-An extract from Venerable Pomnyun’s book, Life Lessons–
‘When you observe your mind as it is, you may notice that it frequently changes from this to that; one thing and then another. Therefore, your mind is something that can’t be trusted.”
Don’t take it as a problem when your mind changes, and don’t become attached to the feelings that arise in each moment. You should know that likes and dislikes don’t mean much when you can see yourself liking someone then hating them again shortly afterward. You should know that it’s not that your mind shouldn’t change, but that your mind is something that will change again after a while.
So don’t get too excited when you like something, yet don’t reject it when you dislike something. You should deal with your feelings in a slightly detached manner when you feel good, not so good, happy, or so miserable.
It’s not about being out of control when you feel good, or throwing a tantrum when you feel bad, rather it’s about knowing and being aware that “good feelings are arising” when you feel good, and “bad feelings are arising” when you feel bad. Then you can become a person whose mind does not change.
When you decide to pray in the morning, you can’t just hope that the desire to pray will arise by itself. If you pray not only on the days you want to pray, but also on the days when you don’t want to, then you will continue to do so consistently as a result, and become a person who does not lose his or her original intention.
It is the same with feelings toward others. There are times when you like a person, and also when you don’t like a person. But since the mind itself can’t be trusted, you won’t reject them even when you dislike them.
If you don’t take your feelings seriously when someone says something bad to you, your feeling toward that person can be kept the same, no matter what that person does.
It doesn’t mean that you’ll always be in a good mood. When you know that your likes and dislikes are not to be trusted and you adhere to the perspective of maintaining a steady relationship, eventually the people around you will think, “This person doesn’t change.”
P: Embedded in the desire for longevity is the yearning to not part with the people in our lives. As the old Korean proverb, “A life in a heap of dung is still better than no life at all,” implies, we are emotionally attached to life despite the suffering we experience in life for various reasons.
People tell themselves they only want to live until their children get married, until they have grandchildren, or just until the grandchildren go to college. Better yet, they say they want to live just long enough to see their grandchildren get married, all in an attempt to postpone the separation from their loved ones.
No matter how hard we try to avoid thinking about death, when we see people close to us die, we can’t help but confront the futility of life and the fear of death. There was a person who wondered, “Does the spirit vanish when the body dies? If everything vanishes into nothingness, what is the point of holding onto life so dearly?’ as he witnessed a family member, emaciated after years of illness, failing to swallow even a drop of water. Gradually losing weight when someone is at the very end of his life is a natural process, and it is not a bad thing. Like an oil lamp that quietly fades away, consuming every bit of your own energy as you pass away could be considered a good death. Additionally, if you can remain lucid until your last breath, that would be even better.
In the Heart Sutra, there is the phrase, “does neither appear nor disappear.” This does not mean the things continue to exist for eternity without changing. Rather it means even though we believe there are life and death, in truth, life and death are not two separate entities. When we go to the beach, we can see waves. The waves are formed and then they break once they reach the shore, and this process is repeated continuously. However, if you take a step back and view the sea as a whole, you will realize it’s not that the waves are formed and then vanish, but rather the sea is just being turbulent. When you view life the way you view the sea as a whole, you will see that there is no life and death. When you observe individual waves, each wave is formed and then broken just as life seems to appear and disappear on the surface. However, this is not the actuality; it is simply a matter of our perception.
Let’s say a four-year-old boy filled a bowl with ice cubes and went outside to play. When he returned a couple of hours later, he saw the bowl filled with water instead of ice. What do you think the boy said?
“Mom, the ice cubes are gone, and there is water in the bowl.”
At this point, the mother, knowing what has happened, is able to explain to the boy that the ice has simply melted and turned into water and that the ice cubes did not disappear into thin air or the water suddenly appeared from nowhere.
We are like this child. We perceive the world with the perspective of what we can see in front of us. We are happy when we see things appear and we despair when we see things disappear from our eyes. However, when you are able to see the big picture, you will realize that things simply change. That is what the phrase “does neither appear nor disappear.” means. In other words, things do not appear or disappear from this world; rather, things only change their forms.
The decomposition of a dead body and the daily regeneration of cells in a living body can be regarded the same in that they are both changes. In the same vein, the regeneration of cells in our bodies can be compared to the replacement of the old pine needles by the new ones, which makes the evergreen trees appear green all the time. Also, the rapid process of decomposition of the dead body is analogous to decaying of the fallen leaves, which makes the trees look dead.
Despite the fact that change is the only constant phenomenon in this world, we believe something is alive when we can see it and something is dead when we can no longer see it. Furthermore, when something appears in front of our eyes, we think it is born. Thoughts also suddenly enter into our heads and just as suddenly they disappear. Even if we promise, “I will love you until death do us part,” love will diminish over time. Believing that love will last forever or hope that it won’t change is wishful thinking. Suffering is caused by your desire for things to stay the same, not by the change of heart.
If you fully accept that everything in this world changes, you will not feel so tormented when you see things change. Like the appearance and disappearance of waves, everything that comes into existence must come to an end. Once you fully grasp this truth, you won’t have fears or regrets. However, since you only perceive fragments of the big picture, you miss the things you believe are gone and are afraid that things will disappear. After you realize that aging and death are simple changes, you will no longer be afraid.