This is the third of our discussion group meetings concerning the topic, Ch’an in Everyday Life, a series of video talks given by Ch’an Master Sheng-yen. This talk is Living in the Present, and below are the discussion points of the meeting. Online readers are encouraged to watch the talk themselves and comment. Living in the Present
Because of the improvements in communications technology and the globalised media, we are aware of much more than our ancestors whose lives were lived simply. Even the educated were aware of their own specialism and little else. Now perceived expectation is that we all need know about much more that is going on far from our own country and lives.
Although we are better informed about the globe, rather than helping us, this flood of information hinders our ability to make effective decisions about our own lives. Because our awareness is so much broader, our focus is not on planning and thinking through the course of our lives. Instead, when it comes to making important personal decisions, we trust to luck and are impulsive.
Impact on Our Lifestyle
“A busy person makes the best use of his time.” This is true because they need to be economical with their activities, and this is what we need to do as well. Our days are busy, filled with activities – but how important are these activities? Grocery shopping, cinema, TV. In America, they would call this ‘busy work’ – activities that occupy your time but add nothing to the quality of your life. Minds and bodies are occupied but to what end? We need to use our time to the best of our ability, we use our time in the most efficient way and we don’t waste it.
In our lives, much energy is expended emotionally by events that we cannot control. Whether in a car , an underground train, a queue or a phone queue to customer service, rather than becoming frustrated, we need to make the best use of our time; in America it would be called making use of dead time. We do so by planning our lives, by allowing the mind to rest, letting the body relax. When we can take advantage of these times to benefit our lives, this is when shifu say that we are the busiest .
Lack of Focus on What we do
Living in the present is about experiencing life moment to moment. We spend our days doing several things at once: eating and watching TV, reading and thinking about work, watching TV and surfing the Internet, texting someone while talking to someone. By doing this you remove your focus and experience from the main activity, diluting it by diverting our attention elsewhere.
Consequences of a Lack of Focus
This sort of inattention shifu says is harming the other person since you are wasting their time as you need to inquire again what they are talking about or will not absorb what they are saying or asking you to do or what questions you need to ask them in order to get a task done. Where no other person is involved, such as watching TV and reading or using the Internet, you have to ask yourself why you are doing it. If you cannot remember what you are doing or what the plot of the movie is, what is the purpose of engaging in these activities? The person being cheated is yourself by not allowing yourself to focus on the one task, you dilute your ability to do it or to absorb the information. What of times when you need to think and plan, how much more important is it not to flood your mind with media, but to sit quietly and plan your day, your projector your future.
We can understand that the Buddha, in order to achieve enlightenment, learned how to live moment to moment and he continues to do so. For us also to take up this path, we must also learn to live moment to moment.