ALTHOUGH I WRITE mainly for Buddhists, it is not exclusively so and is more about Universal Dharma—that is, things that apply to everyone and everything—than just Buddhism.
But a word of warning, before I go further: This book will not suit everyone. If you are content with your religion—with the form, traditions, ceremonies, superstitions, and the comfort that may be derived from these things—please read no further, as you might only be disturbed. If, however, these things fail to satisfy you, and you want something more than externalia, I invite you to proceed. My purpose in this book—as in all my books—is to challenge people to investigate, and not be content with what they’ve been taught.
If you are searching for the Pearl of Great Price, you may be interested to know that pearls are formed in response to the irritation caused by particles of grit in an oyster shell. To overcome this irritation, the oyster secretes layer upon layer of a substance called nacre around the grit, and the result is a pearl.
I consider myself to be like a particle of grit in an oyster shell. My purpose is to irritate, disturb and stimulate people into thinking, into finding or creating a pearl within themselves.
But many people don’t want to be disturbed, and are content to remain as they are, living on the material level; preferring what they’ve been taught or told to finding out for themselves, they resent any effort to get them to think about things. Because of unwillingness to think and question, therefore, religion has degenerated from a living experience and a means of discovery into a thing of belief and superstition.
Superstition finds fertile soil in religion, and thrives mightily therein. But there is less excuse for it in Buddhism than for other religions, because Buddhism states very clearly that we shouldn’t simply believe and follow blindly, but should investigate and strive to know.
In this book, although I have aimed strong words at superstition, I must express my gratitude to it, because it helps us to understand. How can we know what is right if we do not know what is wrong first? Even superstition and ignorance are useful, therefore.
S.E. Asia is going through an economic crisis as I write this, and countless people are suffering. Some, not knowing how to cope with their changed situation, already gave up and committed suicide; one man even killed his wife and children so that he would not die alone! In times like these we need to apply Dharma in our lives, to be able to say Boleh Tahan! This is a Malay expression, which means Can Stand or Can Bear. We should recall that we have not always lived on the crest of a wave, and that there were many times before—were there not?—when we were down in the trough, but we survived anyway; and what we have done before, we can do again. Hold on, therefore, it will pass!
It was the Buddha’s way, when visiting the sick—either monks, nuns or lay-people—to ask: “Are you bearing up? Can you stand your pain?” He encouraged them to face their difficulties with fortitude, knowing, from His own experience, that they had the capacity to do this. He didn’t expect them to be supermen, but urged them to go beyond what they thought were their limits, and find what was needed in their own minds. It’s surprising what we can do, if we have to!
See how the lotus grows: rooted in mud, it comes up through dirty water, but stands pure and unstained above it. Without mud, the lotus cannot grow; such are the conditions necessary for its growth. And shall we grow otherwise?
If we are ignorant and suffering, remember this: nothing comes from nothing. Stainless steel is made from iron-ore; without iron-ore (ignorance) we cannot make stainless steel (wisdom). You see, there is something good about ignorance and suffering, after all. It depends upon how we look at it.
Not understanding how everything comes and goes, when we gain something, we feel good, and when we lose something, we feel bad. We adapt very easily from not-having to having, but not so easily from having to not-having. In many ways, we are much more fortunate than our ancestors; indeed, not so long ago, houses didn’t have running water or electricity and all the things powered by it. Although we find it hard to imagine how people managed without everything we take for granted, they did, and did so quite well; in fact, they were probably happier, in their simplicity, than we are in our complexity!
We have been living in a fool’s paradise, thinking the good times would last forever. And now that things have come tumbling down we suffer. But if we can collect ourselves and take a clear look at what is happening, we might be able to find treasures of a different kind: inner resources that will help us to deal with all kinds of adversity.
Times of adversity are times when we can get a good look at ourselves, which we seldom have—no, don’t want to do—when times are good. Our principles are put to the stress-test: how far will we bend before we break? How far will we go before we say: “No, enough; I’m not going any further!” It is at times when we are thrown back on ourselves that we find true the old saying: Necessity is the Mother of Invention. And it’s exciting, too, because we find that we’ve been expending too much energy on flying high, when we could have managed with much less. And who was it all for? Not really for ourselves, but more to impress others by; uncertain of ourselves, and seeking reassurance from others, we actually live more for them than we do for ourselves, ridiculous as it may sound!
Some people commit suicide not because they find life too hard to bear, but because they do not get what they want from it; living self-centeredly, when life doesn’t bring what they want when they want it, they simply give up. Their desires, their looking, prevents them from seeing what they’ve already got.
The Dharma provides
us with the means to help people—some people, at least. If anyone reading this
book would like to talk to me about anything, I invite them to contact me at the
address given. Don’t simply give up and throw away your treasure just because
you have not found what you want; try to look at things in a different way; try
to discover what you have and are! Remember
the words Boleh Tahan