The pendulum of life

Sermons Of A Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku, DNA India, July 10, 2007

New Delhi, India -- People are ignorant as to the real significance of existence; they blindly crave for it and its continuance merely for its own enjoyment; they do not know what destiny is awaiting them at the end of their earthly career; they do not know how pregnant of meaning is their every act, their every thought, their every feeling; they do not know under what conditions a phenomenon called ‘life’ is possible, and finally they have a very confused notion concerning the true nature of the soul which they identify with the ego, simple, permanent, and absolute.

On account of this ignorance, they suffer; on account of this ignorance, they keep on augmenting the causes of misery, and are unable to see the light of wisdom.

Buddha declares, there is no doubt that life is suffering, but it also affords enjoyment. The Buddhist life, however, is not to cling to either, for its real purpose is above the concatenation of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy.

The world in which we abide is a world of contrasts; the life we live is a life of opposites. We have the day and the night, we have the spring and the fall, we have men and women. Some are young, others are old; some are just breathing their last, others have now come to the world. The elements attract and repulse one another. The moon waxes and wanes. The waves are rising and receding.

The stars are running toward one another and running away from one another. This is the world of constant change, of eternal motion, where takes place a never-ending interaction of forces. It is one set of forces now that predominates, and then another. The point of concentration is eternally shifting. This is the actual experience of life and also its necessary condition.

Therefore, they will come inevitably to grief — they that disregard this experience and condition of life, they that seek in this world nothing but an everlasting continuation of pleasant, agreeable sensations. They want to live, and they do not know that their living is really their death.

This contradiction causes them an immeasurable amount of suffering. Apparently they are living, that is, they are moving bodily in the world of contrasts and opposites, of pleasures and pains, of sorrows and joys, of good and evil; and yet they want to escape from this actual state of things, they want to enter into a region where they have only monotony, stagnation, and abeyance, and even extinction.

The pendulum owes its existence to a constant swinging from one side to the other. When this is stopped, it ceases to be itself and exists no more. To live is to move, to change, to walk up and down, to come in and out, to enjoy and to suffer, to smile and to weep. To refuse to do so is simply courting death.

Life is a fabric interwoven with the woof of pain and the warp of pleasure. It cannot be a monotonous series of pleasures, nor that of pains. Therefore, to enjoy life is not to crave for agreeable stimulations alone, nor is it to shun evils. It is to be above them, both pain and pleasure.