What is the ultimate objective of a Buddhist?
To respond to the world like a Buddha.
And how is that?
With affectionate and intelligent understanding - a sympathetic understanding of the struggle required to disentangle ourselves, the kind of all-embracing compassion that a mother holds for her only child.
How does one come to that state?
By becoming disenchanted with the things that wise people become disenchanted with. Or, we can say, by becoming one who has become unstuck from everything sticky in the world; from everything the mind and body can get stuck into.
Isnít that just about everything?
Now you get the point.
(Three days later, the same person...) I have been thinking about all the things in our culture that I "get stuck into," to use your expression. It is a long list, but not so long that it covers everything, as you imply. I wonder if Iím still missing the point.
Itís good that you followed up our conversation with contemplation. I donít know what items you noted on your list, but I strongly suspect that they include sensual items like food, music, sex, entertainment, computer games, pleasant aromas, and things of that kind. The influence of these sense-pleasing items is very apparent. But there is a deeper, more subtle level of stickiness that is usually hidden from our understanding.
Our cherished views and opinions, the secret hopes we harbor, our hidden guilt, our fantasies. These are all created out of thin air, for none of them are real, nor do they belong to anyone. Bubbles, thatís all they are, just soap bubbles. And yet they exert a tremendous pressure over our lives. They keep us spinning endlessly. The mind embraces these notions and becomes shackled to them. They anchor the mind to the bottom of the ocean of life.
How does one escape from them?
Through meditation practice. Make an effort to recognize those energies that confine and limit our lives. Isolate them. Sand them down. File them down. Chisel them down one chip at a time, day by day. Keep observing everything with careful scrutiny - everything, including the observer. Shake every concept loose until nothing is left of what you previously mistook for something.
When the mind is empty of both coarse and subtle things, it enters into the stream of life free. From then on you can just flow effortlessly with the energy of life, secure in the realization of the way things are.
Life is a challenge. There is an art to living it well. And, like any art, diligent training is required to do it skillfully. The sooner we learn the ropes, the smoother the ride. The choice whether to live foolishly or skillfully lies entirely within the range of each personís power. There are other things beyond this range that we canít begin to control. If we are clever, we keep our nose out of those aspects of our life and turn toward what we can control, alter, improve, and transform.
It is obvious that each person is obliged to live his or her own life and take responsibility for all life choices and decisions. No one can bear the responsibility for our actions but ourselves. Life doesnít allow us to bury our heads in the sand to escape this. Nor does it make sense to kick the wall and protest against the misinformed perception that life is not fair. And "couch-potatoing out" is not an option on the menu. We are obliged to meet and embrace our life. If we can do this with grace and dignity, our life blossoms. If we donít, life sinks deeply into the emotional and psychological potholes of guilt, apathy, and cynicism, which lead to addictions and depression.
Nature demands that we grow, otherwise, we become stagnant. There is an inner directive that calls us to be who we are, to manifest our destiny. That being the case, we would be wise to move into our lives with intelligence, with courage, and with the enthusiastic interest necessary to develop our skills for living. Directing our life thus absolutely prevents it from withering into a tangle of remorse and regret.
It is our duty to find the time and space, no matter how cramped and difficult our circumstances may be, to outgrow our immaturity and grow into our inherent loveliness. In this way we incline our life toward wisdom and compassion. By beginning at the beginning, performing small gestures of warm-hearted concern for others, we pave the way for a time when we will be able to squeeze a great deal of kindness into any situation. In this way we can help bring peace into the world.
The most appropriate place to start is in our home. In small ways. And continuously, so that a pattern begins to emerge and old perceptions fade away. This is easier said than done, but it can be done. If the vision of a life brought into balance and harmony is kept in mind, this all becomes possible. The vision of bringing light and love into our home is a powerful impetus for evolutionary change. With this in mind we can endeavor to be a force for bringing harmony to our home. We can work to be willing to let go of everything that puts us in conflict with others. This is a beautiful gesture. This is the skill and art needed to live in our world in an elegant way; one that amplifies goodness rather than weighs the world down by decreasing goodness.
Often the best thing to do - the wise and humble response - in a difficult situation at home or anywhere is to leave the scene and enter into silence. We die to the inner fool, the clown who would act recklessly and say things that bite deeply. Learning to choose the path of a wise person in difficult situations develops the ability to act intelligently when overwhelming situations arise and threaten to blow us away into confusion.
If we have a meditative glimpse into the nature of time, we know that this moment is all there ever is. The future grows out of this very moment. Each of us, as beings conditioned by karma, carries the whole of a past we donít even remember in an energy stream we cannot see. We know intuitively that habits, patterns, proclivities, attitudes, and the like are deeply embedded. Only a bit of all this can we connect to the experiences in our present life. The rest is unknown, an enigma.
If karma is a reality - and cutting-edge science is now ready to concede that it is - then certainly life will continue to present an almost endless sequence of challenges that prompt contemplation and reflection for the seeker. If we meet life with wisdom and compassion, further problems wonít come tumbling out of our actions. Rather, we will recognize life as a flow of changing circumstances and meet it accordingly.