By S. Jivananda
Those who behave morally,
Who take to themselves the good words of the Buddha,
Truly, they can cross the "Deadly Ocean" [of life] with the greatest of ease,
Which is the most difficult challenge of life.
Lord Buddha revealed this moral after previously telling a related parable:
Once, several groups lived in the same village. They joined together for merit-making to offer various household items to the monks. The congregation confidently intended to stay and listen to the monk's complete sermon. They determined to keep themselves awake all night in order to hear the Dhamma teachings of Lord Buddha. However, things did not go as planned. Some were thinking of sensual pleasures - beautiful figures, sweet voices, fragrant aromas, delicious tastes, or physical embraces. These pleasant emotions attracted their minds to wander toward memories of the past, rather than remaining concentrated in the present and listening to the monk's words. Others felt uncomfortable and listened impatiently. Others slept through most of the Dhamma, and hardly learned anything. Eventually, the parishioners lost interest and returned home before dawn. These villagers lost control over themselves. They let the Maras [delusions] take over. Their minds became feeble, moody and confused. Ultimately, they just gave up.
The next morning, the monks gathered to talk further about this parable. Lord Buddha approached and asked what they were discussing. The monks cited the story above. As always, Lord Buddha took this opportunity to share yet another lesson:
"Bhikkhus, all human beings in this world have normal feelings and desires. When they are born into a certain place and form; they feel familiar with their surroundings. They become deeply attached to the place and the form, and are unable to let go of them."
This story reflects how deep-seated human attachment is, and how easily human nature is tempted by sensual pleasures to run blindly into treacherous pit-falls. This is the cause and effect underlying why the congregation left the temple before dawn.
Why are most humans unable to withstand the attraction of sensual pleasures? The clear-cut answer is: "Because they are blinded by delusion. Greed obscures their vision and snares them with golden chains. Their clouded minds cannot discern the radiant light or fathom the profound wisdom of the ultimate Truth.
In the parable, the members of the congregation intended to stay at the service until dawn, but were unable to stick to their resolve. They had to leave in the middle of the night. This was because their unwholesome thoughts and delusions led them to act foolishly. They felt the Maras whispering suggestions like: "Don't listen to this nonsense;" "This is not necessary or important"; or, "These are meaningless messages that have nothing to do with you." When they gave in to the temptations of the Maras, they decided to return home to enjoy more sensual pleasures. These are the traps, which the Maras set to fool them - based on powerful sensual desires. Most people are not aware of the Maras and become easily ensnared in the traps.
Some people approach these circumstances with an inappropriate worldview. They put their faith in an invisible superpower. But, this miraculous authority is nowhere to be seen. They do not strive to help themselves. Instead, they offer themselves to this unknown force. They cling to their hope, like wishful thinking. These misguided thoughts are unwholesome, and demonstrate lack of wisdom. Such people need more faith in their own religion. They are living without any refuge - no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha. Their minds wander aimlessly with no specific purpose in life.
Lord Buddha emphasized the importance of taking refuge for those living in this world:
"Bhikkhus, you should live by taking refuge; don't be without it.
Bhikkhus, to be without a refuge is to cause much suffering.
Bhikkhus, be mindful of our own inner self, and depend on yourself, rather than depending on others.
Be mindful of the Dhamma, and make the Dhamma your personal refuge."
In this lesson, Lord Buddha counsels all of us to take the triple gems - the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha - as our refuge, and to live morally. However, most people today do not pay attention to this advice. They depend on external support rather than looking within themselves. The more they rely on such external help, the more they will encounter problems in their life.
Whenever we behave greedily, harbor delusions, become self-centered, act out of jealousy, or gossip maliciously, these tendencies enslave us. Our thoughts, speech and actions are all unwholesome. They produce immediate negative consequences directly inside us. We don't realize that we have become our own worst enemies.
The teachings of Lord Buddha are a refuge for the benefit of the entire world. When we follow them, living mindfully, nothing can harm us. We will be preserved from suffering and live peaceful lives. Lord Buddha said:
Wise people build their homes where the flood cannot reach. You should do likewise. Do so with a diligent, alert, calm and humble mind.
To cultivate peace of mind, we must live morally. Be diligent in following the precepts, contribute regularly to charity, abstain from evil, perform good deeds, and purify your mind. Delve into learning the realities of life through meditation practice. When we do these things consistently, we safeguard ourselves from the temptations of Maras. We overcome unforeseen feeling of laziness, irritability, and moodiness. Moral living is the only true safeguard from things that feel dirty.
Such moral living involves avoiding carelessness - becoming mindful minute to minute with every breath. Remain always aware that your age, your health, and your life are fleeting (impermanent), prone to suffering, and non-self (not subject to your control). When we practice diligently, we cannot be negligent. Negligence leads us down the path to a deadly hell. Diligent mindfulness leads us upward toward more joyful lives.
Being mindful means being aware of the six-fold base of sensory organs - the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. When external contact occurs without internal awareness, there is danger of temptation by Maras. This is how sensual pleasures enslave us. We must learn to tame our mind to become disciplined. We must control our mind to be wholesome, and eliminate our unwholesome thoughts.
What does it mean to have wholesome or unwholesome thoughts? Let's start at the beginning. All unwholesome thoughts originate from motivations of greed, hatred, or delusion. These can be analyzed in further detail. Greed leads to thoughts of illegal acts like bribery, corruption or stealing. Hatred means holding ill will, and leads to thoughts of doing harm, seeking revenge, or even plotting to kill someone. Delusional acts are manifested when liking or disliking become extreme - such as in drinking, gambling, and spending nights in sensual pleasure.
In conclusion, we must all learn to depend on ourselves instead of looking for outside help. Lord Buddha said:
You should all help yourselves. Take care of yourself first. Then, and only then, can you depend on the Dhamma. Do not think of anything other than the Dhamma. Make the Dhamma your refuge.
Contemplation of Dhamma is summarized in the Four Meditations (Sati Pathana Sutra). These are: