TLDR: Everyone has a different take as to what they think is important in life. Three things that matter most to me are love and kindness, personal growth and development as well as purpose.
Disclaimer: my answer to this question is based on my personal experience and reflection. Everyone has different takes on this matter. Please treat it with a pinch of salt. Thank you:)
Once, I asked my dad if he had ever blamed my grandparents for not sending him to university. Out of the eight siblings, only my Ah Pek (paternal elder uncle) was given the support to pursue higher education. What made me feel indignant was that my Ah Pek did not take the opportunity to complete his degree.
On the other hand, my dad had to give up his dream of becoming a doctor. He had to take on the role of an ‘oldest’ son (Ah Pek was the oldest). This gave Ah Pek the opportunity to further his studies. My dad was a smart boy who always scored first in his cohort despite having to work after school and during the weekends when other kids were playing.
He was also a kind brother who always gave in to his siblings. I just found it such a shame that he did not get the opportunity he deserved. However, his answer to my question was a no. I was perplexed.
As a young girl, I grew up feeling jealous of my older sister. She was always the priority. From the presents that my parents got for us to enrichment classes she was sent to, she always had the best.
Even the main reason why I was sent to study in Singapore was to accompany her (we are from Indonesia). We are only one and a half years apart but she seemed to always have more than me. I drew so many parallels between my dad’s life and mine but why did he respond so differently from me?
He explained to me: “there is no reason for me to blame them. The condition just was not right.”
“I was glad that at least your Ah Pek had a chance to go to college.” He shared.
“He had good kamma. Think about it, if it was not for our family’s financial difficulties, do you think I would work hard to be where I am right now? I could pay for your Ah Gou’s (aunt’s) education, help to build the temple, and send you and Jie Jie to Singapore. Life is about making the best of what you have and being purposeful with it.” He added.
Going back to the topic of this essay, what really matters in life?
From this short story, we could derive three main lessons:
1. Love and kindness
My dad’s love for his family was the strength that kept him going despite all the challenges that he faced. It was definitely not easy to combine work and study at such a young age. Yet, he did not complain and remained hopeful.
He did not see his choice of helping the family as a sacrifice, but rather, a privilege to show his love and care for his family.
Because he sees life from the lens of love and kindness instead of hatred and resentment, he lives with contentment and peace. He also gained people’s trust as well as love and respect from his children.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao Tzu
2. Personal Growth and Development
No one is born perfect and that is the beauty of it. When we are aware of our weaknesses, we learn that there is no reason to be conceited and proud.
Looking back, the reason why I was often jealous and dissatisfied was that I held on to the fixed view that I had to have more to be happy.
I blamed everything on the outside world, thinking that everything was unfair. My life was in a downward spiral as I held on tightly to my victim mentality.
After learning about the Four Noble truths, I came to understand that the source of my suffering was craving. Not getting what I want to result in so much anger and hatred. The mind’s nature is to always seek a more pleasant experience. However, the more things that I wanted, the more pain I got. That is why drug addicts find it challenging to overcome their addiction and need higher doses over time.
Meditation is so helpful in training the mind to be more mindful, peaceful, and aware. Although I am new to meditation, I put in efforts to be a better practitioner. After all, personal growth and development is a work-in-progress right? *Wink wink*
“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.” – Dhammapada 103
We may seek the meaning of life, but there is actually none. That is why as Buddhists, we practise working towards the end of Saṃsāra (cycle of rebirth).
However, it does not mean that we live a dissipated life. Instead, we create our own meaning of life.
Meaning in life can include developing kindness, compassion, and love. In other words, we make peace with our lives by having good relationships with ourselves and with others. We can practise this anytime and anywhere.
“Better it is to live one day strenuous and resolute than to live a hundred years sluggish and dissipated.” – Dhammapada 112
Thank you for reading my reflection on what matters in life. I hope you gained something out of it.
- Learn to not confuse perception from truth. This is because perception is subjective and may not depict the story accurately. Clinging to perception causes one to become infatuated, leading to more craving and suffering. (MN 149)
- Practise the four brahma-viharas (loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity) to lead a happier life.
- Be patient with yourself. Every process takes time and there is no timeline for you to follow.