1. What is the purpose of existence?
people often talk about following the Buddha. But why should we
follow the Buddha? What is its basic purpose? This is something that a
Buddhist should understand. The significance and purpose of following
the Buddha is to attain perfection. If we can understand thoroughly our
purpose in following the Buddha and feel confident that it is essential
to follow the Buddha's teaching, then we will tread a true path and
learn the essence of Buddhism rather than being side-tracked or
is the purpose of human existence in this world? What is its
meaning? We have to begin by observing ourselves to find an answer for
this question. This is the only way to grasp the purpose of following
the Buddha because Buddhism aims at resolving the problem of human
existence. This aim may be common to all higher religions, but Buddhism
gives a more complete view to the purpose of life and its meaning.
1.1 Veiled in mystery, no one understands what birth and death is.
the moment we were born to the day of our old age and death,
several decades of our life seem to have gone in a split second. Most
of us live in ignorance. Where did we come from? Where does death take
us to? Nobody can answer these questions. Hence, we can only say that
befuddled, we come into being, and befuddled we depart. In confusion we
pass our life. More often than not, even our marriage seems a union of
accident. Our life career, too, seems often a matter of muddling
chance. Seldom is it the result of the execution of a plan carefully
designed from the very beginning.
Western philosopher once drew a very good simile for this existence
veiled in mystery. He said, "There is somewhere two steep mountains
with a deep and wide gorge between them. The gorge is spanned by a
long, narrow bridge. On this bridge humans move forward. Ahead of them,
they see a mountain shrouded in dense fog, presenting only a picture of
blank confusion. Looking backwards, the scene is no less misty. Down
below is an unfathomable abyss. Some people walk only a few paces and
then they fall into the abyss. Others have gone even as far as halfway,
but to their misfortune, they too, slip and fall. Even those who have
drawn near to the mountain on the opposite side, they are still not
secure against falling into the bottomless canyon below. Where do they
fall, no one knows." This is an excellent depiction of the precarious
nature of human existence.
follow the Buddha is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of
this precarious human existence. Without this understanding, we will be
like a ship sailing at random in a vast ocean from this shore towards a
distant destination and such reckless sailing is extremely dangerous.
Buddhism explains where life comes from, and where death leads to. It
shows us what we are supposed to do now, in order to land safely on the
other shore of light.
1.2 What do we attain by keeping ourselves busy all life long?
decades we keep ourselves busy doing various things. We are busy
from our very childhood until we age and die. But what have we achieved
at in the end? This question is worth contemplating. Some people have
to be "busy" most of the time although they are doing nothing. They
cannot answer when asked what they are busying about. Simply put, they
find it impossible not to continue to be busy. Young people probably do
not think this way, as they think their future is full of hope and
brightness. But once they are middle aged, they will begin to have the
same thoughts. I am not asking you not to be active and busy, but we
must examine what can we achieve in the end.
As the saying goes:
is like a honey-gathering bee,
After collecting all the honey from myriad flowers,
They age and their labour leaves them with nothing."
some people do acquire grand official title, wealth and high
social position. But what they have gained is soon all gone. Everything
seems to be a farce and an empty joy. We seem to accomplish nothing
really. Older people generally have more intimate knowledge of such
experiences. One common situation facing them is the raising of
children. In their childhood, they always stuck to their parents. But
once grown up, all of them will leave home to start their own life.
This fact often causes us to become depressed and pessimistic. But this
is not the Buddhist view of life.
1.3 What is the benefit of persisting in doing good deeds?
religions advise people to do good deeds and refrain from doing
evil. They all promote that "we should strive to perform all good
acts." But what is the benefit of doing good? What is the value of
morality? We often say, "Good deeds bring about good rewards, and evil
deeds harsh retribution." This is the Law of Cause and Effect. The
Chinese expect kind acts to bring rewards largely to their family. They
believe that if the parents do good deeds their descendants will live
in abundance. Thus the saying: "House of accumulated good deeds shall
be blessed with abundance." This contradicts reality! Because a kind
and good family may have very wicked children. And many a wicked parent
gives birth to children both filial and loyal. Our ancient Emperor Yao
(who lived more than 2100 years ago) was a kind and magnanimous person.
But his son Dan Zhu was notorious for his arrogance. Again, Gu Sou the
Blind, father of Emperor Shun, was stupid and evil, while Emperor Shun
was renowned for his filial piety. These are just a couple of examples.
speaking, the wicked always find it easier to secure
social reputation and power. However, more often than not, the good are
down-trodden and have to lick their wounds in solitude. Was Confucius
not a man of high moral and great erudition? Yet, he was nearly starved
to death when he was travelling around the warring states in China.
Neither did his political ideals met with appreciation. On the other
hand, the notorious robber Dao Zhi had practically everything his way
at the time. Then how can we say that there is a inexorable law
governing reward and retribution of good and evil acts? What is the
reason for us to perform good deeds? We can only answer these questions
by the Law of Three Birth (past, present and future lives) and Cause
"All religions advise people to do good deeds." In this, their
motives are the same, but Buddhism draws a different conclusion. In
following the Buddha, we persist in the performance of good deeds. May
be our present circumstances are unfavourable and frustrating, but once
our good karma (deeds) ripen, they will naturally bear good fruit. If
we can perceive the world in this light, then and only then can we
consider ourselves to have grasped the spirit of Buddhism.
1.4 There is no peace when the mind is not at rest
restless mind is indeed a source of great suffering. Our mind is
at all times craving for satisfaction from external objects: beautiful
sights, music, luxurious commodities, profits, fame and power. Why
should it be so? Because we seek contentment.
we live without food and clothing, we will need to obtain money in
order to solve the problem of livelihood. But once we have enough food
and clothing, we will still be dissatisfied. This time we will seek for
food and clothing of better quality. We will want stylish sedans to
drive, and a magnificent mansion to live in. When we have all these, we
will still remain dissatisfied. The human mind is just like that,
forever seeking, never contented. It runs like a galloping horse, no
sooner than its rear feet touch the ground, its fore feet are already
in the air. Never will its four feet land at the same time.
discontented mind always feels that the other person has all the
advantages. Actually, it is not so. Scholars are discontent because
they always seek more knowledge. Even kings who possess unlimited
authority are not satisfied and they too have inexpressible sufferings
of their own. If we do not find contentment, we will never have peace
and happiness. Thus we say, "We have to be content in order to have
peace and happiness." Yet the fact remains that the human mind can
never be content. So how can there be peace and happiness? Religions in
general try to give people comfort and make them content. Giving
comfort may also be considered a common denominator of most religions.
Some religions preach salvation through faith and say that salvation
will naturally bring contentment and peace of mind. However, they can
be seen to treat adults like children That is, they will give "toys" to
the children if the latter obey their guidance and refrain from crying.
In fact the problem remains unsolved, because a discontent mind cannot
be satisfied by external gifts.
shows us the significance of birth and death, and what we gain
by keeping ourselves busy in our whole life. Buddhism also shows us the
benefits of performing good deeds, and how to gain inner peace and
satisfaction. We must investigate life from these points of view before
we can grasp the core of Buddha-dharma. Only then can we acquire true
peace and happiness.
2. The relationship between the universe and "I"
2.1 Am I created by God?
question arises in this nebulous existence. What position do
humans hold in this endless expanse of time and space? The universe is
so large, with the heaven above, the earth below. Surrounded by myriad
phenomena, we live and die, do good and evil deeds. But what is our
status in this universe after all? What attitude should we assume? If
you are the parents of a family, you should bear parental
responsibilities. Apprentices must adopt an attitude consistent with
their position of apprentices. According to some religions, we are
created in the universe. God creates every entity in the universe,
every bird, every beast, every blade of grass, every shrub and jungle,
every breed, genus and species. He rules and governs as supreme
authority over his creation. Since the human belongs to God we are his
servant. Thus we call God our "Lord", and ourselves, "his servant".
Therefore, these religions view of life is one of a master-servant
relationship. The human is the servant of the God. We have to be
faithful to God and to do the will of God.
master orders the servants to scrub the floor before cooking the
meal. If they should first cook the meal and scrub the floor later,
although they do their job well, they would still be in the wrong. This
is because they disobey the command of the master. There are two
relationships that exist in this universe, that is, the relationship
between the creative God and the human, and that with all his
creatures. The God empowers the human to rule and control the other
creatures by the authority of the God of the creation. Thus, in front
of the God, the position of the human is utterly dependent. However, in
comparison to the other creatures, we are full of authority and pompous
presumption. If we exclude the God, the concepts of these religions
become entirely devoid of meaning. They might have seemed logical at
the time of dawning civilization. However, we should re-evaluate this
concept in this modern time.
2.2 Am I a product of heaven and earth?
Chinese view of the human position in the universe seems more
reasonable than that of some other religions. Chinese claim that heaven
and earth give birth to the human, or that we are the product of the
union of yin (the negative principle) and yang (the positive
principle). Heaven here stands for the metaphysical or spiritual
constituents of the human, while earth represents the physical or
corporeal elements. Heaven and earth give birth to all beings. However
humans are the only ones endowed with the essence of the natural
principles, and are called the most intelligent of all beings. Humans
are so great that we are sometimes equated with heaven and earth, and
all these three are then called the "Three Potentials".
the human, standing between heaven and earth, is most noble. This
concept is quite different from the Western master-servant
relationship. However, can all human beings be equated with heaven and
earth? No! Only the saints are capable of assisting heaven and earth in
the evolution and development of the world. In addition, Chinese also
say, "Heaven and Earth evolve without a mind. The saints, however,
suffer with the myriad beings." All these statements serve to indicate
the greatness of the saints.
is a spontaneous act for heaven and earth to give birth to myriad
beings. It is a natural phenomenon. It differs to God's creation of the
world because Creation is an act of will. Let there be life! And life
there is. When we look at the world from a positive perspective,
everything is lovely; flowers in blossom, the singing birds, every
single plant and every blade of grass is beautiful. However, if we look
at it from a negative perspective, we see big worms eat little worms,
and big fish eat little fish. Everyone is hurting and killing each
other. We see the scenes of mutual destruction. Is mutual destruction
also the purpose of creation?
says that the myriad beings are mindless. They are
mutually destroying and conflicting; and also mutually assisting and
complementing each other. The saints cannot disregard all these
happenings and want to share the sorrow of the myriad beings. Heaven
and earth represent the natural existence, and the saints and sages
represent the humanistic and moral forces.
the saints see mankind engaged in mutual destruction, they would
advocate kindness, love and peace. When they see the masses live in
ignorance, they would educate them to behave well. When there is no
morality in the world, they would advocate moral disciplines.
Everything that is bad in this world, the saints would try their utmost
effort to improve it and uplift it to eventual perfection. In this way
do all saints assist heaven and earth in their evolution and
concept is more logical than that of some religions, owing to the
concept that heaven and earth, or yin and yang, give birth to the
human. The Chinese religio-cultural system is one of father-son
relationship. The family system is patriarchal (i.e. father is the head
of the family). Politically, the king considers his subjects his
children, and people call the local magistrate as their
"Parent-Officer". In a father-son cultural system, sentiments carry
more weight than reason. It differs to master-servant system, as law
predominates, the world is harsh and relentless.
2.3 Did I create the world?
believe the myriad beings created everything in this
universe. The Law of Cause and Effect stipulates that whatever deed an
individual performs, the result of that deed goes to him or her alone.
Whatever deeds a group of persons perform, the group will bear the
result. Such a doctrine is diametrically opposite to theistic
teachings. Therefore, all Buddha-dharma practitioners should understand
All the chaos and sufferings in this world are the result of evil
deeds performed by the human in the past. In order to make this world a
pure and stately place to live in, the only hope lies in our refraining
from evil and doing all that is good. Individually speaking, if I
should suffer from being uneducated, live in poor family circumstances,
or chronic illness, then these are the influences of my past or present
karmic forces. Therefore if we wish to live in peace and happiness,
then all of us must strive very hard to perform good acts. If humans
were the Creation, we would have no power of our own. Instead we would
have to follow the decision and will made by the Creator. Buddhism
believes that all events that take place are due to reverberations of
our own karmic forces. Thus we are capable of changing ourselves, even
to the extent of changing the world.