Life, Living and Death

What is the most important thing to do in this life?

Do not disturb yourself by thinking of the whole of your life. Do not let your thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which you may expect to befall you; but on every occasion ask yourself ‘What is there in this which is intolerable and past bearing?’ for you will be ashamed to confess. (Marcus Aurelius)

Life is full of difficulties. But don’t despise life. Human life is an opportunity to learn and grow. You have lessons to learn and develop your wisdom. If you don’t learn deeply you have to come back again to learn. All the difficulties you are going through are very meaningful if you have the right attitude and proper perspective. You must help others to live a meaningful life and there are others who will help you. We must have some kammic connection. We will help each other. So, please don’t think all these difficulties are meaningless. We cannot go around; we have to go through.

Things will never be perfect in life. Better not to expect perfection. I am not perfect; I will never be, and I don’t expect that.

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” (Nietzsche) Even with all its pain, disappointment, despair and regret, I still find life interesting and meaningful.

“The times when you are wounded are often times when, out of these wounds, come new thoughts, new possibilities.”

“Joy increases to the extent that the capacity for woe does also.”

It is a considerable boon for a person to realise that he has his negative side like everyone else, that the daemonic works in potentiality for both good and evil, and that he can neither disown it nor live without it. It is similarly beneficial when he also comes to see that much of his achievement is bound up with the very conflicts this daemonic impulse engenders. This is the seat of the experience that life is a mixture of good and evil; that there is no such thing as pure good; and that if the evil weren’t there as a potentiality, the good would not be either. Life consists of achieving good not apart from evil but in spite of it. (Rollo May)

Life would be so superficial and boring if there were no hardships.

Suffer, learn, and grow.

I have suffered a lot and I suffer now, but I suffer calmly, with dignity. I take suffering as part of life, a very important part. How can I learn anything if I don’t suffer? But I stay calm when I suffer. Who would believe that I have deep suffering? I don’t think that there should be no suffering; I don’t think that there is something wrong because there is suffering; I don’t think I should try to remove suffering; I do not try to overcome suffering, but I try to make suffering meaningful; I try to understand suffering deeply. No resistance. I am not depressed, agitated. I only hope that I am wise enough to understand suffering and life.

Each time I suffer intensely, I take a step forward towards detachment. It teaches me to let go. Samudaya (the second Noble Truth: desire) leads to dukkha (suffering). How simple and how true.

We have hard lives. So we learn a lot more than easygoing people. My life is very hard too. Anyway I like it. I have learnt quite a lot: feeling, seeing, and learning very deeply. If you are mindful, suffering makes you see things very deeply. I don’t want a carefree life, nor do I want to live superficially, but I do want to know all about life and suffering.

Most people live their life very superficially. They are born into a society and they live the values into which they are born; they are caught up in that society. You have to be very clear about what you want from life in order to create your own value and live it. Even when you create your own value (judgment) you must keep on looking into it and see whether it is realistic, see how it affects your mind. Living your life is an art. There is no formula. You must always be alert and creative. Once you lose creativity you are as good as dead. Creativity in living one’s life is so rare. No wonder people behave like robots! No wonder they have no joy.

All of us have ups and downs. It is important to see them objectively.

To take my life one moment at a time. Not to think too much and confuse my mind. To accept life as it is and also to be ready to die at any moment. They say life is hard. It’s even hard for those who don’t need to work. But still you can be cheerful and learn a lot from your life. And if you prefer you can go out of this round of existence. (Is it a merry-go-round?)

I don’t like dukkha at all. Do you? Here life is simple, and I want it to be even more simple.

Stay calm; wait; be patient. Do whatever is possible at the moment. Nothing lasts forever. Things will change, possibly for the better if you stay clear and calm, but if you get agitated and run around like crazy you will disturb the situation.

All the things that happened to me in the past brought me here, to this point. Since I’m living a meaningful and peaceful life in the present moment now, I feel OK about the past. I forgive myself and everybody, and I am grateful to all of them for what they have done to me or for me. If they had been good to me I might not have decided to become a monk. Now I understand them much better, I appreciate their good qualities.

We feel hurt as if we are still that little boy or girl. To accept the inevitable is very important for peace of mind. I am very grateful to life; it has taught me so much. I want to live a long life so that I can learn more. There are certain things which we can only learn in old age.

Life is very important. The way we live our life, the way we relate to people is the reflection of our practice of Dhamma.

Where you live and with whom you associate is very important. Some people and places put your mind in a bad mood, and to be in a bad mood all the time can really damage your mind. You are very subtly influenced by people around you.

Life isn’t so bad. At times it can be really peaceful, blissful, but I don’t want another life. I’m trying to understand myself and others and life deeper. To understand is the main thing in my life. I have less craving for things, which makes my mind lighter. However I still have craving for books. No desire to do anything great. Just trying to live my life with the least amount of pain and with the most understanding.

I am doing what I can. Not taking anything too seriously. Everything which arises passes away. Nothing really happens the way I want it. So it is better not to worry too much; not to insist that it should happen the way I want it, especially with people — they have their own mind, their own preferences.

So many things have happened in my lifetime. People have suffered so much because they take things too seriously, not knowing that it is not worth the trouble.

I want you to know that whatever happens is OK with me. I can let go of anything. Death seems closer as I grow older. Many of my friends have died. Two died of liver disease, one of leukemia, another from a heart attack, and one other by accident. My mother died from I don’t know what. I will die; I don’t know when, where, or how. Everything passes away. It’s not worth getting too attached to anything.

I have learnt something from everything that has happened to me in my life. So I am open to any experience now.

Every situation/experience in life, whether it’s good or bad, is an opportunity to learn.

To be able to accept uncertainty, and live with it, is a sure sign of maturity. We often want to be sure about the future. Whatever will be, will be. Before we know about life we say “It’s no good”. Before we’ve learnt how to live our life we want to know how to overcome it. All head and no heart makes life very dry. I just hope that you know what you want to do with your life. Do something that will help you feel really happy all your life, until you die.

Three treasures I cherish:
The first is fathomless love,
The second is frugality,
The third is reluctance to lead. (Tao Te Ching)

Yes, the world is crazy. What can I do about it? Nothing. Why waste time and energy being upset about it?

You know ‘funny business’ gives you more pain than pleasure. I knew all the while what was going to happen but I had no way to tell you. If you want pleasure you have to accept the pain which comes with it. If you don’t want pain then don’t go after pleasure. Defilements make life complicated. Without greed, desire, and attachment you can live a simple life like Ryokan. I don’t want to tell you to become a monk. I know it’s too hard for you, but at least you can be a layman living a simple life. You have conflicting desires. You are like the proverbial donkey between two stacks of hay. First of all understand your mind deeply. How do you want to live your life? What do you want to value most in life?

There is no satisfaction in anything at all, and yet we think, ‘I’d be happy if…’ Looking for satisfaction is looking for pain. Knowing this deeply we learn to let go. Psychological explanations are all right, (I like reading psychology), but unless it leads to seeing our attachments and company and letting go it doesn’t lead to peace. With no peace we are still confused and unhappy. Intellectual understanding is not enough; it explains and explains, and the problems pile up — there’s no end to explanations.

Many times you said, “Really, I don’t know”. I think that’s a real feeling. What do we really know? Really, I don’t know either. But I go very slowly; I’m not in a hurry; I don’t expect too much either from myself or from others. I make mistakes and I learn from my mistakes.

When you don’t know what to do, when you are confused, then you really start looking. It is an opportunity for a new beginning. Uncertainty is unpleasant but it makes the mind become alert. What to do? Look deeply into your mind without thinking too much. Keep your heart open to uncertainty. You have ‘don’t know mind’ now. It is part of your growing process; it wakes you up from your slumber.

I hope you are not unhappy about being confused. Life is strange, at least for me.

Life is a series of changes. No finality or certainty. Always experimenting with new ways of living and relating, thinking that there must be a perfect place to live and a perfect partner to live with; fooling ourselves all the time. How scared we would be without such make-believe! But as we grow up and become more and more disillusioned we find out slowly that there is no perfect place in the world, no perfect friend, no perfect teacher, no perfect monk… Nothing in this world is perfect. I’m not perfect and I never will be. They say the Buddha was perfect.

Is there anything you know for sure? How full of assumptions our life is. Full of make-believe. We are standing on assumptions. If we take away all the assumptions, we will have nothing to stand on. Are you really sure what you are living for? Yes? What is that?

Beliefs, assumptions, hopes. Enough!! Without them the mind becomes light. Those are burdens. Without those one can pay more attention to what is.

You know that if you are not living for something meaningful your life is meaningless. What are you living for? Truth, love, political ideal, your country? You see it’s hard to answer. No?

If you have an answer, say, truth. Then, does your everyday life show any proof for your answer? My dear friend, we are so lost. We are going nowhere. We are drifting like a boat with no rudder.

It’s quite amazing the way people are living their life, without any direction, goal, or meaning in life, without metta (loving-kindness) and understanding for each other. What a great mess life is!

Some people are just drifting, going nowhere. They have no direction, no aim; they are lost. They don’t understand life, the meaning of life, and the nature of samsara (the cycle of births and deaths).

Some people here have all the opportunities to live the dhamma, to practise, but they are wasting their time. You don’t know the value of what you have until you lose it.

I’m interested in how you live your daily life, how your days are spent. The way you live should be the source of your inspiration.

I received a letter from U Dh. telling me of his difficulty living in the West as a bhikkhu (monk). He found it impossible to meditate. He said that there was too much happening around him. Well, I know that.

Don’t be busy. Get a lot of time to relax. About being busy, the Buddha said, “Appakicco ca sallahukavutti ” (not busy, living simply) — busyness is the way to craziness.

If you limit yourself carefully you’ll be able to develop a deeper understanding of life. Understanding life and understanding dhamma go together. First of all learn to live your daily life meaningfully, sanely.

Do what is the most important. There are many useful things one can do, but we must limit ourselves and do what is best.

One of my friends told me: “You are very talented”, but I don’t want to be a slave to my talents. I limit myself although I can do many things. I’ve done a lot in my previous lives. In this life however, I’ll learn to live meaningfully; I’ll learn the meaning of life.

One should understand deeply that one has been almost everything (man, woman, rich, poor, educated, powerful, etc., etc.). Why be the same this life?

We need some sort of ideal in our life, so that we have some direction/purpose, but we shouldn’t become crazy about our ideal. The best ideal is to be mindful always. An unrealistic self-image is very dangerous.

First of all understand your mind deeply. How do you want to live your life? What do you value most in life?

“How to make life as simple as possible?” Make your mind as simple as possible, then your life will be simple. It is greed hand-in-hand with ignorance which make life so complicated. Not easy when almost everybody around you is living such a greedy, speedy, and complicated life. One needs great wisdom and a strong mind not to follow them. Before you know it, you are thinking of what to do to prove that you are not a failure. You’ll try to do all the things you can to prove that you are a success. It’s hard to live your life without thinking of what others think of you.

You don’t have to spend your life earning and spending money, and yet that’s what most people do.

When you want to buy something, ask yourself: Do I really need it? Don’t buy something just because it’s useful. There are too many useful things in the world. (Too many useless things too.) Make the best use of what you have. Paper is made from trees. If you love trees don’t waste paper.

Time is very precious. We waste so much time reading, talking, going here and there, just to kill time. Boredom/ennui is a big problem. That is why entertainment becomes so important. The mind wants a change. It can’t stay with one object.

For many years, I read about philosophy, comparative religion, Buddhism, science, politics, psychology, literature, poetry, trying to find out some sort of guideline to live my life by, something to live for, and trying to find some universal formula to follow. The more I read the more I found that religious or political ideals cause a lot more harm to humanity. Religious wars and political wars prove that. It is really ironic: they talk about making people happy and yet they create misery; they talk about love and yet they can’t bear the sight of each other; they talk about solidarity and unity, yet create schism and faction instead.

Now I think for myself. It is my responsibility to find out how I want to live my life, what I want to live for. If I make a mistake I am the one who is responsible; I cannot blame anybody. I cannot be sure about my value judgments, and the choices I make. I have to always be on the alert and see how my thinking affects my life. This is not easy to do. I need to be very mindful, sensitive, and absolutely honest with myself.

Taking complete responsibility about how I live my life is not an easy thing. No wonder most people put that responsibility on religious and/or political leaders! — somebody else to take the responsibility for our happiness or unhappiness.

I am not a follower, because that would mean I am not taking complete responsibility for my life. Neither am I a leader, because that would mean I am taking responsibility for others, which would mean taking away from them responsibility for themselves. I am a friend. I am forever an explorer.

I want to keep my heart open for anybody or anything. I don’t know how much I will succeed in doing that. I’ve been living a very secluded life for about six years now, and now I want to expose myself to more people. I believe I will learn a lot if I learn to live with people. It will be a great challenge for me. “Alienated people don’t contribute.” That is true.

Can you tell me your first priority in life? I am not trying to be somebody. I just try my best to understand whatever is happening in my life, in my mind, and in my heart.

Most things have lost their importance for me because I don’t invest anything in them. Some people might find it hard to understand my change of attitude. I understand them and their problems but I can’t take them so seriously. For example, my friend U Dh., wrote about trying to make a sima (chapter house, boundary) in his monastery. I have totally lost interest in such things. I don’t even care what people think of me — just fleeting thoughts in somebody’s mind. I don’t want to disturb them though.

Do what you can, but remember you will never reach your ideal. You cannot be blamed for not being perfect. As for me, I am less concerned about what people expect of me; I don’t care if I don’t meet their expectations. Feels like I am getting clearer about myself. I have my own standard of values, and I don’t think anybody should agree with me about it. I cannot share my understanding and insights with other people because most people are tradition-bound.

To be in conflict with people is tiring. To desire for the esteem, appreciation, and regard of people is a prison. I’ve tried my best to be a nice guy; I’ve tried to make everybody happy but I found that when I made somebody happy, there was always somebody else who wasn’t happy about that! So I failed in making everybody happy. Now I am trying my best to make just one person happy and that’s myself; even that’s not always possible.

I’ve tried to improve people around me, tried to find solutions for the problems in the world. I used to carry a big philosophical question in my mind. A few years back a friend convinced me that I was not God. I think he was right. I’m not responsible for the world; I shouldn’t carry the world on my shoulder. Since then I dropped it. So now I’ve no burden to do anything about it. I live each day simply, peacefully with a ‘joie de vivre’.

“Thinking about the people in this floating world something must be wrong somewhere” — I think it’s in between their ears.

One day is exactly the same for me as any other day. I’m neither happy nor unhappy about the coming new year. So instead of saying ‘Happy New Year’ to you, I would rather say ‘Happy every day’, if such a thing could be. It is the same for me with my birthday; I don’t know why I should feel happier on my birthday. But I don’t mind people saying ‘Happy Birthday to you’.

One day is the same as another. Sometimes I lose track of what day, date or month it is. Sometimes I don’t look at a calendar for weeks to check. Time goes by unnoticed; days slip away quietly. Very soon this life will be over. But don’t worry, you’ll have many more lives. So take your time, take it easy. Why be in such a hurry?

This insight gives me tremendous energy (psychological); it makes me alert. I am an explorer travelling into an unknown territory. Being careless is something I cannot afford. I’m always observant, always taking bearings; always careful about every move I make, and always making adjustments.

“I’m aimless. It took me a while to realise I was lonely.” Well, I think you are not alone in that. There are billions who are aimless and lonely. Most of them are not aware of it and the rest are denying it or covering it up with something (job, sense pleasures, etc.).

It’s hard to accept that I’ve nobody on whom I can depend, who will understand my loneliness, but a little bird told me, “Such is life, don’t carry all the past memories and all the future cares in your mind. Live each and every moment mindfully. The future will take care of itself.”

You said, “I’m lost.” Where are you going? If you are not going anywhere you cannot be lost. You are where you are. Well, I’m joking. I know how you feel, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that. Even some people in Burma feel that way. We want our life to be different. But what do we want? Not money, not fame, not power. Something beyond those. Isn’t it better not to want anything at all? But then people will say you’ve no motivation, you’re not contributing anything to your country, or humanity. Society demands that we must want something, do something, or else we are useless lazybones. It’s hard to just sit quietly and watch the show; it’s hard just to be mindful.

I’m doing a lot of ‘doing nothing’ here. It’s great, and people support me just for that. Thanks to the culture, and thanks to the Buddha, too, who made it possible.

“To dare not to be ahead of others.” I like that.

More and more people are looking at me as if I’m a wise monk. Sometimes I feel that as a burden. They won’t allow me to be foolish sometimes. It’s so nice when nobody is around. I’m not faultless, and I don’t aspire to be perfect. It’s easier when I allow myself to be foolish. A good reputation is a prison.

Try to understand people more. Only with kindness and understanding can you get close to people. Otherwise they will not share their lives with you. It’s dangerous to reveal yourself to somebody who’s not kind and who cannot understand you, who will judge you and condemn you instead. If you can get into people’s hearts you will see that a lot of people are suffering deep inside but they have learnt to cover that up.

Be kind to people but don’t try to please them. Don’t be an angel. It is hard enough to be a decent human being. Being too good might mean ending up being too bitter.

I always tell people my limit, even when it is something about Dhamma. It is quiet and peaceful here because we have a limit. People want to come every day but we say “No! Sorry”.

In the end you must decide what you want to do. Nobody can decide for you what you should do. You cannot live my life and I cannot live your life. It’s hard to be an adult. We cannot rely on anybody. Self-reliance is the best.

Nobody and no place is perfect. A perfect place, a perfect community, or a perfect teacher are nowhere to be found.

I know many people but I haven’t found anybody who is peaceful except U I.; he is uneducated but he knows how to live peacefully.

We are not all-wise. So sometimes we make mistakes. I don’t think we have to feel guilty for the rest of our lives for the misdeeds we have done in the past.

Forgive yourself. Let yourself be a new person. We confirm ourselves as this or that sort of person. Others who know us also confirm us as such and such a kind of person, but what you are is always changing. You are not the same person as you were ten years ago; you have changed quite a lot; you are always changing. Allow yourself to change, to become a different person.

Life is an experiment, an adventure. It is risky. Take the risk but make sure that your decision comes from a quiet mind.

When I was young I thought life was like a mathematical formula. Now that I am older I see that life is like a poem.

I’m trying my best to make my life tolerable. Sometimes I am in bliss, sometimes desperate.

You won’t think I have dukkha (suffering). You think my life is unending bliss? It is dukkha on top of dukkha; a different kind of dukkha though, but dukkha nonetheless. I endure it; I work on it; I have to pay the price. I suffer but I don’t complain. I hope I am worthy of my suffering, suffering observed calmly.

A life which is really fulfilling does not need advertisement. If your life is really fulfilling you don’t feel the need to prove that.

You said, “It’s so easy to get lost here in the USA, lost in busyness, lost in the unbelievable flood and glut of entertainment and information… lost in various distractions.” You’re right and I think this is very dangerous. A busy life is a superficial life. If you are too busy you don’t even have time to understand your feelings, your mind. My father was a businessman. Very busy. He died a stranger to us, his children. I don’t know anything about his mental, emotional, or psychological life. He was a workaholic. As a result I decided not to be busy. Most of the wise men, wise authors, and poets I know were/are not busy. They lived/live a quiet and peaceful life. They don’t care for recognition, name, fame, money, luxury, etc. What people mean by success is so superficial.

Of course one has to earn a living, but to spend all your time running around like mad doing a hundred and one things, which are not essential, is crazy. You don’t even know about yourself, you don’t have time to look deep inside, because you are always looking outside, which you think is more important, or you get into the habit of looking outside. You don’t even know the person you say you love so much.

I understand what you said about the feeling of inadequacy among American males. I have noticed this myself when I was in America. This disease (so-called) is quite rare among tribal people in underdeveloped regions in Burma. Yet even Burmese from well-to-do families have this problem too. I think it’s because people expect too much from them, and the model of a successful life is too rigid, narrow, materialistic, stereotyped, and dumb. As if there were only one good model for everybody. Live your life in your own way. Whoever really cares about you anyway?

Take it easy. Ultimately nothing matters.

I hope you learn to live peacefully in this imperfect world.

I completed my thirty-ninth year on 5th August. According to the Burmese way of counting I am in my fortieth year. My hair is turning grey, especially on the sides, and I’m also getting thin on the top, a sure sign of old age! Can’t escape it. It was so unreal when I was young. Very soon I’ll be gone, but I feel OK about that.

What’s wrong with death? It is a very important and necessary part of life. It would be terrible not to die. I wonder what will happen to my mind if I live for another forty years? I might be as stupid as I am, or… Yes, I’m getting old too. Lost a lot of my hair. A bald patch and grey hair. Very soon I’ll be dead. Now I have pain in my back on and off, pain in my finger joints. Arthritis? That’s part of life. No complaints. I want to really live my life fully in my own way for the rest of my life. After that I don’t know.

I’m growing older; there’s no doubt about that. What I mean to say is that as I’m old now I can really feel it now through how I live my life; as if I’m blind with an acute sense of touch. I don’t just see and hear people; I feel them in my heart. I know how warm or cold they are, soft or hard; I smell them too — I know whether they are clean or not, whether they are pretending or not.

The good part is that the mind is becoming more mature, more detached. I know nothing is worth the dukkha. I have a place to live, enough clothes; I get enough food every day. My health is not bad. I have enough and I know that. I’ve some good friends. I can meditate all day; I’m never busy. So, you envy my way of life? I am doing OK. Getting old though. Becoming less attached to my self-image. Happy to be nobody.

Late at night,
listening to the winter rain,
recalling my youth –
Was it only a dream?
Was I really young once? (Ryokan)

Very soon you’ll be asking yourself the same question.

Now I’m becoming more expressive of my love. Seems like this old monk’s heart is growing bigger in his old age. Cardiomegaly — not the disease! But I cannot love everybody. Those whom I love, I love really well. There are a lot of people I love dearly, and some feel it.

Dying a natural death is OK. The important point is how to live a peaceful and meaningful life. I don’t mind dying, but I don’t want to suffer. All of us must die one day. It might be now. It is one hundred per cent sure that we will all die. Knowing that, we must really live wisely and not waste our time and energy doing trivial things, thinking and worrying about insignificant things.

Death is not that bad. It is the pain in dying which is actually difficult. Because of attachment we think of death as bad, for we leave everything dear to us when we die. I think we should educate ourselves on how to die with peaceful heart, and on how to leave everything we love. A person who hasn’t learnt how to live peacefully hasn’t learnt much from life. Living all one’s life denying death is a sure sign of the immature mind. Better to accept what cannot be denied.

Yes, I reflect on death quite often. I got close to dying twice. Seeing life from that point of view, it’s so clear that we are wasting our time — foolishly chasing after status, possessions, admiration, approval, and there is never enough. I’ve seen death closely, but how can I tell others what it’s like? When you know you’re going to lose everything and when you feel that it’s OK, I gave up everything. Then I know the most precious thing I have is the deep understanding of life. Well, some day I’ll tell you all about that. I’m quite well. Just growing old and learning from my mistakes. I’m trying my best to live a peaceful life.

Repeatedly I find that attachment leads to suffering. There is no mistake about that. Watch out for attachments. Desires make you believe that you’ll be happy when it is fulfilled, but there is no end to fulfilling desires. We think that some day we’ll be happy. Some day, some day… and that some day always moves on ahead. You’re lucky if you can say ‘I’m happy’.

Growing old is not that bad if you have mindfulness and wisdom. Take care of your health. Rest before you are tired. Please take care of your health so that you live a long and healthy life. We will have a lot more to share when we grow old. As we grow older I hope we become more open and friendly. Real sharing and caring. I am very grateful to life. It has taught me so much. I want to live a long life so that I can learn more. There are certain things which we can learn only in old age. I don’t feel sorry to hear that another of my friends has checked out (died). It’s so natural.

People have so much to do that mostly they forget the dead.

We think we’re important. That is a delusion.

We should do what we can without expecting that people will remember what we have done for them.

We want to be important in other people’s lives. We want to feel (believe) that we make a big difference in other people’s lives.

You try too hard to be kind to people.

You have too much concern about other people’s practice. You will not be at peace if you go on doing that.

Live your life peacefully first. Then do whatever you think is appropriate with a peaceful mind.

“Giving others the freedom to be stupid is one of the most important and hardest steps to take in spiritual progress.” Yes.

Do whatever you do with care and attention.

Better to do a little and do it well.

Pure motive is rare. (It’s almost impossible.)

The more we deny our selfish motives the more harm we will do to ourselves and to others in the name of selfless sacrifice.

To deny darkness is to deny danger.
Acknowledgement illumines.
Denial darkens. (Unknown)

We can pretend for a while, but the truth shows through every now and then.