Written by Ven. Kaduwela Atulagnana:: Year 2017 will see its end in a few days. Many people across the globe will celebrate the dawn of year 2018 with splendour and start day to day work in the New Year. In the next few days public media such as the radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the internet will start reflecting on the year 2017 presenting the highlights which took place in the social, political, economic, religious, and geographic domains. Recalling the progress and success of the above areas will result in joy. Declines and failures will cause sorrowful thoughts. Some incidents that took place in the year 2017 will be accepted in equanimity. Based on these past information the media will then make many forecasts and projections for the upcoming year. With this exposure to the media you will be loaded with abundant detail and end up as “an informed individual”.
These “informed individuals” approach the New Year in few ways. Inclining towards many unwholesome activities some breach one or more precepts from the five precepts in the dawn of the New Year. Some celebrate the New Year by engaging themselves in religious activities such as visiting the temple and listening to sermons. For some, the New Year is not an outstanding event in the calendar. They are not disturbed by it and continue to follow their usual routines. Evaluating the superiority or the inferiority of the above mentioned ways is up to the reader who is well versed in the wholesome (kusala) & unwholesome (akusala). You have to contemplate on the relevance and the impact of the past year’s highlights to your spiritual development. In simple words being informed about such matters of the physical world can be seen as “clearing a litter bin” on to our heads.
Even though the media present and analyse information about the past year in an attractive manner, they can’t explore into our minds. Exploring and drilling down into our minds is a task that we ourselves are solely obliged to. Thus, this document will provide a guide to look into our “internal world” disregarding the “external world”.
Contemplating on the past year in a mindful manner is challenging. Usually people tend to nurture defilements when they recall their past. While recalling the memories of sensual pleasures ‘desire’ is nurtured. Recalling bad things done and the good things that were not done people nurture ‘anger’ in gross and subtle forms. Buddha’s teachings mention that people bewailing on the past wither away like cut green reeds thrown on a hot stone. This happens because repenting is a form of anger (dosa). But Contemplating on the past with wisdom is invaluable for spiritual development for a practitioner who is following the path of nibbāna.
“Paccavekkhati” is the original pāli word which is appropriate in this context. It means to contemplate, to look upon, consider, review and understand. The word “Paccavekkhati” refers to contemplation on the past, present and future. In this context you have to contemplate on the way you spent year 2017 through an eye of wisdom.
The Right Way To Contemplate
Recalling the past based on the worldly criteria will nurture defilements. There is no possibility of misinterpretation if this reflection is done based on the Dhamma which is focused on self-enlightenment. In the Dhammapadathere is a stanza stating “If one knows that one loves oneself, he will take good care of himself”. At least during one of the three stages of life of a human being, namely childhood & adolescence, middle age and old age, a wise person, man or woman keeps vigilant over oneself.” If a lay person becomes heedless in their child hood & adolescence they have to be vigilant in the middle age. If the person becomes heedless in the middle age with family obligations they have to be vigilant in the old age. One cannot find anyone anywhere whom one loves more than oneself. The one who protects morality (sīla) is protected by morality. Therefore for a person who loves oneself than any other, the reflection on the past year should be done based on morality. A layperson’s morality is enforced through the five precepts; namely refraining from killing living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicating substances.
For this the following series of questions should be asked from yourself….!!!
In year 2017……………..
- How was my morality in the past year? Your mind will come up with a true answer. If you have lived in line with the precepts the mind will accept this with delight. Otherwise, it will resist accepting. No matter what the answer is you have to accept it because it is the truth.
- How many times did I breach the precepts? Your mind will state the frequency. The answers will be given as daily, once in a few days, weekly, monthly, randomly or I did not breach any precepts.
- What are the precepts breached by me? From refraining from killing living beings, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicating substances you will know that you breached one or few precepts.
- When a situation to breach the precepts appears did you knowingly breach them? Most people who breach precepts know when they reach a point of a breaching. However, the breaching takes place because they are blinded by defilements. Even if they don’t know about precepts there is no escape from the law of kamma. Sometimes your mind will come up with justifications and reasoning for the breaching (E.g. because of my children, spouse, parents, friends, employer etc.). If you pay attention you will be able to see these justifications coming up in various forms as well.
- What was the nature of the mind when a breach of precepts was taking place? In violating the five precepts mind is filled with unwholesome thoughts. You will be able to recall the defiled, spoiled nature in the mind when an unwholesome emerged. You will recall the pure nature of the mind if you fight back with energy and didn’t breach a precept when a situation for breaching appears. You will also recall the feeling of the joy of blamelessness
- What are the factors which encouraged the breaching of precepts? What are the factors that encouraged the protecting of precepts? The following are few reasons
- Some individuals are forever inclined towards breaching precepts. It is a routine activity. This may happen as a continuation of the activities practiced in the past lives. Some are protecting the precepts due to the same reason: because they were good in the past they are good in the present too. Even though you cannot see your past life you have to understand your own status.
- An individual’s associations have a significant impact on the spiritual growth and decline of a person. Association of virtuous friends results in protecting the precepts. If sinful friends are associated it will result in a breach of precepts.
- Some individuals are learned on the wholesome and unwholesome. However, when a situation to breach precepts appears they are not mindful on the worthy results of protecting precepts and perils of breaching them
- By falling away from virtue the immoral person encounters five perils:
- Great loss of wealth through heedlessness
- An evil reputation
- A timid and troubled demeanor in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmins, householders, or ascetics
- Death in bewilderment
- At the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a realm of misery, in an unhappy state, in the after world, in hell.
- The five blessings that are accrued to the righteous man through the practice of virtue
- Great increase of wealth through his diligence
- A favorable reputation
- A confident deportment, without timidity, in every society, be it that of nobles, brahmins, householders, or ascetics
- a serene death
- At the breaking up of the body after death, rebirth in a happy state, in a heavenly world.
- Some individuals recollect the worthy results of protecting the precepts and the perils when a situation to breach a precept appears.But their faith (saddhā) is not dominant tosuppress and stand against that unwholesome state.
A Conducive Setup for morality
In addition to the worldly goals set for 2018, a goal has to be set to protect morality. Mere goal setting will not serve the purpose. Factors supporting to protect the precepts have to be reinforced. Generally, many think that the present cannot be changed as it is determined by the preceding kamma. But the truth is that the influence from the past kamma can be changed by altering the present factors. Because of the lack of wholesome kamma some will not have the association of virtuous friends at ease. In that event virtuous friends who support the morality of friends have to be explored. Sinful friends need to be distanced. One should also determine to listen to dhamma and contemplate them. Such orderly practices to maintain discipline will undoubtedly lead to protection of one’s self- the one a person love the most.
This article merely provides a guide to contemplate the past year. However, one should bear in mind that the practical application can vary from person to person because the minds of individuals vary.Hence, a thousand people will think about a particular thing in thousand different ways. Therefore, based on the above guide the ways of reflection has to be implemented as appropriate.
Morality is the starting point of the journey to enlightenment. Contemplating on the well protected precept results in concentration (samādhi). There were bhikkus who became enlightened using the concentration which originated from contemplation on Morality. Also there were lay persons who achieved worldly success through the same practices. Gaining such results is possible to date. Thus, this note ends with a kind invitation for you to protect morality.