JUST A THOUGHT
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“Just a thought” presents a profound moral principle in Buddhism. As the Buddha once said “We are shaped by our thoughts, we become what we think”.
The phrase – “just a thought” – sounds a little bit abstract and confused when it crosses our minds. The content in this book mainly mentions the “Self” – in other word, the “Ego” – so that it is easy to be understood by the person who has several basic concepts of Buddism, and the Buddhist who has been practicing in Dharma for a long time.
What is the ego or the self?
We often hear the words “ego”, “no-ego” or“egoless”. So, what is “Ego”? In dictionary, “Ego” means self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, self-importance and self-worth. Based on this definition, Ego is the “Self” including myself, ourselves, themselves, and yourself. It is the “Self” that human being naturally considers most important.
In daily life, we live in a rush, struggling for many things we desire, feeling jealous of someone’s success, competing with our colleagues in every moment of the working lives; just because we love ourselves, because of our “self-importance”. In Buddhism, it is the self that leads us to stay in the endless cycle of life – birth, death, and rebirth. As an ordinary human being, we have been committed many sins for our own “Selves” until now.
Come to the Buddhism, we will see a opposite concepts – “One has to live for other people, not just lives for himself or herself and practice the Dharma to overcome his or her ego, so that one can escape the endless circle of life.”
The self in our lives.
In the world we are living, we encounter a lot of enemies. For some people, the enemies clearly are the ones who want to harm or kill them. For the others, the enemies are more general. Those are the war that killed and distroyed their lives and families, the disease that is threatening their healths, or more closer the bad and the hatred that presents in human beings. But acording to the Buddha “Your worst enemy is yourself”. This is such an wisdest statement. Do you think so?
In the reality, some people say that they have no selves for their beloved ones. For example, a man when he is in love, he often says to his girlfriend, or his wife “ I love you more than myself” or vice versa. The fact is with rare exceptions, no one cannot do that. You propably firgure out the reason why. Because when in terrible conditions, those who said loving us more than themselves are the ones who made us suffer most. When madly in love, people are often blind; but when falling out of love, common people eventually consider theirselves are more important than anything else. So, if you are not sure that you can sacrifice for your beloved one, please don’t say those words above.
However, these are not completely all the cases. People who have high good morals will worship something loftier than themselves.
For example, one Buddhist does see the Buddha’s philosophy is the ideal of life.
He has boundless love for the Buddha and the Dharma so that he can sacrifice his life for them. He does love Buddhism more than himself.
I will introduce to you one more example. In my country , during the war, many soldiers had sacricefied their lives for the country’s independence, for peace.
Those noble man defenitely had an ideal in their hearts and the love for their country.
We don’t know if they had lived longer, they would have sacrificed every thing for the others or not. But we do know that when our country need them most, they did bring their own lives. Those men, our brothers, had no self (ves). They are always in the hearts of Vietnamese people that are still allive and living peacefully today.
You can see if we have an ideal, a high moral value to live, like the soldiers fighting to save other people’s lives, we will love and adore that ideal more than ourselves. For the other kind of love that we have for our family, children, parents, husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, we can sacricfice our own benefits for them, but not all, it is still us, the Self in that love. So what is the Self?
The SELF – The Five Agrregates
According to the Buddha, a SELF is composed of Five Aggregates (kandhas): form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and conciousness.
Form- Aggregate of Matter means shape or appearance of our bodies.
Feelings-Aggregate of Sensations: pleasant or unpleasant, happy or unhappy, joy or suffering. These feelings, or sensations are not only in our mind, but also in our body.
Perceptions or Aggregate of Perceptions: the image of visible objects, the sound, the smell, the taste, the touching to tangible objects and the thoughts that are stored in our minds.
Mental formations or Aggregate of Mental Formations is the hidden brain function. It directs the very fast neuroactivities such as action, attention, will, desire, determination, creativity, infering, analyzing, summarizing and affectionating… These activities is the root of the Self formation.
Consciousness- Aggregate of Consciousness: When we think, we aware that we are thinking. When we see a visible object, we know that we are seeing. When we hear the sound, we aware that we are hearing, and we characterize that what we hear is good or bad (according to our point of view).
These five aggregates gather together as we consider a “Self”, a “Soul” or “Ego”.
This makes human beings misunderstand that there is a Self- a most important one truly existing.
Analyzing the structure of Ego, we will see each of five aggregates is considered the Self.
The body is a Self.
The body is a self. Your body is yourself.
For example, in a hot day there was somebody fanned you to make you cooler. What did you feel? You probably had a good feeling and then be grateful for that person.
In contrast, if you were in a conversation and someone suddenly hit you. You then would be angry immediately, because he had touched your body which is considered to be yourself. If the body was not yours, even people hit you, you would not be angry with them. In this case, the one had touched both your body and your feeling (you felt hurt) so that you were angry easily.
Imaging that a little girl hit your back then ran away. Although you were not in pain, you were still mad due to your body being touched.
We always see the bodies are ourselves. We see the selves of ours are insulted when they are hit, bitten, or kicked. Or, when our bodies are ugly, we suffer and when they are beautiful, we feel happy … all because we always regard our body as ourselves.
The feeling is a Self.
We regard our feelings as ourselves. When someone insults us, we suffer. Moreover, because of those injured feelings, we become angry with them. Similarly, when someone compliments us, we feel happy and love for that one. During our life, we have felt love for those who made us happy and felt hate for those who made us miserable because we regard our feelings as ourselves.
One more example, there was someone 5 yards far away from us using their hands to signal to hit us, then we got angry and wanted to fight back because we saw ourselves were insulted and humiliated. In contrast, suddenly someone bows to us even at a far distance, we still feel happy because our selves are being honored. Although they have never touched our bodies, they touched our feelings which are our egos.
The thought is a Self
One day we invited our friends to go to a temple and they refused. This was a very simple thing, but we got angry with them because our invitation was not accepted.
However, if they said, “That’s a good idea,” then we were very happy because our idea was welcomed. The reason for that thing was that we consider our ideas our selves. So if our ideas were not welcomed, we would feel uneasy.
People often like to take revenge on others when suffering. If in suffering there is nothing for us to take revenge on, we feel depressed. For example, when our houses were burnt down, we wanted to find the culprit to have hatred for them; and if our houses were burnt accidentally, then we felt very sad because there was nobody for us to hate. Therefore, when a tsunami killed a lot of people, human beings felt very angry because there was none to take revenge on. This kind of psychology is every strange.
Just a thought could change our lives.
Now we will have a look at the characteristics of what we call a Self. Let’s see a house first. A house is composed of many components such as floors, roofs, columns, walls, doors, windows… and we consider each of those components the whole house. For that reason when a child broke our glass door with a stone, we would not say “The boy broke my glass door”, but “The boy broke my house”. The reason was that we regarded the glass door as the whole house. So is the Self! We usually regard each of five aggregates a Self. However, due to our karma, each human being has a different self which is made of different body, and different mind.
A man with many blessings has a good self. He has good-looking appearance, wisdom, nice house, good car… On the contrary, a man with fewer blessings has a bad self. He has ugly appearance, less wisdom, thatched hut, bad cycle… However if a blessed man felt proud of what he owned, his blessings would be damaged.
Or if he felt proud of his house and said “My house is the most beautiful one in this town.” On one hand, his house was not nicer, but on the other hand, his thought of arrogance caused him to be ridiculous. Therefore, we should not show off to other people, they could assess our personalities.
Similarly, there was a famous doctor whose talent was admired by so many people. He felt very happy. And he thought that he was better than other doctors, even the best. Actually, he didn’t have to show off, everyone knew about him well. But when he showed off, he became hoity-toity which destroyed his blessings.
Or when we were good monks with impressing appearance, high knowledge, and good preaching. Everyone knew about it and if our mind raised a thought of pride about ourselves, then in next one or two years, we would have normal appearance, normal wisdom and become mediocre.
So how do blessings ruin?
Showing off to other people is one of many factors that damage our blessings. For example, we had a beautiful garden, so we always talked to everyone passing by our garden, “My garden is the most beautiful one in the town. No ones can be compared with mine.” Then in next one or two years, we would no longer possess this garden or even our house. Maybe we had bad luck that we had to sell our house. Finally, we became poor. The loss of blessings is terrible like that. Just because of showing off our properties, we lost our blessings so that many bad things would come to us.
Arrogance and modesty
Arrogance is another factor that damages our blessings too. For instance, we had good selves, beautiful bodies, intellectual minds then we started a thought that we were better than others. As a result, in next one or two years, we would have ugly appearance, normal wisdom and became mediocre.
Now you see just a thought of arrogance does not make us better or more respectable but it damages our blessings. However, it is difficult for us to avoid this kind of thought because we usually discover our strengths before others. For example, when looking in a mirror, we see we are beautiful while others do not. Maybe it takes too much time for them to realize our beauty. Or a student solving many difficult math exercises thinks he is good while it takes others two or three years later to have the same thought. Because we usually discover our strengths before others, we feel full of pent-up resentment. We think that others has been underestimate our strengths. The thought that “I am better than any one else” has been silently raising in our minds for a long time. These self-praises will ruin our blessings. Now it’s about time for us to end it.
In contrast to arrogance is modesty. Modesty will help us increase our blessings. For example, one had a beautiful house but he did not think it was great because there were many buildings or castles much more beautiful than his house.
Therefore, if someone complimented us on our houses, we just said “Thanks, but our house is just normal” and we truly thought that. Because of this thought, we can own our house for a long time and we can make it more and more beautiful.
Also, if we never think we are good because there are a lot of people in this world being better than us, we will have more blessings which help us to become better and to have more good luck.
Please bear in mind that having good luck or bad luck is sometimes based on our arrogance or modesty.
On Tet holidays we went to a temple, prayed to Buddha that we would have successful business and good luck for the whole year. But after praying, we would not do good deeds, would not change our bad seeds in us. As the result, our wishes would not come true because it was not in accordance with the causality law.
Anyone who prays to Buddha, “Dear Buddha, please bless everyone to be happy and to have good luck in their business and bless us to realize our shortcomings.” will has merits and runs his or her work smoothly. Because what he prays is the good things for the others so that the good luck will return to him.
Our modesty helps us have good luck and our arrogance make us have bad luck as the story below:
There was a family in which the wife was a smart woman. She was a person who brought up the whole family. The husband used to be a healthy man and achieved high results when in college. But unfortunately, all his work had ended in failures. Upon hearing the story, we could predict the reason. That was because in the past the husband achieved success then he had arrogance and looked down on others. Owing to this reason his blessings were badly damaged, he could not do any great things.
As understanding the law of cause and effect, we should show only modesty but not arrogance. If someone compliments us, we should not think it is true but always think that we are very normal. We should do good deeds day by day and often pray to the Buddhas for our modesty, not just only reciting the Buddhas. Doing that we will gradually have good luck.
Therefore, just a thought can make us better or worse but our selves remain unchanged. Normally we think an arrogant person has big self and a humble one has weak self. It is not correct. The truth is a thought of modesty can lift us to be saints, whereas a thought of arrogance can make us to be more mediocre. That is why anyone who can control their thought will be able to attain enlightenment, while those who cannot will be led to a wrong way. So the way of thinking is very important.
Get caution for our thoughts
We have to be careful about what we think in every thought. Here are some ideas that we need to be careful about:
Thought of compassion is very important. We are now normal, not too wealthy, too talented, or too much better than anyone else. We have not done any thing great for the world. However, we do remember the Buddha’s teaching of loving all beings, and take a vow of this day by day. This will create a good seed that probably nine or ten lifetimes after, we will become a talented king or leader who so much loves his people. The law of cause and effect is so strange like that!
But not simply starting to have a thought of loving all beings and then we can become a great leader in current life. We have to practice this in every moment of our lives, and continuously in many lives. When we make a vow of loving all beings, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will watch us in every moment to make sure whether we have completely compassionate minds. If three years, five years, or ten years later when our minds are imbued with compassion, the Buddhas will bring difficulties and adversities to challenge us. For example, there are several people hating us for no reason, or there are some miserable people coming to us for our help. That is a challenging time for us to train our thought of loving beings.
In the first ten years of having compassion in mind, nothing happens to us. But in the next ten years, we no longer live in peace. The Buddhas will bring many obstacles to check if we can truly love or forgive others. There will be many people asking for our help and there will be many people wanting to harm us. We cannot stay reciting and praying to the Buddhas in peace anymore. We have to take action and face every situation. Challenge after challenge, life after life, when all the conditions have gathered, we will be born to be a great leader just because of a thought which had been generated during nine or ten lifetimes before.
When practicing the Dharma, do not think that we are alone. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas always take care of us in each of our thoughts.
If one day, we ran a charity organization of one thousand members, so there were many people praising us. Then we started thinking “I am so great! I am the key people. Without me, this organization cannot achieve any success.” Then the Buddhas would get back all, and not assign anything to us. Gradually, bad luck would come to us and we failed to do anything. Maybe when we were near death, we had to be alone in a deserted house. If luckier we still had some blessings left, we would end up in nicer place but no more glory.
We often think that we did everything, which makes us more and more arrogant then our blessings gradually are ruined. Indeed, all things happening to us have been arranged by the Buddhas in order to challenge us.
For example, recently our temple held a ceremony and a huge number of people came to participate in. They slept all over the temple. There were twelve thousand rice boxes and eight thousand loaves of bread being consumed. Many people might think that our temple was very flourishing. In fact, the Buddhas arranged each detail and assigned each person that made the ceremony succeed. And if we thought it was due to our talent, to our good preaching that many people came to our temple, we were very stupid and made a mistake.
The Buddhas have controlled the movement of events so that we can have good conditions to continue practicing Dharma. Although everything is ruled by the karma law, if we had wrong thoughts, our blessings would be ruined so we could not be able to continue our practice. This is the lesson learnt from us.
Thus, if you were the person who brought up your family, you would think that without you your family was unable to have all conditions to live well. Then you forced everyone in your family to obey our orders. You should not do that. Please note that without the whole family’s blessings, you cannot earn money well. You should keep this thing in mind so as to love and to respect your family more.
Our temple has about one hundred monks and nuns. Many people feel puzzled that how our temple has enough food to feed all those brothers and sisters. The truth is the Buddhas raise everyone and of course, it is based on our whole temple’s blessings. If every monks and nuns attempts to practice Dharma diligently, thus the temple has blessings of not being hungry. Our people usually recite Loi Khan Nguyen (The prayers are mainly about compassion and modesty). After reciting for a while, we realized that our blessings being increased. That is an evidence showing that Buddhas do bless us.
Therefore, only stupid people are arrogant, while wise ones who understand the causality law, the realms (of animal, human beings, hungry ghost, gods…) will never dare to be proud of themselves because they are afraid of losing their blessings. The more people understand, the more cautious, careful, modest, and respectful for others they are.
Thought of compassion
Living in this world, we have to practice loving all human beings. Sometimes the presence of someone makes us work harder. The more people the harder we work. But it is the assignment that the Buddhas give to us, so we have to accept and fulfill it. We should be happy and deferential for all that come to us.
Do you remember the story of Peter Pan, the flying boy from Neverland?
When the night came, he often flew to an England family and played with three children: Wendy-the oldest sister, John and Michael.
One night, he taught those kids how to fly then they flew all the way to Neverland where there were pirates and orphans. After defeating the pirates, the kids returned to their family in England. In addition to the lost three children, there were also over ten kids. The parents of Wendy, John and Josh were worried because they did not know how to earn enough money to take care of all of them. But finally they decided to keep all the boys and girls whatever would happen. Surprisingly, a kid took out of his pocket a lot of gold and jewels that they got from the pirates after fighting against them.
You see, a minute ago, the parents did not know about that, they just accepted bringing up those kids from their hearts which full of loving and compassion for the children. As the law of karma, that gold was a reward for them. Do you agree with me this is a very nice story?
Another example, if you unexpectedly had a relative coming to your house so as to be convenient to go to hospital. In a few days later, though she had not yet recovered from her disease, she ran out of money. What will you do in this situation, helping or abandoning her?
Yes, we have to help her because this is the work that the Buddhas assigned to us. If we refused this sacred mission of loving and helping people then gradually we would get a lot of unhappiness. So anyone who appears in our life, we have to love and to respect them. Those who behave like that will gain a great reward in the future.
As for us, when old people came to our temple for staying there to practice Dharma. Unless there were unaceptable conditions, we always welcomed all of them and we knew that this was a mission, a challenge, a causal condition for us. Or, when there are many Buddhists coming to our temple, apart from joy, we are afraid that we cannot take enough care of everyone. Whoever comes to our temple from far or near places, we always appreciate these visits and feel grateful to all of them.
Practice in the Right Way
There are some people think that they practice Buddhism in order to be released
from life and to do that they must have pure mind, i.e. they should not care for anything. Such people who cannot bring any benefit to others, become useless to the world. Therefore, they will not be released from the living world. Those who love and be kind to others, live responsibly can be liberated from the suffering of life.
There was someone having complained to us, “I am working very hard and I know this is owing to my karma. Anyway, I have to be kind to the world so that someday I will be free from it then concentrate on practice for liberation.” This thought was right. While his work is still affecting many people, he cannot leave them for his liberation purpose. The Buddhas want him to practice Right Action and Right Livelihood, so he should accomplish these two tasks simultaneously.
Accomplishing Right Action means we do beneficence to others, and fulfill our responsibility in work. Accomplishing Right Livelihood means we earn for our family’s living, in the right way.
The Buddhas know his wish to become a monk so that They rush him to do these two things in order to prepare for him. Otherwise, the Buddhas would let him do his business leisurely from year to year until the end of his life.
Please keep in mind that according to the order of the Eightfold Noble Paths, Right Action is first then Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration subsequently. We have to follow this order. That’s mean when we are in the stage of Right Action, we make every effort to help people; when we are in the stage of Right Livelihood, we try our best to work for raising our families. This way we can follow Buddhism until our death.
Therefore, if you have a job to do and a family whose lives are still based on your supports and you wish to be a monk or a nun, you should bring up our family as well as help other people as your priority. When you finish everything and gather enough good conditions, the Buddhas will let you be ordained as your wish.
The law of karma and the thought of gratefulness
The law of cause and effect is very fair and complicated. For example, one fixed a broken road, later he would achieve blessings of travelling by convenient transportation, that is, he may have a car later. There are many possibilities of having a car. He is probably rich so that he is able to buy a car on his own, or there
is someone giving a car to him as a gift. The causality law is not just simple that if we fix a road then cars appear in front of our houses like magic. Every thing just goes normally under the principle of the karma law.
In case that someone gives us a car, we must be grateful to them. Despite having a car is due to our good deeds, this is the person who brings good luck to us. This thing happens in order to make us owe the benefactor a little bit because of our causal conditions in our past lives.
Or when a person prays to the Buddhas, “Dear Buddhas, please bless me to build a nice house this year so that our parents have a place to rest and practice as well as we have a good place to worship the Buddhas.” And that year, several good things came, and he was able to build a nice house with help from many other people. Although the fact that he built the house was due to his efforts, the blessing of the Buddhas to him was completely true. The Buddhas had helped him to have good luck in his business and there were many people come to help. They always secretly bless and arrange everything for him.
However, there are two extremes that should be avoided:
+ The first extreme is that person just believes in superstition but not causality law. He always believes and prays to gods whenever he faces difficulties in his life. If he can overcome difficulties, he feels grateful to gods, otherwise he feels unhappy and blaming.
We must do good, and then good returns to us; just like we must grow the apple tree so that we can enjoy a delicious apple. We are the owner of our lives, we have to do good deeds then gods can help us.
+ The second extreme is that person only considers the causality law. He thinks that he has done good deeds in past lives, so now he receives good results. The truth is surrounding people have helped him, and gods protected him too. Although things follow by the law of cause and effect, the loving bond with the surrounding people and the support from the Buddhas are also present.
Just stiffly seeing like “I deserve to receive what I worked for”, we are unable to feel grateful to people who help us. This will lead to the damage of our current blessings.
The good view – the middle one is the combine of two extremes:
We realize that our current blessings come from the good deeds in the past lives; and we treasure the supports of others and the Buddhas. If we have the middle view, we can keep the right attitudes to build our lives more beautifully.
“Just a thought of arrogance, would leave all merits.
Just a thought of modesty, would come all luck.
Just a thought of compassion, great things we can make.
And just a thought of gratefulness, good things we can keep.”
Namo Shakya muni Buddha.