Liberation from the cycle of birth and death
Good morning everyone! This is Dharma Espresso for today.
We have been talking a lot about the two words “ Guest” and “Dust” in the three previous Dharma Expresso talks. But have we ever wondered about that concept to ask ourselves, “Are we a guest in the endless samsara cycle i.e. the endless cycle of birth and death, or are we a speck of dust in the fateful river that keeps running infinitely?” We don't know.
We can see clearly that our life is very short. Many people from long ago thought that they needed to liberate themselves from this samsara cycle, and that’s almost a very important motivation. The Buddha saw that we we get stuck in that motivation, in the life and death cycle, stuck in the place where we have to continuously repeat doing something , and we can't get out of that repeating cycle. That cycle is called a whirlpool, creating much suffering. It seems when we can jump out of that whirlpool and out of the muddy and spiral stream of water is when we liberate ourselves from the birth and death cycle.
This is a concept that we sometimes thought that we need to be in a certain heaven, go to a certain place where there’s no more suffering. Perhaps that's a lofty ideal. That ideology is not wrong. But in this life, when I think about the words “liberating from birth and death”, I think differently. I think this samsara wheel is the thing that makes us stuck, because this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth shows that we are stuck in the entanglement of relationships. I think this is something I need to change for myself, and I hope everyone else can also change their concept about the cycle of birth and death.
Liberating from birth and death is not to go to another place, but to stay in the current web of relationships, web of affinity, web of karma yet we don't get entangled or get stuck.
Entanglement and being stuck are two scariest things. And what is a sentient being? It is someone who always creates more entanglements, always being stuck in that wheel. That wheel is called the relationship wheel, the karmic wheel, the affinity wheel. And what is cultivating the Path? Cultivation is how we can stay in the karmic wheel yet be able to transform it into the web of affinity; and when we are in the web of affinity, we can transform it into the web of light. In other words, the entanglements of the universe we are living are the entanglements of our relationships with others.
Why do we create entanglements? It lies in only one word, and that word is called “debt”. If we owe a blood debt, then we will always be stuck in the retaliation, vengeful cycle. We killed, then we will be killed. We eat, then we will be eaten back, and it keeps going around in a circle like that. It’s called the birth and death cycle. Therefore, to disentangle in relationships is first, not to have any blood debt. Second is not to have any money debt. Money debt is very troublesome because it keeps following us until we can pay off that debt, then we can get rid of the relationship with the debtor. In today's world, we can see that the more the society advances, the more debt we owe. By the time students graduate from their universities, their debs are enormous. Sometimes, we borrow money from people we know, but don't pay back. That’s also very troublesome. We should pay them back. Unless the money given is a donation, never to be returned, otherwise, if we borrow, then we have to pay back. The third debt is called “love” debt. Love debt is very troublesome. This kind of love is called possessive love. This love debt has a twist, and this twist is very important. Usually when in love, we make promises. We promise that we will do this or do that for this person or that person. We promise to love someone "forever and ever, even in the next life," etc. This kind of possessive love will get us stuck in that web of love. This is something very important because when we look at our kids, we don’t realize that these kids could have been our wive or our husband in many previous lives for many years. In this lifetime, there are some people who are extremely nice and easy-going with us, we then mistakenly think that they were our wife or husband before. It’s actually not true. Those are the people that we had helped in a previous life, therefore they are good to us now. Only we are not able to see things like that.
Love debts sometimes have a sub-context, and that’s the debt of old kindness, old responsibilities, or old favors. Perhaps we owed them a favor before, so now we have to pay back. Or they owed us a favor before, and now they pay us back. All these debts are added together collectively, and they are still debts. That makes us unable to get out of the web of karmic obstructions.
When we talk about getting out of the birth and death cycle, we should understand it a little deeper, and that’s liberating from the entanglement of relationships called karmic relationship. Therefore, sometimes we should talk a little less, so the other person won't lose face. Tell less one story, so the other person won't suffer. Lessen the harshness in ourselves so people don’t feel scared. Sometimes when we are too straightforward, when we insult the other too much, we let it all out. When we are too upset, we spit it out, and it’s hard for the other person to accept it. It seems that you all know this already, nothing new. We are all familiar with this. But what we don’t know is that, words, not actions yet, words alone can create so many entanglements in relationships.
And the act of putting flesh and blood of some living beings into our mouth and swallowing them down is how we create future blood debts. Because we don't have ownership of that piece of meat and that blood. Those animals never give us permission. This kind of debt is very hard to pay. Very often, people have different kinds of tumors, cancer, or incurable diseases, but they don’t know that sometimes these are the images of what we called blood debts.
Therefore, It’s best that if we want to get out of the birth and death cycle that people talked about before, we shouldn’t think too far. Don’t think that we have to cultivate to go to heaven, or to nirvana. Let’s not think about that yet. Let’s live in the here and now, and how we can get out of the relationship entanglements with others. Simply speaking, it is how to not have debts with anybody we are living with. These debts are blood debt, money debt, love debt, promise debt, old kindness, old favors, and there may be other kinds of debts as well.
Thank you for listening to Dharma Expresso today.
Dharma Master Heng Chang
(Translated and transcribed by the Compassionate Service Society)