This topic is written by a speaker of Tao of Heaven. It is worth reading and meaning of life becomes clearer.
Every man is like falling into the state of unconsciousness since birth. Everyday one is busy earning a living, struggling to gain fame and recognition in life. Though we would have experienced ups and downs, separation and reunion in our lives, if we were to recall the past, it would seem like a series of dreams regardless of what we have done and now it would only remain as a memory to us. Irrespective the life that we would have gone through is glorious or in deep sorrow, when we reach the end of the road, all these happenings would just vanish.
We have come to this life and we must always look back the journey of our life to find out whether we are walking on the right path or heading the wrong destination; to realize whether we are consuming a pleasant or an awful life. This is important in order to prevent regrets and sorrows at the end of our journey.
Life is short, what is the objective of our lives? What is the true meaning of life? What would it be like before and after death? What is the relationship between life and death and the journey of our life? How to gain value in life? We should analyze and evaluate all these questions in order to truly understand the essence of life.
2. WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF LIFE?
What Is Mankind?
To understand mankind we must know the special features of being a human:
(i) How mankind differs from animals:
Man stands in vertical posture with head up and feet on the ground. This implies man must behave righteously to be in accordance to the grace of heaven and earth. On the other hand, animal is in horizontal posture with its head in front facing the earth and back potion facing up. This gives the implication of ‘acting against heaven’s will and shameful to face heaven’.
Man is equipped with innate conscience and wisdom, thus is being referred as the superlative spirit of all living beings.
(ii) The relationship between man and heaven and earth:
Man, together with heaven and earth are being referred as the three elements, man is in between and has a very important value. If we were to compare in terms of time, generally man can live not more than a hundred years, how to be compared to the longevity of heaven and earth? If we were to compare in terms of space, generally man will only occupy the body of six feet long, how to be compared to the greatness of heaven and earth?
Heaven and earth are unable to speak only man can speak and act on behalf of heaven and earth. In addition, man is capable of self-salvation and offer salvation to others. Man is also capable in controlling all beings but not the other way round.
Since man lies together with heaven and earth, man should follow the grace of heaven and earth, their greatness and unselfishness.
What Is The Journey Of Life?
The journey of life refers to the process and route of every man from being birth to death.
What Is The Essence Of Life?
Essence means the most truthful and meaningful. The essence of life refers to the well beings of the journey of life of every man; the most valuable and meaningful life a man should have possessed.
3. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ANALYSING THE ESSENCE OF LIFE?
Understanding The True Meaning And Value Of Life:
Usually, an ordinary man does not realize the true meaning and value of life, his whole life is busy searching for fame, wealth, love and other attachments. Thus, life after life, he has totally lost his true self and unable to transcend from the cycle of birth and death.
There is a saying, ‘One way to be born but hundred ways to die’. This is because every man has different realization and point of view towards life, thus given rise to different results.
Due to the different realization and point of view, every man has different conception of life. Nevertheless, we have now acquired the Heavenly Tao and awakened from ignorance, we should have new plans for our future and set new goals for our lives. First of all, we must analyze and evaluate the true meaning and value of life, and then only we would be able to truly understand the essence of life.
Setting The Right Goals In Life:
Every man has a different goal in life, some may think wealth is the key to happiness, some may feel happiness is gained through power and there are also people whose priority in life is love. As a result of not understanding the true meaning of life, man has been blindly chasing for the wrong goals in life and helplessly trapped in a life full of sufferings and anxieties.
If a man is unable to determine the right goals in life, it will be like a boat without the steersman, a horse without the saddle and it is very dangerous. Not only he is unable to reach the destination, he will be drifted along waves, influenced by the bad and doing the wrong things, sinful and entrapped in the four forms of birth and six realms of existence. By then, it will be too late for regrets.
Life is short, if without the right goals in life, a wishful life, a meaningful act, we are simply wasting our lives and totally lost the value of being a man. That is why after understanding the essence of life we need to set the right goals in our lives to have the right direction for us to reach the destination.
To Gain Eternity from Impermanence:
In this universe, all things that come in forms will eventually perish, inclusive of the human body. Human’s life is short and unpredictable; it is impossible to become immortal. How to create an eternal life out of this short period of living is one thing that we must realize after acquiring Tao.
Confucius once said, ‘If a man acquires Tao in the morning, he may die in the evening without regrets’. For us to live a valuable and meaningful life, it is not the duration of life that matters, but rather the opportunity to acquire Tao. If we were able to acquire Tao, we would have achieved the most wishful life though the duration is short – to gain eternity, immortality.
After acquiring Tao, realizing the essence of life and setting the right goals in our lives we should proceed to follow the steps of saints and sages to attain the three holy perpetuities – reverence, merits, merciful teaching. Though we might have just lived for a short while but when we died, it would be our body that was dying not our spirits and we would be returning to Heaven and leaving a good name to others for remembrance, thus achieving an eternal value for our lives.
4. HOW TO ANALYZE THE ESSENCE OF LIFE?
We should analyze the essence of life from three aspects: (i) from the aspect of birth and death, (ii) from the aspect of sufferings and happiness, (iii) from the aspect of value in life.
From The Aspect Of Birth And Death:
(i) Why are we analyzing the issue of birth and death?
In the law of nature, when there is birth there must be death. There are plants, animals and insects that live in the morning and die in the afternoon; some live during spring and summer and die during autumn and winter; some live through few years, some hundred years; the timing may be different but eventually all would have to die.
The same applies to man, where there is birth there must be death and vice versa. The cycle of birth and death will continue and it is everything in a man’s life. This is like the day and night, it captures all the happenings in a day, and we cannot recognize only the day and not the night. Likewise, we cannot just aware of birth and not knowing about death.
Generally, most people think there are only two boats in the sea of a man’s life, one is the boat of fame and the other is the boat of wealth. However, the two boats of life for a cultivator, one will come for the purpose of birth and the other one will go for the purpose of death. Our Holy Teacher once said, ‘In between heaven and earth Tao is the utmost, from ancient to present times birth and death is a great issue’. There is also a saying, ‘Birth and death is a great issue that concerned the Heaven’. From this understanding, there should not be any delay in analyzing and evaluating the issue of birth and death.
(ii) The true meaning of birth and death:
The existence of everything is the unity of the form and formless, like a cup, what we will see is the shape of the cup but the one that is in used is the formless space inside the cup, the same applies to a house.
The birth of a man is the unity of the formless ‘divine self – the spirit’ and the ‘physical self – the body’. The death of a man is the separation of the spirit from the body.
Due to unawareness of the true meaning of birth and death and the state after death, man is confused, dejected and helpless over the issue of death. Thus, the retreat poem from Emperor Shun Zhi says, ‘I came with confusion and will leave with unknown direction. Prior to my birth who was I? After I was born who am I? I only know myself after I have grown up. By the time I close my eyes and leave who will I be again? I rather don’t come and go then it will be no worries and sorrows.’
(iii) Birth and death is a great issue and impermanence comes fast:
Some people may think cultivation is a path for the elderly and feel they themselves are still young that they should wait till they have reached the old age to join this path. In actual fact, when will our spirit be separated from our body is unknown and unpredictable. Zhuang Zi said, ‘I did not wish to be born, yet I was suddenly born. I do not wish to die, yet death suddenly arrives’. Everybody should know coffin is to carry the death not the elderly. There is a saying, ‘Do not wait till old age to learn the truths, most of the lonely tombs are for the young age’.
Birth and death is a great issue and impermanence comes fast. Once there were three elderly men gathered for reunion, they drank and talked, half-way through their meal, one of them sighed and said, ‘Today we gather here, next year we do not know who will be here and who will be gone’? Another said, ‘You are thinking too far ahead, I am worried would I be wearing my shoes and socks tomorrow after taking them off tonight’? The last one finally said, ‘You two are thinking too far ahead, I am worried with this breath going out, will the next one coming in’? This tells us impermanence comes fast and no one can predict the future.
Birth and death is the most important matter in a man’s life. As a Tao disciple, we managed to acquire the Heavenly Tao first and perform our practice later, we will be able to transcend from reincarnation and the cycle of birth and death, to avoid being born and facing death, to end our voyage in the sea of suffering. Then life will be meaningful and valuable.
From The Aspect Of Sufferings And Happiness:
(i) Sentient beings have different standard towards sufferings and happiness:
Different man has different conception of life, some are optimistic and some are pessimistic, thus has different standard towards sufferings and happiness in life.
It is very difficult to determine the right standard for sufferings and happiness in life, happiness for A may not be happiness for B, happiness for B may be sadness for A.
(ii) Is our happiness a true happiness?
Some people may think the key to happiness is to have power, but power is like the flower in the mirror reflection and moon in the water reflection, cannot be retained for long. There are people who reckon wealth will bring happiness but ‘man die for wealth and bird die for food’, wealth is like water and water can support the raft but can over turn it as well; wealth can bring fame and glory but can also cause disasters and detraction.
As sentient beings have lost their true self, hence take false as true, wrong as right, sufferings as happiness, and are drifting in the cycle of birth and death, unable to be set free.
Buddha Gautama and The Goddess of Mercy had realized the true and false in life and awakened that life is transient, thus were determined to join the path of cultivation in order to search for eternity.
(iii) There are eight major sufferings in life :
Life is a mixture of pain and joy but generally there is more pain than joy. Thus, the Buddhist said, ‘Life is a samsara’; then how much pain do we really endure in this suffering sea of birth and death? Let’s take the teaching from Buddhism ‘the eight major sufferings in life’ to analyze this issue.
(a) The suffering of birth :
Since we were born into this world we have to work hard to survive, to earn a living, everyday have to suffer to gain food, clothing, accommodation and transportation.
As commonly said, ‘If we talked a lot people are irritated, if we talked less people are suspicious; if we were bad people dislike us, if we were kind people bully us; if we were rich people envy us, if we were poor people despise us’. As such, it is not ideal in life to be talkative, quiet, kind, bad, poor or rich, thus people will sigh in saying ‘It is always difficult to be a human’.
The pain of birth : ‘Human cannot avoid the eight major sufferings in life, has to worry, live through a restless life, struggle to attain wealth, suffer and save money for no purpose’.
(b) The suffering of old age:
Every man will go through teenage, young age, mid age and also old age. When old age arrives, we will feel old and weak; we can hardly fulfill any task that we wish to carry out. (For instance, climbing, swimming, hiking and travelling.)
When we reach old age automatically our body will become decrepit. We have to endure the pain of unclear sight, gray hair and loosen teeth.
In common parlance, ‘Do not invite to stay for the night at the age of seventy, do not invite to stay for meal at eighty’; this reflects the pain of being at old age.
When we were young, we worked hard and saved for the family and our children, it would be such a pity if our children were not filial to us when we were old.
The pain of old age : ‘At old age we will be senile and loosing our memory, guarding the gate with loneliness, having gray hair and being so skinny and not being able to make decision at home’.
(c) The suffering of illness:
People said, ‘Flowers will not stay fresh for hundred days, men will not stay fit for thousand days’. Despite advancement in medicine, yet man is unable to avoid sickness.
There is different kind of pain during sickness, for instance, the pain that has to be endured throughout day and night when we fall sick, the pain of treatment through operation and medicine, the pain of loosing appetite and the pain of having to be cared and carried by others. The above sufferings are the symptoms of all patients.
When a man falls sick, his determination, ambition and vision will eventually disappeared. Zhang Fei, a general during the era of the three kingdoms, was not even afraid of death but was afraid of falling sick because ‘a hero would not be able to fight’ when he fell sick.
Elderly people too are afraid of falling sick as ‘there will be no filial son if one has been lying sickly on the bed for a long time’. Firstly, they are worried to burden the children. On the other hand, they are also worried after being sick for a long time their children are not willing to take care of them.
The pain of illness: ‘Sickness happens everywhere, our body is the combination of four illusions and it is like a coloured picture, if one day ruined by the wind and rain, the colours will be messed up’.
(d) The suffering of death:
There will be an end in everything and life is transient, eventually every man has to die.
Generally, man does not know the world after death and is unaware of the origin of birth and destination of death. Hence, man is afraid of death and as commonly said, ‘It is better to live in misery than die in peace’.
Every man should have his ambition and vision in life but when he died all his hope will vanish. In addition, everybody has family, to be apart forever from our beloved ones when we died is a deep sorrow and is unbearable.
The pain of death : ‘When a man died, people would be afraid of him as if seeing a tiger, the wife and children would be crying, the skeleton would be deserted, the soul would be punished but no one knows’.
(e) The suffering of craving:
It is painful if our wish cannot be fulfilled. As we understand that, ‘eight or nine out of ten people are facing difficulties in life’; ‘every family has problems’; ‘to die before the fulfillment of one’s ambition will cause a hero to shed tears’. All these are implications to us that not everything in life is up to our expectation and can be attained as we wish.
It is predestined that a lot of things cannot be achieved in life and we should not insist on getting it. Even if we did we would not be succeeded, we would be wasting our effort and looking for trouble. There is a saying, ‘Things that are fated to have in life will eventually be attained, things that are fated not to have in life should not be insisted’.
The pain of craving : ‘We would be infatuated over things that we cannot attain, we would not be able to concentrate and would be loosing focus, it was not because Heaven did not bless us, it was because we were fated not to have one’.
(f) The suffering of separation from beloved ones:
The pain of separation derives from the separation from family and friends – separation of life and death. It is painful to be separated from our beloved ones as we are unable to be together and will have to miss each other, this is separation of life. On the other hand, if our beloved ones died, we will be apart forever and in unbearable grief, this is separation of death.
The three worst disasters in life are ‘to have lost our father in young age, to have lost our spouse in mid age and to have lost our child in old age’. There is a saying, ‘When the tree wishes for quietness the wind is still blowing, when we wish to be filial to our parents they have gone’. So, when our parents are still alive, we should take this opportunity to take good care of them as an appreciation for their effort in bringing us up. It would be too late if we wish to care for our parents after they have gone.
The pain of separation : ‘Being separated at different place will lead to the pain of missing each other, being apart forever when we died will lead to the pain of broken heart; the more passionate we are more tears will be shed, freedom can only be attained with no passion and desire’.
(g) The suffering of hatred:
It is painful to go through separation but is it joyful to be together everyday? Not necessary as we always said, ‘enemy will always meet’, ‘when enemy meets, it is always in bad terms’. For a person whom we dislike or hate, we would wish to keep a distance but unfortunately we have to be together, this is the suffering of hatred.
In the present society and family, there are husband and wife who are not in good terms, wife and mother-in-law cannot get along and brothers are fighting among each other, friends and colleagues become enemy, but yet have to see each other everyday and this is a very painful process. There are good and bad affinity; we will not be together if without affinity. Husband and wife, father and son, brothers and sisters, all are tied up with affinity. Irrespective the affinity is good or bed, we should let the affinity end kindly.
The pain of hatred : ‘Hatred will cause the company extremely painful; a fighting husband and wife is in deep agony, both will find fault with each other, argue and fight day and night’.
(h) The suffering of five attachments to senses :
Five senses refer to visions, feelings, thoughts, actions and senses :-
Visions : when we see things that are touchable and visible they will have a reflection in our brain and disturb our mind.
Feelings : we will have reaction towards things that are touchable and visible and will have the feeling of like and dislike.
Thoughts : means thinking, we will find ways to get what we like and to get rid of what we dislike.
Action : after thinking and finding the ways, we will follow by action.
Senses : there will be sign left after our action and it will become senses that built in our mind, this is the seed of reincarnation.
Due to the five attachments to senses, all touchable and visible things will be reflected in our mind. We wish to have everything, everyday we will be having thoughts of wanting this and that but not necessary we will get it. If we have committed wrongful act, we will have troubled conscience and get worried, all these worries and disturbance will bring suffering to us.
The pain of five attachments to senses : ‘The five attachments to senses are due to greed, dissatisfaction with even good food and warm clothing; the desires will have no ending, leading the soul and conscience to darkness’.
From The Aspect of Value In Life:
What kind of life is considered valuable? Some may think life is valuable with wealth and fame but not really. When there is birth there is death for every man, death is a sure destination in life but the way we died is determined by us. We can die in glory or in silence.
Every man, from birth to death, the duration of life spent is different, the intelligence and talent of every man is also different, not forgetting the way of life and things that have been done in life are not the same as well. Thus, when a man died the assessment made on him by the people or the history created by him is not the same. The value of life is not the duration of life that matters but rather how to live a meaningful and valuable life to achieve eternity; that is when a man died his spirit will stay forever.
The value of life is determined when ‘the coffin is sealed’, so when a man died what kind of assessment will people have on him? We can analyze this through four categories as stated below :
(i) First category – leaving a notorious name
Since ancient days, there were traitors who victimized the loyalist, betrayed their own people and country for their own fortune. For instance, in olden days there were Cao Cao and Qin Hui who had left a notorious name, till now people still hate them and condemn the both of them.
At present, people normally look at knowledge, status or how much money a person earned to determine the success of the person. However, despite being a high ranking officer, earning a big fortune or getting a professor title, if a person is without virtues or even committing immoral act, though he will still be treated well in front of people but at the back he will be criticized and despised, and even after he passed away he will still be hated and condemned.
In present society, too many people are committing crime; the society is facing more and more problems each day and bad influence is penetrating into the society. For people who have committed crime, not only the law will punish them they will bring shame to the parents and family and create a notorious name to themselves. If the crime that they have committed is severe, when they died they have to go through punishment in the underworld, thus cannot afford not being cautious.
(ii) Second category – silence and unnoticeable:
There are people who have done good and bad, who are only comparable to the plants and just like any ordinary person. It is like a star in the sky, it will not be brighter with one additional star and it will not be dimmer with one less, it is placed there in silence and unnoticeable.
Everybody, after grown up, is busy earning for a living, pursuing a career, looking for spouse and then caring for the children and family. It will be a shame that end of the day he is not being known and remembered by anyone.
(iii) Third category – build a memorial
There are people who have done good deeds at a particular place or at a particular time during their life, they have great contribution towards the country and people, so when they passed away people will build a memorial to remember and to adore them.
In those days, heroes would have done contribution to the country and people in their lifetime; like the ‘father of our country’, he dedicated his life for the country and people, gone through sufferings and hardship. A memorial is built as remembrance and appreciation to his kindness and contribution.
(iv) Fourth category – being built a golden statue for worship
There are people who have attained reverence, merits and merciful teaching, the three holy perpetuities during their lifetime, thus their spirit is perpetual. People will adore them for thousand of years and build temple to worship them. In addition, when they return to heaven they will attain buddhahood according to the merits that they have accumulated in life.
Saints, sages and bodhisattvas are merciful and have offered salvation to others during their lifetime; they would have attained the three holy perpetuities – reverence, merits and merciful teaching. Just like Buddha Gautama, during his lifetime he realized life is a samsara, thus he was willing to abdicate his throne to join the path of cultivation. In salvation of the suffering sentient beings, he had to endure pain and hardship and at the end managed to attain buddhahood. There is also The Goddess of Mercy, during her lifetime she was merciful and had offered salvation to others, so people are worshipping her. Saints, sages and bodhisattvas offered their kindness to all sentient beings during their lifetime, people are building temple and golden statue as appreciation and remembrance of their kindness and they will be worshiped forever.
Today, all of us have acquired Tao, discovered the path to return to heaven, managed to achieve enlightenment first and go into practice later and are able to transcend from the cycle of birth and death. How do we cultivate or carry out our practice after receiving Tao? We should not only to have faith in Buddha and worship him, most importantly is to learn from him. We should follow the steps of the fourth category – saints, sages and bodhisattvas, the way they propagate Tao and practise cultivation, their spirit. Then only we will be able to return to Heaven, leave a name for others to remember and also achieving an eternal value for our lives.
Be clear of the value of being a man, set a great ambition, to follow the steps of saints and sages, to obtain a perfect life.
Life is short and transient, we should appreciate the opportunity of being able to cultivate and propagate Tao and work hard to improve ourselves, once we missed the opportunity we will regret for life.
To be assured of the benefits of cultivation towards ourselves, our family, society and country. Let’s work together to fulfill the vision of Heavenly Tao practice – to reform others to kindness, to reform the society to peace, to lead the world to utopia.