Mirror of Zen Blog

Ashes to Ashes

The newest drop from “The Formless Track” is this cool little gem — “Ashes to Ashes”. It is a reflection on the basic root-impulse to practice: the recognition that we lose all of this, one day, and have lost everything else already, whatever was pleasant or unpleasant.

Chapter 20 of the Dhammapada has these reflections:

277. "All conditioned things are impermanent" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification. 
278. "All conditioned things are unsatisfactory" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification. 
279. "All things are not-self" — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering. This is the path to purification. 

And the great master Dōgen Zenji [道元] (1200–1253) emphasised so often the realisation of impermanence, in his works, that it seems to appear in most of his essays. The realization of impermanence was not some dry concept for him:

Dōgen experienced profound sorrow and tragedy even at an early age; his father who was a powerful figure in a government in transition, died when he was two, and his beautiful mother, a mistress of the father, died when he was seven. It is said that when Dōgen saw the smoke from incense rising and vanishing during his mother’s funeral, he was deeply moved by an awareness of the inevitability of death and the pervasiveness of ephemerality.

“Zen Master Dōgen: Philosopher and Poet of Impermanence”,
Steven Heine

Dōgen constantly reiterates the centrality of a realisation of the impermanence of all compounded things: “the first and foremost thing to be concerned with is detachment from the ego through the contemplation of impermanence” (Shōbōgenzō zuimonki).

In the Christian tradition, the practice of “memento mori” (remembering death) is central to the experience of a life directed toward salvation.

This is the background behind “Ashes to Ashes.” Enjoy!

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