The Sutra on Impermanence

Translated by the Chung Tai Translation Committee Version 1.04, March 2007

I prostrate and take refuge in the Unsurpassed One
Who, with endless vows of great compassion,
Ferries sentient beings across the stream of birth and death,
To reach the safe haven of nirvana.
With great charity, morality, tolerance, and diligence,
One-mind, expedience, right wisdom, and power,
Having reached perfection in benefiting self and others,
He is called the Tamer, Teacher of Heavenly and Human Beings.


I prostrate and take refuge in the wondrous Dharma Treasury;
The principle of three "Fours" and two "Fives" are perfect and clear,
The "Seven" and "Eight" can open the gate to the Four Truths,
By which cultivators reach the shore of Unconditioned.
The Dharma clouds and Dharma rain imbue all beings,
Eliminating searing afflictions and illnesses,
Tempering and converting the obstinate,
Guiding everyone appropriately, not by force.


I prostrate and take refuge in the saints,
The superior beings of the eight stages,
Who can be freed from defilements.
With the vajra scepter of wisdom,
They shatter the mountain of delusions,
Forever severing the beginningless ties and fetters.
In the epoch from Deer Park to the Twin Trees,
They follow the Buddha in propagating the True Teaching.
According to individual vows and karma, they complete
Their missions, realize nonbirth, and abide in stillness
With body and knowledge extinguished.


I prostrate and venerate the Three Jewels,
The true source of liberation for all,
Leading those drowning in samsara
From foolish delusion to enlightenment.


All who are born will die,
All beauty will fade,
The strong are stricken by illness,
And no one can escape.
Even the great Mt. Sumeru
Will erode by the kalpa's end.
The vast and fathomless seas
Will eventually dry up.
The earth, sun and moon
Will all perish in due time.
Not one thing in the world
Can escape impermanence.
From the Neither Thought nor Non-Thought Heaven,
Down to the Wheel-Turning Kings,
Accompanied by the seven treasures,
Surrounded by a thousand sons,
When their lives have ended,
Without a moment's delay,
They drift again in the sea of death,
And suffer according to their karma.
Transmigrating within the Triple Realm
Is like the turning of a well-bucket's wheel,
And also like a silkworm,
Spinning a cocoon to confine itself.
Even the unsurpassed Buddhas,
Pratyekabuddhas and shravakas,
Give up their impermanent bodies,
Why not ordinary beings!
Parents, spouses, and children,
Siblings and other relatives,
Witnessing the separation of life and death,
Don't all lament and grieve?
Therefore everyone is urged
To heed the true Dharma,
Renounce what is impermanent,
And practice the Deathless Path.
Like sweet dew that cools and purifies,
The Dharma eradicates all afflictions.
So listen with one-mind!


Thus have I heard.
Once, the Bhagavat was at the Jetavana Grove
in Anathapindada Park in Shravasti.
At that time the Buddha told the bhiksus:
In this world there are three things
that are not likable, not lustrous, not desired, and not agreeable.
What are the three? Aging, illness, and death.
Bhiksus! Aging, illness, and death, of all things in this world,
are truly not likable, not lustrous, not desired, and not agreeable.
If there were no aging, illness, and death in the world,
Tathagata, the Worthy and Fully Enlightened One,
need not appear in this world, to speak to all sentient beings
on how to cultivate and what can be attained.
Therefore, you should know that aging, illness, and death,
of all things in this world,
are not likable, not lustrous, not desired, and not agreeable.
Because of these three things, Tathagata,
the Worthy and Fully Enlightened One,
appears in the world, to speak to all sentient beings
on how to cultivate and what can be attained.
Then the World Honored One
reiterated this teaching in a gatha:


All external splendor will perish,
Likewise the body will decay.
Only the superior Dharma will endure.
The wise should discern clearly.
Aging, illness, and death are resented by all;
Their appearance is dreadful and repulsive.
The countenance of youth is fleeting,
Soon it will wither and fade;
Even living to a hundred years, still
One must give in to the force of impermanence.
The suffering of aging, illness, and death
Constantly afflicts all sentient beings.


When the World Honored One had spoken this sutra,
all the bhiksus, devas, dragons, yaksas,
ghandaras, asuras and so forth greatly rejoiced;
they accepted and followed the teaching faithfully.


Always pursuing worldly desires,
And not performing good deeds,
How can you maintain your body and life,
And not see the approach of death?
When the breath of life is ending,
Limbs and joints separate,
The agonies of death converge,
And you can only lament.
Eyes roll up, the blade of death
Strikes down with the force of karma.
The mind fills with fear and confusion,
And no one can save you.
Gasping, the chest heaves rapidly;
Shortened breaths parch the throat.
The king of death demands your life,
And relatives can only stand by.
All consciousness becomes hazy and dim,
As you enter the city of peril.


Friends and relatives forsake you,
As the rope drags you away
To the place of King Yama,
Where fate is determined by karma.
Virtuous deeds give rise to good destinies,
And bad karma plunges one into hell.
There is no vision clearer than wisdom,
And nothing darker than ignorance,
There is no sickness worse than hatred,
And no greater fear than death.
All that live must die;
Commit sins and the body suffers.
Be diligent in examining the three karmas,
Always cultivate merits and wisdom.
All your relatives will desert you,
All possessions will be gone;
You have only your virtues
As sustenance on this treacherous path.
Like those who rest by a roadside tree,
They will not linger long;
Wife, children, carriages, and horses
Will likewise soon be gone.
Like birds that gather at night,
Going their separate ways at dawn;
So death callously parts all relatives and friends.
Only Buddha's enlightenment is our true refuge.
I have spoken in brief according to the sutras
The wise should reflect and take heed.


Devas, asuras, yaksas and so forth who come,
Hear Buddha's teachings with utmost sincerity!
Uphold the Dharma so it may endure,
Each of you should practice with diligence.
All sentient beings who come for the teachings,
Whether on land or in the air,
Always be kind-hearted in this world,
Abide in the Dharma day and night.
May all worlds be safe and peaceful;
May infinite blessings and wisdom benefit all beings.
May all sinful karma and suffering be removed;
May all enter perfect stillness.
Anoint the body with the fragrance of precepts,
And sustain it with the strength of samadhi;
Adorn the world with flowers of bodhi wisdom,
Dwell in peace and joy wherever you are.





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