How to Live a Proper Life

Takkasila Ashin Sumangala


There are numerous precious things in the world. Can you imagine what the most precious of them is? It is human rebirth. The 2nd Chiddala Sutta, a sermon preached by the Buddha over 2500 years ago, gives the simile of the yoke and the blind turtle to explain why a human rebirth is so valuable. Imagine a yoke with a hole in its center was dropped into the ocean, and that the wind blew from everywhere moving the yoke along. And also imagine that in the ocean there also lived a blind turtle that only once in a hundred years rose to the surface of the water. Could the turtle put its head through the center of the yoke? How long would it take for that to happen? Such a coincidence is almost impossible. Similarly, the Buddha says, becoming a human being is a very rare event indeed.

Everyone who is born must one day die; this is an inexorable fact. Death will arrive sooner or later whether we are old or young, black or white, rich or poor, since it is inherent in every living thing. At best, human life is brief; and as indicated by the simile, the chances of returning soon to the human state after we die is very remote.

Another reason why human life is so precious is that it provides us with the best opportunity to practise the path and attain the fruits of liberation.

Animals and lower beings are not so fortunate, and neither are the gods of the form and formless realms. Thus, human rebirth is precious (dullabha) in three ways; it is rare and hard to attain, it is short-lived once attained, and it represents the best vehicle by which to gain liberation.

Having been reborn as a human being, how do we live properly in this life? The Buddha taught us the way to live, and it is applicable to all people regardless of their religious persuasion. The 'way' he taught is called the Eightfold Middle Path, and it comprises the training rules of the noble ones (ariyas).

In olden days, there were those who believed that the best way to live, and the best way to gain happiness, was to indulge in sensual pleasures, and to pass one's time in the enjoyment of luxuries and amusements. There were also those who believed quite the opposite; that the best way to live, and the best way to gain happiness was through self-mortification. But the Buddha came to realize through his own experience and enlightenment that both those ways were wrong; that they were unprofitable, unworthy, low and common.

Avoiding those two extremes, the Buddha discovered the Middle Path which consists of eight factors: 1) right understanding, or right view, 2) right thought, 3) right speech, 4) right action, 5) right livelihood, 6) right effort, 7) right mindful ness, and 8) right concentration.

In Buddhism, this eightfold path leads to the ultimate goal of Nibbana, but it is also true that anyone, regardless of religion, can integrate these eight factors into his or her daily life and attain real happiness here and now.

1) The first thing that is required is to rightly understand the realities of existence, or we might say, the laws of nature. One of the laws that governs human life is the law of kamma; otherwise known as the law of cause and effect.

The term 'kamma' refers to volition and volitional action. Demeritorious deeds motivated by greed, hatred and delusion result in suffering and pain for the doer. If actions are motivated by generosity, loving-kindness, and compassion, on the other hand, the effect for the doer will be happiness and peace.

Another fact that must be understood is that there is no real soul, self or I of the individual. These are but conventional names applied to the two constituents of sentient existence; namely, mind and matter. If one can reduce one's habitual attachment to 'I and mine', it will result in wholesome states of mind devoid of selfishness, possessiveness and pride.

2) Thoughts that are free from sense desire and cruelty are what is meant by right thought. Sense desire is something like salty water. The more one drinks of it, the thirstier one gets. And the thirstier one gets, the more one has to drink, leading on and on in an endless circle. What is needed in this case is that whenever sense desire arises, one must become aware of it and let it go. By doing this, the mind becomes lighter and free of tension and disturbance.

The same is true for ill-will or anger. Thoughts of ill-will should be recognized when they arise, and then let go. In their place, one should think thoughts of loving-kindness and compassion. In this way, one should one think rightly and never cause harm to others out of selfish sense desire or hatred.

3) Right speech, which is born of right thought, means to abstain from speaking that which is false, slanderous or abusive, and abstaining from frivolous talk. It means to speak instead that which is pleasant, true, beneficial and accept able by others. It means to speak at the right occasion in a way that is suitable to the listeners. Such speech will promote peace and harmony, and has the power to persuade others.

4) Right action means first to refrain from killing and causing pain to living beings. It also means to refrain from stealing or taking what is not given by others, and to refrain from sexual misconduct. Defined as having intercourse with someone else's wife, sexual misconduct actually refers to all sexual relationships outside of marriage. Right action comprises the basic moral principles that govern the social environment. By refraining from wrong action, a person's behavior will be pure and beyond reproach. In this way, such a person will also gain in social esteem and in self-confidence.

5) Right livelihood means abstaining from occupations which cause harm to humans or animals, and conducting one's business in an honest way. Unwholesome occupations include: the manufacture and/or sale of weapons, as well as intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs, and poison. Included also is the slaughter of animals, and the purchase and sale of human beings in slavery. There are those among us who while poor, earn their living through proper means; and as such, they are honorable and have great integrity. In contrast, some wealthy people earn their livelihood through racketeering, theft and so on; and as such, have no integrity whatsoever. Wealth itself is no measure of honor or morality.

6) Right effort is the energetic will to fulfill a task. It means not to do evil, to eradicate evil that one has already done, to do the good not already done, and to cultivate the good already done. No one can gain success without effort; or as the old saying goes, 'No pain, no gain." The Buddha emphasized that one should exert the proper amount of effort, neither too strong or too feeble. In other words, along with strong determination, one should have patience and balance. With such right effort, one can solve all of life's problems.

7 & 8) Right mindfulness and right concentration apply to the practice of meditation; otherwise called the cultivation of the mind. Right mindfulness means becoming aware of one's mind and body as they exist at the present moment. Right mindfulness is the foundation of insight meditation which is the means by which one purifies the mind and gains wisdom in successive stages leading to the final supramundane goal of Buddhism, Nibbana. Right concentration is the basis of tranquillity meditation through which one can psychic powers and temporary peace of mind. Insight and tranquillity meditation together are what constitute the cultivation of mind according to Buddhism.

By applying the Eightfold Path to his or her daily life, a person can live righteously and with propriety, and overcome the obstacles of human existence.

Source:  www.budsas.org   Jun 7, 2006

KS