A Teaching on Death and Impermanence

gyalwai-3When you came to this human world, you came alone. When it is time to leave, you will leave alone. On the day of death, you would not be able to bring family, relatives, friends, wealth… all this is proven by history: our grandfather, grandmother, parents… when it was their time to leave, they left alone, and we will follow in their footsteps. Dying alone is only a matter of time, sooner or later it will happen. Since we know that death will definitely come, and death brings such suffering of fear, why are we not putting emphasis on death? Why are we not practicing the Dharma diligently? Why are we still not making great efforts? Only if one were mentally unsound, would one fail to consider this question. Someone who is normal will surely consider how he or she will accomplish the matter of liberation when death comes upon him or her.

In this world, there are many people who are much more intelligent and capable than us in terms of worldly mundane affairs. They spend a lot of time and energy to manage their careers and exert a great deal of effort at work. However after their death, they fall into the three lower realms. All of you should contemplate why it is that people of such ability and intellect are unable to attain liberation, and what caused this to happen? How should one whom is a Buddhist, behave? I’m not saying that you should not eat or not dress or not work in jobs. While we spend fifty percent of our time and energy on worldly matters, we can spend the other fifty percent on attaining liberation. If one is able to accomplish this, you are a good practitioner. If you put about eighty percent to one hundred percent of your time and energy into worldly affairs, and just invest twenty percent or less into pursuing liberation, then the merit you accumulate will not be enough to attain liberation. This is just like a weighing scale. Whichever side is heavier, the balance will sway in its favour and the lighter side will dangle upwards. The law of causality (cause and effect) is likewise. I sincerely hope that your practice will improve.

Tomorrow, I will leave this place. That is impermanence! You should all remember, one day you would all leave this place too. Sooner or later, one will leave this world. On the day that you leave this world, it is not certain that your teacher will be by your side, or where Dharma will be presented before you. If we do not have great merit, we cannot foretell the manner in which we will die. Maybe it would be death due to poisoning, or a car accident, or a fall, or when we go to sleep, we do not wake up anymore and die in our sleep. It could be that someone murders you or that you commit suicide. All kinds of karma could perpetuate your death and it could happen anytime, so you should all be prepared, and deploy the Dharma practice the moment you are facing death.

The best method to face death would be to apply bodhichitta and the wisdom of emptiness. To what extent has the individual been able to absorb the Dharma that he or she has learnt becomes very important. If one has been studying or researching in a very deep and vast way, but yet unable to absorb much, then it is irrelevant whether one is a layperson or a sangha; or even the number of years of practicing. That’s because on this day of death, you do not possess sufficient confidence in your mind. Therefore, one does not know where he or she will be going in the next life. This is called practicing blindly. When one practices without any motivation, direction and without any confidence, it is ‘blind practice’. Thus, we should definitely look for our root teacher, take the initiative to rely on him, and request the Dharma from him in a proper way. Without the root teacher guiding you, you will not succeed in your practice. If one has a root teacher, then one can peacefully practice the Dharma without any doubts. If you have faith in the teacher and in the Dharma, then you will definitely be advancing (on the path).

Although I am now here together with all of you, it is not possible for us to be together every day. Death could come any time. Every day, on the television and in newspapers, when we take a look, there is constant news of death. What we hear and see everywhere is the message of death. Death would befall us sooner or later, so why are we not considering the question of death? In terms of eating and dressing right now, we will not starve to death or be frozen to death, but if we do not put our energy into practice, then in the end, we would still be starved to death or die of cold, that is definite. When you are lying on bed waiting for death, unable to eat, isn’t that dying of starvation? Your whole life, you have been trying to earn money, make a fortune, but in the end, if you have to die of hunger, that would be a great pity. When we are dying, we can’t even swallow one mouthful of water, the body will slowly disintegrate, and our body strength will gradually fade away. This is how we will die slowly of hunger. Please think about this carefully. We have been enduring so much suffering and stress, pouring so much effort into maintaining this human body, but in the end, there is no way to keep it, it will finally degenerate and vanish. All appearances are impermanent. Once we understand impermanence, then even if one is unable to accomplish the other practices, just this understanding would be of immense help for us to face death. At the very least, you have some comprehension of death; it is no longer so frightening to you. Just like what we are practicing now in terms of the teachings on the bardo. After death, when one enters the bardo, we would at least have some comprehension about what is going on, knowing that ‘this is bardo’. In our mind, we would have this kind of recognition.

Today, one of my close vajra brothers at Yachen, Xie Er Bo, a very fat lama whom many people are acquainted with, has just passed on. Not only him, today I have also received four other telephone calls reporting the death of someone. One said, “My parents died”, another said, “My child died” and yet another relayed that his grandfather died. After another seventy or eighty years, all of us here would be dead. So don’t think too much. Your thinking functions are like a busy city of the mind. From the point of view of mental afflictions, following our worldly plans will never ever bring success. In the midst of carrying out our plans, we will die. After death, our next destination is also unknown. Our grandfather and grandmother, where did they go after their death? Which world are they in right now? What kind of suffering are they undergoing? We can’t hear their names now, and we can’t even imagine which direction they have gone to in their new world. After a few decades, we will be just like them. If we do not practice the Dharma, at the time of death, we can only watch helplessly as we leave behind everything in this world, this is great suffering indeed! Therefore, in our daily lives, as long as there is enough to eat and wear; life is stable; going out is convenient, that should be enough. We should not crave for too much. Apart from these, we should put our efforts into practicing the Dharma. Try to benefit sentient beings, only this is truly beneficial. Although Dharma practitioners will also die, the way we die is not the same. If we know the method for facing death, then it will be a great help for our future life.

So my most important advice to all of you today is, “Don’t forget death. If you forget death, your practice will definitely not improve.” You must constantly contemplate the impermanence of life. By doing so, renunciation and bodhichitta will arise easily. In order to deal with death in a more confident manner, there is only one way, practice diligently. Other than this, there is no other means. Putting your effort into practice is also the way to be liberated from samsara’s suffering and to save other sentient beings. So you should try to make the correct choice.

In this cycle of samsara, we have died countless times. If we were to become an animal in our next life, it would be very miserable. If you go and look at the ocean, at the bottom of the ocean, those creatures there are undergoing suffering. You don’t have to rely on visualisation, it is possible to just witness it with your own eyes. At the wet-markets and at slaughterhouses, animals are under going all the kinds of pain of death. Imagine it for a while, if you were a pig, or fish or frog, or a hungry-ghost… what would you do then? How are you to pass your days? All these animals were once humans, but because during their human lives, they did not practice the Dharma and having created negative karma where they fell into the animal realm. Now, I’m really begging all of you, please do make good use of your time to practice the Dharma, because you will definitely part from your spiritual teacher and leave this world one day. You will leave your families and friends, that is definite. You need not doubt this, it will happen; it is for sure and certain. This teaching is to remind all of you that death will come, impermanence will arrive, and we will all die. What am I here for? I am here to remind all of you in advance. Death is on the way, and you should make preparations. I am here to bring you this message, because I am afraid that you will forget about death in the midst of your busy lives.

Think of the massive earthquake in Sichuan in 2008. At that time, the situation was horrific! When the earthquake happened, a person ran down from the 18th to the 1st floor and ran to somewhere several hundreds of kilometers away to hide. He did not care about his children or family, he only wished to save himself. At the time of facing death, that is the fear. All sentient beings regard their own lives as the most precious and protect it fiercely. At the most crucial moment, you will definitely abandon all relatives and friends. Even if the entire planet’s wealth were to be presented to you, you would not agree to exchange it for your own life. Life is one’s most valuable possession. But many people do not know how to love themselves. They only know how to eat well, dress well, but this is something that even animals know how to do. Since humans have the ability to think and judge, and if you truly love your life, then use the Dharma to love life. This is the ultimate way, it is the wise way, and one can use the Dharma to liberate oneself from samsara’s sufferings and help other sentient beings. Those who deeply contemplate the sufferings of samsara are truly the people who love themselves.

Please think about it. If you die tomorrow, where would you go? Is there anyone who can answer me that he or she will definitely go to a such-and-such place? Is there such confidence? If one did not possess such confidence, what should one do? Death is coming quickly, we are already forty or fifty years old, there are not many years left. I am not trying to frighten you, this is the truth. Just reflect on the fifty or sixty years, which you have lived. Time has passed by in a flash, where precious human life has been wasted. What is there to be done in the remaining time? If one does not practice the Dharma, who is going liberate you? If one does not love oneself, who is going to love you? Although it is said that the blessings of the Triple Gem and spiritual teachers are inconceivable, if one did not have faith, this causal link cannot be established. Now, you have obtained a precious human life with its opportunities and freedoms, you have met spiritual teachers and the Dharma, this is such a rare chance, please do not just throw it away, please appreciate your good fortune and put in your greatest efforts!

All of you want to practice the Dharma diligently, so it is imperative to remind yourself that death is approaching. Death will come; we should remember this at all times. My incredible kind root teacher, Lama Achuk Rinpoche does not frequently teach us all kinds of pith instructions. Instead every day, he speaks to us about death and impermanence, so that we can practice the teachings of death and impermanence every day. All of you must remember this. The more a person feels in his heart the fear of death, the more fervently this person will wish to find the instructions for liberation. Those people whose mind is constantly being reminded of death and impermanence, will definitely progress in their practice. They will not regress from their faith in their teachers.

Today, we are together and happy, there is great joy and it is a rare occurrence. In these three or four years, I have not passed away, all of you are still alive, we were able to meet each other yesterday and today, it is truly not easy for this to happen! But one day, we will have to part. Not parting is impossible. Due to the operation of the law of causality, everyone’s karmic connection is different. In another one or two hours, we will all leave this place. When will be the next time that we are able to gather together again? This is something very difficult to accomplish! When will you be able to see me again is also uncertain. Death and impermanence may come suddenly and we will be caught totally unprepared.

A person is constantly changing every day. The next time we meet, would there be any changes in your level of practice? Please have some compassion on yourself! You should have some love for yourself! I know the pain and suffering in samsara, all of you have also felt it to some extent, but who will have so much love and compassion to tell you these things? Who would repeat these in front of you over and over again? Even if I were to say it, you will not listen. You will say, “What right do you have to tell me this?” This is the way of the common people. So remember death. Every day, you should put this into your practice. Every hour, you should practice this. Practice diligently, with great efforts, practice it repeatedly, again and again.

So contemplate seriously, and put your effort into practice. Always ask your root teacher if you have any questions in your practice. He is the one who will help you to resolve any queries or doubts in your practice. Those who are young should make even greater efforts. Even if you are young, you should be diligent because death has no correlation with age. It is not that death will only come when one is old. Even if a baby were born just yesterday, he could die today. Such cases do happen. Everyone should practice well. There is nothing complicated about practicing. It is very simple: don’t forget death. Every day one has to put death and impermanence into practice, then your renunciation, bodhichitta and faith in the Triple Gem and spiritual teacher will naturally grow and then one can start to look for a way.

All of you must practice well! Make efforts! The teacher can give you the method of practice, but one must practice it incessantly, put in the hard work without lapses. Liberation does not happen by itself spontaneously, it depends on one’s own efforts and hard work.

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