Illumination Light 3-Khandro Pema Chodron
Illumination Light 3

Since Rinpoche and I came back from the U.S., we have been engaged in the reconstruction and the renovation work of the Monastery housing the Relics Stuba of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche. The construction work is estimated to take one to two years to complete. The importance of this unparalleled task cannot be over-emphasized, as this task is prophesied by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche himself and reiterated by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche’s Dakini, Ringin Wangmo. Therefore, Rinpoche and I have to throw ourselves into this tremendous task to repay the endless compassion and loving kindness of Guru Padmasambhava, Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, and all our lineage masters. May the wisdom light of this mani-treasure shines all the sentient beings into ultimate peace and happiness!

I am convinced that all of you have realized the true meaning of renunciation, which I mentioned in Illumination Light 1. You should not interpret it as living by oneself and abandoning everything in the secular life. In particular, the term “forsaking this life” in the teachings shall not be interpreted as committing suicide or abandoning all of our possessions, which only creates hindrance and obstacles to our Dharma practice. Instead, the essence of Buddha’s teachings is to forbid the endless pursuit of all the worldly phenomena in this life, causing selfishness and attachments. These negative habits, just like honey on the cutting edge of a knife, become the source of all sufferings we experience and thus the Samsara. Therefore, I shall keep reminding all of you, as I did in Illumination Light 2, that the most meaningful decision you can ever make in this life is to establish the right path toward liberating yourselves from all the sufferings in the Samsara. Accordingly, you should practice Dharma toward this direction in an everlasting manner.

To learn the right path toward liberation, it is of utmost importance and necessity to follow the right Guru. This is because we were obscured by numerous outer circumstances and negative habits in our countless past lives, deviating ourselves from the right path. Therefore, it is invaluable to receive guidance from a learned, well qualified teacher with rich experiences of Dharma practice, who not only corrects us in a timely manner when we are lost, but also helps us immediately understand the teachings as soon as his blessings enter our minds. The most important key to achieving all of these positive and auspicious results is the unwavering and absolute faith in the Guru. Absolute faith in the Guru is the key that separates success from failure.Buddha Shakyamuni once expounded in the teachings that it is of extreme importance to have faith. As soon as we become a Buddhist, no matter whether we practice Hinayana, Mahayana, or Vajrayana, having faith in the Guru is indispensable. Regardless of one’s faculties and the level of Dharama practice, the faith determines how much Buddhas’ wisdom and blessings enter one’s body, speech, and mind.

As we observed, it is easy for many people to talk about faith when things go well. However, in the face of adversity, whether they still keep the same level of faith becomes a big question. In particular, a common misconception is that as soon as we become a Buddhist and follow a teacher, everything will go as we plan with flying colors. However, we are oblivious that actions we made in our past lives also lead to the results in this life. The rule of karmas never deceives. The merits we accumulate in this life, including chanting mantras, and all other virtuous behaviors will eventually come true, but not necessarily in this life. The timing when the karma appears depends on the extent and the order of the (good or bad) actions we make. Obviously, the accumulation of merits will help reduce the extent and time of sufferings from bad karmas, further leading us to realize the sources of the utmost accomplishments of Buddha’s Dharmakaya and Rupakaya. Only when we consummate the accumulation of merits will we achieve the accomplishments of Buddha’s Rupakaya; only when we perfect the accumulation of wisdom will we achieve the accomplishments of Buddha’s Dharmakaya; at that point, we begin to realize the irrefutable truth, of which all Buddhists learning Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings should be aware, that no accomplishments will be achieved without accumulating merits and wisdom.Recitals, meditation, and all activities propagating and preserving the Three Jewels—The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha—are meant for accumulating these merits into Buddhahood.

I hope the above words will help you understand the right concepts and directions to our Dharma practice.

Today, in Illumination Light 3, I want to talk about the subject of “impermanence” after reiterating it for so many times, as this subject is extremely important! We will never know whether the next minute in this life or the next life (in other words, death) will come first at the end of an exhalation. That is the reason why Rinpoche constantly reminds you all of the importance of envisioning impermanence in our weekly Ngondro Practice, hoping you can focus on practicing Dharma to make the most of the precious human birth. However, as soon as you step out of the Center, you forget Rinpoche’s teachings on impermanence. Alas. As Rinpoche points out, “you nod when you hear me give you the teachings and then you forget them as soon as you leave.” All I can do is to keep reminding you that the window of the excellent opportunities to learn the supreme teachings and follow a great teacher is extremely short and slips away quickly. All these words aim at awakening your determination to cherish the opportunities to practice Dharma, the rare opportunities after so many accumulations of merits in your past and current lives.

All sentient beings must face impermanence. The cycle of Life and death is the inevitable course no one can escape. All the information you receive every day from your friends, relatives and news articles points to the undeniable truth of impermanence. We don’t even know when it is our turn to face impermanence. Since impermanence matters to everyone, including you and me, we should not pretend that it does not exist and fear to talk about it. Instead, just like the only solution for a defaulting borrower is paying off his debts, the only solution for us to face impermanence and free ourselves from its suffering is to practice Dharma.

Nowadays, many young people indulge themselves in instant gratifications without thinking about impermanence. Obviously, when they are healthy and rich, they can afford eating, drinking, and playing all day, still feeling that life is easy and cozy. However, in the end they still cannot avoid the ambush of impermanence. When the death bell rings, they feel extreme fear and sufferings as they never prepared for impermanence, nor could they find the right guide when it comes. It becomes too late to seek remedies and solutions at that moment. The greatest suffering is the reluctance of leaving this world and everything they own. A lot of people are concerned about life after retirement and prepare for it, but they are ignorant about preparing for the death. In the face of impermanence, all the worldly power, fortune, and fame cannot help. We are on our own, knowing that all the efforts we made in this life are in vain, causing endless and unimaginable sufferings and regrets.

Some nihilists may say “There is no need to fear Impermanence, as nothing exists after death.” This argument sounds right and easy. However, if this argument were true, then Buddha Shakyamuni would not have needed to reveal the importance of “impermanence” upon his first turning the Dharma Wheel after reaching full enlightenment. The matter of death cannot be interpreted as simply the analogy of dried-off water or extinguished fire. In fact, death is a phenomenon that separates body from mind. Mind never “dies” or disappears after death, and still follows the same instinct of pursuing peace and happiness and staying away from sufferings as before death. The only difference is that, after death, mind cannot control itself but wanders around following past habits, just like a feather following the wind blows without a moment of rest. In that case, everything the mind perceives and feels is driven by habits and provides nothing but scary scenes and painful sufferings. This process continues until the circumstance of reincarnation matures, and then the same cycle of life and death among the Six Realms starts again without any freedom. Like a turning wheel, in the Samsara, there is no beginning and end.

After learning the truth about life and death, would you not agree that we should make the most of the precious human birth in this life and try to find the way to liberate yourself from the never-ending nightmares of the Samsara? The placebo against impermanence and the Samsara is the eighty-four thousand methods expounded by Buddha Shakyamuni. Each method is worth pursuing, but given the limited time and energy we have, we can only choose one method and focus on it. From now on, we shall never hesitate to follow the Guru and practice his teachings. If, as mentioned above, you can continue to do so and keep the absolute faith with your Gurus and the Three Jewels, you will eventually attain full enlightenment and liberations in this life or in the future. The good habit of envisioning and thinking of your Guru and all the Buddhas is deeply rooted in yourself. Therefore, as soon as you feel fear and helpless, you will naturally think of your Guru and all the Buddhas, like a baby calling the parents for help. Your virtuous thought of your Guru and all the Buddhas at that moment is the exact way of liberating yourself from the Samsara.

If you keep practicing Dharma in your daily life and totally realize the meaning of impermanence, then you will be fearless, if not in complete calmness, in the face of death. You will become more optimistic and positive. Instead of the senseless pursuit of fame and wealth, you cherish every moment that enriches the value of life as you understand how limited our time, our life and our energy is. You will forgo any diversions and joyfully spend the rest of your life practicing Dharma, reciting mantras, and meditating, knowing that these are the only way of eliminating the sufferings of the Samsara and reaching ultimate peace and happiness.

When you certainly realize impermanence as an indispensable part of our life, you will cherish any positive circumstances and end the negative circumstances with care. You will have a happy family and get alone with people. You don’t lament on the toughness of life, let alone thinking about committing suicide. If, with all the precious opportunities to learn and practice Dharma, you still cannot stand the toughness in this life, nothing can endorse that you will lead a better next life. Only the Dharma will give us the opportunity to live not only a better next life, but better life after life. This opportunity is too rare to miss and to ignore, so we should fully utilize the precious human birth and strive to practice Dharma through eliminating negative energies and accumulating merits.

The certificate that guarantees the end of all the sufferings and obscurations are in your hands now. It is your turn to decide whether you want to fully utilize it and prepare for impermanence while your body and mind are still free.

May the blessings from the Guru enter your mind!

Pema Chodron 2015-3-15


Khandro's teachings


《Illumination Light 1》Renunciation

all the excuses of not practicing Dharma originate from your deep attachment to the worldly phenomena


《Illumination Light 2》Faith

Faith is the indispensable state of mind in learning Dharma


《Illumination Light 3》Impermanence

the only solution for us to face impermanence and free ourselves from its suffering is to practice Dharma