Deva or goddess in the realm of sensual pleasure

Pleasure in the Dharma

In my intellectual childhood (i.e. when my mind was still as blank and pliant as a kid’s, although I was already a hot-blooded teenager), I took part in many gospel activities and attended Youth for Christ leadership camps where I learnt song-leading, analysed Bible passages and practised the Billy Graham-style of preaching.

Even today, at a moment’s notice, I believe I still can deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon on any scriptural topic, complete with punchlines and thundering quotes from the King James Bible (the only thing lacking would probably be passion and conviction in the preaching).

What kept me and most teens going mindlessly in the religion (instead of looking for girls and alcohol) was the good fellowship together which became mutually self-strengthening. In fact, I spent almost all my leisure time taking part in all kinds of activities in the Methodist Church’s youth group, known as MYF or Methodist Youth Fellowship. I still think occasionally of the old friends in MYF with vague affection.

But of course Jesus warned that being busy in social activities is not the way to personal growth and spiritual development (see his gentle warning to Martha about being overly busy, Luke 10:40-42). The true spiritual life is a life of alone-ness (but not a lonely life). And like Jesus, each person has to go through – alone – his personal Gethsemane.

Unfortunately for many individuals, when they are alone, they find themselves in bad company!

We are often mean and petty and selfish to our fellow humankind, and so we find that nobody likes us, include ourselves. We can’t live WITH ourselves, and to get rid of our own bad company, we engage in meaningless social activities – drinking and eating and making small talk with similar petty, lonely, selfish creatures. And when we finally have to go home, we become depressed, because there is nothing for the rest of the night but a cold bed and bad dreams. So people stay up late, and the vicious cycle continues.

Today, with my thoughts and perspective clarified by mindfully reading the Sutras, I find a quiet joy in practising the holy Dharma and letting its principles infuse my entire outlook. – July 22, 2009

The oft-quoted Vimalakirti Sutra, which focuses on lay people, describes such joy:

Joy in the pleasure of the Dharma

Vimalakirti (an enlightened layman) exhorted the goddesses with discourse suitable for their development towards Enlightenment, and soon they conceived the Spirit of Enlightenment. He then said to them:

You have just conceived the Spirit of Enlightenment.

From now on, you should devote yourselves to find joy in the pleasure of the Dharma, and should take no pleasure in desires.

What is the joy in the pleasure of the Dharma?

It is the joy of unbreakable faith in the Buddha, of wishing to hear the Dharma, of serving the Sangha (the congregation of monks) and honouring the spiritual benefactors without pride.

It is the joy of renunciation of the whole world, of not being fixed in objects, of considering the five aggregates to be like murderers, of considering the elements to be like venomous serpents, and of considering the sense media to be like an empty town.

It is the joy of always guarding the Spirit of Enlightenment, of helping living beings, of sharing through generosity, of not slackening in morality, of control and tolerance in patience, of thorough cultivation of virtue by effort, of total absorption in meditation, and of absence of passions in wisdom.

It is the joy of extending enlightenment, of conquering Mara, of destroying the passions, and of purifying the Buddha field.

It is the joy of accumulating all virtues, in order to cultivate the auspicious marks and signs. It is the joy of the liberation of non-intimidation when hearing the profound teaching.

It is the joy of exploration of the three doors of liberation, and of the realisation of liberation. It is the joy of being an ornament of the seat of enlightenment, and of not attaining liberation at the wrong time.

It is the joy of serving those of equal fortune, of not hating or resenting those of superior fortune, of serving the spiritual benefactors, and of avoiding sinful friends. It is the joy of the superior gladness of faith and devotion to the Dharma.

It is the joy of acquiring liberative techniques and of the conscious cultivation of the aids to enlightenment. Thus, the Bodhisattva (the individual who aspires to be like Buddha) admires and finds joy in the delights of the Dharma.

Delights of sitting in meditation with Lord Buddha  |  Contents

Deva carving in Bedok temple, picture by Francis Chin