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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 52 having said that, I should point out that many Buddhists feel that life is basically suffering, a burden to bear, espe- cially with regard to the body. what they fail to understand is that attaining enlightenment—that is, living a life based on wisdom—is possible only if one has a human form. without a body to practice with it would be impossible to attain lib- eration and buddhahood. there is a Buddhist saying that a human form is very difficult to attain, but having it is a great opportunity to hear the dharma. therefore, attaining wisdom begins with having a human form. In this sense, Buddhists who hold a negative attitude toward life misconstrue the dharma. with an appropriate understanding of the dharma, one would treat life as something very, very valuable. From another perspective, some Buddhists may think the best way to attain buddhahood is to be reborn in the Pure land, the western Paradise of amitabha Buddha. though the Pure land is a spiritual realm of bliss, one cannot attain buddhahood if one remains there. one must acquire a human form to be able to generate the vows to practice the bodhisat- tva path. so the whole process, from becoming an ordinary sentient being to entering the bodhisattva path and eventually attaining buddhahood, is accomplished in the human realm. Life and death are not separate If we can see that living and dying are interrelated processes, we can accept that the two are inseparable: if we are born, we will die; one is directly connected to the other. In this sense, being born may not be seen as a joyful thing, but it also need not be viewed as such a hazard. likewise, death need not be seen as either sad or joyful. It all depends on one’s attitude. If you do not appreciate the beauty of life, then living can be viewed as pitiable. some people find life joyful, but if there is no dignity, what is there to be happy about? If you do not know of the true meaning of death, then it will be sad and depressing when it comes. But once you understand that life and death are innate parts of the process, you will be able to find dignity in life as well as in death. how can we find dignity in our life? one way to answer this question is to look at life from three aspects: the meaning of life, the value of life, and the goal of life. If you can experi- ence these, you will find dignity in your life. when I speak of the meaning of life, I refer to the reason why we continue living. From the Buddhist point of view, the significance of attaining life is that we have an opportunity to repay karmic debts from past lives. Karma says that the things we do are causes that will cre- ate consequences. with this life we can receive and accept appropriate karmic retribution from our actions in previous lives. In any present or future life, we must accept a certain amount of retribution from past karma. we can also use this life to fulfill the vows of practice that we have made in previ- ous lifetimes. If we made certain promises and vows, this also becomes part of our karma. then in this lifetime we have an obligation, as well as an opportunity, to fulfill those previous promises. so from the Buddhist perspective the meaning of life is to receive karmic retribution as well as to fulfill our previous vows. the value of your life is not assigned by someone who examines it and makes a judgment; it rests solely on your intentions and actions in fulfilling your responsibilities and offering yourself to sentient beings. It is the effort, within your limits of time and energy, to be of use to others. whether they know of your dedication or understand it, the value of your life is simply in this effort to offer yourself. In society we play roles: for example, in order to be a mother you accept the responsibilities of motherhood. It’s the same for any other role you play. responsibility means doing your best in that role without expecting a reward. we can also offer ourselves to the benefit of the natural environment. all these activities belong to the realm of benefiting oneself as well as others—in other words, practicing the bodhisattva path. having goals means establishing a long-term direction for your life, including sharing it with sentient beings. It means continuing to make and fulfill vows. If we set these goals not just for this life but for future lives as well, whether our life is short or long, we live with dignity. as it is with value, the dignity that is conferred on you by others is not necessarily genuine. the only reliable dignity is that which you give your- self by the way you conduct your life. It is useful to understand life and death as aspects of an unlimited process in space and time. Seeing it this way, there is no reason to be attached to life or afraid of death. providedBYdHarMadruMMountainCulturalandeduCationalfoundation,allrigHtSreServed