Bhante Gunaratana: The Meaning of Life… the root of all impermanence

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Excellence Reporter: Bhante G, what is the meaning of life?

Bhante Gunaratana: In my view the meaning of life is understanding life as it actually is and liberate oneself from repetition of birth and death.

One must understand that between birth and death there are moments of pleasure. Unfortunately, pleasure is not permanent. We have decay, sickness, sorrow, lamentation, pain and despair between birth and death. The intrinsic nature of existence is impermanence.

Bhikkhus, whether Tathāgatas appear or do not appear, there is this established element of Dhamma, this fixed law of Dhamma: All that is conditioned is impermanent. A Tathāgata fully awakens to this, and fully understands it. So, awakened and thus understanding, he announces, points out, declares, establishes, expounds, explains, and clarifies it: All that is conditioned is impermanent. (Anguttara Nikaya)

Just as, bhikkhus, in the autumn, when the sky is clear and cloudless, the sun, ascending in the sky, dispels all darkness from space as it shines and beams and radiates, so too, when the perception of impermanence is developed and cultivated, it eliminates all sensual lust, it eliminates all lust for existence, it eliminates all ignorance, it uproots all conceit ‘I am.’

“And how, bhikkhus, is the perception of impermanence developed and cultivated so that it eliminates all sensual lust, eliminates all lust for existence, eliminates all ignorance, and uproots all conceit ‘I am’? ‘Such is form, such its origin, such its passing away; such is feeling … such is perception … such are volitional formations … such is consciousness, such its origin, such its passing away’: that is how the perception of impermanence is developed and cultivated so that it eliminates all sensual lust, eliminates all lust for existence, eliminates all ignorance, and uproots all conceit ‘I am.’”  (Samyuttanikāya Nikāya)


~Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Mahathera (92) is the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society. Born in rural Sri Lanka, he has been a monk since age 12 and took full ordination at age 20 in 1947. He came to the United States in 1968. “Bhante G” (as he is fondly called by his students) has written a number of books, including the now-classic meditation manual Mindfulness In Plain English and its companion Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness. Bhante G regularly leads retreats on vipassana, mindfulness, metta (loving-friendliness), concentration, and other topics both at the Bhavana Society.

Bhante Gunaratana is an internationally recognized author and meditation teacher. Prior to coming to the United States, he spent five years doing in missionary work with the Harijanas (Untouchables) of India and ten years in Malaysia. He has taught in a number of settings, including the Buddhist Vihara of Washington D.C. where he served as president, the American University in Washington D.C. where he served as Buddhist chaplain and also earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, and at meditation centers worldwide. Bhante G has a strong scholarly background and lifelong commitment to dhamma.

In 1985, Bhante G co-founded the Bhavana Society and became its abbot. He wanted to teach meditation in an environment allowing for longer retreats and intense practice free from the trappings of a city vihara. He continues to teach in the direct, compassionate style that characterizes his books and articles. Bhante G conveys a well-rounded approach to Buddhist Dhamma, touching on all aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. He emphasizes metta bhavana (the cultivation of loving-friendliness) as a basis for samma-samadhi, or right concentration. As a teacher, he is known for his emphasis both on samadhi and on metta as part of spiritual training.

In 1996, Bhante G received the title of Chief Sangha Nayaka Thera for North America. This acknowledged his status as highest-ranking monk of his sect in the United States and Canada. Originally published in 2003, his autobiography, Journey to Mindfulness, was updated in 2017 with an “Expanded Anniversary Edition” adding five new chapters. In 2005, the Sri Henepola Gunaratana Scholarship Trust was founded under his guidance. This trust provides educations for poverty stricken children in rural Sri Lanka.

Bhante G continues to write books and articles, lead retreats, and teach at the Bhavana Society. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, December 7th, 2017, Bhante G decided that he would no longer accept invitations that require long-distance travel. He says, “Thank you all for your kind consideration. With Metta, Bhante Gunaratana.”

Copyright © 2019 Excellence Reporter

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