Dhammapada verses 155 & 156

Those who have neither lived the chaste life
Nor gained wealth in their youth*
Waste away like frail herons
In a lake devoid of fish.

Those who have neither lived the chaste life
Nor gained wealth in their youth
Lie around like [arrows misfired] from a bow,
Lamenting the past. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)

*Gil’s note: In the Buddhist discourses, gaining wealth through ethical means was considered an appropriate goal for the laity.

These verses close out the chapter titled “Old Age”, so they are about the regret an older person might feel if she thinks her life has been wasted. Our biggest fear is, or should be, not doing what we could do (or have done) with our life. When we get to the end, it’s too late, and the habits of avoidance or escape leave us unprepared to face our own death.

“Build a meaningful life” is a message we find available all around us, though there aren’t many guides indicating what we should or might find valuable. Traveling the world can be one goal, but to what end? Accumulating money is another common concern, but for what?

Backing up, do we have a clear idea of what makes a life worthwhile? We can observe people we admire, whether we know them personally or not, to stimulate our own exploration. World leaders like Nelson Mandela can point us in a direction, but we must investigate and eventually discover what we sense is our place, our role, where we can find meaning. Some people find fulfillment in monastic life, some in family life, others in different forms of giving or teaching. Where does our curiosity point? What skills or relationships do we find most satisfying to develop?

It’s never too late to create a satisfying life. Whether we are young or old, whether we’ve been burdened by duties or not, or have taken a long detour into unwholesome habits, we can start right now, today, to turn in a wholesome direction. We can heal ourselves and help others; we can focus on specific social problems and find our own niche to support the good efforts of others; we can be responsible family and community members; we can cultivate our hearts and minds which naturally leads us to beneficial places for ourselves and others. If we ask ourselves the question, we can discover whether we’re spending our days in a way we consider worthwhile, that we won’t regret later.

It’s often said that we die in the same way that we live. If we are dissatisfied with our everyday life, we won’t be satisfied when it draws to a close. If we have done our best, learned from our mistakes, and been of service in some way, when we come to the end of our life we’ll know that we have, and have had, a good life.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Ageing, Causes and results, Death and dying, Dhammapada, Livelihood, Mindfulness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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