What is the meaning and purpose of life?

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Q: Why do I still feel lost and discontented, even though I have a stable job and considerable wealth? What is the meaning and purpose of our human life? – Lost

A: Understanding the preciousness of our human life is one of the first steps on the path to enlightenment. If we don’t appreciate our life, we won’t use it in a valuable way. We won’t see its purpose. We waste our time. But when we really can see the fortune that we have, we feel enthusiastic about our life and particularly want to practise the Dharma and make our life meaningful by cultivating a kind heart.

All of that follows upon first understanding our great fortune. This is an important meditation for us nowadays, because like you, there are so many people who are dissatisfied, and feel lost in their lives, even though they may be financially secure and have stable jobs. People realise that although wealth and physical comforts do bring us some degree of happiness, these do not cease all our problems or bring us any lasting joy. This is because whatever tangible goods we obtain break down at some point, or they go out of fashion, so we have to get something new. For example, what is really high-tech one day is obsolete the next day. So, all these things that we think we are going to get to make us happy are not bringing the contentment we thought they would. Hence we feel lost.

From a Buddhist perspective, our present situation, or our life is what we call samsara or cyclic existence. That means we get born again and again and again. Under the influence of ignorance, and mental afflictions such as confusion, attachment and anger, and all the actions motivated by these afflictions result in karma. Being under the influence of ignorance, mental afflictions and karma doesn’t give us a lot of freedom in our lives. For instance, we do not have the freedom to not get sick, to not age and to not die. Simply by being born we are subject to ageing, sickness and death. Given that we separate from our body, our friends and relatives, our wealth and social status at the time of death, what is the meaning and purpose of our life? Are we going to spend our life obsessing about things that we cannot take with us when we die?

“The Buddha said the root of our problems is that we are taking birth under the influence of afflictions and karma and that these mental afflictions exist in our own heart and mind. Simply by being born, we have to face all the different problems that life brings, not just problems related to the body but also family and relationship problems.”

For instance, we put a lot of energy into a relationship and it doesn’t last. Or we work very hard for our company and our work goes unacknowledged. We don’t go looking for these difficulties, which happen quite regularly, they are just part of existing in cyclic existence.

An alternative to getting born again and again in cyclic existence under the influence of afflictions and karma is to free ourselves from mental afflictions and to stop creating the kind of karma that produces rebirth in cyclic existence. So attaining liberation or Nirvana is one way to make our life really meaningful and purposeful. To have some idea of the quality of Nirvana, imagine a scenario that no matter what people said to you, did to you, or what situation you are in, you never got angry or jealous. You are completely peaceful and genuinely content and satisfied.

People generally want more and better. We don’t really have true satisfaction and contentment in our hearts these days. We are always looking around and saying, ”Someone else has more than I do. Someone else has better than I do, I want… I want… I want…” and so we are craving and clinging all the time. These mental states are very painful because even if we get what we want, we are still unsatisfied. We bought something from the mall, and after two days of joy and excitement at our new found buy, we are back where we started. This sort of perpetual dissatisfaction we face in life has a lot of wear and tear. In contrast, liberation or Nirvana is a state which is free from that. No matter what we have, who we are with, our mind is peaceful, content, satisfied and appreciative.

Rather than the liberation for oneself, or our own peaceful state of Nirvana, another aim from the Buddhist viewpoint, is the full awakening or enlightenment of the Buddha. A Buddha is someone who has eliminated the afflictions, ignorance, karma as well as the subtle imprints, self-centred thoughts and any kind of defilements that exist on the mindstream. The Buddha has completely eradicated them in such a way that they can never return. In addition, a Buddha has developed all good qualities completely and fully. We have the seeds of many good qualities or what we call the Buddha-nature or Buddha potential. But our good qualities are rather small now. As we practise the path to full awakening, our good qualities start to grow. We become able, for example, to have equal care and concern for all living beings without being attached to some and having aversion to others. We become able to wish every single living being well, no matter how they treat us. That is called love. We become able to wish every living being to be free of suffering, no matter how they treat us. That is called compassion.


If we ourselves and all the world wish for unsurpassed enlightenment, its basis is bodhicitta stable as the king of mountains, compassion reaching out in all directions, and wisdom that transcends duality.

— Nāgārjuna










— 净空法师

Ven Jin Kong 24.

Words can’t even describe how good it feels to be LIBERATED from the false… and to actually know the TRUTH about who and what you are. It’s genuine empowerment. It’s complete self acceptance. Life becomes an easy going, amazing FLOW. There’s NOTHING more important than for us to free ourselves from the FALSE beliefs we take to be true about ourselves, and the world.

— Bodhidharma


Buddhadharma and Modern Education
Venerable Shi Fazhao

The Buddha’s teaching has to be applied in our daily life. Be it eating, dressing, standing, walking, educating or making merry, one needs the Buddhadharma, and even more so for the governing of the nation and the whole world. As said, “the Buddhadharma is all phenomena”, the point is whether or not you know how to apply it.

Sun Yat Sen said, “Buddhism saves the world and the Buddhist education is the mother of philosophy. To study Buddhism corrects the bias of Science. Einstein said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught for 49 years and spent his life educating the masses with the objective of teaching sentient beings to ‘stop evil and practice virtue’ and to break through confusion to enlightenment. He worked to transform the ordinary to the saint and to change our land of filth into a pure land. It was His wish that all sentient beings leave afflictions and transmute pain into joy and create a peaceful and happy global village.

Buddha’s whole life of education was perfect. The dharma doors are vast and innumerable, all meant as antidotes for the different afflictions of sentient beings. He used different methods to teach and transform different individuals, whether they were saints or sinners, intelligent or ignorant, rich or poor. For those who received the Buddha’s teachings, there was none who did not gain realizations and attain liberation.

Buddhadharma – the Heart of Education

Buddhist education is the education of the heart; it is the education of the next generation to become Buddhist with right views, able to contribute to society. Thus, we must first understand the principles of Buddhism. Besides imparting knowledge, it transforms hearts. All our suffering comes from discursive thoughts, seeking, and the unsettled mind.

Buddhism is meant for realizing one’s true mind, to cease all seeking and to return to the clear, peaceful self-nature. The next step is to realize that all sentient beings are inter-dependent and inter-related. This helps us to be more compassionate and unbiased and to transform afflictions into purity and peace. All these can be achieved through learning the Dharma and practicing meditation.

Samadhi Enhances the Power of Observation

Different individuals learn different skills and in one’s professional life, one could possess sharp observation powers but in the other arenas of life, one may not have the same sharp wisdom. Through practicing meditation and attaining concentration, no matter studying, working or doing any other action, one is able to maintain attention and concentration.

A still heart sees every detail and understands the whole picture. It is thus able to make the best decision and come to the best solution. In order to teach and transform sentient beings, one must observe their dispositions; have clear wisdom and sharp observation skills to pick the most suitable method for them.

Character Is the Foundation of Morals

People are different from beasts because of the emphasis on character building and morals. There are many ways to enhance one’s morals. Character building is the foundation of a person’s morals. If one does not take one’s integrity seriously, how are we different from beasts? Buddha’s moral education included verbal teaching and teaching by example; depending on students’ learning ability. Using different teaching methods, He inspired all.

There are many ways to develop our moral character, such as keeping precepts. From keeping precepts, we could develop our character; we can also practice other Dharma methods such as reciting the Buddha’s name or meditate. The Buddha taught love, compassion, joy and letting go but the most powerful is still ‘patience’.

Not Having the Slightest Resentment

According to the Sutra on the Bodhisattva’s vows, when the Buddha was practicing in the past, he was scolded by 500 scolding-experts. No matter where the Buddha went, they would follow Him and ridicule Him. The Buddha did not have the slightest resentment but was always observing with compassion. The practice of patience finally won Him peerless enlightenment. This shows that patience can help develop one’s character and is an important practice for enlightenment.

Today’s youths are hot-headed and will turn violent at the slightest provocation. Even after learning the Dharma, they are like Su Dongpo who was ‘blown across the river by a fart.’ Su Dongpo was an avid student of Buddhist teachings, and often discussed them with his good friend, the Zen master Foyin. The two lived across the river from one another: Su Dongpo’s residence on the north side and Foyin’s Gold Mountain Temple on the south side. One day, Su Dongpo felt inspired and wrote the following poem:

I bow my head to the heaven within heaven
Hairline rays illuminating the universe
The eight winds cannot move me
Sitting still upon the purple golden lotus

Impressed by himself, Su Dongpo dispatched a servant to hand-carry this poem to Foyin. He felt certain that his friend would be just impressed. When Foyin read the poem, he immediately saw that it was both a tribute to the Buddha and a declaration of spiritual refinement. The ‘eight winds’ in the poem referred to praise, ridicule, honour, disgrace, gain, loss, pleasure and misery – interpersonal forces of the material world that drove and influenced the hearts of men. Su Dongpo was saying that he had attained a higher level of spirituality, where these forces no longer affected him. Smiling, the Zen master wrote ‘fart’ on the manuscript and had it returned to Su Dongpo. Su Dongpo had been expecting compliments and a seal of approval, so he was shocked when he saw what the Zen master had written. He hit the roof: “How dare he insult me like this? Why that lousy old monk! He’s got a lot of explaining to do!” Full of indignation, Su Dongpo ordered a boat to ferry him to the other shore as quickly as possible. Once there, he jumped off and charged into the temple. He wanted to find Foyin and demand an apology. He found Foyin’s door closed. On the door was a piece of paper, with the following two lines:

The eight winds cannot move me
One fart blows me across the river

The Ability to be Patient with Insults is the Mark of a Practitioner

The Buddha said, “A practitioner who is unable to be patient with insults, who is unable to treat vicious attacks as ambrosia is not a practitioner.”

Patience is patience in both positive and adverse situations. When others are unkind to us, it is easy to notice and return to mindfulness; whereas in good circumstances, to maintain stillness of the heart is not as simple. For example, seeing delicious food, attractive men and women… these are all good situations but to let the heart remain still without any greed is not easy. Buddhist sutras have stated that it is difficult to bear with attractive forms and desires. But to be able to bear with it with mindfulness will give one a sense of coolness and liberation.

Self-fulfillment comes from Benefiting Self and Benefiting Others

Modern people nowadays talk about achievement in terms of instant success. But that does not mean that we have to be attached to success in everything we do. Just like the sun and the moon that shine without asking anything in return, a sense of achievement is not about self benefit. Broadly speaking, self-fulfillment comes from benefiting others besides benefiting self.

Wisdom is not cleverness. Cleverness comes from learning and experience while wisdom flows from within. Real wisdom is to understand cause and effect, emptiness and Buddha-nature. To understand these principles is wisdom, even if one is illiterate. Intelligence quotient does not measure wisdom. It is but the worldly standard of measuring intelligence.

Experience is Wealth

There are enviable people who lead a smooth life and there are those whose lives are full of difficulties which they are able to surmount and that is really admirable. Experience is wealth. There is no permanence in all phenomena and we have to treat all failure and injustice with a still heart and everything will be fine.

The Buddhadharma is the panacea for all difficulties and suffering. Thus, practicing the Dharma is most important. Happiness and suffering are experiences and the result of positive and negative actions. We have to try our best to let go of evil and cultivate virtue. The function of the Buddhadharma is to help the world, to dissolve suffering, to purity our body and mind, purify the society; to increase our love and compassion and to enhance our wisdom. Only Buddhism can help us to cross from the sea of suffering to the shore of safety; from the dark nights to the light.

Gaining Liberation from Suffering

Although birth, old age, sickness and death are inescapable phenomena, facing them and in the process using our lives to do something worthwhile is quite rare. Most people only pursue wealth, fame and love to satisfy their desires; to seek security, thus having conflicts with others and going against the wishes of heaven, all of which results in unspeakable suffering.

Very few people realize how short life is. Life is so vulnerable and the environment is full of risks. If we could use compassion and wisdom to educate ourselves and care for all sentient beings and to face the reality of birth, old age, sickness and death, and to deal with natural and man-made disasters, we would be able to gain liberation from suffering.

The Importance of Purifying the Heart

Buddhist education places emphasis on purifying the heart and changing people’s attitude about pursuing material gratification. In everyday life, we have to have the Buddha in our heart and follow the Buddha in our actions.

The principles of Buddhism emphasize on having a quiet and unruffled heart amidst fluctuations of life and not to chase blindly after fame, glory and other selfish aims. When we receive so much benefit (from the Dharma), besides having gratitude, we should motivate ourselves to delve more deeply into the Dharma; to support the Dharma and to be like the Buddha Himself who was tireless in teaching sentient beings.

Everyone is Equal

The whole society is like a big machine. Every screw has a function and a role to play. Every individual in the society is the same. Each one has an important role to play; the only difference is whether one is playing front or backstage. If everyone in society plays his part to the best of his ability, the society will be a happy and peaceful place.

When any part of a machine is defective, the machine will be faulty and may even be unable to work. Similarly, when any member of the society ‘malfunctions’, our lives will be very difficult. We all hope that the society will attain truth, virtue and beauty and be strong and prosperous. We have to put in effort to take care of it and to educate every single sentient being.

Harmony Amongst all Religions

Now is the time for all religions to work towards selfless love, acceptance, contentment, discipline and a noble character, every religion has an important role to play and thus we have to recognize and strengthen mutual understanding. Every religion in the world should make a contribution towards the welfare of mankind. I believe that Buddhism which has flourished for 2500 years will play a major role in the modern society. This is because the fundamental Buddhist principle of interdependence amongst all phenomena is very close to the basic concept of modern Science. Not only is the content of Buddhism inspirational, it emphasizes on peace and harmony of the heart and this is the true spirit of the happiness of contentment.

I hope to use my limited strength to spread the spirit of the Buddha’s love and compassion. May the Buddha’s power bless you and may you purify all stains of self-cherishing to care for others more than yourself.


Having uprooted oneself from self-grasping, one is victorious over the troops of evil; owning to the self-disintegration of the grasping onto objects, one is entirely liberated from Samsara and Nirvana.

— Mahasiddha Virupa




“贪”或“爱”,在佛经里的意思,都是指贪着。“教徒”特指佛教徒,即修持大乘佛教或小乘佛教的人。此句教言的意思是:如果只贪爱今生,不考虑后世、解脱,更不考虑成佛,就不算是佛教徒。不仅是没有任何信仰的人,甚至信佛的人当中, 也有相当一部分人,是仅仅为了现世生活中能够得到健康、长寿、工作顺利等目的而信佛的。虽然他们也相信佛的功德,相信善有善报,恶有恶报,但教言中指出:他们不算是佛教徒!


2、修行的底限 – 不仅为今世


虽然他们做的善事有福德,但福德却很小,只能在现世中有一些果报。但如果他在过去造了很大的业,比如说杀生,他也是在久堕地狱之后才投胎为人的,则可能因为过去的罪业还没有清净,今生就要继续感受恶果,所以也会出现生病、短命等障碍。而且,由于他仅仅是为了现世而修行,与解脱和后世都无关,发什么心得什么果,所以,在今生过后,下一世他就不会再得到任何利益,这真的非常可惜。还有一些人,是为了来世的人天福报而修行,但同时也希望现世能健康、长寿、发财、工作顺利等等,这样的修行虽然没有错,但只能算是下士道。这些划分界限很重要,我们一 定要搞清楚。很多人皈依了佛门,自认为是佛教徒、修行人,但他们仅仅是为了现世生活的一些利益而念咒、诵经、磕头、当义工、募捐等等,就根本不算是佛教徒。

在这个教言当中,我们要汲取的主要内容是:修行的时候,上上的发愿,是为了利益众生而成佛;假如心力不够,不愿为一切众生而修行,至少也要为自己的解脱而修行;实在对解脱也提不起兴趣,也要为了来世而修。因为来世是漫长的,今生是短暂的,无论如何,也不能鼠目寸光到来世都不考虑的地步。现实生活中,每个人都会考虑自己的将来, 都会为了将来做一些准备,比如买养老保险、医疗保险等等。但世间人的眼光,却没有超过今生的区区几十年!



3、 为来世作准备




— 慈诚罗珠堪布


Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourse and verify them by Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourse nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: ‘Certainly, this is not the Blessed One’s utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhiksu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.’ In that way, bhiksus, you should reject.

— Buddha


Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling Vesak Day Puja (Obeisance & Ritual Offerings to Buddha Shakyamuni and 16 Arhats).




Strive always to be as kind, gentle and caring as possible towards all forms of sentient life.

— Akong Rinpoche