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Myanaung U Tin

(A talk broadcast from B.B.S. on 12th December 1960)

Vol. VIII, No. 2, 1961

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        A couple of months ago I attended the funeral of a friend of mine. When it reached the cemetery, the grief-stricken wife wailed to me, "Ah! Couldn't you do anything for your beloved friend?" I was completely taken by surprise. What could I say? Nevertheless, I was instantly reminded of what the Buddha said to Kisa Gotami who besought Him to restore life to her dead child. "It is the constant lot of beings, for the King of Death, like a great flood sweeping away all beings with their desires unfulfilled, hurls them into the ocean of painful existence."

        That night I lay awake for several hours. I switched on the light and read the Dhammapada. I agree with Bhikkhu Kassapa's appraisal of this book: "To me it is the best single book in all the wide world of literature. For forty years and more it has been my constant companion and never-failing solace in every kind of misfortune and grief."

        Regarding affections, the Buddha teaches thus: (verses 210-213 of the Dhammapada).

        "Consort not with those that are dear, nor ever with those that are not dear; not seeing those that are dear and the sight of those that are not dear, are both painful."

       "Hence hold nothing dear, for separation from those that are dear is bad: bonds do not exist for those to whom nought is dear or not dear."

        "From endearment springs grief, from endearment springs fear; for him who is wholly free from endearment there is no grief, much less fear."

        "From affection springs grief, from affection springs fear; for him who is wholly free from affection there is no grief, much less fear."

       Before I proceed, I may point out that the Pali word for endearment is piya, and that for affection is pema, and these two words should not be confused with metta, rendered into English as loving-kindness, as distinguished from love. Love is sensual and loving-kindness is spiritual. "Loving-kindness has the mode of friendliness for its characteristic. Its natural function is to promote friendliness. It is manifested as the disappearance of ill-will. Its footing is seeing with kindliness. When it succeeds it eliminates ill-will. When it fails it degenerates into selfish affectionate desire." Clearly, what the Buddha emphasises is that one must not become a slave of endearment, affection and attachment.

        As I say, I lay awake for several hours. I noticed that my friend passed away with a sardonic smile on his face. He was a man with a strong sense of humour, which English writer Milnes defines as "the just balance of all the faculties of man, the best security against the pride of knowledge and the conceits of imagination, the strongest inducement to submit with a wise and pious patience to the vicissitudes of human existence." So, my friend's last sardonic smile, reminds me of the four lines Professor G.H. Luce once recited to me.

       "Life is a joke:

       All things show it.

       I thought so once;

       Now I know it."

        My late friend had some remarkable qualities of head and heart. Intelligent, no doubt, he was, and he was also capable of expending much energy when engaged in anything he was interested in. However, fortune deigned not to smile upon him as often as he deserved. Perhaps, he was too honest and frank to be successful in life. Worse still, he was misunderstood for his intellectual aloofness and pensive moods. American writer Lerner's lines in "My Fair Lady" may well fit in with a description of him.

        "A pensive man am I

        Of philosophic joys;

        Who likes to meditate,


       Free from humanity's mad, inhuman noise."

       Of course, my friend was not free from human frailties but, this much can be said honestly of him, that he was never an unscrupulous fellow who was out for achieving his desire or ambition by hook or by crook. He often said, with Joseph Conrad, that "All ambitions are lawful except those which climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind."

        In the words of Bhikkhu Narada. I may reiterate some of the problems that perplex the minds of all thinking men. "We are faced with a totally ill-balanced world. We perceive the inequalities and manifold destinies of men and the numerous gradations of beings that prevail in the universe. We see one born into a condition of affluence, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities, and another into a condition of abject poverty and wretchedness. Here is a man virtuous and holy, but, contrary to his expectation, ill-luck is ever ready to greet him. The wicked world runs counter to his ambitions and desire. He is poor and miserable in spite of his honest dealings and piety. There is another vicious and foolish, but accounted to be fortune's darling. He is rewarded with all forms of favours, despite his shortcomings and evil modes of life."

        According to Buddhism, this unevenness of the world, this inequality of man is due to our own kamma, or, in other words, to our own inherited past actions and present deeds. We ourselves are responsible for our own deeds, happiness, and misery. We build our own hells. We create our own heavens. We are the architects of our own fate. In short, we ourselves are our own kamma."

       The Buddha teaches us: "Every living being has Kamma as its own, its inheritance, its cause, its kinsman, its refuge. Kamma is that which differentiates all living beings into low and high states."*

        Buddhism attributes these variations in life to Kamma, but it does not assert that everything is due to Kamma. However, time does not permit of a discussion of other factors.

       My late friend was a great believer in the doctrine of Kamma. Whenever he encountered any misfortune, he would say with a facetious smile, "I am paying up another debt." And then he would read aloud a few relevant lines from Sir Edwin Arnold's "The Light of Asia".

        "The Books say well, my brothers! each man's life

       The outcome of his former living is;

        The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,

       The bygone right breeds bliss.

        "If who liveth, learning whence woe springs, Endureth patiently, striving to pay

       His utmost debt for ancient evils done In Love and Truth always.

        "If making none to lack, he thoroughly purge

        The lie and lust of self forth from his blood;

        Suffering all meekly, rendering for offence

       Nothing but grace and good.

        "If he shall day by day dwell merciful,

       Holy and just and kind and true; and rend

        Desire from where it clings with bleeding roots

       Till love of life have end:

        "He—dying—leaveth as the sum of him

       A life-count closed, whose ills are dead and quit,

        Whose good is quick and mighty, far and near,

        So that fruits follow it."

        My late friend often remarked that nothing could be more wrong than to believe in the dictum: "The end justifies the means."

        He would then quote four verses from the Dhammapada (Nos. 119 to 122):

        "Even an evil-doer sees good so long as evil ripens not; but when it bears fruit, then he sees the evil results."

        "Even a good person sees evil so long as good ripens not; but when it bears fruit, the good one sees the good results."

        "Despise not evil, saying, ' It will not come nigh unto me;' by the falling of drops even a water-jar is filled; likewise the fool, gathering little by little, flits himself with evil."

        "Despise not merit, saying, 'It will not come night unto me.' even by the falling of drops a water-jar is filled; likewise the wise man, gathering little by little, fills himself with good."

        We have a Burmese saying:

        One visit to a funeral is as good as ten visits to a monastery, which means that one learns much more from a stark reality than from several sermons.

       One cannot help but be reminded of Shakespeare's lines.

       "All the world's a stage,

        And all the men and women merely players,

       They have their exits and their entrances

       And one man in his time plays many parts."

        Let us for instance consider the Big Names of the Second World War. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo who shook the world for a number of years could not now even turn in their graves. Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt had made their exit, leaving behind them the mighty power they wielded. Winston Churchill who fears no man dreads in his old age the caprices of the English weather and so takes refuge often in the Mediterranean region. Chiang Kai-shek no longer rules on the mainland but learns and yearns on an island. Harry Truman appears to be still much alive and kicking, but sooner or later he will be unhappily remembered, perhaps, only as the man who ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the year 1945 C.E.

        In all times and climes there appear on the stage so-called great-men. As Shakespeare put it, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." But they too, like the common run of men, are made of mortal clay.

       One will recall the lines of Thomas Gray:

        "The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

       And all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave,

       Await alike the inevitable hour

        The paths of glory led but to the grave."

        Kamma means in its ultimate sense, the meritorious and demeritorious volitions. Buddhism stresses not only good ends but also good means. Rebirth is the corollary to the doctrine of Kamma. So it behoves every one of us to cultivate meritorious volitions and eschew demeritorious ones in all our pursuits, be they for private interest or for public benefit, because

        'Who toiled a slave may become anew a Prince

        For gentle worthiness and merit won;

       Who ruled a King may wander earth in rags

        For things done and undone."

* Majjhima Nikaya, Uparipannasa, Culakammavibhanga Sutta, page 243, 6th Synod Edition.

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First posted on 14 Nov 99


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