“Decay is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” These were the last words of Buddha. The image of Buddhism has gone through quite a lot of change over the years. Nowadays people don't tend to associate Buddhism with striving so much as with peace and withdrawal, with being rather than doing. Whatever would old Shakyamuni think of that?
Buddha pointed out that things are impermanent and you might take it from that that he was suggesting that it is futile wasting effort on things that are not going to last. However, the original moral was probably just the opposite. Buddha put a new spin on the idea of karma, remember. Karma had been taken to mean that you are what you are because of what you did in your last life so there is nothing you can do about it. This logic underpinned the caste system and it still does. This was a story about how nothing changes. Buddha came along and said that actually karma is about change; that it is about the fact that if you want to do something about the caste system or anything else that you think is less than honourable, then you can. Striving would be pointless if things were permanent. Impermanence gives the possibility of freedom and emancipation and makes striving worthwhile.
It was this message that made Buddhism popular with the socially mobile classes of merchants, tradesmen and warriors, and it was the fact that such people travelled that took Buddhism all over Asia. It is this message that still makes Buddhism a beacon of hope for millions of Dalits in India, the poor who seek release. As far as Buddha was concerned a person is not what they were born as, a person is what they do. A noble person is one who acts nobly. A base person is one who acts basely. Buddha was pretty down to earth.
Peace is blessed, but mere quietude does not serve forever. When we are having a stressful time we crave for peace. In that peace the many different voices in our brain that have been clamouring calm down, the log jam eases. However, this is primarily so that they can now flow more readily. The peace we seek is a respite, not a destination. It is an aid to more effective forward movement. Life is struggle and it should be. A day without striving would be a wasted day, but stress overload is a common problem these days. One of the reasons that we suffer so much from stress nowadays is that in our complex society it is difficult to see the real outcome of our work. Stress is eased by seeing the bigger picture. Another reason, however, is that we do not value striving itself. A certain amount of stress is a good thing. A third reason is that there are real conflicts of interest in this world and sometimes we face invidious choices: to help one person we will harm another, or we face several options all of which involve disadvantages, or there are several good opportunities but no time in which to do them all so some will have to be sacrificed. To cause pain to others will never be noble even though it is often unavoidable and may even serve a higher goal that is noble. Even in the cause of nobility one will sometimes have to do ignoble things.
Buddha saw that if we are lost in action it will sooner or later all start to feel pointless, but if we are lost in higher meanings we shall not be much use to anybody. There is a middle path that is not simply the avoidance of the extremes, but rather a way of encompassing them: being angels as well as animals, rather than suppressing one or the other, recognising the whole truth about ourselves and our world, not just the nice bits or just the horrible ones.
“Here born we clutch at things and then compound delusion by following ideals”, says the Chinese poet author of the text Sandokai. Let us therefore reflect upon being here as the kind of creatures that we actually are, living in the midst of these vicissitudes, and let us try to discern some of the constancies that can liberate us and give significance and direction to our deeds. Though we are but waves of short duration, the truth will set us free so long as we act on it. Above all, the truth about ourselves, however unflattering it at first appears, will ultimately free us if we can only take it seriously. Riding our wave and experiencing our undertow, again and again, let us find what it is in our life that really inspires us. We each have a place and a role in a greater whole and we should not give up just because we are not the author of the drama that we are playing our part in.
Some things to ponder about by Satya - do please share your thoughts on these questions or anything else that strikes you from the chapter:
- "Life is struggle and it should be." How do you feel about this? Do you agree? What kind of struggle is 'good struggle'?
- How well do you feel you manage the middle way Dharmavidya is talking about? Do you have a tendency to get caught in action or caught in ideals?
- What really inspires you in your life?
Thanks Satya, another great piece of writing from Dharmavidya. I like the sentence ''Life is struggle and it should be.'' It boldly sets the record straight for those of us(like myself) who sometimes believe that the world owes us something and that we're here to enjoy ourselves. While I'm not opposed to the idea of happiness, I prefer it to come as a by-product of hard work directed towards liberation, than as a commodity which falls into my lap undeservedly. What Dharmavidya seems to be getting at is that this life is precious and should be treated as such, with maximum effort towards seeking and understanding the Dharma so that others can find it and be liberated as well. I also like the statement about Karma, where he talks about a person being what they do, rather than what they're born as. This attitude leaves room for the less fortunate of us who are born into hardship and deprivation but have the potential to escape and become useful and helpful in the world. It's dreadful to imagine all of the intelligent and talented people who are lost to the caste system and other oppressive regimes purely because they never get a chance to shine. And the truth will make us free, as long as we can bear it and accept it, it has the power to make us rather than hold us down. Thanks again. Namo Amida Bu( :