Dhamma practice is something that should not only be listened to and learned, but mostly importantly, practiced. Learning a lot without practice, you could develop an ego, falsely sensing that you have acquired a sufficient amount of knowledge. Learning Dhamma should lessen your defilements. If learning Dhamma doesn’t inhibit your defilements, then it’s a failure. Especially when your defilements are even more developed than before learning. That’s the worst. Some people are so proud of their practice, they egoically feel that they are above the Buddha himself. That is the biggest failure.
We should try to learn and practice Dhamma to understand. The Buddha taught us Dhamma with clear objectives. We learn to practice. We practice to eliminate suffering completely. Therefore, when you do practice, don’t forget the main objective. We must do so to rid of unhappiness and pain. And never to increase defilement. To completely eliminate suffering, it’s a big fight. But you must fight. Not everybody who understands and practices Dhamma could achieve Nirvana within this lifetime. A few do. Many accumulate merits and good deeds. But most would rather build up sins instead of merits. We just have to let those people be.
Buddhism is not a religion that everyone can truly understand. It is a religion for those who are truly wise. So, with introspection, you realize whether you have a chance to rid of suffering. If yes, do so. If not, keep collecting merits. For example, if you are a monk, keep the precepts, follow the discipline, and at least study scriptures and do good deeds. If you are a layperson, practice if you can. Actually, reaching nirvana is not only for the monks. Ordinary people can achieve it. It happens. In the Tipitaka we see a lot of ordinary people reach nirvana, such as King Suddhodana and Santati the Minister. They achieved it due to their virtues even as laymen.
Ordinary Buddhists like us shall have ethics. If the Buddha says it’s good, we do it. If he says it’s not, we won’t. Buddha teaches us to keep the 5 precepts. At minimum, we do so. Keeping 5 percepts is not only just for paying respect to the Buddha. It’s for you. People with merits & percepts find that life is good, peaceful, and content. Those without often run into trouble. Such as getting drunk, or getting infected by viruses quicker and more so that the rest. They chose to gather around to drink. If you have a slight interest in practicing good meditation, even if you’re just a layperson, you can do it. After arriving home from work, do chanting on a daily basis. Little by little.
I did that before monkhood as well. After work, I went straight home; if I didn’t have anything else to attend to. I got home and I practiced. Not everyone I grew up with had an interest in practicing Buddhism; neither my relatives nor my childhood friends. Only a few people from work only had a minimal interest. But that did not stop me. I didn’t care who had an interest in practicing meditation or not. I did it. It wasn’t a peer-related thing.
As days, months, years, passed, most people my age have died. Some who are still alive and look old and weathered now. It’s obvious that their life of struggles and competition for success was virtually meaningless. After retirement, most are back to basics. It shows us that if you live in this world and don’t get carried away by things or illusions around us, you may just see that Dhamma is always around us.
Dhamma of the World
Dhamma of the world is called Lokadhamma. There are eight elements to it. There’s wealth, and there is loss of wealth. There’s influence and loss of influence. There is gossip, and there is praise. There is happiness, and there is unhappiness. These 8 things are this world’s inevitable facts. Whether we like them or not, they are have always been here.
Those who have not studied Dhamma surely do not get a chance to listen to good Dhamma. They perhaps do not get a chance to meet great Masters. Or maybe they just aren’t interested. They just don’t have the past or the foundation which would spark interest in the practice. They live in this world. They want wealth, they want power, praise and happiness.
Wealth and Loss of Wealth
Wealth brings benefits. They don’t like it when they lose the benefits; they only want to gain. Just wanting to gain makes them agitated. Once the heart is agitated from fear of losing benefits, the heart gets sick and unhappy. If you realize this fact and you have a chance to work to make enough earnings from whatever you do, appreciate it. Being secular with sensible earnings does not mean you have to starve. You can be wealthy. But don’t become wealthy through the wrong means. It is favourable to have a chance to make good earnings and manage it well.
The Buddha himself taught us that one part of your earnings is for consumption; to nurture and take care of people under our care such as parents and families. And nowadays some people have to take care of their husbands, too. To learn how to use your earnings, to learn how to save, how to invest… that’s what he taught us.
The Buddha didn’t only teach Dhamma only to those who will be liberate from the world, but he taught those of the world too. Therefore, the Buddha teaches us to understand the Dhamma of the world. For example, if we are fortunate and make a good living, we still must save, must invest and most importantly must be surrounded by good people. If you’re surrounded by the wrong crowd, the wealth can and will cease to exist. This is the kind of Dhamma that Buddha teaches us: to live comfortably in the world.
But we must realize one thing that fortune today can disappear tomorrow. Such as the recent incident that we are all faced with, we never thought possible. Large corporations have gone bankrupt, for example, airlines around the world. Who would have thought that this would actually happen in our lifetime? Car manufacturing companies, the oil industry all went down the tubes. People use less and less fuel. Oil companies are going out of business when they were the ones considered to be in the wealthiest industry. Suddenly, everything flipped as you would never expect it. A lot of people’s businesses have collapsed and the opportunity to recover is very difficult. People are looking for new directions and new initiatives and this is consistent with what the Buddha taught us. Learn to invest, not to gamble.
Some people said they invest by gambling. That’s no way to do it. Gambling will never get you anywhere. If you have Dhamma to always remind you that once you are amassing a good living and have good fortune, you must realize that there’s a chance that we might lose all of that. If you are a genuine Buddhist, if your business has collapsed then you must have realized that it’s not the end of the world. It’s life. It’s normal. You have learned enough to have saved up so you can take care of yourself while looking for other opportunities.
These are all the teachings of the Buddha. He doesn’t just teach only vipassana meditation. But for those with sufficient intellect, and would like to rid of unhappiness; they can accumulate even more merit by meditating. But not just for doing it randomly, doing it wisely and attentively. People who live in the world should learn Dhamma of the world. So they can learn that what you gain, you can also lose. Everything in this world is impermanent. The world is always demonstrating deep lessons in Dhamma.
Don’t be caught up in the fancy things of this world. For example, you make a lot of money and then blow it all. Once I read a sort of a confession from a movie star, a Thai movie star. He said that when he made lots of money, he would spend at least a million baht per day and he was very, very happy. Now that he’s much older and nobody hires him to star in any movies, he has to beg them to get roles because he has no income. This shows that he lived his life capriciously. He did not live his life basing on the teaching of the Buddha. The more he had, the more he used. This is human nature.
For example, some people gain a lot from stocks; easy money, so they spend it all. They buy a purse worth millions of baht. Those things don’t give you any good use in life. They spend money like there’s no tomorrow and don’t think of the uncertainty of life. We as Buddhists shouldn’t get caught up. If we have a chance to work, have a chance to get rich legally, do it. Illegal wealth does not last. Our future will be ruined. Some people get thrown in jail and don’t even let me get into life after death! Monetary success alone does not bring happiness. Some people can’t even live in their own hometown. They have to live elsewhere, not having real happiness. We Buddhists should be careful, be legit, save money, look for opportunities and invest wisely, and be among good people, good friends who direct us in the right way. Your life will progress in the brightest way.
So this is the Dhamma of the world. There’s wealth and loss of wealth. There’s power or influence, and there’s loss of power.
Power and Loss of Power
There are only a few people that some say got to keep their status forever, but that’s not really true. Nothing really is forever. Things are gone at the end of the day. A good example is an emperor such as King Ashok. Once he was an emperor and at one point he wasn’t. Nobody took over his throne and power but it was just his own body that just didn’t support his capacity to be an emperor. From emperor, he was born in the next life to be some sort of an animal. I’m not quite sure which animal exactly. His son was an Arahant and he tried to rescue his own father.
Why is it that we can be meritorious and do so much good, but then fall? Because no one always does good deeds. We’ve all done bad things on some occasions. We’ve done some good and some bad, all mixed in together. When death comes, karma will lead us on. We can’t choose what happens. Karma manages it on its own.
As you see, Asoke was an emperor and then he’s not. Even you have had a high rank with many subordinates under your command but at one point, you die. And somebody replaces you. Therefore, at one point you become the “EX”: ex-minister, ex-this, ex-that.
Power comes and goes. Some people don’t understand this and they strive and struggle to gain rank or power. Some even buy it. Some even put others in hard positions for their own gain. They think that it could bring them happiness. Once they reach the top, they get agitated and are afraid of those who, similarly, may take it from them. Would someone come and remove them from their position as they have done it to others? That’s not happiness. Some folks come to make wishes in front of monks, for promotions, etc., but I think promotions do not make you happy. It is mainly your actions that makes you happy.
There was once a soldier who had held a ceremony at Wat Suthat Temple. He asked a lot of Masters to preside over the event. There was one master named Luangpu Thiang from Muang Chum Temple, Kanchanaburi. He was quite famous back then. The soldier approached him after the ceremony and asked, “Master, I have been a colonel for a long time, but I was never promoted to general. May you please give me a few blessings to help me become a general soon?” Luangpu Thiang looked at him and said, “You’re such an idiot! This is why you’re not a General. You want to be a general, go ask your superior. Why are you asking a monk?” So the soldier came to his senses and he asked his superior. He became a general and then he retired. The ranking then became something in the past. It is something he desperately wanted but at the end of the day, it becomes all in the past. Some friends of mine were a chancellor, an ambassador this and that. Today they are all retired government officials. All in the past.
Therefore, we must realize that these things do not last. Once you have power and rank, make sure that you make good use of it. Help society. Help others who are less fortunate. That becomes useful. Even if we are in the position temporarily, doing some good can create a legacy for us. That’s virtuous. Powerful people have a better chance of doing good and at the same time, they have an opportunity to do a lot of bad. It’s up to them. If we have influence, let’s do good.
Take the police officers as a good example. You’ve seen them on Facebook. If police help an elderly lady cross the street or other good deeds, people praise them. If the police officers extort money at a checkpoint then people do not praise them. Look back and think about what you’ve done when you’ve had power. Think about whether it makes you feel fulfilled and complete or if it makes you feel sad and regretful. There’s a big difference. Completely different values. Therefore we must recognize, as I said earlier, that it all comes and goes. It’s a role that you take on. Once you are in that role, play your best part. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have positions, or wealth. You just have to know how to have them wisely.
Gossip and Praise
Going back to the Dhamma of the world, there are these three pairs: wealth/Loss of wealth, power/loss of power, gossip/praise. You see how the last set is flipped from the others. If you look at the first two pairs, good things come first but if you look at the last pair, gossip comes before praise.
Why didn’t he start with praise? He swapped it. Why?
Regarding gossip in this world, what is there more of, praise or gossip? Has anyone never been gossiped about before? I don’t think so. I’m very sure of that. How can I be sure? The Buddha himself said so. No one escapes gossip. Real people in real life get praised less and less. People only do fake flattering. You can see people fawning over big and powerful people, with Sir this and Sir that… You’re so smart, you’re so great, and all those flatteries for their personal’s gain. It doesn’t come from the heart. When you’re in power, you have to see you when people praise you, does it come from the heart? Or does he want something from you. But gossip is a part of life. We have to accept these facts because if you can’t, you’ll be miserable.
Take my team for example. My team here is so dedicated to doing these live streaming sessions. They’re very devoted to this and work tirelessly. And then someone comes and says the sound is not clear. This is not even at the gossip level. That someone is just voicing his opinion. If the team responds “oh yeah that’s right the sound wasn’t clear today” and they fix the problem then everyone benefits from it. But if the team starts thinking “oh my God! we’re working so hard and then they gossip about us”, who loses?
Or another example is the kitchen team. Some praise the food and their merits, others gossip. Some praise their merits and sacrifice for the temple. Some gossip that the food tastes lousy. At first they praised the food is tasty. After all the praise, the staff kept making the praised dishes. But whatever we eat too often, loses its allure. The staff may get distraught about the complaints. This is the world as it is. People compliment you. People complain. But most people complain. People don’t really compliment each other because they’re jealous. Most people don’t want others to be better off than them. So why compliment them? Why praise them?
Once you understand the way of the world, then when people gossip about you, you think it is normal. Your heart won’t get agitated. Even when people compliment you, you think it’s normal.
When I was young. I was a good student and was also skilled at several creative extracurricular activities. People complimented me. I was used to it, indifferent. Perhaps because I meditated a lot. When they scolded me, I would feel a little annoyed. If they kept at it a while, I’d become indifferent. I just thought “It’s normal”. To overcome inevitable feelings, we should think like this “oh! they must have something great in order to be able to say bad things about us. They must know more”. On the other hand, be a bit more self-involved and think like this. “It’s because we’re much better than them. If we were worse off, they wouldn’t bother to gossip about us.” The latter thinking is not true though. Some people really do misbehave and people gossip about them.
If you have Dhamma in your heart, you will know that these praises and complaints come out of people’s mouths but then they affect our hearts. Be a true practitioner, and be aware that these praises make our hearts bigger. But also be aware that gossip about us makes our heart deflate. Be aware so your heart becomes neutral and invincible to praise or gossip. This is best. This is the way of a practitioner.
Endure as you live in this world, know how to comfort yourself. No one is free from gossip. This is what the Buddha said. There are many ways to fight gossip, and it’s up to you which way you choose. Choose based on your intellect. Just endure it if you are a worldly person. People get talked about. If you’re too beautiful, people gossip about you. For example, “She’s so beautiful, because of the doctors. She regularly visits Korea for cosmetic surgeries.” People make stories up about them. Why do people do that? What does it mean to you when you gossip? Does it relax you? Does it make you feel fulfilled? No one can answer that. It’s very normal. Everyone faces it. If people like you, they complement you. If they don’t like you, they gossip about you. Simple as that.
Happiness and Sorrow
And the last pair of the eight elements of the Dhamma of the world is happiness and sorrow. Hence, when you’re happy don’t fall into the trap. Happiness is always short-lived. But it is short-lived only in our feelings. Be careful and do not overlook a lot of things.
Some people have great financial status, are in great shape, have a great career, great family; everything is great. They are very happy. They have everything they’ve ever wanted. In addition, they also give back. They do a lot of charity, donations to temples, social services. All good things. One day they get a check-up and they find out they got cancer. The happiness vanishes immediately. With the billions and billions of baht they have, once they have cancer, wealth is no longer of value to them.
It is similar for people these days. We work and we save up a lot of money. But when you’re old and sick, the hospitals just take all the savings from you. I don’t want to say that the doctors actually take your money because it’s the hospitals that actually take the money.
One person that I know he lives in Kanchanaburi. He’s a very wealthy guy, owns several gas stations, and has many assets. He got sick and every time he goes to the hospital, it costs him tens of millions of baht. He keeps selling off his assets. And it seems to me as if all the hard work he had done is spent in the last phase of his life. It depressing when some people need breathing apparatus, medical devices that would help them just to breathe. Using money just to live their lives. Every breath is a financial exchange. Can they not breathe on their own. They used to be able to breathe for free now every breathe costs money. All the happiness vanishes.
Therefore, don’t be careless. Happiness is not long-lasting. Those who aren’t in critical situations, meaning that you don’t have a terminal illness and you have a normal life, as a practitioner you will see that all happiness is uncertain. Let’s say you like a girl, and just to see her face every day makes you happy. As things progresses, you see her face and you want her to be your girlfriend because to see her face alone does not provide the same degree of happiness anymore. Wanting her, you know need to find way to court her. She finally is your girlfriend, and now you want her to be your wife. When she becomes your wife, you get bored and you want her to go away. You want to break up, or a divorce. But she’s too clingy! You forget that this is the cycle of life. Before the wedding, before the courtship, you clung onto her from dusk till dawn. But once she’s there with you, oh, you call her clingy. It’s all karma.
Happiness in the world depends on other people. It relies on other things. It is not stable, not reliable. It’s unlike happiness in Dhamma. You don’t rely on other people. You don’t rely on things. You rely on yourself by practicing. You are self-reliant and you’re happy. I can say unequivocally that I am very happy. I am with Dhamma and I have a happy life. Growing old is happy for me. Being sick is happy. And next up is for me to pass happily. Well, I say that but who knows? I may die and be reborn again as a cat. Who knows! It’s all about karma. So for now live life in the Dhamma way, knowing the Eight Worldly Dhammas, and whatever changes, whatever the world may bring, we can still be happy in any situation.
Just like when I was in the hospital. One day, there was an injection and the text day another test. There were painful measures every day. Not a day went by without me getting a little hurt from all these tests. There were many physical issues. Sometimes I got tired, very exhausted. People came to visit but mostly doctors and nurses visited. I talked to them, doing my duty as a monk, and as soon as they left I would be spent. I helped. I tried to help them as much as I had the energy to.
Some people asked me if I missed the temple when I was at the hospital or whether I was bored. I said I wasn’t bored. Boredom is aversion. I don’t know why I should be bored. Even if I got bored, it wasn’t as if I could leave the hospital. So being bored would give me stress. Boredom gives your sorrow. Practice and understand. Don’t be bored. Wherever you are that’s where you got to be. Wherever we are is suffering. The temple is suffering too. It’s all suffering. It’s just different forms of suffering.
Once you know the difference between happiness and sorrow then it becomes a normality of the world. We’re not affected by either. If you’re not looking to achieve Nirvana then just learn these eight elements of worldly Dhamma and practice them, understand them, then live a life that aligns with them.
The Buddha even taught verses that pave the way for power and wealth; to become wealthy, make a virtuous living, save wisely, invest wisely, be surrounded by good people, etc. The teachings are all there. If you’re not sure, you can Google it. Google has all the answers. This “Google person” knows too much! But it’s up to you. If you Google it and follow it, you’ll be happy you did.
I think this is enough for today. I had talked about ultimate realities for several days. Today was for people making their way through the material world. However, it really is all connected to the highest truth.
31 May 2020