Those who while still young
neither choose a life of renunciation,
nor earn a good living,
end up like dejected old herons
beside a pond without fish.
Dhammapada v. 155
In English we have the proverb, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. The meaning of this saying is simple: it is wise to act while conditions are favourable. The illustration that Dhammapada verse 155 gives us goes further telling us what happens when we don’t act wisely. So long as our efforts to plan for the future are associated with whole body-mind, judgement-free awareness, we need not be concerned about losing our grounding in the reality of this present moment. We only risk becoming lost when we haven’t adequately prepared ourselves with the ability to reflect wisely.
Those who know the uncreated,
who are free and stilled,
who have discarded all craving,
are the most worthy beings.
On this Full-moon day of May, as we mark Vesakha Puja, let us consider what the Buddha held up as being most worthy of attention. We are already well informed in regards to ‘the created’ world i.e. all the conditions which we see arising and ceasing. And we have heard many times how all that is born dies, all that arises ceases, all conditioned phenomena are in a state of perpetual change. The Buddha’s realization shows us that it is possible to awaken to what he called ‘the unconditioned’, ‘the uncreated’, ‘the unchanging reality’. Realization of this reality, he taught, is what is truly dependable and therefore truly worthy of attention. So how might we arrive at this realization? One approach could be simply to keep asking the right questions: What is the uncreated? What is the unconditioned? What is the undying? We then contemplate that any condition, any idea, any sensation that arises when we ask such questions, is not it – and we keep letting go.
The sun shines by day,
the moon shines by night.
But both all day and all night
the Buddha shines in glorious splendour.
Dhammapada v. 387
There is no denying that when we look around us there is a lot of darkness. And we might well be thinking that some of ‘the Buddha’s radiance’ would be very helpful right now. But where do we imagine the Buddha’s radiance is to be found? Do our thoughts go back 2600 years to ancient India; or perhaps to the Awakened teachers dwelling in forests somewhere? The Buddha taught that this radiance which he realized already exists within the human heart when it is freed from an inflated sense of self-importance. An exaggerated sense of self-importance gives rise to greed, hatred and delusion which obstruct the natural light, clarity and kindness that is there as potential within us.
Disciples of the Buddha
are fully awake
both day and night,
taking delight in compassion.
What it means to be compassionate is not always obvious. What we assume compassionate action should look like from the outside might not be the same as an expression of genuine compassion. For compassion to be real we need to know what motivates us and truly be in touch with our bodies. Real compassion requires that we let go of notions of how we might appear and trust in our well-considered, wholesome intentions.
If birds are trapped in a net
only a few will ever escape.
In this world of illusion
only a few see their way to liberation.
Dhammapada v. 174
It is not easy to see beyond the illusions which cloud our mind. But we can train our perceptions; we are not obliged to believe what others have told us. The Buddha wanted us to know the truth for ourselves. Sometimes we worry awfully about things which later on we find were not at all important. Mental impressions can at one time appear utterly convincing, and then at another time be seen as completely otherwise. When this happens, it is wise to take note of how illusory the world can be. There is nothing wrong with the world being this way, just as there is nothing wrong with our dreaming when we go to sleep at night. But obviously we need to know that dreams are dreams, they are not actuality.
When we appreciate fully
the benefit of our own pure deeds
we are filled with joy;
here and hereafter
there is a celebration of joy.
For most of us, our critical faculties are already well-developed. The Buddha encourages us to also exercise our faculty for appreciation. When we shine the light of appreciative awareness on the pleasant consequences of skilful actions, the result is joy. Wholesomeness is enhanced when consciously appreciated.
Knowing the Way for oneself
walk it thoroughly.
Do not allow the needs of others,
to bring about distraction.
When our heart is at ease we can feel as if all is well in the world. But we know that even when it feels that way to us, for others life is an intense struggle where it definitely does not feel as if all is well. So is it appropriate that we put time and effort into developing an inner sense of contentment, or does having empathy mean always remaining aware of the suffering of others? When the Buddha warns against allowing the needs of others to distract us, he is pointing to where the priority lies. The fact is that when we lose connection with deep inner well-being, we more easily become caught in the forces of delusion. In practice it is wise to learn how to walk so that the way can regularly refresh and renew us; thus when we encounter the forces of delusion, we will be able to enquire into them without being dragged down. To be in possession of such strength is to have something truly valuable to share.