Ashes to Ashes

Sahara desert

Over on my other, smaller blog, I’ve been writing about women poets from the Hyakunin Isshu, and I recently posted a poem by the famous Lady Izumi, or Izumi Shikibu as she’s called in Japanese. She was a very passionate and brilliant poet in the 10th century, and had many lovers, but she also saw them all die before her. Even her daughter, a famous poet in her own right, died before Lady Izumi did.

After I wrote that post, I really started thinking. There is a story in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition about the Buddha’s chief disciples Shariputra (Sariputra in Pali) and Maha-Mogallana. They were good friends growing up and one day, they went to a festival. They had a good time for the first two days. But then on the third day, they realized that after 100 years, all the people there would be dead and the festival forgotten. From then on, they lost all taste for the festivities and began to seek a way of deliverance, ultimately encountering Shakyamuni Buddha.1

Likewise, the life of Lady Izumi, with its many romances and exploits was exciting and scandalous at the time, but now its just ancient history mostly for scholars to pore over. Her diaries are preserved as is her poetry, but it’s another time and another place that we can’t return to.

I feel the same way about my own life. I get swept up in trends, politics, work, my family, etc, but every once in a while, I have a sobering moment. In those moments I realize that in 50 or 1,000 years from now, much it will be dusty and forgotten, just as the trends and gossip of Lady Izumi’s time in the 10th century are forgotten now.

A person’s life can feel so exciting, passionate and important at the time, but when compared to the history of the Human race, or to the history of Earth itself, it looks a whole lot different.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Namu Amida Butsu

1 Speaking of which, these two sutras from the Pali Canon deals with the Buddha’s teachings after both Shariputra and Maha-Mogallana passed away. Indeed, there can be no lasting refuge in this world.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

5 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes”

  1. …. I think in your language it is “Ima”, the moment, now, right now is important! Yes, life seems like to collect memories till to die… but everything at the end being forgotten… (but on the other side, something in my mind, like Sumerian tablets, screaming)…. I am impressed so much. Thank you, with my love, nia


  2. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, this is the reason why I like to believe in the Bible, The holy book said that there’s a new world called heaven when Jesus return and those that sleep (died In the lord) will rise up from the grave when Jesus return. For now all the dead are like in a state of sleep, knowing nothing and having no part under the sun. If I do not have this hope this world is so despairing. In the book of Ecclesiastes it says “to everything there’s a season, A time of purpose under the heaven” Nice post, I like to follow your post because I like to learn Japan’s culture and language too. I have a sister that lives there for 29 years now.


  3. “there’s a new world called heaven when Jesus return and those that sleep (died In the lord) will rise up from the grave when Jesus return”

    Doug is right, all that we hold precious and dear now will one day be gone. That’s why I also love the idea in the Bible that all is a gift, to be enjoyed and to be grateful for. The great thing about Jesus’ teaching is that he is here right now. Jesus has returned already and can be found in our hearts. In Buddhism it’s called Buddha-nature and because of it, we can see the ever-changing world around us and appreciate it and learn from it without trying to grasp onto it.

    Another central teaching in both Buddhism and Christianity is that although everything will one day be gone, everything is also precious, and what we do from moment to moment is important. The fact that everything will be ashes does not mean that it is meaningless. Living with an awareness of God and his gifts, living with mindfulness and compassion, we are co-creators with God in his Kingdom, we create, through our practice, the Buddha’s Pure Land right where we are.

    Nothing is forgotten, nothing is wasted. And though we are all headed for Heaven/the Pure Land, we are all necessary and vital in the whole process. God loves each and every one of us and resides in each, Buddha-nature is the nature of all beings, and living from that central place (surely our one eternal refuge) gives meaning, the meaning of love and conectedness, to it all.


  4. Thank you for reminding me that with all my worries and woes, everything in life, even pain, is only temporary. πŸ˜€ Thank you for sharing, your blog always brings peace to my heart.


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