记无常簿

林钰堂

一九八八年二月十日,我想到如果我把亲见过而已亡故的人全记在一处,对于我这个全力在修行的人,应该有警惕无常的作用。我在抽屉里找到一小本蓝色封面的一九八七年按日记事簿,我就利用这本完全未用而过时的簿子。我先在首页题名「无常簿」,然后在逐日的空格里,填入我忆起的名字。


随着一个一个的名字,浮起一件一件的往事。有的名字已经记不得了,就记下亲属关系的称谓;有的并不知道名字,就记下简单的描述;有的还没有名字就已经走了。有的只有一面之缘;有的曾经多年共处。有的是千里外突来的耗音;有的是面前逐日的告别。有急病去的;也有久病亡的。有因学业问题而自杀的;也有因婚姻不如意而自尽的。有为了生意上的纠纷而被杀的;也有为了男女间的恩怨而被害的。有的胎死;有的早夭;有的含苞即亡;有的英年遽逝;有的老病交迫而去;有的无疾长命而终。四十一岁的我,一个人,就亲见了这么样形形色色的无常例子。


面对这无常的事实,想起世界上时时刻刻有千千万万的人走了,我很直觉的体会到,世间的是非纷争无意味。多么希望能利用这短暂宝贵的一生,好好的来做些积极的贡献。


我把这本无常簿展开立在佛桌上,靠着观世音菩萨化身绿度母的莲座,并且上香祈祷这些亡者可以得到佛、菩萨的加被,特别是度母的救渡,早日脱离轮回苦海。


当晚将入睡时,意念方沉寂,忽然觉察自己原有轻微的「死亡不是我会有的问题」的妄念。这种妄想是我们一般人可能潜存的自欺,因为死亡似乎离现实日常生活非常遥远。今天我面对着无常的实例,无意中突破了原有的妄念。妄念深藏在我们的意识中,笼罩着我们,所以不易察觉,只有在突破之时,才能一瞥其貌。


接着又直觉地体会到,死时得与世间的一切都分开。这是谁都意想得到的,但是由自己内心深处生出这样的认识却不是我曾有的。我们平时就要练习万事不挂怀,免得临终痛苦。从临终之时回顾,我们一生为太多无谓的小事牵肠挂肚,太不值得!遇到心中烦恼纠缠,我就想:「如果我现在临终,我为这些事烦恼,我这一生值得吗?」这样一想,往往就把我从烦恼中拉出来,烦恼就消失了。


第二天早上发现,昨晚上香祈祷的那柱线香,完全燃尽而未断,并且香头指向绿度母表示救渡而下垂的右手。我拍下照片附在本文之后,相片中还可见到蓝色的无常簿就在度母座下。这样感应想是佛、菩萨慈悲摄受这些已逝的众生,并且赞许记无常簿的修法吧!


从那天以来,我继续在记无常簿。遇到有人请我为亡者修超渡的密法,我也把亡者的名字加入。虽无亲识之缘,却有修法之缘,何况是修渡亡之法,更能警惕无常之现实、迅速而难以预测。有些后来加入的名字,是因为偶然忆起再补记的。可见无常虽现实,我们事未临头,就容易忽略忘去。藉记无常簿使无常成为我们心中常有的一件事,免得我们为无意义的俗世而沉迷受苦,使我们有清新的心地可以培植善念,发为积极的善行。


我们学算术,不但要做习题,并且要会应用在日常生活中的买卖上。记无常簿,不止是练习佛陀教示的观无常,并且应用到我们自身的经验里,使我们得益。理论与实践配合,我们才能真正得受用。因为所记的是亲历的活生生的例子,所以对我们有莫大的冲击与说服力。我初记当晚的体会,便是个好例子。


佛法中修无常有许多方法,例如观死(观死之必来、死期之不可测、死时之孤立无助,等等)、观心念之迁灭、他人临终助念佛号,以及去尸林念佛超幽。记无常簿可以做为这些方法的加行,并且简单易行。平常安放此簿于佛桌上,使亡者得佛佑,行者也藉之兼修慈悲心;又因为不论缘之深浅,都平等记下,所以也包含了平等大悲的修习在内。
希望大家都试行此法,同蒙法益!

                    一九八八年四月四日 清明节

 



tara



Keeping a "Record of Impermanence"

Dr. Yutang Lin


On February 10, 1988 it occurred to me that keeping a record of the names of all those deceased people whom I had met in person would help awaken in me a keen sense of impermanence. To a full-time Buddhist practitioner like me it would be very beneficial. I found a small blue-covered 1987 daily notebook in my drawer, so I made use of this unused but out-dated notebook. On the first page I entitled it A Record of Impermanence and in the daily blank I filled in names that I remembered.

As I put down each name, past events began to emerge in my mind one by one. There were some whose names were no longer remembered, so instead I put down a name for the relationship; some whose names were unknown to me, so I put down a brief description; and some even passed away before they were named. Some I met only once; some I was with for years. Some whose death came as a surprise from thousands of miles away; while others' were a gradual daily face-to-face good-bye. Some died of sudden illness; while others died of lingering sickness. Some committed suicide because of difficulty in school; while others because of an unhappy marriage. Some were murdered by business partners; while others were killed by romantic competitors. Some died in the womb; some died in infancy; some died a teenager, like a flower in bud; some died suddenly in their prime years; some died in the snare of old age and sickness; some died in the quietness of a long and peaceful life. At age forty-one I alone had witnessed such a vast variety of cases of impermanence.

Facing the fact of impermanence and considering that every moment there are thousands of people passing away, I intuitively realized the futility of worldly arguments and competitions. How I wished to use such a transient and precious life-time to offer some positive contributions to the world.

I put this Record of Impermanence, with its pages open, on the altar near the lotus seat of Green Tara--a transformation of the great compassionate Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guan Yin). I lit an incense stick and prayed that these deceased ones would be blessed by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, especially by the Green Tara, and thereby attain liberation from the sufferings of transmigration.

That night, just before I fell asleep, as my thoughts had quieted down, suddenly I sensed that I had held a subtle delusive thought in the past that death was not my problem. Such a delusive thought might well be present in the minds of many of us without our realizing its presence. After all, death seems to be so distant from the reality of our on-going daily life. Earlier that day I came to face the concrete cases of impermanence and thereby unintentionally shattered the delusive thought I had carried. Delusive thoughts are hiding deep down in our consciousness and obscuring our perspectives, hence they are hardly recognizable. Only at the moment of their shattering can we get a fleeting glimpse of them.

Immediately following this intuitive realization came another: At the moment of death we are to separate from everything in the world. This may be obvious to anyone who reflects on death; nevertheless, I had never had such an awareness arising from the depth of my mind. We need to practice being detached from all things lest we suffer at the end. Otherwise, as we look back, at the moment of death, we will realize that our lives have been infested with worries and quarrels over insignificant trivialities. What a waste it is! Whenever I am entangled by sorrows in my mind I would think: If this is the final moment of my life and I am entangled by these matters, would my life be worthwhile? Such a reflection usually pulls me right out from my sorrows, and the sky looks blue and sunny again!

The next morning I discovered that the incense stick I had lit and offered for my prayer, although completely burned, remained whole with its body turning in a recurving way and its head pointing toward the right hand of the statue of Green Tara. Her right hand extends downward with an open palm, signifying her salvation activities. I took a picture of it and the photo is reprinted at the end of this article. In this photo the blue cover of my Record of Impermanence can be seen at the seat of the Green Tara. To me, this inspiring occurrence indicated Buddha's compassionate blessing in answer to my prayers for the deceased ones, and approval of the practice of keeping a Record of Impermanence.

Since that day I have continued to keep my records of impermanence. Whenever people ask me to do Powa (a Buddhist tantric practice to transfer the consciousness of deceased ones to the Pureland of Buddha) I also enter the name of the deceased in my book. Although I had not met all of them in person, by doing Powa for them I established a wonderful Dharma connection. Besides, Powa is for the benefit of the deceased ones, and naturally reminds us of the reality of impermanence, of its immediacy and unpredictability. (By the way, sometimes when I did Powa for deceased people, I saw them appear before me.) Some of the names in the record were entered sporadically later because only then they sparked my memory. This shows that although impermanence of life is a reality, nevertheless, in our normal daily life it is very easy for us to neglect and forget about it. The practice of keeping a Record of Impermanence would constantly remind us of the reality of impermanence, lest we indulge ourselves in insignificant worldly pursuits and suffer from resulting turmoil. It would help safeguard the purity and freshness of our minds so that wholesome ideas would sprout and grow into kindness and compassionate activities.

To learn arithmetic thoroughly we should not only be able to do exercises in the book but also be able to apply it to real-life situations. Keeping a Record of Impermanence is not only to practice Buddha's teaching of being mindful of impermanence but also to connect the teaching with our personal experiences to benefit us on a down-to-earth level. Only by unifying the theoretical with the practical can we actually receive the essence of Buddha's teachings. Since the cases of impermanence that we put into writing are ones that we have actually witnessed, been personally involved in, and even suffered for, they have tremendous impact on us and carry with them supreme power of persuasion. My awakening to the presence of delusive thoughts in me is a good example of the effectiveness of this practice.

There are many practices of impermanence in Buddhism. For example, meditations on death (to meditate on the certainty of death's arrival, the unpredictability of the time of death, one's helplessness and loneliness at the moment of death, etc.), observation of the changing scene of our mental activities, chanting Buddha's name near someone who is passing away, and visiting cemeteries to pray for the dead. Keeping a record of impermanence can be an easy but helpful addition to the other practices. This record is to be placed on the altar so that the deceased ones are under the blessing of Buddha and thereby we may practice an act of great compassion. As we write down the names, we do not distinguish between friends or foes, family members or acquaintances; therefore, it is also a practice of equal-love-for-all.

I hope that everyone who reads this article will adopt this practice and thereby share its effective benefits.


Originally written in Chinese
on April 4, 1988
Chin-Ming Festival, the Chinese Memorial Day
translated on May 8, 1992
both in El Cerrito, CA, U.S.A.


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