Home » Features » If You Think YOLO, You Should Know YOLNO!

While we speak, envious time will have [already] fled:
seize the day (carpe diem),
trusting as little as possible in the next day.

– Horace

YOLO, many say these days – ‘You Only Live Once’. This belief seems to be new-age but it is really an age-old philosophy, the idea that you should simply swiftly do what you really want as your life is possibly singular and too short to later nurse any regrets for that left undone. However, if clung to as absolute truth, it can become physically and spiritually dangerous. Possibly interpreted hedonistically (indulgently) and nihilistically (immorally), the body might be subjected to reckless risks, and the mind intoxicated and distracted from what is crucial for lasting and thus True Happiness, which is what we all really want. Such living without any sense of karmic consequences in this life and the possible next would pertain to one extreme, with the other extreme being the imagination that this very life or the next is eternalistic, leading to existential purposelessness, complacence and laziness now. Does this not make the YOLO concept a better bet? Without tweaking, not really… (In Buddhism, due to the truth of rebirth, you only live samsaric life once more, with it being ‘enough’ if you are able to attain liberation in that life.)

I hereby propose the truth of YOLNO – ‘You Only Live NOW Once’. This is not YOLO as it does not zoom out to look at one life on the whole, but zooms in to this moment that fleets on by, that certainly cannot be returned to or repeat in the exact same manner. These moments are what make up the uniqueness of life itself. Remember – life is not something static; life is living itself. With a sense of life’s immediacy, we should live fully from moment to moment, even as we learn from past moments and plan for future moments, we have to do these in this moment. What does it mean, to live fully? It is to live as fully with kind and wise mindfulness as possible, to have ever fewer lapses of mindless living. With days lived with only 50% mindfulness, this squanders at least half of life, not counting hours asleep. As mindfulness can only be practised in the now, we can always live more fully now, before this present moment slips by in the future to become a past regret.

In the Bahiya Sutta, Bahiya the ascetic, once introduced to the Buddha, rushed to meet and request the Dharma for blissful liberation from him. Twice, the Buddha said that the time was inappropriate, as he was on his alms round. On his third request, Bahiya added that as it is hard to know for certain what dangers ahead there may be for their lives, may he be taught the Dharma then. The Buddha replied that the key to end suffering is by training such that in reference to the seen, there is only the seen; to the heard, only the heard; to the sensed, only the sensed; to the [re]cognised, only the [re]cognised; such that there is no ‘self’ in connection with that, in that, here, beyond or between. Hearing this, Bahiya swiftly attained Arhathood by practising non-clinging. Soon, true to life’s unpredictable nature, he was killed by a rampaging cow. However, the Buddha praised him for having practised the Dharma as taught, without asking in vain.

The very wise Buddha surely knew that Bahiya would persist for instruction, just as Bahiya surely knew that the very compassionate Buddha would accede. Their interaction shows how the Dharma should be enthusiastically and urgently sought, and how it should be gladly shared and immediately practised – without any needless speculative ado. The Buddha and Bahiya truly seized the day’s moments, and in time too, focusing on the most crucial issue at hand, leading to Bahiya’s liberation of his mind before negative karma caught up with his body. Though a sudden death, it was without suffering, as he had realised how to calmly and clearly experience everything as it is, without involving the illusory ego’s habitual attachment, aversion and delusion at any point. This is how to mindfully and purely see things as they are – impermanent and unsubstantial, instead of with distortions, that bind us tighter to these experiences, thus keeping liberation at bay.

Bahiya was already spiritually sharp, needing only slight prompting to attain liberation, while we must train harder! How does his case link to YOLNO? Knowing how ‘now’ is precious, thus closely experiencing the fleeting ‘nows’ of life as they truly are, we will notice their universal characteristics like he did. The more fully experienced they are, the more deluded attachment and aversion diminish, as we know and see that there is simply no point in hankering after the fleeting, since they cannot bring permanent bliss. This does not mean that we should be killjoys in everyday life before realising liberation. Joys that arise momentarily become more deeply cherished, but without attachment to wanting more, which leads to suffering, while sorrows that arise become less bitter, without aversion to wanting less, which also leads to suffering. This is how YOLNO leads to lasting True Happiness, while YOLO only craves and clings to fleeting happiness!

If you believe you only live once,
you should do the most consequential now, for this life.
If you believe you live more than once,
you should still do the most consequential now, for the next life.

Stonepeace | Books

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