ONCE, AFTER GIVING several Dharma-talks somewhere in Malacca, I was asked for a further talk, and requested to speak on the subject of Compassion, as—so the person said—the people who would be there had attended the previous talks and wanted to hear "something different."

This took me somewhat by surprise because, although I had not actually mentioned it by name during the previous talks, I had spoken quite a lot about Compassion, seeing that it forms a major part of the practical application of the Dharma. It indicated that some of the people attending my talks had not really heard much at all; maybe their minds were already full to begin with, so couldn't take in any more. I recall beginning one of those talks by explaining the importance of knowing how to listen to a Dharma-talk: by disregarding the physical appearance and personality of the speaker, but paying close attention to what he says, so that the listener may find out, for himself, whether what the speaker is saying is true and relevant or not. Obviously, they had not heard this, nor what I had said about Vegetarianism. Did they only want words, theories and ideas, which they could then repeat to and impress others by?

Is Dharma only something to talk about, an intellectual toy? Obviously, to many people, it is. But Dharma can never be understood by such an approach. It must be applied in such a way that it expresses our Buddha-nature or Enlightenment-principle; it is not—or shouldn't be— something apart from daily life. But it seems that we can listen to too many Dharma-talks and read too many books, and become dull and intellectually-constipated thereby, stuck at the level of words and ideas, unable to get off the sand-bank of conceptual thought. This state might continue for a long time. Not being inspired upon first hearing the Dharma—which is the most crucial time—we fall into the habit of listening either as if they've heard it all before, or in expectation of hearing something marvelous and mystical, extraordinary and hitherto not thought of. This, of course, is the wrong way to listen to a talk and inevitably brings disappointment. Everything, every moment, is new; nothing remains the same as it was, neither is anything ever repeated. Even if we were to hear exactly the same words, or to read a book over and over, it would still not be the same, for we—our minds more than our bodies—have changed, and we see things differently because of that. Thus, although we might have heard a thing before, we have never heard it before; each time—every moment, everything—is new, including you. That is why subsequent readings of a book reveal things we didn't notice the first or second time. So, to listen with minds already fixed and made up is a guarantee of missing many things.

Actually, the success or failure of a Dharma-talk depends more upon the listeners than upon the speaker, because even if the speaker is dull and boring and has not much to say, an alert and sensitive listener might still extract something of value therefrom. And not only that, but just as neither the match nor the box contains fire, fire may be produced by striking the match against the box, so contact between the minds of the speaker and the listener, via words, might kindle the flame of understanding. Nor need it be anything special, of deep philosophical meaning, but just a meeting of minds in a needle-point of time, and flash!—"Yes, I know!"

Once, while I was living in Bataan Refugee Camp in the Philippines, a photographer gave a slide-show of shots he had taken around the Camp, including some of the sunset, and I recall surprised exclamations of "Beautiful," "Lovely," "Where is it?" from the refugees. The scenes shown were all around them, but they had not noticed them! Isn't it strange how we will see things and say: "Oh, how beautiful!" only when they are pointed out to us by someone else? Where are our eyes? Seldom in the present, seeing what is, that's for sure!

In the same Camp, I met a young man at the departure-area one day, and he said to me: "I have been here for seven months, dreaming of the day of my departure, but now that it's here, I'm sad and don't want to leave, because I see—for the first time, it seems—that the hills around the Camp are green."

Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide in poverty, but his paintings sell today in record, mind-boggling prices. Is it because people really appreciate his art or do they buy his paintings more for the prestige of owning them or as a business-investment? Have they, one wonders, ever closely looked at a real sunflower or an iris—such as he painted—to discover the wonder of life? We don't have to go far to find beauty, nor spend anything to possess it; it is all around us in abundance and we don't need to take out policies to insure it against fire or theft. The whole world is a public art-gallery for those with eyes to see; the changing seasons and weather-types provide us with constantly-renewed exhibitions. But to appreciate it all, we must first have a beauty-base within us, for truly it is said that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." If there is no beauty inside us, it will be hard to see and appreciate the beauty outside and around us. This is why it is so important to try to instill or inspire a sense of appreciation of beauty, a spirit of creativity and art, in our children; if such a spirit can be awoken and nurtured in them, they will be hard to influence into turning to violence, vandalism, destruction and crime. We can, I am sure, be brought to a wonderment of life; some people have it by nature, without having to be shown or guided into it by others, but they are comparatively rare. Those few, however, might help others to understand something of it, so that they come to discover the same thing in themselves. But we must attempt, by any means possible, to awaken this essential faculty in people; we are so much in need of this Love of Life today.

One time, during lunch at a temple in Sri Lanka, the monk next to me at the dining-table noticed that I didn't partake of a fish-dish, and asked me if I didn't like fish. "Oh, I like fish," I replied, "but when it's alive, not dead."

Certainly, being vegetarian is not everything; far from it. But if, as a regular eater-of-meat, a person takes the step of becoming vegetarian—which may be a little difficult at first, as it takes a while for the body and mind to adjust to the change of diet—it is some measure of her/his willingness to make some personal sacrifice for the sake of the Way. Is it too much to do? Many people will shyly smile and mutter, "I can't do that," meaning, of course, they won't do it. And so they continue to turn the Killing Wheel instead of trying to slow it down.

Often quoted, by way of justifying meat-eating, are words of the Buddha like these from the Amaganda Sutta: "Destroying living creatures, murder, wounding, theft, false-witness, treachery and deception—this, and not the mere eating of flesh, is impure." Yes, this is so, but we must know the context of those words: They were spoken to people who believed they would be defiled by eating meat and, as Jesus later said: it is what comes out of a person which defiles him, not what goes into him. But we are not talking about defilement of people; we are talking about the killing of animals; let us not evade the issue. The animals are slaughtered so people may eat their flesh; this is very clear, is it not? And if it is not clear, I would ask you to consider it. If no-one ate meat, the animals would not be killed for it. Why are we so reluctant to see this? Why are people so unwilling to give up the loathsome habit of eating dead bodies, which begin to putrefy at the moment of death? Why are they so attached to the taste of flesh? If taste is so important to them they should be reminded that vegetables can be prepared in very appetizing ways; in fact, they can be made to look and taste so much like meat that it is sometimes hard to tell the difference, but this is merely as a concession to those who find it hard to break the habit of eating meat.

Whatever we undertake, however, we should do it through understanding and not through force or compulsion; if we use our intelligence, we will know what to do without needing lots of rules or commandments. So, when—as sometimes happens—people ask me to "Tell us what to do," I refuse, saying: "If I told you what to do—don't smoke, drink alcohol, etc.— you wouldn't do it, so I'm not going to tell you. Instead, I want to try to help you to find out for yourselves what you should do." This is harder than to be told by someone else what to do, but if you can do it, you will not need to rely upon second-hand information or an external authority. I am saying nothing less than:


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