On the Purpose in Life Part II: Cultivating the mind

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Translated by Andrew Yang

As was discussed in Part I, if one’s purpose in life is to seek happiness, then possessing wealth, reputation, power or status may not suffice. Similarly, gratifying the six senses does not necessarily deliver happiness either.

Second, people have different needs and hopes at different times and under different circumstances. Apparently, once these needs and hopes are met, they feel happy. Thus, for someone who is penniless, a little money to meet their urgent needs makes them happy. For one who is sick, healing soon is a happiest thing. And for a loving mother, seeing a rebellious son turn into a pious and hardworking man makes her happy. Of course, this kind of anticipated happiness is all but temporary. Happiness dies down as gratification subsides. Moreover, we have innumerous needs and hopes, how could one have them all fulfilled and stay happy all the time?

According to Buddhism, then, how might one remain cheerful and happy every day? The answer lies in a pure mind and body. The question is, how could you keep your mind clean and pure? When adversity hits and you feel angry or distressed, it means that your mind is seized with greed, anger or delusion, and that you have lost your cool to become disturbed, agitated or depressed. In these moments, you may speak evil or tell lies, you may act on impulse and get into physical violence. What is more, if you have a shady natural disposition or are fiercely greedy, you could involve yourself in criminal acts like killing, theft, or sexual misconduct. What is more, in those moments, if you are not able to reflect on your own behaviour and exercise self-control with a stable mind and wisdom, wake yourself up from stubbornness and confusion, you are likely to go further astray. Those who are able to maintain a pure mind and body, however, whether or not the circumstances favour them, stay emotionally detached and unsusceptible to feelings of love or hate, and these people live a life of serenity, content and joy.

The ancient Greek philosophers Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) all believed that human beings must attain real wisdom before they have an opportunity to discover the origin of true happiness. And the attainment of wisdom begins with thinking in order to understand the truth of life and the universe. In deed, this notion is compatible with Sakyamuni Buddha’s teaching to “dependent on meditative concentration; practise stabilization, contemplation and introspection; attain wisdom”. However, as philosophers rely solely on rational thinking, the product is no more than speculative philosophy. And even though such a massive thought system is rigorously structured, it does not help completely and perfectly solve real life problems, and that is it is called “theories for play” in Buddhism. On the other hand, by purifying his mind, Buddha was able to prove, through personal practice, that one can realize the truth of life and the universe to attain lasting joy. In this sense, if one’s purpose of living is to pursue happiness, then there would be no better approach than studying and following the Buddhist Dharma.

Studying the Dharma means cultivating the mind, that is, purifying one’s consciousness. All Buddhist schools share the same purpose of practice – purify the mind, awake to the dharma, be delivered from suffering and attain happiness.  It is like that doctors prescribe different medications for different diseases but they all have a common goal – to heal the patient.

For instance, the Three-treatises School is based on three authoritative texts: Madhyamika Sastra (The Treatise of the Middle Way) and Dvadasa-dvara Sastra (The Twelve Gates Treatise) by Nagarjuna (c. 150-250), and Sataka Sastra (The One Hundred Verses Treatise) attributed to his disciple Aryadeva. They highlight the amazing significance of dependent origination and emptiness of nature contained in the non-worldly Dharma. Dependent origination means that all phenomena are born of many different karmic causes working in harmony. Emptiness of nature means that all phenomena are an aggregation of a great many different karmic forces, which have no intrinsic independence, dominance, or eternity. Therefore, all phenomena are of false existence in manifestation and of natural emptiness in essence. Contemplation of this emptiness may enable people to put down and let go of all kinds of attachment to achieve happiness and freedom.

For yet another example, the Consciousness-only School delves into the eight consciousness – the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind, manas and alaya, and their subtle interactions with the self and the Dharma, and everything else in the universe. It expounds the theory that everything arises from the mind, and goes from theory to cultivation, following the five-fold contemplation of consciousness-only in turning delusion into prajna and furthermore, using prajna to remove delusion, so that the seeds of mental suffering within one’s consciousness are eliminated, to naturally attain happiness and joy.

And as to the Chan school’s “investigation of a meditation topic”, it helps generate persistent inquisitiveness in order to halt all thoughts of delusion by concentrating on the topic “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” With these investigations one may get deeply involved in search of an answer day and night. Once the search ends, enlightenment will manifest.  There will no longer be any delusion or discrimination.   Only then will the Chan practitioner enjoy a life of happiness and freedom when “every day is a good day”.

All in all, if you want to pursue a happier and more meaningful life, you need to nurture your mind. Nurturing the mind must begin with cultivating true wisdom with an appropriate outlook on life. And no matter what practice approach you adopt, the more you cultivate, the fewer hindrances and more happiness you would have!

 

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