Dhamma [Truth, reality, the Buddha’s teaching; dharma (Sanskrit).] allows us to respect all life itself. We recognise that animals have the same pain that we have. Some people think that a dog’s experience of pain—of being kicked, for example—is different from their own. Contemplate that! I don’t really know, not being a dog, but how could it be different? The dog is a conscious and sensitive being. It feels, not only pain, but also the nastiness of that state of mind which just sees a dog as something to abuse. A dog will pick that up along with the physical pain. I’m reflecting now; just contemplating pain and suffering. When you contemplate like this, then you feel an empathy for the suffering of creatures—not just human beings, or not just nice people that you get along with, but even the horrible ones.
We develop metta, [loving-kindness] learn to respect the lives of all creatures, and abandon any intention of causing them harm. Inevitably, we are going to do things whereby other creatures will suffer, simply from breathing the air, for example; that is the way it is. But we do not deliberately harm or abuse any other creature.
This reflective mind, then, is the still point in the centre. That is why each one of us is important in our own right. You may feel that you are not a very important person, that you are just one of the 5.5 billion on this planet. I have sometimes thought, ‘If I should die right now, a few people might feel some sadness and miss me for a while, but it would soon pass. Most people would never notice. After all, this is just another body on the planet, like an ant. You can see ants crawling around and you may think that if you kill one, it wouldn’t matter because one ant doesn’t have much value. In fact, some people might think it is good to kill as many ants as possible. But I am sure that the life of that ant is important to itself. It, surely, wants to live just like I want to live. To each one of us, our life is important. Whether it is important in the ultimate sense is mere speculation, but in terms of experience, your life, your experience of consciousness, is very important. This is what you have; this is what you are feeling; this is the way it is; this is how you can learn, how you can develop through understanding.
In relationships in the past, I have thought in terms of ‘me’ and ‘you’, of relating to the other with the idea of being spiritual friends, of supporting and helping each other towards spiritual goals and so forth. Then things happen and one feels let down or betrayed or misunderstood by some other monk, and you think you must work it out. The more you try to do that, however, the more problems arise and the more misunderstandings. In the end, it becomes an endless going at each other trying to figure out who is wrong and who is right, what is wrong with this and what is wrong with that, who is to blame and who is not. All this can go on and on and on to the point where you don’t want to see that other person any more; it all just gets too complicated. You are trying to solve every problem, work out everything in your mind, on the level of conventional reality, and this is endless proliferation which gets increasingly more complicated.
Reflecting on the way it is, on being the centre of the universe at this point here, brings one to letting go of problems rather than creating them. I cannot make you let go of problems, but I can let go of them myself; that is something I can do. I can resolve the problem in here; I can resolve it in the mind itself. This is not dismissing or denying anything, but recognising the nature of the mind and breaking through the illusions we have about ourselves and other people.
There are various ways of trying to help others, but one way you can really help is by not creating a problem, by trusting in the pure presence of awareness. This we can do. This will help everything and everybody. Letting go, I am sure, is for the benefit of all of us. By being aware, in the awakened state, we are not adding to, not complicating, not creating, not proliferating, not taking sides. Then, at any point in time, this conscious entity in the universe is not contributing to the ignorance and confusion of the rest. That doesn’t seem like much in terms of what one can do to help others, but I put my faith and trust in this pure awareness because at worst it is totally harmless, and at best it is enormously beneficial.
How do we know that all the goodness of humanity is not helping us all the time? Human beings do many good things in their daily lives that never make the news and may not be really noticed by anybody. The news is all about how bad we are. You could make a good movie about a Buddhist monk who breaks all the vinaya rules. [Rules of the Order.] That would probably be very successful and make lots of money: Buddhist monk seduces woman, cheats and steals, kills and murders. Or, imagine making a film about a monk who sits perfectly still in meditation and in his mind lets go of the world. I don’t think that would be a popular film. Think of all the goodness of your own life. This is a practice I encourage because we tend to dwell on the mistakes we have made. We exaggerate and make mountains out of molehills, dismiss the goodness, the kindnesses, the thoughtfulness, the generosity. You see it a lot with mothers. Motherhood demands that you give up your own pleasures and interests for the sake of somebody else. The goodness of those kinds of things can be completely dismissed or taken for granted, but when you contemplate humanity, you realise that an enormous amount of goodness is generated every day on this planet, just by ordinary human beings.
February 2002 Buddhism Now.
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[The above is from a talk given during a retreat at Amaravati in May 1999. Courtesy of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery.]