Once, there was a gathering of three
old friends. They were all scholars leading busy lives, but they made it
a point to meet once a year to make sure they would always stay in touch
with one another.
This time, the gathering felt
different. They were all getting old and starting to feel their age.
Sensing this, the first scholar remarked: "We are all here together this
year, enjoying each other's company, but who can say if we will all be
able to come back and be together again next year?"
The second scholar laughed: "Next
year? I think you may be looking too far ahead and assuming too much.
Today I am alive, but who can say if tomorrow I will open my eyes to
greet another day?"
They turned to the third scholar, who
had been quiet. He looked up at them thoughtfully, and said: "Tomorrow?
My friends, as I sit here with you, I do not know if each breath I draw
will be my last. Who can say for certain if one breath will be followed
This story is short but deeply meaningful. It
points to how uncertain and impermanent life really is. We are all alive
now, at this particular moment in time - but we can never know how long
we will remain this way.
The first scholar measured life in terms of years, as most people do.
When we talk about age, we think about the number of years we have been
around. When someone passes away, we immediately refer to his or her
lifespan. Number of years is also how we measure our most significant
milestones in life, like education (years of schooling), career (years
at a job) and marriage (wedding anniversaries).
The second scholar pointed out that this measurement did not
accurately reflect how fleeting life could be. A year seems like a long
time to the human mind, so we may think we still have plenty of time,
and we can look forward to many years down the road. The truth is that
we may not have many years or even one year ahead of us. There is always
the possibility that everything will suddenly come to an end in a matter
of days, or even in just one day.
The third scholar spoke the most powerful truth of all. Ultimately,
the transience of life is not measured in years or days. Rather, it
flows from one moment to the next. We simply do not know how many
minutes or seconds we still have. We hope everything will continue on
indefinitely, but it can all fade to black without warning. Therefore,
every minute, every second, indeed every instant we experience is a gift
beyond compare, something we should cherish and appreciate.
Through the friendship of the three scholars, this story also makes
it clear that our connections to one another are just as precious as the
gift of life. Our beloved friends and family members are the ones who
make this transient existence worthwhile. We should never take them for
granted, just as we should never take the present moment for granted.
Everything the three scholars said apply to the presence of loved
ones in our lives. Sometimes we see them almost as fixtures, as if they
will always be there. We expect, at the very least, to have them around
for many years to come. This is why the loss of a loved one always comes
as such a shock. How can it be that they are not around anymore? What
about the many more years that we expected to spend with them?
It is as the second scholar pointed out – thinking in terms of years
may be assuming too much. Perhaps we only have them around for a few
more days, and it may well be that thinking in terms of days is also too
optimistic. No one can guarantee that these special people will remain
in our world from one moment to the next. Sometimes, life seems
tenacious and strong; other times, it can seem like a candle flame,
ready to flicker out of existence in the wind.
This is something we need to keep in mind, especially during the
holidays. This is the perfect time to reflect on the blessing of having
these special people as a part of your life. Some of them you may not
have seen in quite a while. If so, be sure to take advantage of the
holiday season to spend time with them, enjoy their company and treasure
When you reconnect with your loved ones, tell them know grateful you
feel to have them. Let them know that you regard every instant you have
them in your life as a gift, so that every day with them is a treasure,
and every year of togetherness is an incredible, blessed miracle. Look
into their eyes, and you will find the sacred Tao there – despite the
uncertainty and impermanence of life, it shines like a star.
Copyright 1998-2013 by Derek Lin
All Rights Reserved.
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