About me

This blog is created by a Buddhist living in Singapore. He embraces the Mahayana spirit of Bodhicitta, deeply respecting all Buddhist Traditions as expressions of Kindness guiding us on the path towards human perfection ~ Buddhahood.

He likes to post stuff that he had read or think is good to share here, sometimes he adds a little comments here and there... just sometimes..

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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”

~ Amitabha Sutra

When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.

~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow

Monday, March 31, 2008

Shurangama Sutra With Commentaries

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Eight volumes of Shurangama Sutra, with commentaries from venerable Master Hsuan Hua.

The Shurangama Sutra Part 1
The Shurangama Sutra Part 2
The Shurangama Sutra Part 3
The Shurangama Sutra Part 4
The Shurangama Sutra Part 5
The Shurangama Sutra Part 6
The Shurangama Sutra Part 7
The Shurangama Sutra Part 8

~End of Post~


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Is the Shurangama Sutra an Inauthentic Sutra?

A talk by the Venerable Master Hua

Every dharma is found within the Shurangama Sutra, so there are no potentials it fails to attract.
It is the essential Dharma for all generations: It is the right seal for becoming a Buddha or a Patriarch.

The Great Master Han Shan (Silly Mountain) once said: "Unless you read the Lotus Sutra, you won't know of the pains the Thus Come One took to save the world. Unless you read the Shurangama Sutra, you won't know the key to cultivating the mind and awakening from confusion." This says it exactly right, because every dharma that exists is found within the Shurangama Sutra, so there are no potentials it fails to attract. It is the essential Dharma for all generations: It is the right seal for becoming a Buddha or a Patriarch. A Chan cultivator must thoroughly master this text and understand the Fifty Skandha-demon States that it explains, in order to escape the snares of the demon-kings. Otherwise, he won't recognize states when they arise, and he will become attached to them and join the retinue of demons. This is extremely dangerous!

We want to be able to recite the Shurangama Mantra from memory, and we also want to memorize the Shurangama Sutra. As the saying goes, "Familiarity leads to expertise." When the time comes, we will gain infinite advantages and inconceivable responses. Anyone who studies Chinese literature simply must read the Shurangama Sutra. The literary quality of this Sutra is excellent, and its meanings are profound; it is the most perfect Sutra.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

There are some pretentious scholars who possess no deep understanding of Buddhism and yet consider themselves experts in the field. They see themselves as authorities when they are not. Without a thorough grasp of the principles of Buddhism, they freely criticize the Shurangama Sutra, recklessly asserting that it is an inauthentic Sutra. Still others who may be more conscientious, nonetheless, parrot the false claims of the scholars, like the blind following the blind. The situation is truly pathetic!

Why would anybody claim that the Shurangama Sutra was not spoken by Shakyamuni Buddha? It's because the principles explained in this Sutra are simply too true. They thoroughly describe people's problems, thus preventing the goblins, demons, "cow-faced ghosts," and "snake-bodied spirits" from running amok and exposing them for what they are. That's why certain individuals defame the Sutra by claiming that it is fraudulent, destroying people's faith in the Shurangama Sutra so that they themselves have a chance to survive. If they acknowledged that the Sutra was, in fact, spoken by the Buddha, they would have no way to follow its Dharma. First, they cannot uphold the Four Unalterable Aspects of Purity. Second, they cannot cultivate the Dharma-doors of Perfect Penetration of the Twenty-five Sages. Third, they cannot face the Fifty States of the Skandha-demons.

If everyone reads the Shurangama Sutra and understands it, then the spiritual powers of the externalists will lose their magical gleam; they will seem powerless and people will no longer believe that they possess spiritual powers. That's why the celestial demons and externalists have no recourse but to slander the Shurangama Sutra and circulate the spurious claim that it is an unauthentic text.

Not only do laypeople slander the Shurangama Sutra as false, even left-home people perpetuate the rumor. Why? Because most left-home people have received limited education; some are even illiterate and cannot understand the Buddhas' Sutras. This is especially the case with the Shurangama Sutra: its text is deep, its principles are profound, so many cannot understand it or judge its authenticity. Thus, whenever someone claims that a certain Sutra is unauthentic, these ignorant people simply repeat what they hear without giving it any consideration. This is how the Shurangama Sutra has comes to receive its undeserved bad reputation.

In the past, the rulers of India considered the Shurangama Sutra a national treasure and forbade its being carried out of India. Travellers were stopped at the borders and thoroughly searched, out of fear that the Sutra would circulate. Sangha members who were leaving the country were especially subject to the scrutiny of the border guards. In those days (during the Tang Dynasty in China) the eminent monk, Master Paramiti of India, after racking his brains and thinking up every possible means, finally hid the Sutra beneath the skin of his arm to fool the customs inspectors so that it could come to China. He arrived in Canton, and met a Prime Minister named Fang Rong, who had been exiled by the Empress Wu Zetian and was serving as a Magistrate in Canton. Magistrate Fang Rong requested the Venerable Paramiti to translate the Sutra. He himself acted as editor and turned out a masterpiece of literature, which he then presented in offering to the Empress Wu Zetian. Just at that time, China was experiencing a scandal regarding the Great Cloud Sutra, a fraudulent text. Empress Wu Zetian concealed the translation in the palace and did not allow it to circulate.

Later, when Dhyana Master Shenxiu was appointed as National Master, he sat in the palace to receive offerings. One day he discovered the Sutra, realized its value for meditators in the Chan School, and put it into circulation. Only then did the Shurangama Sutra finally become known in China. The Shurangama Sutra is said to be the last of the Buddha's Sutras to reach China, but during the Dharma-ending Age, it will be the first Sutra to disappear into oblivion. Following it, the other Sutras will gradually disappear as well, until only the Amitabha Sutra will be left.

Note: The Venerable Master Hua endorses the Shurangama Sutra's absolute authenticity, and strongly asserts that it bears, without question, the "mind-seal" of all Buddhas. Upon arriving in America, the first major Sutra he explained was the Shurangama Sutra. Why did he choose that Sutra? Because when the Dharma is transmitted to America it transforms the Dharma-ending Age into the Proper Dharma Age. It represents the Venerable Master's lifeblood, given for the purpose of carrying on the Buddha's "wisdom-life." The Buddhist Monthly-Vajra Bodhi Sea has been serializing A Brief Explanation of the Shurangama Sutra in Chinese and English, and will continue to offer this text to readers.

Eight volumes of Shurangama Sutra, with commentaries from venerable Master Hsuan Hua.

The Shurangama Sutra Part 1
The Shurangama Sutra Part 2
The Shurangama Sutra Part 3
The Shurangama Sutra Part 4
The Shurangama Sutra Part 5
The Shurangama Sutra Part 6
The Shurangama Sutra Part 7
The Shurangama Sutra Part 8


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A Sure Sign Of The Proper Dharma: The Shurangama Sutra

A lecture by the Venerable Master Hua in January, 1983

The Shurangama Sutra is a Sutra that acts like a demon-spotting mirror in Buddhism. All the celestial demons, externalists, and the li, mei, and wang liang ghosts reveal their true appearance when they see the Shurangama Sutra. They have no way to hide and no place to flee to. And so in the past, when Great Master Zhi Zhe heard of the existence of this Sutra, he bowed in the direction of India for eighteen years. For eighteen years, he used this spirit of utmost sincerity to pray for this Sutra to be brought to China.

Of all the greatly virtuous and eminent monks of the past, all the wise and lofty Sanghans, there was not a single one who did not praise the Shurangama Sutra. Therefore, as long as the Shurangama Sutra exists, the Buddhadharma exists. If the Shurangama Sutra is destroyed, then the Buddhadharma will also become extinct. How will the decline of the Dharma come about? It will begin with the destruction of the Shurangama Sutra. Who will destroy it? The celestial demons and externalists will. They see the Shurangama Sutra as a nail in their eyes and a thorn in their flesh. They can't sit still, and they can't stand steady; they are compelled to invent a deviant theory, saying that the Shurangama Sutra is false.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

As Buddhist disciples, we should recognize true principle. Every word of the doctrines in the Shurangama Sutra is the absolute truth. There isn't a single word that does not express the truth. So now that we are studying the Fifty Skandha-demons, we should realize even more just how important the Shurangama Sutra is. The Shurangama Sutra is what the deviant demons, ghosts, and goblins fear most.

The Venerable Master Hsu Yun lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, and during his whole life, he didn't write a commentary for any Sutra other than the Shurangama Sutra. He took special care to preserve the manuscript of his commentary on the Shurangama Sutra. He preserved it for several decades, but it was later lost during the Yunmen incident. This was the Elder Hsu's greatest regret in his life. He proposed that, as left-home people, we should study the Shurangama Sutra to the point that we can recite it by memory, from the beginning to the end, and from the end to the beginning, forwards and backwards. That was his proposal. I know that, throughout his whole life, the Elder Hsu regarded the Shurangama Sutra as being especially important.

When someone informed the Elder Hsu that there were people who said the Shurangama Sutra was counterfeit, he explained that the decline of the Dharma occurs just because these people try to pass fish eyes off as pearls, confusing people so that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. They make people blind so that they can no longer recognize the Buddhadharma. They take the true as false, and the false as true. Look at these people: this one writes a book and people all read it. That one writes a book, and they read it too. The real Sutras spoken by the Buddha himself are put up on a shelf, where no one ever reads them. From this, we can see that living beings' karmic obstacles are very heavy. If they hear deviant knowledge and deviant views, they readily believe them. If you speak Dharma based on proper knowledge and proper views, they won't believe it. Why won't they believe it? Because they don't have sufficient good roots and foundations. That is why they have doubts about the proper Dharma. They are skeptical and unwilling to believe.

Here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we will be setting up the Shurangama Platform, so it would be ideal if some of you bring forth the resolve to read the Shurangama Sutra every day for one or two hours. You can study it daily just as if you were studying in school, and memorize it so that you can recite it by heart. If you can recite the Shurangama Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, and even the Avatamsaka Sutra from memory, that would be the very best. If someone is able to recite the Shurangama Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, and the Avatamsaka Sutra from memory, then it will mean that this is still a time when the proper Dharma exists in the world. Therefore, in such a wonderful place as the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, everyone should bring forth a great Bodhi resolve to do these things. It is not that we are competing with others. We should be outstanding, rise above the crowd, and do these things.

In the past, I had a wish: I wanted to be able to recite the Dharma Flower Sutra and the Shurangama Sutra from memory. In Hong Kong, there is a disciple named Guo Yi (Heng Ding) who can recite the Shurangama Sutra from memory. I taught him to study the Dharma Flower Sutra, but in the end he probably didn't finish memorizing it, which is very regrettable. In such a fine place as we have here, all of you should bring forth a great resolve to study the Buddhist Sutras and precepts--the Shurangama Sutra, the Dharma Flower Sutra, the Vinaya in Four Divisions, and the Brahma Net Sutra--until you can recite them from memory. That would be the best, for then the proper Dharma would surely remain here for a long time.

Eight volumes of Shurangama Sutra, with commentaries from venerable Master Hsuan Hua.

The Shurangama Sutra Part 1
The Shurangama Sutra Part 2
The Shurangama Sutra Part 3
The Shurangama Sutra Part 4
The Shurangama Sutra Part 5
The Shurangama Sutra Part 6
The Shurangama Sutra Part 7
The Shurangama Sutra Part 8


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Friday, March 28, 2008

Living With the Cobra

A Dhammatalk by Ajahn Chah

This short talk is for the benefit of a new disciple who will soon be returning to London. May it serve to help you understand the teaching that you have studied here at Wat Pah Pong. Most simply, this is the practice to be free of suffering in the cycle of birth and death.

In order to do this practice, remember to regard all the various activities of mind, all those you like and all those you dislike, in the same way as you would regard a cobra. The cobra is an extremely poisonous snake, poisonous enough to cause death if it should bite us. And so, also, it is with our moods; the moods that we like are poisonous, the moods that we dislike are also poisonous. They prevent our minds from being free and hinder our understanding of the truth as it was taught by the Buddha.

Picture source: flickr.com

Thus is it necessary to try to maintain our mindfulness throughout the day and night. Whatever you may be doing, be it standing, sitting, lying down, speaking or whatever, you should do with mindfulness. When you are able to establish this mindfulness, you'll find that there will arise clear comprehension associated with it, and these two conditions will bring about wisdom. Thus mindfulness, clear comprehension and wisdom will work together, and you'll be like one who is awake both day and night.

These teachings left us by the Buddha are not teachings to be just listened to, or simply absorbed on an intellectual level. They are teachings that through practice can be made to arise and known in our hearts. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we should have these teachings. And what we mean by ''to have these teachings'' or ''to have the truth'', is that, whatever we do or say, we do and say with wisdom. When we think and contemplate, we do so with wisdom. We say that one who has mindfulness and clear comprehension combined in this way with wisdom, is one who is close to the Buddha.

When you leave here, you should practice bringing everything back to your own mind. Look at your mind with this mindfulness and clear comprehension and develop this wisdom. With these three conditions there will arise a ''letting go''. You'll know the constant arising and passing away of all phenomena.

You should know that that which is arising and passing away is only the activity of mind. When something arises, it passes away and is followed by further arising and passing away. In the Way of Dhamma we call this arising and passing away ''birth and death''; and this is everything - this is all there is! When suffering has arisen, it passes away, and, when it has passed away, suffering arises again2. There's just suffering arising and passing away. When you see this much, you'll be able to know constantly this arising and passing away; and, when your knowing is constant, you'll see that this is really all there is. Everything is just birth and death. It's not as if there is anything which carries on. There's just this arising and passing away as it is - that's all.

This kind of seeing will give rise to a tranquil feeling of dispassion towards the world. Such a feeling arises when we see that actually there is nothing worth wanting; there is only arising and passing away, a being born followed by a dying. This is when the mind arrives at ''letting go'', letting everything go according to its own nature. Things arise and pass away in our mind, and we know. When happiness arises, we know; when dissatisfaction arises, we know. And this ''knowing happiness'' means that we don't identify with it as being ours. And likewise with dissatisfaction and unhappiness, we don't identify with them as being ours. When we no longer identify with and cling to happiness and suffering, we are simply left with the natural way of things.

So we say that mental activity is like the deadly poisonous cobra. If we don't interfere with a cobra, it simply goes its own way. Even though it may be extremely poisonous, we are not affected by it; we don't go near it or take hold of it, and it doesn't bite us. The cobra does what is natural for a cobra to do. That's the way it is. If you are clever you'll leave it alone. And so you let be that which is good. You also let be that which is not good - let it be according to its own nature. Let be your liking and your disliking, the same way as you don't interfere with the cobra.

So, one who is intelligent will have this kind of attitude towards the various moods that arise in the mind. When goodness arises, we let it be good, but we know also. We understand its nature. And, too, we let be the not-good, we let it be according to its nature. We don't take hold of it because we don't want anything. We don't want evil, neither do we want good. We want neither heaviness nor lightness, happiness nor suffering. When, in this way, our wanting is at an end, peace is firmly established.

When we have this kind of peace established in our minds, we can depend on it. This peace, we say, has arisen out of confusion. Confusion has ended. The Buddha called the attainment of final enlightenment an ''extinguishing'', in the same way that fire is extinguished. We extinguish fire at the place at which it appears. Wherever it is hot, that's where we can make it cool. And so it is with enlightenment. Nibbāna is found in samsāra3. Enlightenment and delusion (samsāra) exist in the same place, just as do hot and cold. It's hot where it was cold and cold where it was hot. When heat arises, the coolness disappears, and when there is coolness, there's no more heat. In this way Nibbāna and samsāra are the same.

We are told to put an end to samsāra, which means to stop the ever-turning cycle of confusion. This putting an end to confusion is extinguishing the fire. When external fire is extinguished there is coolness. When the internal fires of sensual craving, aversion and delusion are put out, then this is coolness also.

This is the nature of enlightenment; it's the extinguishing of fire, the cooling of that which was hot. This is peace. This is the end of samsāra, the cycle of birth and death. When you arrive at enlightenment, this is how it is. It's an ending of the ever-turning and ever-changing, an ending of greed, aversion and delusion in our minds. We talk about it in terms of happiness because this is how worldly people understand the ideal to be, but in reality it has gone beyond. It is beyond both happiness and suffering. It's perfect peace.

So as you go you should take this teaching which I have given you and contemplate it carefully. Your stay here hasn't been easy and I have had little opportunity to give you instruction, but in this time you have been able to study the real meaning of our practice. May this practice lead you to happiness; may it help you grow in truth. May you be freed from the suffering of birth and death.

Books by Ajahn Chah (Click to browse Amazon Reader Reviews)
~ Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah
~ Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering
~ Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings


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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Preparing The Mind For Anapanasati By Raising Joy

By Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso
10.12.959 Day Retreat WA Buddhist Society

This morning I want to talk some more about skilful means to assist the practice of meditation, in particular, that which one reads in the Buddha’s teachings, again and again, that the proximate cause of gaining SAMADHI, for gaining peaceful states of mind, is a happy mind, a mind which has joy in it. And it’s a very good thing to keep in mind and to remember that if the mind is feeling tired, depressed, angry, upset, then it isn't really a sort of mind which can be worked and used to gain this peaceful, quiet state of mind. You’ll find that you go wandering off, or dreaming, or just go to sleep in your meditation. Therefore, in this practice of meditation, we deliberately arouse a joy in the mind when we’re meditating or when we're on a meditation retreat. That’s one of the reasons why we try to have the meditation retreat in very peaceful and beautiful surroundings. Surroundings where one can use one's perception to deliberately arouse joy. Like many things in life, the joy is always there. It’s just a matter of turning the perception to notice it, to allow oneself to dwell on the sounds of the birds outside, or just on the feeling of the wind on one's cheeks, or just the recognition that this weekend, or this nine-days retreat is an opportunity where you are free from all of your usual burdens and responsibilities. You have nothing to do. You have no worries. Turn the mind to that which is positive in this situation, look for happiness, look for joy. You'll find that it's there, and you can start to delight in the beauty of the garden outside, or just to delight in the feeling of the wind, or delight in the sound of the birds. And what that does, is, it prepares the mind. It makes the mind feel happy. It gives it joy. It actually widens the mind, and gives it energy, and that wide, energetic, happy mind, you'll find is much easier to work with. It’s much easier to gain the results in meditation which you are seeking.

It’s one of the basic principles that the monks know so well, that you can always look for someone who is going to be a good mediator by the one who is light-hearted and who can smile a lot. The happy monks are usually the good meditators; and the same applies to the happy lay people. The happy ones, the ones who can smile, who can take life easily, the ones who can look and find joy in life, are the ones who usually have an easy time in gaining deep states of meditation. There is that very strong connection there between a happy mind and a mind which is easy to concentrate. Therefore, a very important prerequisite to your meditation should be developing this happiness and finding ways and means to develop happiness, whether that's enjoying your breakfast, or whether it's enjoying the nature of this place, whether it’s reflecting on the freedom that you have on this nine days, or using other methods to develop this happy state of mind.

Picture source: flickr.com

One of those methods for developing a happy state of mind is doing loving-kindness meditation, the meditation on metta, because that usually does bring up happiness and joy into the mind. The Metta meditation is where you deliberately cultivate this feeling of warmth towards all beings. Many of you would know that meditation well enough, but I want you to extend that type of meditation to an interesting area which you might like to experiment with. It's an area where I found it very useful. It's developing loving-kindness meditation, metta, towards your breathing. The feeling of loving-kindness is that which embraces, accepts, feels warmth and feels gratitude towards.

So, if we're developing loving kindness towards the breathing, then, with every in-breath and every out-breath, you cultivate the same sort of attitude and reflection, that this breath has been serving you for all your life. It’s been keeping you alive; it's been nourishing you. Very often that which happens all the time we take for granted; we never say thank-you. We just allow the breathe to go in and to go out without really ever considering it. Developing this feeling of loving-kindness towards your in- and out-breaths, is a way of watching this breath, with warmth, with gratitude, with a very soft and caring energy. You can look upon your breath as you would look upon your parents, someone who has nourished you, supported you, and kept you going. Or you can look upon it as your child, something which, because it has nurtured you, now you can nurture it. If you look upon the breath with that sort of attitude, with the attitude of love and with kindness and with warmth, you'll find it's easier to watch. It’s easier to keep track of because that which you don't take for granted, that which you care about, that which you are concerned about, makes a deeper mark in your perception. Also, the meditation on loving kindness will always be a joyful meditation once it starts going, and so it also brings joy in to the mind, around the breath.

So, when I do that, this type of meditation, I'm not just watching the breath. I’m watching the breath with metta, thanking the breath, caring for the breath, loving the breath for looking after me, as if it were a very good and close friend. As I breath in, I breath in just with this feeling of warmth and embrace the breath from the beginning to its end. When the breath goes out, I watch it, observe it with the same feeling of kindness and care and embrace it. And I find, not only is the breath more visible to my mind, but also, it is more enjoyable to watch. If the object of the mind has a factor of joy within it, then the mind finds it easier to watch. If the object, which you are trying to focus on, is painful or disturbing, it’s very difficult to watch. If it’s a neutral type of object, it’s very easy for the object just to fade away with dullness. However, if one can develop the perception of that object of mind as attractive, joyful, beautiful, worthy of care, then it is very easy to observe and to watch. So this is one of the skilful means - developing loving-kindness around the experience of breath, to enable the attention to be more easily applied onto the breath. The breath doesn't become something neutral. It becomes something joyful, something attractive, something beautiful, and, hopefully, you'll find that it becomes an easier thing to watch.

Not only does it make it an easy object to watch, but it also starts to encourage a state of mind which is very important in the later stages of meditation, which is the emotional state of mind. If one is going to take this meditation to its deeper levels, especially if one is going to enter into one of these Jhana states, one has to be able to feel at ease with these powerful, emotional states of mind - because if one is going to describe something like a Jhana, it is very much akin to an emotional state of mind, a state of great bliss and power, much closer to emotional states than to rational states of mind. As such one can make some very powerful and effective preparations developing, deliberately developing, that emotional warmth, happiness, which comes along with metta meditation - you're actually preparing the mind very well to accept the more profound emotions of the Jhanas. For this reason, whether one is developing metta meditation on the breath or just a general metta meditation, it becomes a very useful and skilful tool to incorporate into one's practice. Not only does it bring a peaceful, happy state of mind, it also brings up the emotional aspect of the mind which will prepare you for accepting the emotional states of the Jhanas. You actually feel your way into the Jhanas. You don't think your way in. So this is one of the very useful and skilful means which you can try during this mediation retreat - developing loving-kindness towards the breath as well as doing, now and again, loving-kindness meditation to brighten up the mind.

However, there are many other skilful means, which one can use to brighten up the mind and to create joy within it, and these are part of the meditations which the Buddha taught. Three of those meditations are the reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which is one of the reasons why I wish to incorporate the chanting into this meditation retreat. Those chants which we do are the reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, and their qualities. And, if one has a feeling for what those three words mean - the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, then reflecting on them, keeping the meaning of those words in the mind, and sustaining your attention on the meaning of those words long enough, will very often bring up great feelings of happiness and joy. It’s a means of brightening the mind, of giving the mind that happiness, giving the mind that joy, and one uses that as a springboard. From there one goes off to watch the breathe. So this is another means of bringing joy into the mind.

For those who are traditional Buddhists, this becomes a very effective way of beginning the meditation. It's quite common, I know, in Thailand, for people to teach meditation in the way of beginning every time by paying homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha in your mind. And for a traditional Buddhist, just that paying homage in the mind, reflecting in the mind on those qualities, can bring up such happiness and joy, bring up a softness, a reverence in the mind. It will prepare the mind so that it can do the breath meditation afterwards. If you find that you are someone who has that ability to arouse faith or confidence in the qualities of the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, and if you find it is easy to do and it brings up joy and happy states of mind, then I can encourage that during the meditation retreat. Begin the meditation, by reflecting on what the Buddha did, who he was, the kindness and the compassion, and all that that word means to you. Reflect on the marvellous blessing for the world that there was such a being as a Buddha and the great benefit which his life gave to all of us. By dwelling and cultivating those thoughts, it should start to bring a softness into the heart, an emotional joy which is the preparation of the mind that I am talking about. Or the Dhamma, the teachings which you have heard; that which has solved problems for you, that which has sounded so beautiful and delightful.

If one develops a taste for something, one can develop a love for it. I remember in my youth seeing people listening to a piece of music and they would cry. And if you can develop an appreciation of the Dhamma, and you read a very profound teaching of the Buddha, or you hear it, again, it can bring tears of joy into your eyes. If you are of such a temperament, just reflecting on and remembering some of the Buddha's teachings, some of your favourite pieces of Dhamma, will also bring up that feeling of softness and joy and happiness in the mind; one then uses this, as the start, the jumping-off point for the breath meditation. And if not the Buddha, not the Dhamma, then maybe the Sangha. Recollect some of the monks or nuns whom you've met in the past, who have inspired you, whom you feel great respect towards, even those you have not met but you've read about. Develop an appreciation of these members of the Sangha. Or develop the idea of the whole history-wide Sangha - this should be able to bring you happiness.

I was a monk in Thailand for many years and visited many of the great teachers there. It's very easy for me to visualize some of these great monks whom I met personally and to appreciate just what they have given to the world and what they are still giving to the world. Just imagining that, cultivating that thought, and developing that thought makes my mind filled with gratitude, love, softness, and joy that such beings exist in the world. It gives me the basis for developing happiness, and then, I can develop the meditation on the breath. So, if you are of such a mind, you may try developing the reflection on the Buddha , the Dhamma, the Sangha, develop happiness and joy.

The meditations or reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha are not powerful enough to get you into a Jhana. Their purpose is to overcome the coarser obstacles to the development of deep states of stillness. In particular, they develop this happy mind, this joyful mind which, once established, one can take further by changing the object of meditation to something like the breath, one can take that further and enter a Jhana.

One of the other ways of developing happiness and joy in one's meditation is one which I use a lot, especially now, in my role as the senior monk at the Monastery in Serpentine. That's reflecting, bringing up, remembering, all the past service one has done and given. Sometimes, in the West, we are loathed to, or we are taught not to, praise ourselves, or to think too much on our goodness or what we have done for others. But in the teaching of the Buddha, one does not find those words that discourage you from thinking such things. In fact, you are encouraged to reflect upon your past generosity, liberality, service, and to reflect upon it again and again and again. And, if you do bring up all that you have done for others, everything which is good and noble and caring, all that good kamma which you've done in the past day, the past week, or past year, and dwell upon it, again it brings up happiness and joy. The reason why I use this mediation these days is because sometimes one may be doing many external activities - going into town, running around all day, doing this and that for others - and very often, when I go back to the Monastery after the weekend, I'm very, very tired, just physically worn out for doing so much. The only way that I can meditate that evening is to sit down and think of all the good which I have done. This is not to make me proud, but this is to make me happy to bring up energy and joy inside of me. I'm not afraid of, like, crying, at all the service which I have done that day, because it makes me feel that way. It brings up the emotion of happiness and joy.

Once you get into this you’ll find that all of the service which one has given to others, or all the merit one has made during the day, or during one's life, can unlock that source of energy and power and it can be used for meditation. It becomes a very powerful source of energy, a very powerful source of joy. Once that happines and joy is strong, then I turn over to the breath and the breath becomes very easy to watch. Not only is it very clear but the mind has got energy. The mind has got happiness to take it into a deep state of meditation, and its due to these preliminary exercises of developing a reflection on one's past goodness, doing a reflection on the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, or doing reflection on loving kindness. This is part of the training in meditation to be able to do breath meditation - breath meditation is not just being able to watch the breath. It means knowing how to prepare to watch the breath, knowing how to do these preliminary exercises and knowing when they're needed.

Sometimes people will not do the meditation on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha because they are afraid of them; maybe because they have been conditioned against any faith-mind by their experiences in Christianity or other religions in the past. But you are in complete control of developing any faith. You can stop whenever you like, but it is a power in the mind which you can use to your advantage. It's not going to be used against you. The power of those emotions are not dangerous as long as faith is balanced by wisdom, and, in most Westerners, wisdom is far stronger than faith. As long as the faith and wisdom are balanced, then there is no danger there. It's only when faith is so strong and wisdom is very weak that there is any danger. But here you can feel quite confident that there is nothing to fear from developing these sorts of faith-minds. In fact, these sorts of faith-minds, through confidence and joy, will actually propel you into the deep meditation states. So these are ways of preparing the mind when you are doing the meditation based on the breath.

If sometimes you find the mind is dull or has no energy, or it's restless, and you find it very difficult to follow the breath, then try one of these meditations; either the meditation on loving-kindness, on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, or the meditation on one's own past goodness. Or, if that doesn’t work, go and develop joy by just sitting outside, walking outside, and developing that perception, that positive perception, that one has a healthy body, a reasonably healthy body. One has found the ability to come on a meditation retreat. One has already got enormous good kamma, a lot of merit, just to get this far. That should bring up happiness and joy in to your mind, and if it does, it is to be used for gaining deeper states of meditation.

There is a story, in the time of the Buddha, where the Buddha’s chief female disciple, Visakha, asked the Buddha if she could get special permission to give clothes for the rains to the monks and nuns, and also to give the first meal to any monks or nuns who arrived in that town, and the last meal before they left on any journeys, and if she could also give food to those sick monks and nuns, and those serving the sick, because if there was a sick monk or nun they might need special food, and becaue those serving them, looking after them, would not be able to find food for themselves. She asked the Buddha if she could be the one to do all of this. And the Buddha replied: ‘I don’t give such permission to just one person, against any others. Why should I give it just to you?’ And this lady disciple, Visakha, replied, ‘If you allow me to do this, then any monk or nun who gains any attainment in meditation, or gains any stage of enlightenment, or becomes fully enlightened in this monastery, in the Jeta grove, wil have been fed by me at least once when they first arrived. Very likely, I would also have fed them when they left, or when they were sick or nursing the sick, and I would have given them rains bathing cloths. And when I reflect upon that or when I remember that I have helped or contributed to their attainments, it will give me such happiness and joy that I’ll be able to take that happiness and joy and be able to develop SAMADHI. Developing SAMADHI myself, I'll be able to understand and see your teachings; I’ll become a noble disciple myself’. And the Buddha was so impressed with her wisdom and understanding that he gave her permission. Though he couldn’t give permission at first to do these things, he could afterwards, because she understood that this is a means for developing joy, which is a means for developing SAMADHI.

So, whatever goodness you have done during the day, during the weeks, during the years, bring that up, develop it, develop the thought of it. As you dwell upon that good side of your life, the beautiful, the soft, the caring, the generous, the wonderful side, that will bring up the happiness and joy, and then you’ll find it very easy to develop the blissful meditations. Do not be afraid of that emotional self-respect. Use these skilful means alongside the basic technique of breath meditation.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Joy in Spiritual Practice

by Venerable Ajahn Tiradhammo
Source: www.forestsangha.org

The following teaching has been adapted from a talk given by Venerable Tiradhammo on the seventh day of a ten day retreat in Switzerland, in May 1988. The 'Seven Factors of Enlightenment' referred to in the talk are mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy, relaxation, concentration and equanimity.

When there is joy, we are ready to discover new things... If we have already decided 'Life is suffering,' then we won't look any further.

We can sometimes make the mistake in practice of thinking that the religious life means some sort of self-flagellation. Or, we tend to believe that spiritual practice should result in some special kind of purity. With this idea we look at ourselves and, of course, all we see is impurity; having developed a concept of enlightenment, we examine our own minds and see just the opposite - confusion and conflict.

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But the point is, these ideas we have about practice are just ideas. Thinking: 'I’m here and Nibbana is over there; I'm just a confused idiot and Nibbana is all purity and profundity,' is merely projecting onto concepts. When it comes down to real practice, enlightenment means actually being aware of confusion itself. Wisdom is that which is aware of ignorance. It's not a matter of knowing our wisdom, but of using wisdom to know ignorance!

The whole practice of mindfulness is about realizing the true nature of this being right here. We're not trying to plug into some kind of 'Nibbanic Wisdom' that's floating around in space or waiting for wisdom to fall into our laps. We are being aware of the nature of the human condition as it is. Once we really understand life as it is, then we can begin to transcend it. If we try to transcend it before we actually know it, we're merely caught up in illusion.

Ajahn Chah used to say: 'First we have to pick things up before we can realize how heavy they are.' When we see how heavy they are, then that's seeing 'dukkha'. Having seen dukkha, we let go. When we've let go of things then we realize how light it actually is. ' Ah! What a relief.' And this is where joy comes in - or piti as it's called in the 'Factors of Enlightenment'.

There are various translations of this term piti. As there are various kinds of joy. We were talking yesterday about how, having been motivated by dukkha to seek the 'Way', we arrive at trust - and this trust in turn conditions joy.

So we have these various kinds of joy arising in practice from different causes, and, personally I've found reflecting upon them very useful. The point of joy and its function often seems to be missed when talking about spiritual training.

Now piti is not just the pleasure of having a good time. But it's the kind of experience that leads to opening up to life - to awakening. When there is joy, we are ready to discover new things. On the other hand, if we have already decided 'Life is suffering', and judged it as 'miserable', then we won't look any further.

Consider children: notice how they observe and want to find out - the fascination they have about things. Sadly, as adults, we've become too sophisticated to go around looking into flowers and little things. We function on a much more conceptual level.

When we see a flower we think 'flower'. And then, 'Yes, I know all about flowers. I've seen flowers all my life and this is just another flower.' Actually, each flower is a unique flower: it is here, at this moment, this time, this place, this flower.

If we can truly listen, for instance, to a bird singing; there is just sound. And that's quite different from thinking, 'Oh, another bird singing.' If we really listen, there is simply sound happening right in this moment, in this place, in this situation; and there is a knowing of that -there's hearing. And that's a completely different reality from thinking 'bird singing'.

If we are always falling back into concepts, then the internal dialogue goes chattering on: 'Bird singing. Flower over there. This person talking. I wish they'd be quiet. Candle burning. ..' and so on. And we think we know all about life! We continually juggle these concepts around in our heads and all they ever do is move from one side of the brain to the other - out of the memory to be verbalized, then back again. If we live with only concepts of life, it can get pretty boring -it's the same old words -'flower, bird, tree'.

While it's natural that we learn and understand through language, and express our understanding through language, many of us have become prisoners of language. With meditation we have the opportunity now to bring about a profound change in our Western civilization. We are trying to understand on a 'non - conceptual' level. In meditation we are realizing the nature of experience directly.

People who are completely identified with words may find this threatening, but we're not talking about bypassing words altogether; we still have to express ourselves; we still need to communicate. But we should recognize that the words we use in communication are not the same as the experience we are attempting to convey.

Such little space is given in our society to silence. Words have become so loud and so powerful these days that sometimes that is all we hear. But it is the very space of silence that gives us access to, and nurtures, another way of relating. How wonderful to be like a child again and not be limited by words!

In the beginning, children don't have a word for a flower. 'What is this?' they enquire. And we tell them: 'It's a flower.' So okay, they have to learn to communicate, but maybe we should try saying, 'Well, it's called a flower, but that's not what it really is. It has its own perfect nature which is just-the-way-it-is.' To know this 'just- the-way-it-is' is to know joy. And knowing joy means we can bring back to life many of those beautiful qualities that have become drained out of us. We have a secret key now that will help free us from our habits.

The quality of joy can also be developed further. Beyond piti or spiritual joy there is a much more stable quality known as sukha. Generally, this term sukha is translated merely as happiness - the opposite of dukkha - but that's not enough. Momentary happiness is like a butterfly that flitters around. It's certainly 0. K., but it's not the profound quality of well-being that is meant by sukha. Through having lived so much in concepts, our life has become boring, and fleeting excitement has come to appear as important to us.

Sukha, on the other hand, means: 'Everything is just fine.' It's a sense of calm and well-being which pervades our whole body and mind. It makes the mind peaceful and collected, providing a firm foundation for samadhi - concentration.

But coming back to joy: joy is spontaneous. You can't preconceive it. You can't make it. It just arises in the moment. When there is true joy, you are in the moment. And joy in this way becomes a valuable reference point for us: if there is true joy, then we know we're in the moment, and if we are really in the moment, then there is true joy.

So try to discover where joy comes from. See what supports it and what causes it to pass away. When we are doing this, we are beginning to cultivate joy as one of the 'Factors of Enlightenment'. It becomes one of the qualities that leads us to awakening.


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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Meditative Development of Unselfish Joy

by Ven. Buddhaghosa (fifth-century)
Excerpted from The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga)

One who begins the development of unselfish joy should not start with dearly beloved person, a neutral person or hostile person. For it is not the mere fact that a person is dearly beloved, which makes him an immediate cause of developing unselfish joy, and still less so neutral or hostile person. Persons of the opposite sex and those who are dead are not suitable subjects for this meditation.

A very close friend, however, can be a suitable subject. One who is called in the commentaries an affectionate companion; for he is always in a joyous mood: he laughs first and speaks afterwards. He should be the first to be pervaded with unselfish joy. Or on seeing or hearing about a dear person being happy, cheerful, and joyous, unselfish joy can be aroused thus: "This being, verily, is happy! How good, how excellent!" For this is what is referred to in the Vibhanga: "And how does a bhikkhu dwell pervading one direction with his heart imbued with unselfish joy? Just as he would be joyful on seeing a dear and beloved person, so he pervades all being with unselfish joy" (Vibhanga 274).

(Photo source: flickr.com)

But if his affectionate friend or the dear person was happy in the past but is now unlucky and unfortunate, then unselfish joy can still be aroused by remembering his past happiness; or by anticipating that he will be happy and successful again in the future.

Having thus aroused unselfish joy with respect to a dear person, the meditator can then direct it towards a neutral one, and after that towards a hostile one.

But if resentment towards the hostile one arises in him, he should make it subside in the same way as described under the exposition of loving-kindness.

He should then break down the barriers by means of impartiality towards the four, that is, towards these three and himself. And by cultivating the sign (or after-image, obtained in concentration), developing and repeatedly practicing it, he should increase the absorption to triple or (according to the Abhidhamma division) quadruple jhana.

Next, the versatility (in this meditation) should be understood in the same way as stated under loving-kindness. It consists in:

(a) Unspecified pervasion in these five ways:
"May all beings... all breathing things... all creatures... all persons... all those who have a personality be free from enmity, affliction, and anxiety, and live happily!"
(b) Specified pervasion in these seven ways:
"May all women... all men... all Noble Ones... all not Noble Ones... all deities... all human beings... all in states of misery (in lower worlds) be free from enmity, etc."
(c) Directional pervasion in these ten ways:
"May all beings (all breathing things, etc.; all women, etc.) in the eastern direction... in the western direction... northern... southern direction... in the intermediate eastern, western, northern, and southern direction... in the downward direction... in the upward direction be free from enmity, etc."

This versatility is successful only in one whose mind has reached absorption (jhana).

When this meditator develops the mind-deliverance of unselfish joy through any of these kinds of absorption he obtains these eleven advantages: he sleeps in comfort, wakes in comfort, and dreams no evil dreams, he is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings, deities guard him, fire and poison and weapons do not affect him, his mind is easily concentrated, the expression of his face is serene, he dies unconfused, if he penetrates no higher he will be reborn in the Brahma World (A v 342).


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The Nature and Implications of Mudita

by L.R. Oates
From Metta, Vol. 12, No. 2

Altruistic joy is one of the four "sublime states" of mind — friendliness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity — which together form one related group among the various spiritual or physical exercises generally described as meditation or contemplation. These all have as their common aim the attainment of mental calm or equanimity, which is intended in turn to foster the development of liberating insight. "A still mind, like still water, yields a clear reflection of what is before it." This is why this particular series ends with equanimity, but the route by which it is attained in this case is different from that traversed for the most of the other themes used as a focus for concentration.

The others, such as meditation on the breath, on death, on visual objects (kasina [kasi.na]), or on the Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Order of the Enlightened One, are entirely concerned with the self-cultivation of the meditator. Most of these themes are abstract or inanimate, while the Buddha and the Order (in the strict sense applicable here) have transcended any power of ours to help or hinder them. So the only person concerned or affected in these forms of training is the meditator. It was doubtless to encourage those wrestling by these means with their own inner weakness or conflicts that the following verse of the Dhammapada was uttered:

Let no one neglect his own task for the sake of another's however great; let him, after he has discerned his own task, devote himself to his task.

— Dhp 166

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But if this were the whole story it would be difficult for such self-cultivation to serve in turn as a basis for the freedom from bondage to the self-concept, which is the main characteristic of the development of insight. Indeed, it was the recognition of the dangers of self-preoccupation, or self-righteousness, liable to arise in these often acute struggles for self-discipline, that impelled the more extreme exponents of the Pure Land school of Buddhism to abandon self-cultivation in favor of the less exacting path of reliance on the Buddha's transforming grace. But the cultivation of the "sublime states" represents a less radical form of compensation which, while compatible with other practices, can help to broaden the meditator's perspective in order to achieve a mode of equanimity which does not imply withdrawal into oneself or indifference to others.

The starting point here, of course, is on the ethical plane in the practice of generosity in practical ways (dana; daana) which, in order to become interiorized and thereby go beyond mere outward form, must be grounded in an attitude of friendliness (metta) for all beings without distinction. Since this outlook implies the recognition that all beings are subject to joys and sorrows just as we are, it finds a natural development in sympathy — that is to say, compassion — for their sorrows and joy in their blessings.

The former of these seems much the easier to achieve, since it is possible to feel compassion for suffering even in the absence of any positive friendliness for the sufferer, whereas it is only possible to share genuinely in another's joy if there is some element of true affection or friendliness present. This is perhaps why, on a much lower level of sensitivity, the reporting of news seems so heavily concentrated on the side of crimes and disasters, which are perhaps felt more likely to arouse interest than happier events and deeds. If the latter arouse any interest at all, it is likely to be spiced with envy or cynicism.

Not only does genuine joy in the prosperity of others require some element of affection; it requires this to be of a quite high order. A great deal of what passes for love is really aimed at mere emotional gratification on the part of the lover, for whom the "beloved" is little more than a prop for acting out some drama satisfying a purely subjective need — the beloved's own needs being treated less seriously. Indeed, even apart from outright commercialization, a certain habit of bargaining with affections seems remarkably widespread, when one begins to take notice of it.

In the light of this, the ability to feel a genuine joy in another's happiness, equal to one's satisfaction with one's own, represents a truly "sublime state." So it is not surprising that in the history of Buddhism, which cultivated this attitude systematically, there arose an aspiration to share with others not only one's material resources, but the spiritual resources described as merit. This aspiration follows naturally enough from the basic theory as to what merit is. Merit is the accumulation of tendencies resulting from enlightened deeds which, according to the law of moral causation (the law of karma), conduce to the future happiness of the doer.

Here he is joyful, hereafter he is joyful, in both worlds the well-doer is joyful. "I have done good" is the thought that make him happy. Still greater is his joy when he goes to states of bliss.

If the doer is still in a state where only purely personal forms of satisfaction are possible, the fruits of merit can only take this form. But suppose he loves even one being so much that, if that being is in some state of deprivation, he can only be made happy by the improvement of that being's lot, then the merit which is due to him can only take effect by benefiting him through that other's welfare. The wider his altruism expands, so that purely personal gratifications no longer adequately satisfy him, the wider must be the range of the benefit which his own merit would need to bring to others if it is to fulfill its defined function of bringing happiness to him. At the same time, his altruistic tendencies will ensure that he will have vastly more merit due to him, so his resources will tend to become commensurate with the aspirations, for example, of Santideva, when he says:

May I be an alleviator of the sorrows of all beings and a divine medicine to those afflicted by disease. May I be the benefactor and bringer of peace to them until all their bodily ailments and mental tribulations are at the end.

The principle of the sharing or transference of merit, so much stressed in Mahayana Buddhism (though not unknown in Theravadan practices) is sometimes objected to by Western Buddhists because of a superficial resemblance to the Christian doctrine of atonement, which they have rejected. But the principles entailed are not really identical, since the Christian doctrine is based on an essential distinction between the roles of the Creator and the created, while the Buddhist sharing of merit arises from a combination of the definition of merit and of the nature of altruistic joy.

It has a further importance too, in that it anticipates the emancipation to be derived from insight into the emptiness of the self-concept, that is to say, awakening to the emptiness of the concepts "I" and "mine" in terms of ultimate truth. On this level, the description "mine" as applied to merit will finally be seen to be as inapplicable as in the case of any other assumed possession. This was already explicitly set out in one of the Buddha's earliest discourses, "The Marks of the Not-self," in which he taught his first five disciples to contemplate each of the five components of personality in the terms: "This is not mine; this I am not; this is not my self." The fourth of these components is the aggregate of mental tendencies or activities, which include merit and demerit. Even on a lower plane than that of perfect insight, it can be seen that our deeds are not exclusively ours, because no one acts in absolute isolation, so that every act involves some stimulus or opportunity arising from activity of others. On the other hand, a too persistent insistence on the individual nature of merit can only impede the ultimate awakening to the Not-self.

This has some bearing, too, on the reason why friendliness, compassion, and altruistic joy are regarded as leading to an equanimity which does not imply an indifference to the joys and sorrows of others. In the absence of such a conclusion, the alternate sharing of joys and sorrows, like these emotions arising on one's own account, would be as endless as the world-cycles which it is the Buddhist aspiration to transcend. The goal of the "divine states" is that the aspirant, who in process achieves the role of a Bodhisattva in a two-way empathy with others by his perfect sharing of their joys and sorrows, is in a position to radiate to them stability, which in turn will help them to be less subject to their own emotional vicissitudes. In this way, he and they are liberated together, each sustaining the other.


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by C.F. Knight
From Metta, Vol. 12, No. 2

A feature of the Buddha-Dhamma is cognizance of the pairs of opposites in the training to get beyond them. The Buddha's method of mental training and development was to teach by first defining unwholesome or unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds, or practices which characterize many of man's proclivities, and then to propound their opposites of a wholesome or skillful nature as an achievement to be sought after for the abolition of them both, eventually, when even the good must be left behind as well as the evil; when even the Raft of Dhamma is to be abandoned — after crossing the flood of samsara. The trouble with so many of the unwise is their desire to abandon the Raft of Dhamma before reaching the further shore. The Buddha's method of expounding the negative and the positive, the passive, and the dynamic aspects of behavior, in both abstract and concrete terms, is obviously to create awareness of what is to be sought after and nurtured.

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The basic ignorance featured in Buddhism is not so much a rejection of the truth as it is a failure to perceive it. It is, as it were, a "blind spot" in our perception akin to the physical damage of a section of the brain or the nervous system which results in impaired vision or locomotion. In other words, the depth of our ignorance may be measured by our lack of consciousness of it.

This is why it is so necessary that we should see and recognize our failings and shortcomings if we are to eradicate them. It is also important that we should be mindful of "the good that has arisen," and to foster and develop it to the point of perfection. To realize our imperfections is the beginning of wisdom — the first light to shine on the darkness of our ignorance. While we are blissfully unaware of unwholesome states of mind within ourselves, such states will continue to flourish, and their roots will dig deeper into our very being. Just so too, in our relationships with our fellow men, the unperceived evils will be repeated unconsciously and unrecognized, building up a cumulative unhappy future for us under the retributive causal law of karma.

In dealing with mudita or altruistic joy, we are once more to some extent frustrated with the inadequacy of translations for "brahma-vihara" or "appamañña" [appama~n~na] — the former as "sublime or divine abode," and the latter as "boundless state." To reduce either of these terms to modern idiom is difficult. The four characteristics grouped under these terms are: loving-kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, and equanimity, extended to universal application. In their perfection they are "sublime" and "boundless," and to be "dwelt in" as one speaks of "dwelling in Peace," so we will leave it at that.

As with all perfections, these four desirable characteristics are the antidotes to the poisons of their opposite imperfections, and here is where the recognition of their opposites is apposite. Less has been said or written of mudita than of the other three of these four characteristics, perhaps, again, because of its somewhat clumsy translation. While loving-kindness and compassion are objective, reaching out to all sentient beings, mudita and equanimity are subjective, or personal in their application.

It may seem strange at first, until we critically examine the source, to speak of either selfish or unselfish joy. Joy is an emotional ecstasy arising from pleasure. It is something intensely personal. While we can and do share our pleasures to some extent with others, the resultant impact of them on various personalities will vary as widely as the personalities. At times what may give rise to rapturous joy in us, when shared, may give rise to positive aversion in another.

A pertinent example of this would be the reactionary effect of certain music on people of differing tastes. While it is not uncommon for some of the modern generation to literally swoon in ecstasy under the influence of the combination of discordant and dissonant notes and chords, others find them anything but entertaining or pleasurable. Here we have what might be termed "selfish joy" on the part of the participants, by those who have to suffer most unwilling participation. For all that, within the group enjoying it, there is a reciprocity of delight, happiness, and rapture between the entertainers and the entertained. Superficially, then, we could say it is not the phenomenon of joy itself, that is either selfish or altruistic by nature, but that time, place, and circumstance must all be considered in relation one to the others.

However, to bring mudita within the ambit of the Buddha-Dhamma we need to go deeper into the necessity for cultivating this perfection. What are the opposites to be eliminated by its cultivation?

We never tire of asserting the interdependence of every aspect of the Buddha-Dhamma, no matter which particular facet is being discussed. We have already stated that ignorance is failure of perception, and it is true that greed and hatred do arise through the non-perception of their source and subsequent results; that basically craving born of ignorance is the culprit, and that the purpose of the Buddha-Dhamma is to eliminate craving. It is craving that gives rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed in all of its manifestations. Here it is that mudita when practiced and developed becomes a "sublime" and "boundless" state of mind to be "dwelt in" as a corrective characteristic for their removal.

One of the most frequently used similes by the Buddha was that of fire. At times it was the destructive quality of fire that was likened to the destructive nature of the passions. At other times it was the ardent nature of fire that was to be emulated in the pursuance of the path to holiness. In its uncontrolled existence fire is a destructive danger. Under control it is one of man's greatest boons and blessings. In either case it was a motivating force to be reckoned with, at all times active, potent, and energetic.

The three roots of evil — greed, hatred, and delusion — are also known as "the three fires." On one occasion the Buddha and his band of monks were for the time staying on Gaya Head, a mountain near the city of Gaya. From their elevated position they watched one of the great fires that from time to time ravaged the countryside. This inspired what is known as "The Fire Sermon," which is the third recorded discourse delivered by the Buddha subsequent to his Enlightenment, and at the beginning of his long ministry. To the Buddha, the world of Samsara was like the flaming plains below, "Everything is burning," said the Buddha, "burning with the fire of passion, with the fired of hatred, with the fire of stupidity." (Vin. 21)

It is these three fires that give rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed. The craving for possessions, the craving for sensual pleasures, the begrudged success of others, the hatred that is begotten by the gains of others, the odious comparison of greater status compared with our humble circumstances, these are the "fires" that burn within us to our undoing.

It is now evident why mudita is such an important characteristic to be cultivated. When we can view the success of others with the same equanimity, and to the same extent, as we would extend metta and karuna — loving-kindness and compassion — to those who suffer grief and distress, sadness and tribulation, sorrow and mourning, then we are beginning to exercise mudita, and are in the process of eradicating greed and craving. Developed still further, we can reach the stage of sharing with others their joy of possession, their financial or social successes, their elevation to positions of civic or national importance, or their receipt of titles and honorifics. In such a manner mudita is counteractive to conceits of all kinds, and its growth and development checks craving's grip.

Until we have developed this subjective characteristic within ourselves how can we develop the objective characteristics of metta and karuna? The accumulated possessions, results of our greed, may give us the pleasure and the happiness of the miser gloating over his hoard of gold. The happiness born of shared pleasures, shared love, shared possessions, shared delights in another's success, will surpass the meager selfish happiness of the miser.

Unselfish joy multiplies in ratio to the extension of its application, quite apart from its purifying effect on our own lives.

In Ñanamoli's translation of Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga he uses "gladness" for mudita, with the footnote: "Mudita — gladness — as one of the divine abidings is always used in the sense of gladness at others' success." Buddhaghosa illustrates this by saying: "On seeing or hearing about a dear person being happy cheerful and glad, gladness can be aroused thus: 'This being is indeed glad. How good! How excellent!' Just as he would be glad on seeing a dear and beloved person, so he pervades all being with gladness."

In "The Analysis of the Sixfold Sense-Field" (MN 137) the Buddha speaks of the six joys connected with renunciation. While such joys are subjective by nature, they are devoid of any taint of egoistic craving that could give rise to the cankers of jealousy, envy, covetousness, or greed. These joys arise on the realization of the impermanence of material shapes, sounds, smells, flavors, touches, and mental states, and the renunciation of attachment to them.


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Is Unselfish Joy Practicable?

by Nyanaponika Thera

The virtue of mudita [muditaa], 1 i.e., finding joy in the happiness and success of others, has not received sufficient attention either in expositions of Buddhist ethics, or in the meditative development of the four sublime states (brahma-vihara [brahma-vihaara]), of which mudita is one. It was, therefore, thought desirable to compile this little book of essays and texts and to mention in this introduction a few supplementary features of this rather neglected subject.

It has been rightly stated that it is relatively easier for man to feel compassion or friendliness in situations which demand them, than to cherish a spontaneous feeling of shared joy, outside a narrow circle of one's family and friends. It mostly requires a deliberate effort to identify oneself with the joys and successes of others. Yet the capacity of doing so has psychological roots in man's nature which may be even deeper that his compassionate responses. There is firstly the fact that people do like to feel happy (with — or without — good reason) and would prefer it to the shared sadness of compassion. Man's gregarious nature (his "sociability") already gives him some familiarity with shared emotions and shared pleasure, though mostly on a much lower level than that of our present concern. There is also in man (and in some animals) not only an aggressive impulse, but also a natural bent towards mutual aid and co-operative action. Furthermore, there is the fact that happiness is infectious and an unselfish joy can easily grow out of it. Children readily respond by their own smiles and happy mood to smiling faces and happiness around them. Though children can be quite jealous and envious at times, they also can visibly enjoy it when they have made a playmate happy by a little gift and they are then quite pleased with themselves. Let parents and educators wisely encourage this potential in the child. Then this seed will quite naturally grow into a strong plant in the adolescent and the adult, maturing from impulsive and simple manifestations into the sublime state of unselfish joy (mudita-brahmavihara). Thus, here too, the child may become "the father of a man." Such education towards joy with others should, of course, not be given in a dry didactic manner, but chiefly in a practical way by gently making the child observe, appreciate, and enjoy the happiness and success of others, and by trying himself to create a little joy in others. This can be aided by acquainting the child with examples of selfless lives and actions for his joyful admiration of them (and these, of course, should not be limited to Buddhist history). This feature should not be absent in Buddhist youth literature and schoolbooks, throughout all age groups. And this theme should be continued in Buddhist magazines and literature for adults.
(Photo source: flickr.com)

Admittedly, the negative impulses in man, like aggression, envy, jealousy, etc., are much more in evidence than his positive tendencies towards communal service, mutual aid, unselfish joy, generous appreciation of the good qualities of his fellow-men, etc. Yet, as all these positive features are definitely found in man (though rarely developed), it is quite realistic to appeal to them, and activate and develop that potential by whatever means we can, in our personal relationships, in education, etc. "If it were impossible to cultivate the Good, I would not tell you to do so," said the Buddha. This is, indeed, a positive, optimistic assurance.

If this potential for unselfish joy is widely and methodically encouraged and developed, starting with the Buddhist child (or, for that matter, with any child) and continued with adults (individuals and Buddhist groups, including the Sangha), the seed of mudita can grow into a strong plant which will blossom forth and find fruition in many other virtues, as a kind of beneficial "chain reaction": magnanimity, tolerance, generosity (of both heart and purse), friendliness, and compassion. When unselfish joy grows, many noxious weeds in the human heart will die a natural death (or will, at least, shrink): jealousy and envy, ill will in various degrees and manifestations, cold-heartedness, miserliness (also in one's concern for others), and so forth. Unselfish joy can, indeed, act as a powerful agent in releasing dormant forces of the Good in the human heart.

We know very well how envy and jealousy (the chief opponents of unselfish joy) can poison a man's character as well as the social relationships on many levels of his life. They can paralyze the productivity of society, on governmental, professional, industrial, and commercial levels. Should not, therefore, all effort be made to cultivate their antidote, that is mudita?

Mudita will also vitalize and ennoble charitable and social work. While compassion (karuna [karu.naa]) is, or should be, the inspiration for it, unselfish joy should be its boon companion. Mudita will prevent compassionate action from being marred by a condescending and patronizing attitude which often repels or hurts the recipient. Also, when active compassion and unselfish joy go together, it will be less likely that works of service turn into dead routine performed indifferently. Indifference, listlessness, boredom (all nuances of the Pali term arati) are said to be the 'distant enemies' of mudita. They can be vanquished by an alliance of compassion and unselfish joy.

In him who gives and helps, the joy he finds in such action will enhance the blessings imparted by these wholesome deeds: unselfishness will become more and more natural to him, and such ethical unselfishness will help him towards a better appreciation and the final realization of the Buddha's central doctrine of No-self (anatta [anattaa]). He will also find it confirmed that he who is joyful in his heart will gain easier the serenity of a concentrated mind. These are, indeed, great blessings which the cultivation of joy with others' happiness can bestow!

Nowadays, moral exhortations fall increasingly on deaf ears, whether they are motivated theologically or otherwise. Preaching morals with an admonishing finger is now widely resented and rejected. This fact worries greatly the churches and educators in the West. But there are ample indications that this may, more or less, happen also in the Buddhist countries of the East where ethics is still taught and preached in the old hortatory style and mostly in a rather stereotype and unimaginative way, with little reference to present-day moral and social problems. Hence modern youth will increasingly feel that such "moralizings" are not their concern. In fact within the frame of the Buddhist teachings which do not rely on the authoritarian commandments of God and church, but on man's innate capacity for self-purification, such conventionalized presentation of ethics which chiefly relies on over-worked scriptural references, must appear quite incongruous and will prove increasingly ineffective for young and old alike. The need for reform in this field is urgent and of vital importance.

It was also with this situation in view, that the preceding observations have stressed the fact that a virtue like unselfish and altruistic joy has its natural roots in the human heart and can be of immediate benefit to the individual and society. In other words, the approach to a modern presentation of Buddhist ethics should be pragmatic and contemporary, enlivened by a genuine and warm-hearted human concern.

In this troubled world of ours, there are plenty of opportunities for thoughts and deeds of compassion; but there seem to be all too few for sharing in others' joy. Hence it is necessary for us to create new opportunities for unselfish joy, by the active practice of loving-kindness (metta [mettaa]) and compassion (karuna), in deeds, words, and meditative thought. Yet, in a world that can never be without disappointments and failures, we must also arm ourselves with the equanimity (upekkha [upekkhaa]) to protect us from discouragement and feelings of frustration, should we encounter difficulties in our efforts to expand the realm of unselfish joy.


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