President’s Message

By Bhikkhu Bodhi

In traditional Asian cultures, Buddhism has a long-standing and close connection with death. People perform rituals to ensure long life, ward off illness, and obtain a happy rebirth. Monks conduct funeral rites and ceremonies to share merit with the departed. Temples have memorial shrines to preserve the ashes of deceased loved ones long into the future.

However, the Buddha did not teach the Dharma for the sake of the dead; he taught it primarily for the living. The Dharma is, above all, a guide to life, a way to make our lives richer in purpose and deeper in meaning, a path to the highest happiness and peace. Just as we rely on a GPS to guide us along an unfamiliar road, so we rely on the Buddha’s teachings to guide us through the journey of life, from our childhood into our old age.

As a guide to life, the Dharma operates in three spheres: our understanding, our motivations, and our conduct. The way we live our lives depends firstly on our views, on how we understand the nature and purpose of life. To understand life correctly, in accordance with the Dharma, we need to be guided by right views. If we think that the purpose of life is to enjoy worldly pleasures, or to become rich and famous, all our activities will be driven by the desire for pleasure, wealth, and fame. If we think that the purpose of life is to become wiser, more compassionate, and more worthy human beings, our activities will be motivated by the quest for wisdom, by the effort to remove our faults and cultivate beautiful qualities of the heart.

Our understanding affects our motivation. The Buddha expressly included right motivation as the second factor of the noble eightfold path. On the negative side are the motivations of sensual desire, ill will, and violence; on the positive side, the motivations of detachment, loving-kindness, and compassion. When we look into ourselves, we can see how our minds are a battlefield where these opposed motivations constantly vie for supremacy. To take the Dharma to heart is to keep in check the negative motivations, the unwholesome attitudes, and to strengthen the wholesome motivations, the beautiful attitudes, until they become habitual.

Our attitudes in turn influence our conduct. On the one side, the Buddha speaks of wrong speech, wrong deeds, and wrong occupation; on the other side, of right speech, right deeds, and right occupation. The choice between these two types of conduct confronts us at every moment of our waking life. We can choose to lead a life driven by selfish desire in which we act rashly, in ways that inflict harm and suffering on others, eventually inviting suffering to recoil upon ourselves; or, on the contrary, we can act in ways guided by ethical principles, guided by wisdom, in ways that truly lead to our own lasting benefit and bring benefits to others.

The theme of this year’s summer Dharma camp is “Everyday Life Is the Way.” Together, we will be trying to learn how to use the Dharma as a map for living our everyday lives. As we investigate the teachings, we will find that the practice of the Dharma and the living of our everyday lives are as inseparable as the heads and tails of a coin. We’ll find that the Dharma can make our life brighter, more joyful, and more fulfilling than we’ve ever known before. We’ll see that, by living in the light of the Dharma, we can become a source of blessings for ourselves, for our family and community, and even in our own little way for the world.

May you all realize the fullest benefits of these five days we will be spending together and take home with you many precious lessons!

 

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