Venerable Master, Good Advisors, great assembly: I am Gwo Sun. Here is the story of three men: friends who met together every year.
One was 60 years old. He said to the others, “We are so old now, I don’t know if all of us will be alive next year for this reunion.”
Another was 70 years old. He said, “I am old and death is not far off. Every day when I put away my shoes and go to sleep, I do not know if I will wake up the next day to put on the shoes again.”
The last one was 80 years old. He said, “Death is even closer than that. Every time that I let out a breath of air, I do not know if I will be alive to take in the next breath of air.”
I can talk about a time in my life when death was very near. My life could have ended much faster than the time it takes for one breath. I was only 12 years old. At that time the US and the USSR were very hostile towards one another. Khrushchev, head of the Soviet Union had said to America, “We will bury you.” Khrushchev had been a farmer. He was very tough and direct. After Joseph Stalin died, Khrushchev had attained power in the Soviet Union by having his chief rival, Beria, put to death.
America had nuclear missiles targeted on the Soviet Union and ready to launch. The Soviet Union had nuclear missiles targeted on America and ready to launch. Both sides had developed hydrogen bombs, far more powerful than what was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US had put nuclear missiles in the country of Turkey, very close to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union started to construct missile bases in Cuba, which is an island less than 100 miles south of the US. When America found out about the missile bases, President Kennedy was angry. He ordered a blockade of US ships to be set up around Cuba to control what could be shipped into Cuba. Fidel Castro, leader of Cuba was also angry. He wrote a letter to Khrushchev urging him to use the nuclear weapons on the US, even if it meant that Cuba would be completely destroyed as a consequence.
Kennedy planned to invade Cuba. The Russian soldiers who were putting the missile bases in Cuba were armed with small nuclear weapons, and had authorization to use them to defend Cuba in case of invasion. If nuclear weapons were used on the US, it is likely that America would have retaliated by launching its nuclear missiles on the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union would have retaliated by launching its missiles on America.
I lived between the San Jose Armory and Moffet Air Field. Both were likely to be targets of the Soviet Union. Nuclear war could have ended my life in a few millionths of a second. My life could have ended faster than a finger snap. One instant, I was alive, the next instant my body could have been completely vaporized. Gone without a trace left.
Khrushchev made an announcement that the Soviet Union would withdraw its missiles from Cuba. Nuclear war was averted.
Here is the Universal Worthy Bodhisattva’s verse of exhortation:
This day is already done; our lives are that much less.
We are like fish in a shrinking pond.
What joy is there in this?
We should be diligent and vigorous
as if our own heads were at stake.
Only be mindful of impermanence
and be careful not to be lax.
A person of 20 years may think that he has 50 years ahead of him. A 35-year-old may think that his life is only half over. Upon reaching 70, a person might think that he could last for another ten years.
But our lifespans are uncertain. We should cultivate every day as if it was our last day. We should cultivate every minute as if we were right about to face King Yama. Cut off desire and cast out love.
I would like to tell you about a big mistake that I made. It was a really big mistake and it will take a lot of effort to set things right. What do you think this mistake was? Did I get in a car accident? Did I erase the hard disk on a computer? Did I break a bone in my body? What I did was far worse than any of these things. From beginningless time, I have revolved in birth and death, dying and being reborn without any control over my destiny, and unaware of my Buddha nature. That was my big mistake.
We have all heard the Venerable Master’s Chan talks. At the end of many Chan sessions, the Venerable Master told the cultivators that whoever was not afraid to be hit, should stand up and he would hit them with the incense board, but those who were afraid, could leave. The tapes end at this point. Here is what happened after the tape ended: Everybody stood up. No one left. The Venerable Master descended from the high seat and slowly circled the hall, gently tapping everyone a few times with the incense board.
The Venerable Master had a big warm smile on his face while he did this. Sometimes he would single out someone for a few extra taps from the board, someone whom he was working extra hard to teach. David Rounds was the recipient of extra taps on one occasion. Gwo Tung, the young novice and son of Dharma Master Chih was another.
Here is what little I know about the Buddhadharma: We should all completely sever love and desire!