The living power of Buddhism offers each of us steps and principles that would enable us to live our daily lives. Religion and life are so much divorced that not only do people fail to consult the Dhamma—the Doctrine of the True—in the performance of all actions, but hardly anyone believes that we can live by the power of the Dhamma as we live by food and water and air in the physical body. We take good care to procure for ourselves sleep, exercise, nourishment, for we know that without these health suffers and the body dies. But we are not taught when young, and we fail to learn when we have grown up, that the Dhamma provides nourishment for the soul.
Buddhism provides a code of laws and it tells us what actions to do, what to avoid, and what penalties Nature imposes on those who break those laws. But Buddhism also has a scientific code of hygiene which teaches us what keeps the mind and soul alive and healthy. It offers right "hygiene-power" by which all of us can live. It also provides an "exercise-book" in which correct exercises for right effort are given. But in this Dark Age, Kaliyuga, hygiene and exercise form part of one subject and therefore Right Living and Right Striving—two of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path—may be considered together.
Life is one continuous battle. Every true Buddhist is engaged in the greatest of all wars—the war against the lower nature, personified as Mara. It is claimed, and rightly so, that not a drop of blood has been shed in the name of Buddha and Buddhism. Ere he left his palace and his kingdom, Prince Siddhartha resolved to find the Light, and said:
My chariot shall not roll with bloody wheels
In these words we at once find declared the Power and the Purpose of Life. Just as there is air but we must train our respiratory system so that we may breathe; just as there is electricity like a radiant ocean but human intelligence has to find its existence, learn its laws and utilize it, so also there is power, energy, Jiva—a boundless ocean—but we have to know how to tap it, how to press it into service. Each one of us feels that there is Power in Nature, but we know not how it manifests. A materialistic philosophy of life prevails, and while we acknowledge that there is Power we do not see that there is also Purpose. It was to teach humankind that there is both Power and Purpose in the whole of Nature that Lord Buddha acted out in his Incarnation the mighty drama of the Soul. Like any one of us, he felt the Power in Nature; like some of us, he felt that there was Purpose in Nature, but he behaved face to face with them like none of us. He not only questioned what this Power and Purpose is; he went and set the example by acquiring that Power and making full use of that Purpose.
That is the first lesson we must learn: the Power of Life must be used, the Purpose of Life must be fulfilled. We must imbibe and assimilate Power; we must work out and express Life's Divine Purpose.
Thus the Living Power of Buddhism is that Power or Energy which enables one to live day after day; and the Purpose the Dhamma reveals helps one not to defile that Energy and Power, but on the other hand to humanize it, to elevate it. Here is a fundamental idea: the Power of Life is ours; by our ignorance, by our folly, by our laziness, we defile it, we pollute it, we degrade it. We are ignorant of the purpose inherent in life, in living Nature. Our follies, our sins of omission and commission, are the result of the non-recognition of the Purpose of Life. As Life is universal and omnipresent, it floods every thought and word of ours, it is in the cooking-pot and the fountain-pen, and therefore we can use it, we can press that power into our service all day long, in speech or silence, in thought as well as in feeling.
The greatest of all wars is the war against one's own lower nature, one's own animal disposition. And this task is so important and so absorbing for the sincere aspirant that no time is left for him to fight the so-called enemy outside. But there is something more—this particular war, one against our lower nature, is causal; it is the cause of all wars; it is the archetypal war. Once that war ends in the triumph of the real warrior, all wars cease for him. Right striving, of correct endeavour, is the holy war. So let us keep in mind these two fundamental concepts: (1) the Power of Life must be controlled and utilized and (2) in doing that, the Purpose of Life must be fulfilled by humanizing that Power, which alone elevates it.
We can know how far we are succeedding in utilizing the Power of Life or Jiva by noting to what extent our thoughts and words, our affections and aversions, our deeds and actions are human. Sometimes people do not undertake the fight, do not begin to lead the higher life, because they feel that to be divine is beyond them. But we are not expected to be divine all at once; let us begin by being human. "Humanize your lives" is the great message. Divinity will follow. We cannot be divine before we are human. Mostly we are animal-like.
Right Living and Right Striving consist in humanizing the whole of existence. To kill the animal in us we must learn to act understandingly and deliberately, and not impulsively; to live in freedom which love and sacrifice bring, and not as one of the herd.
Right Living then begins when we turn from the fight and struggle outside, with others, to fight the animal in us, to fight the upas tree in us, to fight the mineral poisons in us. Our task is to tame and to purify the lower kingdoms, not of the great universe, but of the small universe which each one of us is. There is the power of Life-Jiva everywhere, and in each kingdom it has its own specific and legitimate function, its own dharma or purpose to fulfil. In our human constitution, we come across every aspect of life—in the cells of the body and in the brain, in the molecular and the atomic and sub-atomic conditions. They are there for a dual purpose: primarily, to be humanized by man; secondarily, they form a vehicle, they provide a basis, for the human being to gain knowledge. So right living takes them into account; we not only fail in our human evolution by giving way to the animal in us; we also hinder the progress and growth of the whole ocean of matter of which the human-animal forms a part. Right Living is not possible without some understanding of the Purpose of Life, and if that Purpose is not known, then Right Striving is impossible.
Let us turn to the Dhammapada and see what applications are available for what we have been saying, in the words of the Buddha.
Evil tendencies of the unrestrained and careless go on increasing if they neglect doing what ought to be done and do that which ought not be done. (Verse 292)
Is not this the condition of most men and women? They make the false pretext: "Well, I suppose it had to be; it is my nature." It is not human nature to be anything else than human. Only those ignorant of the Purpose of Life make such excuses. One desire gives birth to another; therefore did the Buddha compare Kama-desire to fire and said that the whole of humankind is burning with the fire of passion. Our very human nature tells us that something is wrong with us when we fail and fall. And so good people, everywhere, try to curb their evil tendencies, and to wage war against the lower selves. But they do it without adequate knowledge and often give up the good fight in sheer despair. To such, the fight is wearisome, very long and very fruitless. Therefore it is said:
Long is the night for him who cannot sleep. Long is the yojana (a ten mile distance) for him who is weary. Long the chain of birth and death for the foolish who do not know the true law. (Verse 60)
Our struggle against evil will not be indefinitely prolonged if we get hold of the chart and the map of the battlefield. We must learn the whereabouts of the enemy; the strength of the enemy; the kind of weapons he possesses. Therefore we must study the Dhamma. It is the map of the great battlefield, drawn by the Master-Warrior, the Kshatriya of Kshatriyas, the Lord Buddha. What is his first injunction?
As a merchant ill-attended and having much wealth avoids a dangerous way; as a man who loves to live on avoids poison; so should one shun evil.
If we are merchants going to a distant market and our caravan is small, it makes sense to avoid a dangerous road. That dangerous road is the road of evil. Evil surrounds us in a more tangible way than germs of bodily diseases. Germs of passion and lust and anger and impatience and greed abound. If we have a fruitful soil, these germs attack us. If a disease is raging, only those catch it who have suitable soil for it. If we are healthy and if our bodies are unsuited to the elementals of the disease, they will not attack us. This is equally true of emotional germs. We in our ordinary mental and moral state cannot afford to take chances and play with the germs of evil. So, the first thing is to avoid evil. How?
A man should hasten towards the good; he should restrain his evil thoughts; if he es slack in doing good his mind inclines to delight in evil. (Verse 116)
Do not just try to fight evil, but engage yourselves in meritorious actions—that is the advice of the Buddha. But he gives a very salutary and significant warning—do not do good deeds perfunctorily, i.e., casually, as if they did not matter, as if they were unimportant. The same teaching is enlarged thus:
An act carelessly done, a vow badly kept, wavering obedience to discipline—all this will bear no sweet fruit.
If men and women were as enthusiastic in fighting evil as they are in sense-indulgence, if they propitiated with as much zest their noble ideas as their passion-plans, they would soon succeed. There are three factors which the Buddha mentions: (1) duties and actions, (2) vows and resolves, (3) discipline and practice. In each department we must be energetic, attentive, thoughtful, efficient and thorough. In the high concerns of life we must show both enthusiasm and energy. These two are aspects of the Life-Power in Nature. Next, continuity and perseverance is required:
If a man does what is good, let him do it again and again. Let him set his heart on it. Happiness is the outcome of good conduct. (Verse 118)
The Power of Life cannot fulfil its purpose by haphazard action. Nature persists, and persists most absorbingly; so day by day we must be absorbed in right doing and meritorious deeds. Therefore very definite and specific teaching is given:
As the rust sprung from iron itself corrodes and eats into it, so with the man who sins. His own deeds bring the sinner to an evil end.
Within each one of us is the iron of passion, which corrupts whatever silver there is in the upadhi of action. Our silver has become impure by the rust of our iron nature. If we meditate upon this alchemical symbol we will learn numerous lessons. Our animal impurities, however, will not depart at once; they have to be eliminated one after another, a little now, a little tomorrow. Let us have patience.
In our effort to fight the devil within us, we encounter a difficulty from those who surround us and who desire to continue in their sense-life of noise and rush. So the Dhamma recommends satsang, good company:
Beneficent it is to catch sight of the Noble Ones; to live with them is continuous happiness. A man is happy if luckily he escapes the sight of fools. (Verse 206)
The foolish are very many and the Noble Ones but few. It is difficult for many to part company with the foolish, but once again it is a matter of consubstantiality. If we develop sufficient nobility in ourselves, if we show sufficient strength of character, then the foolish, finding no pleasure in our company, will leave us. But it is no use our seeking the company of the Wise if we have not attempted to curb folly in ourselves and to develop some wisdom. For—
A fool associating himself with a wise man all his life sees not the truth, even as the spoon enjoys not the taste of the soup. But a thoughtful person associating with a wise man soon perceives the truth, even as the tongue enjoys the taste of the soup. (Verses 64-65)
What have we learnt? That Right Living consists in avoiding evil, and doing our duties by the light of the Dhamma. Thus we shall shorten the period of test and of effort. Persistently, regularly, we must attack the hard iron in our nature, and but by but remove it. To do this the help of the Dhamma is also required. Then, we must avoid those who avoid the Dhamma; seek the company of those who speak and live the Dhamma. Without this aid we shall fail. When we do this, we succeed in making an island of ourselves. The Dhammapada gives three images for us to work upto in our endeavour to live rightly. They are: (1) Island, (2) Rock, (3) Lake.
By endeavour, by vigilance, by discipline and self-control, let the wise man make for himself an island which no flood can overwhelm. (Verse 25)
We shall not be discouraged, for ere long our own human nature will assert itself, will reveal itself, and when we know ourselves as Manushyas, then shall we catch a glimpse of the further Path to Divinity, to Nirvana. From animal-man to human-man, from human-man to divine-man—thus stretches the Path of Life. The Power of Life, and the Purpose of Life once mastered, make of us masters of Life itself as was the Great Enlightened One, the Triple Anniversary of whose birth, enlightenment, and casting off of the body of flesh falls this year on May 26.