All conditioned dharmas
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles and shadows;
Like dewdrops and lightning flashes.
One should contemplate them in this way.
Conditioned dharmas refer to dharmas that are acted out, expressed, and have visible form; these are worldly dharmas. All worldly phenomena are called conditioned dharmas. Their opposite is the unconditioned Dharma. The unconditioned Dharma is not like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow, a dewdrop, or a lightning flash. Conditioned dharmas aren’t ultimate; they don’t penetrate to the root of things, and they are impermanent. The unconditioned Dharma, on the other hand, neither comes into being nor ceases to be; it has neither a beginning nor an end. It is devoid of shape or form, and cannot be expressed. There are many varieties of unconditioned Dharma; here we are discussing the type that is unconditioned and yet conditions everything. It gives rise to creative transformations on a vast scale. This type of unconditioned Dharma is very difficult to cultivate and very difficult to understand.
Ordinary people are attached to conditioned dharmas. They find worldly dharmas fascinating. From morning to night, they pursue fame and fortune, tossed and turned by the waves of karma. Careless for even an instant, they might be blown away without a trace, leaving everyone to wonder what realm of existence they have fallen into. There are so many beings in the human realm, and in the animal realm as well. There are even more beings in the hells, and in the realm of hungry ghosts. Therefore, it’s not that easy to get a foothold in the human realm. As we bob up and down in the sea of karma, we are blown about in dizzy confusion.
The planet is presently in the Dharma-ending Age. The term “Dharma-ending” means that the Dharma’s extinction is imminent. The Dharma has already reached its final stages. People have forgotten the fundamental Dharma, and only pursue its more superficial aspects. The more they pursue, the farther they stray from the truth. Unable to find what is true, they end up grasping at what is false: conditioned dharmas. They know nothing about the unconditioned Dhrama. They have even forgotten the name. That’s why this age has become the Dharma-ending age.
Not only Buddhism, but other religions are declining as well. Starting in 1963, many Catholic priests have failed to abide to their rules. The sisters and fathers changed their style. The same thing has happened in Buddhism. Buddhism changed with the times, and that change ushered in the Dharma-ending Age. Therefore, I have always said that the leaders of all religions should assume full responsibility for the decline of religion in the world.
Also, in modern society, education has gone astray. In the past, educators worked to teach the younger generation to become capable and productive citizens of the world. Ancient scholars were cautious and attentive, and devoted themselves completely to the study of knowledge until their hair turned white. They would never have the thought, “How can I get into the limelight and become famous?” They never entertained such thoughts. They studied in order to teach young people to become productive citizens, how to improve the social mores, and how to create a new and better world. That was the style and spirit of the ancient scholars. What about today’s scholars and professors? They only teach their students how to become rich and famous.
The scholars of ancient times sought to obtain an understanding of principles. That is, they wished “to investigate things, extend their knowledge, make their minds sincere, make their hearts proper, cultivate their persons, bring harmony to families, set the country in order, and bring peace to the world.” With these eight steps, they fostered proper ideas and good character in young people. Nowadays, however, some scholars and professors actually encourage students to use drugs, take birth control pills, be unfilial to their parents, and become notorious trouble-makers in the world. Society degenerates with each passing day, and the professors at well-known universities should take full responsibility. Moreover, television tends to confuse people and negatively influence them.
From this, we can see that there are reasons why people no longer follow ancient ways, and why moral values have declined. Young people cannot stand on their own and are easily influenced by their surroundings. There are many factors behind this, not just one. This is a great pity. Therefore, all people involved in religion and education should quickly find a way to improve the situation. Only then we can hope to avert an impending world crisis. If we keep on going like this without any improvement, the final days of the world will soon be at hand.
Is there any way to avert a crisis? There is. Everything depends upon the human mind. If people have wholesome minds, the world will be wholesome. If people have corrupt minds, the world will be corrupt and doomsday will soon arrive. If we don’t want to hasten the decline of the Dharma and the approach of doomsday, then we must rally our spirits and carry out the work of salvation in the midst of the raging storm. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up your own life in order to save others. It means you must stop the storm.
Take a look around, and you’ll see natural and human calamities – floods, hurricanes, fires, and wars – occurring everywhere. Even if we don’t count the casualties from these major disasters, but only consider smaller calamities such as plane crashes, train derailments, and car collisions, the number of casualties is still staggering. These various catastrophes result from violent tempers and lack of virtue. Yet no one has awakened to this. Instead, each blames the other and refuses to take responsibility. There is perhaps not a single person who has reflected upon himself and thought, “The world is not in good shape because I haven’t been a good person.” And so the situation in the world becomes more deplorable with each passing day. Each day is worse than the previous one.
Fortunately, there is a way to turn this around and it takes neither strength nor money. This method requires that everyone abstains from the flesh of living beings and eats only vegetarian food, and that they free creatures instead of killing them. If this can be done, then all the world’s disasters will vanish. Therefore, adopting a vegetarian diet is very important. Calamities occur because the universe is filled with the enmity generated by slaughter. If people can liberate creatures rather than killing them and eating their flesh, these tendencies towards violence will abate.
Why are people so explosive and hot-tempered? Because they eat meat. Eating meat increases one’s thoughts of lust and makes one angry and uncompassionate. Hence, if we wish the world to be free of calamities, we must quickly stop taking the lives of creatures and eating their flesh. Only then can we avert an impending crisis.
A talk given on June 13, 1982
at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas