The Four Reminders are a wake up bell to the imminence of our own mortality. Mostly expounded by Tibetan Buddhists, the Four Reminders are a set of principles that emphasize the preciousness of being and the miracle of this one human life. Death can come at any moment – it could come with the next breath – so we must be awake right now to what it means to be alive in an impermanent world. There are many versions of the Four Reminders, but this particular rendition is taken from the beginning of Khandro’s Rinpoche’s ‘This Precious Life’.
This human existence with all its freedoms and endowments is extremely difficult to attain.
It enables one to accomplish the meaning of one’s being.
Having attained such a precious existence,
If one does not accomplish benefit at this time,
How could one achieve this perfect treasure in the future?
The three realms are as impermanent as autumn clouds.
The births and deaths of beings are like a dance performance.
Flashing by like lightning in the sky, the life span of beings
Races swiftly like a waterfall over a steep mountain.
When the time comes for even a king to depart,
Neither his riches nor loved ones, relatives, and friends will follow.
Wherever beings abide, wherever they go,
Karma alone follows them like a shadow.
Overpowered by existence, craving, and ignorance,
All beings—humans, gods, and beings of the three lower realms—
Circle unwittingly in the five realms of existence
Like the spinning of a potter’s wheel.
The three realms blaze with the sufferings of old age and sickness,
And there is no protector from the raging flames of death.
Born into cyclic existence, beings dwell continually in ignorance,
Circling like bees trapped in a jar.
Translated by Jetsiin Dechen Paldrön and edited by the Dharmasri Translation Group, Baltimore, 2001