The worldly way is to do things for a reason, to get some return, but in Buddhism we do things without any gaining idea. The world has to understand things in terms of cause and effect…
But the Buddha teaches us to go above and beyond cause and effect.
His wisdom was to:
– go above cause, beyond effect;
– to go above birth and beyond death;
– to go above happiness and beyond suffering.
Think about it: there’s nowhere to stay. We people live in a home. To leave home and go where there is no home we don’t know how to do that, because we’ve always lived with becoming, with clinging. If we can’t cling we don’t know what to do.
~ Ajahn Chah, No Abiding, in “Food for the Heart” p 316
Why is it that we have to die? Because it is that we had been born. Can you die without having been born? No.
So when the Buddha, when he was still a prince, saw a corpse on the streets. He asked himself, “Do I also have to die?” The answer was yes. Remember, this was a prince at the peak of his youth, with all the things that the world can offer him – he had all the money he could want as his father was the king, he was married and had a child and he had servants to take care of all his needs.
Yet when he first came face to face with death – he realized that he too had not yet escaped death.
All the happiness that he has gained in the world will change and eventually he will lose those very things that he cherished so much. Even his health and good looks would deteriorate until one day, he too will have to face death. So it is the impermanence of things within this life of ours that makes it unsatisfactory/imperfect (dukkha) and brings about suffering.
The thing is – no one knows any better – so we remain caught up in the impermanence of this world.
So Prince Siddartha asked himself, “Is there anything better? Is there anything more perfect than the transient happiness that we experience in this world?” Because the happiness within this world is unstable – is under constant flux and eventually dies out – and then you lose this very happiness. It is this uncertainty, this instability of this type of happiness that makes it imperfect.
It’s because this type of happiness is derived from external sources (sources that are not self – anatta). Anything that you have to rely on that is outside of yourself – is at the mercy of external forces and may at some time go not according to your wishes – and this brings about suffering.
So you go out there in the sensory realm, grasp at nice things to enjoy (that are external to yourself – that’s why you have to grasp it and try to hold on to it – if it were already part of yourself, you wouldn’t need to go out there and grasp it) – but it changes – so when the nice things change to not so nice – you’re not as happy anymore. So happiness derived from external things – even family and friends (although this should be more reliable than other things) – may not be as reliable as you may believe.
Now get this – happiness derived from external sources (anatta) – these same sources can eventually lead to suffering. And the more you cherished how it was, the more attached you were to it – the more it can hurt you.
For example, you just meet someone – and they say something nasty to you. You might just shrug it off. But if a very close friend or family member betrays your trust – you become deeply hurt – sometimes for weeks, months and even years.
Another example, you see a story on the news about a child getting hurt – you might think it’s sad. But if it’s your own child getting hurt – you worry about it! And you suffer a lot more when it’s your own child suffering.
So that’s the world we live in – where things in our lives are fragile and unstable – this type of happiness was not good enough for the Buddha.
So he thought about it some more – since there can be no death without birth – I wonder if there is something that exists but does not need to be born to exist – something that does not have to be created to exist. This is what is meant by “going beyond birth and death” – going beyond creation and destruction.
And after years of personal introspection and investigation – he finally discovered that yest – there is something deep inside of ourselves that is not born – and so will never die. It goes by various names – the Amaravati – the Deathless realm – the realm where death can not touch – and so it lives on eternally (akaliko) because it can not die. It is also called Nirvana – which means not created, not destroyed. It had no beginning and so, will never have an ending.
So how can something exist but never be created? It is like empty space.
In the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha says, “Contemplate the nature of all the phenomena in the world – is there anything that does not undergo destruction?”
Yes, all phenomena are compounded things – so they all undergo creation – so must eventually undergo destruction. But the Buddha continues, “But I have never heard of emptiness being destroyed. Why? Because empty space was never created using constituent parts – and so can never be destroyed”.
So that’s an example of going beyond the everyday phenomena that undergoes birth and death – into something that has inherent freedom from death. Nirvana is like this – hence why it is the total ending of decay, illness and death – Nirvana is indestructible (Vajra).