Thursday, October 16, 2014

Understanding Impermanence, by Shang Rinpoche


Looking at China’s gifted scholars and intellectuals of the last century, I do not consider Xu Zhimo in the same league. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who lives up to my definition of a truly “talented nobleman”. An outstanding nobleman is a rare jewel, a beacon shedding light in times of turmoil, ameliorating the collective conscience, completely unhampered by the turbid mundane conditions, not swayed by slander, fame, or wealth. Their grave concerns for the world and their pressing urge to benefit all are reflected in their art and literature which can be considered as moral guidelines. It is my humble opinion that a true talent bears the same essential qualities as the traditional Confucian gentleman (“shijunzi”). At the very least, they have no reservations or self regard in the name of the common good. Unhindered by trifles, they are composed and unhurried at all times and yet never casual; versatile but not deceitful. Most importantly, their sense of decency and propriety is consistent in public or in solitude.

Xu Zhimo’s lingering fame in the last hundred years is mainly due to the controversies surrounding his romantic liaison with a few famous socialites in his short life. Moreover, Xu was influenced by a contemporary poet Shelley and he penned the well-known modern Chinese poems “On Leaving Cambridge” and “Chance”. Apart from these, it is hard to detect an inspirational, mind-changing elements in any of his work. During his time in Beijing, he became romantically involved with Lu Xiaoman, then wife of his close friend, and when the pair subsequently married, their witness Liang Qichao made a condemnation speech in public. By the standard of conventional wisdom, Xu did not make a very good choice in marrying the very spoiled and wasteful Lu. However, there is something amongst all his romantic affairs that I admire and it is related to Lin Huiyin who was a rather devoted woman. Even though Lin Huiyin later fell in love with Jin Yuelin, she was very heartbroken on hearing the news of Xu Zhimo’s death in a plane crash. Her husband at the time, Liang Sicheng, took back a piece of burnt wood from the site of the crash for Lin who had it placed by her bed until her death. Lin was plagued by a sense of guilt because Xu was flying in to attend a lecture given by her but the plane crashed into a mountain. Especially notable is the fact that after learning of Liang’s incredibly noble act, Jin Yuelin decided to end the affair with Lin and remained unmarried for rest of his days. This is a wonderful love story related to Xu Zhimo. Regardless of the romantic history of Lin in the later part of her life, I do respect her sentimental attachment and Liang Sicheng’s open, broad mindset. Apart from that, I fail to see how Xu Zhimo could be a moral role model for later generations.


As human beings, our lives are inseparable from the sufferings of life, aging, sickness, death, parting with loved ones, being juxtaposed with whom we dislike, unattained aims, and the ills of the Five Skandhas. Most people experience great pains and agony when faced with loved one’s passing, or not being able to be with the one we love, or the lover’s change of heart. Some even sacrifice their lives or kill themselves out of their over-attachment to love. I have also witnessed some who collapsed and fell apart, even have their career ruined as a result of romantic setbacks. I have also counselled someone who gave up on herself after being abandoned by a lover, took a turn down a self-destructive path ending up with her mind and body completely destroyed. There was also someone I met who, overcome by grief of their spouse’s accident, overdosed on drugs and had to be hospitalised. Human emotions are indeed very fragile and when it comes to facing departure of loved ones, even great heroes find it difficult to overcome. Only by fully understanding the concept of impermanence, seeing that all phenomena of the world are but a constant flux of conditions coming together and dissipating. We must constantly practice in our everyday life to be present in the moment and yet remained completely unaffected--during interactions with our family and spouse, our mind is always crystal clear, fully aware of the illusory nature of everything that exists in this world. We must of course do our best in playing the different roles in life but when the time comes, we will not be able to take with us any of our sentiments. It is also necessary to keep reminding ourselves that everything we own in life is just like water bubbles, clouds in the sky, or a scene from a dream, we have absolutely no control or possession over them. Try to extract our mind/heart by living life as if watching a film. Over time, this practice will definitely help those who have heavy attachments.

This is a small part taken from a conversation that I, Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, had with a family member of a victim of Qiaodao Lake Incident.

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