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Lam-rim Topics : Impermanence and Death

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Last Updated Feb 18, 2014)
The Cause of Death
Rinpoche dictated this letter about the three types of suffering to a student’s mother, who was worried about death.

My most dear Karen,
How are you? In reality, even if we believe that we will live for a long time, that we have so many years to live—like 100 years or more, and maybe after 100 years, we expect another hundred years (I’m joking)—in reality, there is nobody who has lived who has not died. Even this big earth has to perish after another great eon. Since every person who is born in this world is under the control of karma and delusion, there is nobody, nobody, since human beings started until now, who has lived without death. There is nobody.

Buddha has no death, because there is no cause of death. The cause of death is not outside but inside—karma and delusions. Buddha removed this inconceivable eons ago, because he purified the delusions and even the subtle obscurations which interrupt the omniscient mind, so it is impossible for the Buddha to experience death. There is no old age, no sickness, no death for him at all, but he showed holy deeds, passing away in the sorrowless state. If Buddha did not show death, then we would not appreciate his teachings and we would become very lazy. Buddha showed death to destroy the wrong concept of permanence of our lives, which are impermanent, and also to show us that we need to practice Dharma, because of suffering and the cause of suffering.

Suffering is not only pain, hunger, thirst, depression, not only that. Suffering refers to three things. The first is the suffering of suffering—all the suffering of samsara—the suffering of pain, rebirth, sickness and death, meeting undesirable objects and separating from desirable objects. There is no satisfaction. So this is the main suffering, not getting satisfaction. Then there is the suffering of the five aggregates.

The second kind of suffering is that all the samsaric pleasures are in the nature of suffering [ie the suffering of change]. So we buy houses, cars, whatever it is, but as the days and months go by, these things become more and more boring, less and less interesting. By seeing another car or house we want that one, so then the pleasure becomes more suffering of pain.

For example, when we feel very hot under a hot sun, then because of that, we get into cold water, so there is pleasure after we jump into the water. So how did the pleasure happen? First feeling cold started small, so that is what is called pleasure, then that feeling changes. As we stay longer in the water, the suffering of cold increases more and more and becomes the suffering of pain. Then, because of so much suffering of cold, we go in the hot sun, so then again we begin another pain, another pleasure, so one suffering stops and another suffering begins. So basically it is all suffering.

All the samsaric pleasures are like that. All the pleasures in the world are like that, no matter how much education we have —even the highest scientists and so forth. We see many singers and actors committing suicide—there are so many famous people who think their life is meaningless. Many people think like that because they haven’t met Dharma, so they are not actualizing the spiritual path, not even to achieve nirvana, not even to achieve mere liberation from samsara. Then there is no way to achieve the peerless happiness, full enlightenment.

These first two sufferings, the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change, the samsaric nature of pleasure, come from the third suffering, pervasive compounding suffering. That is, for example, our aggregates, which are under the control of karma and delusions, so they are pervaded by suffering. Our aggregates of body and mind are pervaded by suffering, so we experience all the sufferings.

The second reason is that these aggregates are contaminated by the seeds of disturbing thoughts, so the aggregates are pervaded by suffering. The continuity of consciousness carries past karmic imprints, especially nonvirtue, so there is compounding suffering of this life. Because we do not practice Dharma, we do not see how the nature of samsara is suffering, we don’t see that. We hallucinate, seeing this as pleasure. We don’t practice bodhicitta and we don’t practice emptiness, so especially when we meet indifferent objects, ignorance arises; when we meet desirable objects, attachment arises; and when we meet undesirable objects, anger arises.

We can see these aggregates are compounding suffering, which leaves a negative imprint, and causes future life rebirth and future life suffering. This is the main suffering, so Buddhists should generate the thought to be free from this suffering, to totally cease this suffering forever. This complete cessation is ultimate happiness. There is not a chance of coming back from it because there is no cause to suffer again. This is called nirvana, the sorrowless state, the blissful state of peace. To achieve this, we must achieve the antidote of the right path: wisdom directly perceiving emptiness.

So therefore you can see how important it is in our life to study and realize emptiness. Now, next, we need to actualize great compassion towards every sentient being, then after that we become bodhisattvas. We enter the Mahayana path, the five paths to enlightenment, and we complete the practice of the paramita path, so we can cease the subtle obscuration, which is mainly to achieve omniscient mind. Then we can complete all the realizations and achieve the fully knowing mind; then we can free numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, intermediate state beings, humans, asuras and suras from the oceans of samsaric suffering.

Sorry the letter became long, but it is most important to understand and read. Even to read!


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