Long ago, a young prince, who was in his twenties, succeeded his father to the throne of the empire. The new emperor highly valued wisdom. He understood the importance of using wisdom to rule his people. Therefore he instructed his faithful teacher to travel the world over to bring back the best of all the other cultures’ teachings.
So off the teacher went with a caravan of more than a hundred people, in search of the world’s wisest teachings.
The young emperor turned out to be a great and kind ruler. But in the back of his mind, he felt as if something was still missing in his understanding. So he eagerly awaited his teacher’s return which did not happen until a good thirty years later.
The wise teacher presented the emperor with hundreds of carts that carried all the teachings of the world. The wise ruler enthusiastically asked: “what have you learned?” The wise teacher said: “Please give me ten years to study these books and annals written by the wisest men of the world”. He was so ordered.
The erudite man studiously went about his task for a decade. He then reported to the king: “I can explain my understanding to you in three years”. The emperor said: “I don’t have three years; please summarize it further for me”.
The wise teacher thus mulled over his understanding for a few more years and one day, yelled “Eureka !” and ran to the emperor’s quarters shouting: “I’ve got it, I’ve got it!”
By then the emperor was an old man who was lying on his death bed. His eyes shone brightly, feebly smiled and asked his teacher: “What is that that I need to understand?”
The old teacher triumphantly extolled:” Birth, Aging, Sickness, and Death”.
It was as if a light bulb went off in the old emperor’s head and he smiled broadly and said: “Ah, I see, I see! Now I can go”. And he passed away.
Had the old man looked into the Lotus Sutra, he would have found out that Buddhas are only concerned about that one matter: birth and death. Why are Buddhas of the three periods of time worried? Because living beings are like children who are so enthralled with games that they are oblivious to the fact that their house is burning and thus ended up perishing in the flames.
What People of The World Indulge In
What kind of games captivates the minds of people of the world?
Some indulge in food. Eating not only provides comfort, it also provides them with tremendous pleasure. They therefore search the world over for more flavors. They tend to overeat, gain weight and thus load themselves up with diseases. It’s not uncommon for well-to-do societies to have significant obesity problems. Food indulgence results in health issues and shortens life.
Quite often, eating pleasure must be accompanied by sleep. In fact, an ancient Asian wisdom says that foremost is sleep then eating comes in second. Although sleep serves the important purpose of allowing the body’s cells repair damage and grow, worldly people tend to oversleep. The conventional medical wisdom of seven hours of sleep at night is nonsense. People thus waste a significant portion of their life in sleep.
Some people seek fame. They go to great lengths to obtain other people’s approval and adoration. They ruin their health, sacrifice personal relationships and family life in that pursuit. One of my students who is a performer recounted that once after a performance his audience was so responsive that it felt even better than sexual pleasure.
I explained to him that it was because he has yet to meet that special person with whom sex is tremendously fulfilling. As a result, people tend to be overly possessive and often bring pain and misery to the people they love most. Furthermore, the pursuit of sexual gratification has led to countless fighting among men, the starting of wars and toppling of empires.
Most people are obsessed with money because it gives us a sense of security and control. A good number of people enjoy hoarding wealth. They would stop at nothing for the sake of financial gains. In the process they inflict damages to society and ruin other people’s lives. Personal gains are often at someone else’s losses. The worst aspect of being rich is that one tends to lose a bit of humanity. When rich and powerful folks look at you, they tend to see another potential tool for them to make more money rather a fellow human being to be respected and cherished.
What People of The World Are Oblivious to
We all know the importance of setting goals in life. Why? Because otherwise, life would have no purpose. At least that’s what people in the know say.
There are people with lofty ideals who spend their lives in the pursuit of doing generous and virtuous deeds. They are respected and loved by the rest of us commoners.
Yet, all of us must eventually face the music. We all will eventually come to the end of the road. We are all well prepared for the journey thanks to savvy goal setting and judicious management of our resources. But we all are ill prepared for Death. It is a lot more frightening than people would like to believe.
People therefore spend their lifetime solving their life’s problems but smartly ignore the death issue because knowledge of it is obscured, as though there is a wall that prevents the passage of information.
In Buddhism, there is the concept of reincarnation, which basically describes the process of death and birth, cycling through various realms of existence in accord with retribution for our own past karma. If one creates good karmas, then one can be reborn into the good paths like the human realm or god. On the other hand, creating bad karmas will set our course for rebirth in the evil realms of animals, hungry ghosts, and hells.
Birth in the good realms results in life spans of hundreds (e.g. humans), thousands (e.g. immortals) or millions (e.g. gods) of years. Whereas falling into the lower realms, such as the hells, will provide us the privilege of keeping company with mean hell employees who love to torture us for eons on end.
We are thus captivated by life’s pleasures and completely ignore the big picture. Let’s face it: you invest your life to have a reasonably enjoyable 80 years of life. In the process of fulfilling your personal desires, you create bad karmas that will most likely make you fall into the lower realms for eons on end. Is it worth it? If you possess such longer-term vision you’d probably drastically alter your investment strategy, wouldn’t you?
That wise emperor was a good and kind man who helped improve his subjects’ lives. But he failed to improve their next birth’s prospects. Sadly, like him, by the time we must face Death, it’s too late to do anything about it.
I submit to you: people of the world who are oblivious to that ultimate ending of Death are not wise. They simply do not know how to live.