Monday, August 14, 2017

2) Impermanence and death

"This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds.
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movement of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain".[1]

Nothing that can be found in samsara lasts forever: the outer universe, the bodies of beings in various states of existence, the social status and wealth, our so called "spiritual achievements", etc.

The great world systems with their various realms and planets that appear due to collective karma of beings inhabiting them will disintegrate one day. Then other worlds will be born and die again.[2] The long-living gods of higher states of existence know death too, just like any samsaric being. Rulers of vast celestial realms as well as rulers of humans will also die and their kingdoms will dissapear. Rich and poor, succesful people or losers, all will leave their present bodies and will not take with them any of their worldly achievements or failure. Death is indeed, the great equalizer:

“Just as mountains of solid rock,
Massive, reaching to the sky,
Might draw together from all sides,
Crushing all in the four quarters -
So aging and death come
Rolling over living beings -

Warriors, brahmins, traders, hunters,
Outcasts and scavengers:
They spare none along the way
But come crushing everything.
There’s no hope there for victory [against aging and death]
By elephant troops, chariots, and infantry.
One can’t defeat them by subterfuge,
Or buy them off by means of wealth.

Therefore a person of wisdom here,
Out of regard for his own good,
Steadfast, should settle faith
In the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha[3]."[4]

As mentioned in the 1st part, human life is very short in comparison with the lifetime of gods, asuras and even some beings in the lower realms, and is not fixed. Thus, we can die anytime, even when young. As Nagarjuna said:

"Life flickers in the flurries of a thousand ills,
More fragile than a bubble in a stream.
In sleep, each breath departs and is again drawn in;
How wondrous that we wake up living still!"

Indeed, as unpredictable as life is in human form, we should consider it a miracle that we have reached the years we have now, and so we should strive more to understand Amida Dharma and receive faith.

A renowned Buddhist master[5] gave the following good advice on how we should think on death in every circumstance of our life:

“Meditate single-mindedly on death, all the time and in every circumstance. While standing up, sitting or lying down, tell yourself: 'This is my last act in this world', and meditate on it with utter conviction. On your way to wherever you might be going, say to yourself: 'Maybe I will die there. There is no certainty that I will ever come back.' When you set out on a journey or pause to rest, ask yourself: 'Will I die here?' Wherever you are, you should wonder if this might be where you die. At night, when you lie down, ask yourself whether you might die in bed during the night or whether you can be sure that you are going to get up in the morning. When you rise, ask yourself whether you might die sometime during the day, and reflect that there is no certainty at all that you will be going to bed in the evening.”

If we reflect deeply as the above and become aware that we may die at any moment, we should never again postpone listening to Amida Dharma, ask questions to our teachers to solve our doubts and be sure we receive genuine faith in Amida Buddha. 

Rennyo Shonin said:

“Considering that the human realm is a place of uncertainty for young and old alike, we will surely undergo some sort of illness and die. Everyone must understand that, given the circumstances in a world like this, it is essential that faith be settled decisively and promptly - indeed, as soon as possible - and that we be assured of the birth to come in the Land of Utmost Bliss.”[6]

He also said:

“Because the impermanence of this world creates a condition of uncertainty for young and old alike, we should all immediately take to heart the most important matter, the afterlife, and, deeply entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha, say the nembutsu.”[7]

Awareness of death and impermanence is the best friend on the Buddhist path, and a sign of wisdom, even if we cannot read a single letter:

“It has been said that those who do not know the importance of the afterlife are foolish, even though they may understand eighty thousand sutras and teachings; those who know about the afterlife are wise, even though they may be unlettered men and women.”[8]

If we really understand death, knowing that it is always there, ready to strike at any time, causing us to lose our precious human birth, we will never lose time in Dharma matters.

Until receiving faith and entering the group of those assured of birth in the Pure Land we should focus as much as possible on listening again and again the Dharma about Amida, ask question to clear our doubts and discuss about faith with members and teachers. Also, even after receiving faith, we should treat Dharma matters as being of primary importance, and continue to listen deeply to it for the rest of our lives. Knowing that death may come at any time, we should find assurance in the Nembutsu of faith, and long for what is really eternal and never dies - the Pure Land of Peace and Bliss:

“If you wish to attain faith and entrust yourselves to Amida, first realize that human life endures only as long as a dream or an illusion and that the afterlife in the Pure Land is indeed the blissful result in eternity, that human life means the enjoyment of only fifty to a hundred years, and that the afterlife is the matter of greatest importance.”[9]

            In the same time with becoming aware of the impermanence of our bodies and the world arround us, we should understand deeply the impermanence of our so called "spiritual achievements".

This may be a hard to swallow truth, but Jodo Shinshu teaches us that our spiritual evolution is an illusion. What we think we obtained now, we can lose in the next moment.  The ego cannot evolve; all he really does is to constantly adapt himself to various coarse or refined attachments. From material pleasures to spiritual satisfaction and false Nirvanas, the possibilities of deceit are endless to those who rely on personal power. 

Looking at our life from the perspective of the impermanence of both our bodies and our so called "spiritual achievements", we can see things clearly and ask the right questions. What will happen to me if I die today? You should ask yourself this question - what will happen to you if you die today? Your so called virtues are shallow, so your next birth, which may come even today or while you are reading these lines, is uncertain if you do not rely on Amida. This is the only thing that matters to you now. You are the man in front of the two rivers of water and fire[10], you are surrounded from all parts by all kinds of dangers which you cannot defeat by yourself, and Amida is calling on you. How can you not answer His call?

Especialy because you are an ordinary person, you can’t afford not to be sure where you go after death. So, if you encountered Amida’s helping hand, accept it immediately, without any second thought. You must not assume yourself any risk and do not allow death to catch you unprepared, that is, without faith (shinjin). Let smart guys and virtuous practitioners live in the so called „here and now”, realize emptiness, oneness, or whatever they say they realize, but you stay humble and cling to the sleeves of Amida. We, followers of Jodo Shinshu path, know we have no time to play with practices or concepts which are beyond our capacities and do not solve the problem of death and rebirth quickly. We are not the kind of people who can afford any risk in such a matter. 

Some people say that the nembutsu of faith is too much related with death and afterlife and that they prefer something (a practice or teaching) for the „here and now”. The world of spiritual seekers is filled with such ideas of "here and now" being a supreme goal, that we must learn to live in the "here and now", and not think to death or after death. But this separation is only a delusion. In truth, death is not separated from the „here and now” as breath which comes out might not be followed by the breath which comes in. In the „here and now” we can lose everything; in the „here and now” we and our loved ones can stop breathing, in the „here and now” we may suddenly find ourselves in the afterlife, losing this human form, the chance of listening the Amida Dharma and receive faith.

Like in the good movie, „Groundhog day”[11], the minds of unenlightened people dwell constantly in an  ever repeating „here and now”. Unfortunately, they like this ‚here and now’ so much that they even create spiritual ideologies to keep them focused on it. Being extremely attached to the ‚here and now’, they refuse to speak about death and rebirth, or the aspiration to be born in Amida’s Pure Land, calling it a reminiscent of folk religion or a distraction from the ‚here and now’. Unfortunately, they will also die one day, in the exact moment they dream about ‚here and now’ and will be born again, in another ‚here and now’ - the same here and now, but painted differently. How sad this is…

I know that the Buddhas always live in the here and now, because they transcended life and death, as well as any limitations of time and space, but are those practitioners whose mouths are filled with "here and now", really living in the here and now of the Buddhas? It is important to understand that unenlightened beings never dwell in the „here and now”, but only dream in the „here and now”. They move, they live, they die and are born again in the „here and now” dream and slavery of samsara. Without rebirth in the enlightened realm of Amida Buddha, ordinary beings cannot hope for true awakening.

Children should not behave like adults. Similarly, unenlightened beings should not imitate the speech and actions of Buddhas or Enlightened Masters of the past. Until we actually transcended birth and death and attained Buddhahood, we should not speak to much about "here and now" and forget death.  

Again, I urge all my Dharma friends to realize that there is NO time for the so-called spiritual evolution. All we have is this fragile moment, this short break before death and another uncertain rebirth. In this moment we either accept Amida’s helping hand or refuse it and waste our human life so hard to obtain. While deeply impressed by the impermanence of our human life and of our so-called spiritual realizations, I composed the following spontaneous verses:

There's no time, no time! There's no time for your so-called "spiritual evolution"!
All you really have is this fragile moment between life and the next uncertain rebirth, so please, don't rely on the "achievements" or "virtues" of your deluded ego!
As you cannot make a mirror by polishing a brick, you also cannot transform your self into a Buddha!
Understanding the two types of impermanence, of your body and your so-called "spiritual realizations", don't lose your time in vain, and entrust to Amida.
Only by being born in His Pure Land after death you can safely get out of samsara and be able to benefit all sentient beings.

[1] Shakyamuni Buddha, Lalitavistara Sutra.
[2] See the chapter, "Some Buddhist explanations on the origin and existence of the universe" from my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p 31.
[3] Read the chapter, "The Meaning of the Three Refuges in Jodo Shinshu" from my book, Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teachings, Dharma Lion Publications, 2012, p. 176, or the revised version at . Also, read the article, The Meaning of Arya Sangha in Jodo Shinshu at,
[4] Shakyamuni Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya, 3:25
[5] Patrul Rinpoche, Words of my Perfect Teacher.
[6] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: The Letters of Rennyo, translated from the Japanese (Taisho, Volume 74, Number 2668) by Ann T. Rogers and Minor L. Rogers, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Berkeley, California, 1996, p.102
[7] Idem, p.118-119
[8] Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: The Letters of Rennyo, translated from the Japanese (Taisho, Volume 74, Number 2668) by Ann T. Rogers and Minor L. Rogers, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Berkeley, California, 1996, p.107
[9] Idem p.23
[10] Read the Parable of the Two Rivers and the White Path, by Master Shan-tao, and my explanations, here,
[11] A movie in which the principal character repeats the same day over and over again.

0 comentarii:

NEW poems by Gansen John Welch