The Suffering in Birth and Death

What is mindfulness of the suffering of birth and death? Since distant kalpas past, living beings and I have always been involved in birth and death and have not attained liberation. Whether among people or in the heavens, in this world or in another, we have risen and sunk myriads of times. .We ascend or fall in an instant - suddenly a god, suddenly a human, suddenly an animal, a hungry ghost, or a denizen of the hells.

We leave the black gate at dawn but return at night. We climb out of the pit of iron briefly but then fall back in again. As we ascend the mountain of knives, our bodies are slashed until not a bit of flesh remains. As we climb the tree of swords, our hearts are slit open. The hot iron does not cure hunger; swallowing it roasts the liver and intestines. The broth of boiling copper does not quench thirst; drinking it dissolves the flesh and bones. Sharp saws dismember the body; once cut, it comes back together again. Clever breezes fan the body; it dies but quickly returns to life. In the city of raging fire, we endure the sounds of bloodcurdling screams and wails. In the pot of boiling oil, we hear only cries of excruciating pain. The body begins to freeze and harden and resembles a blue lotus forming a bud. Then the flesh and veins crack open and the body looks like a red lotus in bloom.

In a single night, the denizens of the hells pass through ten thousand births and deaths. In a single morning, the sufferings in the hells are what humans would go through in a hundred years. The harried wardens of the hells become weary. Who believes that King Yama is not teaching us with this warning? Yet only while actually experiencing suffering do we know its bitterness, but our regrets come too late. Once free, we forget again, and then we create the same karma as before. We whip the mule until it bleeds; who could know that it is our mother in anguish? We lead the pig to slaughter; who could know that it is our father in agony? We eat our own sons without being aware, just like King Wen. And we gulp down our own relatives without recognizing them. This is the way of all ordinary people.

The loved ones of yesteryear are now sworn enemies. Rivals of days past are now our blood relatives. Our mothers of past lives are our wives of the present. Our fathers-in-law of old are now our husbands. Those with knowledge of past lives recognize these changes; they feel shame and embarrassment. Those with the Heavenly Eye see these situations; they find them laughable and pathetic.

Amid excrement and filth we pass nine difficult months. We emerge from the path of pus and blood in a pitiable state. When young, we know nothing and cannot tell east from west. As adults, we become more aware, but our greed and desire arise. In an instant, old age and illness overtake us; suddenly death arrives. Amid the blaze of wind and fire, our spirit becomes disordered; our essence and blood are exhausted. Our flesh and skin wither and dry up. We feel as if iron needles are piercing our every pore and as if knives are hacking our every orifice.

When the spirit leaves the body at death, it feels more pain than does a live turtle having its shell ripped off before it is thrown in the pot.

The mind has no fixed purpose. It flits hurriedly from place to place like a traveling peddler. Our bodies have no fixed shapes. We continually exchange them as if we were moving from room to room in a house. We have had and lost more bodies than there are particles of dust in a billion worlds. We have cried more tears at parting than all the water in the billows of the four seas. The stacks of bones rise higher than mountain peaks. The heaps of corpses are more vast than the earth.

If the Buddha had not spoken of this, who would have recognized or even imagined these things? If we do not read the Buddha's sutras, how can we know and be aware of these truths? If we continue our hankering for love and pleasure, we will forever remain stupid and confused.

Then the grave concern is that one mistake has led to another for ten thousand kalpas, through thousands of lives. A human body is hard to obtain and easy to lose. Good times soon pass and cannot be brought back. The road is dark and gloomy, and separations last a long time. I must endure evil retribution in the Three Paths alone. The pain is unspeakable; who would stand in for me? Even discussing this subject chills my heart.

We, therefore, must halt the flow of birth and death, get out of the ocean of love and desire, save ourselves and save others, and together reach the other shore. Of all things from the beginning of time onward, this is the most extraordinary achievement, yet one only needs to begin.

This is the sixth cause and condition for making the resolve to attain Bodhi.


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