As we learned in the preceding lesson, good understanding and good thinking go together like twins that are never separated. But, to Buddhists, the use of the word thought in connection with our religion has a very special meaning. We are all familiar with what is meant when someone says “I have made up my mind.” We know he has decided what he wants to do and is determined to do it. We can not gain Right Understanding without thinking what is resolute, that has Right Aim. Buddhists who wish to get the most out of the Dharma of the Blessed One must have their minds made up to get Right Understanding and to use that understanding in their daily lives.
We may have good beliefs without having good understanding that has come from rightly aimed thought, but when we accept someone else’s opinions, then we are going against Lord Buddha’s advice to us to do our own thinking and to have our own aims. Sometimes we heard it said of a person that “he is such an aimless man” or the same. In the Dharmapada we are told that thoughtless people are somewhat like dead people. Such persons dislike to be resolute, they have no real aim in life; it is just too much bother to do their own thinking. But there are some great differences between corpses and unthinking, aimless people. The dead can get into no trouble; those who dislike to do clear, purposeful thinking can get into very much trouble indeed, and usually do. If each one of us will carefully remember the last three or four times we have been in some unpleasantness, we shall almost certainly find out that we got into those disagreeable situations because we did not look ahead and plan and think before we acted.
There is an old saying that is found in many languages and it is good advice for all of us: “Look before you leap.” It would be much better advice if worded: “Look and think before you leap.” Our Buddhist religion teaches us that each one of us has the kind of life he makes for himself. If we have no real resolution, no well-planned aim in life, and do but little thinking, then the result can only be a life full of confusion and unhappiness. It is only stupidity to blame our unhappiness on “bad luck.” In order to have a life that is full of satisfaction and is worthwhile, we must resolutely make sure that we do our best possible thinking with the best possible aim. The best way to make a good start in this direction is to free the mind from all the dark and ugly thoughts that ought to be a source of shame to anyone, young or old. For example, we must cleanse our minds of anger, ill-will, greed, hatred, jealously, envy and laziness. We must have real will to think clearly and act sensibly. If we do not have this aim, then we can blame only ourselves if unhappiness overtakes us.
Once there was a rich and aged man whose sole aim in life was to get as much excitement and pleasure as possible. He had decided never to think of anything unpleasant. He even refused to give thought to the fact that someday he must die. This foolish man decided to build a great pleasure palace for himself. When the mansion was completed, he filled it with many treasures and luxuries sufficient to last a hundred years.
The Buddha sent Ananda to preach to the foolish old man and urge him to have a better aim in life and to do better thinking. But the rich old man would not listen. In his stupidity he had convinced himself he would never die. His aim was wrong and so his thinking was wrong. Shortly after Ananda left, the old man died suddenly. When this news was brought to the Buddha, the Lord said: “A food, even though the wise instruct him, understands nothing of wisdom, because he has only foolish and selfish thoughts. Just as a spoon cannot taste soup, even so those whose minds are filled with wrong thoughts can never know how to get free from sorrow.”
Right thought will lead me on
To wisdom’s holy height,
And show to me the surest way
To pass through sorrow’s night.
Right thought will light me through
The shadows of this life;
“Twill ease my heart and peace assure
And free my mind from strife.
Right thought will be my guide
Across life’s troubled sea;
My pilot, compass, star and chart,
Right thought shall ever be.
Right thought will keep me on
The way to perfect peace,
And ferry to the other shore
Where all illusions cease.