Happy New Year
By Upasaka Kuo Chou Rounds
"I have a question for us all to consider: Why live?" That is the way the Venerable Master Hua, Abbot of Gold Mountain began a lecture to some students in a Bay Area college recently. Immediately he had his young audience's attention, for this is the kind of question that young people tend to worry about.
Among adults, ultimate questions like that one are buried in the routine and pressing concerns of our daily lives. Why live: who has the time to stop and worry about it? One lives, and crosses bridges as they come. And yet the truth is that the pattern of our lives inevitably follows decisions that we have made, consciously or not, willingly or not, about what the purpose is in this struggle of living. We tend to let those decisions stand for years, sometimes for lifetimes, without examining them to see what they are.
Why go to work every day, for example? Well, to earn money; to pass the time with congenial people, perhaps; to accomplish something: those are answers that come immediately to mind. But why earn money? Well, to pay the mortgage; to eat; to have fun. But then why have fun, why accomplish anything anyway, where has that gotten us, since we're all going to die eventually? If someone were to ask: why bother, what would we answer him?
Perhaps holidays, and particularly the New Year, when the press of business is relaxed a little, are the time to look at what each of us thinks that answer is, The Venerable Abbot had this to say: the reason to live is to give to other people.
If we don't give to other people, the Master told the students (who perhaps did not expect that answer), our lives are worthless. If you have more food than you need, he said, give that; if you have more clothing than you need, give that; if you have more money than you need, give that, too, although, he said, giving money often feels like cutting out some of one's flesh.
I remember recently paying a visit and complimenting the hostess, who has little money, upon some fancy and expensive tea, which she had just bought and served. Her response to my compliment was this: she offered us the whole package of tea to take home. I remember being flustered and embarrassed about accepting it. One is not always accustomed to spontaneous generosity these days. In this society dominated by acquisitiveness, it seems abnormal; it is the kind of thing one advises one’s children against. The sad truth is that dominant messages in America today--the greed for useless items taught us on television, the example of greed for big stakes set us by our government, and the kingship of the profit motive--make it harder and harder for us to remember what the real meanings in life are.
Luckily, in every New Year gathering, and in every neighborhood, there are people who stand out because they understand what giving is. In a day when 'precious resources' are a byword, these people, because of the example they set, are the most precious resource. Admittedly, it is a pretty radical answer to make—that the reason to live is to give; but it is the answer that wise men and women seem to come to.
If we can say that this is what we have done, that we have given as much as we were able to others who have lived and who live on, only then does it seem to us that death is acceptable.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
Very many thanks for your further installment of the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra which maintains the earlier excellent standard. I shall be happy to use a further extract in The Middle Way. You can also expect an earlier extract in the February issue. The November issue had to be completely devoted to the Jubilee of the Buddhist Society.
We very much appreciate the tremendous work you are doing on behalf of the Dharma and you can be assured of our support whenever possible.
Best wishes for the New Year,
Be free and happy
The English translation of the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra can now be obtained complete with a commentary, which contains an explanation of the meaning in clear and understandable language so that it can be put into practice.