|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 2003|
The Parable of Birth, Decay and Death
In my talk today, I would like to tell you a story, a parable. One day, there was a meeting, a discussion between Birth, Decay and Death. In that meeting Birth, Decay and Death discussed how they should run this world, because by listening to the Buddha's teachings, some people had managed to escape the world.
'We should not let people escape this world; we should keep them in this realm; we should keep them in this world.' So in this way, Birth, Decay and Death, these three friends discussed this great matter.
Then Birth came forward and suggested, 'My friends, I can do something to help keep people in this world. I can give birth to them. I won't let them escape. I'll catch them and I'll give them birth onto any planet, into any world, even into the deva world or the human world, or the animal kingdom, or even into hell. Wherever it is, I'll give birth to people who try to escape.'
So, then the other two friends, Decay and Death agreed: 'O.K., you are very powerful, you have a kind of strength. You can do your business.' Then Birth promised something else. He said, 'O.K., whenever I give birth to someone, I'll hand over that born person to my friend Decay. Then Decay can do with them whatever he likes.'
The three friends, Birth, Decay and Death, created something else, they created the pleasures of life.
So then Decay promised, 'O.K., I'll accept your born beings. I am very powerful and with that power I can decay anything and everything. I can decay eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and physical strength. I can age everything that beings have. Then I'll hand over the decayed weak persons, the aged persons to my next friend, Death.'
Then Death said, 'Yes, O.K. I'll accept your decayed people, and as soon as I've accepted them, I'll kill them."
So this is how these three friends discussed the matter. This is how they were going to run the world. So they started work. Birth started; it started by giving birth. It didn't like people to escape, so it spent its time giving birth, birth, birth. And Birth was very deceitful, very clever at cheating people, very clever at luring dying people back into birth.
One day, a person died. After death, he tried to disappear. So Birth came forward and caught him and asked him sympathetically, 'What happened with you and my friend Death? What did he do to you?' The dead man said, 'Death killed me.' Then Birth said, 'Oh dear! I'm sorry! But I'm afraid that is the attitude of Death, the vicious nature of that cruel and nasty Death. But I am not like that. I am not such a being. Just come with me and I will give you birth.'
Then Birth took that dead person's hand and brought him to human birth. This was the way in which he was cheated and deceived by Birth. Then the man said, 'Oh, this Birth is a very good fellow. He gave me a birth. Now I am a born person. This Birth gave me a good birth, a human birth. How I enjoy this, this human birth!'
But unfortunately, Birth then passed this born being into Decay's hands. Decay accepted that born being with both hands and started his duty. First of all he started by building him up. He said, 'OK, you grow up year by year, you become a baby, a child, then in due course you will become a boy or girl; you will become teenager; and a young adult. All the time I'll be giving you strength.' So the born being thought, 'This fellow Decay is very supportive. He is strengthening me and making me grow.' So little by little, he gained strength and power in his body, in his eyes, ears, nose, tongue; and he also gained strength in his mind, and in knowledge through education. Decay provided everything that the born being needed. Then, little by little, Decay decayed the person.
Apart from all this, the three friends, Birth, Decay and Death, created something else, they created the pleasures of life. For instance, they created sunrises and sunsets. Why did they do that? So that this born being could enjoy sunrises. He could say 'Good morning!' He had all of life's pleasures to satisfy and gratify himself. Every born being starts the day saying, 'Good morning! Good morning!' What is the goodness of morning? He's been cheated! He's been deceived!
After a few hours, he says 'Good afternoon!' What is the goodness of afternoon? It is just decay! In the evening he says again 'Good evening.' What is the goodness of evening? It is just decay! The man is slowly being aged by Decay. And this is how he passes his life. So the three friends created these and other toys for the born being, for this foolish man who had been born, a man who enjoyed the morning, he enjoyed the afternoon, he enjoyed the evening, and then he enjoyed 'Good night!' But what is the goodness of 'night'? Night is the dark when the sun has set. So this person, having been deceived by Decay and Birth, enjoyed all these pleasant things, and all they were, were little toys.
So then little by little, Decay destroyed the eyesight of the born being, and he destroyed the hearing ability, and he destroyed the sensitive ability of the nose, and the tongue and the body. Slowly, slowly Decay destroyed the man. He slowly twisted the man's body; it slowly bent him over.
After 50 or 60 years of this, it became difficult for the man to walk or stand erect. Why? Because Decay had slowly destroyed him. It bent and twisted the man's body. After all, that is the responsibility of Decay. It is his duty to destroy every single thing connected to the person that is born.
So, after weakening everything, destroying all his abilities, Decay handed over this decayed and aged person into Death's hands. Then Death accepted this decayed and aged man with both hands, and immediately killed him.
Then, once again, Birth came up to the man. Again he comforted him, 'Oh! Again you have been killed by that nasty Death! But I am not such a being. Come on! I'll give you another birth. Never mind about the human realm! Come! You have some merit. You have some power. I won't take any of your merit. I won't take any of your good kamma. I will take you to deva realm.'
It is by such deceit that all beings, not just this man, have been deceived and cheated. Being cheated, they cannot escape from the three busy friends - Birth, Decay and Death. So, understanding this, and seeing the terrifying nature of these three colleagues, the Buddha developed his mind so that he could escape them. When the Buddha realized Nibbana they could no longer cheat or deceive him. The Buddha was thus able to point out to others, 'This is the way to follow Dhamma.'
So in this monastery this is what we are doing. As monks, samaneras, sisters, anagarikas, anagarikas, and devout lay people, what we are doing is following the Buddha's teachings to deceive these three beings. So far they have deceived us, they have decayed us, they have killed us innumerable times. Now, by realizing the Buddha's teaching, we in turn will cheat them, we will decay them, we will attack them, not by exploding bombs, but by realising their true nature.
So, in order to understand Birth, Decay and Death, we have to practise samatha and vipassana, concentration meditation and insight meditation. Through concentrative meditation we can achieve a calmness of mind. With calm and a deep peace in our mind we can focus, we can put the light of understanding onto the subtle aspects of all formations. And in each and every formation, in all sankharas, in all created things, we can recognise these three beings - Birth, Decay and Death, which are always working away. Hidden. They are working, hidden in sankharas, in created formations. That is why the Buddha said, 'When you concentrate on formations, you can realise Birth, Decay and Death in each and every moment, in each and every object.'
What do we do as monastics? Our duty should be to become skilled, to become very powerful in terms of concentration. Then we can do what Birth, Decay and Death did to us. They have cheated us, they have killed us, and they have decayed us. Birth gave birth to us, Decay decayed us, destroyed our energy and changed us. And over and over again Death has killed us.
By following the Buddha's teaching, we will cheat these three colleagues; we will stop their work. We don't need their deadly business. If you would like to be decayed, if you would like to be killed, if you would like to be born, don't practise meditation. Just stop it! But if you would like to put an end to birth, decay and death, then follow the Buddha's teaching.
May you realise the supreme state of unconditioned Nibbana by following the Buddhadhamma!