Facing Impermanence in Life

A talk given by Guru Yutang Lin
Columbia, South Carolina
April 24, 2014

Reviewed and Revised by Guru Lin
Transcribed by Disciple Ji Hu


Sorry for being late, but you know I came all the way from San Francisco, so it can be expected. And also the topic is on "Facing Impermanence in Life" and there is no better way to show this by setting an example. Well, and, actually when I come to give a talk, you know, I don’t prepare anything; why? Because I just talk at the moment what I have in mind and this is also result of following the teaching that you need to be aware of impermanence. Because like many things in life, you prepared a lot, and then, later you looked back and you said, oh, it’s all wasted. Maybe when you are not prepared, actually it’s best to cope with the problem at hand that way. And also one thing is, you know, usually people talk, you know, they maybe have something in mind already, you know, they’re planning what to talk next. But, around 1990 when I went to Virginia to give a talk, I realized that when I talked, I had nothing in mind, what you hear is just exactly what’s there (Guru pointing at his head). But, that’s the result of practice, you cannot force it, you know.

Well, so, why do you want to face the impermanence of life? Because basically, you know, we all know life is full of all kinds of problems, but how do we handle them? You know. We try many ways and because more or less we try to find the best for ourselves, and then you find out that things will not go as you would like it to be, because everyone wants the best for himself. So, it’s like one person fighting with the whole world, everything is against your wishes. And Buddha said, the way to, you know, solve all these problems is, first, not by just accepting some teachings; the first thing you do is, you look at life itself, learn from reality, you know. And why this is important? Because when we look at things, more or less we look only from certain point of view, we are confined by ourselves. When you don’t see things as they are, then, how can you solve the problems? The first step is to look at life as it is. And one important aspect that he brought out is that everything's changing, you know. Everything's changing—because everything that occurs is result of many conditions that happen to be, and works fine together, then there are this or that happening.

But, since it takes so many conditions, and—so, no one can really control all the situations, all the conditions, so you're bound to, you know, go some way that you didn’t expect. And also, but, by pointing this out, it doesn’t mean that, oh, then you become scared; look far ahead, oh, I will get sick, I will get old, I will die; like what’s the use of keep on living? You know, the end is in sight, you know, end of the tunnel. But, on the other aspect of looking at life as impermanent is that, since it’s impermanent, that means it can be changed. And everything is conditional, so, if we work on the right conditions, we can expect more or less that we will go to a better end. That’s one—another aspect of impermanence. So, the point of bringing it—impermanence out is not to scare you, but to show you that change for the better is possible. This is one important aspect.

And, the other aspect is that, once you realize that eventually things are going that way, you know, then, what’s the next point is that, you have an opportunity to look back and review the life as it is, and say, what’s the point? You see. Usually you are too busy with what’s going on right now, you know, preoccupied with the immediate questions, and there are so many, so complicated, so you forget about in the long run what will be the end. But now, when you are sick, or when you suddenly encounter accident unexpectedly, then you kind of like wake up and say, oh, what if? You know, what if? Then you look back and say, oh, I cannot just go on like this—I will not be prepared for the inevitable ends. So, actually why Buddhism is precious to us is because it's a teaching that comes out after someone has reflected on life. He sees that, oh, what’s the use, even the throne of a kingdom is worthless eventually. If I cannot solve all these problems—my family, my—everything, eventually will go, so I have to find some way out that makes life worth living, and also that I can help others, because all of us have same problems—it’s a universal problem. And, he becomes a Buddha, because he found the solution, so he can help us even nowadays, thousand years later. And, you see, we all know there are problems in life, so usually we say, oh, for this we have to improve economy, we have to improve health, we have to do this, do that. But, we all also know that these are very transient solutions. You try to solve this problem, another problem will come; right? But no one can fix all the problems. Politicians always tell you big ideals, but what they do? You know. So, on the one hand, it’s like this; on the other hand, it is—even if you—like your own child, suppose you provide them with everything, but it doesn’t mean that you can give them happiness, doesn’t mean that you can help them to have peace of mind; right? So, eventually real help to others is to show them the way that they can have peace of mind, they can stand on their own, be independent, and be able to face all kinds of problems in life and still live a positive, active life, that kind of—that is the real help. But, this is not easy, because it is not something people can say, oh—you just do ABC. It’s not that simple; it’s something that—why do we treasure the Dharma practice is because those spiritual practices they unknowingly, in ways beyond your conception, you know, gradually loosen your prejudices, your inclinations, your attachments; let all those evaporate, you know, in the background. And then, when you have less and less prejudices, less and less preferences or hatred, or other—all kinds of personal things, then, you see life as it is; then, you see that we are all the same. Then, you know how to live, not just for yourself. It’s useless; who can just help one person be good? No way. It has to be the whole community helping one another, then we can live peacefully, happily.

So—but how to do this? It’s through—oh—because it’s useless just say, "oh, this is right," and you accept this. But, if you do the practices, gradually you see what’s really the situation, then you will change—the whole person changed. So, it’s a lifetime work, everyone, you know, as much as you do, as much as you will benefit from through this kind of practices. But, what are the basic principles? The basic principle is that, Buddha—when he attained enlightenment, he realized that what’s the root of the problem is because the moment we start to think, we start to recognize there’s difference, that’s the moment the mistakes occurred. What is the reality that he entered when he entered the realization, it’s that actually all are in oneness, all are in oneness. We think of ourselves as, you know, different persons, distance, time limitation, all kinds of things. But, he entered the state that actually all these are just result of, from first grasping like, oh, this is me, this is not me, from that moment on, then, all the mental construction are confining you, and it’s not only a mental thing, because of your mental thinking your body becomes tense, and the inner air passage, all that kind of thing becomes tense and twisted—all wrong, all went wrong. That’s why we have—we feel, oh, so much burden in life, you know, life is so difficult.

But, when you do the Dharma practices, in addition to feeling that peace of mind increases, relaxation increases, also physically you feel light—your body loosens. And, but, this is so far away from our reality, our reality is each one on his own/on her own, you know. So, what I can do is only tell you, oh, what, as we can understand, Buddha realized. And based on that principle—that actually there’s no limitation, all are in oneness—based on that, if you believe in this, you do the practices. So, when you do the practices, you are not doing it for yourself, because as long as you keep thinking about yourself, you cannot escape from this cage. So you have to think of, oh, I am doing it for all sentient beings. With this kind of attitude, you start to do the practices. And gradually you find peace in yourself, and gradually your person changed, and then, gradually with this experience, you can tell others, oh, this is very beneficial, you know. If I have no experience of practices, how can I tell you, and convince you? No way, just empty words. But, through the practices, you have the experiences, then, you explain to people why it’s beneficial. I can tell you, oh, when it’s loosening up, if you do the chanting practices regularly for long time, at first, the shoulders loosen up first; why? Because when our mind started to, you know, build the cocoon's net, the cocoon's, it is very subtle inside, and gradually it winds out becomes a bigger, bigger one, and this is the outermost area, you see. So, when you loosen, you loosen from the outer, and then you gradually loosen inside. So, if I tell you this and you start to do the practice, and you experience that, then you know, oh, this is real—you see.

And then, like for myself, I—before I got Ph.D., I started study Buddhism and do the practices, and do Dharma services, and by following my Guru, and started doing the publication, mailing, all that kind of thing. And then, after I got my Ph.D., the next day I returned all my logic books to the library, give, donate them to the library, because I decide to, you know, going to Dharma practices and services. And after so many years—I got Ph.D. 1984, so thirty years—after thirty years, you know, people ask me for prayers; why? Because when I pray, you know, many people can sense the benefits immediately. But, you see, who are those people asking me to pray? Not people by my side, no; Taiwan, Malaysia, China, in San Francisco, Columbia, people asked me for prayer, and they sensed it immediately. How can you explain this? I have no internet or anything connected to you. But, if you remember what Buddha taught, said, actually there is no limitation, all are in oneness, then, you know that it’s a matter of your mind binding yourself. If you can loosen that bondage, you know, then they can reach you, and you can reach out; that’s all, really in oneness. So, it’s worth your trying, and also no one has monopoly over this. It’s public property, be free to take part in it.

But, all these are still just talks that cannot really help you; the way to help you is, of course, one aspect is to start doing some Dharma practices. That one I'll come to later; why? I still want to come back to the impermanence first, because without a keen sense of impermanence, no one will do the Dharma practices seriously, and regularly, and consistently and…; right? right? Three days later you forget everything. So, but, how to develop the sense of impermanence? Talks are not so effective. The real way is, one is—when I started doing this, I find a small book—note book, and I started to put down all the per—all the names of persons that I have personally met, personal acquaintance—I actually met you. Then, I may not know your name, I put down, oh, some day, somewhere, I saw someone that I know passed away. I started to do this because I want to put these names in front of Buddha to pray for them. And, on the other hand, this is real teaching on impermanence; right? The ones you have actually seen. I saw this one, oh—gone; I met that one—gone; that’s real lesson. This is better than any empty talk. This is one way; I call it, "keeping a record of impermanence"; that’s one way. The other way is to visit the cemeteries. Don’t go there just because someone you know passed away; no. Go there whenever you have time. For me, every morning—I go there take one hour walk, good for my health, good for my mind. And, you know what? In the cemetery, you don’t just walk, you try to read the tombstones, then you know what’s one person’s life—when was born, when he passed away; that’s all. That’s your life story; you worry about so many things, but eventually—only…. And, in Taiwan they have those, err—pagodas for cremated ashes, you know, and they did some statistics studies: after fifty years, no visitors.  So, even if you keep the ashes there, fifty years later, nothing; right? No visitors. So, but, you know, very strange—if you take a walk in the cemetery, and you repeat Buddha’s name or "Om Mani Bei Mi Hung" for them, then, on the one hand, it cultivates your compassion for the fellow beings; on the other hand, very strange—like, after I take a walk through the cemetery, when I came out, I feel lighter. Because whatever you thought was big deal, you know, when you entered, after you take that walk—no deal. (Audience laughed.) So, actually it has this effect. So, go there and take walks, it’s very good spiritual practice for keen sense of impermanence.

And, after you do this kind of practice, you will be aware of impermanence, and you want to find peace of mind, be happy in life, then you have to—every day, like a first-grader, when the teacher gave assignments, you have to finish it today. You do your Dharma practice like that—daily, you know, I set a certain time that I most likely won’t be disturbed, at that time I do certain practices. And beginning, usually two kinds of basic practices, one is called "Repetition of Chanting." You just repeat, like, name of a Buddha, like, you say, "Amitabha" or "Om Mani Bei Mi Hung," that’s a mantra, you know. You set a number for yourself; oh, every day I do at least one thousand times, that kind of thing. And the other kind is to do prostrations. Prostrations is because on the one hand it's exercise of the body, on the other hand it's—when you believe in Buddha and do this, he can actually help you to reduce your bad karmas. Because whatever you are going to encounter in life, you know, most of them are due to whatever you have done in this life or past lives, but, no worldly way can reduce those for you. But, when you show respect to Buddha, you know, and they can actually help you.  So, these are the basics that I recommend. And my talks usually are very short, like this, because why do I carry a lot? But the important thing is, you know, that it’s from the heart, and no other intention except to tell you what’s really beneficial that I know; that’s all.

Auspicious completion


May 14, 2014
El Cerrito, California