Growing old? Don't bet on it!

We all think we have a better-than-average chance to grow old.

But who are we kidding? Newspaper reports assure us that bad things happened to good folks, that there are too many unhappy events waiting to ambush us along the way:

Plane crash, ferry sinking, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, nuclear reactor meltdown, Middle East camel flu, colon cancer (common among Singapore Chinese men), AIDS (also common with middle-aging Singapore men, especially those who commute weekly to Batam), smoke inhalation during fire, car crash along PIE, or riot in Little India.

So, when we think of the endless possibilities that could cut off our lives abruptly and at the most inconvenient time, we feel amazed and thankful that we’re still walking, running, eating, working (occasionally), collecting salary, indulging in a good tui-na massage, reading interesting books, and watching the Milky Way on the Great Ocean Road.

Guanyin Avalokiteshvara explains that whatever have occurred in our lives are just phenomena, or “happenings”, known collectively by the technical term, dhammas. They happened, and then they are no more, leaving once a trace of memory. Everything that has happened is gone when the moment passed. It has no permanent nature.

The trouble is, as far as we are personally concerned, they remained “real” in our mind, and remembering them affects our emotion, feeling and decision. To help us see into their real, empty nature, let’s meditate on Avalokiteshvara’s words in the Heart Sutra.

Avalokiteshvara says:

“This emptiness of all dhammas (phenomena) is not born, not destroyed, not impure, not pure, does not increase nor decrease. In emptiness there is no form, no sensation, perception, volition, or consciousness: no eye, ear, nose, tongue body, mind, no sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thought, there is no realm of the eye and so on through to no realm of mental cognition,

“There is no ignorance and there is no ending of ignorance through to no ageing and death and no ending of ageing and death. there is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no cessation of suffering and no path. There is no wisdom nor any attainment."

Everything in the sutras is summed up in these two paragraphs of Avalokiteshvara’s words. Reflect every day on these words.

Watch the ideas, concepts, views, feelings, anger, excitement, mental pictures, and so on as they scroll across your mind. Just watch. Don’t analyse or try to make sense of them. They come in front of you, then move on and disappear, like a disjointed movie. When you do that long enough, your mind eventually empties itself of all the trash and you understand what is Emptiness. This is all that is in meditation.

When we free ourselves from the habit of differentiation, and from the prison of concepts and ideas and feelings, we see the true nature of reality, and we understand the mantra that Guanyin urges us to repeat:

Ga-te, ga-te, para-ga-te, para-sam-ga-te, Bodhi svaha!
Gone, gone, completely gone, utterly gone, behold  Wisdom!

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Avalokiteshvara Guanyin temple, Shuanglin complex, Singapore