Bhikkhuni Triệt Như – The Fount of Happiness – No 6
Translated into English by Như Lưu
Grocery shopping is an ordinary activity that most of us would know well. First, we only buy what we need. If we are careful, we write a list. But we may still forget to buy something, and if we see some yummy-looking fresh vegetable, we may buy it although we hadn’t planned to. At the supermarket we see all sorts of goods: fruits at all seasons, green vegetables, meat and fish, sugar, flour, noodles, all sorts of sweets, prepared foods, liquors, coffee etc. This is not dissimilar to what has been called the market of life. At the supermarket, we choose carefully what is fresh, appetizing and inexpensive. Once we have bought the food, we store it in the refrigerator, then everyday take some out to cook, fry and assemble into dishes for the whole family. We then continue to go grocery shopping at regular intervals. Again we store the food in the refrigerator or in the freezer compartment if we need to keep it for longer. Over time, our large refrigerator becomes full, we need to buy a second one, and may be a proper freezer to store more food.
In life, we often behave in a similar way. When we interact with other people, instead of carefully choosing our friends, we may be attracted to people who are friendly, talkative and get drawn towards attending parties, such as a birthday party this month, a death anniversary the following month, a Thanksgiving party, or a graduation ceremony for everyone’s children and grand-children. We thus lead a life of eating, drinking and being merry. Not only are we wasting our time, but we may also bring home feelings of sorrow, anger, blame and judgment, such as commenting that someone is generous because they are wealthy, some other is poor because of their bad character, someone’s house is big, others’ children are successful etc. We feel happy if we think we are better off than others, and sadness and self-pity if we think we are inferior to others in some aspects.
Things that we keep repeating in our head will automatically be recorded in memory, and over time they build up to form the power of karma. Our memory has its limits. If our head is full of licentious and debauched memories from our youth, and memories of dinner, singing or pleasure parties from our adult years, where do we find the room to store the teaching of the Buddha? Some of us fall asleep when they listen to the dhamma. Others would take ample notes, but would not review, remember nor put them into practice, and therefore the dhamma would serve no purpose. For this reason, those who are still bound by family life will find it difficult to make spiritual progress. It is not until they grow older, get nearer to the time of departing the world and contemplate the long and uncertain road ahead that they awaken and want to commit to spiritual practice. By that time, their body has become tired and their mind weak, how can they hope to be of assistance to the world?
There is another type of people who awaken earlier in life. They may have witnessed instances of suffering around them or even in their own family, such as family breakdowns, young children being separated from their parents, jealousy and competition among siblings, conflict and treachery among friends, injustice and discrimination in the workplace, or instances of hardship just to make ends meet. For them, a sense of despondence may lead to a desire to withdraw from the world, cut off social interactions, and avoid malicious gossip about others. They may decide to escape the world by becoming a Buddhist monk or nun. But as the world is everywhere, how can we escape it if we still carry it in our mind even if we try seclusion up the mountain, down the sea or in the vast desert. These people are like people who, when they go grocery shopping, would grab spoiled fish, stale meat, wilted vegetables and rotten fruit, keep them in their refrigerator, and then become sad, resentful and unwilling to go shopping. They don’t have the discernment to see that there many things of varying quality in the market of life.
We can see these two types of people around us every day. On the one hand are those who seek pleasures in life through entertainment, food and drink, leisure and partying, who are attracted to noisy and glamorous places and are oblivious to the real meaning of life. On the other hand are those only see darkness, suffering and violence in life and thus become discouraged and depressed.
Both types of people deserve our pity as they have accumulated much unwholesome karma in their mind and have no more room in it to receive the Buddha’s precious dhamma. They are like shoppers who are not versed in the art of grocery shopping. One type would buy too many things they don’t need. Their mind is full of useless things and has no more room to accommodate the dhamma. The other type has their mind so full of the atrocity, sorrow, injustice, and ugliness of the world that the dhamma cannot find its way into such a dark and closed place. Both types see the world as real, that pleasures are real, suffering is real.
So, what is the correct way to do grocery shopping? Life is much like a supermarket, one can find in it many goods, some good and some bad, some dear and some cheap, all of which look beautiful, glamorous, appetizing. It’s the same with people, everyone wants to show off their best and hide their worse, their shortcomings. Therefore, we need first to have some discernment, knowledge and prudence. We need to ponder which of our life goals are important? What strengths do we need to further develop in order to become useful to ourselves and our family? What weaknesses do we need to alleviate? If we look upon life we clearly see that there are things that are good and others that are bad. But the two types of people that we mentioned earlier see only extremes. One group only see the positive aspects, or what they see as positive, and want to enjoy them. The other group only see the worse aspects of life, and feel discouraged.
The teaching of the Buddha aims at neutralizing both extremes. For those who are immersed in, and infatuated by worldly pleasures, it teaches the law of impermanence to awaken them. It reminds people that pleasures will quickly fade away, the vigor of youth will fly by, and health likewise, happiness is ephemeral. For those who are pessimistic and only see suffering in life, it teaches that suffering has many causal conditions and will change and fade away over time. The essence of suffering is emptiness, life is like a dream, and we must awake from this dream in good haste.
We clearly see that there are in the world good and bad people, wholesome and unwholesome acts. Therefore, at the beginning we need to seek the company of wise people and avoid evil people. We should do good deeds and eschew immoral acts. We should purify our speech, action and thoughts so that they are helpful to ourselves and others.
Wholesome thoughts, speech and action will all be recorded in our memory. We should avoid thinking about and analyzing the tragedy and cruelty around us so that we do not burden our memory with these events that create an unwholesome and unhelpful impression on our mind. The more empty and fresh is our mind, the more able it is to absorb the dhamma. Once we have understood the dhamma, we then need to apply it in our daily life.
When we live in the world, we need to know how to choose what we need, what is important, useful and store only these into our mind. We should ignore sarcastic, cynical and unhelpful comments and treat them like the wind that comes and go. If we do not repeat and think about them, they will disappear on their own. We should likewise let the wind blow away flatteries, lest we believe them and become conceited or prideful.
If we are a lay practitioner who lives in the world, we need to choose good and virtuous friends and keep them close so that we can learn from them, imitate them and do virtuous things like them. If we see that a friend’s family is close-knit and happy, if we see how well they educate their children, we can learn from their example.
If we are a monk or a nun who lives among the sangha, we live in a community of people who have strongly committed themselves to improving their morality and wisdom and share a common ideal, we can more easily live in harmony with others, ignoring shortcomings in others and focusing on our own shortcomings.
A monastic life is not not a mark of selfishness, only looking after oneself and ignoring the suffering in the world. On the contrary, monastic life is a noble way of living, one that is useful to oneself and others. For this reason, the suttas have said: “When one person makes the vow to adopt the monastic life, all in the heaven and human realms rejoice and all in the evil realm tremble with fear.”
Even when one has just entered the monastic life and starts to keep the monastic discipline and purity of his/her thoughts, speech and actions, this person already generates innumerable merits and good karma despite not being to do contribute directly to the world by teaching. Why is this so? When a person sees him/herself as a clear mirror and conducts him/herself in a noble, sincere, peaceful and calm manner, he/she sows into the mind of others a seed of respect and trust in the Three Jewels. This is the first merit attained by a person who lives the monastic life. Later on, this person would go on the spiritual path and help others according to his/her ability while also cultivating his/her morality and wisdom. This again will generate innumerable merits. For this reason, a sincere spiritual seeker is protected by all Buddhas who ensure that his/her path is wide open, straight and enjoys favorable causal conditions.
When our spiritual path no longer has obstacles, our life will be likewise. Why is this so? The spiritual path and life itself are one. We are only living one life at any moment. When we have transformed our mind and accord it with the flow of the universe, peace and harmony will be present everywhere. We naturally volunteer to help those who suffer or are still deluded. Compassion, loving-kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity well up in us spontaneously. The monk/nun keeps only morality, wisdom, merit and favorable karma in his/her treasure. The wisdom that sees clearly the truths that govern the world are kept in the treasure along with lived experiences, and together they form an inexhaustible fount that washes away birth, aging, sickness, death, suffering and karma wherever it flows. This fount of wisdom transforms everything and becomes a clear fount of happiness and peace to those who accept to immerse themselves in this cool fountain of the mind. Let us quickly return to the fount of happiness, for it truly is our mind.
Master’s Hall, the 11th of June, 2021
Link to Vietnamese article: https://tanhkhong.org/p105a2284/triet-nhu-snhp006-nghe-thuat-di-cho