Impermanence and Reciting
the Buddha's Name

A talk given by Bhikshu Jin Gong on December 20, 2010

Venerable Master, great assembly, all good and wise knowing advisors.
I am Jin Gong, here to try to speak the Dharma for you.

I have heard the Buddha Dharma for a long time. I thought that I understood the words, but it turns out that I have not fully grasped the meaning.

Here is one passage that I do not understand. It is section 38 from the Sutra in 42 Sections.

The Buddha asked a Shramana, "How long is the human life span?"
He replied, "A few days."
The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?"
The reply was, "The space of a meal."
The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?"
He replied, "The length of a single breath."
The Buddha said, "Excellent. You have understood the Way."

I am sure that you have all heard the story of three men who got together every year.

One was 60 years old.
One was 70 years old.
One was 80.

The 60 year old said, "When we meet together every year, I wonder if I will live another year and be able to see you again."

But the 70 year old said, "When I take off my shoes and go to sleep at night, I wonder if I will live to the next day and be able to put my shoes on again."

But the 80 year old said, "Every time I breathe out, I wonder if I will be able to breathe in again."

At the end of the day we recite this verse:

We are like fish in an evaporating pond.
What joy is there in this?
Be mindful of impermanence and take care not to be lax.

Now one day about two and a half months ago, I made up a list of projects that I wanted to complete that day.
It was 8:00 in the morning and I expected to put in a full days work.
There were telephone and Internet projects.
There were door and lock projects.
I did not write down to begin reciting the name of Amitabha.
I did not plan to start reciting the Buddha's name at that very moment so that when I died
about half an hour later, I would be mindful of the Buddha.

I took my list and walked up a flight of stairs.
As I reached the top of the stairs, I suddenly became dizzy.
I was suddenly breathing very rapidly.
I sat down on the top step.
I was too weak to continue.
I lay down on the floor.
I was too weak to even sit up.
But after a minute, I did not feel as weak.
I got up and was able to walk another 30 paces.
Now I was weak again and had to sit down and then lie down again.
But after another minute I got up again and walked another 30 paces.
This time I did not lower myself to the ground so I could rest.
I passed out and fell on the floor.

A few minutes later, I regained consciousness.
I was too weak to get up this time.
At that time I did not think that I would ever take another step in this life.
Only then did I start to recite Namo Amitofo, Namo Amitofo.
I expected to die very soon.
Now as I recited, I did not see an image of the Buddha.
I saw the image of Guan Yin Bodhisattva, the same image as the one on the stage
behind me.
I thought, my recitation does not match this image.
So, I started reciting Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa, Namo Guan Shr Yin Pu Sa.

Some people came by and called an ambulance for me.
I passed out again.
The people with me said that I stopped breathing and my pulse stopped.
I was not entering the second dhyana.
I was turning blue and dying.
Suddenly I started breathing again.
Later I stopped breathing again.
My pulse stopped again and I started to die again.
Suddenly I started to breathe once more.
The ambulance arrived and the paramedics gave me oxygen.
They took me to the hospital.
Four days later, I was able to walk out of the hospital on my own power.

This talk is about impermanence.

However, I am going to talk a little about some medical matters and then return to the subject
of impermanence.
That day I had a pulmonary embolism.

Pulmonary embolism is two fancy Latin words for lung and blood clot.
For some reason doctors speak quite a bit of Latin maybe there is a good reason for it.
For example, “myocardial infarct” sounds much less alarming than “Heart Attack”.
But I will not speak any more Latin for you.
I want to frighten you.
I want to frighten you into reciting the Buddha's name.

I had a blood clot that travels in the arteries to the lungs.
In fact I had quite a few blood clots that lodged in my lungs.
The blood clots block the flow of blood to the lungs.
The blood is prevented from getting oxygen.
Nothing in a human body works without oxygen.
At first I was breathing rapidly to try to get more oxygen.
At the same time, I was dizzy and weak from the lack of oxygen.
Later, due to lack of oxygen, my lungs and heart were having difficulty working.

The air that we breathe is a little less than 20% oxygen.
The air that the medics gave me was 100% oxygen.
They gave me the oxygen before it was too late.
The part of my lungs that was not blocked, was able to get more oxygen.
This extra oxygen sustained my life while my body recovered.
I was given oxygen without stop for two and a half more days.
Even so, I did not make a full recovery.
A part of my lungs has formed scar tissue.
That part will never absorb oxygen again.

Could this happen to you?
Yes it could.
In this country, 600,000 people get a blood clot in their lungs every year.
One in ten or 60,000 people die from that blood clot in their lungs every year.
If you get a blood clot in your lungs, you will not have any symptoms,
not even one minute before it occurs.
You will not have any warning.
Suddenly you will be very weak and dizzy and short of breath.

Even after this happened, I still do not fully understand impermanence.
Realizing that I was about to die and would not live longer than another half of an hour,
is not the same as seeing through the illusion of a life and putting everything down.

I used to think of my death as something that was inevitable.
I would get weaker year by year.
I would get older and it would be harder and harder to get over each illness that I got.
One day I would get ill and never recover.
Perhaps in 20 years or 10 years or maybe even 5 years.

I am taking medicine that partially prevents my blood from forming clots.
This will make it much less likely that I will get another blood clot in my lungs.
It is not a miracle drug.
There is a half of a percent chance that I will bleed to death every year that I take this drug.

If I do not take this drug, there is a 22 percent chance that I will get another blood clot in my
lungs within the next five years.
If I do take the drug, there is only a 2 percent chance of getting another blood clot.

Western medicines are quite powerful.
If you get an illness, a western medicine has a very good chance of preventing that illness.
So you will be free from that illness.
But you might get another illness and that illness might be caused by the medicine that
you took for the first illness.

The chaplain in the hospital knew that I had been close to death.
He gave me an explanation of why I did not die.
He said that god was looking after me.
God saved me from dying.
God had a purpose for me.
Now I think this chaplain was very close to the truth.
But I think that the Venerable Master was the one looking after me.

I think that the Venerable Master saved me from dying.
I think that the Venerable Master has plans for me in my remaining years.
I hope that I can repay him by doing my best for Buddhism in the time I have left.

I see impermanence more clearly now, but I still do not comprehend it fully.
So I have advice for you.
Experience is learning from you own mistakes.
Wisdom is learning from other peoples' mistakes.
So learn from my mistakes.
Always put reciting the Buddhas name on your list of projects to do every day.

And when you recite, recite as if it is your last hour and you will need to be mindful to get to the
Land of Ultimate Bliss.
One hour will be your last hour.
When that hour begins, It may not be obvious that that hour is your last hour.
I hope you will be reciting the name of Amitabha in that final hour.


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