Shantideva said, “Death does not differentiate between tasks done and undone. My enemies will not remain, my friends will not remain, I shall not remain, nothing will remain. Whatever I experience will fade to a memory, like an experience in a dream.” Anything that has passed won’t be seen again. He said, “Thus I have not considered that I am ephemeral. Due to my delusion, my attachments, my anger, I transgress against the truth in many ways.”
To acknowledge the truth of human life—its fragility, its fleeting nature—is to begin to acknowledge that everything comes into being, is sustained for some period of time, and then passes away. That’s a fundamental realization of the Buddha. The Buddha realized in his own enlightenment that all things are empty, without any inherent existence, without own-being. Nothing exists independently of anything else. Nothing arises or comes into being of its own accord. When we try to grasp things, they shift because nothing is fixed. When we try to fix things, they can’t be found because they have no solid state. Our opinions about this truth won’t alter it. We cannot control it. We cannot stop it. So how do we find peace?
In this koan a monastic comes to Master Dasui and says, “The conflagration at the end of the eon sweeps through and the universe is totally destroyed.” In Buddhist cosmology the universe, like all things, is cyclical. It comes into being in a way that’s not dissimilar to the theory of the Big Bang. Then it persists. We’re in that state of persistence right now. At some point it will dissolve in a great fire that will sweep through and everything in the universe will be destroyed. Then all the material that has been dispersed over many eons will collect again and will come into being as a new universe. And the cycle will start again.