Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
PART THREE -
LEADING A BUDDHIST LIFE
CHAPTER 7 -
MORAL FOUNDATION FOR MANKIND
the purpose of life?
Man is the highest fruit on the tree
of evolution. It is for man to realize his position in nature and
understand the true meaning of his life.
know the purpose of life, you will first have to study the subject through
your experience and insight. Then, you will discover for yourself the true
meaning of life. Guidelines can be given, but you must create the
necessary conditions for the arising of realization yourself.
There are several
prerequisites to the discovery of the purpose of life. First, you must
understand the nature of man and the nature of life. Next, you keep your
mind calm and peaceful through the adoption of a religion. When these
conditions are met, the answer you seek will come like the gentle rain
from the sky.
the nature of man
Man may be clever enough
to land on the moon and discover wondrous things in the universe, but he
has yet to delve into the inner workings of his own mind. He has yet to
learn how his mind can be developed to its fullest potential so that its
true nature can be realized.
As yet, man is still
wrapped in ignorance. He does not known who he really is or what is
expected of him. As a result, he misinterprets everything and acts on that
misinterpretation. Is it not conceivable that our entire civilization is
built on the misinterpretation? The failure to understand his existence
leads him to assume a false identity of a bloated, self-seeking egoist,
and to pretend to be what he is not or is unable to be.
Man must make an effort to
overcome ignorance to arrive at realization and Enlightenment. All great
men are born as human beings from the womb, but they worked their way up
to greatness. Realization and Enlightenment cannot be poured into the
human heart like water into a tank. Even the Buddha had to cultivate His
mind to realize the real nature of man.
Man can be
enlightened _a Buddha?if he wakes up from the 'dream' that is created by
his own ignorant mind, and becomes fully awakened. He must realize that
what he is today is the result of an untold number of repetitions in
thoughts and actions. He is not ready-made: he is continually in the
process of becoming, always changing. And it is in this characteristic of
change that his future lies, because it means that it is possible for him
to mould his character and destiny through the choice of his actions,
speech and thoughts. Indeed, he becomes the thoughts and actions that he
chooses to perform. Man is the highest fruit on the tree of evolution. It
is for man to realize his position in nature and to understand the true
meaning of his life.
the nature of life
dislike facing the true facts of life and prefer to lull themselves into a
false sense of security by sweet dreaming and imagining. They mistake the
shadow for the substance. They fail to realize that life is uncertain, but
that death is certain. One way of understanding life is to face and
understand death which is nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary
existence. But many people do not like even to hear of the word 'death'.
They forget that death will come, whether they like it or not.
Recollections on death with the right mental attitude can give a person
courage and calmness as well as an insight into the nature of existence.
death, we need a better understanding of our life. We are living a life
that does not always proceed as smoothly as we would like it to. Very
often, we face problems and difficulties. We should not be afraid of them
because the penetration into the very nature of these problems and
difficulties can provide us with a deeper insight into life. The worldly
happiness in wealth, luxury, respectable positions in life which most
people seek is an illusion. The fact that the sale of sleeping pills and
tranquilizers, admissions to mental hospital and suicide rates have
increased in relation to modern material progress is enough testimony that
we have to go beyond worldly, material pleasure to seek for real
The need for a
the real purpose of life, it is advisable for a person to choose and
follow an ethical-moral system that restrains a person from evil deeds,
encourages him to do good, and enables him to purify his mind. For
simplicity, we shall call this system 'religion'.
is the expression of the striving man: it is his greatest power, leading
him onwards to self-realization. It has the power to transform one with
negative characteristics into someone with positive qualities. It turns
the ignoble, noble; the selfish, unselfish; the proud, humble; the
haughty, forbearing; the greedy, benevolent; the cruel, kind; the
subjective, objective. Every religion, represents, however imperfectly, a
reaching upwards to a higher level of being. From the earliest times,
religion has been the source of man's artistic and cultural inspiration.
Although many forms of religion had come into being in the course of
history, only to pass away and be forgotten, each one in its time had
contributed something towards the sum of human progress. Christianity
helped to civilize the West, and the weakening of its influence has marked
a downward trend of the Occidental spirit. Buddhism, which
civilized the greater part of the East long before, is still a vital
force, and in this age of scientific knowledge is likely to extend and to
strengthen its influence. It does not, at any point, come into conflict
with modern knowledge, but embraces and transcends all of it in a way that
no other system of thought has ever done before or is ever likely to do.
Western man seeks to conquer the universe for material ends. Buddhism and
Eastern philosophy strive to attain harmony with nature or spiritual
Religion teaches a person
how to calm down the senses and make the heart and mind peaceful. The
secret of calming down the senses is to eliminate desire which is the root
of our disturbances. It is very important for us to have contentment. The
more people crave for their property, the more they have to suffer.
Property does not give happiness to man. Most of the rich people in the
world today are suffering from numerous physical and mental problems. With
all the money they have, they cannot buy a solution to their problems.
Yet, the poorest men who have learnt to have contentment may enjoy their
lives far more than the richest people do. As one rhyme goes:
too much and yet do crave
for a purpose in life
I have little and seek no more;
They are but poor though much more they have
And I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich, they beg, I give;
They lack, I have; they pine, I live.'
The aim in life varies
among individuals. An artist may aim to paint masterpieces that will live
long after he is gone. A scientist may want to discover some laws,
formulate a new theory, or invent a new machine. A politician may wish to
become a prime minister or a president. A young executive may aim to be a
managing director of multinational company. However, when you ask the
artist, scientist, politician and the young executive why they aim such,
they will reply that these achievements will give them a purpose in life
and make them happy. Everyone aims for happiness in life, yet experience
shows time and again that its attainment is so elusive.
Once we realize
the nature of life (characterized by unsatisfactoriness, change, and
egolessness) as well as the nature of man's greed and the means of getting
them satisfied, we can then understand the reason why the happiness so
desperately sought by many people is so elusive like catching a moon beam
in their hands. They try to gain happiness through accumulation. When they
are not successful in accumulating wealth, gaining position, power and
honour, and deriving pleasure from sense satisfaction, they pine and
suffer, envying others who are successful in doing so. However, even if
they are 'successful' in getting these things, they suffer as well because
they now fear losing what they have gained, or their desires have now
increased for more wealth, higher position, more power, and greater
pleasure. Their desires can never seem to be completely satiated. This is
why an understanding of life is important so that we do not waste too much
time doing the impossible.
It is here that
the adoption of a religion becomes important, since it encourages
contentment and urges a person to look beyond the demands of his flesh and
ego. In a religion like Buddhism, a person is reminded that he is the heir
of his karma and the master of his destiny. In order to gain greater
happiness, he must be prepared to forego sort-term pleasures. If a person
does not believe in life after death, even then it is enough for him to
lead a good, noble life on earth, enjoying a life of peace and happiness
here and now, as well as performing actions which are for the benefit and
happiness of others. Leading such a positive and wholesome life on earth
and creating happiness for oneself and others is much better than a
selfish life of trying to satisfy one's ego and greed.
If, however, a person
believes in life after death, then according to the Law of Karma, rebirth
will take place according to the quality of his deeds. A person who has
done many good deeds may be born in favorable conditions where he enjoys
wealth and success, beauty and strength, good health, and meets good
spiritual friends and teachers. Wholesome deeds can also lead to rebirth
in the heavens and other sublime states, while unwholesome deeds lead to
rebirth in suffering states. When a person understands the Law of Karma,
he will then make the effort to refrain from performing bad actions, and
to try to cultivate the good. By so acting, he gains benefits not only in
this life, but in many other lives to come.
When a person
understands the nature of man, then some important realizations arise. He
realizes that unlike a rock or stone, a human being possesses the innate
potential to grow in wisdom, compassion, and awareness?and be transformed
by this self-development and growth. He also understands that it is not
easy to be born as a human being, especially one who has the chance to
listen to the Dhamma. In addition, he is fully aware that his life is
impermanent, and he should, therefore, strive to practise the Dhamma while
he is still in a position to do so. He realizes that the practice of
Dhamma is a life-long educative process which enables him to release his
true potentials trapped within his mind by ignorance and greed..
Based on these
realizations and understanding, he will then try to be more aware of what
and how he thinks, speaks and acts. He will consider if his thoughts,
speech and actions are beneficial, done out of compassion and have good
effects for himself as well as others. He will realize the true value of
walking the road that leads to complete self transformation, which is
known to Buddhists as the Noble Eightfold path. This Path can help a
person to develop his moral strength (sila) through the restraint
of negative actions and the cultivation of positive qualities conductive
for personal, mental and spiritual growth. In addition, it contains many
techniques which a person can apply to purify his thoughts, expand the
possibilities of the mind, and bring about a complete change towards a
wholesome personality. This practice of mental culture (bhavana)
can widen and deepen the mind towards all human experience, as well as the
nature and characteristics of phenomena, life and the universe. In short,
this leads to the cultivation of wisdom (panna). As his wisdom
grows, so will his love, compassion, kindness, and joy. He will have
greater awareness to all forms of life and better understanding of his own
thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
In the process of
self-transformation, a person will no longer aspire for a divine birth as
his ultimate goal in life. He will then set his goal much higher, and
model himself after the Buddha who has reached the summit of human
perfection and attained the ineffable state we call Enlightenment or Nibbana.
It is here that a man develops a deep confidence in the Triple Gem and
adopts the Buddha as his spiritual ideal. He will strive to
eradicate greed, develop wisdom and compassion, and to be completely
liberated from the bounds of Samsara.
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