My very dear Ben,
Thank you for your kind email, and I am very sorry for the long delay in replying.
There is no question what to do to make your life meaningful. The most important thing is to practice Dharma, because everyone wants happiness and does not want suffering, even the tiniest insect does not want to suffer. In order to stop all the suffering (which is not wanted) and to cause all happiness (which is wanted) depends on abandoning the cause of suffering and practicing the cause of happiness. Therefore, there is nothing else—only Dharma.
Therefore, you need to learn Dharma and practice Dharma.
What is to be achieved is happiness, but not just temporal happiness, which is pleasure in samsara, labeled on the feeling, but which in actuality is only suffering. This pleasure does not last and does not increase. All these pleasures, what the rest of the world is looking for, are nothing; they not real happiness, not pure happiness, and actually are only suffering, appearing as pleasure to the hallucinated mind. To the wisdom mind, that is able to really discern what they are—they are only suffering.
Therefore, being attached to this happiness only causes one to be reincarnated in samsara and to experience all the sufferings again and again. We need to seek total cessation of the delusions of ignorance, anger, and attachment.
The root of suffering is ignorance—not knowing the nature of the “I,” the nature of the aggregates, the ultimate nature, and also the negative imprints, which are the seeds of that ignorance. We need cessation of the cause of samsara, cessation of the oceans of samsara’s suffering for every single hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura, and intermediate state being—that is ultimate happiness. When one has achieved the cessation of all the sufferings, then it is impossible to experience the suffering aggregates again; there is no cause to ever come back. This is ultimate happiness and the ultimate nature of the mind, the sorrowless state. When this is achieved it is forever.
The whole path to enlightenment is like the medicine, the remedy, to remove the true cause of suffering. One needs to actualize this in one’s heart. The cause of suffering cannot be washed away with water, or taken out, like a thorn being taken out of one’s body. The realizations on the path to enlightenment cannot be transplanted from Buddha to oneself.
Buddha said the only way to guide sentient beings is to realize the path and then to reveal the truth, so this means to reveal the ultimate nature: emptiness and dependent arising, and their unification. While everything is empty from its own side, it exists. While existing in mere name, it is empty. This means everything exists in mere name, including the ultimate nature of the “I,” the aggregates. By developing the direct realization of the wisdom realizing the emptiness of the ultimate nature of the “I” and the ultimate nature of the mind, the aggregates, one directly ceases the cause of suffering: karma, delusion, and the causes, which are negative imprints on the mind.
This is how to be liberated forever, to be free from all sufferings. One needs to practice Dharma and attain the path. One can’t achieve the path by taking tablets, LSD, sleeping pills, special plants, chemicals, or cocaine. Buddha has very clearly explained the whole path, everything. Now one has to learn the teachings, reflect on them, and meditate. This is how one makes one’s mind familiar with the path.
This is the meaning of one’s life—to achieve ultimate happiness, the total cessation of suffering and the cause of suffering. Life is not for suffering, life is for happiness. As I mentioned already, no one wants to suffer and everyone wants happiness. So, happiness comes from virtue, and suffering comes from non-virtue. Therefore, all happiness in one’s life comes from virtue. Now you can see why one needs to practice Dharma to achieve ultimate happiness and to not have suffering, and how that is the meaning of one’s life. The real meaning of one’s life is to benefit others, so that all sentient beings can have complete happiness, a happy life. One’s aim is to cause ultimate happiness for others, liberation from samsara for all sentient beings, and the highest happiness—enlightenment—for sentient beings.
In order to be able to do this, one needs to be able to do perfect works for sentient beings, For that, one needs to have omniscient mind, to be able to know numberless sentient beings’ level of mind, their wishes, and their level of intelligence, and to know exactly what fits for them, to bring them happiness, and in order for them to be liberated from samsara and to be enlightened. This doesn’t happen without a cause. First one needs to achieve the graduated path to enlightenment (the lam-rim), which comes in three levels:
First, the gradual path of the lower capable being, then the gradual path of the middle capable being, and last, the gradual path of the higher capable being. This means that it is the lam-rim that makes one’s life most meaningful, both for you and especially for numberless sentient beings, each and every one. Attaining these paths depends on meditating on them—not just simple meditation—one needs to live one’s whole life according to them.
You can see how important it is to study the lam-rim, but most important is one needs to practice it—that is how to become enlightened. Therefore, you need to study the lam-rim. You can use the book The Essential Nectar as a guide for your meditations, and then study:
Study these texts to have a good understanding of the path. Don’t just read them—study them and read them slowly, relating them to your own life. This becomes lam-rim meditation.
In order to purify past karma it is very good if you can do each day:
practice – reciting the long mantra 28 times
Prostrations and reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’
names. The best is three times a day, otherwise at least recite them once a day. This is very powerful for purifying negative karma created since beginningless time and for collecting extensive merits.
Then, make a one-pointed request to the guru, with one-pointed devotion, by meditating on guru yoga.
When you get up in the morning, immediately generate your motivation, make offerings on your altar, then do prostrations reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. You can base your daily practice on Guru Shakyamuni daily meditation. I have a booklet that you can use and, at the appropriate place, you stop and do the lam-rim meditation that you are up to.
If you can, recite daily the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation with Chenrezig meditation. Visualize Chenrezig in front of you as you recite the eight verses. Later on you can receive a great initiation and you can then visualize yourself as Chenrezig and combine with the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation.
At the end of the day, make the dedications. You can use different dedication prayers, such as the King of Prayers, or the dedication chapter from Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.
Please also find my essential heart practice to combine with the above. Please make your life most meaningful with the thought of bodhicitta. Do every activity with that.
With much love and prayers,