– The Impermanence of Things –
All my friends from so many different traditions and organizations, thank you very much for coming to attend this special occasion, our annual ceremony to pray for world peace and reconciliation between British and Japanese war veterans. Sadly, for the very first time since our initial meeting fourteen years ago, we find ourselves gathered here today without the physical presence of a single war veteran.
All the surviving war veterans are now at least ninety years old but several of them have sent our meeting sincere messages of goodwill that will be read out a little later.
The sad truth remains, however, that many of them have passed on to the other shore: Mr Masao Hirakubo, who founded the reconciliation movement in the U.K., Mr Maurice Franses, Masao’s best friend, who looked after the accounts for the Burma Campaign Friendship Group, Mr John Bynoe, who regularly organized the Reconciliation Mass at Canterbury Cathedral, Mr Phillip Daniel, a faithful attendant and excellent speaker at our meetings at Three Wheels, Mr Charles Couborough, a member of the Burma Campaign Friendship Society, and so the list goes on.
One picture that still remains vividly etched in my mind is of Mr Maurice Franses attending our reconciliation meeting in his wheel chair last August, despite the very poor state of his health. Although he was no longer able to speak at the meeting last year, on the same occasion the year before he had resolutely declared from his wheelchair “I will be back next year” in a voice so frail his wife, Jean, had to interpret for us. But the next August, there he was again, just as he had promised. He died a couple of months later, on the seventh of November. We were all so impressed and moved by his attendance that final time, for it showed us just how sincere and serious his attitude was towards this reconciliation movement and our prayer for world peace. He showed tremendous courage right up until the end, insisting on taking part in our spiritual movement even though in his weakened state it meant putting his own life in danger. Jean and all the family members, thank you very much for coming to attend our memorial service for this very brave man.
All the phenomena of this world, from the death of a single person such as Maurice Franses to the recent London riots or the large scale humanitarian disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March, teach us at least one lesson, the lesson of impermanence, the inescapable truth that everything everywhere is in a state of constant flux and change (jp. 諸行無常shogyo mujo). This is also followed by the truth that nobody can escape death.
It is through our awareness of the impermanence of life that we come to realise we should live our lives in the here and now to the fullest extent, loving ourselves and at the same time loving others.
Our life was given us by our parents and each of our parents was given life by their own parents. If we trace our lives back and back like this to their furthermost source, we will certainly come to the origin of life on this globe. According to modern science, life has existed on earth for well over three thousand million years. As a result of this long, long history of life we, too, have come into being. We should treasure not only our own lives but also the lives of others. It’s not at all easy, however, because of our innate self-centeredness.
So, faced with the indisputable truth of impermanence, all I can do now is just pray together with you on this special occasion, asking that each and every individual may attain inner peace and be able to enjoy living their lives in the here and now to the fullest extent. Let’s pronounce the Name of Amida Buddha together and pray for peaceful harmony out of diversity so that everyone may love themselves and others at the same time in the embrace of the great love and compassion of the Buddha.
With palms together in Dharma.