On the Purpose in Life Part III: At-homeness


Translated by Andrew Yang

As a rule, human beings want to have a happy life, and in Parts I and II, we have discussed the reasons why, in order to achieve happiness in life, one must cultivate the mind.

Buddhism refers to the world we live in at present as “saha”, meaning in Sanskrit that which is tolerable. It implies that although there is happiness in this world, it is fleeting and transient, while pain and dissatisfaction are omnipresent and hard to avoid. Nevertheless, some would say, during my life time, I have been accustomed to enduring enough pain of all types and for so long that I don’t care for a different life, nor do I want to leave this life altogether, hence the epithet “tolerable”. Not necessarily a gloomy portrayal, it merely points out the fact about human existence.

Invariably, a human being comes to the saha world with karma, to experience the suffering of transmigration. Because of forces innate in the karma, he assumes a physical body, and with it he cannot but experience the corporeal suffering from birth, ageing, sickness and death. Laozi (604-531 BC), founder of Daoism, says in his Book of the Way, “I suffer a great malady, for I have a body.  Once I have none, what do I care?” Besides, there could be four kinds of overbearing spiritual suffering inflicted upon the soul from love, separation, loss and resentment, as indicated in The Lotus Sutra, “With no peace in the three realms, they are like a house on fire, filled with suffering of all sorts”.

Life, thus, strides over suffering and joy, in fact more suffering than joy, but how did our ancient sages use their profound knowledge and wisdom to formulate recipes for a happy and gratifying life? Laozi, Confucius (551-479 BC), Zhuangzi (c. 369-298 BC) and Mencius (c. 371-c. 289 BC) all maintain that happiness comes from the natural abundance within one’s inner world, and not by pursuing anything in the external world, be it gratification from wealth, fame, power or status. Not only do such pursuits do not necessarily make one happy, they may bring endless mental suffering.

How, then, does one attain spiritual abundance? It depends on his world outlook and personal value orientation. For example, Laozi observes that the Way exists in nature, and so humans should strive to go back to it. If one is happy with a simple life, then he will find the natural abundance in it that leads to true joy.

On the other hand, Confucius, in promoting moral cultivation, urges people to pursue five cardinal virtues: benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and integrity. With soul searching and self-restraint, the gentleman starts with elevating his personal moral conduct in managing family affairs, then goes on to serving the state in ways for peace to prevail, and eventually help build a world with perfect harmony. In this manner, if one persists in cultivating these virtues, he will find comfort and peace of mind.

On the other hand, Zhuangzi advocates seeking spiritual freedom to arrive at the ease and comfort of living. In order to attain this state, one has to thoroughly practice the concept of “Equality of Things”, being transcendent without seeking, and achieving peace of mind to the degree where one feels no joy for gain nor sorrow for loss. It is said that when his wife died, Zhuangzi even beat a pottery bowl as an instrument and sang. This act, not mean or ruthless in itself, happened because he equated death with life, felt no sadness for his wife’s passing, and was in a calm and tranquil state of mind.

In addition, Mencius carries Confucius’ ideals of benevolence and righteousness further in trying to define the natural greatness of the human soul. If one finds a home for his mind in this noble, magnanimous energy, the great philosopher counsels, then neither rags nor riches may lead him astray, as he will be able to constantly enjoy physical and mental well-being filled with joy.

Then what is at-home in the Mahayana Buddhist sense? The Diamond Sutra says, “should develop a mind which does not abide in anything.” This means a practitioner should abide in “no abode” and be at-home as such. “No abode” means that the mind is not attached, neither to the self nor to anything else in the universe. Mahayana has a mission to benefit oneself and others in attaining Buddhahood and therefore advocates “no abode”. Self-cultivation and self-benefit are not complete, practitioners should develop a mind which does not abide in anything to benefit others.  That is to develop a great Bodhi mind to ferry all sentient beings to enlightenment.

What, then, is it like to be dwelling in no abode? The following verse is attributed to the Zen master Wumen Huikai (1183-1260) of the Song dynasty (960-1279),

With spring come flowers, with autumn the moon.

Winter has snow, and summer has breeze.

Once there is not a single worry or concern,

Then it is a lovely time for the whole universe.

“Not a single worry” here is equal in meaning to “no attachment” cited in The Heart Sutra, because if one has “not a single worry” on mind to be able to enjoy the beauty of any season, then it means that he shall be happy every day.

When students dwell in studies and training, workers dwell in and enjoy their work, good Samaritans dwell in volunteering, and Buddhists dwell in chanting and worshiping Buddha, so everyone does their part with focus and dedication, then they may all have endless joy. Do share with us the joy in how you find a home for your own mind.


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