All the past and future lives

Yesterday I listened to a podcast by Robert Thurman. He talked about a Sutra where the Buddha turned himself into a blue figure. He was not turning himself into Medicine Buddha, whose body is also blue. But he is about to perform a miracle. What he did was to send out very bright light rays from his urna, which is a tuft of hair between his eyebrows. The light was sent to all corners of the universe. Everyone was touched by the light, and when that happened, they were suddenly able to see all their past and future lives in all their entirety. Suddenly everybody could see who they were in their immediate past life and in all the lives in the past. They could also see what they will become in the future, they can see all their future lives. What is amazing is that all the sentient beings could see their future lives all the way to their eventual becoming Buddhas.

The Buddha

Thurman said that everyone could then see themselves having the life of a Buddha. They will see that they will be born a prince, living a protected life by a doting father, seeing the four signs of birth, sickness, old age and death, heading for the renunciate’s life and attaining Buddhahood.

Listening to Thurman’s account of the Sutra (I happened to forget the name of the Sutra, but it is not too hard to track it down), I was struck by the power of it. If the Buddha could open our eyes and let us see all our past and future lives, what would happen? If I were able to see all my lives, what would I do? What would I become?

Let us think about it. Thurman said that the reason why most of us are not able to see our past lives is because they are too traumatic. Each one of us used to be every kind of sentient being in the universe before taking on our present lives. The Buddha said that if all the bones of all the animals and beings that used to be us were to be piled up, its height would exceed that of Mount Sumeru. Or if all the tears have have been shed because of the immense sufferings that the beings that we used to be were poured down, the entire world would then be flooded deeply. This is how many and how countless our past lives are. We would then see that we used to be eaten by lions countless times, chased down by wolves countless times, suffering hunger as hungry ghosts countless times, being burned in hell countless times, enjoying the pleasures of the heavens countless times, suffeing the intense angst of no longer able to enjoy these pleasures countless times, and so on and on. THere does not seem to be an end to it. In the future the same fate will happen to us again, and again, and again, until in the long while we attain Buddhahood.

So this is the point of the Sutra. On the one hand, it shocks us to see all our past and future lives. So we don’t need to have trained ourselves so that we could actually see them, Due to the power of the Buddha in the Sutra, we can see them now. In fact this is not so hard as it might look. Since all of samsara is beginningless, there is no being at all that we did not use to be. Pick one being, an insect perhaps, it is we that used to be that particular insect. So the insect in a real sense is us. Thus, all beings in samsara are all connected to one another. Every being then used to be our mother, our father, our friends, our enemies, our colleagues, our partners, etc. etc. in the countless number of revolving lives in samsara.

So what is the point of all this? The catch is that the Buddha let us see that there is the end to the story. Everyone of us will one day become a Buddha. This is reality. Why? Because sooner or later we will become so bored with this unending cycle. We will see with our own very eyes how pointless the whole thing is. We will want to find a way out. That is, we will become Buddhas.

Furthermore, seeing all our past and future lives lets us realize that our own sense of individual self is a mere chimera. It is purely illusory. Time itself is also illusory. The sense that there is our *self* that is separated from all others is also illusory. All of us used to be a woman, a man, a grandmother, a husband, all kinds of animals, all kinds of pretas, all kinds of hell beings, all kinds of gods, all kinds of goddesses, and so forth. So what we think of as our *self* is only what appears if we hold on to the sense that there is something to hold on to, that this particular life is something different, something unique among all others. But that is totally a false conception. The reason why all beings are still wandering around in the endless cycle of samsara is that they do not see this Truth. Seeing all this, an acute sense of compassion is aroused in the Bodhisattva. He or she sees the pointlessness of all this and is resolved to achieve Buddhahood for the sake of all beings.

4 thoughts on “All the past and future lives

  1. Horus September 24, 2008 / 8:03 pm

    I wish i knew which sutra it was .. I shall ask the Bhikku on the dharmathai forums at http://www.dharmathai.com/forum/
    Bhikku Assaji is extremely well read as far as Sutras and Tripitaka goes, and will be able to tell me for sure whic one it is on the forums.

  2. Nitta January 4, 2009 / 2:31 pm

    This amazes me even more of what I already am knowing of Buddha…This info helps SO MUCH and I want to share this site…I want to ask a few questions who ever you are who made this and hopefully HOPEFULLY there will be others that are going into the Buddha hood…I am-let’s say I’m just in there…;P

  3. Antuna Buddhism January 28, 2009 / 5:25 pm

    Interesting Sutra and interesting subject you are talking about. I love how the Sutras make use of such simple stories to illustrate deep truths about our nature (or non-nature!), something other religions must learn to do (specially Christians). I’m going to give a read to this one.

    Pablo Antuna
    Buddhism Through Buddhist Eyes

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