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Dhamma Talks of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Ajahn Brahm: Finding Meaning in Life 3

Just sometimes that happens in life, doesn't it. We get the difficulties and problems in life, we get the sort of the suicides, the sudden deaths, the car accidents, we get the losing of our wealth, we get the person we invest all our love in, our partner in life, cheating on us, having mistresses. You say why, why me. And each one of those difficult situations which each one of you bear, which I have to bear, which all of us have to bear from time to time, the so-called unjust, unwarranted, why-did-this-ever-happen-to-me situations. Those are the places where you can find the greatest meanings. I remember this very very old story I was told about twenty-five years ago when I first came here to Perth. There was a man who'd lost his leg and he told me he'd lost his leg in a mine accident up north many years ago. He said his job was actually to put the explosive in the drilled holes on the face of this mine. I don't know whether it was an iron or whatever mineral they were trying to get out of this mine. He would go there always at night time because he liked the peace and quiet of working by himself you know in the stillness of the deep mineshaft at night time, and he'd only do it at night time because it was dangerous work and if there was any accident he would be the only one who'd been killed, so all the other people were just sleeping. So that's actually how it worked in those days. So every evening the driller would drill the holes ready for him and he'd just go in at night time, put an explosive and detonate it and make enough cracks in the rock so that they could come the next day and get the ore out. And he said there was just one evening one night amongst many, he was down there putting in the explosives when he heard a rumble behind him. There was one of the carts; you know these big metal iron trucks which they'd use to carry the ore from the face back to the surface you know on like railway lines. One of the previous workers hadn't put the brakes on and it was rolling towards him, and the mineshaft was so narrow, there was no place to go. He couldn't go to the left or right, there was no space. And that truck was coming faster and faster, he had no place to go, it was going to hit him. And he said just before it hit the only thing he thought of doing was actually jumping. The jumping saved one of his legs, but the other one was severed. He lay there on the tracks at the bottom of the mine, waiting for the morning shift to come and find him, bleeding, in pain, but yet he did survive. And when he was in the hospital the man who had left the brake off came to the front of the ward, took one look at him and ran away, he never saw the guy again. The guy felt so guilty for being the cause of this guy losing his leg, but apparently as soon as he saw that guy, the guy who lost his leg shouted at him, “Come in, it's okay,” because that moment, those hours in pain having lost his leg, he said that was one of his most beautiful and wonderful experiences of his life. It was the time when he found meaning in life, meaning of forgiving the person who had left off the brake, meaning that you don't need just a full body to have a full life, meaning that physical pain is one thing, but if you get angry and upset that is a hundred percent, hundred times more pain. He said in those hours waiting he said he had the most wonderful experience of his life. He found the meaning in the middle of that accident. And I think that maybe you can understand what he was talking about.

There's many people who find their meaning in the journey they have from the first diagnosis of a cancer to its eventual remission. The meaning you find in your life when you lose all of your money and you have to reassess your life, start again. The meaning which you have when you lose your job, when things go wrong in life. And these are times, opportunities, where you can find the meaning. Because otherwise we just go into life when things go really well for us and it's just ordinary and just as expected, you just get lazy, spiritually lazy because things are just too easy for you. That's why in Buddhism they say for people wanting to be enlightened, being reborn in a heaven realm is just too much fun, you get fat and lazy in heaven. But in this human realm there's enough disappointments, enough tragedies, enough pain, but not too much to wake you up and to be the fertilizer of the spiritual wealths which really give you meaning. Look at those people which you've known who've had tragedies, look at those people who have lost everything and have risen from the ashes like a phoenix and become the most wonderful amazing people. Like, say, a Dalai Lama, he lost his country but he gained a world, like a Mandela, lost his, was it I don't how many twenty-six years of his youth, he gained this amazing understanding of human nature and ability to forgive and love. These are great examples of people who have used the adversities in life to find their meaning as Mandela did in those cells of Robben Island. You don't have to go to a prison to find that meaning.

Each one of us has had disappointments and tragedies in life and after we come out of it we understand what really is important in life. But you know what's important in life: the things which make your happiness, the things which give you meaning, the things which are really solid, achievements in your life and not the medals, not the bank account or the wealth, things which you really admire and value. Things like generosity, compassion and wisdom. Not just the words because everybody can sort of say words, everyone can say “Yeah, I'm compassionate and kind”, but it's when it gets really hard to do.

I remember again, I'm just reminiscing about my time as a student because again five weeks ago I was in Cambridge. I went there because the time before I'd been in London this lady came up to me and she said, “I'm the president of the Buddhist Society of Cambridge University. I know you were part of our group forty years ago and you've neglected us, you haven't come to give a talk. Good point, so I promised the next time I was in that country I would give a talk in the university Buddhist society where I grew up as a Buddhist. And I gave a talk there and so it's wonderful just the nostalgia of remembering just all these amazing times.

I remember one of the bits of nostalgia was again when I became a Buddhist just through reading books, and it was called market research, find out what particular religion you like, read about it first of all, compare and make your choice. So I made the choice of Buddhism, but I had no friends at all, no one I knew who was a Buddhist. So I was so pleased that when I went up to this university, there was this little day called the, I think the or was it the Societies' Fair and all the different clubs and societies and groups in that university from Astronomical Societies of Psychic Research Society, even Hare and Hounds, people who like to go hunting, you can go and join that club if you wanted to, and there was a Buddhist Society. I just couldn't believe it. There was actually another Buddhist in that university, actually quite a few of them. I remember just going up to that counter and saying how much does it cost to join, and the other student sitting behind that counter said, “No you don't have to pay any money, you know you can just come and see. Maybe later on if you like it you can actually pay some money.” I said, “No, I want to join now.” He said, “Look, you don't have to”, you know, just like here, you don't have to be a member of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia to come and listen to the talks, it's for free. I said, “No, I want to join, I'm a Buddhist, take my money”. I was really aggressive to him. And that was the first time I met one of my close friends, Bernard Carr, he's professor of physics in London University. And so just when I was in England I managed to give him a call. He was in Toronto at some sort of lecture or whatever. And so you know he is one of my friends and that's where we first met, when he refused to take my one pound and I forced it on him.

And I remember just at the university club once, there was a Tibetan monk, I don't know if it was an English lady but was in Tibetan robes, but she gave a talk that was nothing to do with anything to do about Buddhism when I heard it. All it was you know, no Four Noble Truths, no karma no nothing. It was just that she was running an orphanage in the town of Kalimpong, you know it was in Sikkim, no it wasn't in Sikkim, but you know next to it, was it Sikkim? Anyway, up there in the north, the north-east of India. And I was so inspired by what she was doing. The following day I went to my bank, took out ten pounds, and that was two weeks' food money for me. I've already mentioned my family were very poor. My father had already died and that meant for the next couple of weeks I didn't actually starve but I went hungry, I couldn't eat as much as I normally would like to eat, because I couldn't afford it, I'd given ten pounds away. And that was the best ten pounds I've ever spend in my whole life. It hurts, physically, but I love that, and I realize little things like that, it showed me what the meaning of life really is. I wasn't thinking about myself, just those kids needed some money and I could do without food for a couple of weeks. But those kids if they didn't get that they'd probably die. When I thought of that oh wow this is how to give your life meaning.

So if any of you if you see any advertisement on TV in the papers to support a kid in Africa or Cambodia whatever, don't care what religion they are, do it, ring up and give. You will never ever regret that because you are putting meaning into your life, huge meaning. If anyone asked for forgiveness, it might be your partner, the person you're married to, who comes in and says, “I've had an affair”. You've got a choice. You can follow what maybe your friends or your lawyer says, divorce them, screw them for what they are worth, get as much money out of them… don't go that path, forgive, to say, “Do you really want this relationship to carry on, do you?” If they say yes, forgive them. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work out. For you, you've made a huge investment in your spiritual wealth, you've given meaning to your life, a meaning that you can be strong enough, trusting enough, to give another person hope. What a wonderful gift that is, give other people hope.

So if you can do that the meaning of your life improves. And if the relationship goes pear shaped it doesn't matter, you think what you've done you've done the right thing. You've done a beautiful thing even though it hurts you. You've done something which not many people can do or want to do but which all religions are supposed to do. What a wonderful thing that is. It means that yeah they may hurt you but at the end of your life when you look back and say wow I actually did that. And you know that you've grown and matured as a human being. All these things in this life they are tests, and don't just think just for the you know what's going to happen today. See the bigger picture, yeah it might hurt today like having a tooth out, it does hurt but it's better in the long term. So if you really have this highmindedness you are understanding the high meanings of life. And when you do things like that you will get just so much energy inside your heart, so much goodness, the idea of lack of self-esteem just won't be there anymore. You look at yourself and wow I am a good person. And when you go to sleep at night like that you always sleep well. Why is there insomnia? Because people don't like themselves. Why is there depression and guilt? Because people they look at themselves and see no value in them. And again, why do people commit suicide, jump off bridges, hang themselves? Because they don't see the value. I'm not talking about yeah they may be doing well at school, they may be having sort of a nice partner, but there's something more than that.

So when you have the idea of the meaning of life and you know you put that meaning into your life, if ever you come in here and you get inspired, why do you get inspired, what inspires you? Now, take that back, and put that as the ingredient in your life, just be kind. If it's just the case that just opening a door for someone. And I remember just one lady, I got off a bus once when I was a student, a student teacher, I got off the bus and this one poor lady was having a hard time carrying her shopping and I said, “I can carry that for you, ma'm”. Just once, a simple thing. And afterwards she'd always smile at me and give me gifts. Just a simple thing, you got you so much back in return, you got you a friend. And so simple acts of kindness and generosity and help, you get so much back in return, it's unbelievable. So these are the ways you find meaning in your life. There's so many opportunities to do service, so many opportunities to be kind, so many opportunities to be generous, so many opportunities just to let go of what's in it for you, and just do it because it needs to be done for others. We all say, why can't we create a better world? And you can't wait for a government to create a better world, you create the better world, you put meaning into your life and you will die such a happy peaceful person, realizing as I said at the beginning the two reasons, the two criteria for living a life for one's own happiness and to be of benefit to other beings that you can tick both boxes: you have helped others, you got so much happiness inside of yourself. That's what life is all about. That's its meaning and it's up to you to put that meaning into your life. Thank you for listening.

Okay, so, has anyone got any questions, or anything, remember that question, see if you can really offend me tonight. And if anyone says, “Do girls turn you on?” Look, I'm too old now…



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Just sometimes that happens in life, doesn't it. We get the difficulties and problems in life, we get the sort of the suicides, the sudden deaths, the car accidents, we get the losing of our wealth, we get the person we invest all our love in, our partner in life, cheating on us, having mistresses. You say why, why me. And each one of those difficult situations which each one of you bear, which I have to bear, which all of us have to bear from time to time, the so-called unjust, unwarranted, why-did-this-ever-happen-to-me situations. Those are the places where you can find the greatest meanings. I remember this very very old story I was told about twenty-five years ago when I first came here to Perth. There was a man who'd lost his leg and he told me he'd lost his leg in a mine accident up north many years ago. He said his job was actually to put the explosive in the drilled holes on the face of this mine. I don't know whether it was an iron or whatever mineral they were trying to get out of this mine. He would go there always at night time because he liked the peace and quiet of working by himself you know in the stillness of the deep mineshaft at night time, and he'd only do it at night time because it was dangerous work and if there was any accident he would be the only one who'd been killed, so all the other people were just sleeping. So that's actually how it worked in those days. So every evening the driller would drill the holes ready for him and he'd just go in at night time, put an explosive and detonate it and make enough cracks in the rock so that they could come the next day and get the ore out. And he said there was just one evening one night amongst many, he was down there putting in the explosives when he heard a rumble behind him. There was one of the carts; you know these big metal iron trucks which they'd use to carry the ore from the face back to the surface you know on like railway lines. One of the previous workers hadn't put the brakes on and it was rolling towards him, and the mineshaft was so narrow, there was no place to go. He couldn't go to the left or right, there was no space. And that truck was coming faster and faster, he had no place to go, it was going to hit him. And he said just before it hit the only thing he thought of doing was actually jumping. The jumping saved one of his legs, but the other one was severed. He lay there on the tracks at the bottom of the mine, waiting for the morning shift to come and find him, bleeding, in pain, but yet he did survive. And when he was in the hospital the man who had left the brake off came to the front of the ward, took one look at him and ran away, he never saw the guy again. The guy felt so guilty for being the cause of this guy losing his leg, but apparently as soon as he saw that guy, the guy who lost his leg shouted at him, “Come in, it's okay,” because that moment, those hours in pain having lost his leg, he said that was one of his most beautiful and wonderful experiences of his life. It was the time when he found meaning in life, meaning of forgiving the person who had left off the brake, meaning that you don't need just a full body to have a full life, meaning that physical pain is one thing, but if you get angry and upset that is a hundred percent, hundred times more pain. He said in those hours waiting he said he had the most wonderful experience of his life. He found the meaning in the middle of that accident. And I think that maybe you can understand what he was talking about.

There's many people who find their meaning in the journey they have from the first diagnosis of a cancer to its eventual remission. The meaning you find in your life when you lose all of your money and you have to reassess your life, start again. The meaning which you have when you lose your job, when things go wrong in life. And these are times, opportunities, where you can find the meaning. Because otherwise we just go into life when things go really well for us and it's just ordinary and just as expected, you just get lazy, spiritually lazy because things are just too easy for you. That's why in Buddhism they say for people wanting to be enlightened, being reborn in a heaven realm is just too much fun, you get fat and lazy in heaven. But in this human realm there's enough disappointments, enough tragedies, enough pain, but not too much to wake you up and to be the fertilizer of the spiritual wealths which really give you meaning. Look at those people which you've known who've had tragedies, look at those people who have lost everything and have risen from the ashes like a phoenix and become the most wonderful amazing people. Like, say, a Dalai Lama, he lost his country but he gained a world, like a Mandela, lost his, was it I don't how many twenty-six years of his youth, he gained this amazing understanding of human nature and ability to forgive and love. These are great examples of people who have used the adversities in life to find their meaning as Mandela did in those cells of Robben Island. You don't have to go to a prison to find that meaning.

Each one of us has had disappointments and tragedies in life and after we come out of it we understand what really is important in life. But you know what's important in life: the things which make your happiness, the things which give you meaning, the things which are really solid, achievements in your life and not the medals, not the bank account or the wealth, things which you really admire and value. Things like generosity, compassion and wisdom. Not just the words because everybody can sort of say words, everyone can say “Yeah, I'm compassionate and kind”, but it's when it gets really hard to do.

I remember again, I'm just reminiscing about my time as a student because again five weeks ago I was in Cambridge. I went there because the time before I'd been in London this lady came up to me and she said, “I'm the president of the Buddhist Society of Cambridge University. I know you were part of our group forty years ago and you've neglected us, you haven't come to give a talk. Good point, so I promised the next time I was in that country I would give a talk in the university Buddhist society where I grew up as a Buddhist. And I gave a talk there and so it's wonderful just the nostalgia of remembering just all these amazing times.

I remember one of the bits of nostalgia was again when I became a Buddhist just through reading books, and it was called market research, find out what particular religion you like, read about it first of all, compare and make your choice. So I made the choice of Buddhism, but I had no friends at all, no one I knew who was a Buddhist. So I was so pleased that when I went up to this university, there was this little day called the, I think the or was it the Societies' Fair and all the different clubs and societies and groups in that university from Astronomical Societies of Psychic Research Society, even Hare and Hounds, people who like to go hunting, you can go and join that club if you wanted to, and there was a Buddhist Society. I just couldn't believe it. There was actually another Buddhist in that university, actually quite a few of them. I remember just going up to that counter and saying how much does it cost to join, and the other student sitting behind that counter said, “No you don't have to pay any money, you know you can just come and see. Maybe later on if you like it you can actually pay some money.” I said, “No, I want to join now.” He said, “Look, you don't have to”, you know, just like here, you don't have to be a member of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia to come and listen to the talks, it's for free. I said, “No, I want to join, I'm a Buddhist, take my money”. I was really aggressive to him. And that was the first time I met one of my close friends, Bernard Carr, he's professor of physics in London University. And so just when I was in England I managed to give him a call. He was in Toronto at some sort of lecture or whatever. And so you know he is one of my friends and that's where we first met, when he refused to take my one pound and I forced it on him.

And I remember just at the university club once, there was a Tibetan monk, I don't know if it was an English lady but was in Tibetan robes, but she gave a talk that was nothing to do with anything to do about Buddhism when I heard it. All it was you know, no Four Noble Truths, no karma no nothing. It was just that she was running an orphanage in the town of Kalimpong, you know it was in Sikkim, no it wasn't in Sikkim, but you know next to it, was it Sikkim? Anyway, up there in the north, the north-east of India. And I was so inspired by what she was doing. The following day I went to my bank, took out ten pounds, and that was two weeks' food money for me. I've already mentioned my family were very poor. My father had already died and that meant for the next couple of weeks I didn't actually starve but I went hungry, I couldn't eat as much as I normally would like to eat, because I couldn't afford it, I'd given ten pounds away. And that was the best ten pounds I've ever spend in my whole life. It hurts, physically, but I love that, and I realize little things like that, it showed me what the meaning of life really is. I wasn't thinking about myself, just those kids needed some money and I could do without food for a couple of weeks. But those kids if they didn't get that they'd probably die. When I thought of that oh wow this is how to give your life meaning.

So if any of you if you see any advertisement on TV in the papers to support a kid in Africa or Cambodia whatever, don't care what religion they are, do it, ring up and give. You will never ever regret that because you are putting meaning into your life, huge meaning. If anyone asked for forgiveness, it might be your partner, the person you're married to, who comes in and says, “I've had an affair”. You've got a choice. You can follow what maybe your friends or your lawyer says, divorce them, screw them for what they are worth, get as much money out of them… don't go that path, forgive, to say, “Do you really want this relationship to carry on, do you?” If they say yes, forgive them. It doesn't matter if it doesn't work out. For you, you've made a huge investment in your spiritual wealth, you've given meaning to your life, a meaning that you can be strong enough, trusting enough, to give another person hope. What a wonderful gift that is, give other people hope.

So if you can do that the meaning of your life improves. And if the relationship goes pear shaped it doesn't matter, you think what you've done you've done the right thing. You've done a beautiful thing even though it hurts you. You've done something which not many people can do or want to do but which all religions are supposed to do. What a wonderful thing that is. It means that yeah they may hurt you but at the end of your life when you look back and say wow I actually did that. And you know that you've grown and matured as a human being. All these things in this life they are tests, and don't just think just for the you know what's going to happen today. See the bigger picture, yeah it might hurt today like having a tooth out, it does hurt but it's better in the long term. So if you really have this highmindedness you are understanding the high meanings of life. And when you do things like that you will get just so much energy inside your heart, so much goodness, the idea of lack of self-esteem just won't be there anymore. You look at yourself and wow I am a good person. And when you go to sleep at night like that you always sleep well. Why is there insomnia? Because people don't like themselves. Why is there depression and guilt? Because people they look at themselves and see no value in them. And again, why do people commit suicide, jump off bridges, hang themselves? Because they don't see the value. I'm not talking about yeah they may be doing well at school, they may be having sort of a nice partner, but there's something more than that.

So when you have the idea of the meaning of life and you know you put that meaning into your life, if ever you come in here and you get inspired, why do you get inspired, what inspires you? Now, take that back, and put that as the ingredient in your life, just be kind. If it's just the case that just opening a door for someone. And I remember just one lady, I got off a bus once when I was a student, a student teacher, I got off the bus and this one poor lady was having a hard time carrying her shopping and I said, “I can carry that for you, ma'm”. Just once, a simple thing. And afterwards she'd always smile at me and give me gifts. Just a simple thing, you got you so much back in return, you got you a friend. And so simple acts of kindness and generosity and help, you get so much back in return, it's unbelievable. So these are the ways you find meaning in your life. There's so many opportunities to do service, so many opportunities to be kind, so many opportunities to be generous, so many opportunities just to let go of what's in it for you, and just do it because it needs to be done for others. We all say, why can't we create a better world? And you can't wait for a government to create a better world, you create the better world, you put meaning into your life and you will die such a happy peaceful person, realizing as I said at the beginning the two reasons, the two criteria for living a life for one's own happiness and to be of benefit to other beings that you can tick both boxes: you have helped others, you got so much happiness inside of yourself. That's what life is all about. That's its meaning and it's up to you to put that meaning into your life. Thank you for listening.

Okay, so, has anyone got any questions, or anything, remember that question, see if you can really offend me tonight. And if anyone says, “Do girls turn you on?” Look, I'm too old now…


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