Blessings and Joys

To have no illness is the greatest blessing. To be satisfied with what you have is the greatest good fortune. Good friends are the best of all relatives. Nirvana is the supreme peace.

— Magnificent Life of the Prince Sutra

All of us want to live joyfully. The above quote teaches us everything we need to know about how to do this. People it seems, though, want to make life more complicated than it is. They look for complex ways to experience joy and in doing so gradually twist their emotional responses so much their innate abilities to love life are slowly lost. They abandon joy to the future by chasing money and status now, or they bury joy in the present under an excess of sensuality and a deficiency of clear thought. Gradually, they become slaves to their own illusions. You can see it happening; their bodies start to seem weighted down and their expressions become worried and inattentive. If you speak to them they will have reasons for their ways, but their logic will be tangled and torn by the grip of samsara. True joy is found in purity of mind and in study of the Dharma. Nothing else will bring it about.

Good Health Is the Greatest Blessing

All of us have had the experience of truly appreciating our health only after it was gone. Good health, like life itself, is a transient phenomenon. It is a positive condition that should be used to the fullest extent of our ability. It will not last forever. While we are in the midst of health, it is good to remember that our health is precious and that we do not have an unlimited amount of time to enjoy it. A healthy body provides the means to study, meditate and learn the Dharma. It is only in this human realm that we can grow to our fullest potential.

The Buddha’s Medicine Sutra says that there are ten basic reasons why people become ill: 1) sitting for long periods without eating, 2) overeating, 3) anxiety, 4) extreme fatigue, 5) excessive sensuality, 6) anger, 7) not excreting when needed, 8) not urinating when needed, 9) suppressing eructations, 10) not relieving the flatus.

The Contemplations on the Basis of Mind Sutra says, “Treat your body like a newborn baby. Comfort and care for it with the compassion of a mother. Watch over it carefully. If you do not care for your mind and body well and treat their illnesses, then you will not gain much enlightenment.”

The health of our bodies affects our ability to practice and learn the Dharma. At the same time, the health of our minds affects the condition of our bodies. If we allow ourselves to be angry and impatient, our sleep will be disturbed and our nerves will suffer from over-exertion. The ultimate source of good health, as with everything else, is the mind. If our minds are engaged in learning and practicing Buddhism, our bodies will tend to be healthy. If our minds are allowed to wander among violent and degrading emotions, then our bodies will tend to become unhealthy. Mental and physical health are interconnected.

Be Satisfied with What You Have

When a human being allows his desires to grow beyond all reasonable bounds, he becomes like a snake trying to swallow an elephant. No one needs that much. Unreasonable desires are born of illusion and greed. Being satisfied with whatever we have is an important step toward wisdom.

Greed narrows our vision as it obscures the wealth of wisdom contained in our inherent Buddha nature. Greed is always based on false premises, it always makes us more foolish and it never produces good results unless it teaches us at last to get control of ourselves. Greed leads us toward danger even as we think we are moving in a direction that will benefit us. Life is both simpler and more complex than greed will tell us. Our inherent Buddha nature is more than capable of revealing everything we need to know. When we allow this nature to express itself, we will see that it is relatively easy to know what to do and when to do it. At the same time, we will see that the fullness and perfection of this nature completely transcends anything we can think of.

One of the “tricks” of the successful practice of Buddhism is to allow yourself to relax enough so that your inherent Buddha nature can begin to express itself. We can find this ability to relax by upholding the precepts and being satisfied with whatever we have. What more does anyone need than this? If we are upholding the precepts, there is nothing to fear. If we can allow ourselves to relax within our inherent Buddha wisdom, we will see that already we lack nothing. This is the way to find true knowledge of sufficiency. This is the way to be satisfied with whatever you have.

The Sutra of Bequeathed Teachings says:

Knowing how to be satisfied with whatever one has is the ultimate refuge of peace and security. One who knows how to be satisfied with whatever he has can lie anywhere on the ground and feel completely contented. One who does not know how to be satisfied with what he has will feel that something is lacking even if he is in heaven; one like this is poor even though he may possess enormous wealth. One like this finds only entanglement and suffering in the operation of his senses while one who knows how to be satisfied finds only comfort and joy in them.

Good Friends Are the Best of All Relatives

“When we are young we must depend on our parents. When we are grown we must depend on our friends.”

Parents bear us and raise us, but no one can expect to rely on them forever. Eventually we must stand on our own in the company of people we choose to be with. These are our friends: the people we choose to be with. We call them the best of all relatives because friends are people who are drawn to us through karmic bonds that often are much deeper than the familial bonds of this life. Once we learn to appreciate the mysterious attraction that makes people become friends, our capacity for growth in all spheres of life will be very much enhanced. And once we have learned to appreciate our friends, we can begin to learn that all sentient beings are our friends and that all of them deserve our care and consideration at all times.

The Dirgha Agama mentions four important aspects of friendship:

  1. Stop bad behavior: Good friends tell each other when they see that one of them is doing something wrong. Good friends help each other do the right thing.

  2. Be kind: Good friends are happy when they see that their friends are happy and they are sad when they see that their friends are suffering. They praise each other and when they hear others speaking badly of their friends, they correct that person’s speech.

  3. Help each other: Good friends help each other and do not lead each other into bad practices. If a good friend sees another heading in the wrong direction, he will take him aside and speak to him. He will not correct his friend in front of others.

  4. Share the same lot: Good friends do not stint money or goods when their friends are in need. In difficult circumstances, they will even be willing to risk their lives for each other.

The Bei Sutra Discoursed by the Buddha also says that the way to treat friends is “transform evil into good, discuss the Dharma with them often, encourage their best qualities, be kind to them.”

The Dharmagupta Vinaya says that there are seven things to remember when dealing with friends:

  1. Give what is hard to give.

  2. Do what is hard to do.

  3. Be patient when it is hard to be patient.

  4. Do not keep secrets.

  5. Protect one another.

  6. Do not abandon a friend in time of need.

  7. Do not permit an atmosphere of greed or low-mindedness to develop between you.

Good friends support each other. We learn from them and they learn from us. It is important to focus on growth and change among friends. We should accept changes in them and they should accept changes in us. We all should be learning and growing all the time. Among the best friends, change for the better should be welcomed and accepted whenever it occurs.

Once a person becomes a Buddhist, the rest of his life should be dedicated to changing for the better. It is important that our friends accept these changes in us and it is important that we accept and encourage them in our friends. Never allow yourself to be jealous of a friend and never allow yourself to hold them back or prevent them from growing. Their growth is your growth. A friend who is happy and prosperous is a wonderful reflection on you.

The bodhisattva, with his many wise methods, shines brightly on this Saha world. He leads all sentient beings, each to understand this truth.

— Lotus Sutra

Nirvana Is the Supreme Peace

All worlds in all the ten directions are a single open eye.

— Chan Master Ming Chen

Nirvana is “not born, not dying, not arising, not destroyed.” It is the ultimate wisdom and the truth that lies beyond language and beyond all forms of manifest life.

There is suffering in life because all of life is conditioned by four inevitable transformations: coming into being, abiding, being destroyed, emptiness. The very universe in which we live is transformed in exactly this same way. It comes into being, then it abides, then it is destroyed and then it becomes empty. This emptiness is not nothingness. It is a zero point wherein all the potential of the next universe is held in quiet abeyance.

It is important that all of us fully recognize the inevitability of these transformations. Nirvana is beyond them. The peace of the bodhisattva who glimpses nirvana but stays in this world also fully transcends them.

Nirvana has four basic qualities. These qualities cannot be grasped by the samsaric intellect, but they can be vaguely indicated in words. No description of nirvana should be clung to since nirvana is beyond words.

  1. Nothing arises in nirvana. Nothing arises and nothing dies. Nothing changes in nirvana. There is no suffering, no trouble, nothing enters and nothing leaves. It is a realm of perfect purity. It is an absolute realm beyond all distinctions, all duality and all phenomena.

  2. Nothing abides in nirvana. Nothing abides in nirvana because nirvana pervades everything and is beyond everything. One who has entered nirvana is everywhere; he is perfect purity, the perfect Dharma, the perfected Tathagata, the fullness of Buddhahood, at one with emptiness.

  3. Nirvana is selfless. It is beyond all definition and thus it cannot be said to have any nature or not have any nature. It is selfless and beyond any thought we can have. Whatever you think about nirvana cannot be the ultimate truth.

  4. Nirvana lacks nothing. Nirvana is liberation from all lacking. In nirvana nothing need be attained.

Free as the wind and moon, the eye within the eye. As endless as the universe, the light beyond the light. The shade of the willow, the brightness of a flower, the home of everyone. Knock and you will be let in.

— anonymous Chan poem