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Dhamma Talks of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Ajahn Brahm: Finding Meaning in Life 2

So when you find out that that's the time for meaning in life, it means you take the opportunities to serve, to give, to help or whatever. And you'll find that that is much (more) powerful to give you the energy and the happiness of life which we all need. You can't just give to your family; they're a bit too close. It has to be something more than that. I was just saying, just giving to my, giving to a place like people with Alzheimer's, with dementia, when I was visiting my mother just about six weeks ago, when I went to London, I think I mentioned to you that I went there just in the last hope that my mother would remember me. I got from my brother that she was losing her memory fast, so I went to see if she could still remember her son and she couldn't, she didn't know who I was. She'd gone past that boundary where her memory of even her closest relations is totally gone. But I spent two lovely hours with her. My brother afterwards told me this story about a man who would visit his mother every day before he went to work. Every day he'd go and visit his mother who had Alzheimer's. And one day the doctor came up to him and said, “What are you doing this for, you're wasting your time. She doesn't even know you, she can't remember you. If you only came once a week or two weeks, she wouldn't know that you hadn't come for such a long time. So what are you doing this… she doesn't know you.” And he replied, “It's true. She doesn't know I'm her son, but I know she is my mother, that's why I go every day.” And I thought wow, that's a guy who has emotional intelligence; he knows the meaning of life. It's not because she knows who you are, but because you know who she is. That gives you incredible strength.

It is not really rational, that's where the doctor was coming from, rational, scientific. But there is another language which is a language of meaning of life. It's the same when you're kind and when you're generous. Every act of generosity and kindness which I have given in my life, never one of those acts of kindness and generosity have I ever regretted. Even as sometimes people thought, “You're stupid, Ajahn Brahm, doing things like that”. And I still remember just one of the first acts of generosity which I gave. You may not know this, but when I was a young man. I've already told you about my green velvet trousers. I also had very long hair and a big beard as well. It was very useful in the cold climate of London. I never had to wear a hat; I had a permanent one on. And where the fitty hair ended that's where my beard started. They used to call it like the doughnut look, because you had this doughnut of hair, and I was just peering out into this world from inside.

And you know for years my mother always said, “Get your hair cut”, and when I did she still complained. But I had a motorbike too, a big motorbike, a nice one, expensive. And when I decided to become a monk, I realized, no you can't take your motorbike to be a monk. You know but once I have ridden a motorbike as a monk in Thailand, because they were taking me somewhere, there was no other transport, and the roads were out, you could only get across like a bridge of a plank, so I had to go on a motorbike. And I'll tell you why it's not wise to be, to go on a motorbike as a monk, because these robes they balloon out and you almost get sort of lifted off the motorbike at speed, so it's really dangerous, so I never want to do this ever again. But anyway, I wasn't a monk, had a nice motorbike. And of course you can't take it to Thailand, you can't sort of use it, so I had to sell it. So I managed to find a friend of my mother's who was interested in getting a motorbike and so he came around, had a look, liked it and said, “How much?” You know what happens when you sell, “How much?” I said let's go out and see my mother first of all, because I knew I had to do this in front of her, otherwise he'd get in trouble. So in front of my mother, and he said again, “Now how much do you want for your bike?” And I said, “Do you want, do you like it?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah I do, how much?” I said, “If you like it, you can have it for free.” And I remember the look on his face, I'll never forget that look on his face, there was surprise and he looked at my mother. He never needed to say anything, I know what he was thinking, my mother knew what he was thinking, “Is that guy alright? Is he crazy? Is he a full pack of cards?” And my mother said, “Yeah, he is not crazy, he's becoming a monk, he doesn't need any money.” And that's of course why you give it; what's the point of money when being a monk? You don't need any money. So you just, if you want it, take it. And that was such a wonderful moment for me and also for him as well.

He'd come from a very hard family and my mother told me afterwards that he'd never forgotten that experience. That was the first time someone had actually given him something expensive, given him something for free. I taught him what generosity really is: just give with nothing coming back in return. And those are things, that act of kindness and generosity which, you're just giving, for the love of it, for the fun of it, and that really gives the meaning in life, we all know just this is enough to go around but just we don't share. And if we could share more, give more; life would just be so beautiful, would have so much meaning. “If you want it, have it”.

Again I remember once our lovely committee, I was very proud of them on this occasion, but I wanted to test them out first of all. This was when we were raising funds for our nuns' monastery, all we were building some of the huts there, and someone had given I think a donation, I forget how much it was, I think about two thousand dollars. And our committee received a letter from Thailand. They'd run out of money, they were stuck in Bangkok and they wanted their two thousand bucks back. And I always remember that so what should you do, you know, even for those of you who've read our constitution, you know the law, once you give these things, actually the committee aren't really allowed to give it back. But who cares about laws, isn't compassion and kindness more important? So I remember the conversation, I was not going to say anything, I was just listening, I wanted to find out, this committee of ours, all the years we've been teaching, whether they'd really understood what's being taught. Is this a society first or is the Buddhist first of all. And remember it's the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddhist comes first, It's not society and then Buddhist. And so they talked about this and the treasurer said we are not really allowed to, but the poor guy is destitute, what shall we do, let's take a vote – unanimous, give him the money back. I was so proud of that committee. Because what's really important, raising funds for things or raising kindness and compassion for things? Isn't it really more important, you know that we are actually really developing a meaning in life rather than being some sort of other society which just tries to get more and more money out of you and more and more big buildings and just more wealth and just see our church is bigger than your church sort of stuff. That's not really the meaning of life.

So it's that kindness and sharing which you find is the meaning of life and as a monk, as mother monks, the nuns, as Bikkhunis, they really try and give that meaning to life. You know, giving, being generous. I'd said in Singapore that I was visiting another of the temples in Singapore when I first went to visit that city about nine ten years ago; and they took me around the different Buddhist temples, and this one was a Sri Lankan temple over somewhere in Singapore, and the head monk there he gave me the visitors' book. He said, “Sign the visitors' book.” So I went over and unfortunately I picked up the wrong book. It wasn't the visitors' book, it was a donation book. Now my problem was I'd already printed my name and signed it before I actually looked at the next column which was how much are you going to give. And that was a big problem as a monk because I don't have any money. So there you'd already started and you can't sort of scrub it all out now, so I had to think very quickly, you know, there I put my name, Ajahn Brahm, from Buddhist Society of Western Australia in Perth, and the amount of your donation. So I wrote the words, MY LIFE, I give you my life. I was so happy about that, I thought, wow, that's meaning, you know, you give your life to you guys, you know, I'll die for you and I probably will die for you, there's no way I can retire as a monk, so I'm going to die in these robes for sure.

So that is actually it gives me an enormous amount of meaning in life and people say what's in it for you? And sometimes I think that: nothing, nothing in it for me, except just beautiful peace and happiness and joy and meaning. So my life has enormous meaning. And that's why you get happy and peaceful and get lots of energy. Now, has your life got meaning? How much of you, how much of you have you given this week? I'm not talking about money, time, forgiveness, this beautiful thing of for-giving, it's a part of the generosity, giving yourself even though you get nothing back in return. You forgive this person, you forgive them again, you forgive them again and still they exploit and exploit and exploit and exploit you. Yeah if you want to be safe, you know, if you want to have no trouble, if you want to have sort of a nice house, rich, wealthy with no problems at all, yeah just be aggressive, but if you want to have meaning in life, forgive. And you find if you forgive what's really hard to forgive that gives you enormous meaning.

Again, I know that Dennis, he taught me this word a few weeks ago called ‘skiting'. And ‘skiting' is where you sort of talk about yourself and use yourself as an example but that's all I can do, that's my example, my life. And last Sunday, last Sunday we are finishing off our meditation  in the retreat, the November retreat down at Jahna Grove. And those of you who have attended the nine-day retreat which I run, you know at the very end of the retreat we do a loving kindness meditation and I lead that. And part of that loving kindness meditation, I do it as well, I'm talking what I'm doing at the time and part of that loving kindness meditation I ask people, “Can you please imagine a person and just give them just so much love and kindness, a good friend, a special person, someone really close to you and just sap them with metta: May you be totally free from pain and suffering and may you be always happy and well”. And when I did that the image which came up in my mind was one of the people in Thailand causing me the most trouble about these Bikkhunis. And I was just so surprised and pleased with that. It came up and I just sapped them with love even though they were causing me so much irritation and so many problems. I think no, have no ill will whatsoever, may you be happy and well and free from pain and suffering. And I thought wow that is called a life with meaning.

People who have caused you a lot of problems and difficulties unfairly, maybe untruthfully, who've cheated you, who've robbed you, to give them hundred percent loving kindness. If you can do things like that you understand what forgiveness is and how beautiful and how it does give a great meaning in life and how it's irresistible. When that really happens, okay you ask well surely they'll take more advantage of you. I say fine, because I don't forgive people, you don't love them to try and get something back, in other words I love my enemy so I can change them not to be an enemy any more, no no, I love you so you can continue being my enemy. It's a totally different meaning in life. This is spiritual stuff, this is not sort of logical and reasonable stuff, this is a sort of stuff I learned from Down syndrome kids, who didn't know how to think like you've been trained to think. They saw things in a totally different way and that was beautiful and wonderful and it gave their incredible meaning because you've each one of you seen those acts of forgiveness and kindness which have brought you to tears and things which have happened which you think what on earth is that person doing that for? And how can they do that? But they do that, they forgive the unforgivable, they tolerate the intolerant. Stories of Buddhist monks in China who have been tortured and would never ever even feel one moment of ill will towards the people torturing them just because they were monks. That has been done. That can be done. And that gives us a great sense of inspiration and hope and meaning for our lives. It shows that this is our training, this is how we learn, this is what we are here for, to learn not just how to be kinder, not how to be more forgiving, not how to be more generous, not how to be more loving, but why we should, and when we realize why, because it gives us this spiritual wealth, the most important part of ourselves, it gives us meaning in life, why we are here, why we are growing, why we are doing this.



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So when you find out that that's the time for meaning in life, it means you take the opportunities to serve, to give, to help or whatever. And you'll find that that is much (more) powerful to give you the energy and the happiness of life which we all need. You can't just give to your family; they're a bit too close. It has to be something more than that. I was just saying, just giving to my, giving to a place like people with Alzheimer's, with dementia, when I was visiting my mother just about six weeks ago, when I went to London, I think I mentioned to you that I went there just in the last hope that my mother would remember me. I got from my brother that she was losing her memory fast, so I went to see if she could still remember her son and she couldn't, she didn't know who I was. She'd gone past that boundary where her memory of even her closest relations is totally gone. But I spent two lovely hours with her. My brother afterwards told me this story about a man who would visit his mother every day before he went to work. Every day he'd go and visit his mother who had Alzheimer's. And one day the doctor came up to him and said, “What are you doing this for, you're wasting your time. She doesn't even know you, she can't remember you. If you only came once a week or two weeks, she wouldn't know that you hadn't come for such a long time. So what are you doing this… she doesn't know you.” And he replied, “It's true. She doesn't know I'm her son, but I know she is my mother, that's why I go every day.” And I thought wow, that's a guy who has emotional intelligence; he knows the meaning of life. It's not because she knows who you are, but because you know who she is. That gives you incredible strength.

It is not really rational, that's where the doctor was coming from, rational, scientific. But there is another language which is a language of meaning of life. It's the same when you're kind and when you're generous. Every act of generosity and kindness which I have given in my life, never one of those acts of kindness and generosity have I ever regretted. Even as sometimes people thought, “You're stupid, Ajahn Brahm, doing things like that”. And I still remember just one of the first acts of generosity which I gave. You may not know this, but when I was a young man. I've already told you about my green velvet trousers. I also had very long hair and a big beard as well. It was very useful in the cold climate of London. I never had to wear a hat; I had a permanent one on. And where the fitty hair ended that's where my beard started. They used to call it like the doughnut look, because you had this doughnut of hair, and I was just peering out into this world from inside.

And you know for years my mother always said, “Get your hair cut”, and when I did she still complained. But I had a motorbike too, a big motorbike, a nice one, expensive. And when I decided to become a monk, I realized, no you can't take your motorbike to be a monk. You know but once I have ridden a motorbike as a monk in Thailand, because they were taking me somewhere, there was no other transport, and the roads were out, you could only get across like a bridge of a plank, so I had to go on a motorbike. And I'll tell you why it's not wise to be, to go on a motorbike as a monk, because these robes they balloon out and you almost get sort of lifted off the motorbike at speed, so it's really dangerous, so I never want to do this ever again. But anyway, I wasn't a monk, had a nice motorbike. And of course you can't take it to Thailand, you can't sort of use it, so I had to sell it. So I managed to find a friend of my mother's who was interested in getting a motorbike and so he came around, had a look, liked it and said, “How much?” You know what happens when you sell, “How much?” I said let's go out and see my mother first of all, because I knew I had to do this in front of her, otherwise he'd get in trouble. So in front of my mother, and he said again, “Now how much do you want for your bike?” And I said, “Do you want, do you like it?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah I do, how much?” I said, “If you like it, you can have it for free.” And I remember the look on his face, I'll never forget that look on his face, there was surprise and he looked at my mother. He never needed to say anything, I know what he was thinking, my mother knew what he was thinking, “Is that guy alright? Is he crazy? Is he a full pack of cards?” And my mother said, “Yeah, he is not crazy, he's becoming a monk, he doesn't need any money.” And that's of course why you give it; what's the point of money when being a monk? You don't need any money. So you just, if you want it, take it. And that was such a wonderful moment for me and also for him as well.

He'd come from a very hard family and my mother told me afterwards that he'd never forgotten that experience. That was the first time someone had actually given him something expensive, given him something for free. I taught him what generosity really is: just give with nothing coming back in return. And those are things, that act of kindness and generosity which, you're just giving, for the love of it, for the fun of it, and that really gives the meaning in life, we all know just this is enough to go around but just we don't share. And if we could share more, give more; life would just be so beautiful, would have so much meaning. “If you want it, have it”.

Again I remember once our lovely committee, I was very proud of them on this occasion, but I wanted to test them out first of all. This was when we were raising funds for our nuns' monastery, all we were building some of the huts there, and someone had given I think a donation, I forget how much it was, I think about two thousand dollars. And our committee received a letter from Thailand. They'd run out of money, they were stuck in Bangkok and they wanted their two thousand bucks back. And I always remember that so what should you do, you know, even for those of you who've read our constitution, you know the law, once you give these things, actually the committee aren't really allowed to give it back. But who cares about laws, isn't compassion and kindness more important? So I remember the conversation, I was not going to say anything, I was just listening, I wanted to find out, this committee of ours, all the years we've been teaching, whether they'd really understood what's being taught. Is this a society first or is the Buddhist first of all. And remember it's the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddhist comes first, It's not society and then Buddhist. And so they talked about this and the treasurer said we are not really allowed to, but the poor guy is destitute, what shall we do, let's take a vote – unanimous, give him the money back. I was so proud of that committee. Because what's really important, raising funds for things or raising kindness and compassion for things? Isn't it really more important, you know that we are actually really developing a meaning in life rather than being some sort of other society which just tries to get more and more money out of you and more and more big buildings and just more wealth and just see our church is bigger than your church sort of stuff. That's not really the meaning of life.

So it's that kindness and sharing which you find is the meaning of life and as a monk, as mother monks, the nuns, as Bikkhunis, they really try and give that meaning to life. You know, giving, being generous. I'd said in Singapore that I was visiting another of the temples in Singapore when I first went to visit that city about nine ten years ago; and they took me around the different Buddhist temples, and this one was a Sri Lankan temple over somewhere in Singapore, and the head monk there he gave me the visitors' book. He said, “Sign the visitors' book.” So I went over and unfortunately I picked up the wrong book. It wasn't the visitors' book, it was a donation book. Now my problem was I'd already printed my name and signed it before I actually looked at the next column which was how much are you going to give. And that was a big problem as a monk because I don't have any money. So there you'd already started and you can't sort of scrub it all out now, so I had to think very quickly, you know, there I put my name, Ajahn Brahm, from Buddhist Society of Western Australia in Perth, and the amount of your donation. So I wrote the words, MY LIFE, I give you my life. I was so happy about that, I thought, wow, that's meaning, you know, you give your life to you guys, you know, I'll die for you and I probably will die for you, there's no way I can retire as a monk, so I'm going to die in these robes for sure.

So that is actually it gives me an enormous amount of meaning in life and people say what's in it for you? And sometimes I think that: nothing, nothing in it for me, except just beautiful peace and happiness and joy and meaning. So my life has enormous meaning. And that's why you get happy and peaceful and get lots of energy. Now, has your life got meaning? How much of you, how much of you have you given this week? I'm not talking about money, time, forgiveness, this beautiful thing of for-giving, it's a part of the generosity, giving yourself even though you get nothing back in return. You forgive this person, you forgive them again, you forgive them again and still they exploit and exploit and exploit and exploit you. Yeah if you want to be safe, you know, if you want to have no trouble, if you want to have sort of a nice house, rich, wealthy with no problems at all, yeah just be aggressive, but if you want to have meaning in life, forgive. And you find if you forgive what's really hard to forgive that gives you enormous meaning.

Again, I know that Dennis, he taught me this word a few weeks ago called ‘skiting'. And ‘skiting' is where you sort of talk about yourself and use yourself as an example but that's all I can do, that's my example, my life. And last Sunday, last Sunday we are finishing off our meditation  in the retreat, the November retreat down at Jahna Grove. And those of you who have attended the nine-day retreat which I run, you know at the very end of the retreat we do a loving kindness meditation and I lead that. And part of that loving kindness meditation, I do it as well, I'm talking what I'm doing at the time and part of that loving kindness meditation I ask people, “Can you please imagine a person and just give them just so much love and kindness, a good friend, a special person, someone really close to you and just sap them with metta: May you be totally free from pain and suffering and may you be always happy and well”. And when I did that the image which came up in my mind was one of the people in Thailand causing me the most trouble about these Bikkhunis. And I was just so surprised and pleased with that. It came up and I just sapped them with love even though they were causing me so much irritation and so many problems. I think no, have no ill will whatsoever, may you be happy and well and free from pain and suffering. And I thought wow that is called a life with meaning.

People who have caused you a lot of problems and difficulties unfairly, maybe untruthfully, who've cheated you, who've robbed you, to give them hundred percent loving kindness. If you can do things like that you understand what forgiveness is and how beautiful and how it does give a great meaning in life and how it's irresistible. When that really happens, okay you ask well surely they'll take more advantage of you. I say fine, because I don't forgive people, you don't love them to try and get something back, in other words I love my enemy so I can change them not to be an enemy any more, no no, I love you so you can continue being my enemy. It's a totally different meaning in life. This is spiritual stuff, this is not sort of logical and reasonable stuff, this is a sort of stuff I learned from Down syndrome kids, who didn't know how to think like you've been trained to think. They saw things in a totally different way and that was beautiful and wonderful and it gave their incredible meaning because you've each one of you seen those acts of forgiveness and kindness which have brought you to tears and things which have happened which you think what on earth is that person doing that for? And how can they do that? But they do that, they forgive the unforgivable, they tolerate the intolerant. Stories of Buddhist monks in China who have been tortured and would never ever even feel one moment of ill will towards the people torturing them just because they were monks. That has been done. That can be done. And that gives us a great sense of inspiration and hope and meaning for our lives. It shows that this is our training, this is how we learn, this is what we are here for, to learn not just how to be kinder, not how to be more forgiving, not how to be more generous, not how to be more loving, but why we should, and when we realize why, because it gives us this spiritual wealth, the most important part of ourselves, it gives us meaning in life, why we are here, why we are growing, why we are doing this.


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