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The meaning of life

The meaning of life

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This article was originally published on The Excellence Reporter.

Venerable Chodron sitting by the ocean.

Having a long-term goal that brings about good for everyone makes our lives meaningful.

As a teenager I wondered a lot what the meaning of life was. I knew it had something to do with helping others, but didn’t know exactly what. It wasn’t until I met the Buddha’s teachings as taught in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that this became clear to me.

Since all living beings want happiness and to avoid suffering as much as I did, and since they all have been kind to me in one way or another in our beginningless interdependent existence, it only made sense to work for their wellbeing. However, as someone whose mind is often clouded with ignorance, anger, clinging attachment, arrogance, jealousy, and self-centeredness, my ability to be of benefit is quite limited. In fact these mental afflictions prevent me from benefiting even myself. Thus it is imperative to gradually subdue and eventually eliminate them and to cultivate all good qualities such as impartial love and compassion for all, generosity, fortitude, joyous effort, wisdom, and so on.

The Buddha showed a step-by-step path to do this. This path made sense logically, and when I practiced it, I began to change. There’s still a long way to go, but having a long-term goal that brings about good for everyone makes our lives meaningful. A path of training the mind/heart enables us to make all aspects of our lives meaningful.

One of my teachers, Kyabje Zopa Rinpoche, wrote a dedication for a meaningful life that illustrates one aspect of this training:

Whatever actions I do—eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working, and so forth—and whatever I experience in life—up or down, happiness or pain, healthy or sick, harmony or discord, success or failure, wealth or poverty, praise or criticism—whether I am living or dying, or even born in a horrible rebirth; whether I live long or not—may my life be beneficial for all sentient beings. The main purpose of my life is not simply to be rich, respected, famous, healthy, and have pleasure. The meaning of my life is to benefit all sentient beings. Therefore, from now on, may whatever actions I do be beneficial for all beings. May whatever I experience in life—happiness or suffering—be dedicated to actualizing the path to awakening. May whatever I do, say, or think benefit all sentient beings and help them to attain full awakening quickly.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.