Master Sheng-yen talk, Sunday Oct.27, 1996, talk #? Ming-yee
Wang translating, Linda Peer transcribing, Guo-gu Shi corrected from the
Chinese, sending to Harry 2/97
The Dignity of Living and Dying
How one can have dignity in one's life and also in the death process.
This is a question that concerns a lot of people, both in the west as well
as in the East, in the last something like 30 year. Shih-fu says he himself
is not an expert on this matter of birth and death, but what he would like
to do is, from his own understanding of Buddha Dharma and from his own
observation of the phenomena of living and dying, he would like to give
Many scholars discuss the issue of birth and death, some from the point
of view of philosophy, some from the point of view of religion, some from
the point of view of medical science. Shih-fu says he does not have such
a broad knowledge of this matter. He only tries to present his understanding
of this issue from the point of view of Buddha Dharma, and he welcomes
any comments from the people here.
Today's talk can be divided into eight subsections, and after Shih-fu
has gone over these eight subsections people feel free to ask questions
or bring up your own point of view. Shih-fu welcomes questions and comments
at the end because this is a very vast subject. More people bring up their
ideas from different point of view, from different people, may bring different
insight to illuminate this question. It is very vast, it goes very deep,
and we have only about an hour and a half, so S-f will try his best to
say a few words about this topic. We have Michael here, who has expert
knowledge of Chinese, S-f just asked him to check my translation/interpretation,
and also S-f is very pleased that Michael said that even S-f's spoken Chinese
is pretty good.
Among the various Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition
has a lot to say about the issue, the question, the process, of living
and dying. Comparatively speaking, the Chinese Buddhist tradition usually
are less known for teaching about such matters. But today S-f still try
to present his talk based on the Chinese Buddhist teaching, so as such,
what he is going to say will not be along the line of teachings as presented
in Tibetan Buddhism about living, and especially about dying. But to the
extent that it is based on Buddha's teaching, so the primary concepts and
teachings about living and dying will be very similar. There could be minor
differences among different traditions.
THE FIRST SUBSECTION OF TODAY'S TALK IS about how one can change, can
transform, from the mentality of most ordinary people, or perceptions or
feelings of most ordinary people, to that of a Buddhist toward this issue
of birth, of living and dying. For most ordinary people, too often, in
many situations of life, one finds that one cannot control ones life, or
things does not happen according to one's intention and one seems to have
no way to make things happen along the direction that one would like things
to happen. Too often, one feels that one has no place or person to rely
on, to seek security from. And again, too often one finds that one does
not know where to go so far as one's life is concerned. These are the feelings,
these are the situations, that a lot of ordinary sentient beings typically
find themselves in, but we can change from this kind of mentality and perception
to one that has a sense of beauty of love, a sense of the value of love,
as well as power, one can affirm one's life, the meaning of one's life,
and also in this process one can help ones life grow and mature. So this
is the (typical or) appropriate mental attitude toward life from a Buddhist
point of view. So how can one make this transformation?
Having mentioned what the attitude of a Buddhist toward life is, it
is important to point out that, indeed, there are many Buddhists who have
a very negative attitude towards life. They feel that life is basically
a process of suffering. They feel that life is basically something of a
burden, and especially that physical body is something that we have to
bare with, to deal with, so long as we are alive. What these people do
not understand is that the Buddhist ideal of attaining enlightenment and
Buddhahood, or in other words developing the life of wisdom, that is possible
only when it is based on the human body, the human life. Without the human
body to practice, it is not possible for us to attain liberation and full
Buddhahood. Therefore the Buddha said that the human body is very difficult
to attain, and Buddha Dharma is, it is a rare opportunity for one to be
able to hear the Dharma. So in other words, it takes a human body in order
to practice so that we can attain the life of wisdom. So for, even thought
there are a lot of Buddhists who take ,a kind of negative attitude toward
life, that is a misunderstanding of the Dharma. If one has appropriate,
correct understanding of the Dharma, one would definitely treat life as
something very very valuable. Again some Buddhists may think that if you
want to attain Buddhahood, the best thing for you to do is to go to the
Pure Land, a Buddha Land. but even this kind of understanding is not quite
correct. What they don't realize is that for a Boddhisattva to attain Buddhahood
he has to appear in the form of a human body, he has to live through this
human life, and not in the form of any other kind of sentient being. And
also, it takes a human body, a human life, for one to be able to generate
that kind of Bodhisattva vow and practice the Bodhisattva path. So, the
whole process, from an ordinary sentient being, through the process of
becoming a bodhisattva at different levels, and then eventually attaining
Buddhahood, all of that has to be accomplished in the human realm.
The second point, or the second subsection, is that the process of life,
or we can say being born and the process of death, or the phenomenon of
death, these two things are really not separable. From the moment we were
born already it is the case that we have to die at one point, and the two
things are very intimately connected. So in this sense, birth itself, need
not be something so really joyful, nor need it be something to be considered
so much of a hazard, or trouble. Likewise death need not be considered
something as so sad. And obviously death need not be something so joyful
either. All of that depends on your attitude towards your life and your
death. If you do not know of the beauty of life, then your life can be
viewed, can be lived as something very pitiable. If you do not know of
the value of death, then death again is something very sad, very depressing.
But once you know that both life as well as death is a necessary part of
the process then you will find dignity in your life and you can also find
dignity in your death.
A lot of people think that life is something very joyful. However if
there is no dignity in your life, what is there to be happy about. A lot
of people think that death is something very sad, but if there is dignity
in your death why should you, why should anyone feel sad over your death?
So that leads to the question, where can we find dignity in our lives.
The third point is that, through the process of our lives, the content
of our lives, where can we find dignity? What do we mean by such dignity?
So, the dignity of life can be sought, can be found, in three aspects.
The meaning of life, the value of life, and the goal of life. So if you
can experience these in your life, it is in these areas that you can find
dignity. So, these three aspects, the meaning, the value, and the goal,
can be determined from, with many criteria. Such as ethical principles,
social standpoint (Linda says "relations"?), historical evaluation, philosophical
or religious/spiritual investigation.
With these different approaches it is possible for one to determine
whether in ones life there is such things as meaning, as value, and as
goal. Having said that, and indeed it's the case that one's life cannot
be separated from these aspects of ethical considerations, social considerations,
historical considerations, and in terms of the conceptual investigation
of philosophy and religion. But this is not what S-f wants to talk about
today. S-f only wants to address it from the point of view of Buddha Dharma.
...about these three aspects, meaning value and goal.
The first one, the meaning of life, the term that I have translated
as meaning we also might have translated as significance of life. In other
words, why should life be necessary? Why do we have to continue with this
life? What is the difference between living a long life and a short life?
From the Buddhist point of view, the meaning, the importance of life is
that with this life we can pay back our karmic debt from the past. Or,
let me phrase that another way. We can receive and accept the appropriate
karmic retribution from our actions in previous lifetime. This is the first
The second aspect is to fulfill all those vows that we have made in previous
lifetimes. So that is the meaning of life from the Buddhist perspective.
To accept karmic retribution and to fulfill our previous vows or promises.
A little clarification. The first part about accepting karmic retribution.
This obviously has to... is related to karma, to the principle of cause
and consequence. That is, whatever we have done in previous life times,
this life time we have to accept a certain amount of the retribution or
consequences from those karma from the past. The second aspect, to fulfill our previous vows or promises, this also has to do with karma, but specifically,
in our previous lifetime, if we had made certain promises and vows, especially
in the sense of the dharma practice, then this life time we have to, we
are obliged to, fulfill those previous promises.
Next, the value of life. This is not something assigned to you by another
person who looks at your life to say that your life has value, or has no
value, has little value or whatever. It has nothing to do with the judgement
of other people. It only rests on your making an attempt to do all.. to fulfill all your responsibilities. And to offer your life so that it can
be of help and use to other people. So it is in this kind of effort, that
you are trying to do all that is your responsibility, your duty, and simultaneously
with your very limited life, limited time and energy, you try to make the
best of your life, to be of the greatest use to others. Regardless of whether
others know of this kind of effort on your part. Regardless of whether
others understand that you are making this kind of effort. The value of
your life is simply in this effort to do your duty and to offer yourself.
So the idea about fulfilling your responsibility, when we live in a society
we all play various roles, as parents, as children, as spouses, as teachers,
as students. And with respect to each of these roles there is certain appropriate
action that is considered that is expected. To be a father, to be a mother,
you have the duty, you have the responsibility of a father or a mother.
Likewise, for any other role that you play in society, And so the idea
about fulfilling our responsibility is trying our best to do what is required
of us in our respective roles in different times of our life.
And then, beyond these responsibilities, as well as within these responsibilities,
we seek to do things that are beneficial to others without expecting that
others will pay us back. That is considered offering ourselves. Our only
concern is how to benefit others by various means, material as well as
spiritual. And to the extent that we can do this to one individual, to
two individuals or more, and also this is not limited to individuals. We
can say the same thing about our relationship with the natural environment,
we have certain responsibilities to the natural environment, and we can
also offer ourselves to the benefit of the natural environment. So all
of this would be considered fulfilling our responsibility and offering
ourselves for the benefit of others. These two kinds of activities all
belong to the realm of benefiting oneself as well as benefiting others.
Or in other words, practicing the Bodhisattva path. And this is the value
of a human life.
Now the goal of life, this is setting a major direction for where we
want to go with our life, and as such establishing a long term goal or
target for our lives. This includes making an effort to share everything
we have with other human beings, with all sentient beings. And also to
continue aspiring or making vows that kind of vows include, again the kind
of vows include that one's self will continue to grow and mature and continue
to offer ourselves endlessly. So, if we can set these as the goals of our
lifetime, in fact beyond the lifetime, doesn't matter if our current lifetime
is long or short, we can live ourselves with dignity. So this is the kind
of understanding about human life and about dignity from the teachings,
from the concept of Buddha Dharma. A lot of people would like to have dignity,
and they think of dignity as something that others should give them, that
they expect something from others, that others should respect them. But
no matter what, all of this is so called dignity gotten from others. But
as such that is not genuine dignity. Genuine dignity is only when you...
Genuine dignity can be found only in the way that you deal with or treat
your own life. It cannot be gotten from another person. Only when you yourself...only
when you give yourself dignity, that kind of dignity is dependable. When
your dignity depends on what is given to you by others, that kind of dignity
is not dependable.
Up to this point, is it clear to people here? What S-f has been saying?
Everybody feels he or she has this kind of dignity? (laughter) Now we
come to the fourth point, or the fourth subsection. That is, we have to
understand that both life as well as death, they are really two sides of
the same coin. In other words we should understand them...they are...we
should understand them as a necessary part of an unlimited process in space
and time. So there is no reason for you to be so attached to life. There
is no reason for you to be so afraid of death. Both life and death, they
are on the one hand, our rights, on the other hand, our responsibility.
So when you are alive, accept your life and make good use of your life.
When your life is about to come to an end, accept the end of your life
and welcome the end of your life.
On the one hand, we should not have aversion to out life, on the other
hand, we should not ... Let me say that again. We should not have version
to our life, and also we should not hope to hasten the end of life. We
should not hope that death should come to us sooner. Because both life
and death are our rights as well as our responsibility. That applies to
our life. That applies to our death. When it is not time for us to die
yet, it is not right for us to hasten things up, want to go faster, sooner.
When It is time for us to go, even if we try to hold on to life it would
Often S-f (Shih-fu) say to those people who are in the terminal stage,
especially cancer patients who are in the terminal stage, and S-f would
say to them, "do not simply wait there for death, Nor should you be afraid
of death. So long as you can live, even for one more minute, one more second,
that is good. Try to take advantage of it, and cherish living." But to
be afraid of death does not serve any purpose. In fact the more afraid
of death you are the sooner your life will end.
From the time a child knows of such a ting as life, we should also let
the child know of such a thing as death, and be prepared psychologically
to face death, because life and death are really not separable. Not only
one's own life and death, but also the life and death of friends, of relatives,
of other people. Death can happen at any time. So to know of the phenomenon
of death from a very early stage of one's life and to be psychologically
knowing of this eventual death, is better than when you when you shield
a child from the knowledge of death and then suddenly if something happens
the person is not prepared for it and it could be bad. It provides a much
healthier, much more wholesome, perspective of life, if one knows of both
life and death.
It is not that you should scare the kids with such a thing as death,
but rather you should let them know that death is not separate from life.
That such a thing as death will always eventually come. That does not mean
that one would simply sit still and wait for death to come. To know of
such a thing as death, and to be psychologically prepared for the eventual
coming of death, this kind of attitude is very beneficial to the maturity
of our wisdom. In the case of Shakyamuni Buddha, when he was very young,
probably in hi so called teenage, he came face to face to the reality of
the process of life: birth, old age, sickness and death. That triggered
him to eventually start a serious practice and eventually get enlightenment
and attain Buddhahood and help all sentient beings in the world. So all
of this started from Shakyamuni Buddha ready to accept or face the reality
of the process of one's life.
When you are still alive it is important that you respect life, that
you treasure this opportunity of life and try to make good use of your
life in the sense to make sure that you mature and grow in your wisdom
and offer your self, offer your life to the benefit of others. Other than
that there is no reason to be afraid of death. Nobody has a right to know
when you will die. All you need to know is, eventually you will die. Death
may come to you at any moment, or you may live to be over a hundred years.
All you need is to know that death will always come eventually. You don't
have to worry about when death will come.
In Taiwan, S-f has this householder disciple, his job was a judge. He
was a judge. He had deep faith in fortune telling, so he sought out many
astrologers, fortune tellers, and, interestingly, everybody told him that
you will die when you are sixty-nine. So by the time he got to sixty-nine
years old he quit his job, he made sure that he made arrangements for his
family, he distributed all his wealth to his family, whatever, and then
he was waiting for death to come. But he lived the year, throughout the
year, without any incident. So now he regrets. So he went to S-f and said,
"S-f, how come I did not die? Do you know the reason?" and S- f said, "What
is likely to have happened is that because you have accumulated a lot of
virtuous karma, and your virtuous karma effected the length of your life."
end tape 1
Well S-f told him, do not wait for death, do not be afraid of death.
But for every day that you are alive, do your best. Make use of your life.
Offer your life. So that you life can be meaningful, can be of value. Well,
this person continued to live to eighty-six before he died, and presumably
he did not go and seek the advice of astrologers again.
What about westerners? Do westerners believe in fortune telling and
So S-f says so really there is no point in having faith in these astrologies.
But anyway, the fifth point, or subsection, is, where does life come
from and after death where do we go? This is obviously a very important
question. Do people want to know? Yes? A lot of people make use of certain
philosophies or religions to establish some views as to where life comes
from, where they are going to go after death. And also some people rely
on certain kind of supernormal power, in the sense the power to know ones
previous lifetime, the power to know one's future lifetime, etc., trying
to find out where he came from previously, previous to this life, and where
he will go to after this lifetime. S-f says these kind of endeavor are typical
of the human pursuit, and human hopes and seeking, but they are not really
Chinese Confucionists had a saying that life and death depend on faith,
depend on fate. But What is this fate here? That was not well explained
within Confucionism. Confucius once said, "If life is not understood, how
would one know about death?" The Taoists, the Taoist master Lao-tzu also
had this saying that when one is born the ground of death starts moving.
Basically this says that the moment you are born the process of your death
already starts. Another saying of his, to come out of birth, to go into
death. Basically it refers to the same meaning. Therefore Lao-tzu told us
not to be afraid of death. The important thing is you follow the path,
or the Tao, important thing is you accumulate virtue and then so far as
death is concerned, just let it naturally come.
S-f actually considers this quite good. The important thing is make
use of our life to practice to offer our lives. Other than that, life and
death, just let things happen naturally. And then S-f says that he may
not know too much detail about western religions' point of view, but it
seems to have this idea that our life comes from a creator god and when
we die it is because this creator god wants to bring us back. So that is
also a very good ideal. That is there is no reason that we should be concerned,
that we should be afraid. Someone, some being will take care of the process
for us. In theism it is said that life originates from the whole of God.
At death, it will return to the whole of God. In Materialism, life and
death are treated as materialistic phenomena. Life is a light, lit; death
is a light, extinguished.
Western religions do not speak of a past life, but Buddhists believe
in this past life for every sentient being. Maybe it is because S-f is
a Buddhist, therefore he would like to believe in that he has a past, he
has a past life But then the question, Where do our lives come from? do
we have to resort to these supernormal powers to determine what our past
life was? It is not necessary and in fact won't do any good, because the
extension of past lives is also unlimited. One lifetime followed by the
other. It is not possible for us to trace back even with whatever supernormal
power you have to determine where all of these came...started.
That being the case, then we can come to the next subsection, or the
sixth point, here. That is, the point of view of a Buddhist towards birth
and death, or life and death. Buddhists believe that life started, or rather
life came from, a beginningless past. So if we just look at this life time,
the moment of death does not mean the end of the process. The moment of
birth was also not the beginning of the process. So what we see as our
lifetime now is only one segment out of an unbounded life process.
An analogy is like if we are continuously traveling. Today we come to
new York, tomorrow you may not be able to find this person in New York
because the person has traveled to Washington D.C. The day after tomorrow
he appears in Washington D.C. The day after he disappears from Washington
D.C. because he has gone to Chicago. So in any specific spot, that person
or that phenomenon appears for some time and then is gone.
So death does not equal the ending of life. It is the ending of a segment
only. what you may see as the end of this period of life actually signifies
the eventual beginning of yet a different period of life, for me , for
you, for another person, so you need to have no disappointment in life.
So the phenomena of life and death, if we use a more general term, the
arising and the perishing, can be divided into three kinds. The first kind
is this kind of arising and perishing that appears in every short moment,
every instant, so we can refer to that as instantaneous arising and perishing.
In other words, every instant there is something that changes in our mental
process, there is something that changes in our physical body. With respect
to these changes, we can also refer to them as births and deaths, but these
are births and deaths that occur in such a very short period of time.
It is only that the physical form of our body is still present that
we do not take notice of such minute changes in us and we do not think
of them as births and deaths. Actually, the cells of our body constantly
are going through these processes of births and deaths. Likewise the thoughts
in our mind constantly are going through these processes of thoughts appearing
and then thoughts disappearing. The second kind is a kind of birth and
death that we are more familiar with. Namely, the birth and death that
seems to last how many years, corresponding so called one human life span.
And this is referred to as the arising and perishing for one period of
time. Here one period especially refers to to the conventional one human
The third kind are referred to as the arising and perishing of the three
lifetimes. Three lifetimes referring to the previous lifetime, the current
lifetime and the future lifetime. These previous lifetimes are endless,
countless. Likewise the future lifetimes can be countless, endless. So
with respect to each of these previous, present, or future lifetimes, with
respect to any of these lifetimes we can point to something that is past
life with respect to this one, we can point to something that is future
life with respect to this one and something that is present. So very simply
put, there are countless previous lifetimes, there are countless future
This kind of concept gives us certain hope, gives us certain conciliation.
It also gives us the reason that in this life time, so long as we are alive,
we have to continue to live. So in this lifetime, if you think that you
are not living such a good life and you decide to commit suicide, is that
a good thing? No. Because when you commit suicide you are not being responsible
to your previous lifetimes. You are not doing justice to your present lifetime.
And you will cause disturbance to the path of your future lifetimes. Next,
S-f wants to go over the point that this process of life and death provide
immense hope for each sentient being. In other words, in this, in this
process of life and death, it gives us the opportunity for us to mature,
to grow. This kind of maturity, or we can say the sublimation of one's
life, can be divided into three kinds. First, with respect to ordinary
sentient beings, we can describe this arising and perishing of the three
types. In fact, it was mentioned earlier, arising and perishing of the
three types. So sentient beings go through this, and they go through it
in a manner in that there is... each of these conventional human life span
is followed yet by another such life span. So , as such, the birth and
death is divided into segments, one segment of the process followed by
another segment. Each segment corresponds to what we refer to as life span.
If you would only stay in this level, namely, have a lifetime followed
yet by another lifetime and yet another lifetime. That really in the long
run doesn't do us any good. It cannot , it cannot elevate or sublimate
the quality and the meaning of life. In order to do that we have to go
beyond this kind of segmental birth and death, but rather go to the next
kind, the second kind, which is called birth and death of the transformation
type. That is, the birth and death that corresponds to the sages. In other
words, that means to make use of Buddha Dharma to help us to practice,
to elevate or sublimate the meaning and the quality of our life.
Now, earlier we used the phrase, the transformation of birth and death.
What is the meaning of this term? It refers to the transformation or the
maturity of the body of merit and virtue. In other words, the practitioner
by this level could be a Bodhisattva or an arahat. He is on the path of
practice and his wisdom and compassion continue to grow, continue to deepen
or to mature. And that process always continues. And it is, the word "transformation"
refers to this body of merit and virtue which includes the wisdom and compassion.
At this level the being can still have a physical body. He may be without
a physical body, and in that situation he is basically using his mental
energy in the practice, in the cultivation of the path.
The third kind refers to the position of Buddhahood. It is where one
is simply beyond any such process of birth and death, so that is referred
to as the the stage where there is absolutely no birth and no death, the
stage of the great nirvana, where one transcends the physical body and
realizes the Dharma-body. . At that point the Buddha still can make use
of any appearance or form in any time and space, to help sentient beings
in the ocean of life and death. So as such, it seems that the various forms
that the Buddha can take, these forms themselves can still manifest the
phenomena of arising and perishing. In other words birth and death. But
so far as the Buddha is concerned, there is no attachment to birth and
death, there is no vexation or suffering of birth and death. Well, since
we have not reached Buddhahood, so let's come back to ...
(end side one, tape 2)...
The seventh point or subsection is, (birth and) death, how can we make
sure that death can come with dignity? Of course, if people are afraid
of death then S-f will not continue to speak on this topic. (uneasy laughter)
Well this is a very broad topic, so S-f wants to make a few points. In
fact, six altogether. The first one is this, when you can continue to live,
you should continue to live. You should seek to continue to live. If there
is no way out, that death is really immanent, cannot be changed, then you
should be, you should accept death with joy. You should be grateful to
the reality of life. You should also be grateful to the reality of death.
From the Ch'an's perspective, this process of birth and death applied
to different sentient beings can be of three kinds. The first kind, one
lives and dies according to one's karma. One has no control over when one
can be born, when one will die, and furthermore, even when one is alive,
one does not live one's life with clarity, and obviously death will come
when one's mind is not in clarity. So for such a sentient being, both one's
life as well as one's death happen in a state when one is very confused,
deluded. And the Chinese saying for this is "One, one live and die in the
dream... as if in a dream."
The second level is to be one's own master over life and death. Such
that for the person, living is OK, dying is OK. When one can live one does
the best and makes the best use of the life. When one has to die one embraces
death courageously. In this manner, when one is alive life is full of joy.
And the event of death will happen very clean cut, without any entanglement,
without any fear.
The third level is to transcend life and death. This is the great practitioner,
who has reached great enlightenment, deep enlightenment, and lives without
attaching to living and dies without fear of death. We can say that for
such a person, he cannot find life, he cannot find death. Meaning, not
only for him that life and death are the same, but rather, there is no
such thing as life and no such thing as death.
Now of these three levels of sentient beings, where do we fall? Well,
you can answer, "I haven't died yet, so I don't know where I fall." (laughter)
The second point, when we can be alive we can seek to continue to be
alive. And while we are alive we should make a good effort to elevate the
quality of our life and to purify our mind. Such a person would not seek death,
would not be afraid of death, and there is no reason that he should
be afraid of death. And also, we should be very grateful to the event of
death, because when death comes we no longer have to strive to fulfill all
our responsibilities as a human being in all aspects of our life, whatever
roles we play in this lifetime. In this lifetime because of the various
roles we play, there are so many, hundreds and thousands kinds of different
responsibilities that we have to fulfill. But once we die, we are no longer
expected to... we no longer have to make such a difficult effort to fulfill
such responsibilities. And furthermore, even better than that, with the
coming of death, we can bring all the merit and virtue that we have accumulated
in this life time and move forward to our next lifetime along the journey
of life, which should be full of joy and illumination for us.
S-f cautions us, saying that in spite of that, we should not have the
mentality that we should try to bring everything that we have in this life
time, our bank account, our spouses, our children, everything, bring them
to the next lifetime. That is not the right attitude. Also , there was
an interruption, a note was passed to S-f saying that time is up, the talk
should end. S-f vetoed that suggestion. Because S-f says that he was given
two hours to speak, but in the beginning some time was taken up by the
singing. That has nothing to do with him. (Shih-fu says) Continue? (clapping)
Oh, OK, thank you. Ha, ha ha ha ha, So happy! I'm tired.
The third point, the phenomena of life and death can be compared to
the sun rising from the east in the morning, the sun setting in the west
in the evening. When the sun sets, it only means that the sun moves beyond
what can be seen from the horizon. The sun does not disappear. When the
sun rises in the morning it does not mean that the sun suddenly comes into
being but rather it only says the sun can now be seen from say, about the
horizon. The sun does not appear and disappear from day to day, from morning
to evening. Likewise with us, the phenomenon of life and death seem to happen
again and again. But that applies only to the physical body. There is this
pure Buddha Nature in every one of us that never ceases. And this pure
Buddha Nature is ever present, just like the sun in the middle of the sky.
It does not matter what time of the day, whatever you see or not see, the
sun is always there. Likewise, the physical body may go through the process
of appearing and disappearing, but that has nothing to do with the pure
So, is death something to feel sad about? is death something to be afraid
of? Definitely not. Our future is full of hope.
The fourth point is that when death comes, if you can maintain the clarity
of your mind, if you can do that, then you should very courageously face
death with a joyful mind, and accept death. At this point, whatever things
you have done during your life, whether virtuous or not-virtuous, good
or bad karma, you should all be grateful, because they are all part of
your so called training experience. Whatever you have done in your past
at that... whatever you have done throughout your lifetime, at the moment
of your death there should be no resentment, no regret, no anger, no pride.
Bygone is bygone. At this moment the most important thing is to stride
forward to receive a beautiful future. And that is why the mental state
of a person when he or she dies is most important. Some people, when they
die, right around the time when they are about to die, they have thoughts
about all those things they have done in the past... in their life time,
those good things, those bad things, that may cause alot of regret and
suffering, etc. If people have that kind of mentality, of mental state,
then after their lifetime their future... after their death their future
life may not be so good. But however, if you can adopt what S-f just said,
namely at the moment of your death, no resentment, no regret, no anger,
no pride, and just try to stride forward to accept a beautiful future.
And the future will always be bright and illuminate. This bright and illuminating
future could be in the heavenly realm, could be in the Buddha Land, or
if you get reborn in the human realm you can again leave home and practice.
These are all different situations of a bright and illuminated future.
Now what determines the future lifetime after a person dies? There are
three important factors. The first factor is karma, namely, what good karma
you have done in the past, what bad karma you have done in the past. And
this is the first factor. The second is weight (degree) of retribution:
the more serious (heavier) retribution will be borne before the less serious
(lighter) ones. Thje third is habitual inclination. A person who has not
accumulated great virtue or committed serious crime, but has especially
strong habit, will be reborn following his or her inclination. The fourth
is condition, or cause and condition. Which means that whatever conditions
are most ripe for maturing. That is, you may have done alot of different
karma in the past, but a spacific karma have the right, have the most ripe
conditions to mature at this point. So if this is the case it is the conditions
are closest to you that determine your future life. There is a fifth factor,
namely your thought, or your mental state. In other words the most... of
this fifth factor it is really the thought in your mind when you die that
determines your future life time.
Sixth is aspiration/vow. Your vow will determine where you will be reborn
after death. I was asking S-f, when S-f mentioned the thought and the vows,
are these vows at the moment of your death or vows that you have been aspiring
to, making, all through your life time. S-f says unless you have been making
these vows and these aspirations throughout your life time it is very difficult
for you to have that kind of thought at the moment of death. So a practitioner
of Ch'an practice, we strive to have, namely, the thought, the last thought
in our mind determine our future lifetime and vow.
If we have our future lifetime dependent on either karma or conditions
(the first four factors), then it would tend to be in a more pitiable and
less reliable situation. The fifth point has to do with a different situation.
Earlier we talked about those people who can maintain the clarity of their
mind when they die. But what about those people who cannot maintain the
clarity of their mind when they die? or even if they, they may slip into
a coma or can be completely unconscious?
Then what about that? In that situations friends and relatives should
try to help them by, at their death bed, with great devotion and concentration
do chanting Buddha's name, sutra recitation, mantras recitation, Bodhisattva
name recitation, or simply sit close to him and do meditation. With these
practices use one's concentration power, samadhi power and ones, the power
of ones faith, help the consciousness of the person who is about to die,
such to, such that his consciousness should not be in that kind of fearful,
confused state. Give him assurance, stability and help his consciousness
to go in the direction of light and illumination. Such that he will not
be reborn in the lower realms. And this would definitely be helpful. So
for those people who die, especially those who cannot maintain the clarity
of their mind, it is important to have people who are alive, friends and
relatives, whatever, try to help such a person with their practice. And
it definitely is useful. S-f himself has clear experience of this.
Even practitioners, we cannot be so certain that when we die we can
really maintain our clarity, the clarity of our mind, through, up to the
last moment of our life. So it is important to rely on fellow practitioners
to help such practitioners. The sixth point, for the person who is sure
to die, we should not hastily use all kinds of instruments, hook him up,
and then have people cry loud around. When people do this it is only doing
harm, great harm to the deceased. So the dignity of death means helping
and allowing the person to die in the midst of peace, to die quietly, to
die in stability, to die in the midst of care. It is best to be free from
any kind of suffering, both physical and psychological. Either kind of
suffering can bring harm to the deceased for the future. (end tape 2)
The eighth subsection, indeed includes a lot of specific questions which
S-f does not want to get into, for example death in and accident, abortion,
or the death penalty. After death can the body be moved? and also about
this kind of deliverance in the Bardo state. What is meant by Bardo? And
also the question about, when a person is determined to be brain dead,
what should be done? A person is, is in a so called vegetable state. What
should be done? About giving donation of organs. Is it appropriate? Suicide?
And also for cancer patients in the terminal stage, should a patient be
let, should be allowed to die naturally or should some specific, can some
specific things be done to speed up the process. All of these questions,
S-f says he does not want to get into them now, and also finally, where
is the boundary between life and death? Religiously speaking, or medically
speaking, where is the boundary? All of these questions S-f says he would
rather let you people.... You people can investigate these issues. Yourself.
All of these questions mentioned here are very important issues, and
each one deserves a talk dedicated just for that question. However, the
basic principle of dying is peace and serenity. In doing so, the dignity
of death is observed.
We have five minutes to allow a couple of questions here. Anybody?
Ming-yee: Earlier, the question has to do with S-f mentioning offering
of one's life. There is a subjective part that you want to do something,
and then there is objective part that you actually manage to do something
beneficial to others that other people can perceive, can feel. S-f says
the more important is the subjective volition, motivation. But obviously
that there should be certain objective effect is also important.
Ming-Yee: The next question has to do with...S-F earlier said that the
dignity of one's life lies in one making the best effort to fulfill one's
responsibility to offer one's self to others. And so the dignity lies within,
not on how others judge you. And the question says, if you take this attitude,
others say that you are being too subjective, how do you respond to that
question. S-f says there is no real objectivity. One someone criticizes
you for being too subjective, his or her criticism is also subjective on
his part or her part. The important thing is that we need to have this
kind of genuine, heart felt, compassion and then try to do our best. S-f:
Any others? Yes? (qu. about alzheimer's disease. Can't hear it.)
Ming-yee: A patient of say, Alzheimer's may have no awareness of his
own life, so he may not know how to establish dignity in his own life.
But as friends and as relatives, we still have to treat him as a human
being and give him his dignity. Whether he, himself, can feel it is another
matter, but the person who lives together with such a person can still
feel that this person still has his dignity.
S-f: That's OK?
Ming-yee: The next question says, what if someone thinks that I can only
regain my dignity by dying, by killing myself? What do you say to such
a person? S-f says, the only thing you can say to such a person is, if
you really seek to die, then you have given up your right to live and also
your dignity. So in your action you are giving up your dignity. But for
such a person, he has deluded thinking. He has erroneous conception and
take what is without dignity to be with dignity. (Another question which
I cannot hear
Ming-yee: For someone who has seen Buddha Nature already, then the person
is in the midst of such light. This light is not referring to some kind
of sun light moon light, etc., but is kind of a state where one is free
from attachment and vexation. But this takes someone who has reached...
who has had the enlightenment experience already. For someone who has
not see the Buddha Nature in this manner, still one can at ordinary times
try to visualize this state of light. And then at the moment of death one
does not have the mental energy to continue to visualize the state of light,
but from many sources it was reported that very often at the moment of
death light experience does occur, and when it occurs, all a person needs
to do is have no fear and joyfully accept it and naturally one can be reborn
in the realm, either the heavenly realm or buddha land, or be born in a
good state in the human life. (another question) end ot tape.