The Art of Living
Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
Dhammananda gives some homely advice to those
who look down their noses on the commonsense approach to living. This article
is directed at the general public, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, on how to
live in peace and harmony.
An important rule for a happy life is the ability
to live harmoniously with other people. To be able to do that, we must recognise
that there are many paths that people can take to reach the same goal. Therefore,
we must not get unduly upset if other people practise customs or have opinions
which are different from ours.
Manners and Customs
The standards of good
manners differ among societies. In some countries, guests at dinner are expected
to eat as noisily as possible. It is also not considered impolite if the guests
belch at the end of the meal, since this indicates that they really enjoyed the
meal. Such table manners would be considered rude, ill-mannered or uncivilised
in other societies.
While in one country, putting one's finger in one's mouth
or nose for any reason is considered most insulting, it means nothing in some
other countries. Some people think it is degrading to be struck by a shoe, yet
among other people, a slipper can be used for spanking a child.
the peculiarities of the manners and customs prevailing in other societies most
acutely when travelling. We should not prejudge too quickly what is right or improper.
In themselves, manners are neither good nor bad. But when they cause harm or hurt
the feelings of others, then we judge an action as being good or bad manners.
We are living in an ever changing world. We should not cling blindly to the
traditions, customs, manners and rituals practised by our forefathers or ancestors
who adopted these practices according to their beliefs and understanding capacity.
Some customs or traditions handed down by our ancestors may be good, while others
are less useful. We should consider with an open mind whether these practices
are congenial and significant to the modern world.
In the Kalama sutta, the
Buddha has given this advice about customs, traditions, beliefs and practices:
"When you know for yourself that certain things are unwholesome (akusala)
and wrong and bad for you and others, then give them up... And when you know for
yourself that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good for you and others,
then accept them and follow them."
Today, some elderly people cannot
tolerate the modern ideas and ways of living of the younger generation. They expect
their children to follow the same age-old traditions of their forefathers. Instead
of adopting such an attitude, they should allow the children to move with the
times when the activities are harmless. Elders should call to mind how their own
parents objected to certain popular modes of behaviour prevalent at the time when
they were young. These differences in perception between the conservative parents
and the younger generation are common sources of conflict within families. It
does not mean that parents should hesitate to counsel and guide their children
if they have gone astray due to some erroneous values. But when correcting them,
it is good to remember that prevention is better than punishment. Parents should
also explain to their children why certain practices are wrong, because children
are not mature enough to reason why certain things are bad and certain things
Allowing others the Right to Differ
If a person lives all by
himself, then he will not have any problem with differing opinions. But if he
has chosen to live in society, he must learn to deal with views and opinions of
others even though they do not conform with his.
We are also living in a world
where, apparently, might is right. The strong take advantage of the weak and the
rich exploit the poor. If we cannot agree, we have to learn at least to agree
to disagree. We should express our views gently and politely without trying to
impose views on others by force. Those who use physical force to overcome their
opponents clearly show their inability to convince the opponents that they are
We find comfort in those who agree with us, but discomfort in those
who disagree. Sometimes, others' opinions on our attitudes or actions may not
be something we would like to hear. But if we listen to them carefully, we will
realise that there may be some truth in their opinions. This can give us a chance
to improve ourselves if we are prepared to change our ways. The world is like
a garden with different kinds of flowers. Like a bee gathering honey in the garden,
we should be selective in choosing what is good in an opinion and leave behind
what is not.
Patience and Tolerance
Those who can remain cheerful during
difficult times are admirable and a source of inspiration to others. They can
avoid conflicts by seeing the lighter side of things. A wise man can avoid a quarrel
by answering jokes and remarks directed at him with another joke. When you play
a game, you should not show your temper when you lose. By doing so, you not only
spoil the fun of the game, you may lose the game completely.
is responsible for making a better world by planting the seeds of patience, love
and honesty deeply in the human heart.
Eventually, a new era will blossom
not only during his lifetime but also for generations to come. He would be a cultured
man who left the world better than when he came into it.
Some may say that
this is impractical and too idealistic to follow. Some are cynical and wonder
if man who is struggling to eke out a living in a hostile world can cultivate
love and kindness. While this is by no means easy to accomplish, perseverance
and determination can make this concept become a reality.
cannot hope to achieve peace by correcting each and every person in this world.
In the same way, you cannot remove the world of stones and thorns to ensure the
pathway is smooth. To feel comfortable walking on uneven ground, we should learn
to guard our senses and to have peace of mind since we cannot succeed in removing
disturbing objects from the world.
There are many ways to correct a person
if he is wrong. By criticising, blaming and shouting at him publicly, you will
not be able to correct him. You only make him more adamant in his views. Correct
him without humiliating him. This is by far the most common way to avoid making
more enemies. If you kindly point out his mistakes, he is more likely to listen
to you, and some say he will thank you for your guidance and kindness.
you express your views regarding certain matters, avoid harsh words spoken with
anger so as not to hurt the feeling of others. Always express your views gently
and politely. On the other hand, you should not lose your temper or show your
sulky face when your faults are pointed out. You may think that by raising your
temper, showing an ugly face, and shouting at others, you can intimidate others
into overlooking your shortcomings. This is a false and wrong attitude to adopt.
Rudeness, yelling, anger and swearing are a weak man's imitation of strength.