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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 56 continually generate and die. so, in the mind as well as in the body, in every instant, there are constant occasions of births (arising) and deaths (perishing). the second kind of birth and death is more easily iden- tifiable: the birth and death of one lifespan. In other words, the human lifespan arises at the moment of conception and perishes when we die. all living creatures experience the same arising and perishing of their lifespan, but we are talking here about the human context. the third kind of birth and death consists of our lives in the three times of our past, present, and future. our previous lives are countless; our future lives can also be countless, until we attain buddhahood. when we look at our lifespan this way, it is not just the moment we are born until the moment we die, but rather it extends over the three times. this gives us some hope and consolation in that, having attained life, we should continue to live because we have future lives to come. what if one is unhappy and contemplates suicide, thinking the next life will be better? Is that a good thing? no, because when one commits suicide, it is being irresponsible to previ- ous lifetimes, not doing justice to the present life, and creating karmic disturbances for their future life. a single lifespan can be likened to the daily rise of the sun, and then its disappearance over the horizon in the evening. after the sun goes down you do not see it, but it is still there and will rise again in the morning. It does not come into being anew every morning. a lifespan is like that. when it ends, it eventu- ally gives rise to another lifespan, like the sun rising again. But this observation only applies to the physical manifestation of a single lifespan, for there is pure buddhanature in every one of us that is ever-present throughout the three times. like the sun, the physical body may go through the process of appearing and disappearing, but that has nothing to do with our pure bud- dhanature, which is there even when we don’t perceive it. so, each lifespan can be thought of as a segment followed by another segment within the endless process of arising My husband, Michael, and I first met Master Sheng Yen about ten years ago at the Barre Center for Buddhist Stud- ies. We felt an immediate connection with him and were drawn to his humility and deep wisdom. In the years that followed, we sat many Silent Illumination retreats with him and always came away with deep gratitude for the opportunity to practice with someone whose understanding of the dharma was so profound. Over the years, Shifu’s health (Shifu means “teacher”) began to decline, but he continued to lead retreats in New York, and he gave seemingly countless other teachings and interviews in the United States and Taiwan until a couple of years ago. This past January, Michael and I decided to go to Taiwan because it had become increasingly clear that Shifu would not be able to travel to the U.S . anymore. When we arrived in Taiwan, rumor had it that Shifu was unconscious and in a hospital in Taipei. After some detective work, we guessed which hospital he was staying in, and when we arrived at the ward we were greeted by one of his doc- tors. He told us that Shifu was too sick and weak to see anyone, but offered to give him a letter of gratitude that we had written to him. We were so thankful that we had the opportunity to communicate to Shifu our great love and appreciation. Five days later, Shifu passed away as he was being taken back to Dharma Drum Mountain, his beautiful meditation community in the mountains just north of Taipei. DDM is a vast complex that includes housing for monastics and lay volunteers, a Chan Hall, a huge meeting hall, and a library. A university is currently being constructed there as well. It’s a truly magnificent and inspiring place. We were staying at DDM when Shifu’s body arrived from the hospital. It was a great grace to be there with others who loved him as much as we did, and to share this experience with practitioners who understood the nature of loss. Shifu had planned his funeral service impeccably, including teaching his students how to relate to his death. During the two weeks following his death, a video of Shifu played repeatedly in a room beneath the Grand Buddha Hall. In it, Shifu spoke about the notHing to Cling to narayan liebenson grady went to taiwan just before Master Sheng Yen died, hoping to see him one last time. She reports on his final days as well as the ceremonies following his death that attracted tens of thousands of people and yet, in keeping with his wishes, left no traces of him behind. ➤ providedBYdHarMadruMMountainCulturalandeduCationalfoundation,allrigHtSreServed