As one ages, one becomes more easy-going, and more willing to go along with life’s current. Picture: Tanjung Uban beach, Bintan, Indonesia, October 2004

Changing priorities as age creeps up

I have been so busy holding down a job (and looking frantically for a new one when my company wasnt doing well) that I let age creep up on me unaware. Although for over a decade I’ve been keeping my body fit and energetic with weights exercises and distance running, I find myself lately experiencing mental fatigue. My mind no longer has an abiding desire or strong interest in material gain, career advancement or sensual enjoyment, all of which are what ernest young men strive for.

My perspective and priorities, indeed, have gone through a sea-change. Ideas and goals like job success, high salary, social status and lifelong learning (to keep up with new knowledge and change), now sound trite, tedious and tiring.

All I want now, in late middle-age, is to maintain a regular job and keep my body fit, so that I can have peace of mind to concentrate on the one thing that truly matters in this life and the next: practising Buddhist meditation and keeping Buddhist precepts.

This is the only practical way to deal with age and, ultimately, death.

Buddhist meditation practices and precepts have nothing to do with religious views. Professor Robert Thurman, himself a meditation master, calls Buddhism a mental science that can be utilised by people of any faith.

Buddha himself said there are 84,000 approaches to enlightenment (the ultimate goal in his teaching). What he meant was that any expedient, skilful means can be employed so long as it leads us to wholesome thoughts, wholesome intentions and wholesome conduct.

Only the personal, consistent application of Buddhist meditation (no, not any yoga or New Age mumbo jumbo) can cleanse and steady my mind, and eventually lead me to see and know the nature of reality. This kind of understanding is not intellectual or conceptual, it comes from a mental experience of “seeing” things as they really are.

I am a long way from it. Meditation sessions are painful, boring and, on the surface, fruitless. So far, I have not become a calmer, more detached person. On the contrary, I still suffer from long bouts of laziness, sleepiness, lust, anger and non-mindfulness, which no practising Buddhist should be guilty of.

My goal is the same as any other follower of Buddha – to progress towards enlightenment, if not in this life, then over the next few rebirths. I don't want to merely exist and go mindlessly round and round the cycle of samsara.

My inspiration and guidance to achieve this goal come from the lives and writings of past Buddhist meditation masters (the Bodhisattvas and Dharma masters) who were authentic human beings. Their entire conduct was effortless authenticity. They lived pure, compassionate lives in a natural way because purity and compassion have been internalised in their mental fibre.

A non-swimmer has to work hard to keep afloat in the water but an experienced swimmer doesn’t require that effort – moving about in the water is a natural, effortless effort as far as his body is concerned. The non-swimmer can’t understand this, neither can the experienced swimmer explain it. The only way the non-swimmer can become a proficient swimmer is to practise and practise.

I’ve spent over three decades reading studiously Western philosophies and religious doctrines, and I can’t help but be convinced that the statements, arguments and “conclusions” in these teachings are simply speculations. But whether the teachings were written on stone tablets or electronic tablets, they sound clumsy and contrived in their construction, literary composition and narrative flow. If I need a religion or philosophy to follow, I could churn out a far more imaginative and convincing story.

Life is short, particularly now that I have entered late mid-middle age. How many more gainful years can I live? At most, it will be 30 more years, which will fly away swifter than a feather in the wind.

– Francis Chin, Jan 2005

Contents Page | The Middle Path

Changing priorities in middle age; picture of boat in Tanjung Uban beach, Bintan, Indonesia