Talk by Venerable Chuan Guan
On 7th April (Saturday), we had Venerable Chuan Guan at our combined Youth and Junior Youth service to give us a talk titled “Why Buddhism?”. Venerable pointed out that most of us there were actually already Buddhists! So instead of answering the question directly, he flipped it around and answered the question: “Why NOT Buddhism?”
There are numerous reasons why it is easy not to be a Buddhist. There are many things that go against our likes and dislikes, and the world in general is not a place that really supports the practice of spiritual qualities like mindfulness, forgiveness, sense restrain etc. In fact, the very practice of Buddhism is often called “going against the stream”. Most people are not Buddhists as well, hence social support may not be easy to find out in school or at work. Our insistence on holding the precepts may at times put us on a collision course with societal norms (like drinking alcohol for bonding purposes), or they may just ignite a tug-of-war within our hearts that is just plain uncomfortable. We sometimes have to refrain from doing things that we enjoy, and may have to do things that we are averse to! Being a Buddhist really isn’t easy!
However, Venerable wisely pointed out – Buddhism is hard, but we shouldn’t expect it to be otherwise. The point is, we choose Buddhism DESPITE it being hard.
Most things in life are hard. Studying is hard, but we do it because it is important for self-improvement and for finding a job; exercising is tiring, but we do it because it is crucial for a healthy body. In fact, all pleasures in life come after an initial application of hard work! Even to go for a relaxing holiday, we have to invest time and effort to plan it well. Buddhism promises to bring an end to suffering, to bring ultimate happiness. With such sweet fruits at the end of the pursuit, why would we expect the practice to be any easier than lesser pursuits in life?
It is easy to be a Buddhist when we are motivated, be it after listening to a very inspiring Dhamma talk, or after we are fed up with life’s sufferings and just want to seek a way out. However, Venerable advises that the key to successful practice is steady consistent effort instead of short bursts of intense practice. It is quite like marriage. A wedding can be extremely grand or romantic, but after that grandeur, it is how well a couple handles the mundane routines of each day that determines the strength of their union.
Similarly, in the context of spiritual practice, instead of doing a mammoth 10-hours meditation sit at one go, it would be more helpful – and more challenging – to split this same amount of time to a whole year and do a mere 2 minutes of meditation a day! This is because while a spark of motivation can spur the former, the latter demands commitment, discipline, and perseverance. It is these qualities of khanti (patient endurance) and viriya (effort) that will go a long way in building our long-term welfare and happiness.
While there are periods of our practice where going against the grain is necessary, it really isn’t dull and gloomy all the time. The teachings are in fact “Beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful at the end” as frequently described in the suttas. The complete end to suffering lies at completion of the practice, but there are fruits along the path that nourish and spur us on as well! For example, there may be moments when we encounter certain situations and realize that we aren’t as agitated as we used to be last time; or when we enjoy ourselves at an event but am not utterly devastated when it ends – having reflected on its impermanence in the midst of pleasure; or simply being on the bus going to school one day and suddenly feeling a sense of contentment – that there is nothing special happening, but we are happy. When we realize that we are more easily contented, and more in touch with our body and mind. When we are totally comfortable being by ourselves. Times when we just pause, and reflect that through the gradual efforts we have invested in the practice, we are happier and more stable than before. Indeed, these are moments that inspire greater faith in the practice and spur us onwards in the path.
Finally, Venerable advised us not to do things just because they are fun, or just because they are convenient. Those who are Buddhists out of convenience, will drop Buddhism out of convenience too. More than these fleeting characteristics, we should seek deeper meaning and purpose in the things we do. Hence as Buddhists, we should always be mindful of the “why” behind our spiritual practice, which is really to seek unconditioned and unshakeable happiness. That would be our anchor when things get hard or uncomfortable. That is why we are Buddhists.