Win and lose to what matters. When you challenge yourself, and beat your own record, you achieve both! Herein lies our opportunities. What are the challenges we wish to excel in? With ourselves.
In these past months, with lockdown and work from home, it has given way to a lot of reflection on our lives. It has thrown up questions about our hankering for materialism, even while opening a light on man’s deeper purpose.
Presented below are twenty difficulties for us as humans, shared by Gautam Buddha in The Sutra of 42 Sections. The explanations are elaborated inspired by commentaries by several learned teachers. Each of the twenty statements carry nuggets of deep wisdom. To these I have added quotes from Jesus as well. ‘Truth is One, the wise speak it in various ways’, say the Rig Veda. I hope this article will help you reflect further on What Really Matters.
1. It is hard to practise charity when one is poor.
Being poor is not referring to wealth, but one’s internal quality. You cannot give what you do not have. If you wish to share Love, you must have it else you will only share misery or loneliness. Only when you overflow can you share. You possess only that which grows within and cannot be taken away from you. Existence is tired of your pennies, your misery – your poverty. Instead, bring celebration to life. Try to be wealthy inside so that you can share yourself. For what is offered from within has deep richness.
Luke [21:1-4] As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Jesus asks: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
2. It is hard to study the Way when occupying a position of great authority.
The proud and egotistic is not ready to surrender. For they feel powerful. Nor should you surrender only when hopeless and all is lost. Move instead towards yourself when things are going well. It is difficult to remain meditative when you are rich. Move into the unknown when you are strong and full of zest. There is no better time. We tend to postpone our life to sometime in the future, perhaps when we retire. For now, status, money, recognition, power, fame are deemed more satisfying. Perhaps, we believe that the pursuit of all of these will lead to happiness. Soon we realise with time that what we seek is a myth, what we have, we do not value, what we want nobody gives.
King James Bible refers to this spiritual poverty: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
3. It is hard to surrender life at the approach of inevitable death.
It is easy to disregard death when one’s life is oozing out of you. While life and death are inevitable, we choose not to discuss it. Those who penetrate deeply into life become aware this is not the real thing. For in the midst of life there is death. Only those who realise this take a jump into the river that leads somewhere else – towards death. To disregard life, is to truly know what it means – it is a dream. Buddha enquired what is the longevity of life? It is the length of one breath, replied a disciple. Buddha agreed.
In the garden of Gethsemane, the night he was betrayed prayed to the Father in simple surrender, “If you are willing, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:41).
King James Bible: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
4. It is hard to get an opportunity of reading the sutras.
Only a fortunate few will recognise that life is fleeting, a shadow, not a reality. Only one who is awakened realise this. Only a few will realise the wisdom of the way.
One of Jesus’ followers asked to be excused from his responsibilities to ‘go and bury his father’. Jesus replied, ‘Follow Me[don’t neglect your spiritual calling], and let the [spiritually]dead bury their own dead’.
“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:25-27).
Only a few will have the real opportunity to pursue the spiritual path.
5. It is hard to be born directly into Buddhist surroundings.
It is indeed rare to find an enlightened being. Only when the student is ready does the Master appear. Else a teacher will be ignored. To be a student one has to be empty, receptive, sensitive and meditative. Such opportunities are rare to most people.
6. It is hard to bear lust and desire without yielding to them.
The greatest difficulty is to be without hankering to be something else, or one who is without projection. To avoid desires and attachments and lust. Buddha avers that Wealth and Sex is like honey on a sharp knife – a child will lick it, and harm himself. If one can be around sense objects without being affected. Only when the mind is still will desire drop. Buddha says that the cause of all suffering lies in desire.
7. It is hard to see something attractive without desiring it.
If one focusses on the real, rather than the agreeable, then one comes to the truth. Fears come from worry and worry arises from craving and desire. Be a floating piece of log on a river. If not deluded by emotions, or wrongful views one who is steadfast will pursue the Way.
8. It is hard to bear insult without making an angry reply.
It is easy to get angry, but challenging to remain calm and quiet. No intelligence is needed to lose one’s anger. Patience under insult is the greatest strength avers Buddha. Patience creates softness, harbours no hatred.
In the Akkosa Sutra, we have the story of Buddha being severely insulted by an influential Brahmin and he responds by saying: “Whoever returns insult to one who is insulting, returns taunts to one who is taunting, returns a berating to one who is berating, is said to be eating together, sharing company, with that person. But I am neither eating together nor sharing your company, Brahmin. It’s all yours. It’s all yours.”
If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow’.
9. It is hard to have power and not pay regard to it.
People seek authority so that they can abuse it. In every interface authority is present: either bullying or being bullied.With power you become political. Nietzsche says, that we all have a ‘will to power’ – an attempt to assert ourselves onto the world. He takes it one step further and asserts that the will to power is ‘the force which creates all forces’.
10. It is hard to come in contact with things and yet remain unaffected by them.
The real test is not in isolation, but when one is living in the world. One cannot change the circumstances often, but one can change one’s consciousness.
11. It is hard to study widely and investigate everything thoroughly.
We prefer the familiar, the comfort zone. All the knowledge of life is borrowed. Only be knowing oneself, can one move further. One needs to study deeply rather than widely. To look within, rather than seek outside. One needs to continually review the way. It is a challenge to be thorough in learning and exhaustive in investigation.
12. It is hard to overcome selfishness and sloth.
To think of oneself as extraordinary is most ordinary because everyone thinks so. Pride is like a disease and with it you can never be healthy.
13. It is hard to avoid making light without having studied the Way enough.
It is hard for people not to disparage the untutored. One feels superior to those who are illiterate, and envy to those who are learned.
In Matthew 7:3-5 Jesus says: Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:37).
14. It is hard to keep the mind evenly balanced.
One needs to remain the master. Others can manipulate you, make you angry or flatter you. Be in control of every situation and stay the master. To be equitable in mental activities at all times.
15. It is hard to refrain from defining things as being something or not being something.
It is difficult not to express an opinion and it becomes a prejudice. Allow your understanding to grow instead. Be defining something we limit ourselves to a deeper understanding.
16. It is hard to come into contact with clear perception of the Way.
One who sees the truth vanquishes ignorance. The Self cannot be found in any form – it is illusory. The sense organs have confused people, keeping them in a dream like state.
17. It is hard to perceive one’s own nature and through such perception to study the Way.
It requires a journey inwards. To one’s nothingness. The more you move towards yourself, the more you disappear. Yet Buddha says it is hard to develop this clear perception.
18. It is hard to help others towards Enlightenment according to their various needs.
The language of the valley and the peak are different. One needs to guide others in accordance to their individual needs, abilities, dispositions, and circumstances.
Buddha advised, ‘Be a light unto yourself’.We all have the responsibility to discover our own light within.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”(Matthew 5:14-16).
19. It is hard to see the end of the Way without being moved.
It is hard to come in contact with things and yet remain unaffected by them. Our senses get attached to things and we experience ‘movement’. To see things without attachment without clinging to emotions or becoming vexed by the situations.
20. It is hard to discard successfully the shackles that bind us to the wheel of life and death as opportunities present themselves.”
It is hard to unshackle ourselves from the grip of life and death – the perpetual wheel. To deploy ‘skills-in-means’ viz acting in expedience at times. Once Buddha lied saying he had candy to offer a child who was dangerously close to falling into a well.
Some questions for reflection
As a leader,
1. What are you practicing and sharing?
2. Do you embrace your humility and vulnerability?
3. Are you prepared to let-go of old meanings?
4. How do you wish to leave behind a legacy?
5. What has this article triggered in you?
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