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Blog » Sweet Dews Of Dharma Talks » 2009 » One Way of Birth, Different Ways of Death

One Way of Birth, Different Ways of Death2013-01-10


A Dharma talk given by DM Heng Yun
English translation by Huali Yuan


We just heard the Venerable Maser’s lecture on birth and death. After thinking it over, I find that there is actually no birth or death. Why? Because it is just a change of a body, as it is said “after this life ends, one will be reborn in another life”. The Venerable Master mentioned that if someone commits suicide when encountering difficulties thinking that he will be free of suffering by doing so, he will find no such bargain. Then what will happen to that person? He will commit suicide once again every day at the time when he committed suicide, and he will undergo suffering constantly.


From the Venerable Master’s lecture, we also heard the story about Emperor Chong Zhen, who was a novice monk in his previous life. He fell down from the roof and died when he was working for a temple. The abbot was concerned that the novice monk would not have enough blessings in his next life, therefore he asked his disciples to bury him in an unusual way. However, his disciples could not bear to do so, and they buried him as usual. In the next life, the novice monk became the emperor Chong Zhen, because he had virtue but no blessing, he ended up killing himself in the coal mountain.
The novice monk and the emperor Chong Zhen were the same person, therefore, it is said that there is no birth or death, but a change of body, a residence. Then what kind of residence will we live in? Where will we go? A mansion? A hut? Or a shabby room? The answer depends on what we do now.
As for myself, King Yama has already sent me many letters, being a left-home person I was able to receive messages of impermanence quite frequently. I remembered that my grandmother passed away when I was in the fourth grade. At that time I did not realize it was a message for me. Later I received other letters, including the death of my father as well as some fellow cultivators and laypersons. 
There is a saying that goes: “One way of birth, but different ways of death.” Everyone was born in the same way-from the womb of his/her mother, but everyone has a different way of death. From my personal observation, there is great variety in the ways of death. Some people’s bodies were very soft after death. The first one I met was the Venerable Master’s elder sister, which was a very special case, she passed away after she came to USA, since most of her relatives lived in China, her cremation had to be delayed until they arrived. It had been some days after her death, and during that period, her body was kept in the cooler room. I participated in her cremation ceremony. Due to a special condition, I had to touch her body, and I felt her body was very soft, which left a deep impression on me.
In my father’s case, his body remained very soft for one or two days after his death, I could move his hands around easily. I guess probably he cultivated in his past lives, not merely in this life, therefore he looked very adorned when he passed away. Since I met two cases in a row in which the bodies were very soft, I had the impression that this was a quite common thing.
Later, I met different cases, it was then I got to know-sometimes the body was so hard that you could not even change their clothes, and you had to cut open their clothes. Sometimes, the body was watering and discharging pus. There were also cases where people could not let go and had obstructions in their mind. Even thought they cultivated very vigorously in daily life, they could not let go and had attachments in their mind; it was difficult for them to attain rebirth auspiciously and their body would be hard. It is also speaking dharma for us and reminds us to be aware. After witnessing so many kinds of death, I got to know that everyone had a different kind of death, which made me deeply understand the saying-- “One way of birth, but different ways of death.”
Originally, I did not know the saying. So how did I come to know? Several years ago, the manager of a funeral mortuary came to our temple to invite the Sangha to lecture. The manager was an upright and impartial person; he could not bear with inferior qualities of employees, for example: stealing dead persons’ belongings when they had not been seen by dead persons’ relatives, such as ring on fingers. Sometimes since the finger was already swollen and the ring could not be pulled off, they cut off the finger. The manager was very angry about their behavior and he thought they should not do that and that they should be given a lecture.
There are only a few funeral mortuaries and they belong to government. Since the local population is very dense, although there are quite a few entrances for cremation, which are quite long and far, when it was a good day for cremation, people had to line up. Sometimes, several coffins were sent in at the same time. Sometimes, the cremated corpse came out one after another consecutively. You would see different ceremonies, sometimes it was jingly and tinkly, sometimes people were crying hard, there were seldom cases where the ceremonies were held according to Dharma. In this way, a body was turned to ashes, and the life journey was over.
Since workers in funeral mortuary often dealt with the dead, if they did not maintain a proper mind, they would look deformed. At the time when the manager invited us to be there, there were many people who looked deformed. Sorry, I should not say it this way, but they looked like people in the nether world, lacking proper energy. It was difficult to communicate with them since they did not care to listen. I asked them: “In your many experiences, what kind of person looked the most adorned after death?” They came up with different strange answers, for example, someone thought wealthy people looked the most beautiful after death since their bodies were decorated. Among them, a strong lady impressed me deeply, and she was one of the employees who had proper energy. When talking about why she chose the career, she said that because when she was young, she wanted to understand how people had “one way of birth, but different ways of death”. She had been in this career for several decades. Her job was to clean up the dead body and put on makeup. She had seen many cases, and she thought people looked the most beautiful if they died with a peaceful mind, instead of by using makeup. Many rich people died without their eyes being closed, therefore she thought passing away peacefully made people look the most adorned.
Therefore, all these experiences are letters for me from King Yama, telling me how life is impermanent. However, I still did not understand it after receiving so many letters. When messages were delivered more and more frequently, my impression became stronger and they inspired me to look deeper into and understand some issues. Our thoughts keep coming and going incessantly, our body also keeps changing continually, therefore, we are destined to undergo death, and no one can escape. Therefore, we must see through the truth of life by being aware of the fact that our body just temporarily belongs to us and will not permanently follow us. Maybe you are a woman this life, but you might become a man in your next life. In this life, you are a man, but in next life you might become an animal, and that is not for sure.
Although our body is like a temporary hotel for us, but at least we can live in this hotel for the time being, enabling us to listen to lectures, study Dharma, and cultivate, which is far easier than animals. If we lost our human body, then it would be difficult to regain in ten thousand eons. Considering this, there is no way that we could excuse ourselves not to cherish our human body, take advantage of our limited lifetime to study Buddha dharma, and then return to the root and revert to the origin, this is the real thing; otherwise, we will be wasting time in this life, unable to know where we will go in next life!
Many of the greatly virtuous Sangha in ancient times are our models. I just mentioned that some peoples’ bodies were as soft as cotton after death, some peoples’ bodies were too hard to be moved. However, there were great virtuous Sangha who really gained the liberty of birth and death, if he wanted to go, he would tell his disciples in advance: “I will be gone at which hour, in which day of which month, of which year.” And when it was time, he would really be gone, he could pass away at his will. Some of his disciples would cry at his departure, then he would open his eyes and say: “You are so silly, passing away is a very common thing!” After scolding his disciples, he would be gone again.
So it totally depends on us. Those virtuous Sangha in ancient times cultivated really vigorously, the environment they lived in were very simple, unlike the environment nowadays, which is complicated and abundant with information. They would work hard on cultivation after hearing one sentence from their Master, having no TV or Internet, they focused on cultivation, therefore many of them got enlightened. Sometimes, they would investigate a topic for twenty or thirty years without any stop, later, they could understand their mind and see their nature, thus gained the liberty of birth and death, which means, they could live or die at their will, unlike us, who are not so free.
By virtue of listening to the Venerable Master’s lecture today, we should take the issue of birth and death more seriously, take good advantage of our human body, and emulate the spirits of ancient virtuous Sangha, and not to let our journey in this life pass in vain. Furthermore, pray that everybody can return to their root and origin, which is true and eternal.