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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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Heart of Dependent Origination

by Arya Nagarjuna

In the language of India: pratityasamutpada hridaya karika
In the language of Tibet: rten cing 'brel par 'byung ba'i snying po'i tsig le'ur byas pa

Homage to Manjushri, the Youthful!

1. These different links, twelve in number,
Which Buddha taught as dependent origination,
Can be summarized in three categories:
Mental afflictions, karma and suffering.

2. The first, eighth and ninth are afflictions,
The second and tenth are karma,
The remaining seven are suffering.
Thus the twelve links are grouped in three.

3. From the three the two originate,
And from the two the seven come,
From seven the three come once again—
Thus the wheel of existence turns and turns.

4. All beings consist of causes and effects,
In which there is no ‘sentient being’ at all.
From phenomena which are exclusively empty,
There arise only empty phenomena.
All things are devoid of any “I” or mine.

5. Like a recitation, a candle, a mirror, a seal,
A magnifying glass, a seed, sourness, or a sound,
So also with the continuation of the aggregates—
The wise should know they are not transferred.

6. Then, as for extremely subtle entities,
Those who regard them with nihilism,
Lacking precise and thorough knowledge,
Will not see the actuality of conditioned arising.

7. In this, there is not a thing to be removed,
Nor the slightest thing to be added.
It is looking perfectly into reality itself,
And when reality is seen, complete liberation.

This concludes the Verses on the Heart of Dependent Origination composed by the teacher Arya Nagarjuna.

Article source: www.lotsawahouse.org

~End of Post~


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Monday, July 26, 2010

Abandoning the Eight Worldly Dharmas

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Last Updated Apr 7, 2010)

How to Practice Dharma: Abandoning the Eight Worldly Dharmas

The Importance of Knowing What Dharma Is Happiness Starts When We Renounce This Life The Importance of Knowing What Dharma Is

Even though we don’t know any other subject, if we can clearly differentiate between what is Dharma and what is non-Dharma by recognizing the eight worldly dharmas, we are very fortunate. This is the essential point. Knowing this alone gives us a great chance to really put Dharma practice into our daily life and create however much merit we want to create.

Buddhism is a house full of treasures—practices for the happiness of future lives, for attaining liberation, for the supreme happiness of enlightenment—but this is the key that will open the door to those treasures. No matter how much we know about shunyata 9, the chakras or kundalini yoga 10, it is all pointless without this crucial understanding of how to practice Dharma, how to correct our actions. There are many people who spend much time thinking that they are practicing Dharma at a very high level, practicing tantra and other great subjects. They spend many lives like that but really never know the border between Dharma and non-Dharma.

It is very easy to do Dharma activities, such as reciting mantras, saying prayers, making offerings and things like that, with the thought of the eight worldly dharmas. This happens. But in reality, the holy Dharma, which includes all these activities, actually means renouncing this life, and therefore doing holy Dharma and doing worldly dharma can never happen together. Nobody can do these two things at the same time—renounce this life and seek the happiness of this life with the eight worldly dharmas. We can do one and then the other, but never together in one mind at the same time.

It’s Better To Practice Dharma

Whenever different benefactors wrote to Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo asking for advice, it seems that he always advised them to persuade other sentient beings to practice Dharma, especially lam-rim, as much as possible, by giving the very heart instructions on how to make their life most meaningful.

The eight worldly dharmas are the source of the whole of life’s problems, so therefore if Dharma practice means renouncing the source of the whole of life’s problems it means renouncing the eight worldly dharmas. “I’m practicing Dharma” really means “I’m renouncing all the suffering of this life and all the future lives, I’m renouncing the thought of the eight worldly dharmas.”

In previous times, Dromtönpa, Atisha’s close disciple and translator, saw an old man walking around the temple at Reting monastery. The old man thought he was practicing Dharma. So Dromtönpa said, “Circumambulating the temple is good, but isn’t it better to practice Dharma.” After hearing this, the old man gave up going around the temple and started reading the scriptures, thinking that was what practicing Dharma meant. Again Dromtönpa met him and, seeing the old man reading scriptures, mentioned, “Reading the scriptures is good, but isn’t it better to practice Dharma?” So, at that the old man gave up reading Dharma texts, and thinking maybe meditation was practicing Dharma, he sat down cross-legged and closed his eyes to meditate. As he was sitting like that, again the Dromtönpa came to him and said, “Sir, your meditating is good, but wouldn’t it be better to practice Dharma?”

The old man was confused. He couldn’t think of any other way to practice Dharma if it wasn’t circumambulating or reading scriptures or meditating, and so he asked Dromtönpa, “What do you mean by practicing Dharma?” Then Dromtönpa answered, “Renounce this life. Renounce it now, for if you do not renounce attachment to this life, whatever you do will not be the practice of Dharma, as you have not passed beyond the eight worldly concerns. Once you have renounced this life’s habitual thoughts and are no longer distracted by the eight worldly dharmas, whatever you do will advance you on the path of liberation.”

Dromtönpa advised the old man to renounce this life because without renouncing this life nobody can practice pure Dharma. With renunciation, however, there is pure Dharma practice, which brings happiness in this life and in all future lives. Renouncing this life doesn’t mean running away from home or from material possessions, it means running away from the cause of the suffering. That alone will cut our suffering. As long as we follow the eight worldly dharmas, whether we separate from this physical body or not, without question we will still suffer.

In a similar vein, when Lama Atisha 11 was about to pass away, one of his followers, a yogi called Naljor Chaktri Chok, (which means Yogi Meditator), who was Milarepa in a previous life, said to him, “After you have passed away I will dedicate myself to meditation.” Lama Atisha answered, “Give up anything that is a bad action!” Atisha did not say that it was good to meditate; he did not say, “Oh yes, that is very good!” Instead he said, “Give up anything that is a bad action!”

Naljor Chaktri Chok then said to Atisha, “In that case, sometimes I will explain Dharma and sometimes I will meditate.” Again Atisha gave the same answer. Naljor Chaktri Chok thought some more, then gave another suggestion. But no matter what he said, Atisha just kept on giving the same answer. Finally, Naljor Chaktri Chok asked, “Well, what should I do?” Lama Atisha answered, “Give up this life in your mind!”

Keeping this advice in his heart, Naljor Chaktri Chok lived in a juniper forest rear Reting monastery, no different from the way animals live in a forest. (This is not talking about his mind—just his body.) Living alone, not seeing even one other human face, he passed his life there.

Giving up this life—renouncing this life, as Dromtönpa says—doesn’t mean leaving everything behind and escaping from this world, this entire planet, and going somewhere else. Giving away all our possessions—even all the possessions that exist in the world—is not giving up this life. Taking our body away from our home or our country is not giving up this life. Even living in a cave with no possessions at all, with only the body, this is not giving up this life. Even separating from our body—as we do every time we die—is not giving up this worldly life. Giving up this life does not depend on physical things; it is a mental change.

The Difference Between the Eight Worldly Dharmas and Dharma

Without renouncing the thought of the eight worldly dharmas, any action—going round a stupa, meditating, reading Dharma books—is a negative action, a worldly action. It is not spiritual, it is not Dharma; it is the opposite of Dharma. So the action itself does not determine whether something is Dharma. Dromtönpa shows us clearly that practicing Dharma is nothing more than renouncing the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas.

We need to be very clear about what defines Dharma and non-Dharma. We know that anger is negative, of course, but we aren’t angry all the time. What really wastes our precious life isn’t anger but attachment, being attached to the eight worldly dharmas.

If we don’t know the distinction between Dharma and non-Dharma, even though we try to practice Dharma our whole life, nothing becomes Dharma, because we are still doing things with the wrong motivation. It can happen. So the definition of non-Dharma is simply anything that is done for the happiness of this life alone. It is whatever we do motivated by the attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. The definition of Dharma is exactly the opposite; it is anything that is done for the happiness of beyond this life, whatever is unstained by attachment to the eight worldly dharmas. I repeat: whatever action we do with the thought of the eight worldly dharmas is not Dharma; whatever we do unstained by the thought of the eight worldly dharmas is Dharma. Every action we do from morning to night is either Dharma or non-Dharma depending on this.

When we see clearly the borderline between Dharma and non-Dharma, between a Dharma action and a worldly action, we are so fortunate. Until that point, despite all the suffering we’ve endured and all our attempts to stop it, we haven’t had any way to be really happy, but now we can start to do something about it. We have probably wanted to do many good things in the past, such as meditating, but from lack of this fundamental understanding, we’ve made so many mistakes. Even if we don’t come to understand any other Dharma subjects, just knowing this one thing is like opening a big eye.

Pure Dharma is any action that is a remedy for our delusions. Basically, practicing Dharma benefits future lives, unlike the meaningless activities of this life which might possibly bring some temporary happiness in this life. Achieving the happiness of this life is nothing special. Even animals or insects as tiny as ants can achieve the happiness of this life, and therefore being able to gain sense pleasures doesn’t make our life more special than that of an animal. No matter how expert we are, we aren’t fulfilling the potential we have as humans, especially with this perfect human rebirth, qualified by eight freedoms and ten richnesses.12 The special purposes of having a perfect human rebirth are to achieve the happiness of future lives, to achieve liberation from samsara and to achieve full enlightenment, and this is something we can do because we can create the causes even in each second.

Virtue and nonvirtue are defined on this basis. Every action done renouncing attachment to this life is virtue; every action done with attachment to this life is nonvirtue. If we renounce the attachment that clings to this life’s pleasure, our attitude becomes pure, and everything we do becomes Dharma. Nothing we do is done for this life.

As soon as we renounce the evil thought of the eight worldly dharmas there is peace. There is no need to wait until tomorrow or the day after. It is not as if we renounce the eight worldly dharmas today but we need to wait for a few years or the next life to receive happiness.

When we live with the pure thought that is not mixed with the thought of the worldly dharmas, then each single action becomes Dharma, our mind is living purely in the Dharma. The deeper we see the cause of our suffering, the more our wisdom grows and the more we can put Dharma into our everyday life. Then there is so much energy to make any action we do a Dharma action. Even if we live in a big family, with twenty children and many possessions, every action we do becomes the remedy to the delusions, and we are living in the renunciation of this life.

Nobody can tell from external appearances who has renounced this life and who hasn’t. Renunciation is a state of mind, and whether or not a person has lots of possessions is no indication at all. Even though someone is a king, with many servants, with stores of jewels and possessions and many rich apartments, that does not mean his mind is not living in renunciation. Renouncing this life is a mental action, not a physical action.

If it were only a question of not having anything, all the animals and insects who have no possessions, living in holes, without food to eat, should be regarded as highly renounced beings. At Lawudo retreat center near Everest there are many caves that used to be the homes of great yogis. When I went to see them, they had been used by yaks for sleeping, probably because they are warm, and they were full of kaka. If the definition of a yogi is someone who lives in a cave, perhaps we should consider the yaks great yogis!

Another way of defining Dharma is anything that does not accord with the actions of worldly people. If we do something that normal people don’t do, then it’s Dharma. If we do something that normal people do, then it’s not Dharma. This is how the great teacher Dromtönpa explained it to Potowa:

It is Dharma if it becomes an antidote to delusions; it is not Dharma if it does not. If all worldly people disagree with it, it is Dharma; if they agree with it, it is not Dharma.13

Most worldly people have an interpretation of what constitutes a good life based on attachment and filtered through the ego. And so more wealth, more success, more friends, more children, more cars—such things are seen as part of a good life. We measure our happiness by how many possessions we have, by our external development. Children, and then grandchildren, and then great-grandchildren, the more of everything we have the happier we are.

This is entirely the opposite of what a good life is in the view of Dharma wisdom, based on the fundamental understanding of karma and the lam-rim. What attachment doesn’t consider important in its view of a good life is having peace in the heart, having real satisfaction. Actually, this is what we are all looking for, but very few people, lacking Dharma education, know this and so very few people actually know how to achieve it.

The Importance of Motivation

When I once asked an abbot about the meaning of “worldly dharma”, he replied that it means gambling, working in the fields and so on—these are worldly activities. It is very common to think of worldly actions in this way, relating just to the action and not to the motivation, the attitude. If done with a pure motivation, however, such actions can become pure Dharma.

Dromtönpa’s example above is extremely important to keep in mind because it shows so clearly the border between Dharma and non-Dharma. It is easy to think of worldly actions as playing football, smoking, drinking, having sex or these kinds of things, but that’s not what defines a worldly action. We therefore need to become very aware of the motivation for all the actions we do in daily life to see what is and what is not Dharma.

If our motivation is worldly concern then the action becomes a worldly activity. It can’t be Dharma, even if the action is reciting prayers, meditating and so on. It can be like Dharma but not Dharma. And a person who “practices” Dharma but with a motivation of worldly concern is like a Dharma practitioner but not a real Dharma practitioner. There’s a big difference.

One time, someone gave me plastic ice cream. It looked exactly like ice cream and it even ran down the spoon like melting ice cream does. When Ueli, the director of the FPMT Mongolian projects, came to lunch I offered it to him and he was completely fooled. It was so well made. But of course it was completely inedible. And it’s the same thing with the person who practices Dharma but pollutes it with the mind clinging to this life. His activities might look exactly like Dharma—listening to teachings, reflecting, meditating, going on retreat, even teaching Dharma—but in fact they are not Dharma. He might look like a Dharma practitioner but in fact he is not a Dharma practitioner.

Since we are seeking liberation, this is the most important point to know. It’s like the dial of the radio that has the power to tune into all the different stations. Without this understanding of the distinction between Dharma and non-Dharma, no matter how many different spiritual actions we do, no matter how long we do things such as building monasteries, making prostrations and so on—even if we do them until we die—there is a real danger that our whole life will become filled with negative actions and cause us to be trapped in samsara, that they will be the causes of the bondage to suffering. Without this knowledge there is a great danger we will cheat ourselves.

By itself, no action can be defined as a worldly action. It can be either holy Dharma or worldly dharma, virtuous or nonvirtuous. It all depends on the motivation. Enjoying sense pleasures can be positive or negative; having wealth can be positive of negative. Two people can do exactly the same thing and one can be positive and the other negative.

So it all depends on our attitude. A politician with a good motivation can do a lot of good but if his motivation is the thought of the eight worldly dharmas—the wish for power, reputation, wealth and so on—then his politics become black politics that harm both himself and the people around him. Without the worldly mind, his politics become Dharma. And if the motivation is unstained by self-cherishing and is one of bodhicitta then those politics become pure Mahayana Dharma. It becomes only pure service for other sentient beings, and that becomes the cause to achieve enlightenment.

No matter how it looks on the surface, any action done without involvement in the eight worldly dharmas is a Dharma action. Whatever method we use to renounce the thought of the eight worldly dharmas is the method to stop the continuity of bad karma, which leads to escape from suffering and to enlightenment. This is the perfect, true method.

And so before we can start any Dharma practice, the most important thing is to cultivate a pure motivation. Just understanding this crucial point is so important. It opens our wisdom eye; it is the first thing we need to do to follow the path. Even if we can’t have pure motivation from the very beginning, just understanding what Dharma means and how it makes life meaningful is very beneficial. As we practice more, we can develop a better and purer motivation based on this understanding. Then we have the chance to do a correct action without mistake.

We can’t become like those great yogis of the past within a few days, or even a few months, but it is very beneficial just knowing how they made their life free and peaceful by practicing Dharma. This gives us some insight into how we can start to lead our life. We can watch that all our actions are as pure as possible, that they are not controlled by the thought of the eight worldly dharmas.


9 Skt: emptiness.

10 The completion stage practice in Highest Yoga Tantra for of bringing the vital energy (Skt: prana, Tib: lung) into the central channel. It is also a common yoga found in non-Tibetan traditions.

11 The first part of this section is also found in The Door to Satisfaction, p. 30.

12 The eight freedoms are freedom from: 1. being born in the hells (narak), 2. as a hungry spirit (preta), 3. as an animal, 4. as a long-life god (asura), 5. as a barbarian in an irreligious country, 6. deaf, 7.as a heretic, 8. born during a time when Buddha has not descended.

The ten richnesses are: 1. being born as a human being, 2. being born in the centre of a religious country, 3. being born with perfect organs, 4. avoidance of the five extreme negative actions (killing your mother, your father, an arhat, wounding a tathagata or causing disunity amongst the Sangha), 5. belief in the practice of Dharma, 6. being born during a non-dark period, 7. being shown the teachings of the Buddha or his followers, 8. the existence of experienced teachings, 9. following the path of the Buddha’s teaching. 10. receiving the kindness and compassion of others. Taken from The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun. See also Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, pp. 308-311.

13 Quoted in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, p. 337.

Article Source: www.lamayeshe.com


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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forest Wat, Wild Monks

By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Today, I'll speak about "Forest Wat Wild Monks." A topic like this is easy to remember and understand. It's straight-forward and clear. Since you only have a month left as monks, I think you ought to live as "forest wat wild monks," correctly and completely, for at least a little while. Later, it will probably be beneficial, that is, it might make you fit and adequate after you have disrobed. Even ordinary householders should know something about "forest wat wild monks."

These words may sound ugly, but the Buddha and the Arahants (Worthy Ones, Perfected Ones) lived in this way. Please realize that originally all of the wats, monasteries, and ashrams were outside the cities and villages. None were within the city walls. They were forest wats implicitly and in truth. To say "wild monks" is a bit hard on the ears, because the word "wild" can have bad connotations. Here, however, "wild" means the opposite of cities. Town wats and city monks are the opposite of "forest wats and wild monks." Take the meaning of "wild monk" merely to be the opposite of "city monk."

Consider Suan Mokkh a bit. We've intended for it to be a forest wat from the very start. Things I had studied led me to know more about how the Buddha lived. Understanding how he lived, I wanted to have a lifestyle like his. So I thought of supporting the forest style of living. Then, we went even further using the words "to promote vipassana-dhura." We used the phrase that was common then. They called the practice in solitary and quiet places, such as in forests, "vipassana-dhura." 2 We intended to promote vipassana-dhura, or the meditation-duty, to revive it, so we thought of having a place in the forest.
Now, although the village is encroaching, we can probably maintain the condition of a forest wat. To do so, the monks must have a discipline or system of living which is most intimate with nature. This means being comrades with nature, to sit and talk, to sit and watch, to sit and listen, together with nature. The meaning of "wild monk" is to live naturally.

In the past, the elders and old teachers called the monks who live in the forest "nature monks," while the monks in the towns and cities, especially Bangkok, were called "science monks." This is a rural way of speaking, we need not judge whether it is right or wrong: "science monks" and "nature monks." Here, we are nature monks, living in harmony with nature, close to nature, studying nature, until realizing nibbana, which is the pinnacle of nature. Please understand the words "forest wat" and "wild monks" like this.

Please take only the essential meaning of these words. If we take the essence of "forest wat," it means "the most simply way of living" and "wild monks" means "to live most simply." You can blend the two together, they mean the same thing.
So, would all of you please live in the most simple way. So far, you're not yet living most simply, although you may be close. Try to readjust things yourself, through the end of the Rains. From now on, make your living even more easy. The more simple, the more natural it is. The more natural it is, the less opportunity for "I" and "mine" to be born. Thus, it automatically becomes correct and beautiful according to our monks' way.

This is an extremely important and genuine fact. Live naturally and it will be Dhamma (Natural Truth) and Vinaya (Natural Discipline), or Nature, in and of itself. Living naturally is near to nibbana, more so than living scientifically, because nibbana is already the highest nature: naturally clean, clear, and calm. Live naturally, it helps make us clean, clear, and calm more easily.

Now, I want you to hold the general principle that Nature, the Law of Nature, Duty in line with the Law of Nature, and the Fruit received from doing Duty according to the Law of Nature, are the most important matter. This is Buddhism, it's the essence of religion without needing to call it religion. It's better to call it "Truth of Nature" or "Natural Truth."

Now, don't have regrets about anything. There isn't much time left, so you won't be missing much. Just sacrifice your pleasures and comforts. Try out this natural living which automatically has lots of cleanness, clarity, and calm. You've had enough time to read, hear talks, and study the basics of being a monk. Henceforth, know especially the things which will have the most benefit. Then your time as a monk will be over, you will have beneficial knowledge which is complete, that is, you know in general and in specifics, you know loosely and strictly, until you know how the Buddha lived.

When we speak of the Lord Buddha, never forget that he was born outdoors, awakened outdoors, realized nibbana outdoors, taught outdoors, lived outdoors, had a hut with an earthen floor, and so on. We give it as much of a try as we can. Even now, we see that we're sitting on the ground, which is much different than in the city wats. There they sit on wooden floors, on mats, on carpets, depending on the status of each wat. Some wats spread expensive carpeting in the temple building for all eternity. So they sit in their chapels on carpets. Here, we sit on the seat of the Buddha -- the ground. This is one example for you to understand what nature is like, and how different it is from the cities, and how different are the hearts of those who come sit and interact with Nature.

I've tried my best in this matter. When Suan Mokkh was first started, I slept on the ground. I slept next to the grasses in order to know their flavor. I used to sleep on the beach, too. Then, when I first slept in the "middle hut" after it was newly built, I would stretch my hand out the window to fondle the plants next to the window. This completely different feeling is the meaning of "forest wat wild monk."

Everything changes. Feelings, sensitivity, standards, what have you, they change by themselves. Matters of food, shelter, clothing, rest, sleep, aches and illness: they changed completely. They caused us to understand Nature more than when we hadn't tried yet, until finally there were no problems at all. Things which I had feared all disappeared. Fear of loneliness in deserted places, fear of spirits, fear of anything, they didn't last more than seven days. They gradually disappeared themselves. This led to mental comfort, ease, and other fruits. The mind became strong, agile, subtle, and refined. Those were its fruits. Thus, whatever I thought of doing, I could do it better than before I came to the forest, better than in the city. There's no comparison between living in Bangkok and living here. They're totally different. I can say there's more ability, more strength, more of everything. One can do anything beyond expectations and personal limitations. Whether writing a book, reading, or thinking, much more can be done.

One lives in the lowest way materially and physically, but the mind 3 goes its own separate way. It takes a higher course, because when we live simply the mind isn't pulled in. The heart is released so that it lifts up high. If we sleep comfortably, like wealthy householders, that comfort grabs the heart. It traps the heart, which can't go anywhere, can't escape, is stuck there. So live and sleep more lowly, since humble things won't trap the heart. Live humbly and the mind will rise high, will think lofty things.
Living in a humble condition, in one that can't fall lower, the mind can only proceed in a higher way. It's easy because we needn't carry or load down the mind with anything. The mind can be "normal" and free. It is free in its movements, reflections, and actions. Thus, we can freely do anything of the sort which is not like anyone else. Through the power of nature, there isn't any carelessness, we don't make mistakes. Since the mind is heedful there are no mistakes.
That the heart can find a way out like this must be considered freedom. Know the mind that is independent, that isn't caught and held by deliciousness and pleasure, by the happiness and comfort of eyes, ears, nose tongue, body, and mind.

Here I want to make a distinction. If something is in line with original nature, and there's no indulgence in new pleasures, we'll call it "natural." If it goes after new pleasures, if newly concocted for more tasty pleasures than nature, we'll call it "unnatural." They're truly different. If going naturally, the defilements arise with difficulty, they can't arise. If acting in an unnatural way, it's easy for the defilements to be born, or else it's defilement from the very start. Thus, living as nature's comrade makes it hard for the defilements. It automatically controls and prevents against the defilements (kilesa).

This is the spirit of Suan Mokkh, of setting up a place like this. When you want this enough to come here, then you ought to get it. Besides this, there isn't anything. We've tried to prevent other things from happening, so that there are only these things: how to eat, how to live, and how to sleep. We've spoken many times of the specific details of each.

I've said it before, but nobody believes me that to take exactly what nature provides is sufficient, is good enough. When we must die, then die. Don't postpone and make it difficult. It's like the medical care that has progressed to the point that people are unable to die, they can't drop. They live inhumanly, but not dead. That's too much. Heart transplants, liver transplants, and all that exceed nature. It's better not to. And please look, it doesn't make humanity any better. It doesn't create peace in the world. If mental matters don't progress, if there's only defilement -- delusion and all -- there'll be no end.4

In summary, make things humble so that they don't trap the mind. Then this heart of ours is free to think, consider, decide, and choose. Please use the mindfulness and wisdom that you receive from this style of living to choose and decide what you must in the future.

If you were born in Bangkok, you were surrounded by man-made things and raised far from the forest, much more than people born in the forest. Those born in towns and cities hardly know the meaning of "forest" or "wild." Those born in the sticks know something, but don't pay any attention. They must work, must always be doing something according to their moods, so they hardly notice how calm and clean it is. Sometimes they are even dissatisfied with it, although born in the country. Our hearts don't like it and always aim to get into "developed and beautiful" areas in the cities and capital. Thus, we don't know the taste of the forest and of Nature, even if born in the forest, even when splattered with mud, because the mind is occupied in another way.
Now you're in robes and needn't work like lay folk. The heart has a chance to know the peaceful flavors and quiet nooks of Nature, which is the cause of the mind's freedom in the first place. You ought to use this final chance here to keep walking until knowing the heart that is naturally pure, which is something like the heart of the Arahant. The Arahant's heart is just like that -- natural -- except it's that way totally. Now, we may have a heart like that, but only momentarily, temporarily. The next moment it changes off in another direction, and we can't pull it back. Try to penetrate this heart of nature.

In clear and simple terms, we call it pure nature, nature which isn't concocted ("cooked and seasoned") by anything. And we don't concoct that nature either. It exists simply, humbly, freshly, peacefully, coolly, however you want to describe it. If you know this flavor, you know the flavor of Dhamma, in its aspect of the only fruit worth having, because Dhamma's reality (literally, "body") has been captured. Those who just study and take exams never receive Dhamma's reality. All they can do is holler about it. If somehow you can catch Dhamma itself, it's like catching a crab or fish, it's something tangible. Here we can catch the substance of cleanness, clarity, and calm -- the body of Dhamma. Even temporarily is worth it. To have grasped it and seen it just once is better than never having grasped, known, or seen it at all.

The academics only memorize and recite, then take examinations, then memorize and recite some more. They think only according to what they're told. Their minds don't reach cleanness, clarity, and calm at all. From the theoretical studies or scriptures, one just gets stories and information. To phrase it more politely, one gets only a map. Actually, they don't even get the map. I know this well because I've tried that way myself. I've taken the full Dhamma Course, studied the Pali language (in which the Theravada scriptures are written), and researched continuously. It seems I got only complicated stories -- mostly mixed up and confused to boot -- without getting even a map. Those who talk of scholarship, of being Pali experts and Dhamma Masters, of having a map, they make it up, imagine, and arrange it themselves.

Actually, the real map is much clearer than all that. We must pass through, must arrive at, and receive "something" -- appropriately and sufficiently -- in order to know the correct and true map. It's as if we're making a map and must wade through that respective subject or area in order to draw the map. If we draw it from guesses and imagination, it will be a mess. If we try to make a map of everything, it's a huge mess. These scholars who have finished their studies end up with a scholarly map that's a mess. It's a mess because it is wrongly explained, wrongly remembered, wrongly taught, and, especially, wrongly interpreted. Who knows what kind of map it is. These literary maps according to the study books are a mess because they're all mixed up.
That's not our way. We'll do something, find some method, which takes the heart all the way to that city: the city of peace, the state of peace, the nature which is peace. This short cuts the map. This is the methodology of "forest wat wild monks": keep looking for and aiming at only the peaceful mind.

Just this single word "peace" has multitudinous meanings. It's easy to say "peace," but it's hard to understand and difficult to practice. But you must try. Therefore, please try to continually follow and search: "Is this peace? Is this peace?"

The word "peace" means "not troubled, not anxious, not agitated, not disturbed, not painful, not pierced." To begin, remember these meanings. On the other hand, the minds of most people are troubled, stabbed, cut, and roasted by desires, by doubts, by worries, by the kind of wishes that build castles in the sky. They usually happen all the time; you ought to get rid of them. I'm not forbidding you to want anything or do anything. I only want things to happen peacefully.

Some people may think that this runs counter to human existence in the world. Listening superficially, it may sound like that. When human beings in this world don't want peace, they will want stimulation, they will want the state that stimulates pleasure through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, whichever way, all ways. They want to get excited, they don't want peace and calm. This makes it somewhat difficult to speak about these matters.

We have a choice. Stimulation, the state of having kilesa always waiting to drive and manipulate us, what's that like? And we must ask, which direction will it lead? How far will it reach? It has no end. So we could exploit this and make some money from the fact that humanity has endless wants, make a business out of humanity's endless wants, and get rich ourselves. The rich have wants that never end. They follow after these endless desires, then what kind of world will that be? This is how different it is in the cities, totally opposite from "forest wat wild monks," who want to stop, to be cool, and to be calm.

The problem is like this: the world's people don't want peace. How will we pursue peace? And when living in the middle of people who don't want peace, how will we live peacefully? Another way is to live by making money off the people who don't want peace. Now, however, we should focus on the fact that it is necessary to live in the midst of such people. How can we be peace? How can we use our understanding of this peace to solve those problems?

I still think that it can work. Please know how to calm the mind; then work with those non-peaceful people in those incredibly chaotic cities and capitals. We can have minds that are under control, are "normal,"5 are on track, are disciplined, are at peace; they do what they should. Finally, if we must work for people who are not calm, we are up to it.

In the scriptures there's a story of a woman Stream-Enterer6 whose husband is a hunter. They still were able to live together. It doesn't sound believable, and probably nobody will believe it, but that's what the scriptures say. She wasn't tainted by her husband's sins. They could live as husband and wife without losing her Stream-Entry. Think about it. You must know how to take special care of the heart. Guard the condition of peace according to your own particular skills.

Close your eyes and imagine this scene. One person is "normal" and able to smile. He works with another who always acts like a demon or devil. How can he do it? I say he can. If a person is at peace, has sufficiently trained, he can do it. But he probably wouldn't want to bother. He's more likely to find another place to work. Here, we're just trying to show that if one tries, it is possible. If one's heart is secure and "normal," there's nobody who could shake him. If anyone tried to get him to do something wicked, he wouldn't do it and would probably run away.

This talk is to help you begin to see that this matter of calmness is no obstacle. Further, it's beneficial in that it gradually transforms those who aren't calm, making them more calm and in love with calmness. One makes blessings without being conscious of it. People with Dhamma who work together with people who lack Dhamma will do good without being aware of it. They'll cure the people without Dhamma, so that Dhamma develops in them steadily.

I have seen people who have gone to work as clerks or officials, who are calm, humble, and have Dhamma. They are able to cool down bosses who fly into rages, are hurried, and lack Dhamma. Know that if we have an employee who is cool and calm, and shows it, we can't explode. We would be too ashamed, or else feel pity for him.
Even with these wat boys, some have something cool about them and others are almost the opposite. We must have our own sensitivity for this: "Ahhmm, they're totally different. With that boy there we act in one way, with this one we must act another way." Such cool kids will help to cool down the old folks and grey-hairs, if the kids have cool characters.

I believe that Dhamma isn't likely to be objectionable for use in a world lacking peace and coolness. A monk coming from correct "forest wat wild monk," who stays at a city wat with a totally different style, will have an immediate influence on the city folk. They'll notice that "we're hot and he's cool." The only question is whether or not the cool monk from the forest can guard that calm and correctness all the time. Mostly they lose it, change, and are swallowed up. If not, they must escape back to the forest. They can't handle the city, it's full of annoyances. No harm done, because we ought to be able to choose in this world. If we want peace, we have the right to find a peaceful place. But wherever the wild monk goes, he automatically teaches the "Peaceful Creed" right there. There will be some success, and some automatic "blessings," too. Make an example of peace for them to see, be truly happy for them to see, they'll be interested and some will even follow. You'll get "merit" and the world becomes a better place.

If we speak of the Arahant, various principles show that such a human being can never get hot again. So she can go to the city, to the capitol, to any chaotic place, without dying. He wouldn't die, but probably would get fed up beyond toleration, then have to flee. If she couldn't escape, she might die. But I don't think so, because he'd adjust his heart inside in an unbelievable way. There's no need to get hot with those people. Yet, what's the point of being troubled by it all, avoid it to find an appropriate place.

This talking and raising examples back and forth is to increase understanding of "forest wat wild monks." Do you know the difference between living as a forest wat wild monk and living as a city monk? You've never lived as forest wat wild monks. There's only a little time left, you better try it out quickly. Quickly live up to its standard, you'll understand the matter well. Although you return to the city later, you won't be the same. It will change you from how you were. You'll change in a good and useful way, too. So I felt we should talk about this for the sake of the time left in the Rains, that you might get more interested in the "forest wat wild monks" style.

At the beginning of the Rains, I already told you about these things, such as, don't laugh a lot, speak only a little, try to stay with Nature. But I understand you couldn't do it, and just let it go. More than enough time has passed, now you ought to be able, at least a little more than before. This means just "live like a monk (Phra) " 7 more and more. You'll know the flavor of the monk's life which we call "forest wat wild monks." You'll never have a chance to try living like a wild monk in the city. You must come to the forest, to a naturally free place, to taste and to try it, to know Dhamma of the sort the Buddha realized and proclaimed.

If not that, then why ordain?8 Each of you ought to ask yourself why you ordained? Why did you take leave to do this temporary going forth? To understand what? To sample what? To get what? With certainty -- like pounding a fist into the ground -- we answer, "to get exactly what we've been talking about." Without leaving home, you couldn't get it. You would have no chance even to see or sample or give it a try. Ordination was necessary.

Now that you've ordained, to get what the Buddha got, you must live close to how the Buddha lived. He lived and maintained life in such a way that we turn back to the "forest wat wild monks" life-style. If we don't live this way, we couldn't get, experience, or sample the Buddha's life.
The monks in the Buddha's time, the Buddha himself, and whichever founder of whatever religion, all got started in a life intimate with Nature. All of them awakened in forests surrounded by Nature. Whether the Buddha, Jesus Christ, or the prophet of any religion, they lived close to nature. To awaken as a Perfectly Self-Awakened Buddha; or to become One with God, to communicate with God, according to the religions that have a God; that moment is living as a comrade of nature. So try to remember the words: how good it is to be nature's comrade."
This means that you have accepted, have believed, and have seen that the Lord Buddha is a real Buddha (Awakened Being), the highest sort of person, who knows the best thing that humans ought to know, and you want to know that, too. This is why we make this effort. We shouldn't be tricked into believing that the Buddha taught only "householder virtue" (gharavasa-dhamma) for the lay folk.9

If he only taught ordinary household matters, he would have served no purpose, since anybody could and was teaching those things well enough already. Although the Buddha sometimes taught about householder subjects, it was solely the sort of Dhamma fit for lay folk who were looking for nibbana. The lay folk already were being taught well enough. For the Buddha to help teach these matters, he would teach the type of lay person who is ready to discover Dhamma, to reach nibbana. This brings us back to our subject.
There's merely a small amount which the Buddha taught lay folk for the sake of being lay folk. But what he taught with the fullest satisfaction of his heart was the matter ofsuññata (voidness). Some householders asked him for the Dhamma most beneficial for the household life and he came back with voidness. He told them to have voidness, namely, a heart void of "I" and "mine." Then they could do anything in the form of a householder, thus becoming householders who are ready to be Arahant, or more than half ready to proceed along the Arahant's line.
Thus, that we live like "forest wat wild monks" to understand voidness well is in the same line. It follows the trail of householders who should study voidness. You can read in all the books about voidness that they've printed how the Buddha taught voidness to lay folk.
Now, I'm afraid that those who will return to lay life, or already are householders, have not yet found voidness at all. Because the customs and traditions have changed, there's no Buddha to teach voidness to lay folk. Nor are any of the monks in the cities likely to teach voidness to householders. Then, how are lay folk going to understand voidness?

I insist that by trying to live like "forest wat wild monks" for a little while, you'll understand voidness. Although you don't call it voidness, although you don't feel you're practicing voidness, you still will get the results of practicing voidness: a heart which is void and cool, which is clean, clear, and calm.
Do your work with a heart that doesn't suffer. Receive the fruits of labor without making it a problem, not dancing with joy or going crazy over the benefits received. You can work more, until however wealthy you want, but with a different heart, that is, a cool and peaceful one. It's a heart that always wins, nothing can make it anxious. Nowadays, people can work, earn money, find status, and gain fame, but they're always losing. They're always hot, always made and kept hot. What's good about that? Before long, they'll have some nervous breakdown or drop dead.
Very few people are naturally -- "accidentally" or "flukishly" -- cool. That lay folk can have cool hearts naturally in line with Dhamma principles is, of course, possible. It isn't beyond or against their nature, but it seldom happens. It can happen with good surroundings, with good genes, or with a nervous system that nature coincidentally built to be like that. But don't cross your fingers and wait, because it's rare. Let's just say most of us are born ordinary.

What can we do to become special individuals, that is, unable to suffer? No matter what happens, we can't suffer and can't get hot. Whether rich or poor, we are unable to get hot or anxious. Who can insure that the wealthy will always be wealthy or that the poor will always be poor? Things change constantly. Especially this modern world, it changes so easily, so fast, so suddenly. Regarding the progress of humanity which is quickly, violently destroying the world with War and what have you, both changing up and changing down, don't be the least hot or anxious about it.

Should war erupt and wipe out life on earth, such people don't give it any meaning. They can still laugh because they've reached Dhamma. They've attained the sort of Dhamma that makes further suffering impossible. They have no more problems here. Impoverished for necessary reasons, they don't suffer. Not anxious or miserable, they get out of poverty before you know it. If one has Dhamma, there's no suffering. If one lacks sufficient Dhamma, there's nothing but suffering and anguish. Rich and miserable, poor and miserable: they're hot no matter what. So take the side which is neither hot nor miserable while you've got the chance.

This is why I ask you to hurry up and study-practice, hurry to try it out, hurry to find the point where suffering can't exist, the point which can't get hot. Discover as much as you can, so that your life in the future can't get hot, or is hot as little as possible, or once hot can be dropped quickly.

They call this "The Noble One" (ariya), but I don't want to talk about that. Before you know it, all kinds of distracting thoughts will come up. To be incapable of hotness is to be a Noble One, according to the particular level or state: Stream-Enterer (sotapanna), Once-Returner (sakadagami), Non-Returner (anagami), or Worthy One(arahant). Ultimately, the mind can't get hot at all. It gets hot less and less until it's unheatable and nowhere hot. The Noble One's feelings 10 are thoroughly cooled. That's the meaning of the highest level of "Arahant," the level of anupadisesa-nibbana-dhatu (the nibbana element with no fuel and heat remaining):11 thoroughly cool. The rest are progressively cool; even when hot, they aren't hot like a thickster (putthujana, worldly person) is hot. The hotness of thicksters is like being singed by fire or scalded with boiling water. The first stages of Noble Ones might feel a bit hot sometimes, but never like the thicksters burn. Nevertheless, I don't want to use these words very much, or get you stuck on or attached to using them. So let's just say "human beings." Just people, just us, all the same. Yet, we can be less hot and more cool, until we can't get hot in ordinary situations, and until we can't get hot in even the worst situations.

There are loads of the Buddha's words recorded in the Pali which encourage us to think and train so that we need not get hot. I don't have to quote the Pali any more, you can believe me that they are there. If the scriptures aren't like that, what good would they be? They teach us to be cool.

If you get hot through carelessness, be very sorry. If you haven't felt these things, you're heedless, the same as dead. If you feel them but pretend that you don't, you're shameless, lacking in hiri (moral shame) and ottappa (fear of the results of evil). To get hotter with age, to get more angry, to get worse in any way, is to lack hiri-ottappa. You must know spiritual shame and fear. The most frightening thing is to be a human who is hot, just a fool, a lost person who is full of defilement and selfishness. You can't call that a human being. Better call it a "fool."
So for the time that remains, test yourself as if taking exams. Is it hot or not? Even a small slip into hotness should make you quite sorry and ashamed. You ought to penalize yourself appropriately. You can do it without anybody knowing. But please penalize yourselves whenever careless, when going wrong on this point and becoming hot. Eventually the mind changes, becomes more careful, and can make progress along the Dhamma way.

Hot due to lust or greed is one form. Hot due to anger or hatred is another form. Hot due to delusion or ignorance is a third form. You've learned these names before, I shouldn't have to explain anymore. As soon as mindfulness is missing, ignorance takes over. It lusts and covets, it gets hot with the emotions of avarice and lust. In "negative" situations, it gets angry and hateful. It becomes hot with anger, with aversion, with malice. Then, in some cases we don't know anything: don't know the original cause, don't know what's up, don't know even what we want. We're full of doubts about what we ought to want. There's no certainty about how our life is, what should come of it, how it should be lived. This not knowing is delusion. It too is hot.

So if you want to test yourselves, it won't be difficult. The time remaining is enough to do some self-examination. Speak little, keep to yourself, and constantly observe the heart. Call it "constantly guarding the heart." It's automatic mental development, or meditation. When always watching over the heart, that's vipassana, that's meditation. If you find it's hot, then know it's hot, that it's still low, wrong, and must be cured. And you better have some regret. At the same time, know how it is hot and what caused the hotness.

In the end, you will find the truth exactly as the Buddha taught. Before, we didn't know it, we just heard about it. Now we know that thing truly. We understand Dhamma from ourselves, without needing to know the Buddha. And if they force us to speak, we automatically will speak the same as the Buddha regarding the nature of greed, hatred, and delusion.

This very thing is the Buddha's supreme aim, yet the big monks never talk about it. They usually threaten us not to raise ourselves up as equals to the Buddha, not to insult the Buddha. In this matter, if you want to understand something, I can tell you straight that the Buddha wanted people to reach the Dhamma without needing to believe their teacher, and then are able to explain that Dhamma without needing to repeat their teacher's words. Did you listen right? Listen again: know the Dhamma without believing the Buddha. Because we know personally, then we know the same thing as the Buddha. Then, if we must speak for the sake of others, we needn't repeat after the Buddha, needn't quote Pali, needn't recite the texts. Just speak according to experience. Then it will be identical to what the Buddha said. Then, people needn't repeat after the Buddha, they can speak their own hearts. This state of affairs is what the Buddha himself wanted. You can find it in the Pali, in many places. That they must memorize and recite the Buddha's words, afraid of getting just one word wrong, that's merely a custom, a tradition of people who don't really know, or still don't really know, still don't understand Dhamma.
So we hurry to know Dhamma. That itself will be in line with what the Buddha realized. We can speak out according to what we know; it will be identical with what the Buddha said. It might look like one's a Buddha oneself, so they forbid anyone to do such a thing, afraid that one is raising oneself up equal to the Buddha or is disparaging the Buddha. This here is an obstacle preventing us from progressing along the Buddha's path.

OK, so we study Dhamma from within, by living in the midst of Nature which reveals and demonstrates the Dhamma all the time. Uphold a form of life which doesn't sound very good at all: live like a forest wat wild monk. It doesn't sound right, but it is most meaningful, most real, and most necessary to live in this way up until you must disrobe. You may change back to the householder's way of life, but this should stick with you: knowledge, understanding, and certainty about the Dhamma which makes us incapable of hotness. Take it with you. By bathing yourself in coolness until understanding coolness, you can't do wrong or get hot. You'll probably get cooler and cooler because it's something naturally attractive: the absence of dukkha (suffering). Please don't forget this short phrase: "forest wat wild monks" is the way of living for the person who wants to reach the Buddha quickly.

Translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu

1. A wat (Thai) is a place were monks (bhikkhus) live, study, and practice. The wat usually serves the local community and is treated as public domain. So, "monastery" or "temple" doesn't quite convey the atmosphere and purpose of a wat. This talk was given 9 September 1976 to a group of temporary monks, who ordained for the three month long Rains Retreat, following an ancient Thai tradition. (Short additions have been made from another talk, "Suan Mokkh and Nature," which was given to a similar group 30 July 1979.) This translation originally appeared in Monastic Studies (No. 19, 1989), The Benedictine Priory of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec. First electronic edition with kind permission.
2. Literally, the "burden (or task) of insight development," that is, meditation (as opposed to book study).
3. "Heart" and "mind" are interchangeable. Both are partial renderings of the Pali word citta. Similar Thai words don't make a distinction between heart and mind, as we do in English.
4. Tragically, when Ajarn Buddhadasa went into a coma just before his 87th birthday, this teaching and his personal wishes were ignored.
5. The meaning of "normal" (pakati) here is not "common, typical, ordinary," but refers to the original, natural state of peace when mind is void of "I" and "mine".
6. Sotapanna: first stage of "nobility," arises from the first "glimpse of nibbana" which ends belief in oneself as an individual "personality."
7. Phra comes from the Pali vara which means "excellent, splendid, best, noble."
8. Pabbajja, to leave, to go forth from, the household life and its sensual concerns.
9. Gharavasa (household life, lay life) is traditionally opposed and considered spiritually inferior to the homeless life of monks. While admitting the external and social differences, Ajarn Buddhadasa emphasizes that spiritually everyone has the same duty.
10. Vedana: basic mental feelings of pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain. Emotions are not included here.
11. The second of two distinctions in how nibbana is experienced. The first is sa-upadisesa-nibbana-dhatu (the nibbana element with fuel remaining). "Fuel" refers to the seeds of positive and negative which are the bases of desire, attachment, and suffering. There is no difference in nibbana itself.

Article source: www.dharmaweb.org


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Pushing the Limits

Thanissaro Bhikkhu on desire, imagination, and the Buddhist path.

All phenomena, the Buddha once said, are rooted in desire. Everything we think, say, or do—every experience—comes from desire. Even we come from desire. We were reborn into this life because of our desire to be. Consciously or not, our desires keep redefining our sense of who we are. Desire is how we take our place in the causal matrix of space and time. The only thing not rooted in desire is nirvana, for it’s the end of all phenomena and lies even beyond the Buddha’s use of the word “all.” But the path that takes you to nirvana is rooted in desire—in skillful desires. The path to liberation pushes the limits of skillful desires to see how far they can go.

The notion of a skillful desire may sound strange, but a mature mind intuitively pursues the desires it sees as skillful and drops those it perceives as not. Basic in everyone is the desire for happiness. Every other desire is a strategy for attaining that happiness. You want an iPod, a sexual partner, or an experience of inner peace because you think it will make you happy. Because these secondary desires are strategies, they follow a pattern. They spring from an inchoate feeling of lack and limitation; they employ your powers of perception to identify the cause of the limitation; and they use your powers of creative imagination to conceive a solution to it.

But despite their common pattern, desires are not monolithic. Each offers a different perception of what’s lacking in life, together with a different picture of what the solution should be. A desire for a sandwich comes from a perception of physical hunger and proposes to solve it with a Swiss on rye. A desire to climb a mountain focuses on a different set of hungers—for accomplishment, exhilaration, self-mastery—and appeals to a different image of satisfaction. Whatever the desire, if the solution actually leads to happiness, the desire is skillful. If it doesn’t, it’s not. However, what seems to be a skillful desire may lead only to a false or transitory happiness not worth the effort entailed. So wisdom starts as a meta-desire: to learn how to recognize skillful and unskillful desires for what they actually are.

Unskillful desires can create suffering in a variety of ways. Sometimes they aim at the impossible: not to grow old or die. Sometimes they focus on possibilities that require distasteful means—such as lying or cheating to get ahead in your job. Or the goal, when you get it, may not really keep you happy. Even the summit of Everest can be a disappointment. When it’s not, you can’t stay there forever. When you leave, you’re left with nothing but memories, which can shift and fade. If you did mean or hurtful things to get there, their memory can burn away any pleasure that memories of the summit might hold.

In addition, desires often pull in opposite directions. Your desire for sex, for instance, can get in the way of your desire for peace. In fact, conflict among desires is what alerts us to how painful desire can be. It’s also what has taught each desire how to speak, to persuade, to argue or bully its way into power. And just because a desire is skillful doesn’t mean it’s more skillful at arguing its case than the unskillful ones, for those can often be the most intransigent, the most strident, the slickest in having their way. This means that wisdom has to learn how to strategize, too, to strengthen skillful desires so that less skillful desires will listen to them. That way desires can be trained to work together toward greater happiness. This is how a mature and healthy mind works: conducting a dialogue not so much between reason and desire as between responsible desires and irresponsible ones.

Even in a mature mind, however, the dialogue often yields compromises that don’t really go to the heart: snatches of sensual pleasure, glimpses of spiritual peace, nothing really satisfying and whole. Some people, growing impatient with compromise, turn a deaf ear to prudent desires and tune into demands for instant gratification—all the sex, power, and money they can grab. But when the rampage of gratification wears itself out, the damage can take lifetimes to set right. Other people try their best to accept the compromise among desires, trying to find a measure of peace by not reaching for what they see as impossible. Yet this peace, too, depends on a deaf inner ear, denying the underlying truth of all desires: that a life of endless limitations is intolerable.

Both sorts of people share a common assumption that true, unlimited happiness lies beyond reach. Their imaginations are so stunted that they can’t even conceive of what a true, unlimited happiness in this lifetime would be.

What made the Buddha special was that he never lowered his expectations. He imagined the ultimate happiness—one so free from limit and lack that it would leave no need for further desire—and then treasured his desire for that happiness as his highest priority. Bringing all his other desires into dialogue with it, he explored various strategies until he found one that actually attained that unlimited goal. This strategy became his most basic teaching: the Four Noble Truths.

Most people, when looking at the Four Noble Truths, don’t realize that they’re all about desire. They’ve been taught that the Buddha gave only one role to desire—as the cause of suffering. Because he says to abandon the cause of suffering, it sounds like he’s denying any positive role to desire and its constructive companions: creativity, imagination, and hope. This perception, though, misses two important points. The first is that all four truths speak to the basic dynamic of desire on its own terms: perception of lack and limitation, the imagination of a solution, and a strategy for attaining it. The first truth teaches the basic lack and limitation in our lives—the clinging that constitutes suffering—while the second truth points to the types of desires that cause clinging: desires for sensuality, becoming, and annihilation. The third truth expands our imagination to encompass the possibility that clinging can be totally overcome. The fourth truth, the path to the end of suffering, shows how to strategize so as to overcome clinging by abandoning its cause.

The second point that’s often missed is that the Noble Truths give two roles to desire, depending on whether it’s skillful or not. Unskillful desire is the cause of suffering; skillful desire forms part of the path to its cessation. Skillful desire undercuts unskillful desire, not by repressing it, but by producing greater and greater levels of satisfaction and well-being so that unskillful desire has no place to stand. This strategy of skillful desire is explicit in the Buddha’s explanation of right effort:

"What is right effort? There is the case where a monk [here meaning any meditator] generates desire, endeavors, arouses persistence, upholds, and exerts his intent for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful mental qualities that have not yet arisen... for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen... for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen... for the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development, and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This is called right effort." (Digha Nikaya 22)

As this formula shows, the crucial elements for replacing unskillful mental qualities with skillful ones are desire, persistence, and intent. Desire gives the initial impetus and focus for right effort, while persistence provides staying power. Intent is the most complex factor of the three. The Pali word here, citta, also means “mind,” and in this context it means giving your whole mind to the work at hand: all your powers of sensitivity, intelligence, discernment, and ingenuity. You don’t want your mind to be split on this issue; you want all of its powers working together on the same side.

These three qualities—desire, persistence, and intent—underlie every attempt to master a skill. So it’s useful, in undertaking the path, to reflect on how you’ve used these qualities to master skills in the past. The Buddha made this point in his many similes comparing the person on the path to a master craftsman—a musician, carpenter, surgeon, acrobat, cook. As with any skill, there are many steps to developing the path, but four stand out.

The first is to use your ingenuity to fight off the chorus of inner voices trying to dissuade you from making the effort to be skillful in the first place. These voices are like devious lawyers representing strongly entrenched interests: all your threatened unskillful desires. You have to be quick and alert in countering their arguments, for they can come from all sides, sounding honest and wise even though they’re not. Here are some of the arguments these voices may use, along with a few effective responses:

Trying to manipulate your desires like this is unnatural. Actually, you’re already manipulating your desires all the time, when you choose one desire over another, so you might as well learn to do it skillfully. And there are plenty of people out there only too happy to manipulate your desires for you—think of every advertisement you’ve ever seen, heard, or read—so it’s better to put the manipulation in more trustworthy hands: your own.

Trying to change your desires is an attack on your very self. This argument works only if you give your sense of self—which is really just a grab bag of desires—more solidity than it deserves. You can turn the argument on its head by noting that since your “self ” is a perpetually changing line-up of strategies for happiness, you may as well try changing it in a direction more likely to achieve true happiness.

To think of “skillful” and “unskillful” desires is dualistic and judgmental. You don’t want nondualistic mechanics working on your car, or nondualistic surgeons operating on your brain. You want people who can tell what’s skillful from what’s not. If you really value your happiness, you’ll demand the same discernment in the person most responsible for it: yourself.

It’s too goal-oriented. Just accept things as they are in the present. Every desire tells you that things in the present are limited and lacking. You either accept the desire or you accept the lack. To accept both at once is to deny that either has any real truth. To try to dwell peacefully in the tension between the two—in a “path of no craving” to be rid of either—is what the Buddha called limited equanimity, and what one Thai forest master called the equanimity of a cow.

It’s a futile attempt to resist such a divine and mysterious power. Desire seems overwhelming and mysterious simply because we don’t know our minds. And where would we be if we kept slapping the term “divine” or “cosmic” on forces we didn’t understand?

Arguing with unskillful desires is too much work. Consider the alternative: an endless wandering from one set of limitations to another, continually seeking happiness and yet finding it always slipping from your grasp, repeatedly taking a stance with one desire one moment and shifting to another desire the next. Right effort at least gives you one steady place to stand. It’s not adding a more demanding desire to the chaotic mix; it’s offering a way to sort out the mess. And the Buddha’s path holds open the hope of an unlimited happiness, preceded by increasing levels of happiness all along the path. In short, his alternative is actually the one that’s more enjoyable and involves less work.

Once you’ve silenced these voices, the next step is to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. This requires being willing to learn from your mistakes. Several years ago, a sociologist studied students in a neurosurgery program to see what qualities separated those who succeeded from those who failed. He found ultimately that two questions in his interviews pointed to the crucial difference. He would ask the students, “Do you ever make mistakes? If so, what is the worst mistake you’ve ever made?” Those who failed the program would inevitably answer that they rarely made mistakes or else would blame their mistakes on factors beyond their control. Those who succeeded in the program not only admitted to many mistakes but also volunteered information on what they would do not to repeat those mistakes in the future.

The Buddha encouraged this same mature attitude in his first instructions to his son, Rahula. He told Rahula to focus on his intentions before acting, and on the results of his actions both while he was doing them and after they were done. If Rahula saw that his intentions would lead to harm for himself or others, he shouldn’t act on them. If he saw that his thoughts, words, or deeds actually produced harm, he should resolve never to repeat them, without at the same time falling into remorse. If, on the other hand, he saw no harmful consequences from his actions, he should take joy in his progress on the path, and use that joy to nourish his continued practice.

Although the Buddha aimed these instructions at a seven-year-old child, the pattern they outline informs every level of the practice. The whole path to awakening consists of sticking to the most skillful desire; you progress along the path as your sense of “skillful” gets more refined. If you act on an unskillful desire, take responsibility for the consequences, using them to educate that desire as to where it went wrong. Although desires can be remarkably stubborn, they share a goal—happiness—and this can form the common ground for an effective dialogue: If a desire doesn’t really produce happiness, it contradicts its reason for being.

The best way to make this point is to keep tracing the thread from the desire to its resulting actions and their consequences. If the desire causes suffering to others, notice how their corresponding desire for happiness leads them to undermine the happiness you seek. If the desire aims at a happiness based on things that can age, grow ill, die, or leave you, notice how that fact sets you up for a fall. Then notice how the distress that comes from acting on this sort of desire is universal. It’s not just you. Everyone who has acted, is acting, or will act on that desire has suffered in the past, is suffering right now, and will suffer in the future. There’s no way around it.

Unskillful desires don’t really give way, though, until you can show that other, less troublesome desires really can produce happiness. This is why the Buddha emphasized learning how to appreciate the rewards of a virtuous, generous life: the joy in fostering the happiness of others, the solid dignity and self-worth in doing the hard but the right thing. It’s also why his path centers on states of blissful, refreshing concentration. Accessing this refreshment in your meditation gives you immediate, visceral proof that the Buddha was no killjoy. The desires he recommends really do produce a happiness that can give you the strength to keep on choosing the skillful path.

That’s the next step: patiently and persistently sticking with the desire to do the skillful thing in all situations. This isn’t a matter of sheer effort. As any good sports coach will tell you, hours of practice don’t necessarily guarantee results. You have to combine your persistence with intent: sensitivity, discernment, ingenuity. Keep an eye out for how to do things more efficiently. Try to see patterns in what you do. At the same time, introduce play and variety into your practice so that the plateaus don’t get boring and the downs don’t get you down.

The Buddha makes similar points in his meditation instructions. Once you’ve mastered a state of concentration, see where it still contains elements of stress. Then look for patterns to that stress: what are you doing to cause it? Find ways to gladden the mind when it’s down, to liberate it from its confinements, to steady it when it gets restless. In this way, as you learn to enjoy rising to the challenges of meditation, you also gain familiarity with subtle patterns of cause and effect in the mind.

The fourth step, once you’ve mastered those patterns, is to push their limits. Again, this isn’t simply a matter of increased effort. It’s more a rekindling of your imagination to explore the unexpected side-alleys of cause and effect. A famous cellist once said that his most exhilarating concert was one in which he broke a string on his cello and decided to finish the piece he was playing on the remaining strings, refingering it on the spot. The most obvious strings in meditation are the specific techniques for fostering stillness and insight, but the more interesting ones are the assumptions that underlie the quest for skill: lack, strategy, dialogue, your sense of self. Can you learn to do without them? There comes a point in your meditation when the only way for greater happiness is to begin questioning these assumptions. And this leads to some intriguing paradoxes: If desire springs from a sense of lack or limitation, what happens to desire when it produces a happiness with no lack or limitation at all? What’s it like not to need desire? What would happen to your inner dialogue, your sense of self? And if desire is how you take your place in space and time, what happens to space and time when desire is absent?

The Buddha encouraged these queries by describing the awakened person as so undefined and unlimited that he or she couldn’t be located in the present life or described after this life as existing, not existing, neither, or both. This may sound like an abstract and unreachable goal, but the Buddha demonstrated its human face in the example of his person. Having pushed past the limits of cause and effect, he was still able to function admirably in this life, happy in even the most difficult circumstances, compassionately teaching people of every sort. And there’s his testimony that not only monks and nuns, but also lay people—even children—had developed their skillful desires to the point where they gained a taste of awakening as well.

So imagine that. And listen to any desire that would take you in that direction, for that’s your path to true happiness.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, California. He is the translator of Pure and Simple: The Extraordinary Teachings of a Thai Buddhist Laywoman [Wisdom Publications, 2005].

Article source: www.tricycle.com


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