915: Reflections on Drifting Along in the Sea of Hell

In 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche’s Dharma teachings and auspicious blessings, I was able to calmly face all manner of misfortunes. Recently, I dreamed that I was drifting along in the sea of hell. It made me feel both frightened and helpless, and revealed to me my true character.

Xiong Jiangning’s official breast cancer diagnosis

One night recently, despite never having had any trouble sleeping, I suffered insomnia; I started to feel pain in the lower part of my wound on the left breast and in the tumorous lumps below my armpit. I tossed and turned, and had a hard time falling asleep.

In a daze, halfway between waking and sleeping, I felt as though I had sunken into a boundless, dark ocean, exactly like how the Hell Realm is described in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows. Physically, I felt acute pain, but I was unable to awake from this nightmare. With what consciousness I had left, I could hear myself wailing mournfully, and the sounds I was making did not sound human. Meanwhile, I was scrambling and struggling to climb out of the sea of suffering, but its waters were extremely crowded; next to me were other sentient beings, also flailing their arms and legs around, all tangled together and trampling each other in their efforts to get out. But no one could escape.

I don’t know how long I remained in that horrifying place, but I did not wake up until daylight. The Dharma brothers living with me said they had heard me making anguished sounds through the night, but that they had not sounded as loud or as horrible as I had felt while immersed in my dream.

Only people who have experienced such terror know the infinite blackness and suffering. It is written in the Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha’s Fundamental Vows that only those with majestic power or karma can go to hell. Obviously, my time was limited, and my karmic retribution was at hand.

However, when I awoke, it immediately occurred to me that the most terrifying part had actually been while I was struggling, half in dream, to climb out of the suffering sea of hell. In that moment, in my heart I felt a strong need to be saved, as well as a vague notion that a liberating light would be approaching in the darkness. However, in my confused, suffering state, I had completely neglected to remember my guru; I had merely howled out in pain, forgetting his Dharma name as well as the mantras I normally chanted. Furthermore, I knew and felt very distinctly that without the guru’s deliverance and blessings, I would not have been able to climb out. I would have sunk deeper into the suffering sea, never to be liberated! Also, although I ordinarily voiced my gratitude to the guru and had faith in him, while in this dire state I had immediately reverted to my old ways and was completely at the mercy of my karma. My own mind really was frightful, and so lamentable. The guru would never abandon us, yet in my time of greatest need, I did not think of him. This was not just a dream; this was a reflection of my state of mind. I did not possess profound faith in the guru, which is why I could not remember him. This fact was scarier than simply dreaming about falling into hell!

Xiong Jiangning seeking an audience with Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche

Last Saturday afternoon, during an audience with him, Rinpoche berated me for not having listened or acted in accordance with his teachings, for not believing in cause and effect, and for not believing in death and impermanence. He completely pointed out my fundamental problem: I tended to merely express my thanks in words, without actually feeling grateful to the core for this Rinpoche who was constantly and selflessly helping me. I had not developed a profound faith in him, nor did I deeply believe in cause and effect or death and impermanence. I had not given rise to a sense of renunciation, so had made mistake after mistake and wandered, step by step, into the abyss of my evil karma.

This was a warning for me, a wake-up call. I thank the guru, the Buddhas, and the Bodhisattvas for allowing me to see the root of my problem before I die. I knew that I already had one foot into the hell, so had the guru not come to my rescue, I could not have been liberated. My karma had begun to manifest; I was staring into the maw of hell. I truly must repent for all I am worth and make a firm resolution to practice with great diligence. From now on, I must remain determined to amend my ways, rein in my indulgent mind, and cherish this life, which the guru has extended for me and the wisdom he has granted me. With this ultimately finite body, I must practice Buddhism, always remembering my guru, visualizing him and having deep faith in him. Only in the moment that impermanence comes will I be able to extricate myself from the suffering sea and be liberated from life and death.

Xiong Jiangning is grateful to the guru for granting her the wisdom life with which to practice Buddhism

I also would like to ask all my Dharma brothers to learn from my example! We have been fortunate enough to take refuge in this exceedingly rare, meritorious guru, so we absolutely must believe in him and put his teachings into practice. Only Rinpoche can liberate us from this mundane sea of suffering. Thank you, Rinpoche!

Respectfully written by Disciple Xiong Jiangning (Group 1) on June 27, 2018
Updated on July 4, 2018

•Editor’s note: Xiong Jiangning was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2013. For details about how Rinpoche helped her, please refer toTraces of Liberating Beings #762

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Updated on July 4, 2018