As we acknowledge the inevitability of death, what conclusions can we draw? How can the truth of impermanence—which the Buddha urged us to contemplate – shape our choices on what is most important in life? Can it motivate us to cherish the time that we do have in this life?
In her teachings, Dharma Master Cheng Yen repeatedly returns to the topic of time and urges everyone to sincerely reflect on its relentless passage.
Day follows night; spring, summer, fall, and winter take their turns, year after year. Our life becomes shorter with each passing day. It is written in one of the Buddhist sutras that, “When a day is done, a day from our life is gone.” At the end of the day, when we tear off a page from the calendar, we should ask ourselves: “Have I grown in wisdom and accumulated more blessings in the past 24 hours, or have I just created more bad karma?”
Time is comprised of one second following another, whether it be one year, a hundred years, a thousand or even ten thousand years. Each second is irretrievable once it has passed. In this way, time is even more precious than diamonds. We must seize every second and keep reminding ourselves that time is not a renewable resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.
With each passing day, your life is shorter by a day. Do not live in ignorance and pass your days pursuing pleasure and consuming blessings. Instead, lead an enlightened life and mindfully cultivate wisdom and blessings.
Dharma Master Cheng truly guides by example as she strives to motivate us to heed the fact that death can arrive at any moment and “no one can predict what events may befall us; impermanence is the rule,” so we should use our time accordingly.
She leads an emphatically disciplined and frugal lifestyle, awakening before dawn daily, then utilizing each and every second for teaching and practicing the Buddha Dharma; guiding, counseling, and inspiring the millions of Tzu Chi members who fulfill the foundation’s humanitarian missions around the world; and diligently monitoring global news and current affairs in order to identify areas of need.
I always tell myself, “Time is running out, time is running out,” to remind myself to take every opportunity to do good deeds. I remind myself every day of the fleeting nature of life, and I do my best to live each second to the fullest by serving others.
The ever-increasing natural and man-made disasters that have plagued our world in recent years have only heightened this sense of urgency. My hope is that we never let up in our efforts to help others and that we make the best use of time to purify our minds and to benefit mankind while we are still healthy and able to do so. Each life will come to an end one day, but the power of kindness is endless.
I often remind everyone: “When a calamity hits, we must awaken to the lesson it brings us.” But how many people have truly heard me? And even if they did hear me, have they taken it to heart and kept it in mind?
Catastrophes are a forceful reminder of impermanence. Since Tzu Chi’s work includes extensive disaster relief, again and again, the foundation’s volunteers come face to face with the unpredictable nature of life. And, as they help the people impacted by calamities, who are struggling to cope with sudden loss and tragedy that has left them in shock and despair, their own compassion and wisdom grow.
Through helping, we will witness all kinds of suffering that opens our eyes and makes us see how blessed we are. We will also see the impermanence in life and the suffering there is around us—suffering which is inherent in life. These are life truths that we’re normally ignorant of, and we would have remained unaware if not for such contact with others. So, in giving, we need to be thankful to the people who are suffering, for it is their suffering that teaches us and wakes us up to life’s truths. We need to be very grateful to them and sincerely give of ourselves to help them.
Consequently, times and places where the fragility of life and suffering are fully exposed shouldn’t be avoided, but cherished instead for the lessons and motivation they offer.
Master Cheng Yen encourages us all to open our hearts and give of ourselves to help those in her darkest hour of need, “as we can gain a lot of wisdom and spiritual growth” from doing so.