Impermanence Is Equal for Young and Old Alike

This year the sporting world has been shocked by the spate of athletes who died or have nearly died from a cardiac arrest. On April 30 the Norwegian Olympic swimmer Alexander Dale Oen died from a heart attack. He was 26 years old. Dale Oen was in the shower after completing a training session at the teamʼs training camp in Arizona ahead of this summerʼs Olympic Games in London. According to a statement from the Norwegian Olympic Committee, teammates became concerned when Dale Oen was spending an abnormally long time in the shower, and when they checked on him they found him lying on the floor. Efforts by the teamʼs doctor and other medical personnel on the way to the hospital were futile and he was pronounced dead. Dale Oen won a silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won gold in the same distance at last yearʼs World Championships in Shanghai. “We are all in shock,” said Norwegian Olympic swim coach Petter Lovberg in the committeeʼs statement.

On March 17, 24- year-old Fabrice Muamba, a football player with Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League, suffered a cardiac arrest while playing. His heart stopped beating naturally for 78 minutes after he collapsed unconscious.

Many weeks later after recovering, he told The Sun newspaper “It wasnʼt normal dizziness - it was a kind of surreal feeling like I was running alongside someone elseʼs body. Then I started to see double. It felt almost like a dream. Then I just felt myself falling through the air and felt two big thumps as my head hit the ground in front of me. Then that was it. Blackness.” He was dead. Fortunately for Muamba there was a heart specialist in the stands watching the game and his intervention is credited with helping save the playerʼs life.

Not so fortunate was the Italian football player Piermario Morosini, who on April 14, in the 31st minute of a game, the 25- year-old collapsed to the ground after suffering three cardiac arrests in a row. It was reported that he tried to get up, but fell back down and never regained consciousness. A hospital consultant who was at the game and who rushed to help said that Morosini never had a single heartbeat again.

We are shocked when we hear of anyone collapsing and dying suddenly, but these three sports stars have added to the sense of shock not just because of their young age, but they are superbly fit athletes. We might think, ʻif such fit people like these can die without notice, then what does that mean for me?”

In a Buddhism lecture I frequently hear the words of Master Rennyo from his letter On White Bones. “

When we deeply consider the transiency of this world, [we realize that] what is altogether fleeting is our own span of life: it is like an illusion from beginning to end. And so we have not yet heard of anyone living ten thousand years. A Lifetime passes quickly. Can anyone now live to be a hundred? Will I die first, or will my neighbor? Will it be today or tomorrow? We donʼt know…”

The Buddhist truth says that death comes to young or old alike without discrimination. “Will it be today or tomorrow? We donʼt know” None of us know when our moment to depart this physical body will come, and neither did the two athletes who died. In fact due to their high fitness levels and young age they might have felt that they were in less danger of dying than most. But the reality is that the wind of impermanence can blow on anyone young or old.

My brother died when he was three years old. We were family just for a while. Sadly, my last memory of him is when he was lying in his coffin, eyes shut, pale, motionless.

With the coming of the wind of impermanence, both eyes are instantly closed, and when a single breath is forever stilled, the radiant face is drained of life and its vibrant glow is lost.

The eyes donʼt open again, and a breath doesnʼt pass over the lips anymore. My brother was young, but I remember his energy, the fun we had playing together, and my position of being a big brother to him. I remember telling my friends that Alan was dead, and he would not be coming home again. But now sometimes I think what it would be like if Alan were still alive, what would he be doing? where would he be living? what kind of relationship would me and him have? Alas, it will never be, so I donʼt spend much time pondering these. Since his passing several members of my family and relations have also passed away. I miss them all dearly and I wish I could hear their voices again, talking like we used to, but as it is taught, life is a one way street and there is no coming back when the final passage is crossed. We came together for a while in this life and then parted. It is so final when someone dies, and that is why it is “indeed indescribably sad.” Master Rennyo ʼs words exude compassion and empathy as he reflects on the condition of all human beings.

We should all immediately take to heart the most important matter, the after-life, and, deeply entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha, say the nembutsu.

At the time my brother was alive I did not know of Amida Buddha or Amidaʼs Vow. But since then I have had the very rare fortune to come in contact with the true masters of Buddhism and learn about the reason why I was born into this world. People cannot be brought back from the dead but, we, the living can make the most of life: As it is taught by the true masters of Buddhism, entrusting ourselves to the saving power of Amidaʼs grace and being born into Amidaʼs Pure Land.

Frank Costelloe, U.S.A

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #17 2012, Impermanence Is Equal for Young and Old Alike

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Buddhist Village Times #19

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