The Essential Scriptures of the Buddha and Patriarchs
Secrets on Cultivating the Mind
If we consider our actions during our past wanderings in saṃsāra, we have no way of knowing for how many thousands of kalpas we have fallen into the darkness or entered the Interminable Hell and endured all kinds of suffering. Nor can we know how many times we have aspired to the path to buddhahood but, because we did not meet with good spiritual friends, remained submerged [in the sea of saṃsāra] for many long kalpas, dark and benighted, performing all sorts of unwholesome actions. Though we may reflect on this once in a while, we cannot imagine the duration of our misery. So how can we relax and suffer again the same calamities as before? Furthermore, we cannot know what prompted us to be born this time as human beings―the guiding spirits of all the myriad things―who are not benighted about the road for cultivating truth. Truly, [a human birth is as difficult to ensure] as a blind turtle surfacing through a hole in a log [floating on the sea] or a mustard seed hitting the tip of a needle. How can we possibly express how fortunate we are? Nowadays, whenever we allow ourselves to cower in discouragement or to become indolent, we should always consider what might come next. In one instant we might happen to lose our lives and fall back into the baleful bourns where we would have to undergo unspeakable suffering and pain. At such a time, although we might want to hear one phrase of the Buddhadharma and would be willing to receive and keep it with faithful devotion to ease our misfortune, how would we ever have the chance to encounter it? At that point of crisis, remorse is of utterly no use. I hope that all of you who are cultivating the path will not be heedless (pramāda) and will not indulge in greed and lust. As if you were trying to save your head from burning, do not forget to reflect upon this. Death [lit., “impermanence”] is swiftly closing in. The body is like the morning dew. Life is like the twilight in the west. Although we are alive today, there is no assurance about tomorrow. You must bear this in mind! You must bear this in mind!