Our physical sufferings may be caused by our past or present karma. We
should seek the corresponding ways to overcome them. The suffering of
our mind is derived from karmic conditions the present influences or
past habits. During the process of practising the Dharma, we should
learn to control our mind, be free from unwholesome thoughts and attain
the state of no fear and cessation of sadness, anxiety, all defilements
and sufferings.

Accept Your Lot

I hope you will all try not to worry too much. Many of you here may
have a severe illness, which may be caused by the past or present
karma. Some of your illnesses may not be cured by medical technology
today. In this case, you should accept your lot. Do not let defilements
overcome you and worsen your mental suffering.

There are some Arahats who have freed themselves from the cycle of life
and death. Although their mental pain and suffering were relieved, they
still could not avoid their physical suffering. The Buddha aimed to
teach the relief of this mental suffering even though our physical
suffering remained. This is the most compassionate and skilful teaching
of the Buddha. Everyone of us should try to learn it.

Body and Mind

The body and mind, the mental and material, are correlative
relationships which depend on each other. Physical suffering may be
caused by the suffering of the mind. As well, mental suffering may be
produced from the suffering of the body! But lessening the pain or
suffering of the body may not reduce the suffering of the mind.

The physical suffering and hardship of the older generations who had to
work very hard to survive, has been replaced by modern technology. This
improvement in our collective physical well-being, should have
contributed to a better mental health throughout society. But in actual
fact, mental illnesses and psychiatric patients are increasing

The increase of wars and violent strategies bring distress and panic to
people. Many simply feel a sense of failure, and fear the onset of
death. Such an unpleasant situation is even more unbearable than the
physical suffering of the body.

The body may still suffer, even though there might be an elimination of
the mental suffering. But according to the teachings of the Buddha, a
perfect way to free ourselves from suffering, is to relieve the
sufferings of the mind and consequently the suffering of the body. We
should set this as a goal of our life, and work hard to succeed.

People who do not understand and who do not follow the teachings of the
Buddha may experience the physical suffering initiated by the suffering
of the mind, and vice versa. Then mild pain may become severe pain. For
example, if we experience a mild illness, we may then become terrified,
agitated, and worry so much that we stop sleeping or eating. This makes
it even worse for our health!

There are many thousands of such examples in the society. Those who
understand and follow the Dharma, may not suffer as much as those who
do not understand and follow the Dharma. In this way, we may reduce
severe suffering to mild suffering, and reduce mild pain to none. The
key points are:

1. To understand and have faith in the truth of cause and effect. Do
not be deluded by the present suffering.

2. To repent the past evil karma and ask for the blessings of the
Buddha and Bodhisattvas. To accumulate more good merits so that
suffering may be reduced.

3. To practice meditation and contemplation. This is a method that
trains the mind to control and transform the body.

In the past, Venerable Si of Nan Yu was afflicted with rheumatoid
arthritis. Movements of his limbs were affected by the illness, and his
mind was not able to control his body. Eventually, with his own power
of meditation and contemplation he completely recovered.

There is another story recorded in a diary from a person in the Ching
Dynasty, which corresponds to the teaching of the Buddha. I hope it
will also encourage you.

An intelligent, pretty woman who came from a rich family, married a
wealthy man. Her relationship with her husband and parents-in-law was
fairly good. Unfortunately, when she began to suffer from severe
leprosy, despite their love for her, they had to lock her in a little
hut by herself. While she was locked up, she hated looking at herself.
She thought of the ugliness and impurities of her body all the time,
even when she was eating or excreting. The thought of these impurities
was always in her mind. Finally, she saw her ugly and impure body
dropping off, leaving behind a set of clean and white skeleton. At this
instance, light emitted from the skeleton and brightened the whole hut
as well as the woman's mind and body. She was relieved from the
disease. She detached herself from the impurities of the body and began
to live in her hut in peace without any suffering.

This story corresponds to the Dharma. It exemplifies the process of
practising the Contemplation on Impurities to the attainment of purity.
By practising, the strength of our meditation and wisdom in our mind
will initiate changes in our physical body! I hope ladies and
gentlemen, that this may give you all some encouragement to use the
time in Le Sheng Nursing Home to practice the Dharma persistently!

I suppose most of you practise the recitation of the Buddha's name.
Reciting the Buddha's name may help us to purify our mind and body, and
to be reborn in the Pure Land. But this is only possible if we detach
our mind thoroughly from the impure world.

As the old saying: "If there is no urge to leave the world of Saha, it
is difficult for one to detach oneself from the world of Saha and be
reborn in the Pure Land." The world of Saha is the "Five Kasaya Periods
of Impurity." The physical body is the accumulation of the Five
Skandhas. If we are able to contemplate our impurities carefully, then
we can transform ourselves from the impure, to the pure. The woman who
was locked in a hut is a good example for everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, Buddha is a great teacher and doctor. To have
faith in the Buddha and to practice the teaching of the Buddha shows
that we are on the right path. Do not worry too much about your present
conditions, there are countless of great prospects in the future. Do
not cling to your physical body, as there is great mental peace and
freedom beyond the body!

It is hoped that under the blessing of the Triple Gem everyone of you
may be relieved from the suffering of mind; with the purification of
mind, may everyone attain purification of the body in return.
(Translated by Loh Wai Sim, edited by Ke Rong, proofread by Shi Neng
Rong. (5-10-96))

What is the Significance of Life?

What is the significance of life? This is an important question. After
birth, a human being rapidly ages, then dies. Between the processes of
birth, ageing, being sick and dying, he is busily working, eating, and
grooming... But what is there to achieve? What is the significance of
this? These questions are a puzzle. As children, we unconsciously
follow the social norms, and often live without thinking about these
questions. This is common. But for those who have a more sensitive
perception of their situations, those living in unfavourable
environments, those experiencing failure in their career, or those who
are debilitated by illnesses, may lose some, or all of their hope. Then
questions arise, "What is the significance of life? What are we busy
indulging in?" Although these questions sometimes come to us, or linger
in our mind, we may feel there is no way out. We keep on indulging in
working, eating, and grooming.

But what actually is the meaning of our lives?

For some, "Everything is void" is the answer. For them, it is
meaningless to engage oneself busily in working, eating, or
grooming.... Let me tell you about one of the old popular songs. It was
called the "Awareness Song". The initial part of the song was,

"The sky is nothing,
the earth is nothing,
and human beings are pervasively in between."

It then continued,

"The husband is nothing,
the wife is nothing,
and when disaster comes, all must part.
The mother is nothing,
the son is nothing,
there is no meeting after death."

In the last line it says,

"Living is just like the bee collecting nectar,
after the collection of nectar from all the flowers,
and the manufacturing of honey,
the effort eventually becomes void as old age arrives."

How depressing this song was, how lifeless! "Everything is just
nothing". It suggests that life is meaningless. This is vastly
different from the concept of "Everything is empty" in Buddhism.

The "Awareness Song" represents perceptions which are dull, depressing
and nihilistic. Buddhism rejects the notion of ultimativity, but
recognizes the relative significance of reality and lives. The Buddha
discovered the universal truth about life which revealed an ultimate
refuge for us all.

Although there are certainly insecurities, sadness, and sorrow in the
journey of life, it does not mean that life is meaningless. Although
life may be imperfect, there should still be something meaningful that
can console us to continue our lives. The old saying in Chinese,

"To achieve virtue,
To achieve distinction,
To achieve glory by writing, "

are the "Three Immortal Acts". That is, if we have lived and performed
these Three Immortal Acts, then the purpose of our lives is fulfilled
and this has will be an ever-lasting significance.

Generally, the significance of life for most people can be divided into
two groups; (i) the significance is within the present life and world;
and (ii) the significance is in the future heaven. Those who belong to
the first group can be further divided into three types.

1. Life is for the family - Some people place great emphasis on the
continuity of the family. For them, even though the individual may pass
away, the fact that the family continues means that there is an
ever-lasting significance for their lives. This concept is common to
Confucian philosophy in China. People must remember and appreciate
their ancestors. The elderly only wish for a few grandchildren. While
alive, they propagate their families and look after the grandchildren.
For life after death, they look forward to the worship of the
descendants. With this view of life, they are able to withstand all the
suffering, and lead contented lives. According to this concept, there
is a saying in Chinese,

"There are three major offences
against filial piety,
and the gravest offence is
if one does not produce an heir."

In addition, one's descendants will reap the fruits of whatever deeds
one has done, either good or bad. Thus, there is a another saying in

"A family of accumulated good deeds
shall be blessed with abundance.
A family of accumulated evil deeds
shall suffer misfortune."

2. Life is for the country - Some people focus their attentions on
their nation and country. The significance of life is to contribute to
the enhancement of national pride or development. Extremely patriotic
people think that individuals belong to the nation, and it is only
within the context of the nation that an individual's life has any
significance. For these people, the only purpose of life is to
implement the country's goals. This concept stems from the same origin
as the concept of the family.

In the past, there were tribes who treated the whole tribe as one unit.
If an individual in the tribe came under duress, it was perceived as a
risk to the whole tribe, and hence the whole tribe responded to the
threat. Under this concept, those who sacrificed themselves for the
sake of the whole tribe were elevated to the level of a God. As the
tribes have gradually expanded (or assimilated/conquered other tribes)
to form countries in these modern times, so the concept of the tribe
has been replaced with the concept of a nation. Thus the significance
of life based on the prosperity and strength of a nation is quite
different to the Confucian ideal emphasizing nurturing and survival
activities for only close relatives.

3. Life is for all Mankind - Some people prefer to consider humanity as
a whole. The significance of life is on the progress of human society.
Only with the progress and civilization of the human race is there a
meaning to life. With this aspiration for all human beings, one should
strive for the development of all humanity, and work hard for the
benefit of the majority.

However, to place the significance of life on the family, or nation, or
the human race is not one that people like to do willingly. We try to
hang on to something because of the fear that our body and mind will
degenerate one day. But can we assure that these are the real meanings
of life? If the significance of life is on the family, for those who do
not have any offspring, does it mean that it is meaningless to live? If
the significance of life is on the country, from the perspective of
history, there were so many highly prosperous countries and
civilizations, but where are they now? They have long vanished and are
only regarded as anthropological evidences now! Then, what about living
for the advancement of mankind? Human activities rely on the existence
of the earth. Although it may still be a very long time to go, it is
inevitable that the earth will degenerate one day. What is significance
of life when the earth ceases to support the human activities? It seems
these three significances of life adopted by most people will
eventually become void. Their ideas cannot get away from the ideology
mentioned in the Awareness Song.

The concept of "a future in the heaven" has been used by most worldly
religions, especially religion with God in the Western countries to
explain the significance of life. In these religions, the world where
we humans now live, is just a illusion. Human beings that live in this
world, believe in the God, love the God, and abide by His instructions
in order to go to the Heaven in the future. Some religions say, the end
of the world is coming, and those who have no faith in the God will be
trapped in the hell of eternal suffering; whereas those who believe in
the God will get into the heaven and enjoy the eternal bliss. So it
would seem, all the faith, morality and good actions people do is
motivated by their desire to prepare for their entry into the heaven.
But this heaven is something for the future. It is impossible to go to
heaven while still living as a human being. Therefore, the concept of a
heaven is only a belief. In reality, heaven cannot be proven to exist.
It seems rather vague to use the existence of something that cannot be
proven as one's purpose for living!

As mentioned earlier, Buddhism denies that there is any permanent and
absolute significance of life, and described life as unsatisfactory (s.
dukkha) and void (s. sunyata). However, Buddha acknowledged that there
is a relative significance of life, and it is through this relative and
conditioned nature of life that we can achieve and realize the
universal truth. According to the discourses of the Buddha, our lives,
and the world, are nothing but phenomena that rise and fall. It is a
process of forming and degenerating. There is nothing that is not
subject to change or impermanence. Impermanence indicates that there is
no eternal bliss, because even a joyous state will eventually cease and
become suffering. Because there is suffering, there will be no ultimate
and complete freedom. Hence, the Buddha taught about non-self ('self'
implies the existence). The Brahmin of the Buddha's era considered life
and the world by conceptualizing that there was a metaphysical entity
who has the nature of "permanence", "happiness" and "self". This
concept was completely refuted by the Buddha and He described it as
delusion. The Buddha observed the reality and taught the truth of
"impermanence", "suffering" and "non-self". From these truths of life,
i.e. impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self, how can we
establish the significance of our lives?

According to the Buddha, life and the world, and existence, are
"Dependent Originated". Dependent origination means that all phenomena
and all existence, do not arise due to the instruction of a God, or
nature, or fate, or spontaneity, but to the Law of Dependent
Origination. Under the interplay of the main, auxiliary, and the
various complicated conditions and reasons, we exist now as we are.
Everything exists due to causes and conditions. From the perspective of
the causes and conditions, existence is referred to as the effect.
Therefore, life and the world are the product of a stream of extremely
complicated causes and effects, and they are strictly abide by the Law
of Cause and Effect.

The existence of human beings is therefore entirely
dependent-originated. Dependent origination has a concomitant
reciprocating relationship externally, and a past-to-future continuous
relationship internally. For example, we have a reciprocating
relationship and mutually-affected action and reaction relationship
simultaneously with other human beings, other sentient beings, and
nature, which includes the earth, water, fire and wind (air). One type
of existence, constitutes one type of activity that has at the same
time, different effects on oneself as well as to the others, resulting
in different karmic relationships. For instance, in one country, the
political, economic, educational or foreign policy, will definitely
affect other countries in some ways, although the greatest effect will
be on the country itself. This is the same for a social organization,
or a family. All actions will affect other social organizations or
families; but the greatest effect is on the particular social
organization or family itself. As for the individual, his speech and
behavior will affect the others, but at the same time these actions
will also affect the individual and his future. Even for those ideas
within his mind that are not expressed, they will also affect him
physiologically and mentally. The dependent-originated world and life
is actually the network of our relationship with one and another. One
could be motivated or being motivated. In the Sutras, this is described
as "the illusory network" or "the pervasive network". Understanding
this infinite, reciprocating, and continuous relationship can help us
comprehend our life and everything in the world.