So far, the discussion on planning for a successful life seems to be quite worldly without the important spiritual component for success. Unfortunately, there are many people raised with a more money and possession orientation than spirituality at its core, even though they might have a natural spirituality that needs to mature even further. This absence of spiritual inclusion in life plans actually creates a hunger that seems to further drive the need for the materialist view because there are few viable alternatives. The excessively sweet or illogical presentations of many religious and spiritual traditions might drive the intelligent person away.
Buddhism has much to offer for those with a devotional nature, but does not insist that people conform to a model in order to benefit. In general, however, the logical and skillful changes modeled in Buddhism are useful and attractive to the thinking person. We can thank the early Buddhist Indian sages such as Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and so many others for the detailed analyzes of reality and logical philosophy. We can also thank the Indian Hindu philosophers that predate the Buddhist system because it was in response to the Hindu philosophies they were developed. That is because the great Hindu sages became the great Buddhist sages by being defeated with their own logic! The great debates of early Buddhism were also great social sporting events drawing great crowds, royalty, and followers of the debaters, like Olympic events with heroes of logic. Ashvagosha is one example. After his public defeat, he was so distraught, they locked him in the Buddhist library, and he emerged as a Buddhist scholar! (See below today’s article for a lively and fanciful description of the defeat of Ashvagosha.)
In the spirit of that great tradition, we return to the actual discussion of planning for the future based on a Western materialistic worldview, but only briefly, because this debate will go on for some time. Let us now switch to another way of looking at planning for the future because life is short no matter how long it lasts, from both the Buddhist and reasoning non- Buddhist viewpoint. If we were honest with ourselves, we would see that neither we nor anyone else is fully enough prepared to enter into a new way of being in accordance to evolutionary development. There could be so much more accomplished in deep preparation for passing into another way of being.
Although the retirement ideal of many is to get a motor home and go to Mexico, or Texas, travel, pursue other interests, or be with close family and friends, it is uncertain they will be able to do that or not, because life is as unpredictable as trying to plan for a financial future in a bad economy.
There are reasonable preparations and planning needed for the future, although you probably do not know what they are at this point if you are like most people. In accordance with evolutionary maturity, we will each and all have to enter into a new way of being after passing away, without the physical form that comprises so large a part of our identity. At that point, it will not matter whether you were vice president of an important company, owned a Ferrari or a fancy vacation home. All of these will become as nothing in comparison to the need now to prepare and transform the inner mind, the real you, that requires happening during life.
Nearing the time of death, you will not exactly know what it is you are supposed to be mentally preparing for, other than goodbyes and unfinished business. If passing is sudden, of course, there will not even be time for that ordinary preparation; only the distillation of the preparations and valuable changes you have already accomplished will be with you. With blinders on to inner life and still not knowing what to expect, you will definitely enter a different way of being. Whether you believe in reincarnation or not, does not matter, this is the stopping point or event of a human life. If I am addressing Oriental people, they pretty much already believe in transmigration after death. If they do not, they would never admit to others that they actually did not believe it. However, in the West, many people would say, "Well, this part of the discussion has nothing to do with me because I do not believe in reincarnation."
However, it really does not matter whether you believe in reincarnation or not. If you believe in past and future lives, you have an obligation to increase value during this lifetime that increases the future life possibilities. In that way, you can either rejoice in, or be anxious about the karmic life potential you were given as the result of some previous life. During this life, some might be thankful for experiencing such a wonderful opportunity. Others might be nervous because they fear they may have distorted a few things during their organic manufacturing process of living.
You are already well along in life working with what you have brought into this existence, isn’t that so? Some people start out extremely well, with tremendous possibilities, but do very little in this life, even though it might appear as though they were successful. It was as if everything fell into their lap without needing to try very hard. They always got good grades at school; their job just landed into their lap and with so many opportunities, they became members and pillars of the community. In spite of everything, that person could be the laziest person on the face of the earth from the viewpoint of their potential!
There could be another person who struggled hard to gain their education and to get their job. To do as well as they did required a tremendous amount of personal effort. What if they were someone who really cared about others and worked hard to be the kind of person, who could say, "I did the best I could,” near the time of their passing? They might not have received the accolades or tremendous success of this other person, yet they increased the value of their very being tremendously! It is difficult to judge these long-term gains.
However, if you do not believe in reincarnation and only a present life, it is even more important to be prepared for another way of being that will be very unlike human life. Because you do not believe in past or future lives, therefore, it will not be a human life, and you only have this one chance to make a good show. You should be very careful how you conduct yourself in all areas of life if you do not believe in reincarnation.
Most people believe that by entering into the unknown way of being after passing, there will be some other kind of evolutionary process, like a continuation of the conveyor belt that goes from birth to death. Off we go all together into the future!
If you feel this is too esoteric, I briefly refer to another system of information. In accordance with current scientific knowledge, no energy is lost, only transmuted. It is also increasingly acknowledged that it is possible for mind to function even when it appears that the body is disconnected, such as out of body and near death experiences or awareness of events happening at another location. Research into consciousness itself is a new frontier for science, still in its infancy, but highly developed in Tibetan Buddhism.
Returning to our discussion regarding reincarnation, it is not very skillful to think that we can spontaneously become this new thing after death, without effort. This is clear when we examine our life, the planning we do to make things come out well and when we do not plan, at best nothing special happens, or things turn out not so well. These days some schools think that it does not matter whether a student does well or not; everyone is passed to the next grade. Then it means a poor student will have double pressure in the next grade; to be what they are not, and to work with knowledge they do not have, in order to accomplish new learning based upon a nonexistent foundation. Because they did not do what they were supposed to do at the time they had opportunity to prepare for their next level, it is stressful. To be continued….
Biography of Ashvagosha 1st - 2nd centuries C.E.
Miraculously born from a lotus, Aryadeva was raised by the king of Sri Lanka. As a young man he went to study with the renowned master Nagarjuna, eventually becoming his spiritual heir.
During the same time, there also lived a very learned non-Buddhist named Matracheta who lived in western India. Matracheta was a physician that had saved thousands of lives during an epidemic and had a large and fiercely loyal following. It was said that no man born from a human womb could defeat him in debate or combat. Empowered by Maheshvara, Matracheta was able to shoot fire from his forehead, utterly destroying all who challenged him in combat. He also had special advantages while debating, for Maheshvara would secretly enter his body to help him, Shiva would write answers to questions by using invisible ink written in the sky, a magical parrot would whisper helpful tips in his ear, and the goddess Sarasvati would come to his aid with beautiful and wise verses. Having vast knowledge and supernatural aid, Matracheta had never been defeated and became known as 'The Black Conqueror'.
On a continual quest to find a worthy adversary, Matracheta eventually arrived at Nalanda monastery along with his retinue of followers. Knowing of Matracheta's power, none of the monks of Nalanda challenged him. The non-Buddhists then surrounded Nalanda and began beating a drum and declaring victory, occasionally entering the grounds to assault and humiliate the defenseless monks.
While still surrounded, the abbot of Nalanda had a dream that Mahakala, a fierce protector of Buddhism, was angered by the invaders and told him to summon Nagarjuna from the south to challenge Matracheta. A black crow with a message tied to its leg was dispatched to find Nagarjuna. When the messenger bird delivered the urgent plea, Nagarjuna was anxious to challenge Matracheta immediately, but Aryadeva held him back. Aryadeva told Nagarjuna that he was too old, but that he would gladly go in his place. Nagarjuna agreed and quickly taught his student the art of debate and then bid him farewell.
When Aryadeva arrived at Nalanda, he disguised himself as a water carrier to get past the followers of Matracheta. Yet when inside the monastery, the monks could tell he was no ordinary water carrier and asked him if he was Nagarjuna. He said he was not, but that he was there in instead of Nagarjuna. Because he was born from a lotus and not a woman's womb, the monks were very excited to see him challenge Matracheta. All of the monks began beating their drums and preparing for the impending debate. Nine scholars were chosen as judges and the king himself arrived at Nalanda to witness the great debate. The king insisted that the loser would have to cut his own tongue out. It was also agreed that the followers of the loser would convert to the side of the winner.
Before the debate began, Aryadeva resolved to counter the divine aid that Matracheta usually received while debating. To do this, he placed a dirty boot near Matracheta, released a cat, spread vanishing ointment in the sky, and led a naked man into the debate area. Once the debate began, Matracheta realized that Maheshvara was not entering his body because the god had left in disgust once he saw the dirty boot, thus taking away his ability to shoot flames from his head. Then, as he turned to his magical parrot for guidance, the cat jumped up and killed it, as is the nature of cats. Matracheta then looked up to the sky to see Shiva's writing only to find that it was no longer there due to the vanishing ointment.
He then tried to get help from Sarasvati but quickly realized that the goddess had turned her back because she was offended by the presence of the naked man. Realizing that Aryadeva had blocked all his powers, Matracheta became desperate and flew up into the sky in an attempt to escape. Seeing this, Aryadeva flew after him, following close behind as the two of them traveled through space at tremendous speed. They quickly reached the limits of existence and Aryadeva warned Matracheta that if he went any further he would pass the point of which there is no return. Matracheta did not believe him and to test the boundary, shook his long hair beyond that point. The long hair disappeared instantly. Realizing that Aryadeva saved his life, Matracheta was impressed by Aryadeva's compassion and decided to return to Nalanda and accept his fate. Once they returned, all of the followers of Matracheta had converted, easily accepting the Buddhist teachings.
Matracheta however, was bitter and recalcitrant. He remained this way despite having to study Buddhist scripture. One day, while studying, pages of well written verses blew in the winds and auspiciously fell to where he sat. He found them to be beautiful and profound and was quite impressed, but being a stubborn man, he doubted they were Buddhist. As he thought this, a fierce deity appeared and beat him thoroughly. When he regained consciousness, he re-examined the pages and learned they contained a prophecy that said he would become a great Buddhist teacher. Admitting his errors, and according to the conditions of the debate, he cut his own tongue out. As he did so, he proclaimed that if he was correct in following the Buddhist teachings, his tongue would grow back. Almost instantly his tongue grew back and he quickly attained supreme realization, going on to become a famous Buddhist master by the name of Ashvaghosha.
By Monty McKeever 3-2006