As Buddhists we are taught that death is an inevitable aspect of life, therefore we should not be surprised when death occurs. No matter our profession, or our skill or our knowledge, death comes to young and old alike. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Rennyo Shonin (the "second founder of Shinshu Buddhism" who lived in the 1400s), composed a letter specifically addressing this - it is read during every funeral and memorial service. The text is below. May all beings be able hear the Dharma and take refuge in the Three Treasures.
In attentively contemplating the fleeting nature of life, nothing is more fleeting than our journey through this world. It is an all too short dream. Has anyone lived for 10,000 years? Life swiftly passes, and how many have lived for even a hundred years?
Whether I am first or whether others are first; whether it is to be today or whether it is to be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who are sent off before us are countless as the drops of dew.
Though in the morning we may be radiant with health, in the evening we may be of white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever. And as we breath our last breath, our face loses its color. Our beloved ones gather and lament to no avail. The body is carried to an open field and disappears in smoke which smolders through the night, leaving only the white ashes. Is there any expression for such a sad plight?
The fragile nature of human life underlies both the young and old. We should therefore, all the sooner, turn our hearts to the singularly important matter of True Life. We should recite the Nembutsu upon having completely entrusted all that we are to the Buddha Amida.
In gratitude do we acknowledge these words...
Excerpted from Rites of Passage: Death, by Revs. Arthur Takemoto, Masao Kodani, and Russell Hamada, ISBN 0-912624-07-8