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Perry Smith

Excerpts from

The Meaning of Life

by Dalai Lama

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The Meaning of Life by Dalai Lama Chapter 1. THE BUDDHIST WORLDVIEW

First, let me talk to the Buddhist practitioners in the audience about the proper motivation for listening to lectures on religion. A good motivation is important. The reason why we are discussing these matters is certainly not money, fame, or any other aspect of our livelihood during this life. There are plenty of activities that can bring these. The main reason why we have come here stems from a long-term concern.

It is a fact that everybody wants happiness and does not want suffering; there is no argument about this. But there is disagreement about how to achieve happiness and how to overcome problems. There are many types of happiness and many ways to achieve them, and there are also many types of sufferings and ways to overcome them. As Buddhists, however, we aim not merely for temporary relief and temporary beneŽt but for long-term results. Buddhists are concerned not only for this life but for life after life, on and on. We count not weeks or months or even years, but lives and eons.

Money has its uses, but it is limited. Among worldly powers and possessions, there are, doubtless, good things, but they are limited. However, from a Buddhist viewpoint, mental development will continue from life to life, because the nature of mind is such that if certain mental qualities are developed on a sound basis, they always remain and, not only that, can increase. In fact, once properly developed, good qualities of mind eventually increase inŽnitely. Therefore spiritual practice brings both long-term happiness and more inner strength day by day.

So keep your mind on the topics being discussed; listen with a pure motivation-without sleep! My main motivation is a sincere feeling for others, and concern for others' welfare.

Behavior and View

Meditation is needed in developing mental qualities. The mind is definitely something that can be transformed, and meditation is a means to transform it. Meditation is the activity of familiarizing your mind with something new. Basically, it means getting used to the object on which you are meditating.

Meditation is of two types-analytical and stabilizing. First, an object is analyzed, after which the mind is set one-pointedly on the same object in stabilizing meditation. Within analytical meditation, there are also two types:

1. Something, such as impermanence, is taken as the object of the mind and is meditated upon;
2. A mental attitude is cultivated through meditation, as in cultivating love, in which case the mind becomes of the nature of that mental attitude.

To understand the purpose of meditation, it is helpful to divide spiritual practices into view and behavior. The main factor is behavior, for this is what decides both one's own and others' happiness in the future. In order for behavior to be pure and complete, it is necessary to have a proper view. Behavior must be well-founded in reason, and thus a proper philosophical view is necessary.

What is the main goal of Buddhist practices concerning behavior? It is to tame one's mental continuum-to become nonviolent. In Buddhism, the vehicles, or modes of practice, are generally divided into the Great Vehicle and the Hearer Vehicle. The Great Vehicle is primarily concerned with the altruistic compassion of helping others, and the Hearer Vehicle is primarily concerned with the nonharming of others. Thus, the root of all of the Buddhist teaching is compassion. The excellent doctrine of the Buddha has its root in compassion, and the Buddha who teaches these doctrines is even said to be born from compassion. The chief quality of a buddha is great compassion; this attitude of nurturing and helping others is the reason why it is appropriate to take refuge in a buddha.

The Sangha, or virtuous community, consists of those who, practicing the doctrine properly, assist others to gain refuge. People in the Sangha have four special qualities: if someone harms them, they do not respond with harm; if someone displays anger to them, they do not react with anger; if someone insults them, they do not answer with insult; and if someone accuses them, they do not retaliate. This is the behavior of a monk or nun, the root of which is compassion; thus, the main qualities of the spiritual community also stem from compassion. In this way, the three refuges for a Buddhist-Buddha, doctrine, and spiritual community-all have their root in compassion. All religions are the same in having powerful systems of good advice with respect to the practice of compassion. The basic behavior of nonviolence, motivated by compassion, is needed not only in our daily lives but also nation to nation, throughout the world.

From Chapter 4. THE VALUE OF ALTRUISM

The other technique for developing altruism is called equalizing and switching self and other. Here, one should investigate which side is important, oneself or others. Choose. There is no other choice -- only these two. Who is more important, you or others? Others are greater in number than you, who are just one; others are inŽnite. It is clear that neither wants suVering and both want happiness, and that both have every right to achieve happiness and to overcome suVering because both are sentient beings.

If we ask, "Why do I have the right to be happy?" the ultimate reason is, "Because I want happiness." There is no further reason. We have a natural and valid feeling of I, on the basis of which we want happiness. This alone is the valid foundation of our right to strive for happiness; it is a human right, and a right of all sentient beings. Now, if one has such a right to overcome suVering, then other sentient beings naturally have the same right. In addition, all sentient beings are basically endowed with the capacity to overcome suVering. The only diVerence is that oneself is single, whereas others are in the majority. Hence, the conclusion is clear; if even a small problem, a small suVering, befalls others, its range is inŽnite, whereas when something happens to oneself, it is limited to just one single person. When we view others as sentient beings too in this way, oneself seems not so important.

Let me describe how this is practiced in meditation. This is my own practice, and I frequently speak about it to others. Imagine that in front of you on one side is your old, selŽsh I and that on the other side is a group of poor, needy people. And you yourself are in the middle as a neutral person, a third party. Then, judge which is more important -- whether you should join this selŽsh, self-centered, stupid person or these poor, needy, helpless people. If you have a human heart, naturally you will be drawn to the side of the needy beings.

This type of reßective contemplation will help in developing an altruistic attitude; you gradually will realize how bad selŽsh behavior is. You yourself, up to now, have been behaving this way, but now you realize how bad you were. Nobody wants to be a bad person; if someone says, "You are a bad person," we feel very angry. Why? The main reason is simply that we do not want to be bad. If we really do not want to be a bad person, then the means to avoid it is in our own hands. If we train in the behavior of a good person, we will become good. Nobody else has the right to put a person in the categories of good or bad; noone has that kind of power.

The ultimate source of peace in the family, the country, and the world is altruism -- compassion and love. Contemplation of this fact also helps tremendously to develop altruism. Meditating on these techniques as much as possible engenders conviction, desire, and determination. When with such determination you try, try, try, day by day, month by month, year by year, we can improve ourselves. With altruistic motivation every action accumulates good virtues -- the limitless power of salutary merit.

Books
The Meaning of Life

Freedom in Exile : The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

Ethics for the New Millennium by Dalai Lama

The Art of Happiness : A Handbook for Living

The Four Noble Truths : Fundamentals of the Buddhist Teachings His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama