Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is the purpose of life?

What is the purpose of life?
This story was submitted by a reader.
“Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.'

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.' “
This story, as simple as it looks, is very profound.  Many people spend endless time and effort in searching for the meaning of life, for its purpose. But, who really knows the purpose of life? Shakyamuni Buddha said that people would spend all their time debating and discussing those questions that lead nowhere. Actually, so did Socrates which is why Socrates avoided them altogether as well.

The Buddha added, "all this radical preoccupation on these questions, which they could not prove anyway,  was like a man shot by a poison arrow who — rather than have it removed as it’s killing him and time is of the essence — first demands to know what type of arrow it was, what poison was used, who shot it, why did they shoot it, how much force did they use, where did they come from  and all sorts of other interesting but useless questions to the main need of saving his life."
He further explained, "Look, you’re confronted with suffering in the human realm. That’s the fact in front of you. You know it. It’s real. Incarnation after incarnation you’re faced with this fact until you can attain enlightenment and escape, which is control of the process. This you know. This is in front of you. This is what’s real.” Simply stated, don’t waste your time in those questions, but focus on how to live this life!
Going back to our story, if a dog was the teacher, then you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
The art of living is to live simply, to love generously, to care deeply, to speak kindly and finally,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The purpose of repentance

The purpose of repentance
Dennis Estrada

Serious practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism come to the temple twice a month and bow 108 times as we chant 108 different Buddha’s name. But do we really understand the real meaning of repentance? Why repent?

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Traditionally, the practice of repentance is done through chanting relevant sutra verses and bowing before a Buddha image, which represents the presence of the Buddha bearing witness to our sincerity. However, if one has done wrong to someone, the correct thing to do is to apologize to him or her personally. If not, the practice of repentance before the Buddha would be rendered a hollow practice lacking in sincerity. Even if the other party is unlikely to forgive us, we should do our part in seeking forgiveness - this is also the practice of humility. Actual remedial action of making up for any physical or psychological damage caused to others is also important - or repentance would literally be merely saying "sorry".

Repentance should ideally be practiced at the end of each day. We should sit down and meditate as we try to recall the best we can, any misgivings we have done in the day. For repentance to be more effective, misdeeds should be recalled as specifically as possible, instead of vaguely generalizing. Doing this practice daily reduces our repetitive mistakes as it increases our mindfulness the next day. Repentance should also be practiced immediately in the moment, without procrastination, when we realize we have just made a mistake. If one's pride is too strong, one should still make a point to repent later, as soon as possible.

The stronger our sincerity is, the more powerful our repentance becomes. It is important to understand that repentance does not erases our negative karma, but it can dissolve its future effects, much like the addition of abundant pure water onto salt, which dissolves the otherwise unbearable saltiness we have to taste.