Last weeks we read Dharma Talks by the Grand Master, “CONTEMPLATE IMPERMANENCE TO REALIZE THE TRUE MIND.” What is the relationship between impermanence and suffering? Does impermanence necessarily cause suffering? Recognizing suffering is the first step to end suffering and bring true happiness.
從苦中解脫 - 1
The purpose of Zen practice is to help us transcend life and death and attain liberation from suffering. In order to obtain true liberation, we must first reflect on, examine, and realize what we cannot see through and let go. If there are attachments in our mind, we must learn to see through them, to let go. As long as we are the least bit entangled, that is the cause of vexation , the cause of life and death.
Human life is impermanent and very fragile.
As The Sutra of the Eight Realizations states,
“All the world is impermanent.
The earth is fragile and perilous.
The four great elements inhere in suffering and emptiness.
In the five skandhas there is no self.
All that arise, change, and perish,
Are illusive, unreal, and without a master.
Mind is the root of evil;
Body a reservoir of sin.
Thus observing and contemplating,
One gradually breaks free from birth and death.”
If we constantly reflect upon the words of this sutra and keep in our minds the importance of life and death, like quenching a raging fire, we can transcend our vexations and become at ease and liberated.
To break free from life and death, we must begin right now, using this very mind, this present mind. In order to transcend life and death, we must first understand what is life and death. Life and death is retribution; it is the result of past causes. Causes that we have sown in the past result in consequences of the present. Causes that are sown now result in future consequences. When there is a cause there is an effect. Without a cause, there is no effect. To transcend life and death, we must work diligently on the cause.
When we cultivate the Way and study Buddhism, we must first realize that life is suffering. Not understanding the truth of suffering is the cause of life and death. If we do not know what suffering is, we can never attain Buddhahood. Buddhism speaks of ‘suffering.’ We need to understand suffering in order to transcend suffering. We need to understand suffering in order to end suffering. If we do not have a thorough understanding or realization of suffering, our practice is futile. In China, Buddhism promotes the Greater Vehicle (Mahayana). Yet the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism. The Noble Eightfold Path, the thirty seven factors of enlightenment, and the Four Noble Truths, these are Theravada teachings. Therefore, if we do not understand the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, we cannot understand the Mayahana doctrine.
Buddhism speaks of the Four Noble Truths: “suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Path.” To cultivate the Way, we must clearly and firmly understand the Four Noble Truths: understand suffering, exterminate the cause of suffering, yearn for the cessation of suffering, and practice the Way. We must know what is suffering, eradicate the cause of suffering, long for the unending bliss and self-purification of nirvana, and practice the Way. We must eradicate our vexations and work toward nirvana.
Although some people know that life is suffering, they do not understand it thoroughly. Actually, suffering in life is very real.
For example, birth is suffering. Everyone is born of the mother’s womb. The newborn child cries lustily; this is because he has arrived into a new world and feels uncomfortable in it; he feels that life in this world is suffering. The child in the mother’s womb is in one world; after birth he is in another world. The air in the womb is different from that in the outside world. When a child is born into this world, it is as if a person from a tropical climate suddenly went to a chilly climate. The great difference in climate is a kind of suffering.
If a child has sustained bad karma in a previous life, and now has bad parents and is in a bad family with unpleasant surroundings, if his mother has a bad temper, does not understand the meaning of life, the child will suffer in the womb of such a mother. If the mother likes to eat icy foods, the fetus feels as if it were in a chilly climate and suffers intensely. If the mother likes to eat food that is burning hot, the fetus will feel as if it were in a hot burning pan. To the fetus, the mother’s womb is like a prison. This is called the suffering of fetal-hell.
If husband and wife are ignorant, and maintain conjugal relations during pregnancy, and if the father has an infectious disease, it can be transmitted to the fetus. Some children are born with deformities or other transmissible diseases; some of these are due to past karma, some to present karma. These are all the sufferings of birth. The fetus in the mother’s womb is unable to control its own life. It is totally dependent on the influence of its parents. This is suffering.
The fetus suffers in the mother’s womb; it also suffers after birth. After the fetus is ten months old, it has to suffer outside the womb. When it passes through the birth canal, it is like being squeezed by mountains and the pain is very difficult to endure. If it happens that the mother has a difficult birth and a surgical delivery (Caesarian section) must be made, this is very dangerous for both mother and child. Furthermore, the baby’s skin is extremely sensitive. After he leaves the mother’s womb, anything that touches his skin causes excruciating pain. That is why the infant feels pain and cries. These are all sufferings of birth.
For the mother, birth of the first child causes suffering. At that time she no longer wants to have any more children. But often she becomes pregnant again very soon. This is ignorance. Just like when we are sick, we endure all kinds of suffering, but after our illness is healed, we soon forget all the suffering of illness. This is the same principle. No one can escape the suffering of birth, whether they are noble and rich, or lowly and poor. Everyone is born from the mother’s womb. Everyone must endure this. This is the suffering of birth.
人一出生之後就逐漸老化，沒老之前，每個人都會生病，沒有那一個不生病的。古德云：「英雄只怕病來纏」，三國時代蜀國大將張飛，驍勇善戰，孔明 提醒他說：張將軍啊！我看你什麼都不怕，不過有一件事你一定會怕的，於是寫了一個「病」字在他手掌上，張飛一看，馬上就流淚了。現在雖然身強力壯，但是抵 不過人生無常，說不定過幾天病就來了，到那時病苦纏身，任何英雄偉業也無法成就；對修行人而言，念佛也不能念、打坐也不能打，想要用功都很難。
As soon as we are born we gradually start to age. Before we are old, we are all subject to illness. No one is free from illness. The ancients say, “The hero only fears the clutches of disease.” In Chinese history, during the period of the Three Kingdoms, the great general Chang Fei of the Shou empire,was courageous in battle. However, Kung Ming reminded him by saying, “General Chang! I see that you are not afraid of anything, but there is one thing that you must surely fear.” So he wrote the word “illness” on the general’s hand. When Chang Fei saw this, he immediately broke into tears. Now, even though we are strong and healthy, we cannot escape from the impermanence of life. We may become sick in the near future; then when the suffering of illness besieges us, we will be unable to be heroic or perform great deeds. At that time, a cultivator of the way cannot even invoke the Buddha’s name, nor can he sit in meditation; he will find it difficult to cultivate.
所以在身體健康時，就要警惕生病時的苦痛，趕快用功。這個世界上，有錢人會生病，沒錢的人也一樣，病是非常公平的，無論你貧窮或富貴，只要生了病都一 樣要受苦，所以病是一件痛苦的事情。現在有很多病不是藥物可以治療的，並非有錢就可以醫治好，像愛滋病、癌症、糖尿病……等，這些疾病很多都是不容易治療 的。現在科學這麼發達，為什麼治不好﹖就是由於眾生的業。
Therefore, when we are in good health, we should be wary of the suffering of illness and be more diligent in our cultivation. In this world, both the rich and the poor are subject to illness. Illness is a great equalizer. No matter whether rich or poor, when sick, all have to suffer. Therefore illness is suffering. Now there are many incurable diseases such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and so forth ; even money cannot help to heal them. With all the advances in medicine, why are these diseases incurable? This is due to the karma of sentient beings.
現在科學很發達，但是再發達也沒有辦法發明一種藥，能夠把現在的病都治好。有很多病，歷經長時間的研究終於製造出解藥，不久之後卻又出現了一種新的疾 病，這種病又要經過長時間的研究，一年、二年甚至十年、二十年，都找不出解藥；以佛法的角度來看，就是因為眾生的「業障」。這世界上有癱瘓的植物人、愛滋 病、癌症、糖尿病，這些病都沒有藥物可根治，因為這是一種業果，業果現前時是很不容易轉的，除非有大願力、福德力，才能重報輕受。唯有透過修行，除去心中的貪瞋癡，才能做到心不為病所苦。
No matter how far medical research has advanced, so far it has not been able to find a medicine to cure many present diseases. After long periods of research to find an effective drug, new diseases still arise. These take another long period of research to find a cure. Even after one year, two years, ten years, or twenty years, no cure is found. According to Buddhism, this is because of the karmic obstacles of sentient beings. There are people in this world who are paralyzed and lead a vegetative existence. There are also people who have AIDS, cancer, and diabetes. There are no cures for these diseases. It is because these are karmic retributions. It is difficult to eradicate karmic retributions. One needs great vow and great merits to alleviate these. We can only overcome them and be relieved of the suffering caused by these diseases by diligent cultivation, by eradicating the greed, anger, and ignorance of our mind.
老苦 Old Age
As we grow older, we will all experience the suffering of old age. When people grow old, their backs begins to bend, the eyes lose their acuity, walking and eating all become a burden. The elderly seem very pitiful and the young tend to demean them. As soon as we are born, we begin to age. No one can evade old age. Growing old is suffering.
Some people think: I will start cultivating when I am old. But, when we are old, cultivation is more difficult. We want to listen to the Buddha Dharma, but we tend to fall asleep during the lecture. Our hearing deteriorates. When we sit in meditation, our whole body aches and we cannot sit for any length of time. We wish to make prostrations to the Buddha, but after we bow down we find it hard to get up. At this time, we will truly realize that old age is suffering. Life is impermanent, therefore we must not wait until we are old to start cultivating the Way. We must start working diligently at this very moment.
At the moment of death our suffering is even more intense. Our body is made up of the four great elements: earth, water, fire, and air. At the time of death, the four great elements are the first to break up. If it is the earth element that breaks up first, the body will become riddled with holes and begin to decay, our perception will be in a dreamlike state, all it sees are visions of mountains falling and the earth caving in. If the water element is the first to break up, there will be involuntary bodily discharge, and when dreaming at night, one will see floods everywhere and feel fright and terror, with no place to hide. If the fire element is the first to break up, the body will lose its warmth, like sick people whose bodies are cold and clammy. And at the time of death, there will be visions of fire burning everywhere. If the wind element is the first to break up, one will see fierce winds everywhere. If we have created a lot of bad karma in this life, at the time of death we will have frightful visions of hells, beasts, and hungry ghosts. To be freed from the sufferings of death, we must be diligent, perform good deeds, and work hard in giving rise to good thoughts.
If we practice samadhi until we achieve purity and tranquility of mind, until this mind attains vajra stillness, attains nirvana, and realizes emptiness, when the Bodhi mind manifests, when this mind achieves vajra samadhi, with no thought of life and death, then the four elements of our body will naturally become purified and perfected. Then our physical body will not decay, and we will achieve perfect merits.
If we are not diligent in our daily practice, at the time of death we will not only be plagued by the suffering of illness, but when the four elements of the body break up, the suffering will be intense and difficult to bear. Therefore the ancients say, “If the ordinary person does not cultivate the Way, at the time of death it will be like peeling the shell off a live turtle.” That is intense suffering.
Those who practice samadhi are constantly master of themselves, always maintaining an awareness that is not deluded. Their six senses are pure. Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind do not seek things from outside, and do not give rise to defilements. The mind constantly maintains stillness and wisdom. It is this way in the daytime as well as at night, in good times and bad times; it remains this way for one year, three years, or five generations. It can maintain this state even for ten years and twenty years. Thus one can transcend life and death even in this lifetime.
To transcend life and death we must begin with the mind. We should now practice letting our mind be the master of itself. If we wait until the time of death, that will be too late. Many people do not realize that they must constantly be diligent, that they must not waste time. For example, some people did not study Buddhism, when they hear that the “ten invocations” can help them attain the Pure Land of Amitabha, they do not wish to study any more. They feel that all they have to do at the time of death is make the ten invocations. This kind of thought is very dangerous.
The meaning of the “ten invocations (recitations) before death” is that we should always maintain right mindfulness and right samadhi, then at the time of death we will remember to invoke the Buddha’s name. If we did not constantly practice the Way, at the time of death when our perception and spirit are confused, our body is beset by illness, the four elements are breaking up, and we are suffering intensely, it will be difficult for us to have the right mindfulness to recite the Buddha’s name.
Therefore, we should practice the Way at all times. Many people do not understand this and do not practice now, yet they hope that Amitabha will welcome them at the time of death. Actually, the ‘ten invocations’ depend on constant right mindfulness. At the time of death when the four great elements break up, this mind should always maintain right samadhi. Therefore reciting the Buddha’s name is to practice samadhi. When we perfect our practice, arrive at tranquility of mind, then this mind abides in samadhi and wisdom, then we can be liberated from the suffering of life, aging, sickness, and death.
助念安心 ASSISTED RECITATION BRINGS PEACE OF MIND
Many people do not understand what “assisted invocation (recitation, chanting)” is. They think that it something we do for someone after they die. That is not correct. “True “assisted invocation” should be done before death, while the consciousness is just leaving the body; this helps give rise to the dying person’s right mindfulness. If we recite the sutras, chant the Buddha’s name, ask for blessings after the person has died, this will transfer these merits to the deceased so that their blessings and merits will increase and they will be reborn to a better state.
If we wish to be reborn in the Pure Land, we need to maintain right mindfulness. “Assisted invocation” is done when a person is near death, when he is still breathing, even though his mind may be in a state of confusion and delusion. At this time, relatives, friends and Dharma brothers, out of their compassion, recite “Amitofo” at his side. When the mind is in the state of confusion before death, when we hears the sound of people nearby reciting the Buddha’s name, this will awaken right mindfulness, so that we will quickly begin to recite the Buddha’s name. Whether one recites the sutras or the Buddha’s name, this will help the dying maintain right mindfulness and help him transcend life and death and arrive at the Pure Land.
“Assisted invocation” is to help assist the dying give rise to right mindfulness by reciting the sutras and chanting the Buddha’s name. If one can maintain this mindfulness till the end, then one can transcend life and death. It also depends on the blessings and merits of the deceased. Those who have blessings and merits can be reborn as humans. Therefore think about it carefully, it is dangerous if we only depend on others to perform assisted invocation.
The Amitayus sutras mention the “ten invocations at death.” At the time of death, if we sincerely recite the Buddha’s name, we will eventually be reborn in the Pure Land. But there are four kinds of Pure Land. 1) the land where the ordinary person and saint dwell together, 2) the Pure Land with remainder. 3) The true retribution majestic Pure Land, 4) the eternally peaceful and bright Pure Land.
Our present world is where the ordinary person and the saint dwell together. If we can be reborn in this world, it means that we are assured of good retribution. If a person has not studied Buddhism or has antagonistic thoughts about Buddhism, then at the time of death, if he hears the recitation of the Buddha’s name, he will be filled with fear and will discriminate against it. Then ‘assisted invocation’ will hardly be beneficial. At this time, we can only transfer our merits to him. To the dying, it is like people in this world who need money. We can obtain benefits for the dying by reciting the sutras, invoking the Buddha’s name, practicing good deeds and accumulating merits. Through the compassion of the Three Jewels, we can then dedicate our merits to the dying so that they can obtain blessings and benefits.
The method of ‘invocation of the Buddha’s name’ at the time of death is the result of the Buddha’s great mercy and compassion. He not only wishes to save the living but also to save those who are dying. “When a person is dying, his speech is virtuous.” At the time of death, a person will often feel compunction and remorse for his misdeeds, therefore he will only speak kind words.
For example, at the time of their execution, some criminals will feel remorseful, but they have already been sentenced to death, so remorse really cannot help them. But Buddhism is compassionate and impartial. The Bodhisattva’s mind is all embracing and limitless in compassion. It is truly “Mercy and compassion to all.” It wishes to liberate all beings. In order to insure that everyone will have a chance to repent, to have new hope, as long as the dying is truly repentant, the Bodhisattva will liberate him.
But if a person thinks he can depend on his luck and only begin to repent when he is dying, then this is foolish. We must transcend life and death at all times. We must always work diligently, maintain right mindfulness, and tranform our vexations. If we do not work hard at all times, and only hope that we will find someone to help us invoke the Buddha at the time of death, wait until the last minute before we start working hard and start invoking the Buddha, thus hoping to enter the Pure Land, that is totally unreliable.
Some people think that since they have helped others to recite the Buddha’s name , then at the time of their own death someone will surely be there to help them make invocations to the Buddha. This seems reasonable from the viewpoint of compassionate assistance. But we should not rely on others. We must be master of our own life and death. There is an old Chinese saying, “Eating satisfies our own hunger; facing life and death is our own business.” We must harbor this concept of life and death at all times, remind ourselves that the world is impermanent, that we must constantly practice diligently.
The ‘ten invocations at the time of death’ is an expedient means that the compassionate Buddha has established to save people from the five deadly sins and ten evils. Yet we have not committed the five deadly sins and ten evils now, so how could we be content just to sink into the evil realms. When we understand this principle, we must not wait until the time of death, we must practice diligently now.
(Life and death is a great turning point in human life.) No one can escape the suffering of death. If we do not practice diligently at all times and only hope to depend on the ‘ten invocations at death’, it would be very dangerous.
It is like being at the end of a drought when crops are bountiful, and instead of eating white rice and fresh vegetables, we eat dry grass and tree bark. That would be really foolish.
We need wisdom to practice and study Buddhism. Without wisdom it is difficult for our practice to be successful. If one does not usually light incense, but pleads with the Buddha at the last moment, that would be unwise. Therefore, we must constantly be mindful of birth and death, practice diligently as if a raging fire were about to burn us.
生死是什麼？就是 自己的執著和煩惱，有執著煩惱所以有生死之苦；眾生總是在大苦之中以小苦為樂，在短暫的欲樂追逐中起煩惱、生無明，受生死之苦。所以，要常思惟人生的苦， 明瞭苦的根源，才會積極轉化煩惱，從苦中解脫。明白了這些道理，不要有臨終時再來努力的依賴與等待。修行，要從現在開始。
What is life and death? It is our own attachments and vexations. Because of our attachments and vexations, there is the suffering of birth and death. Sentient beings always find joy in small sufferings amid great sufferings. In seeking short-lived joys, we are beset by vexations, ignorance, and face the sufferings of life and death. Therefore we must constantly reflect on the sufferings of life and realize the source of our suffering. Then we can transform vexations and be liberated from suffering. When we understand these principles, we will not wait until the time of death or depend on others to help us at that time. Cultivation should begin at this very moment.
下週待續 To be continued next week.
Does Buddhism have a pessimistic outlook on life? Why does it teach us to look at suffering? How does the First Noble truth help us in life? If Suffering is inevitable, how can we avoid them? Think about what cause these suffering.
省思 Reflections on the story
"Vexation is Bodhi" - Buddhism teaches us how to transform our thoughts by always being mindful of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Use good thoughts to overcome bad thoughts. Maintain our mind with compassion, equality, respect, and humility at all times. Continuously think about helping others, this mind then, is always the pure land of peace, liberty, and brightness.
Pledge to Dedicate Merits through Our practice
Abide in Right Mindfulness
Targets: 1,080,000 mins
Targets: 108,000 times
Targets: 10,800 times
Great Compassion Mantra
Targets: 108,000 times
Mantra for Detoxification
Targets: 1,080,000 times
Misfortune-Dispelling and Blessings Mantra
Targets: 108,000 times
During this difficult time, it is easy to feel restless and impatient. We might consciously or unconsciously manifest feelings of suspicion and intolerance towards others. However, we can replace these negative emotions with tolerance and caring through understanding how difficult it is for those who are infected.
Let our compassionate hearts bring forth healing, starting with our kind thoughts and tolerance. We can mindfully chant the sutras and meditate to pacify and purify our minds. Let’s dedicate the merits of our cultivation to world peace and wish for everyone to be free from suffering.
The Heart of Perfect Wisdom
The Heart of Prajñā Pāramitā Sutra, better known simply as the Heart Sutra, is one of the most important scriptures in Buddhism. It is memorized and chanted by millions of Buddhists around the world everyday. The Heart Sutra is the distillation of prajñā pāramitā, the most sublime and profound wisdom that can bring one to ultimate enlightenment.
Misfortune-Dispelling and Blessings Mantra
Misfortune is derived from the mind and is extinguished by the mind. All so called misfortunes are sufferings from retribution caused by past negative karmas. When karmic obstacles are cleared, the mind is relieved and realizes blessings.
To uphold this mantra, one should abide by Three Contemplations in One Mind. Contemplate emptiness (the empty nature of everything in the world) to expel misfortune; contemplate provisional existence to realize blessings. The former two contemplations are from one thought: expel misfortune and blessings will be realized. They are provisionally existent in the Dharma realms. This is Middle Way contemplation.
When one is deluded, blessings may be perceived as misfortune. When one is enlightened, misfortune may be perceived as blessings. The Tiantai Fourfold Teachings and Six Identities of the Buddha are applicable, and if you contemplate these teachings, you are on the way.
回向 Dedication of Merits
願一切眾生遠離災疫．皆成佛道 May all sentient beings be free from diseases and calamities, and all attain buddhahood.
Prevent diseases with right mindfulness Eliminate calamities and bring about auspiciousness
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