Not Worth It In The Long-Run

Recently, I read a Theravada Buddhist pamphlet at my local Thai restaurant by the famous teacher Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In the pamphlet I found this great quote:

Nothing is worth clinging to as ‘I’ or ‘mine’.

Usually when people try to explain Buddhism in English, they use big words like impermanence or attachment and so on. But not everyone understands what this means. What Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is saying makes more sense: most things in life are not worth it in the long-run.

For example, imagine that you spend a lot of money on a new iPad or game console, or you stay up overnight so you can be the first to buy it. Will it still be fun 30 years later? Looking back, was it worth the money and effort? What about getting an attractive partner? You might feel proud having a “hot girlfriend” but will she stay attractive forever? Will you two get along years later? What about being famous? What if you spend years finding the perfect job and then realize you hate it?

This is not to say that there are fun, pleasant things in life, but that in the long-run, they’re usually not worth the time, money or effort you put into it.

People often live for short-term gratification, without thinking about the future until it’s too late. They act like they are constantly drunk. By “drunk”, I mean that they think and act impulsively without considering the long-term cost or benefit. Then when it’s too late they sigh and regret many things in life.

Like the famous Iroha poem says:

Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.

So, it’s good to sober up and think long-term. Someday you will thank yourself.

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About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.
This entry was posted in Religion, Buddhism, Shingon, Theravada. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Not Worth It In The Long-Run

  1. Emily says:

    Hi Doug,

    I’m a fellow practitioner in the Korean Seon tradition. Just wanted to drop by to say that I very much enjoy reading your posts about Buddhism and practice! I agree with what you’ve written here. Lately I’ve been thinking of about the concept of giving my life over to the Dharma. What would that mean? Nothing big and dramatic, I think. Just a commitment to not let myself “get led around by the nose” (as my teacher puts it) by all the impulses, desires, and aversions in life. And then, when I forget and something leads me off by the nose, to just come back to the present as soon as I remember. The Dharma isn’t giving up all of life’s pleasures for some narrow, cramped view of what life “should” be, it’s just, as you say, sobering up and understanding what’s really important. Thanks for writing this!

    Emily / Omyo (my Buddhist name)

  2. Prahject says:

    Isnt thinking “long term” in direct opposition to everything that is Buddhism? Planning for a future that is not guaranteed? Your post seems to start out saying this but then you conclude with say “think long term.” I don’t understand what you are trying to say.

  3. Doug says:

    Hello and welcome,

    The Buddha was definitely not opposed to long-term planning, but more with the intended “outcome” or direction one wants to go.

    A good example is in the Sigalovada Sutta:

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.31.0.nara.html

    Here, the Buddha is giving advice to a lay person named Sigala about how to live a more wholesome and happier life. This includes things like planning finances and maintaining a positive reputation in the community.

    I think it helps to see the Buddha as a doctor. Instead of curing medical diseases, he sought to help alleviate the problems of life caused by selfish craving. To help, he offered advice, practices, etc. A medical doctor might tell you to lose weight so you can be healthy and more happy. Whether you take this advice is up to you of course, but even if the future is not certain, you can be sure that certain lifestyles tend to have certain results.

    Similarly, when the Buddha tells someone that there is no lasting satisfaction in sense-pleasure, he’s telling the someone that if their end-goal is to be rich, they might succeed, but this one solve their problems. Still, if one wants to maintain a modest livelihood, the Buddha wasn’t opposed to this and hence he gave advice to Sigala. But even then, the ultimate goal would be final liberation through Nirvana, etc.

    Hopefully that makes more sense. I probably could have written this better, but that was my take on it.

  4. rahrahraggy says:

    @Prahject I think the point you’re missing here is there are some guaranteed long term things we can use as anchors for thinking long term. We get old as time goes, We will die, things will change. This is the future that is meant to be looked at long term, the main constructs of Buddhist philosophy such as nothingness and impermanence are the only guarantees and that we as people tend to focus on planing for all the other things that aren’t guaranteed while completely avoiding thinking about the guarantees or truths.

  5. Miriam Levering says:

    Great post. Be encouraged, Doug, and please keep these great Buddhism and literature posts coming.

  6. Doug says:

    Hi Emily and welcome. Glad you liked this post. You’re exactly right, it’s a matter of priorities and expectations.

  7. Doug says:

    Hi rahrahraggy and welcome. You’re exactly right, it’s a matter of considering the long-term consequences of the lifestyle choices you make, etc.

  8. Doug says:

    Hi Miriam and thank you. :)

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