The Purpose and Meaning of Life

Venue: The Hokkien Tiong Pavilion 

Today, we have the opportunity to give dana to eight monastics. Two of us, namely Ven Balacitta and I are full-fledged monks while the other six look like us, with shaven heads and alms bowls. However, they are dressed in white robes. Their ages range from a 31 year old young man to a 60 year old grandfather. They are here for the third Introduction to Monkhood Programme (IMP). As the name suggests, they are here to experience and understand for themselves, for all intents and purposes, life as a monk. While here, they observe the eight precepts. In Malaysia, we have a big imbalance of too many devotees and too few monks—so much so that we have to get monks from overseas. IMP helps to plant the seeds of monkhood in the hope that in future, some of them will be inspired to go forward as monks in order to address this imbalance and help to spread the Dhamma.

Yesterday evening, we had a discussion on the purpose of life and each participant was given the opportunity to tell the others why he decided to join the IMP. One of the participants is very successful in life. Despite this, he finds life empty as he feels that something is missing. He finds no peace of mind and no contentment. He realised that there can never be enough success due to people’s greed and insatiable desires. He was brought up more as a Taoist but while in his twenties in the United Kingdom, he was introduced to Buddhism which then made him more conscious of ethics and morality in life.

Another participant led a harder life as he came from a poor family with many children. Being the eldest, he had to start working to support his family after finishing Form Five. There was no chance for further education. He later had the opportunity to learn Buddhism in Fo Guan Shan, Taiwan. There, a monk foretold that he would achieve success much later in life if he worked hard. This later came true. He was also told that he had a sixth sense, which he later discovered. At one time, while he was in Singapore, he “felt” the presence of his father-in-law walking to-and-fro by his side a few hours before his father-in-law passed away in Seremban. During meditation, he can “see” beings. Even though his children are now grown up, he still cannot become a monk due to his responsibility towards his wife. For the moment, he would like to use his retirement to practise more chanting and meditation.

In his youth, the third participant has the same general aim as most people, i.e. to lead a successful life with a proper job, a stable income and enjoy life’s physical comforts. However, for the last two years, he has felt that his life is empty and he is now inclined towards helping the less fortunate by joining societies such as Tzu Chi. His aim now in life is to make people happy by reaching out to help those who are in need. As he is still single, I encouraged this participant to renounce for he would surely be able to help more people as a monk. He says he will consider this option.

The fourth participant wanted to renounce a long time ago but faced parental objection. Instead he became a sailor and for the last ten years, has sailed around the world. In his travels, he has come to realise that actually people everywhere in the world are no different from one another. Parental pressure further saw to it that he became a husband and eventually, a father. For the present, there is no chance to renounce because of the children. However, he seeks to practise more meditation at home and by attending retreats, would like to keep in view the prospect of monkhood for the future when his children have all grown up.

Yet another participant who is in his thirties still does not understand the meaning of life. He feels that he is just drifting along. He is here to do an in-depth search to see if he can find and experience the true meaning of life.

It is hoped that the IMP will be able to help all these different personalities in their quest for peace by allowing them to experience for themselves “The Purpose and Meaning of Life.”

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