Four Ways of Turning the Mind: Impermanence

Enjoy this guide to the Four Ways of Turning the Mind  provided to us by our friend John Wenz from Milarepa Meditation from an ongoing series of  teachings inspired by our retreats with Lama Gursam.

2. Impermanence

“The nature of all phenomena is impermanence: death is a certainty for all who are born. Death can descend any time like a drop of morning dew on a blade of grass. Quick! It is time to make effort for the essence of Dharma.” From The Preliminary Practices of the Incomparable Drikung Kagyu

“For the practitioner we not only need to understand how precious life is, but that life is impermanent. Everything changes. The purpose of meditating upon impermanence is to serve as an antidote for laziness. It also serves as an antidote to attachment. When we are free of attachment, our minds become strong and free. The teaching on impermanence is the essence of the dharma. It frees us from attachment, anger, and hatred. Impermanence counters grasping. We grasp at conceptual thoughts because we do not see them as impermanent. So there is a strong connection between appreciating impermanence and meditation.“ Yogi Lama Gursam, October, 20, 2006 at Dave and Rebecca’s Home in “Precious Human Birth” Talks Online at

“On the branches of the tree, the wild birds sing;

When the wind blows gently, slow dances the weeping willow;

In the treetops monkeys bound and leap with joy;

In the wild green pastures graze the scattered herds,

And merry shepherds, gay and free from worry,

Sing cheerful songs and play upon their reeds.

The people of the world, with burning desires and craving,

Distracted by affairs, become the slaves of earth.

From the top of the Resplendent Gem Rock,

I, the Yogi, see these things.

Observing them, I know that they are fleeting and transient;

Contemplating them, I realize that comforts and pleasures

Are merely mirages and water-reflections.

I see this life as a conjuration and a dream,

Great compassion rises in my heart

For those without a knowledge of this truth.

From “Milarepa in Ragma”, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, p.65,

Translated by Garma C.C. Chang, Shambala Publications, Boston, 1999

Exercise One: The Impermanence of the Outer Universe in which Beings Live

In this exercise Patrul Rinpoche in Words of My Perfect Teacher considers Tibetan Buddhist Cosmology, and how to personally relate to the end of a kalpa, or end of the world as we know it. Patrul Rinpoche describes the situation at the end of this ‘kalpa’, as the burning up of all fruit baring trees and forests, followed by the evaporation of streams, creeks and ponds. This heating process continues with the drying up of all rivers. After that, even great lakes are gone. Finally even the Great Oceans are dried up, so that there is not even enough water to fill one foot print. In ancient Buddhist Cosmology the entire planet then ignites into fire, followed by a deluge of water. Eventually only space is left behind.

It may be beneficial for us to consider the similar impermanence questions based upon a more modern scientific view? In a recent issue of Scientific American, an article by Michael Moyer considers “How Much Is Left?” and provides a graphic account of the limits to what one planet can provide. A summary of some facts from recent research may assist us in understanding the impermanence of our planet or “The Outer Universe in Which Beings Live.”

1. Fossil Fuels:

a. Oil: “by 2050’s we will have pulled all but 10% of the world’s oil from the ground.” 2014

b. Limits of Coal: coal is widely thought to be inexhaustible. The world will extract 90 % by 2072.

2. Water:

a) Glaciers: “Glaciers have been losing their mass at an accelerating rate in recent decades. In some regions such as Europe and the Americas, glaciers now lose more than half a meter each year.” 1976-2005

b) Battle over Water: “In many parts of the world, one major river supplies water to multiple countries. Climate change, pollution and population growth are putting a strain upon supplies. In some areas renewable water reserves are in danger of dropping below 500 cubic meters per person per year considered a minimum for a functioning society. 2025

c) Weather and Rain: Climate change will shift the amount of rain that falls in a region, as well as the amount of water flowing in streams and rivers. Over the next 50 years U.S, Geological Survey predicts East Africa, Argentina, and others will benefit from more water, but southern Europe and the western United States will suffer. 2060

d) Himalayan Ice: Snow melt from the Himalayas is the prime source of water for Asia’s major rivers including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong and Ganges. By 2070 ice-covered landmass in the Himalayas could decrease by 43%.

e) The Alps: parts of the Alps are warming so quickly that the Rhone Glacier is expected to have disappeared by the end of the century. 2100

3. Minerals:

a) Indium: Indium tin oxide is a thin-film conductor used in flat-panel televisions. At the current production levels, known indium reserves contain an 18 year world supply. 2028

b) Silver: Because silver naturally kills microbes, it is increasing used in bandages and coatings. At current production levels, about 19 years worth of silver remains in the ground, but recycling should extend that supply by decades. 2029

c) Gold: …probably 20 years are left of gold that can be readily mined. 2030

d) Copper: … recent discoveries in South America indicate there may be an additional 1.3 billion metric tons of copper in the Andes. 2044

e) Lithium: … known lithium resources are big enough to keep us supplied for batteries in electric cars etc. for more than 5 centuries. 2560

4. Food:

a) Fish: Fish are our last truly wild food, but the rise in demand has pushed many species to the brink of extinction. Most vulnerable: Hammerhead Sharks, Russian Sturgeon, Yellowmouth Grouper, European Eel, and Orange Roughy.

b) Feeding a Warming World: Researchers expect climate change to lead to longer growing seasons in some countries, in others heat will increase the frequency of extreme weather events or the prevalence of pests. In the US productivity will increase in Plains States, but decline in South West. Russia and China will gain, India and Mexico will lose. Developing nations will take the biggest hits. By 2050 counteracting ill effects of climate change on nutrition will cost more than $7 Billion a year.

This modern environmental analysis appears to indicate constant change and impermanence of our world and the resources and way of life we have become accustomed to. Additionally, let us consider another article from that same issue of Scientific American – “Laying the Odds on the Apocalypse”. In this article, John Matson presents an assessment of possible ‘doomsday scenarios’. The probabilities are not scientific fact, but informed conjecture based upon researchers expert opinions.

Scenario Name /Odds / Time Interval /Destruction Ranking/ and Notes

1 Solar Super Storm/ 1 in 20/in next 15 years /2/ – a solar eruption could knock out power grids and communication over most of the world

2 Killer Pandemic/ 1 in 2/in next 30 years /4 /- the next possible pandemic is likely to be a pox or a virus that is new to humans or a more deadly adaptation of a common virus

3 Runaway Global Warming /1 in 2/In next 200 years /3 /- Ice sheets melting could raise sea level by 12 meters erasing costal cities and displacing hundreds of millions of people.

4 Super volcano /1 in 100/In next 1,000 years/ 5 /- a super volcano would spew 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash and lava. It would effect weather patterns for decades, which in turn could lead to drought and famine

5 Nuclear War/ 1 in 30/In next 10 years/ 6 /– an accident or cyber attack between Russia and the Us killing hundreds of millions of people/50 – 50/In next 15 years /A terrorist attack in an urban area using smaller nukes

6 Giant Asteroid Impact/ 1 in 1,000,000/In next 100 years/ 9 /– a 10 kilometer wide species ender is a long shot, but /1 in 200,000/This century a. A three kilometer wide asteroid could kill ¼ of the world’s population and temporarily destroy civilization

7 Nearby Gamma-Ray Burst/ 1 in 15/Over 100,000,000 years/ 7/ – A cosmic blast thought to form when a massive star collapses. None has been observed in our galaxy

8 Bubble Nucleation/ 1 in 1 Billion/Over next I Trillion years/ 10 /- What if another universe popped up in ours? This is the bubble scenario. Push way down on worry list.

Cosmology of modern science and ancient Tibet can both assist us in recognizing the impermanence of our world. Patrul Rinpoche offers: “Reflect deeply and sincerely – if every one of the billion universes which constitute the cosmos, each with its own Mount Meru, four continents and heavens, is to be simultaneously destroyed in this way, leaving only space behind, how could these human bodies of ours, which are like flies at the end of the season, have any permanence or stability? (Words of My Perfect Teacher, p.40)

Exercise Two: The Impermanence of Beings Living in the Universe

Have you ever, on earth or in the heavens,

Seen a being born who will not die?

Or heard that such a thing had happened?

Or even suspected that it might?

(from the “Letter of Consolation”

quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher,

Patrul Rinpoche, p.41)

“Everything that is born is bound to die. Nobody has ever seen anyone or heard of anyone in any realm – even in the world of gods –who was born but never died. In fact, it never even occurs to us to wonder whether a person will die or not. It is a certainty.” Patrul Rinpoche, p.41, Words of My Perfect Teacher

This house of the human body

Is falling down and weathered

By the seepage of food and drink, is

Decaying with the months and years;

‘Tis dangerous to live in it.

Escape then to safety,

Ready to die with joy.

Sinful men seldom think death will come;

To Snow Lashi we two Repas

Will go now for meditation!

(from “Milarepa and the Dying Sheep”

In The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, G.C.C.Chang, p.568

Life flickers in the flurries of a thousand ills,

More fragile than a bubble in a stream,

In sleep, each breath departs and is again drawn in;

How wondrous that we wake up living still!

(Nargarjuna, quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher,

Patrul Rinpoche, p. 41)

When we consider our life, it is always getting shorter. We do not know where or when we will die. One day, while driving Yogi Lama Gursam as we spoke of possible our plans to help Dharma Teachings, and the Bodhicitta Foundation, I mentioned: “I do not know, if I will live that long.” My precious lama’s response was: “I may die first!”

(Yogi Acharya Lama Gursam, from live conversation)

In this current day and age you may see magazines on the rack at the checkout of the grocery store, or hear on radio or television about life extension. Ideas proposed of extending human life through diet, supplements, and/or exercise. What is the current scientific view of “Why Can’t We Live Forever?”.

I will summarize some of the ideas of Thomas Kirkwood’s article in Scientific American, September 2010. This may assist our analytic contemplation of the impermanency of human life.

Limit Do Exist – Maximum Recorded Life Spans

1 Day – May Fly

4 Months – Dragon Fly

4 Years – House Mouse

13 Years – Jack Rabbit

15 Years – Mountain Lion

20 + Years- Great Horned Owl

29 Years – Dog

30 Years-  Bat

36 Years – Cat

45 Years – Condor

50 Years – Queen Termite

59 Years – Chimp

62 Years – Horse

65 Years – Barrel Cactus

80 Years – Eastern Box Turtle

86 Years-  Asian Elephant

120 Years – Yellow Eye Rockfish

122 Years – Human

150 Years – Galapagos Turtle

170 Years – Lobster

200 Years – Koi Fish

200+ Years – Red Sera Urchin

211 Years-  Bonehead Whale

1,000s Years – Bristle Cone Pine

Immortal Jellyfish

Immortal Hydra

The maximum age a species, including humans, can reach depends on both biology

(Simpler organisms can reach Methuselean ages that more complex creatures cannot)

And environment (Dangerous surroundings lead to evolution of rapid reproduction, fast aging, and early death)

Human Life Expectancy

Human life expectancy, or average life span, has been rising for more than 100 years in the U.S. and globally. Evidence suggests, however that biological constraints keep most species from surpassing age limits specific to that species.

Human Death and Why We Die As We Do

“To explore current thinking about what controls aging, let us begin to imagining a body at the very end of life. The last breath is taken, death takes hold and life is over. At this very moment, most of the body’s cells are still alive. Unaware of what has just happened, they carry out, to the best of their abilities, the metabolic functions that support life – procuring oxygen and nutrients from the surrounding environment and using them to generate energy needed to make and power the proteins (the main working parts of cells) and other cellular components.

In a short while, starved of oxygen, the cells will die. With their death, something of immense antiquity will come to its own quiet end. Each and every one of the cells in the body that just died could, if records were available, trace its ancestry through an unbroken chain of cell divisions backward in time through an almost unimaginable four billion years to the emergence of earliest forms of cellular life on this planet.

Death is assured. But some of your cells, at least, have this astonishing property: they are endowed with something as near to immortality as can be attained on earth. When your death occurs, only a tiny number of your cells will continue this immortal lineage into the future – and then only if you have children. Only one cell of your body escapes extinction – a sperm or an egg – for each surviving child. Babies are born, grow, mature and reproduce, and so it continues.

The scenario we have just imagined reveals not only the fate of our mortal body, or “soma”, made up of all the nonreproductive cells, but also the miraculous immortality of the cellular lineage to which we belong. The central puzzle in aging science, from which all else follows, is, Why do creatures have a mortal soma?”(p.45)…

Aging occurs because our body must make a trade-off between reproducing and staying in good repair, according to Thomas Kirkwood’s “disposable soma” theory. Given the limited supply of energy, the amount that goes to making and producing sperm and eggs tips the scale away from ensuring that “somatic” cells- skin , bone, muscle, and so on – remain in good condition. As a result, cells accumulate damage over time, which ultimately causes some organ or another to become diseased. If bodily function is sufficiently compromised, death occurs

(p. 46)…

Using the science of aging to improve the end of life represents a challenge, perhaps the greatest yet to face medical science. Solutions will not come easily, despite claims made by merchants of immortality who assert caloric restriction or dietary supplements, such as resveratrol, may allow us to live longer. The greatest human ingenuity will be needed to meet this challenge. I believe we can and will develop treatments targeted at easing our final years. But when the end arrives, each of us- alone – will need to come to terms with our own mortality. All the more reason then to focus on living – on making the most of the time of our lives, because no magic elixir will save us. “(p.49),

Thomas Kirkwood, “Why Can’t We Live Forever? Scientific American, September 2010, pp. 42-49

(Thomas Kirkwood, Professor of Medicine and Director of Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, England.)

Patrul Rinpoche’s Considerations for Our Review on Impermanence of Living Beings

“Although we know that we are going to die one day, we do not really let our attitudes to life be affected by the ever present possibility of dying.

We still spend all our time hoping and worrying about our future livelihood, as we were going to live forever.

We stay completely involved in our struggle for well-being, happiness, and status – until suddenly we are confronted by Death…

Then nothing can help us. No soldier’s army, no ruler’s decrees. No rich man’s wealth, no scholar’s brilliance, no beauty’s charms, no athlete’s fleetness – none of it is of any use.,,

So, reflect sincerely and meditate on how important it is from this very moment onwards to never slip into laziness and procrastination, but to practice the True Dharma, the only thing you will be sure will help you at the moment of death.”(p.42, Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher)

Exercise Three: The Impermanence of Holy Beings

In our present age or kalpa many wise holy beings appeared for the benefit of sentient beings. All that remains of Buddha Shakyamuni are the teachings. One by one all the great Buddhist teachers, even those reported to have miraculous powers and realizations have passed. In Tibet, the Land of Snows, Padmasambhava, Marpa, Milarepa and many learned and accomplished beings have passed. So even people who have wonderful spiritual accomplishments, all chose to show that everything is impermanent, and today all that remains is their stories.

As for us with our negative actions, carried along by advertising, the latest electronic gadget craze, and television’s latest dances, where will we end up? We never know when our sack of protoplasm will give out due to errors in cellular replacement process, or highway cell phone use. Meditate on impermanence. (Adapted from Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 42 & 43)

Exercise Four: The Impermanence of the Powerful

When we see the magnificence of those in power politically, economically, socially or due to celebrity status, we don’t usually consider the fleeting temporary nature of their prominence. In many cases being famous or popular is such a fickle condition, that its demise can be more readily forecast than the weather. Patrul Rinpoche relates the transience of Indian Gods, and Universal Emperors, but is perhaps most poignant in reviewing the size of the Tibetan Empire. “Tibet once exercised power in many regions of India, China, Gesar, Tajikistan, and other countries. At the new Year’s Festival , ambassadors from all those countries were required to spend one day in Lhasa. Such was Tibet’s power in the past. But it did not last, and nowadays, apart from the historical accounts, nothing is left.” (Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 45.)

Can we remember any persons of power who have demonstrated impermanence in our life times? Richard Nixon rose again after the Checker’s Speech, but fell again with Watergate to settle in a Jersey suburb. Assassinations do not appear to have any national boundaries. Consider the American Automobile Industry, and the financial wizards of Wall Street who will need to be bailed out next? Many of the most successful appear to fall just as fast as they rise. Does anyone know where I can get parts for my Saturn?

Patrul Rinpoche asks us to: “Reflect on those past splendors. Compared to them, our own homes, belongings, servants, status, and whatever we prize, seem altogether no more significant than a beehive, Meditate deeply, and ask yourself how could you have thought that those things would last forever and never change.” (Words of My Perfect teacher, p. 45)

Exercise Five: Other Examples of Impermanence

There are so many examples of impermanence:

1. The Four Seasons

2. Flowers

3. Trees

4. Your Village – Yardley PA

5. Your Grandparents, and Ancestors of your family

6. Domestic Animals

7. Paint on the wall

8. Food

9. Clothing

10. Tools

11. Computers

12. Telephones

13. Shoes or sandals

14. Forms of Media – 8 Track Tapes, Cassettes, CDs, MP3s…

15. ___________________________

16. ___________________________

17. ___________________________

18. ___________________________

19. ___________________________

20. ___________________________

Whatever is born is impermanent and is bound to die.

Whatever is stored up is impermanent and bound to run out.

Whatever comes together is impermanent and is bound to come apart.

Whatever is built is impermanent and is bound to collapse.

Whatever rises up is impermanent and is bound to fall down.

So also, friendship and enmity, fortune and sorrow, good and evil,

All thoughts that run in your mind – everything is always changing. (p. 46-7, Patrul)

“If you reflect on numerous examples, given here, you will have no doubt that nothing from the highest states of existence down to the lowest hells, has even a scrap of permanence or stability. Everything is subject to change, everything waxes and wanes.” Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher, p. 53

Exercise Six: The Uncertainty of the Circumstances of Death

Causes of death are numerous;

Causes of life are few,

And even they may become causes of death.

Aryadeva ( Quoted in Words of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche, p.53)

Deaths and Mortality

(Data are for the U.S.)

Source: Deaths: Final Data for 2007, tables B, D, 7, 30

Number of deaths: 2,423,712

Death rate: 803.6 deaths per 100,000 population

Life expectancy: 77.9 years

Infant Mortality rate: 6.75 deaths per 1,000 live births

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:

Heart disease: 616,067

Cancer: 562,875

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 135,952

Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 127,924

Accidents (unintentional injuries): 123,706

Alzheimer’s disease: 74,632

Diabetes: 71,382

Influenza and Pneumonia: 52,717

Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 46,448

Septicemia: 34,828

QuickStats: Age-Adjusted Death Rates* for Leading Causes of Injury Death Per 100,000

,† by Year — United States, 1979—2004

Distracted Driving: A Modern Uncertainty of Time of Death

What Is Distracted Driving?

There are three main types of distraction:

• Visual — taking your eyes off the road

• Manual — taking your hands off the wheel

• Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing

Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.

While all distractions can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves all three types of distraction.

Other distracting activities include:

• Using a cell phone

• Eating and drinking

• Talking to passengers

• Grooming

• Reading, including maps

• Using a PDA or navigation system

• Watching a video

• Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player.

Did You Know?

Research on distracted driving reveals some surprising facts:

• In 2008, almost 20 percent of all crashes in the year involved some type of distraction. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – NHTSA).

• Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted driver, and more than half a million were injured. (NHTSA)

• The younger, inexperienced drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

• Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)

• Using a cell phone use while driving, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. (Source: University of Utah)

Examination of Driver Distraction

Driver Distraction Facts and Figures

Important information regarding driver distraction comes from records of traffic fatalities and injuries collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Driver distraction could present a serious and potentially deadly danger. In 2008, 5,870 people lost their lives and an estimated 515,000 people were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was reported on the police crash report. Distracted driving comes in various forms, such as cell phone use, texting while driving, eating, drinking, talking with passengers, as well as using in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices.

There are other less obvious forms of distractions including daydreaming or dealing with strong emotions.

While these numbers are significant, they may not state the true size of the problem, since the identification of distraction and its role in a crash can be very difficult to determine using only police-reported data. New data sources are available to provide more details on the type and presence of driver distraction.


Police-reported data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the National Automotive Sampling

System (NASS) General Estimates System (GES) show that:

• In 2008, there were a total of 34,017 fatal crashes in which 37,261 individuals were killed.

• In 2008, 5,870 people were killed in crashes involving driver distraction (16% of total fatalities).

• The proportion of drivers reportedly distracted at the time of the fatal crashes has increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008.

• The under-20 age group had the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes (16%). The age group with the next greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the 20- to-29-year-old age group (12%).

• Motorcyclists and drivers of light trucks had the greatest percentage of total drivers reported as distracted at the time of the fatal crashes (12%).

• An estimated 21 percent of 1,630,000 injury crashes were reported to have involved distracted driving.

Life Sustaining Things That Turn Into Causes of Death

Eating : A Food that is contaminated ( broccoli, spinach, eggs?)

B Food that is beneficial but turns toxic (eaten in combo with certain medications, etc.)

C Food that is wrong for an individual

D Craving Meat and Fish

E Unhealthy Diets and Lifestyles – give rise to tumors, phlegm disorders, diseases

Quest for Wealth:

In olden times people fought battles, braved wild beasts, crossed rivers (Patrul Rinpoche)

In modern times we play football, race cars, burn out from pressures of Wall Street or work as a nurse or doctor in a hospital, have heart attacks, fight as mercenaries for subcontractors in Iraq and Afghanistan….

Injury Risks at Any Age

Infants and Toddlers (Ages 0–3)

a. Nearly 3,100 children ages 3 and under died in 2002 from injuries (CDC 2004).

b. For children under 1 year old, the leading cause of injury death is unintentional suffocation due to choking or strangulation (CDC 2004).

c. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 3 (CDC 2004).

d. In 2003, one third of the children ages 4 and younger who died in motor vehicle crashes were riding unrestrained (NHTSA 2005).

e. Children in this age group are at high risk for sustaining a traumatic brain injury (CDC 2004).

f. Drowning is the second leading cause of injury death for children in this age group (CDC 2004).

g. Children under age 1 most often drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets whereas toddlers most often drown in residential swimming pools (Brenner et al. 2001).

h. In 2003, more than 1.8 million children under age 4 were nonfatally injured, and falls were the leading cause (CDC 2004).

i. Child maltreatment by blunt trauma to the head or by violent shaking is a leading cause of head injury among infants and young children (Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect 2001)

Children (Ages –11)

a) In 2002, nearly 2,300 children ages 4 to 11 died from injuries (CDC 2004).

b) Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death for this age group (CDC 2004).

c) For children 4 to 7 years, belt-positioning booster seats reduce injury risk by 59% compared

with seat belts alone (Durbin et al. 2001).

d) Although restrained, only 37% ride in age-appropriate belt-positioning booster seats

(Cody et al. 2002).

a. Drowning is the second leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 4 to 11 (CDC 2004).

b. In 2003, almost one quarter (23%) of children ages 5 to 9 who were killed in traffic crashes

were pedestrians (NHTSA 2004a).

c. Among children ages 4 to 11, homicide is the fourth leading cause of death, taking the lives

of 250 children in 2002.

h) Forty-two percent of homicide deaths in this age group were caused by firearms (CDC 2004).

i) Nearly 3.2 million children ages 4 to 11 were nonfatally injured in 2003. Unintentional falls

were the most common cause of injury (CDC 2004).

Adolescents (Ages 12–19 )

a. Nearly 4.7 million adolescents were nonfatally injured in 2003; nearly 12,200 died from injuries in 2002 (CDC 2004).

b. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for adolescents ages 12 to 19 (CDC 2004).

c. The risk for motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than in any other age group. Per mile driven, drivers in this age group are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (IIHS 2004).

d. More than 18% of high school students in a 2003 survey reported rarely or never wearing seat belts; 12% reported drinking and driving; and 30% reported riding with a drinking driver in the month preceding the survey (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

e. Traumatic brain injuries among this age group account for more than 240,000 emergency room visits, 36,000 hospitalizations, and more than 5,700 deaths each year (CDC 2004).

f. Nearly 63,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in high school sports(Powell and Barber-Foss 1999)

g. Homicide is the second and suicide is the third leading cause of death in this age group. Most homicides and about half of suicides involve a firearm (CDC 2004).

h. In a 2003 survey, nearly 13% of high school students had been in a physical fight on school property at least once in the preceding year. More than 6% had carried a weapon at school in the month preceding the survey (Grunbaum et al. 2004).

i. Adolescents 10 to 14 years of age havthe highest rates of sports- and recreation-related injury (Gotsch et al. 2002).

Adults (Ages 20– 49 )

a. More than 79,500 adults ages 20 to 49 died from injuries in 2002. Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of those deaths (CDC 2004).

b. Suicide and homicide ranked as the fourth and fifth leading causes of death, respectively,

among this age group. As with adolescents, about half of suicides and most homicides

involved a firearm (CDC 2004).

c) In 2003, nearly 13.6 million adults ages 20 to 49 were nonfatally injured (CDC 2004).

d) The most common cause of nonfatal injury was falls (17%), followed by overexertion (15%)

(CDC 2004).

Older Adults (50 and older)

a. In 2002, nearly 64,000 adults ages 50 and older died as a result of injuries (CDC 2004).

b. Falls were the most common cause of injury death in this age group, accounting for more than 14,000 deaths in 2002 (CDC 2004).

c. Falls are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries in this age group.2003, 2.7 million older adults were injured from falls, comprising 46% of all nonfatal injuries in this group

d. Drivers ages 65 and older have higher crash death rates per mile driven than all but teen drivers (NHTSA 2004b).

e. People ages 75 years and older have the highest rates of traumatic braininjury-related hospitalization and death (CDC 2004).

f. In 2002, more than 12,000 Americans ages 50 and older died from suicide (CDC 2004).

Exercise Seven: Intense Awareness of Impermanence

The Tibetan tradition is to meditate single-mindedly on death, all the time, and in every circumstance.

1) While standing up, sitting of lying down, tell yourself: “This is my last act in the world.”

2) On your way to wherever you are going, say to yourself:”Maybe I will die there. There is no certainty I will ever come back.”

3) When you lie down to bed in the evening, consider you may die during the night.”

Death & Impermanence:


Five-Point Meditation on Death and Impermanence

(from Mind Training in Seven Points by Ken McLeod)

Consider how everything changes; nothing stays the same.

• Change in the world around us,

• Change in the body

• Change in personality and world view

Reflect on the many who have died.

• Previous civilizations, at their highest, at their lowest, and in between

• People with exceptional abilities or accomplishments

• Your own family and ancestors

Again and again, reflect on the many causes of death.

• How many ways could you die in the course of a typical day?

• How many everyday objects could cause your death?

• When can you be sure you will not die?

What happens when I die?

• Dying of old age

• Dying of a terminal disease

• Dying in an accident

What happens after I die?

• To your body

• To your possessions

• To your role in family, work, and society

However, just meditating upon death is not enough.

1. The only thing that will assist at the moment of death is Dharma. Really seeing reality as it is.

2. Practice therefore right now in an authentic way, not just hollow recitation of prayers, or distractedness during meditation.

Exercise Eight: Subtle Impermanence:

“The Buddhist teaching on impermanence asserts that all the entities that comprise an individual’s five impure heaps (1. Form, 2. Feeling, 3. Conception, 4. Formations, and 5. Consciousness) do not exist longer than an instant, which is defined as the smallest unit of time. Having been produced by momentary causes that preceded them, this collection of impermanent entities in turn serves as the set of causes for the next moment of equally evanescent heaps.”

Artemus B. Engle, The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice, p.45

The practitioner has the following thoughts:

1. ‘I discern a faculty, merely an object, merely an experience that the faculty and object cause to arise, and merely a mind.

2. The notions of ‘I’ and a ‘mine’ are mere names, mere impressions, mere figures of speech. There is nothing beyond that, nothing more than that.

3. The objects that exist in this manner are merely the heaps. No permanence, durability, constancy, or quality of ‘being owned’ can be found among these heaps.

4. Nor can any self or sentient being be found among these heaps that is born, ages, and dies, or who having performed deeds here and there experiences their fruit.

5. Therefore these conditioned entities are empty and devoid of a self.’

In this way the practitioner arrives at an understanding of emptiness on the basis of the point called ‘non-discernment’.

The practitioner then also has the following thoughts:

1. These conditioned entities are endowed with

• their own unique defining attributes

• as well as the attribute of impermanence

• and the attribute of suffering

• lack of self determination in that

• they are subject to dependent origination

2. Those entities that lack self-determination are void of a self’

In this way the practitioner arrives at an understanding of the aspect of selflessness on the basis of the point called ‘lack of self-determination’.

Asanga, Sravakabhumih, quoted in A. Engle, The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice, pp.133 & 134. (Numeration and Reformatting by J. Wenz for study purposes)

For most of us subtle impermanence is imperceptible. We wake up in the morning, and believe we are the same guy who went to sleep the night before. We see the continuing series of moments like frames of an old film in continuity. This confuses our minds into a sense of both ourselves and objects having constancy, and even permanency.

A Brief Review of the Five Heaps

1. Form – includes all entities that are physical in nature

2. Feeling – &

3. Conception – are made of a single mental factor. As Vasubhandu states, “Through the relishing of a feeling, beings develop attachment for sense objects and through erring conceptions they develop attachment for mistaken views. Therefore they are the principle cause for samsara.

4. Formations – includes all remaining mental factors that accompany consciousness.

5. Consciousness – various types of basic awareness.

(From A. Engle, The inner Science of Buddhist Practice, p. 12)


Daniel P. Brown. Pointing Out The Great Way, , Wisdom, Boston 2006

Garma C.C. Chang, The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, Shambala, Boston, 1999

Artemus B. Engle, The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice, Snow Lion, Ithaca, New York, 2009

Lama Gursam “Precious Human Birth”, on line at,2006

Khenpo Konchong Gyaltsen “The Preliminary Practices of the Incomparable Drikung Kagyu”,Vajra Publications, Gainsville Florida, 1994

Khenpo Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans. Gampopa’s, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Snow Lion, Ithaca, New York, 1998

Khandro Rinpoche, This Precious Life, , Shambhala, Boston, 2003

Jamgon Kongtrul, The Torch of Certainty, Shambhala, Boston, 2000

Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher, AltaMira Press, Sage Publications, Walnut Creek, California, 1998

Scientific American, September, 2010, Vol. 303 No. 3, Special Issue: “The End”

“Why We Can’t We Live Forever”, by Thomas Kirkwood

“How Much Is Left?”, by Michael Moyer

“Laying Odds on the Apocalypse”, by John Matson

“Could Time End?”, by George Musser

(Any errors are mine, John Wenz – May all beings benefit from the precious dharma! )

This entry was posted in Home and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.