Second Reminder – Death and Impermanence – DC Khandro Rinpoche study group – 4/18/2011

Why the focus on the preliminaries? Rinpoche focused only on them before the empowerments.  She always focuses on them so much.   Why?  If you get the basics in a deep way, a physical “submitting to the universe” (R),  a cleansing occurs that opens up.  The four reminders are the tent stakes. J Can have the most expensive tent, but without good stakes, it can still blow away. There are common spiritual crisis, and unhealthy behaviors that the 4 Reminders are the remedy. One year Rinpoche challenged some newer students, asking them to  bring out suggestions  of problems and issues.  She could say which reminder’s weakness could be responsible and why to every single one.

“To bring about the fruition of this precious human birth, you need to remember death and impermanence.”

All compounded phenomena are impermanent like a flash of lightning.
No matter how one reflects on any container [world) and its contents [phenomena therein],
One Sees that they are all subject to destruction.
Death is definite and the time of death uncertain.
Nevertheless, deceiving oune1ves with a mind which clings to Impermanence,
We abide in a sphere of heedlessness.
Guru, embodiment of the Three Jewels, look upon us with compassion.
Bestow your blessings so that we are ever-mindful of the
Impermanence of death.

We could talk about the 5 kinds (of impermanence?), etc., but it would resonate more to talk about why it matters.   Way back when, when K was doing his first ngondro (Kagyu), they had the image of a lazy person sitting under tree spacing out, and a snake falls in their lap. If that happened, even a lazy person will get energetic (I used to play with snakes when I was young).  You WILL move if a poisonous green snake falls from a tree into your lap. It helps to know that in old India, you could assume any snake falling from a tree was poisonous.

The reason for contemplating impermanence is to ingrain a sense of urgency. It’s so easy to get complacent or distracted. “I’m dying with this mind?”  Going home on the train yesterday, going from third rail to rail, there was a big flash. It scared the hell out of K. “I could die!”

L. – Impermanence and death is important.  You need to remember that “I could die.”  For me the big one is, my kids could die. I think of this reminder to lead to for right conduct.   I look at examples of imperamance from my own life. In the last 7 weeks , my father died, congress defunded my agency….All of it could change.  What do you take refuge in? Getting work done?  Being good at your job?  My family loves me?  What are MY ‘stakes in the ground’?  Where does my mind go?  What do we REALLY take refuge in?  Do we take refuge in straws?

I have a good friend that is very sick and thinking of death. It made me think, whatever you spend most of your day focusing on – what is the view? Is it bodhisattva activity or ego?

K. One thing to note after you die and your consciousness goes to  the bardo of becoming.  The thing that isn’t well known is that you don’t have ANY willpower, but are entirely at the whims of your karma. The habits you are building now will be with you after death and determine where you go.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have 4 reminders as habits, instead of the poisons?

L. I think of my father, who was very afraid at the time of death based on his violent alcoholic mind.  “What, is this REALLY the mind I want to die with?”  K’s  father was more military, sort of like Patton thought he had previously lifetimes in famous battles, his dad was like that.

LD – Khandro Rinpoche emphasizes why this matters as creating an appropriate sense of urgency. It’s the “snake in the lap” and “practice like your hair on fire”.  Really, this will help us seek refuge in the right things.

So what ARE the wrong things?  Not heavy moralistic J   What is more helpful?  It is easy to read a book and see “right behavior and wrong behavior” –

The one phrase that has stuck – “when you die, it’s always today. It’s never tomorrow. You always die today.”  Since then, it’s easy to remember   if you die today, – if you die tomorrow…”  Death leads to me being more kind.  Awareness of death leads me to be more kind.

A number of years ago, I worked for old people, and some were mean. Some used to be nice, but it was just manners.  There was one woman who could be so mean. But nearly everyone around her said, “Oh, she’s old, she’s earned that right.”

I’ve found that working with death as a vivid reminder, it becomes almost relaxing after the initial panic. Things in oneself have to relax, which can be a challenge to ego.  It takes wind out of the sails of “I am important, this has to happen!”  Awareness of death can be seen as “walking with the angel of death,” acknowledging that presence.  From the perspective of impermanence, things seem to lose their sense of importance.  Priorities are changed.   You still do laundry, go to work, etc., but the way you feel about them are different. You don’t change outward behavior.  You change or keep your perspective as opposed to being sucked in by the distraction.  See TV as just an appearance.   We work long hours.  Thinking about impermanence – thinking about it daily – is an antidote.                  Sometimes it seems so important I get something done by this deadline, and then it gets to me “this doesn’t really matter”.

You are in the game. Play for all its worth, but it’s still a game.  Assuming you aren’t doing something terrible for work, doing it well is good for others. Be in the habit of doing something well – how you do it is what matters. 

Working in a chaotic place, especially with congress voting to defund us recently, people come sit in my office and just say “I need to calm down.”  We can all manifest that mindfulness and compassion.

Last night, Amtrak’s ticket’s machines all broke down, and the conductor said “you need to go buy a ticket.”  “I get that you have a job, and want to help you do your job. Let me try to call Amtrak.” The people sitting there said “my god, I would have yelled at them.  Why didn’t’ you?” “Would it have helped if I’d gotten snarking with him?” they all went “ah”.

K. There is a story of wise man in Persia who lost his head. The king said, “Give me a philosophical statement that can’t be disproven.” The wise man said, “This too shall pass.” “Everything does.”

L.D. I recite things through the day.  Also, pay attention to precision of speech.  I tend to say “if all goes well” when saying that I will do something.  Also, I set my out of office message “I expect to be back…” instead of “I will be back.”

One day Khandro Rinpoche taught on “don’t lie”, which sounds simple. But she said that even saying “I’ll see you tomorrow” is a lie.  You don’t know that. There are so many possible reasons why that may not happen.  So, precision of speech puts the brakes on negative speech.

The 3 buckets (tripitika) are things to point your mind.  These are practicing the dharma, reflecting on engaging in virtuous conduct, and working to train and tame your mind.   Seeing everything as impermanence, or trying to practice conduct.  I study to make it sink deeper in, so it resides a little more.  Just spending time with studying.

B – Maybe I’m new enough that my habitual patterns are terrible. J  Maybe the more time studying, the better.   I feel an effect, but not a sweeping great effect. J

K. The thing to focus on is staying aware and keeping perspective.  So often, we aren’t even aware of backsliding.    There is no place for guilt in this.  J  Everything you do something right, right.  When you feel bad, you have forgotten about impermanence.  One big crack in solid world –

With impermanence alone, you can prove emptiness.  If you ‘got’ impermanence, how can you say anything truly exists?  The death and impermanence keeps your perspective.    If you remember them, you won’t get too attached to this moment. If you feel bad, you make yourself permanent – you freeze time, which is a losing battle.  We try to make it solid. I was thinking, some people are more data people, so studying will be more useful.  Others will be more experiential – actually doing the practice.  You use the vehicle you have, practice, study, etc.  You are working with the path that resonates with you.

One thing that helps cut self-judgementalness – instead of feeling judgment, feel joy because you are aware, and you have stopped doing it.

L. How the dharmas work is, if you are thinking about this, you aren’t doing that. Also use it to develop empathy.  I have a friend that is in one of the contemplative Jewish orders, who does security for ————.-“when I go to the grocery store, you never know what is going through their minds”. I’ve done things I’m not proud of.  I look at people and wonder “what is going on behind the eyes. Their mother could have died, they could have just had sex, they could be lousy day, etc.”

On the metro, let your face change into someone else’s face. Look from face to face, and be with the feeling. No story, just experience.   Think of things that resonate with impermanence.  Remember that everything we hold dear is going to change in some way, good and bad.

There is constant degeneration and transformation. Every day is not going to be the same as today. Next year will not be the same as this year.  ‘The agency may be a corpse one day.’ Every morning, every evening, every meal, every time you brush your teeth is one less time, closer to death.

There is a finite number.   People were asked to project how old you will live to be.   Some people do the “one year to live” group practice.  Do you have your things in order?  Your will? Etc.

The 2nd reminder matters because it helps us turn away from less helpful things. The right things are the things that will helpful at the time of death. The wrong things are the things that won’t help at the time of death.


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