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Apr 24, 2010

The Art of Living

by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda

This article is reproduced from Voice of Buddhism, June, 1990 Vol. 28 No 1. Here Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda gives some homely advice to those who look down their noses on the commonsense approach to living. This article is directed at the general public, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, on how to live in peace and harmony.

An important rule for a happy life is the ability to live harmoniously with other people. To be able to do that, we must recognise that there are many paths that people can take to reach the same goal. Therefore, we must not get unduly upset if other people practise customs or have opinions which are different from ours.

Manners and Customs

The standards of good manners differ among societies. In some countries, guests at dinner are expected to eat as noisily as possible. It is also not considered impolite if the guests belch at the end of the meal, since this indicates that they really enjoyed the meal. Such table manners would be considered rude, ill-mannered or uncivilised in other societies.

While in one country, putting one's finger in one's mouth or nose for any reason is considered most insulting, it means nothing in some other countries. Some people think it is degrading to be struck by a shoe, yet among other people, a slipper can be used for spanking a child.

We discover the peculiarities of the manners and customs prevailing in other societies most acutely when travelling. We should not prejudge too quickly what is right or improper. In themselves, manners are neither good nor bad. But when they cause harm or hurt the feelings of others, then we judge an action as being good or bad manners.

We are living in an ever changing world. We should not cling blindly to the traditions, customs, manners and rituals practised by our forefathers or ancestors who adopted these practices according to their beliefs and understanding capacity. Some customs or traditions handed down by our ancestors may be good, while others are less useful. We should consider with an open mind whether these practices are congenial and significant to the modern world.

In the Kalama sutta, the Buddha has given this advice about customs, traditions, beliefs and practices: "When you know for yourself that certain things are unwholesome (akusala) and wrong and bad for you and others, then give them up... And when you know for yourself that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good for you and others, then accept them and follow them."

Today, some elderly people cannot tolerate the modern ideas and ways of living of the younger generation. They expect their children to follow the same age-old traditions of their forefathers. Instead of adopting such an attitude, they should allow the children to move with the times when the activities are harmless. Elders should call to mind how their own parents objected to certain popular modes of behaviour prevalent at the time when they were young. These differences in perception between the conservative parents and the younger generation are common sources of conflict within families. It does not mean that parents should hesitate to counsel and guide their children if they have gone astray due to some erroneous values. But when correcting them, it is good to remember that prevention is better than punishment. Parents should also explain to their children why certain practices are wrong, because children are not mature enough to reason why certain things are bad and certain things are good.

Allowing others the Right to Differ
If a person lives all by himself, then he will not have any problem with differing opinions. But if he has chosen to live in society, he must learn to deal with views and opinions of others even though they do not conform with his.

We are also living in a world where, apparently, might is right. The strong take advantage of the weak and the rich exploit the poor. If we cannot agree, we have to learn at least to agree to disagree. We should express our views gently and politely without trying to impose views on others by force. Those who use physical force to overcome their opponents clearly show their inability to convince the opponents that they are right.

We find comfort in those who agree with us, but discomfort in those who disagree. Sometimes, others' opinions on our attitudes or actions may not be something we would like to hear. But if we listen to them carefully, we will realise that there may be some truth in their opinions. This can give us a chance to improve ourselves if we are prepared to change our ways. The world is like a garden with different kinds of flowers. Like a bee gathering honey in the garden, we should be selective in choosing what is good in an opinion and leave behind what is not.

Patience and Tolerance

Those who can remain cheerful during difficult times are admirable and a source of inspiration to others. They can avoid conflicts by seeing the lighter side of things. A wise man can avoid a quarrel by answering jokes and remarks directed at him with another joke. When you play a game, you should not show your temper when you lose. By doing so, you not only spoil the fun of the game, you may lose the game completely.

Every person is responsible for making a better world by planting the seeds of patience, love and honesty deeply in the human heart.

Eventually, a new era will blossom not only during his lifetime but also for generations to come. He would be a cultured man who left the world better than when he came into it.

Some may say that this is impractical and too idealistic to follow. Some are cynical and wonder if man who is struggling to eke out a living in a hostile world can cultivate love and kindness. While this is by no means easy to accomplish, perseverance and determination can make this concept become a reality.

Diplomacy

You cannot hope to achieve peace by correcting each and every person in this world. In the same way, you cannot remove the world of stones and thorns to ensure the pathway is smooth. To feel comfortable walking on uneven ground, we should learn to guard our senses and to have peace of mind since we cannot succeed in removing disturbing objects from the world.

There are many ways to correct a person if he is wrong. By criticising, blaming and shouting at him publicly, you will not be able to correct him. You only make him more adamant in his views. Correct him without humiliating him. This is by far the most common way to avoid making more enemies. If you kindly point out his mistakes, he is more likely to listen to you, and some say he will thank you for your guidance and kindness.

Whenever you express your views regarding certain matters, avoid harsh words spoken with anger so as not to hurt the feeling of others. Always express your views gently and politely. On the other hand, you should not lose your temper or show your sulky face when your faults are pointed out. You may think that by raising your temper, showing an ugly face, and shouting at others, you can intimidate others into overlooking your shortcomings. This is a false and wrong attitude to adopt. Rudeness, yelling, anger and swearing are a weak man's imitation of strength.
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