For the whole society, the whole human race, the whole world, is it or is it not better that you have been here? If you have not been able to do this, then you have not brought about anything of genuine value. What we call something of genuine value is the spirit of benefitting living beings. It is only when you have done things which genuinely benefit living beings that you have been able to bring about something of genuine value from the standpoint of the whole universe and all living beings.
What we call bringing the mind and spirit to full maturity is enabling your own mind to become more and more broad and profound. One day, when you are no longer calculating individual gains and losses, and you are unconditionally concerned for other people, then you will achieve realization of what in Buddhism is called “unconditional great compassion, the great mercy of sharing the same essence with all beings.” Then you will change from an ant into an elephant.
While you are still an ant, it may be hard for you to understand the mind of an elephant. You maynot yet be able to understand what genuine maturity represents. You may think that your aim in life is to be constantly at your parents’ side, and to provide your children with an excellent environment to live in. But do you understand what they need? Are you able to help them get the things that they truly need? Probably you can’t. This is because, before you have matured into an elephant, there is no way for you to correctly interpret their minds, and you cannot correctly interpret yourself either.
In everything that humans pursue, the goal is happiness. No matter what they do, it is always to get happiness. Painters paint, actors act, writers write, children frolic at the seashore – it’s all to get happiness. Cars, buildings, money – all this appears because human want to get happiness. But true happiness is too simple, too plain, and so many people overlook it, and instead go to the external world seeking something that is more like “happiness.” This is like you seeking for your mind in the world outside you mind – you will never find it. If you cannot find the thing you need, how can you give it to the people you love?
The maturity you need is not just the maturity at the level of survival skills, but a more fundamental maturity – the maturity of the mind and spirit. When your mind and spirit are strong enough, then you will have a lucid clarity, a lucid clarity and self-confidence – “everyone in the crowd is drunk, but I alone am sober.”
Then you will discover that no matter how much money you make, how many fans you have, how many people know your name, none of this has any real meaning. Except for something with special merit no matter what it is called, it all decays faster than the body. Generation after generation of people die, and who remembers what companies they worked for? Who remembers if they were managers or ordinary employees? Who remembers what make of car they drove? Who remembers how large the apartments where they lived were? No one remembers. Your existence is like a fly streaking through empty space: it cannot leave any traces. This is because you have not created anything of value that will not be destroyed by time. That thing of value is what Buddhism calls merit.
Perhaps you have earned a lot of money for your company, and you have provided your family with great comfort, but the only ones you have benefitted are the people who are very closely connected with you. But for the whole society, the whole human race, the whole world, is it or is it not better that you have been here? If you have not been able to do this, then you have not brought about anything of genuine value. What we call something of genuine value is the spirit of benefitting living beings. It is only when you have done things which genuinely benefit living beings that you have been able to bring about something of genuine value from the standpoint of the whole universe and all living beings. This kind of value can get free of the bonds of the physical body, and be passed down generation after generation, lighting the torch of wisdom in people’s minds generation after generation, and becoming beneficial nourishment for the human race. Shakyamuni Buddha was like this: his physical body disappeared more than two thousand years ago, but his wisdom still illuminates the human spirit today. Only this is a life with true meaning.
When I was ten years old, I saw death with my own eyes, and from that point on, I thought about death and feared it, and so it was always with me. I was always afraid that death would take away all evidence of my life, and at that point, what would be the difference if I had lived or not? So I began to inquire into the meaning of being alive. Later the Buddha’s spirit of feeding the birds and beasts with his own flesh illuminated my mind and spirit, and I finally understood what a person is ultimately living for, and what meaning being alive ultimately has. This meaning later became my standard for measuring everything: is your being in the world better than your not being in the world? It is also like this with my writings. I do not want to waste my precious time alive writing things I see as trash. What am I calling trash? If they cannot do the world a bit of good, if they waste my time and waste the readers’ time – this is trash. My not being willing to write this kind of thing is not being aloof; rather, it is a choice. When facing the world, each person must lucidly make his or her own choice.
But what is too bad is that the majority of people do not know that they must do this, nor do they known they can do this. They live every hour and every minute as slaves to the external world. Intelligent people are especially this way – they do too much mental calculation, and understand too well how to juggle ideas. They fill their lives with totally meaningless things, and are reluctant to use even a little bit of time to focus on their own internal minds, and focus on the world. They are too exclusively focused on profitable games. I know that they are the same as people in my hometown, who all feel that “death is like a candle going out, and once you die, there is nothing there anymore.” This point of view is accepted by materialists. Those people who fear that after death “there is nothing there anymore” take advantage of any power and position they have to plunder wantonly, and thus there are so many greedy officials, and so many people harming society. But many sincere materialists do not know that the point of view they champion is precisely the foundation for many people’s unrestrained false behavior.
But Buddhists do not think this way. Buddhists believe in cycling through six planes of existence, and believe that the long river of life keeps flowing on without stopping. According to the Buddhist teaching, the human plane belongs among the three good planes of existence, and one can only be a human after accumulating the appropriate merit. Obviously the time a human is alive is very precious. If you waste it, then you are wasting lifetimes of your own painstaking efforts.
For the majority of people, they only become conscious of how short life is when they are approaching death. Originally we think that several decades of time will be enough for us to do many thing, but in the blink of a eye, our hair turns white and our bodies stoop with age. Then we finally discover that our lives have just been an approach to death. Ultimately, what meaning does this kind of life have? In a television show, and old guy over fifty tells his son, “Your papa has lived his life, without any dreams, and his whole lifetime has gone by this way.” So many people are this way. But they do not know that they could have had another way of living. What way of living? Seeing through the dreamlike illusory quality of this world, and taking hold of the present moment, and doing things that have meaning for the world, and creating something of value that time cannot destroy.
When you have clearly understood this point, then you will understand that all enjoyments are only empty false emotions and memories, that will disappear in the blink of an eye. When you are indulging in them, you will forget your dreams, and forget a kind of plain and simple happiness. You will let the flames of those desires constantly lick at your mind. In fact, no matter how other people evaluate them, no matter whether the individual gains or loses, these are all empty illusory impermanent things. Even if they can bring you pleasure or pain, they are only manifestations of your own mind. All the complex apparent phenomena and realms of experience in the world are reflections and manifestations of your true mind. They are all the wondrous functioning generated by your inherently empty and still and clear “mind essence.” When our mind essence generates wondrous functioning, then, according to circumstances, it reflects two kinds of manifested objects, “defiled” and “pure.” The “defiled” ones are the various kinds of realms manifested by the false mind. The pure ones are the various kinds of realms manifested by the undefiled true mind. When you understand this point, and see the true mind of inherent nature, then you will also understand the true characteristic of the world.
Your clear understanding will illuminate the course of your life everyday, and point out your direction for you. Then you will go on like this step by step, and keep going with steadfast assurance, the day will come when your mind’s capacity gets big enough to be able to encompass the whole world, and transform everything in the world into nutrients for your mind and spirit. It will let your mind go from a fragile immature sprout to mature into a solid unbreakable great tree, with beautiful flowers blooming from its branches, and warming the whole world with its fragrance. At this point you at last truly mature from a child into an adult who can be autonomous.