Bhikkhuni Triệt Như – The Fount of Happiness – No 13
Translated into English by Như Lưu
“Now, brahmin, since Rājagaha exists and the path leading to Rājagaha exists and you are present as the guide, what is the cause and reason why, when those men have been thus advised and instructed by you, one man takes a wrong road and goes to the west and one arrives safely in Rājagaha?”
“What can I do about that, Master Gotama? I am one who shows the way.”
“So, too, brahmin, Nibbāna exists and the path leading to Nibbāna exists and I am present as the guide. Yet when my disciples have been thus advised and instructed by me, some of them attain Nibbāna, the ultimate goal, and some do not attain it. What can I do about that, brahmin? The Tathāgata is one who shows the way.” (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Majjhima Nikāya, MN 107, Gaṇakamoggalāna Sutta)
The previous quotation is an excerpt from a long sutta that describes the practice steps that the Buddha taught his disciples, in a similar way to The Longer Discourse at Assapura (Majjhima Nikāya, MN39). At the end of the sutta, the brahmin asked the Buddha: “Have all of your disciples attained Nibbāna, the ultimate goal? If not, why not?”
The text quoted was the clear answer from the Buddha: those who complied with his instructions attained Nibbāna, the ultimate goal, those who did not comply with his instructions did not attain Nibbāna, the ultimate goal.
Several years ago, I ordered a small sofa through the Internet. After I received delivery, I sought out two students for help with the assembly. They carefully opened the box. The box was quite large, they slowly took out the cushion and put them to one side. They then took out the wooden legs, the boxes containing bolts and screws etc. They then read the instruction sheets while checking with the components laid on the floor. Once they have fully understood, they methodically read through each step and proceeded with the assembly. They worked attentively and carefully. After an hour, the assembly was completed.
I recently observed two students who had just completed high school assemble a computer. The task was quite complex, but they managed to successfully complete it.
I had an instance when using my laptop to do my work, I inadvertently fell into an advertising window and kept typing. The computer kept sounding “ding, ding” and refused to progress any further. I had to give up, deleted the advertisement, and got the computer to work again.
If we want to design a slideshow, we need to follow its operating principles. We need to first open PowerPoint, click to add slides, click the home button, select the desired shape, insert it, select a color, the darkness etc. There are many principles, however once we have done the task repeatedly they will be condensed into cognitive knowledge and become easy to manage. Why do we comply so readily with the instructions of the laptop? If we try to not comply, would it know it? If we do not comply with the instructions of the laptop, it will refuse to work. If we forget to “save” a document, everything that we entered will be wiped, despite our complaints! Are we angry with it? If we hit it, we will just hurt our hand. Or the laptop may be broken and we will need to buy a replacement. Who won? The conclusion is that we need to comply with the machine. It is just an inanimate object, why do we need to obey it? If we buy a bookcase, a bed, a food processor, we need to comply with the assembly and operating instructions if we want to make use of them. If we are stubborn and do as we like, they will just remain inoperable. We only have two choices: either we keep being stubborn, angry with them and return them to the shop, or we meekly obey them and comply with the assembly and operating instructions that they mandate. This is it. The majority of us will choose compliance in order to get things to work smoothly, would you agree? If we are angry and hit them, people will probably call us mad.
So, we and probably everyone else, billions of people around the globe, know that we need to obey our technological devices in order to make our life easier. And we need to comply absolutely, would you agree? Let us enumerate the things that we need to comply with. If we want to use our motor car, we need to comply with the operating instructions and the road rules; the same applies to the bicycle, the motor cycle, the food processor, the rice cooker, the washing and drying machine, the microwave oven, the oven, the laptop with its countless complex functions, the cell phone, the television set etc. There are around us many devices that bring life’s comfort which we can successfully use to our advantage if we learn how to use them and agree to strictly adhere to their operating principles.
Have you ever reflected on this matter? Have we ever congratulated ourselves?
- Oh, I have managed to use these devices optimally!
The reason why we have achieved this outcome is because we obey the machines and all their mandatory operating principles. We feel elated because we have managed to operate them, we marvel at the cleverness of humans who have invented so many things. I agree that humans are very clever, they even have set foot on the moon. We have much benefitted from the intelligence of human beings, such as being able to go anywhere easily without the need to strenuously practice in order to acquire psychic powers. We have enjoyed all manners of life’s comfort, there may be many of them that we don’t even need, the heavenly realm may not be much better. So why are we still sorrowful about many things, why are we still unhappy with many people?
Have you ever wondered about this paradox? Our material life is so abundant, even our spiritual life is very well catered for. We do not lack anything. The heavenly realm described in the sutta is probably not better. Our wardrobe is so filled with clothes that we need to give them away when we run out of space. Our refrigerator is filled with food, fruit trees in the garden are so laden with fruits that we need to give them away to our friends and to everyone through the temple. We have so many forms of entertainment, we can stay home and watch any movies we may wish to see, we can watch sports competitions around the globe, we can view all spectacular landscapes from everywhere, we can read any books we like. All we need to do is open our laptop and the whole world appears before our eyes. If we long for someone, we just need to take out our cell phone and will see them thousands of miles away and hear their voice whispering in our ears. Is there anything else that we may want? Do we want to go to the moon and visit the mythical Cuội?
We live among such material comfort and abundance that we wonder why there are people who are pessimistic, depressed, why there are terrorists, and cruel people who are intent on inflicting suffering to others? Why do we still have wars? Why do we keep sending missiles and dropping bombs onto each other? At this point we probably have already found our answer. It is because humanity lacks morality, dignity, wisdom, a wisdom that we may call transcendental. In other words, it is because we have not developed our spirituality. This spirituality can be understood as the highest form of wisdom which is the foundation of the pure, harmonious, and happy life that humans have always aspired to.
In reality, this ideal life has been taught by Buddhas of all times and all directions who have embodied on earth to guide humans. They wanted to clearly teach people the path that they can follow to escape suffering and enjoy a joyful and peaceful life in the world where they live.
The path that all Buddhas have followed, that Sakkamuni Buddha has followed, that future Buddhas will follow is a path that has only three elements: Discipline – Stillness – Wisdom. Oh, how simple is it!
Buddhas have clarified further and divided these three elements into eight practice steps, the Noble Eightfold Path. Right perspective and right thought constitute the Wisdom aspect. Right speech, right action, right livelihood constitute the Discipline aspect. Right effort, right awareness, right stillness constitute the Stillness aspect. The Nikāya have clearly enunciated this truth which can be considered as an old castle that past, present and future Buddhas have discovered and that Sakkamuni Buddha has discovered through so many challenges and hardship. The old castle of all Buddhas consists of only Discipline – Stillness – Wisdom. Once practiced assiduously, they become solid like a rock, hard like a diamond and can demolish greed, delusion, mental defilements, fetters, underlying tendencies, suffering, sorrow and terminate the cycle of birth and death. The Discipline aggregate, the Stillness aggregate, the Wisdom aggregate are in fact one. All three paths lead to the same center. What center? It is the mind, it is nibbāna.
My dear friends, the suttas have expounded the truth very clearly, so why haven’t we complied with it? I pray that humans comply with the teaching of Buddhas, just like that have meekly obeyed the laptop and other devices of the world.
Meditation Hall, the 29th of June, 2021
Link to Vietnamese article: https://tanhkhong.org/p105a2523/triet-nhu-snhp013-bai-hoc-vang-loi