Zilong Wang: Vows, Merits and the Meaning of Life

Profile photoExcellence Reporter: Zilong, what is the meaning of life?

Zilong Wang: They say, some questions are to be answered, others are to be lived. “Meaning of life” belongs perhaps in the latter category. How could we live a meaningful life? As a young traveler on the long path, I do not know what to say to others. Even for myself, I do not know what is the ultimate guideline. But I do know that in the short term (in this lifetime), my current goal for a life well lived is to not regress.

“To not regress” sounds like a low bar, but it might be more demanding of us than it seems. There’s two aspects to not regressing. First, do not break vows. Second, do not exhaust merits.

“Vow” is a shorthand for our moral bottom-line, such as the Buddhist Five Precepts, or Christian Ten Commandments. Consciously or unconsciously, in this or previous lifetimes, we have all taken vows, and made promises to ourselves. We know them. The vows are not imposed from the outside, but arise from the depths of our soul and conscience.

Each vow also have many layers of observance. For example, the vow of nonviolence (ahimsa, no killing) might be easy to observe at first glance — do not kill people or animals. But how about mosquitos? Can I not only not kill mosquitos, but also pre-forgive these unfortunate creatures in my heart? Can I not even wish they were dead? Can I rejoice at my fresh mosquito bite, knowing that someone else in the room has been spared an extra itch?

Regarding “not exhausting merits”, we live on the dividends from past good deeds, and on the grace of nature. Would my karmic account end up with a higher or lower balance at the end of this life? Do I have the qualification to at least be reborn as a human being, so that I can continue the unfinished work and reunite with my teachers?

If I take for granted my good fortune, other people’s kindness, and nature’s abundance, then I am running down my karmic account. If I stop the flow of life’s gifts, consume others’ goodwill for personal pleasure, then I am exhausting merits. This is not to suggest that we should feel guilty for the pleasant things in life, but to realize that we should not get attached to the highs, or resentful of the lows. My only duty is to remain grateful for whatever comes my way, and pay forward the blessings of life.

If I do not regress, then “progress” is only a matter of time. That, for me, for now, is a meaningful use of this lifetime.


~Zilong Wang grew up in China, studied in Germany, and attended Hampshire College in USA, where his self-designed major was “Logic of Capital vs. Logic of Nature: Understanding Marx and Darwin”. After graduation, he bicycled solo for over 5,000 kilometers across USA, listening to Scriptures during the day, and knocking on strangers’ doors to stay for the night. After working for two years at a leading consulting firm focused on environmental sustainability, he answered the calling to go on a bicycling pilgrimage around the world for inner cultivation and for the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time. For the past two years, he has cycled for over 10,000 kilometers through a dozen countries, visiting spiritual centers and intentional communities, while keeping up daily Vipassana meditation and practicing small acts of service. These days, the pilgrimage continues “back home” in China/Asia. Zilong is an inaugural Fellow of the Spiritual Ecology Fellowship. He volunteers for ServiceSpace, a global network of gift-economy projects.

Copyright © 2018 Excellence Reporter

Categories: Buddhism

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