Recently, I was reminded of this old sutra from the Pali Canon, the Gotami Sutta (AN 8.53):
“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.'”Translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu
I’ve always liked this simple, straightforward benchmark of the Dharma. It reminds me of a quote by a Zen master many centuries later (quoted here originally):
This old man [himself] has spent more than thirty years in the rinka [monasteries], sitting in Zen meditation, quietly withering away my desires, without expectations for the morrow. When hunger comes, I eat. When the time comes, I sleep….The present does not persist. The past and future do not existSōtō Zen in Medieval Japan by William M. Bodiford
One of the advantages of old age is perspective, and (ideally) not getting hung up on the ups and downs of life as much compared to our youth when everything is fresh and raw. Being able to approach life through equanimity and goodwill, not being tossed about by the Eight Winds is a great gift for oneself and others.
Of course, many older people are in fact the opposite: childish, petty, and irrational too. The older one gets, the more social filters break down and their true nature reveals itself. Similarly, I still have plenty of petty and mean days myself, but looking back, I do feel the Buddha-Dharma has helped smooth at least the roughest edges over time.
That’s why, as the Buddha and the Zen teacher both show, training in the Buddha-Dharma is so useful. Setting good habits and healthy perspectives sooner than later will gradually pay off over time, like a good investment.
The more you invest, and the sooner you invest, the better.
Namu Amida Butsu
P.S. I do have certain reservations about Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s rather conservative approach toward women’s ordination in Buddhism, but that’s not to deny his positive contributions as a translator. I’d call it a “professional disagreement”, except of course I am just a layperson and not a bhikkhu. 😅
P.P.S. Unlike the last two posts, this is a new one, not a re-post. 😎