚

  2. Grateful for the kindness of vgkg and all the kadampa teachers!!!
    If I could I would give all the insight I have now to all living beings.

    Change your mind, change your world!!

    Thank you Luna Kadampa!!!

    1. My pleasure.
      I agree, it is good to think about giving everyone all the insights that have helped us 🙂 That creates the causes to give Dharma.

  3. Thank you Luna for this beautiful article. Must say a real eye and mind opener.
    Much Luv, 💕🌈🙌👌🙏💚

  4. Hi Luna,
    Again,thank you so much for another beautiful article 😊.Looking back at this life,I don’t think I will believe the incredible,immeasurable good fortune that all other living beings and myself have received from Venerable Geshe la

  5. You have a wonderful way of synthesising pure Dharma with contemporary life and making sense of it. I thank you with all my heart.

  6. Beautiful article. My mum was diagnosed with throat cancer 4 weeks ago and she will have a few months left if she’s lucky. What strikes me the most is watching the sadness she feels knowing she is slowly deteriorating and with no real refuge. Geshela explains the signs of old age perfectly in Joyful Path. He explains how it’s difficult to eat and do any of the usual activities we all take for granted. Over the last few weeks my mum can’t eat or drink any more and is fed by a peg in her tummy. She can barely walk and i can see her life vitality slowing slipping away.

    I ask myself how i would feel if some one told me i had a few months to live! All i know is my faith and practice have slipped in this life down to my own actions. I can’t go back and change that. However i can continue to help others care for others and serve them the best i can till my next life. I ask Geshela daily for strength to do this. Caring for my mum every day is a powerful reminder that we all need to escape suffering. This is the second time i will lose some one i love so dearly however, in samsara i know it’s inevitable to be continually separated from those i love and feel the heart ache. Only our actions, refuge and faith in the Buddhas will help us in this life and our next. Precious human life is a powerful reminder of our opportunity.

  7. Thank you for your wonderful articles Luna. You are blessed to be able to share the dharma with all of us. I’m struggling this year with health issues, I lost my best friend to cancer 2 weeks ago, now my brother has had a heart attack and is in ICU. Things have been especially hard in samsara for me. I do medicine buddha prayers. I have been going to weekly classes for about 3 years & feel I am still a beginner. Suggestions on what to practice? I’m still very sad about my friend’s passing and feel like I may never get over it.

    1. dear Sisflower, I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through this hard time. I wonder if you can arrange to see your resident teacher so you can talk this through with a Sangha friend? Medicine Buddha is very good for your brother and you can also add him to the Kadampa prayer request group https://www.facebook.com/groups/507243279360049/ I will make prayers for your friend, your brother, and you. Let me know how you get on. Love xxx

      1. Thank you, dear Luna. I did as suggested & spoke to my teacher. She also added my brother to the prayer list (& he’s improved today, becoming alert & eating on his own!). She talked about I can use my friend’s death to encourage renunciation to escape samsara. I have a lot more thinking/meditating to do to rid myself of my self-grasping of thinking if my friend were still with me, I’d be happier. She explained how it’s my mind that decides whether to be peaceful or not… John & I started out together on this journey of learning about Buddhism so I’m missing my dharma partner terribly. Not much sangha where I’m at, so I have to rely on internet friends. Thank you so much for your reply. I read you articles faithfully! Blessings to you!

  8. Thank you to your ma and pa! Hello from Canada! I love your daughter’s blog!!!

  9. Intellectually, I agree whole heartedly and I aspire to complete concentration on my spiritual practice. But I also have fantastic external conditions, sometimes it seems I am already In a pure land. I can see how my attachments only make my mind harder and harder to please and take greater and greater risks, but it’s largely intellectual observation. I don’t have a visceral renunciation: I’m still having too much fun. I’m in the pleasure gardens embrace Amongst sangha who are whispering wisdom in my ear: their logic is clear but I’m not suffering enough to completely surrender. Would my future self be so pleased that I had such extraordinary external conditions and I rejected it for asceticism? Practicing non-attachment is not zero attachment but when your in the swirling oceans of Tantra you can lose you sense of direction rather quickly.

    1. Prince Siddhartha’s example is the best one for when we have so much good karma ripening — he had it all but knew the truth of suffering, that it will go on forever unless we stop it. For ourselves and others.

  10. Dear Luna,

    Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jun Miranda, the RT for Manila Kadampa Buddhist Centre. I have been following your blog. I found the titles of your blogs very catchy and witty so I have used a couple of them in my teachings. I hope you wouldn’t mind.

    with love,


    1. Hi Jun, lovely to hear from you, and how great that you teach Buddhism in Manila … how is it going, do people like it? Of course you can use anything from my blog. love, L

  11. What a helpful post. Thank you. Inappropriate intention causes so much trouble!

  12. Looking back 👀 if I’m on the next life today 👌 I’m saying 😊 with Geshe la in my heart I could’ve attained more realizations , so… He says; Try to practice Dharma without laziness and use your life in a meaningful way … Ok… Let me thank you now for your teachings Luna, I love ❤ the way they keep me on track 👏

  13. Thanks so much. Perfect day to read this having today been diagnosed with a potentially life threatening condition, and also today entering the bardo in my work life with one career naturally coming to a close and the next phase of my life not yet defined. This is welcome re-affirmation that Geshe’la is always guiding us onwards, and I love the idea of looking back on this life. I am sure I shall use that a lot as I make decisions on my new direction over the next few months. 🙂

    1. The bardo is sometimes the most creative place to be — so many possibilities open up if we allow ourselves to enjoy being up in the air for a while, not in a hurry to land. Wishing you luck, and let me know how you get on …

  14. I’ve been having a bit of crises of late. It has to do with developing believing faith. I’ve always been a skeptic, but give the benefit of doubt with some aspects of our dharma teachings which I find particularly hard to get my head around. Topics such as transference of consciousness, dedication of merit and purification frustrate the logical side of my thinking. Obviously, I’ve been told that faith can move mountains, a canard I was fed as a child to believe in God. But I need a faith in these practices based on more solid basis. For instance, I practice Vajrasattva daily for several years now and have begun to feel it’s a futile endeavor on my part. In addition, I want to put faith in Dorje Shugden, but can’t figure him out. I know the arguments based on mere appearance and that Geshe can be seen as our Dharma protector. I’m becoming incoherent and rambling, but feel real angst. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Eric, i think a good thing to do at times like this is go back to what you know works for you in Dharma — whether that is love, patience, wisdom realizing emptiness, or something else. Remember what connects you to Dharma and how much you love that and how much it has helped you. Keep giving the rest of it the benefit of the doubt but you don’t need to keep bashing your head against it — relax, and you’ll find that you’ll accept what you need to accept and the rest will wait til another day. There is plenty of Dharma to be getting on with. BTW, none of that Vajrasattva purification has been wasted.

  15. Thanks Luna for this wonderful article, it really settled me as ring into a finger, needed to hear again the extraordinary good fortune that I have to have found my spiritual guide in this life, I had to make a desicion, important for my future and needed to remember much of what you wrote here, i do not want to look in my next life looking back on this life, and realize that I wasted this opportunity to gain deep realizations, I would feel very sorry.
    You do not imagine how much it helped me to read your article precisely today!

  16. Thanks Luna! Your posts help a great deal, I love them! Advice looking back – use pain as a sign of a delusion in operation and take refuge. Enjoy life but know where to go for the true source of happiness and go there often. Spread deep peace and lasting happiness for all in a spiritual sense and do it often. Gently let go of what you can’t control 😉

Leave a Reply