“Virtues are the most reliable friends. The rest is all excess baggage!”
We often look at the outer assets and wealth of an individual to assess his happiness. But such an assessment is a superficial interpretation of the person’s status. To understand the true well being of a person it is essential to delve into the realm of his inner riches.
The inner riches comprise of the positive qualities of the heart and mind like love, compassion, altruism, and equanimity.
Geshe Lhakdor, the Director of Library of Tibetan works and Archives in Dharamshala and Dalai Lama’s interpreter and translator for thirty years, travels all over the globe spreading the teachings of the Buddha. Based on his intensive study of Buddhist texts, he holds that the true meaning of life lies in cultivating these values. In a real sense, only these riches can be shared with the world. They last forever in contrast to physical wealth which gets exhausted. While material wealth gets depleted, the realm of inner riches has the potential of bringing endless joy. It can be shared over and over again to bring happiness to others. Above all, the more it is shared, the more it gets multiplied because those who receive kindness are likely to reciprocate it towards others.
Geshe Lhakdor specifies that the Buddha identified 84,000 negative emotions that exist inside human beings. Out of these, the three root emotions are ignorance, hatred and attachment. All related negative qualities stem from these root causes and lead to immense suffering.
To overcome suffering, it is essential to nurture the helpful energy of the mind. The food for this helpful energy or positive consciousness is spirituality. By contemplating the finer attributes of morality it is possible for every individual to develop fortitude, patience and inner peace.
In times of crisis, a person may or may not have external resources to help him tide over his troubles. But if he has fostered values and inner strength, he will always have the resources to face predicaments. In Geshe la’s words, “Virtues are the most reliable friends. The rest is all excess baggage!”
In fact, there are three similes which the Buddha himself used to advocate this truth. The parables depict the importance of possessing virtues for the man treading the path of liberation and salvation.
As we know, Siddharth Gautam lived on this earth almost 2600 years ago and attained enlightenment under a Peepul tree which is now in present day Bodh Gaya. The earliest historical records of Prince Siddhartha’s spiritual journey to Buddhahood are preserved in the Pali Canon Texts found in Sri Lanka. These writings embody the Theravada sect of Buddhism but are considered by all other sects as the most authentic and earliest records depicting the Buddha’s enlightenment.
The Pali Canon, written in Pali (as the name suggests, and also the language that the Buddha himself spoke) was painstakingly translated into English by Bhikku Nanamoli Thera about five decades ago. According to these texts, the Buddha reveals three similes that first came to his mind when he sat under the Peepul tree in Uruvela (as Bodh Gaya was known in the ancient days). They occurred to him at night just prior to the hour of enlightenment.
The first simile was that if one was to try and burn a piece of wet wood lying in water and it would be an impossible task. In other words, if one was too immersed in worldly pleasures one could not hope to attain spiritual illumination.
The second simile was that if one wanted to burn a piece of wet wood lying on dry land it would still be impossible. This meant that after removing excessive materialism and possessions from around oneself, it was necessary to cleanse the self of attachments from within also in order to strive for nirvana.
The third simile that Buddha mentioned was that if a dry piece of wood, lying on dry land was to be set on fire, would it be possible? The answer of course was yes, it could now be burnt easily! That is to say, that only the person who was free of material clinging on the outside and free of clinging to negative emotions from the inside could receive the light from the torch of enlightenment. A person must first dry out the damp of petty material attachments from within and distance oneself outwardly also from baser pleasures in order to tread the path of spiritual knowledge.
By describing these three similes which came to his mind the night before he attained enlightenment, the Buddha showed that both the external and internal space of the body needs to be thoroughly ‘prepared’ before one sets out on the path of Nirvana. Amazingly, two and a half millenniums later, every word he spoke, still holds true! Buddha’s mind is symbolised by the lotus – a flower born in dirty, muddy waters but one that blooms when the clear rays of the sun fall upon it. Just like the lotus, the true place of the human mind is in the light!
True liberation means freedom from the bondage of negative emotions. No wonder then, that another name for the Buddha was Sugata – literally meaning going from peace to peace – because of the cessation of all afflictive emotions, the Buddha had indeed found inner peace.
It is often said that after man departs from this world he leaves behind his footprints on the sands of time – implying that his deeds live on even though he is no longer physically present in the world. But a greater truth is that man leaves behind mindprints on the sands of time – referring to the good habits that he cultivates to bring inner peace. They make an indelible mark on the world and are in fact carried forward into his next life as well.
It is therefore imperative that each one of us should have a proper development of the head and heart. Strengthening the realm of inner riches will bring about a huge positive inner revolution, the benefits of which will be far more significant than the accumulation of mere material possessions.
“Vinita Agrawal is a Delhi based writer. She writes on culture and spirituality and often quotes the Buddha when reflecting on existence "Those born, balance like seeds on needle points."
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Editor –some life mantras.
•Life is a leela. ENJOY every moment.
•I have not given anyone the right to make me unhappy or define my identity.
•I believe life is full of constant change, accept every situation as it comes.
•Look for an opportunity in every situation.
•Every experience has a learning shall benefit you in the future.
•No situation in life is permanent. Live with the faith that this too shall pass.
•First REFLECT then act.
Buddha image at Dalai Lama Temple Mcleodganj