Facing the Impermanence of Life
Teachings on the Four Convictions of Renunciation
By Khentrul Rinpoché Jamphel Lodrö
Rinpoché discusses the many obstacles that arise from failing to contemplate the nature of impermanence and the inevitability of our own death.
These teachings were recorded at the Rimé Institute in Belgrave, Australia on March 05, 2015
Ok so. Remember we are practicing stages of the Kalachakra preliminaries. Or we can say the preparations of Kalachakra completion practice. So we have external preparations, internal preparations. Internal preparations we have common internal preparations and unique uncommon preparations. So this stage we are the conclusion of the external preparations. First time we talk about remember, so if we aiming for gold mine or diamond mine inside the high mountain, we have to go through many obstacles and obscurations. So first, there is fences we have to go through before we reach the mountain. So that’s, we are that stage, so we are almost passing all the fences. The first fence we cannot, usually people cannot pass this fence because you don’t know what this fence is for and how can go through. Basically we don’t know that fence, what is made from. Is electrical? Can we touch? We cannot touch? So which means we are confusing the cause and effect. We are confusing our experiences and our existence. Where they come from and where we are heading to? But more likely where are we heading to. We have no idea. So that is the first fence, karma. And we have lack of realisation, that karmic cause and conditions, how works. The second fence, we’re not thinking of this true cause and conditions and we just stuck and attached with this sum of karmic results and then karmic existence, we just stuck there. So this fence should be like very sticky, strong sticky and you just weakening. That is samsara. Then the third fence. Maybe different people confuse different way. Some people they don’t know there is a fence and some people, this fence is fantastic and you don’t need passing. Or some people, this fence is too high and too strong and is impossible to pass. Which means that first one, you don’t know there is a fence, or what it is, you don’t know. Those people have no idea about the life and the death and only think about is that one. The second one, we think this fence is very good and there’s no better than this, so this also people, attached whatever this birth, and you cannot second think. The third one, this fence impossible to pass, this person just think everything is terrible and horrible in the world and angry with the world and you don’t know there is advantage and there is benefit, there is values if you know how to use, they don’t know that. But if somebody knows that, that means there is chance you can pass that fence. So which means, the reality meaning, if we know even this samsara is horrible, even this we are under control the karma, still, if we are skilful enough, our realisation is good enough, then we know our birth can be used as precious and can be used as practical, very practical, I can use as beneficial. So that means this person, these fences high, but still possible I can pass, but also I need to pass. So our precious human birth, remember we have to know two ways. One is the ultimate reality, the nature is perfect, so give us encouragement. And the second, everything cause and condition but there is so many conditions, good conditions already, so we have to make a few good conditions at. That is very much depending on our attitude, so you can do anything, it is reasonable you can do anything. You can use this opportunity. Because the reality is the ultimate reality is perfect and there’s many other good conditions present, then why not? How can be better than that? So that’s why we can use our precious human birth
And then another obstacle, another fence. We kind of falling into pride or laziness, “oh I have precious human birth. The best birth ever, I got it. All the opportunities I have, so one day I take this opportunity. I don’t have to do today, I don’t have to do this week, or next month or this year even. I can do next year. Or I can do when I’m close to the death”. When is close to the death, do you know? The critical question is when is the close to the death? How long? Do you know? Nobody have answer in this world. Nobody, not one single person has answer in this world in general. For this reason, we have to think the impermanence. So we have to think these two aspects of impermanence here. Certainty and uncertainty.
First think of the certainty of the death. Absolutely sure everybody has to die, which means you use this precious human birth one day. But one day we don’t know when. So that’s why uncertainty of the time of death. These two aspects we have to know. We know. Usually seems like we don’t know because we have misconception and bad habit, wrong habit, that’s all. We don’t have any valid reason and the death is far away, and we don’t have any logical reason that the death is far away. We only have habit thinking, thinking habit. So when we realise this, we’re not mucking around and we hurry up. Hurry up what? Hurry up another samsaric work? No. Hurry up to take the precious human birth, take the opportunity the precious human birth, very urgently. So maybe you think “what do you mean we are not doing samsaric work? We are in samsara. Our whole existence is samsaric, so what do you mean? We have to use samsara?”. Yes, you are right. All our whole existence is samsara yes. But do you know that when you use samsara, there is way of use samsara and becomes antidote of samsara. You use two wood, and you rubbing very fast and you make fire and you burn yourself. So similarly, you have to use samsaric stuff and to burn the samsara one day. One day completely burn, then samsara vanish. So two woods rubbing very fast and then the fire and burn themselves. “Oh two woods gone, two pieces of wood gone”. So like that way.
So this impermanence we talking about, in this particular subject, is related with death and our time of death. However, this shows many other things. What many other things show? This is sign of impermanence is natural. Impermanent is you don’t need to create. You don’t have to make even condition. As long as born, everything in samsaric existence born with impermanence, innately born impermanence. Because usually people have idea of what impermanence means. Some big change, like table is burn with fire and turned into charcoal and then disappear, something like that. Your vase broke and something is crushed, your car crushed, somebody died. One family member died, not exist anymore, all these things we think as impermanence. So that need condition we think, you know to smash your car need condition. You scratched, broke, everything you need condition. You die you need condition, sickness or accident, something. But that is very, very, very, very gross level of impermanence we can see. We don’t see the reason behind. Why everything can destroy? Why anything can be degenerate? Because we don’t see the subtle impermanence, or in another language we don’t see this innate impermanence, or we can say the nature of impermanence. So you born with impermanent means natural. If it’s not natural, first you born as not impermanent and then some other circumstances come and you become impermanent, but it is not. Everything is born with impermanence. Scientific methods show us solid things we think are very solid and not moving things, they are absolutely all the time moving and changing. That is one, showing one manifestation of impermanence. So impermanent is not only that, everything else is similar of those. That’s why everything decay and degenerate from the first moment, there’s no such thing really as first, but any moment of, if there is no changing, you cannot decay forever, cannot degenerate forever. Which means you cannot die forever, cannot these obvious happen things cannot occur. But if we have enough, have realisation of this subtle impermanence, and then so easy and natural to think of the uncertainty of death, time of death. This certainty of death and the uncertainty of time of death is so easy to know, and so easy to fear. And it’s so easy to condition for our practice. In that case we don’t have to really even wait for the big death and we kind of, some kind of realisation, every moment of death. Or even not realisation, you intellectually understand the momentary death, quite medium death every night we call sleep. So all of them we know. If we enough to contemplate this, even as intellectual, it’s quite strong logical intellectual and you engage with these thoughts, long enough or habitually enough, that gives you a lot of urgency and minimise the attachment’s. Both can come at the same time. Sounds like contradictory but when becomes Dharma practice then not contradictory.
Before I said we have obscurations, we have obstacles and obscuration I said. Obscurations means don’t let you think of those things. Don’t let you reflect those things and we occupied by something else every day, not just one day, not just one week, not just one year, entire life. So really, really important, every day, every moment, every hour at least, think of impermanent death. Even when driving think “I could be die any minute”. Even you fly say “I could be like Malaysian aeroplane, what happened could be happen to anybody”. So it is really useful we think of these things, all the time, every time we fly. But if you are very comfortable bed or sofa, and just having cup of tea, in the park or café, whatever you enjoy, if you can think this time, even better. Even better. But maybe that’s too much, so take away your enjoyment, so maybe don’t think about. But actually, should be enjoy more, when you think of this, increase your appreciation. Right now in this present I am prefect, I am perfectly right, there is no problem at all right now. If you think there is problem, that is only my imputation, my intellectual made up this. How you made up, oh I have this problem because you thinking something future. I have this problem so this could be arise this next time. But if you don’t think this future and you don’t make up anything from your conceptional thoughts and you just feel at the moment, you, everything is perfect. So even you thinking moment of impermanent death and say “I could be die at any minute, could be anything happens, who knows. Something fall from the sky and crush me. Or my internal organs, something just goes cruuussshhh. Or some kind of black cloth blocking one ? and then I’m dead”. It’s not that hard. But you rather thinking this worry and right now is so good and I should enjoy this before die. Or, that’s one way, the other way, “oh. I should be doing something better. I can enjoy at the same time and do discipline, and do something at the same time, I can enjoy”. Why not? Or any case, in any case I think worth to make habit yourself, remind yourself all the time. Especially if you’re feeling lazy or “ohh I don’t want to practice today. I don’t’ want to go to class today. I don’t want dish wash today, or somebody else should be”. Or anything, that kind of feeling arises, “oh I better to do something virtuous before I die”.
So if you don’t think that way, that is the fence, the fourth fence. Because this fence doesn’t let you go to the mountain. So similarly, if you don’t think impermanent of the time of the death and then make you lazy, complacent, procrastinate. If you overcome the lazy, complacency, procrastinate, that means all fence, you climbed all fence, or you break all fence, able to. Then you reach the mountain. So basically, really, really, in this particular subject, to engage with thinking of the impermanent time of the death and the sense of urgency is like your car accelerate, if you riding the horse it’s the whip. If you driving the car, it’s the accelerator, that’s it. If you have no accelerate car, what do you do? You just go one thing or slow. So that takes a very long. And the same time remember, all your circumstances you appreciate. Appreciate means enjoy. Do you know of something you very appreciate but you not enjoy? Probably not, probably not exist. You appreciate means you enjoy, means you are able to enjoy. You not appreciate, you forgot the appreciation, which means you are unable to enjoy. Even there is great cause and conditions you can be enjoy, but you can’t.
So think of this impermanence, especially the time of death, uncertainty of the time of death, is key to enjoy your life and to accelerate your Dharma practice. That’s really the main point. If not becomes that, it doesn’t lead that way and something else, or somewhere else, that means there is something wrong. My attitude wrong or I didn’t balance enough maybe, or something else, so you need a second thing, thought. If this practice going very well, that means you, the result should be like that. Should be you more appreciate the life, your life. You are living, you are breathing, you are healthy, right now. Rather than cancer or I have something else in my body that could be turn to this or worry. Rather than right now you are healthy, right now you are not sick. Enjoy. Because often we concern so much and our heath and we completely forgot the time of death could be much earlier than your health failure, true? Usually we not think that way, “oh my death is much before my health fail”. We don’t think that way, we just thinking and worrying about health. Imagine somebody really knows exactly your death and you thinking this, your health failure takes, let’s say fifty years, still takes fifty years, but your death is only ten days, and you worry and you try to be insure this and exercise and avoid the food. There is one story, who told me? I can’t remember. In Hungary, or Romania, I can’t remember, somebody talk about. There are two neighbours. One neighbour is very healthy and eat all healthy food, all vegetables like that and the other neighbour is eating all bad food, junk food and is obese, like that. But they said that one day the healthy family, car crashed and all died at same time, and the unhealthy one still living. That doesn’t mean encouraging eating unhealthy food. But just we, it is useful we think about. And also if we think of this really absolutely uncertainty of the time of the death, not just yourself but all your family, friends, anybody. You thinking all the time, you’re not that upset when you see the death of your family or anybody. Doesn’t mean you don’t care. Of course you care but you’re not devastated because you already know, you kind of expect it. Expect it and expectance makes huge difference, leading to the accept or not accept.
The most our existence, basically, our attitude contribute the most percentage. So even have physical pain, something you unexpected and you not accepting that pain, or you expect it and you accepting this pain, makes a huge difference. Even the physical level if you check with some physical experiment is equal, but you suffering is not equal, why? Only attitude. So that’s why our attitude makes huge difference in our life. So thinking impermanence, to be habituated, this uncertainty time of the death, useful. You know they are a very good combination, you know your birth is precious, yet but really, really uncertainty when is you lost this and then really, really make excellent view, it should be. For instance let’s say, you have million dollars in the bucket, but your million dollars is somebody take away, you know that. Let’s say you are prisoner or something, like you have a little break or something, and finally you are slave, somebody taking this, you have no freedom at all. So that means you know this is very valuable because is million dollars, but you don’t know when you lose this exactly. How fast you would spend! You very fast, try as much as possible, fast you try to spend. It is kind of similar of this, this precious human birth is so precious, you thinking every angle, all of sentient beings, then you realise, which is we already discussed and already the details in the book. So now you know, so precious and yet so uncertain, then of course you using very fast. But if we not doing that means we didn’t thought enough, we didn’t reflect enough. We didn’t meditate on enough. We not be familiar enough, that’s all. So even more precious your birth if you think those things.
But often we are not thinking these things, we are caught up in something else. These very crucial things we don’t think and we are so busy and caught up in other things, other things thinking. We worry so much, we worry too much. Ok I would say, can we plan many things without worrying? Less worries as much as possible, worry and anxiety we reduce as much as possible and the same time you have very thorough plans. Some people think that’s impossible. Why? Because there’s some elements like worry, makes you plan, but not necessarily happen that way. Sometimes the worry not make good preparation and rather than dragging you in failure. So we have to exercise, kind of worry, that’s why your plan is so thorough, yet the worry not take over you, so you plan so well and you so relaxed. That’s we need exercise. That exists, not something non exist. How we do it? We just need exercise in our mind. We test ourselves sometimes. Probably somebody cannot instruct you exactly, “oh do this and do this, take these steps”. It is something we have to I think exercise, in our mental exercise.
So maybe we leave here today. So we kind of like summarise the four convictions for the renunciation. So my last words would say, renunciation is very valuable, renunciation thoughts. Renunciation feeling is valuable. It is not mistake with giving up. Kind of element of giving up but more detached, non-attachments arising and so we can function really well. So these four subjects allow you arise the renunciation. Or another way, these four fences preventing you get to that precious mountain. Which means if we don’t think of these things and we not be familiar with these things, preventing you from three jewels and bodhicitta, all of them. That’s why like kind of foundation. So maybe we leave here today and we do practice and then we have some small talk.
- September 30, 2017
Raw transcript by Vanessa Mason