From a Buddhist perspective, life is precious. Human life is especially precious, because human beings have the capacity to make our lives meaningful, according to our inclinations and capacity. Regardless of individual limitations, each human being has the freedom to create meaning in life. Each of us creates our own unique life story and purpose. We are born into specific circumstances and make of them what we will. We can make our lives hellish or heavenly, crazy or peaceful. Each of us has the potential to transform our mind and our attitudes. Transforming our mind naturally transforms our perceptions.
The greatest obstacle to living a meaningful life is self-concern. As the great poet monk Shantideva said, “The root of all happiness is cherishing others. The root of all misery is cherishing oneself.” Through reflection, we discover that ego-fixation leads to frustration, whereas concern for others brings joy. Why not get free from continual dissatisfaction and be happy?
Compassionate listening is a case in point. Listening attentively and respectfully helps create happy relationships. Listening with full attention communicates love to our conversation partner and brings us joy, too. This may sound a bit sappy, but it is actually one of life’s great secrets. Mindful listening can prevent misunderstandings and help resolve sticky situations. It’s not “all about me,” after all. Letting go of our self-obsession, even for a moment, is freeing and relaxing. If we all learn to listen compassionately, our family, workplace, and community will become more kind and peaceful. As more and more people discover this secret, mindfulness and compassion will spread and make the world a more peaceful, joyful place!
Making good choices is important to creating a meaningful life. If we invest our time and energy in petty or unwholesome pursuits, our lives will feel empty and we will have many regrets. If we devote ourselves to worthy, wholesome pursuits, our lives become noble and satisfying. For Buddhists, the pursuits that are most worthy and wholesome are those that benefit both ourselves and others. Helping relieve the sufferings of others brings joy to all.
Another great secret to living a meaningful life is contentment. The Buddha said that contentment is the greatest wealth. Learning to appreciate “enough” – having enough, being enough – frees us from constant craving and dissatisfaction. Learning to relax and be comfortable with who we are and what we have in this very moment can transform many problems and anxieties in life. As Shantideva said, “If you can change things, why worry? If you can’t change things, why worry?” Recalling words of wisdom like these brings contentment and many blessings.
Ultimately, a meaningful life is a life full of love. Wishing all beings to be happy, we increase our own happiness. A meaningful life is also a life full of compassion. Wishing all being to be free from suffering, we decrease our own sorrow. Rejoicing in the good deeds and good fortune of others, we overcome jealousy and create boundless merit. Relaxing in equanimity, we discover boundless peace within our heart and bring joy and light to the world.
~Karma Lekshe Tsomo grew in Malibu and settled in Honolulu. Her Zenn family name led her to Buddhism at a young age. In 1964, she set off to go surfing in Japan and wound up doing Zen meditation. After many adventures, she found her way to Dharamsala in 1972, ordained as a nun in France in 1977, and had many more adventures. She is a professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of San Diego, a founder of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, and the director of Jamyang Foundation, which supports education programs for girls and women in developing countries
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