Memento mori (Part 1)


An Ancient Roman Saying

Memento mori is a word which was used in middle-age Europe. Memento means “remember”, and mori means “mortal”. Mortal has two meanings. One meaning, the adjective, is “must die,” and the other meaning, the noun, is “human”. Therefore, “memento mori” means, ‘remember that human beings are an existence which they must someday die’. It is telling us not to forget that we all will die.

Human beings’ fear of death

We have fear towards death. In Japan, people dislike the number “4”. It is because the pronunciation of this number is the same as the word “death”. For this reason, there is no room 4 in hospitals and hotels. People fear death and try to forget it by avoiding it in everyday life. They believe that this is the best way to lead a happy and bright life. However, the word, Memento mori, is the complete opposite; it infers not to forget about death.

A Philosophy which considers death

Philosopher, Montenu, says, “Philosophy, ultimately, is a study of death.” Philosophers who thoroughly thought about life reached the conclusion that they cannot avoid the problem of death. To learn about life means to learn about death. This is the conclusion which Western philosophy reached.

Let’s look at Eastern Philosophy

Sakyamuni Buddha, who taught Buddhism 2600 years ago, taught “Shouji-ichinyo”. “Shou” means life, and “ji” means death. “ichinyo” means “like one thing.” This means, to think about life and death is like one thing. In order to live a bright and joyful life, we must prepare for our death. Everyone thinks that it is better to live happily right now and forget about death, which is very dark. Here is an explanation why this way of thinking does not actually work by using an analogy.

(To be continued...)

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #26 | 2013, Memento mori (Part 1)

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