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

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Farewell, Secret Santa..

Secret Santa who gave away $1.3M dies
By MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER, Associated Press Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Larry Stewart, a millionaire who became known as Secret Santa for his habit of roaming the streets each December and anonymously handing money to people, died Friday. He was 58.

Stewart died from complications from esophageal cancer, said Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips, a longtime friend.

Stewart, who spent 26 years giving a total $1.3 million, gained international attention in November when he revealed himself as Secret Santa. He was diagnosed in April with cancer, and said he wanted to use his celebrity to inspire other people to take random kindness seriously.

"That's what we're here for," Stewart said in a November interview, "to help other people out."

Stewart, from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, made his millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service.

His private holiday giving started in December 1979 when he was at a drive-in restaurant nursing his wounds from having been fired. It was the second year in a row he had been fired the week before Christmas.

"It was cold and this carhop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, `I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,'" he said. He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change.

After that, Stewart hit the streets each December, handing out money, often $100 bills, sometimes two and three at a time. He also gave money to community causes in Kansas City and his hometown of Bruce, Miss.

Stewart said he offered the simple gifts of cash every year because it was something people didn't have to "beg for, get in line for, or apply for."

Stewart gave out $100,000 between Chicago and Kansas City in December. Four Secret Santas whom Stewart "trained" gave out another $65,000.


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Walking Even Amidst the Uneven

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Walking Even Amidst the Uneven
by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Buddha often speaks of life in the world as an uneven path that constantly challenges us to walk evenly. Each day countless obstacles threaten to obstruct us, to divert us, to knock us off balance, and steady mindfulness and firm determination are needed to avoid losing our way in the dark sidetracks of greed and anger. To stumble may be inevitable until we reach the great highway of the noble ones, but with a clear vision of the goal and diligent effort we can avoid tumbling into the ditches that line the road.

If the task of practicing the Dhamma while living in the world has always been difficult, our modern commercial culture has increased that difficulty acutely. No longer is it the case that the desires to be tamed by Dhamma practice are the simple, relatively innocent urges implanted in us by nature or stimulated by a basic subsistence economy. Like unsuspecting fish caught in a net, we move within the coils of a global social and economic order predicated on the premise that the essential human activity is the production and consumption of commodities. From the standpoint of this system, the final good of human life is to enjoy goods, and the combined ingenuity of laboratory researchers and business magnates ensures that the goods to be enjoyed pour forth in inexhaustible variety.

The law that governs the global economic order is a simple one: never allow desire to abate. The media of communication, our modern miracle workers, employ every strategy at their disposal to ensure that this calamity will not befall us. Through an uninterrupted series of messages they contrive to inflame our fantasies and titillate our appetites with an intensity that would banish the word "enough" from our vocabulary. But despite its mammoth dimensions and global reach, the entire corporate culture rests upon a pervasive illusion that has become so widespread that it seems almost a self-evident truth. This is the idea that happiness is proportional to the quantity and monetary value of our possessions. We are led to believe that by extending our financial assets, by acquiring ownership over more and more goods, we thereby come closer to the good, to becoming happier, more contented, more deeply fulfilled human beings. Yet this belief, this assumption so rarely questioned, is precisely the magical trick, the sleight-of-hand deception, that creates the prison cage of our misery. For so long as we seek happiness by trying to quench desire, the more we strengthen our bondage to the implacable demands of desire. The Suttas compare this process to the attempt to slake thirst by drinking sea water: far from eliminating thirst, the sea water will only increase it.

At the heart of the consumerist culture we find this puzzling paradox, that when we pursue wealth as an end in itself, instead of arriving at true happiness we only seem further removed from it. This conclusion is easily confirmed if we examine the lives of those who come closest to fulfilling the consumerist dream. Those who enjoy the most abundant wealth and exercise the greatest power are rarely models of contentment. To the contrary, they often live on the edge of despair and can avoid slipping over the edge only by kindling again and again the quest for more wealth, more power, and more pleasure in a viciously degrading cycle.

When we reflect on this situation in the light of the Buddha's Teaching, the reason for the perpetual failure of consumerism stands forth in clear relief. The reason, as the Buddha tells us so succinctly, is that craving is the cause of suffering. By its own nature craving is insatiable, and thus the more our personal lives are governed by the assumption that the gratification of craving is the way to happiness, the more we are bound to reap disappointment. When an entire society is founded upon the principles of consumerism, upon the drive to produce and sell without concern for genuine human needs, the outcome may well be catastrophic.

According to the Buddha's Teaching the way to genuine happiness does not lie in the indulgence of desire but in uncovering and eliminating the cause of suffering, which in practical terms means the control and removal of craving. To adopt such an approach is not a matter of forcing oneself into the mold of a cold puritanical asceticism. The Dhamma is a gradual teaching which instructs us how to order our lives in ways that are immediately rewarding and gratifying. It does not promote personal development by demands for repression and self-affliction, but by gently offering us practical guidelines applicable to our present circumstances, guidelines that help us grow toward genuine happiness and peace.

For those involved in civilian life, seeking to raise a family and to forge their fortune within the world, the Buddha does not enjoin ascetic withdrawal from social and civil obligations. He recommends, rather, a life regulated by moral values aimed at the cultivation of wholesome qualities of mind. To his lay disciples he does not even decry the accumulation of wealth or extol poverty as a preferred alternative. He recommends only that wealth be acquired by right livelihood and be utilized in meaningful ways to promote the happiness of oneself and others.

In his advice to the village headman Rasiya (SN 42:12) the Buddha describes three praiseworthy qualities in a householder who enjoys sense pleasures: he acquires wealth righteously; he makes himself happy and comfortable with the wealth thus earned; and he shares his wealth and does meritorious deeds. The practice of meritorious deeds introduces a spiritual dimension to the proper employment of wealth, a dimension based on the recognition that greater happiness comes from giving than from gaining. To give is not only a way to reduce our greed and attachment, not only a way to acquire merit productive of future benefits, but a directly visible source of joy which provides immediate confirmation of the central pillar on which the entire Dhamma rests: that the path to happiness is one of relinquishment rather than one of accumulation.

But while the Buddha praises the virtuous householder who possesses the above three qualities, he does not stop there. He introduces a fourth quality which distinguishes the virtuous lay followers into two groups: on one side, those who enjoy sense pleasures while remaining tied to them, blind to the danger and unaware of an escape; on the other, those who enjoy sense pleasures without being tied to them, seeing the danger and aware of an escape. It is the second of these that the Buddha declares superior. This pronouncement offers us an insight into the Buddha's final solution to the challenge posed by consumerism. The final solution is not a limp compromise between indulgence and virtue but a bold, decisive step in the direction of detachment, an inner renunciation that enables one to rise above the whole round of production and consumption even while living within its boundaries. The incentive for this movement comes from seeing the danger: that there is no stable happiness to be gained by the pursuit of sense pleasures, that sense pleasures "give little satisfaction and are productive of much suffering." Its completion comes from recognizing an escape: that the removal of desire and lust brings an unshakable peace and freedom that is not contingent upon external circumstances.

While it may be difficult to master desire for material things within the confines of household life, the Buddha, in his wisdom, created a model for the greater Buddhist community to emulate, indeed a model for the world as a whole. This is the Sangha, the order of monks and nuns, pledged to a mode of living in which needs are reduced to the most basic and their satisfaction provided in the simplest ways. While only a few may have the opportunity and urge to leave behind the household life in order to devote their energies unhindered to the task of self-purification, the ideal Buddhist social order forms a pyramid in which those at the apex, dedicated to the ultimate goal of deliverance, serve as the models and teachers for those still enmeshed in the demands of economic subsistence.

By their purity, peacefulness, and wisdom the mature monastics demonstrate to the lay community, and to all those who have eyes to see, where true happiness is to be found. They show that happiness is to be found, not in acquisition and self-indulgence, but in freedom from desire, in renunciation and detachment. Whether as lay disciple or as monk, to enter the course of training that culminates in such freedom is to walk evenly within the uneven terrain of the world. It is to recover, even with one's initial steps, a balance of living so sorely needed amidst the loud demands and hollow promises of our rapacious consumerist culture.


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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Agendas of Mindfulness

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The Agendas of Mindfulness
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Pali term for meditation is bhavana: development. It's a shorthand word for the development of skillful qualities in the mind. Bhavana is a type of karma — the intentional activity ultimately leading to the end of karma — but karma nonetheless. This point is underlined by another Pali term for meditation: kammatthana, the work at hand; and by a Thai idiom for meditation: "to make an effort." These terms are worth keeping in mind, to counterbalance the common assumption that meditation is an exercise in inaction or in passive, all-encompassing acceptance. Actually, as described in the Pali texts, meditation is a very pro-active process. It has an agenda and works actively to bring it about. This can be seen in the Pali description of how right mindfulness is fostered through satipatthana.

Satipatthana is often translated as "foundation of mindfulness," which gives the impression that it refers to an object of meditation. This impression is reinforced when you see the four satipatthanas listed as body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities. But if you look at the texts, you find that they teach satipatthana as a process, a way of establishing (upatthana) mindfulness (sati): hence the compound term. When the texts define the compound, they give, not a list of objects, but four formulas describing an activity.

Here's the first formula:

A meditator remains focused on the body in and of itself — ardent, alert, and mindful — putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world.

Each of the terms in this formula is important. "Remaining focused" can also be translated as "keeping track." This refers to the element of concentration in the practice, as you hold to one particular theme or frame of reference amid the conflicting currents of experience. "Ardent" refers to the effort you put into the practice, trying to abandon unskillful states of mind and develop skillful ones in their stead, all the while trying to discern the difference between the two. "Alert" means being clearly aware of what's happening in the present. "Mindful" means being able to remember or recollect. Sometimes mindfulness is translated as non-reactive awareness, free from agendas, simply present with whatever arises, but the formula for satipatthana doesn't support that translation. Non-reactive awareness is actually part of equanimity, one of many qualities fostered in the course of satipatthana, but the ardency involved in satipatthana definitely has an agenda, a task to be done, while the role of mindfulness is to keep your task in mind.

The task here is twofold: staying focused on your frame of reference, and putting aside any greed and distress that would result from shifting your frame of reference back to the world. This is the meaning of "the body in and of itself." In other words, you try to stay with the experience of the body as it's immediately felt, without referring it to the narratives and views that make up your sense of the world. You stay away from stories of how you have related to your body in the past and how you hope to relate to it in the future. You drop any concern for how your body fits into the world in terms of its beauty, agility, or strength. You simply tune into the body on its own terms — the direct experience of its breathing, its movements, its postures, its elementary properties, and its inevitable decay. In this way you learn how to strip away your assumptions about what does or doesn't lie behind your experience of the body, and gain practice in referring everything to the experience itself.

The same approach applies to the remaining types of satipatthana: focusing on feelings, on mind states, and on mental qualities in and of themselves. At first glance, these may look like new and different meditation exercises, but the Buddha makes clear that they can all center on a single practice: keeping the breath in mind. When the mind is with the breath, all four frames of reference are right there. The difference lies simply in the subtlety of your focus. So when you've developed your skills with the first, most blatant type of satipatthana, you don't have to move far to take up the more subtle ones. Simply stay with the breath and shift your focus to the feelings and mind states that arise from being mindful of the breath, and the mental qualities that either get in the way of your focus or strengthen it. Once you've chosen your frame of reference, you treat it the same way you've been treating the body: taking it as your frame of reference in and of itself, without referring it to stories about yourself or views about the world. You separate feelings — of pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain — from the stories you normally create around them. You separate states of greed, anger, and delusion from their focal points in the world. In this way you can see them for what they are.

Still, though, you have an agenda, based on the desire for Awakening — a desire that the Buddha classed, not as a cause of suffering, but as part of the path leading to its end. This becomes clearest in the satipatthana focused on mental qualities in and of themselves. You acquaint yourself with the unskillful qualities that obstruct concentration — such as sensual desire, ill will, and restlessness — not simply to experience them, but also to understand them so that you can cut them away. Similarly, you acquaint yourself with the skillful qualities that foster discernment so that you can develop them all the way to release.

The texts call these skillful qualities the seven factors of Awakening and show that satipatthana practice is aimed at developing them all in order. The first factor is mindfulness. The second is called "analysis of qualities": the ability to distinguish skillful from unskillful qualities in the mind, seeing what can be accepted and what needs to be changed. The third factor is persistence — persistence in abandoning unskillful qualities and fostering skillful ones in their place. The texts describe a wide variety of methods to use in this endeavor, but they all come down to two sorts. In some cases, an unskillful quality will disappear simply when you watch it steadily. In other cases, you have to make a concerted effort, actively doing what you can to counteract an unskillful quality and replace it with a more skillful one.

As skillful qualities take charge within you, you see that while skillful thinking leads to no harmful actions, long bouts of it can tire the mind. So you bring your thoughts to stillness, which develops three more of the factors of Awakening: rapture, serenity, and concentration. These provide the mind with a foundation of well-being.

The final factor is equanimity, and its place in the list is significant. Its non-reactivity is fully appropriate only when the more active factors have done what they can. This is true of all the lists in which equanimity is included. It's never listed on its own, as sufficient for Awakening; and it always comes last, after the pro-active factors in the list. This doesn't mean that it supplants them, simply that it joins in their interaction. Instead of replacing them, it counterbalances them, enabling you to step back and see subtle levels of stress and craving that the more pro-active factors may have obscured. Then it makes room for the pro-active factors to act on the newly discovered levels. Only when all levels of stress and craving are gone is the work of both the pro-active and non-reactive sides of meditation done. That's when the mind can be truly agenda-free.

It's like learning to play the piano. As you get more pro-active in playing proficiently, you also become sensitive in listening non-reactively, to discern ever more subtle levels in the music. This allows you to play even more skillfully. In the same way, as you get more skilled in establishing mindfulness on your chosen frame of reference, you gain greater sensitivity in peeling away ever more subtle layers of the present moment until nothing is left standing in the way of total release.


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Look at the Kalama Sutta

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A Look at the Kalama Sutta by
Bhikkhu Bodhi

In this issue of the newsletter we have combined the feature essay with the "Sutta Study" column as we take a fresh look at an often quoted discourse of the Buddha, the Kalama Sutta. The discourse — found in translation in Wheel No. 8 — has been described as "the Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry," and though the discourse certainly does counter the decrees of dogmatism and blind faith with a vigorous call for free investigation, it is problematic whether the sutta can support all the positions that have been ascribed to it. On the basis of a single passage, quoted out of context, the Buddha has been made out to be a pragmatic empiricist who dismisses all doctrine and faith, and whose Dhamma is simply a freethinker's kit to truth which invites each one to accept and reject whatever he likes.

But does the Kalama Sutta really justify such views? Or do we meet in these claims just another set of variations on that egregious old tendency to interpret the Dhamma according to whatever notions are congenial to oneself — or to those to whom one is preaching? Let us take as careful a look at the Kalama Sutta as the limited space allotted to this essay will allow, remembering that in order to understand the Buddha's utterances correctly it is essential to take account of his own intentions in making them.

The passage that has been cited so often runs as follows: "Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, nor upon tradition, nor upon rumor, nor upon scripture, nor upon surmise, nor upon axiom, nor upon specious reasoning, nor upon bias toward a notion pondered over, nor upon another's seeming ability, nor upon the consideration 'The monk is our teacher.' When you yourselves know: 'These things are bad, blamable, censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them... When you yourselves know: 'These things are good, blameless, praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them."

Now this passage, like everything else spoken by the Buddha, has been stated in a specific context — with a particular audience and situation in view — and thus must be understood in relation to that context. The Kalamas, citizens of the town of Kesaputta, had been visited by religious teachers of divergent views, each of whom would propound his own doctrines and tear down the doctrines of his predecessors. This left the Kalamas perplexed, and thus when "the recluse Gotama," reputed to be an Awakened One, arrived in their township, they approached him in the hope that he might be able to dispel their confusion. From the subsequent development of the sutta, it is clear that the issues that perplexed them were the reality of rebirth and kammic retribution for good and evil deeds.

The Buddha begins by assuring the Kalamas that under such circumstances it is proper for them to doubt, an assurance which encourages free inquiry. He next speaks the passage quoted above, advising the Kalamas to abandon those things they know for themselves to be bad and to undertake those things they know for themselves to be good. This advice can be dangerous if given to those whose ethical sense is undeveloped, and we can thus assume that the Buddha regarded the Kalamas as people of refined moral sensitivity. In any case he did not leave them wholly to their own resources, but by questioning them led them to see that greed, hate and delusion, being conducive to harm and suffering for oneself and others, are to be abandoned, and their opposites, being beneficial to all, are to be developed.

The Buddha next explains that a "noble disciple, devoid of covetousness and ill will, undeluded" dwells pervading the world with boundless loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Thus purified of hate and malice, he enjoys here and now four "solaces": If there is an afterlife and kammic result, then he will undergo a pleasant rebirth, while if there is none he still lives happily here and now; if evil results befall an evil-doer, then no evil will befall him, and if evil results do not befall an evil-doer, then he is purified anyway. With this the Kalamas express their appreciation of the Buddha's discourse and go for refuge to the Triple Gem.

Now does the Kalama Sutta suggest, as is often held, that a follower of the Buddhist path can dispense with all faith and doctrine, that he should make his own personal experience the criterion for judging the Buddha's utterances and for rejecting what cannot be squared with it? It is true the Buddha does not ask the Kalamas to accept anything he says out of confidence in himself, but let us note one important point: the Kalamas, at the start of the discourse, were not the Buddha's disciples. They approached him merely as a counselor who might help dispel their doubts, but they did not come to him as the Tathagata, the Truth-finder, who might show them the way to spiritual progress and to final liberation.

Thus, because the Kalamas had not yet come to accept the Buddha in terms of his unique mission, as the discloser of the liberating truth, it would not have been in place for him to expound to them the Dhamma unique to his own Dispensation: such teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics, and the methods of contemplation based upon them. These teachings are specifically intended for those who have accepted the Buddha as their guide to deliverance, and in the suttas he expounds them only to those who "have gained faith in the Tathagata" and who possess the perspective necessary to grasp them and apply them. The Kalamas, however, at the start of the discourse are not yet fertile soil for him to sow the seeds of his liberating message. Still confused by the conflicting claims to which they have been exposed, they are not yet clear even about the groundwork of morality.

Nevertheless, after advising the Kalamas not to rely upon established tradition, abstract reasoning, and charismatic gurus, the Buddha proposes to them a teaching that is immediately verifiable and capable of laying a firm foundation for a life of moral discipline and mental purification. He shows that whether or not there be another life after death, a life of moral restraint and of love and compassion for all beings brings its own intrinsic rewards here and now, a happiness and sense of inward security far superior to the fragile pleasures that can be won by violating moral principles and indulging the mind's desires. For those who are not concerned to look further, who are not prepared to adopt any convictions about a future life and worlds beyond the present one, such a teaching will ensure their present welfare and their safe passage to a pleasant rebirth — provided they do not fall into the wrong view of denying an afterlife and kammic causation.

However, for those whose vision is capable of widening to encompass the broader horizons of our existence, this teaching given to the Kalamas points beyond its immediate implications to the very core of the Dhamma. For the three states brought forth for examination by the Buddha — greed, hate and delusion — are not merely grounds of wrong conduct or moral stains upon the mind. Within his teaching's own framework they are the root defilements — the primary causes of all bondage and suffering — and the entire practice of the Dhamma can be viewed as the task of eradicating these evil roots by developing to perfection their antidotes — dispassion, kindness and wisdom.

Thus the discourse to the Kalamas offers an acid test for gaining confidence in the Dhamma as a viable doctrine of deliverance. We begin with an immediately verifiable teaching whose validity can be attested by anyone with the moral integrity to follow it through to its conclusions, namely, that the defilements cause harm and suffering both personal and social, that their removal brings peace and happiness, and that the practices taught by the Buddha are effective means for achieving their removal. By putting this teaching to a personal test, with only a provisional trust in the Buddha as one's collateral, one eventually arrives at a firmer, experientially grounded confidence in the liberating and purifying power of the Dhamma. This increased confidence in the teaching brings along a deepened faith in the Buddha as teacher, and thus disposes one to accept on trust those principles he enunciates that are relevant to the quest for awakening, even when they lie beyond one's own capacity for verification. This, in fact, marks the acquisition of right view, in its preliminary role as the forerunner of the entire Noble Eightfold Path.

Partly in reaction to dogmatic religion, partly in subservience to the reigning paradigm of objective scientific knowledge, it has become fashionable to hold, by appeal to the Kalama Sutta, that the Buddha's teaching dispenses with faith and formulated doctrine and asks us to accept only what we can personally verify. This interpretation of the sutta, however, forgets that the advice the Buddha gave the Kalamas was contingent upon the understanding that they were not yet prepared to place faith in him and his doctrine; it also forgets that the sutta omits, for that very reason, all mention of right view and of the entire perspective that opens up when right view is acquired. It offers instead the most reasonable counsel on wholesome living possible when the issue of ultimate beliefs has been put into brackets.

What can be justly maintained is that those aspects of the Buddha's teaching that come within the purview of our ordinary experience can be personally confirmed within experience, and that this confirmation provides a sound basis for placing faith in those aspects of the teaching that necessarily transcend ordinary experience. Faith in the Buddha's teaching is never regarded as an end in itself nor as a sufficient guarantee of liberation, but only as the starting point for an evolving process of inner transformation that comes to fulfillment in personal insight. But in order for this insight to exercise a truly liberative function, it must unfold in the context of an accurate grasp of the essential truths concerning our situation in the world and the domain where deliverance is to be sought. These truths have been imparted to us by the Buddha out of his own profound comprehension of the human condition. To accept them in trust after careful consideration is to set foot on a journey which transforms faith into wisdom, confidence into certainty, and culminates in liberation from suffering.


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Kalama Sutta To the Kalamas

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Kalama Sutta
To the Kalamas

Translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Translator's note: Although this discourse is often cited as the Buddha's carte blanche for following one's own sense of right and wrong, it actually says something much more rigorous than that. Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One's own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one's feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one's understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are wise. The ability to question and test one's beliefs in an appropriate way is called appropriate attention. The ability to recognize and chose wise people as mentors is called having admirable friends. According to Iti 16-17, these are, respectively, the most important internal and external factors for attaining the goal of the practice. For further thoughts on how to test a belief in practice, see MN 61, MN 95, AN 7.80, and AN 8.53. For thoughts on how to judge whether another person is wise, see MN 110, AN 4.192, and AN 8.54.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One, on a wandering tour among the Kosalans with a large community of monks, arrived at Kesaputta, a town of the Kalamas. The Kalamas of Kesaputta heard it said, "Gotama the contemplative — the son of the Sakyans, having gone forth from the Sakyan clan — has arrived at Kesaputta. And of that Master Gotama this fine reputation has spread: 'He is indeed a Blessed One, worthy, & rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, a knower of the cosmos, an unexcelled trainer of those persons ready to be tamed, teacher of human & divine beings, awakened, blessed. He has made known — having realized it through direct knowledge — this world with its devas, maras, & brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & priests, their rulers & common people; has explained the Dhamma admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end; has expounded the holy life both in its particulars & in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure. It is good to see such a worthy one.'"

So the Kalamas of Kesaputta went to the Blessed One. On arrival, some of them bowed down to him and sat to one side. Some of them exchanged courteous greetings with him and, after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, sat to one side. Some of them sat to one side having saluted him with their hands palm-to-palm over their hearts. Some of them sat to one side having announced their name & clan. Some of them sat to one side in silence.

As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, "Lord, there are some priests & contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound & glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, & disparage them. And then other priests & contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound & glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, & disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain & in doubt: Which of these venerable priests & contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?"

"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' — then you should abandon them.

"What do you think, Kalamas? When greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For harm, lord."

"And this greedy person, overcome by greed, his mind possessed by greed, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person's wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering."

"Yes, lord."

"Now, what do you think, Kalamas? When aversion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For harm, lord."

"And this aversive person, overcome by aversion, his mind possessed by aversion, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person's wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering."

"Yes, lord."

"Now, what do you think, Kalamas? When delusion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For harm, lord."

"And this deluded person, overcome by delusion, his mind possessed by delusion, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person's wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm & suffering."

"Yes, lord."

"So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?"

"Unskillful, lord."

"Blameworthy or blameless?"

"Blameworthy, lord."

"Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?"

"Criticized by the wise, lord."

"When adopted & carried out, do they lead to harm & to suffering, or not?"

"When adopted & carried out, they lead to harm & to suffering. That is how it appears to us."

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them.

"What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For welfare, lord."

"And this ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed, doesn't kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person's wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness."

"Yes, lord."

"What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of aversion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For welfare, lord."

"And this unaversive person, not overcome by aversion, his mind not possessed by aversion, doesn't kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person's wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness."

"Yes, lord."

"What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of delusion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?"

"For welfare, lord."

"And this undeluded person, not overcome by delusion, his mind not possessed by delusion, doesn't kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person's wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness."

"Yes, lord."

"So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?"

"Skillful, lord."

"Blameworthy or blameless?"

"Blameless, lord."

"Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?"

"Praised by the wise, lord."

"When adopted & carried out, do they lead to welfare & to happiness, or not?"

"When adopted & carried out, they lead to welfare & to happiness. That is how it appears to us."

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness" — then you should enter & remain in them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, one who is a disciple of the noble ones — thus devoid of greed, devoid of ill will, undeluded, alert, & resolute — keeps pervading the first direction [the east] — as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth — with an awareness imbued with good will. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with good will: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

"He keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth — with an awareness imbued with compassion. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with compassion: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

"He keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth — with an awareness imbued with appreciation. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with appreciation: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

"He keeps pervading the first direction — as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth — with an awareness imbued with equanimity. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with equanimity: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

"Now, Kalamas, one who is a disciple of the noble ones — his mind thus free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, & pure — acquires four assurances in the here-&-now:

"'If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.' This is the first assurance he acquires.

"'But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.' This is the second assurance he acquires.

"'If evil is done through acting, still I have willed no evil for anyone. Having done no evil action, from where will suffering touch me?' This is the third assurance he acquires.

"'But if no evil is done through acting, then I can assume myself pure in both respects.' This is the fourth assurance he acquires.

"One who is a disciple of the noble ones — his mind thus free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, & pure — acquires these four assurances in the here-&-now."

"So it is, Blessed One. So it is, O One Well-gone. One who is a disciple of the noble ones — his mind thus free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, & pure — acquires four assurances in the here-&-now:

"'If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.' This is the first assurance he acquires.

"'But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.' This is the second assurance he acquires.

"'If evil is done through acting, still I have willed no evil for anyone. Having done no evil action, from where will suffering touch me?' This is the third assurance he acquires.

"'But if no evil is done through acting, then I can assume myself pure in both ways.' This is the fourth assurance he acquires.

"One who is a disciple of the noble ones — his mind thus free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, & pure — acquires these four assurances in the here-&-now.

"Magnificent, lord! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has the Blessed One — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. We go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May the Blessed One remember us as lay followers who have gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life."


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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How to Cultivate Emotional Balance in Our Life

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How to Cultivate Emotional Balance in Our Life
by Ven. Thubten Chodron©

Tushita Mahayana Meditation Centre, Delhi, India.
27 Nov 2006

Part 1 of 3 [21 min] : Download mp3 file

* Setting a positive motivation for listening to the teaching.
* ‘Balance’ necessitates that we have a big view. If we evaluate and interpret things in terms of only how they affect us as if we are the centre of the universe, then our mind will be imbalanced.

Part 2 of 3 [22 min] : Download mp3 file

To become emotionally balanced, the first step is to realize how imbalanced we are and that the imbalance is coming from ourselves, not from an external party; The heart connection that we feel with others, that acknowledges their humanity, their wish for happiness and freedom from suffering, is a very important factor in human relationships; Why His Holiness the Dalai Lama prescribed compassion as the antidote for low self-esteem; How a young lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness restored balance to her mind through contemplating what she thought His Holiness would do in a similar situation.

Part 3 of 3: Questions and answers [35 min] :
Download mp3 file

* When people are rude and disrespectful to us, how do we not react in the same way?
* What do you do when there is physical abuse or cheating?
* What are other antidotes to low self-esteem besides developing compassion and kindness?
* How do we stop our ‘opinion factory’ from working overtime churning out opinions endlessly?
* Discussion about ways to react when a person we love steals something substantial from us.
* How does Bill Gates maintain his emotional balance?
* When we notice that our mind has gone out of balance, isn’t this the first step in changing the situation and shouldn’t we be happy that we noticed it rather than beat ourselves up for going out of balance?
* Can you talk a little bit about worrying, because it has such a negative spiraling effect?
* Are the antidotes for paranoia same as those for worrying?
* A comment about the western mind that believes that one should be able to control everything.

~End of Post~


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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Basic Breath Meditation Instructions

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Basic Breath Meditation Instructions
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The technique I'll be teaching is breath meditation. It's a good topic no matter what your religious background. As my teacher once said, the breath doesn't belong to Buddhism or Christianity or anyone at all. It's common property that anyone can meditate on. At the same time, of all the meditation topics there are, it's probably the most beneficial to the body, for when we're dealing with the breath, we're dealing not only with the air coming in and out of the lungs, but also with all the feelings of energy that course throughout the body with each breath. If you can learn to become sensitive to these feelings, and let them flow smoothly and unobstructed, you can help the body function more easily, and give the mind a handle for dealing with pain.

So let's all meditate for a few minutes. Sit comfortably erect, in a balanced position. You don't have to be ramrod straight like a soldier. Just try not to lean forward or back, to the left or the right. Close your eyes and say to yourself, 'May I be truly happy and free from suffering.' This may sound like a strange, even selfish, way to start meditating, but there are good reasons for it. One, if you can't wish for your own happiness, there is no way that you can honestly wish for the happiness of others. Some people need to remind themselves constantly that they deserve happiness — we all deserve it, but if we don't believe it, we will constantly find ways to punish ourselves, and we will end up punishing others in subtle or blatant ways as well.

Two, it's important to reflect on what true happiness is and where it can be found. A moment's reflection will show that you can't find it in the past or the future. The past is gone and your memory of it is undependable. The future is a blank uncertainty. So the only place we can really find happiness is in the present. But even here you have to know where to look. If you try to base your happiness on things that change — sights, sounds, sensations in general, people and things outside — you're setting yourself up for disappointment, like building your house on a cliff where there have been repeated landslides in the past. So true happiness has to be sought within. Meditation is thus like a treasure hunt: to find what has solid and unchanging worth in the mind, something that even death cannot touch.

To find this treasure we need tools. The first tool is to do what we're doing right now: to develop good will for ourselves. The second is to spread that good will to other living beings. Tell yourself: 'All living beings, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done to you in the past — may they all find true happiness too.' If you don't cultivate this thought, and instead carry grudges into your meditation, that's all you'll be able to see when you look inside.

Only when you have cleared the mind in this way, and set outside matters aside, are you ready to focus on the breath. Bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don't force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus. Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you.

If you want, you can experiment with different kinds of breathing. If long breathing feels comfortable, stick with it. If it doesn't, change it to whatever rhythm feels soothing to the body. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing — whatever feels most comfortable to you right now...

Once you have the breath comfortable at your chosen spot, move your attention to notice how the breathing feels in other parts of the body. Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels. If you don't feel any motion there, just be aware of the fact that there's no motion. If you do feel motion, notice the quality of the motion, to see if the breathing feels uneven there, or if there's any tension or tightness. If there's tension, think of relaxing it. If the breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out... Now move your attention over to the right of that spot — to the lower right-hand corner of the abdomen — and repeat the same process... Then over to the lower left-hand corner of the abdomen... Then up to the navel... right... left... to the solar plexus... right... left... the middle of the chest... right... left... to the base of the throat... right... left... to the middle of the head...[take several minutes for each spot]

If you were meditating at home, you could continue this process through your entire body — over the head, down the back, out the arms & legs to the tips of your finger & toes — but since our time is limited, I'll ask you to return your focus now to any one of the spots we've already covered. Let your attention settle comfortably there, and then let your conscious awareness spread to fill the entire body, from the head down to the toes, so that you're like a spider sitting in the middle of a web: It's sitting in one spot, but it's sensitive to the entire web. Keep your awareness expanded like this — you have to work at this, for its tendency will be to shrink to a single spot — and think of the breath coming in & out your entire body, through every pore. Let your awareness simply stay right there for a while — there's no where else you have to go, nothing else you have to think about... And then gently come out of meditation.


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Monday, January 08, 2007

Cherish Your Friends

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Article extracted from book 'Meditations 3'
Dhamma Talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Cherish Your Friends

March 12, 2005

Try to make the mind quiet. Try to make the body quiet. There are lots of levels to that quietness. One means sitting quietly — but, of course, the body isn't the only thing making noise and chattering away. The mind is, too. And just as when you want to hear something very subtle you have to sit very quietly, if you want to hear the subtle things going on in your mind you have to make the mind quiet, too. Focus it on the breath. Try to cut down on all the chatter. If you want to talk to yourself, talk about one thing. Talk about the breath.

Ask yourself: Is the breath coming in? Is it going out? When it comes in, how does it feel? Where do you notice it? When it goes out, how does it feel? Where do you notice it? Does it feel good? Does it not? If it doesn't feel good, you can recommend different ways of changing it. Try a little longer, try a little shorter, deeper, more shallow, faster, slower. Find the rhythm and texture of breathing that feels good for the body right now. If you're feeling tired, try to breathe in a way that gives you more energy. If you're feeling tense, try to breathe in a way that's more relaxing.

You can talk about these things to yourself. That kind of chatter is not out of place in the meditation. It's called directed thought and evaluation, which are two of the basic factors for Right Concentration. But otherwise, try to keep the mind as quiet as possible — because you want to notice what's going on. And, of course, what you're going to notice is that there are a lot of other ideas floating through the mind. Sometimes they don't just float. They yell at you. They taunt you. They whisper to you. But you have the power of choice. You can choose which voices to listen to and which ones to put aside. You don't have to believe everything you think. You don't have to obey everything you think. So listen carefully to those voices. You'll begin to realize how much they push your life around. Some of them are well-meaning voices; some of them aren't. You don't know where you've picked up a lot of these ideas that you carry around inside.

One of the functions of meditation is to give you a place to stand inside and listen very carefully so that you can figure out where these things came from. More importantly, you can see where they lead. If you listen to certain thoughts, where are they going to take you? All too often, when a thought comes up in the mind, it's like someone driving up in a car. You're standing on the side of the road, someone drives up and says: "Hop in." And so you hop in without asking, "Where are you going? Who are you?" If we lived our lives that way, we'd be dead by now. Someone would have driven us to a dark place, robbed us, shot us, and dumped our body out the back door of the car. But that's the normal way things are in the mind. Thoughts come in and you just go with them. So you've got to step back. Ask yourself, "Which thoughts really are my friends? Which ones aren't?" In other words, which ones will to lead to your true happiness? Which ones won't?

The chant we recited on friends just now applies both to friends outside and to friends inside. There are true friends; there are false friends. You've got to figure out which is which and to encourage the true friends. Notice that the Buddha said: "Attend to the true friends earnestly." In other words, when you figure out that someone really is a true friend, you want to encourage that person, cherish that person, because true friends are hard to come by.

Years back when I was in Thailand, Ajaan Fuang gave me the job of teaching new monks after I had been a monk five or six years. Every year we'd get a batch of temporary monks coming in, because that's the tradition there, for young men to ordain for about three or four months. There's a textbook for them to study during their period as monks. Toward the end of the book, as they're beginning to think about disrobing, there's a section on lay life. One of the teachings covers who's a true friend and who's a false friend, because this is a big issue in life. The book goes down the list, just as we chanted just now: People who befriend you to cheat you, those who flatter and cajole, those who are your companions in ruinous fun. Those are false friends. As for true friends, the book says, those are the ones who are willing to die in your place.

And every year the comment would come up: There are no true friends in the world. That's not really the case, of course. There are some. But you have to look really, really hard, asking, Where is friendship with this person leading me? As the Buddha said, if you find someone like that, cherish that person. We hear often that the Buddha teaches us non-attachment. Actually he teaches non-clinging, which is a different sort of thing. Clinging is when you hold onto something and create suffering. That, he said, is something you should try to understand. Look for the cause and let go. But in the meantime, you've also got the path, and that's something you try to develop. It's something you hold onto as long as you need it. You develop virtue, concentration, discernment. These are your friends inside. And the same principle applies outside. If you have helpful friends, hold onto them, cherish them. And you try to be a good friend, a true friend, to that person too.

So with regard to the question of holding on and letting go, the Buddha said you've got to be selective. There are four noble truths to life. It's not that you let go of them all. The first truth — the suffering that comes with clinging — is something you want to try to comprehend. The cause of suffering, the craving that causes you to cling, is something you want to let go. Then there's the path, which you develop. To develop it, you've got to tend to it, you've got to cherish it, you've got to hold onto it. It's like holding onto the rungs of a ladder. If you try to climb up a ladder without holding onto the rungs, you fall off. And even when you reach the roof — or as Ajaan Suwat said, even when you're finished with the path, as far as you are concerned you don't need the path anymore, but you think of the people who will come behind you, and of how easy it is for weeds to grow on the path, how easy it is for the path to get obliterated, so you still tend to it for their sake.

The same way with true friends: If they've helped you, it's not that you leave them behind. You show them gratitude because that's one of the most important lessons you can give to other people. It reminds them that there's something good in life, something that really should be valued, because it's so rare. That's friendship on the outside.

As for friendship on the inside, you want to be friends with your wise qualities inside, the thoughts that help you, that point you in the right direction. You want to learn how to encourage them. After all, meditation is not simply a matter of driving thoughts out of the mind. You first have to learn how to think skillfully. Just listen to all the conversations going on in the mind: Should I meditate? Should I not meditate? Notice all the voices that say, No, I'm too tired, I need my rest, I want to do something else. Ask yourself: Are those your true friends? Where are they going to take you? Learn how to encourage the voices that take you where you really want to go. This is one of the most basic skills in meditation. If you can't master this one, you can't do anything else basic, like sticking with the breath.

For some of us, this is easy. We've had parents who encouraged us and we've learned how to listen to those voices of encouragement. If your parents didn't encourage you, you have to learn how to train yourself to encourage yourself. This is part of what they call emotional intelligence.

Years back there was an Olympic swimmer — Matt Biondi, I think was his name. He was expected to sweep all the medals in the swimming events but he blew the first event. All the commentators said, "That's it. He's probably all shaken up. He's going to go down into a tailspin." But his coach said, "Don't write him off. He's not that kind of person." And sure enough, he won all the remaining events — because even though he could have easily gotten discouraged after the first event, he knew how to talk to himself, to encourage himself, so that he didn't give up. He kept his spirits up and kept performing at his best.

That's what we've got to do as meditators. Learn how to talk to yourself so you can stay on the path. When things are going well, how do you talk to yourself so that you don't get careless? When things are not going well, how do you talk to yourself to give yourself encouragement, to get yourself over those dry patches? That's a basic skill in the meditation: learning who your true friends are inside your mind, and learning how to encourage them.

The Buddha once said that friendship with good people is the whole of the practice. On the external level that means staying with people who can teach you the practice — because without them, how would you know what to do? On your own, could you think up the path that the Buddha found? Would you have the stamina to stick with it? The example of other people who have trod the path is what keeps you going. On the internal level, friendship with good people means your ability to figure out who inside your head is your friend, and to cherish that friend, encourage it, listen to it. That ability, more than anything else, is what keeps you on course.


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Article extracted from book 'Meditations 3'
Dhamma Talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


December 1, 2004

There's a part of the mind that's just aware. No matter what else comes into the mind — greed, anger, delusion, despair, depression, regret, or fear — it's just part of the mind. There's also another part that's just aware of these things, but it tends to get blocked out when strong emotions come in. Still, it's always there, like the hum of the refrigerator always there in the background. Or maybe a better analogy would be the hum of the Big Bang, the deep B-flat that's still detectable from all directions all the time.

One of the tricks of the meditation is learning to get in touch with that part of the mind, not to regard it as something exotic, but to have it as the background state of mind, the basis of your conscious awareness. This requires a shift of your center of gravity, because for the most part we tend to live in our emotions, in our creations, in the little worlds we create for ourselves. But as the Buddha pointed out, there's a lot of suffering in those worlds. They all require effort to keep them going. They have to feed off of something. When the Buddha says that becoming is conditioned by clinging, the word "clinging" can also mean feeding or the act of taking sustenance. And the sustenance is the passion of desire — the desire that makes us create these worlds, that pulls us into these worlds, and impels us to take them as far as they can go. There's always an act of feeding going on — and it's stressful.

So you've got to learn how to get out of those little worlds you've created for yourself. Otherwise you can create huge emotional storms that can blow you away. People talk about sitting and meditating and being blown away to the point where they can't even sit anymore, but if you actually look at the wind from the outside, there's no physical wind blowing them off the seat. It's just that they let these emotional storms get blown up in the mind and they put themselves in the storms, so of course they're going to get blown around. What's important to remember is that there's always an awareness surrounding the storms. If you can place your center of gravity in that awareness, you don't get blown away.

It's not that difficult to get out of the storms if you can observe them as they arise, as they're just beginning, but they're hard to extract yourself from if they're already full-blown. So you need to learn how to change your center of gravity in advance and keep it changed. Otherwise the secondary storms — the ones that blow in on the tail of the first storm — can catch you off guard. One of the problems is the impatience that blows up as a separate storm. You get impatient: When are these storms going to go away? And then you place yourself in that second storm, the impatient storm, and that can blow you away as well. Or you can get swept up in a storm of boredom. A lot of these secondary storms are the ones that throw mediators off balance, so you have to watch out for them. Remember that there's a space around those storms as well. You have to learn how to watch those from the outside, too.

A great deal of the commentary going on in the mind is just this sort of thing. You pull yourself out of the storms whirling around events from the past or future, but then you let yourself get caught up in storms of the present. When these things come up — regret or impatience or whatever — just watch them. They may seem awfully powerful and awfully real, but you can learn to question their reality. Remember that although there may be a reality to these things, it's a created reality — false, artificial. It's something you're creating right now, and you may not even be aware of what you're doing.

Back when I was younger I use to like to write fiction. Basically what a fiction writer does is to inhabit a little mental world, exploring what it feels like from inside. The more real you can make that world to yourself, the better the story when you write it down. What's uncanny about these worlds is that sometimes a character you create can surprise you. The more real the character becomes in your mind, the more it can start doing unexpected things. When that happens, you start thinking: "Maybe this character has its own reality," but it's actually a figment of your own imagination. The reason these characters can surprise you is the same reason that you get surprised by things coming into the mind in normal world-creating thoughts. You're so oblivious to what you're doing that it can actually surprise you. That's when these thoughts begin to seem very real, to have an independent existence. What's happened, though, is that the part of your mind creating them is behind a wall, separated from the part that's watching them. That's why they can take unexpected turns.

This is why we have to get the mind really, really quiet — both so that we can get closer and closer to the part of the mind that simply observes, and to get clearer about where these fabrications are coming from. When you can see that second part in operation, it offers no surprises. And when you get to the point where fabrications offer no surprises, you start getting disenchanted with them. You see them for all their artificiality. You can begin to pull yourself out of their worlds more and more consistently.

So whatever storms come brewing up in the mind, remember: It's just an event in your awareness, and there's an awareness surrounding it, outside of the storm. Learn how to give more weight to that awareness than to the storms. If you're going to identify with anything — and it's natural that we do identify with things all along the path — learn how to identify with that very still awareness. It may not seem very intelligent, very creative, but it's your salvation. It's what you can hold onto that'll keep you from getting blown away.

How many times have you seen people who are very clever, very imaginative, very creative, and then something takes on an independent life in their minds and they can actually end up killing themselves, simply because of their thought-creations. They find themselves pushed into all sorts of weird and self-destructive behavior simply because they can't let go of particular thought-worlds in their minds.

So for the survival of all that's good and worthwhile in your own mind, you've got to learn how to step out of these things, realizing that although that simple awareness may not seem interesting or clever, it's your real friend. And there's a wisdom in learning how to stay there and watch, watch, watch, not to be impatient to get results, not to be impatient to see how things turn out. Learn how to be more stable in that watching, because the stability is what will allow you to see very subtle things, to see the tricks the mind plays on itself, the places where it pulls the curtain down or throws up walls to maintain its illusions. Your steady gaze is what's going to enable you to see through those illusions.

In the early stages of the meditation, that basic watcher — the observer — may seem as unstable and as fragile as any of the other worlds you might create. But as you get more and more used to placing your center of gravity here, you find that it's a lot easier to stay here than to keep creating those other worlds. This awareness, too, is a kind of world, and there will come a point where you have to take it apart, but in the mean time, this is the most stable world at your disposal. Over time, your center of gravity can begin to shift more and more in this direction. Once it's here, the qualities of stability and patience and endurance come a lot easier, and you come to value them more. Although they themselves may not seem all that surprising or entertaining, they do allow you to find out some very surprising things about the mind. In particular, you learn how to see through this process of creation. Where do these worlds come from? This is how the Buddha discovered dependent co-arising, by just watching very patiently, putting himself in a position where he didn't get blown away.

It's like really good scholarship. Everyone wants to get in on the dialogue of common scholarly assumptions and show that, yes, they can engage in that dialogue as well. But the people who say, "Well, stop. Wait a minute. These questions don't make sense. Something's wrong here": Those are the ones who bring a real advance in knowledge. When you step back to get out of a particular dialogue, you begin to see its underlying assumptions for what they are.

The same thing goes on in the mind. There are little signals and signs that the mind sends to itself, and you feel clever in catching their meaning: "Yes, I understand that signal, I understand that sign, I'll play along with that." And then you get sucked into the world of those signals and signs. But it takes real understanding not to get sucked in by the signals, to step out of the worlds that those signals create.

Ajaan Suwat once said that one of his greatest insights in meditation was seeing how the mind liked to play make-believe with itself. You have these little internal signals and agreements — "Well, this is this and that's that" — and suddenly there's a whole world of becoming, just because you thought you were clever in interpreting and catching on to the signs. So sometimes it's good to play dumb, to say, "I don't understand this, this doesn't make sense." And step back.

That right there is a lot of the practice.


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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Giving Thanks Without Forgetting Others

Here's an article that I find meaningful and applicable at any time of the year. Hope it will benefit you. It's not Thanks Giving season now, but I still would like to thank all those who loved (and hated me), and benefited (as well as harmed) me in any direct and indirect way in the three times. And that includes you who reads this:

May you find true happiness and its causes.
May you be liberated from all suffering and its causes.
May you never be separated from the happiness, which is free from sorrow.
May you rest in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.



Giving Thanks Without Forgetting Others:
A Discourse on Thanksgiving Weekend
By Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi

I dedicate this essay to the memory of my closest friend, Ven. Bhikkhu Sumedha, who expired in Sri Lanka on Dec. 21, 2006, minutes after I finished writing it for the Bulletin. I dedicate it to him as a true monk and visionary: cave-dwelling meditator, spiritual patron of the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital, genius artist, and one who always, even when on the brink of death, deeply remembered others.

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that brings families and friends together for the purpose of strengthening old bonds. It is a time when people forget their cares and worries, return home - sometimes over long distances - and share a sumptuous meal. After a year when we each pursue our private interests, we come together and light the lamp of loving affection over a table spread with roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other culinary delights. The early American settlers who first established this holiday originally offered their thanks to God for the bountiful harvest he provided them in their new home, so far from the European motherland. Nowadays, Thanksgiving has lost its religious overtones and has become a secular holiday celebrating prosperity and success. It symbolizes the unity of the family, the solidarity of the community, the forging of closer ties.

Those of us who follow the Buddha's teaching can also use the Thanksgiving holiday as a time of reflection, as an occasion for giving thanks. Since the Dhamma is non-theistic, we don't give thanks to any God, but we can use the occasion to develop an attitude of gratitude: gratitude towards all the factors in our lives that contribute towards our fortune and success. In this short talk, I would like to mention briefly five things for which one might be thankful. I'll speak for myself and then generalize.

(1) I am thankful that I am a human being. When we reflect on how few are the number of human beings in the world compared to the number of other beings, we'll appreciate the precious opportunity that human life provides. It may seem trifling, even ridiculous, to be thankful that one is a human being - for, one might ask, what else could I be if not a human being? - but if you reflect a little, you might see that it's truly amazing that our own sense of "I," of being "this living being that I am," should be lodged in a human constitution. Just suspend for a moment your habit of taking your human identity for granted, and you can see that your sense of being "the 'I' that I am" could just as well have been connected to a dog's body and mind, or a monkey's, or a bird's, or a fish's, perhaps even an ant's or a fly's! To be a human being is extremely rare, yet human life is also precious because human life has such great potential: the potential to develop our intellectual and aesthetic capacities, our ethical sensitivity, especially our spiritual faculties. Consciousness of any sort is a seed, and the human consciousness is the seed that can unfold the highest realizations of purity, love, wisdom, and inner freedom. When we reflect in this way, we realize how crucial it is not to squander this precious human life, but to devote our efforts to our spiritual development.

(2) I am thankful that I enjoy a reasonable level of material security. Here in this part of New Jersey, just about everyone has sufficient food, decent housing, and enough material resources to live comfortably and enjoy periods of leisure to pursue what interests them. This is a rare blessing. Throughout this world of six billion people, perhaps four billion are constantly struggling every day just to survive. They have to work long hours at tedious jobs, often dangerous jobs, just to earn enough money to buy food, clothes, and fuel. Many can't afford adequate housing or medical care. But you have had a good education, live in a peaceful area, and enjoy at least a moderate standard of material affluence.

(3) I live in a country where we enjoy fundamental social and personal freedoms. Our U.S. Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of worship, freedom of the press. The present Administration may be cutting back on certain freedoms that this country has long cherished and long endorsed in the community of nations - particularly freedom from unwarranted search and seizure and from cruel and unusual punishment - but we still preserve the right to change the situation through our electoral process. If I want to, I can write essays criticizing our government, even our president, without fear of being arrested. Though almost all the people in governmental are Christians, I can practice Buddhism with perfect freedom and no restrictions are placed on my expression of my beliefs. In many parts of the world, people must conform to the prevailing religion of the country, even if they are privately convinced of the truth of some other religion. If they advocate another religion, they might even be beheaded.

(4) I have encountered the Buddha's teaching. As human beings, we need something more than material security, something more liberating than social and political freedom, something that leads to greater fulfillment than opportunities for personal creativity and self-expression. We need a path of ethical guidance that can help us make the right decisions in the face of tough personal dilemmas, a path of spiritual guidance that can show us how to realize our potentials for the highest wisdom, compassion, spiritual freedom, and peace. Among all the teachings known to humankind, that which stands out by its intellectual brilliance, ethical purity, and pragmatic versatility is the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha. The arising of a Perfectly Enlightened One is rare. The proclamation of the Dhamma is rare. Associating with good spiritual friends is rare. To have gained these three benefits is something for which one should be extremely grateful.

(5) I have gained faith in the Dhamma and have found a good place to learn the teachings. Many people encounter the Buddha's teachings but do not gain faith. They meet Buddhism as just one world religion among others; they see the Buddha as just one great religious teacher among others. Sometimes they become interested in the Dhamma, but that interest flares up and then soon fades away. However, when our interest leads to keen investigation; when investigation brings conviction; when conviction kindles steadfast faith in the Dhamma, and when we have found a good monastery to study and practice and knowledgeable teachers to guide us, then we have achieved an extraordinary blessing indeed.

To these five general items worthy of thanks by any follower of the Dhamma, I add a sixth of my own: that I have gained the opportunity to become a monk in the Buddhist order and to have encountered good teachers throughout my years as a monk.

Now, when we rejoice on Thanksgiving for our abundant blessings, we should also remember that there are many others in this world who don't share our fortune. Rather than neglect them, we should also welcome them into the citadel of our hearts. If Thanksgiving is truly a family holiday, we might recall the Buddha's words that it is hard to find a single person on this earth who has not, in some previous existence, been our mother or father, our brother or sister. Thus we should think of their misfortune as a matter of urgent concern to ourselves.

(1) First and foremost, we should remember that our nation is at war. We are embroiled in a terrible war in Iraq, a terrifying war that was initiated under sham pretexts, that has been prolonged against widespread opposition, and that daily brings disastrous consequences. So far the war has claimed nearly 3,000 American lives and left many more young Americans disfigured and disabled for life. And so, while most American families could laugh and rejoice at their Thanksgiving tables, many sat at their tables with pain in their hearts and tears filling their eyes. But the impact of this war on the country where it is being waged is far worse than it is on America. Iraq is sorely divided, its infrastructure paralyzed, its cities in shambles. A recent report suggests that the war may have claimed as many as 600,000 Iraqi lives, most civilians including many women and children. On Thanksgiving day itself, over 200 Iraqis were killed in senseless sectarian violence. Bringing all this to mind, we should make a determination to press for an end to this war and to bear witness for the cause of peace, resisting all warfare and militarism as a solution to international and inter-communal conflicts.

(2) Our planet's climate is undergoing drastic changes. Climate change is occurring at a more rapid rate than was earlier believed to be the case, and the climate change presently taking place spells major calamities in the future: floods, rising sea levels, disappearing coastal lands, prolonged droughts, desertification, and dangers we cannot as yet even foresee. These in turn bring greater poverty, migration, exploding cities, and urban violence. The main culprit is the United States. Our country is the world's largest consumer of carbon-based fuels, yet stubbornly refuses to cut down its production and consumption rates, refuses to accept limits on its right to exploit the earth, refuses to sign international agreements that might compel it to behave like a responsible adult. Yet we ourselves don't have to follow our leaders, who are themselves pushed around by profit-seeking corporations. On our own we can follow a different drummer. Under the Buddha's guidance, we can simplify our lifestyles, find contentment in the simple joys of life, and take "delight in renunciation. " The Buddha teaches that craving is the root of suffering, simplicity the root of happiness; thus, by simplifying our lifestyles we can find deeper meaning and peace here and now while we behave more responsibly regarding the earth itself.

(3) A large proportion of the world's population goes hungry every day. While the U.S. over-consumes, billions of people around the world (including many poor people in the U.S.) have trouble finding enough food to sustain them through the day. When I lived in Sri Lanka some years ago, I had read that the average Sri Lankan family spends about three-quarters of the family income on food, and Sri Lanka was by no means near the bottom of the world's poverty scale. In Central Africa, increasing desertification and locust plagues have resulted in annual food scarcities that take horrifying death tolls, claiming adults, children, and animals without distinction. Sufficient food could be provided very easily, yet our own country prefers to spend its resources on weaponry and military campaigns. The leaders of these poor countries, too, become embroiled in struggles for power that result in reckless expenditures on weapons and in brutal ethnic killings. But we should bear the poor and hungry in mind, live moderately, and give substantial donations to philanthropic organizations like CARE, Save the Children, Direct Relief International, the Tzuchi Foundation, and Sarvodaya.

(4) Many people around the world are prisoners of conscience. They live lives of utmost deprivation locked away in prisons on charges they have never had the chance to challenge in courts, often simply because they dared to live in accordance with their conscience, or because they stood up against an autocratic leader or a tyrannical regime. There in prison they are often abused, humiliated, and tortured, and no one in the outside world even knows of their existence. Sadly, our own government, once the world's leader in human rights, has recently used the so-called "war against terror" as a justification for enacting policies that permit almost arbitrary arrests and indefinite detentions, depriving prisoners of their basic rights to a free and fair trial. As U.S. citizens, we should stand up for the rule of law and the inviolability of the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution, as applying to U.S. citizens and to those foreigners residing in our land.

(5) In this world, people blindly follow the ten ways of unwholesome action. If we cast our gaze out upon the world, we see: (i) expanding waves of reckless violence, even high-ranking political groups resorting to murder as a way to eliminate foes; (ii) widespread disregard for the property of others; (iii) shameless sexual promiscuity; those in positions of responsibility showing no hesitation (iv) to lie and (v) to create divisions among others; (vi) angry denunciations spilling forth from the mouths of the powerful, (vii) senseless chatter from the mouths of entertainers; the minds of the multitude teeming with (viii) unrestrained greed, (ix) anger, and (x) wrong views. As followers of the Buddha who have been privileged to inherit his teaching, we should make some effort to sustain the light of his Dhamma in this dark world. Either by precept or personal example, we should teach the ways of wholesome action, the path of light and goodness that leads to all blessings, to happy living in this world, to higher rebirth, to the stages of samadhi, and to insight, enlightenment, and Nibbana. We should not be overly optimistic that we can kindle a spiritual revolution, for today the forces of darkness are indeed very strong. But with courage and persistence, we can hold up our candles in the night, and bring this light to those who have eyes to see, to those seeking an outlet from the tangle of suffering woven by greed, hatred, and delusion.


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