The doctrine that everything is transient


One of the Buddhist doctrines to enable this to be done is the doctrine that everything is transient, everything is passing, and he says we suffer from things because they simply pass away. If you hang on to the things you find while the karma is favourable they look solid enough and then when it turns they’ve gone and there’s nothing there. You can learn something from the people of the world of this. For instance, one man that I knew was an athlete and clever and took great trouble over his personal appearance. He was very  attractive to women. He was always falling in love but he used to say, “And, it’ll only last three months and then I’ll get bored and fed up with her but,” he said, “even in those three months, I always have another one or another two.” I said “What?” “Well, you see, when you have a row, you separate and then it’s that first lonely evening and it’s then about 10 o’clock and you think ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ and you ring up and you apologise. He said “Well, I never do that. I go to one of the others, so I don’t have a lonely evening. He said, “Admittedly, I’m in a very strong position. I know it’s going to pass. It’s all going to pass, but I can enjoy it. And then what he hadn’t forseen happened; his own attractiveness began to pass and he could no longer play this part and that was quite a shock to him. He’d realised that all the others would pass. He never realised that he, himself would pass. They were episodes in his life at first, but later on, he became an episode in their lives. When the karma happens to be favourable, these things appear solid enough but as it dissipates, it turns out there was nothing there at all.

So, the various techniques are given for trying to free ourselves from these stains and grease and smears of sticking attachment. One of the things he says, again I won’t read the text, “You can start off very well but if you simply think, I’ll be good, a good man, you gradually change. If you don’t have the inspiration from the Buddha nature, you’ll gradually change and we can look at this from history.

Mussolini now, if people think of him at all, they think of him with contempt, but as a matter of fact, in his first nine or ten years after the march on Rome, he was a highly respected statesman both at home and abroad. He transformed Italy. He did many good things. For instance, one of the things he did (they had conscription) but the recruits very often came from villages, and they’d never been outside their village, except to the neighbouring village whom they hated and they used periodically to fight. Now, one of the things that Mussolini did, was after recruits had two weeks of indoctrination, they went on a tour of Italy and they were taken and shown the glories of their past civilisation. They were shown the wonders of Rome and the masterpieces of art. They couldn’t understand them all, but it was explained to them, and an Englishman who I knew well, was there at that time and he said, “Their attitudes changed completely. The young men thought of themselves as simply belonging to a particular village, but after that, they became very proud of being Italians”. Now, Mussolini did these things, but then he gradually got caught in the idea of glory and he began to seek the war and he declared war on Abyssinia and the crumbling began. If we look at the lives of people who just try to be good and are good, they are successful for a time and then they gradually get caught in the way of flattery and the smears and the grease of adulation. One of the reasons is that it is (this example is a very old one) there is a separate individuality and as it gets bigger, it gets stronger, in the sense that the individuality gets stronger and the example (a very old one from the East) is the well.

Now, the ancients knew that even under some deserts, like the great Thar desert or the Sahara, there was water and sometimes it was a stream and sometimes it was even an underground river. Well, now, they would dig wells and some of those wells were very deep. They dug wells sometimes a 1000 foot deep. In China, 1500, and before anyone shouts and calls me liar, I’d say well you can check this, those are the records. Now, they would dig until they came to the ground water and then there’d be some water available, but it would be liable to dry up according to the season and it would have its special quality. So, the wells were separate.

Some were large, some were small, some were sweet, some were briny and the well, if it could speak would say, “I’m big. I’m small. I’m sweet. Alas, I’m briny”. They would have an individuality, but if the depth went deep enough to strike the underground river, then all the wells are the same, even if the well is only very small, only big enough to take a bucket. Put the bucket in, fill it, pull it up – the well is still full, because it’s from the river. Then it’s no longer sensible to say, “There’s this well and that well and another well.” They’re all one river and the example’s given; the well doesn’t say, “I am big, I am small, I am sweet, I am briny.” All that “I am” disappears. There is only the deep river underneath which is the all of them. He (Torei) says, in the same way, we are separate “I’s” different sizes, capacities, sweetness, bitterness, but if we penetrate deep enough, we shall strike the river of the Buddha nature and then the separate individualities become one river. The externals remain. The circumference of the well is large or small, but it’s one river underneath.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Spur is addressed to a samurai who has faith

Part 2: The doctrine that everything is transient

Part 3: The facing inward of the Buddhas

Part 4: Keep up the right line of the meditation

Part 5: You practise with courage and sincerity

Part 6: The Cat and the Krait

Part 7: The Confucian and Bertrand Russell

Part 8: Picture of Bodhidharma


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