In silently contemplating the transient nature of human existence, nothing is more fragile and fleeting in this world than the life of a person. Thus we have not heard of a human life lasting for a thousand years. Life swiftly passes and who among people can maintain his form for even a hundred years?
Whether I go before others, or others go before me; whether it be today or it be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who leave before us are countless as drops of dew. Though in the morning we may have radiant health, in the evening we may return to white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever; and when the last breath leaves us, our face loses its colour.
Though loved ones gather and lament, everything is to no avail. The body is then sent into an open field and vanishes from this world with the smoke of cremation, leaving only the white ashes. There is nothing more real than this truth of life. The fragile nature of human existence underlies both the young and the old and therefore we must, one and all, turn to the teachings of the Buddha and awaken to the ultimate source of life.
By so understanding the meaning of death, we shall come to fully appreciate the meaning of this life which is unrepeatable and thus to be treasured above all else. By virtue of true compassion let us together live with the thought of Buddha in our hearts. ("White Ashes', in Rennyo's Letters, 5.16, translation from Jodo Shinshu service book)