Of all the evil karma I have ever done,
Based on beginningless greed, anger, and delusion,
And born of body, mouth and mind,
I now repent and vow to reform.
Due to the confused mixture of good and bad karma that we have created, sometimes we have wholesome thoughts and sometimes unwholesome ones. With wholesome thoughts, we avoid evil and do good. With unwholesome thoughts, we do evil and avoid goodness. We have been vacillating between good and evil for endless eons, doing a few good deeds one day, committing some bad deeds the next day, and doing some neutral deeds the day after that. as we cultivate, it’s not easy to escape the retribution from our karma. So, at times we feel like cultivating. At other times, we don’t.
Sometimes we want to be pure, and sometimes we prefer defilement. We drift along, letting the waves of life carry us where they will. Our present condition results from our thoughts in past lives – thoughts of cultivating mingled with thoughts of returning to lay-life, thoughts of propagating Buddhism mingled with thoughts of destroying Buddhism. What can we do? Learn Prajna wisdom.
Choose what is good and follow it;
Take what is bad and change it.
If it’s the Way, advance upon it;
If it’s not the Way, retreat from it.
At all times we must be as cautious in our cultivation as if we were walking on the edge of a cliff or on the brink of thin ice. Off by a hair at the start, we will be off by a thousand miles in the end. Cultivation means:
In every move and deed, watch yourself.
Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, be mindful of yourself.
Every thought must be bright and pure rather than dark and defiled. We must be careful in every thought. Wholesome thoughts increase the light, while evil thoughts darken all. Virtuous people have auras of white, while evil people are surrounded by the darkness. Whether you do good or evil shows in your appearance. You may be able to fool other people, but you can’t fool ghosts, spirits, Buddhas, or Bodhisattvas. Therefore, whether you are a left-home person or a layperson, you should create only merit and not offenses. Why have you suffered in samsara for limitless eons, lost and confused? Because you haven’t cleared your accounts. You can’t escape the six paths because your deeds.
If we truly want to become Buddhas, we have to cultivate bravely and carefully. We must realize that,
With the passing of this day, our lives are less by that much.
Like fish in an evaporating pool, what joy is there in that?
The ghost of impermanence draws nearer. How dare we be scattered and careless in our cultivation?
Be diligent! Be vigorous!
Cultivate as if trying to save your own head!
Remember the transitory nature of life!
Take heed! Don’t be lax!
Someone is wondering, “Do King Yama and the ghost of impermanence really exist?” Well, are you free from death? If so, there is no ghost of impermanence. If you are certain you won’t have to undergo retribution, there is no King Yama. If, however, you cannot avoid death, then King Yama exists. If you cannot control your own destiny, then King Yama and the ghosts of impermanence exist. Don’t try to be too clever and cheat yourself. Your disbelief in King Yama is the very reason you have not escaped birth and death for these endless eons past!
A talk given on May 30, 1982
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas