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, December 29, 2007

What Makes You a Buddhist?

by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
(Article source: www.khyentsefoundation.org)

It’s not the clothes you wear, the ceremonies you perform, or the meditation you do, says Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. It’s not what you eat, whether you drink, or who you have sex with. It’s whether you agree with the four fundamental discoveries the Buddha made under the Bodhi tree, and if you do, you can call yourself a Buddhist.

Once, I was seated on a plane in the middle seat of the middle row on a trans-Atlantic flight, and the sympathetic man sitting next to me made an attempt to be friendly. Seeing my shaved head and maroon skirt, he gathered that I was a Buddhist. When the meal was served, the man considerately offered to order a vegetarian meal for me. Having correctly assumed that I was a Buddhist, he also assumed that I don’t eat meat. That was the beginning of our chat. The flight was long, so to kill our boredom, we discussed Buddhism.

Over time I have come to realize that people often associate Buddhism and Buddhists with peace, meditation, and nonviolence. In fact many seem to think that saffron or maroon robes and a peaceful smile are all it takes to be a Buddhist. As a fanatical Buddhist myself, I must take pride in this reputation, particularly the nonviolent aspect of it, which is so rare in this age of war and violence, and especially religious violence. Throughout the history of humankind, religion seems to beget brutality. Even today religious-extremist violence dominates the news. Yet I think I can say with confidence that so far we Buddhists have not disgraced ourselves. Violence has never played a part in propagating Buddhism.

However, as a trained Buddhist, I also feel a little discontented when Buddhism is associated with nothing beyond vegetarianism, nonviolence, peace, and meditation. Prince Siddhartha, who sacrificed all the comforts and luxuries of palace life, must have been searching for more than passivity and shrubbery when he set out to discover enlightenment.

When a conversation arises like the one with my seatmate on the plane, a non-Buddhist may casually ask, “What makes someone a Buddhist?” That is the hardest question to answer. If the person has a genuine interest, the complete answer does not make for light dinner conversation, and generalizations can lead to misunderstanding. Suppose that you give them the true answer, the answer that points to the very foundation of this 2,500-year-old tradition.

One is a Buddhist if he or she accepts the following four truths:

All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are pain.
All things have no inherent existence.
Nirvana is beyond concepts.

These four statements, spoken by the Buddha himself, are known as “the four seals.” Traditionally, seal means something like a hallmark that confirms authenticity. For the sake of simplicity and flow we will refer to these statements as both seals and “truths,” not to be confused with Buddhism’s four noble truths, which pertain solely to aspects of suffering. Even though the four seals are believed to encompass all of Buddhism, people don’t seem to want to hear about them. Without further explanation they serve only to dampen spirits and fail to inspire further interest in many cases. The topic of conversation changes and that’s the end of it.

The message of the four seals is meant to be understood literally, not metaphorically or mystically—and meant to be taken seriously. But the seals are not edicts or commandments. With a little contemplation one sees that there is nothing moralistic or ritualistic about them. There is no mention of good or bad behavior. They are secular truths based on wisdom, and wisdom is the primary concern of a Buddhist. Morals and ethics are secondary. A few puffs of a cigarette and a little fooling around don’t prevent someone from becoming a Buddhist. That is not to say that we have license to be wicked or immoral.

Broadly speaking, wisdom comes from a mind that has what the Buddhists call “right view.” But one doesn’t even have to consider oneself a Buddhist to have right view. Ultimately it is this view that determines our motivation and action. It is the view that guides us on the path of Buddhism. If we can adopt wholesome behaviors in addition to the four seals, it makes us even better Buddhists. But what makes you not a Buddhist?

If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist.

If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist.

If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist.

And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space, and power, then you are not a Buddhist.

So, what makes you a Buddhist? You may not have been born in a Buddhist country or to a Buddhist family, you may not wear robes or shave your head, you may eat meat and idolize Eminem and Paris Hilton. That doesn’t mean you cannot be a Buddhist. In order to be a Buddhist, you must accept that all compounded phenomena are impermanent, all emotions are pain, all things have no inherent existence, and enlightenment is beyond concepts.

It’s not necessary to be constantly and endlessly mindful of these four truths. But they must reside in your mind. You don’t walk around persistently remembering your own name, but when someone asks your name, you remember it instantly. There is no doubt. Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he.


Consider the example of generosity. When we begin to realize the first seal—impermanence—we see everything as transitory and without value, as if it belonged in a Salvation Army donation bag. We don’t necessarily have to give it all away, but we have no clinging to it. When we see that our possessions are all impermanent compounded phenomena, that we cannot cling to them forever, generosity is already practically accomplished.

Understanding the second seal, that all emotions are pain, we see that the miser, the self, is the main culprit, providing nothing but a feeling of poverty. Therefore, by not clinging to the self, we find no reason to cling to our possessions, and there is no more pain of miserliness. Generosity becomes an act of joy.

Realizing the third seal, that all things have no inherent existence, we see the futility of clinging, because whatever we are clinging to has no truly existing nature. It’s like dreaming that you are distributing a billion dollars to strangers on the street. You can give generously because it’s dream money, and yet you are able to reap all the fun of the experience. Generosity based on these three views inevitably makes us realize that there is no goal. It is not a sacrifice endured in order to get recognition or to ensure a better rebirth.

Generosity without a price tag, expectations, or strings provides a glimpse into the fourth view, the truth that liberation, enlightenment, is beyond conception.

If we measure the perfection of a virtuous action, such as generosity, by material standards—how much poverty is eliminated—we can never reach perfection. Destitution and the desires of the destitute are endless. Even the desires of the wealthy are endless; in fact the desires of humans can never be fully satisfied. But according to Siddhartha, generosity should be measured by the level of attachment one has to what is being given and to the self that is giving it. Once you have realized that the self and all its possessions are impermanent and have no truly existing nature, you have nonattachment, and that is perfect generosity. For this reason the first action encouraged in the Buddhist sutras is the practice of generosity.


The concept of karma, the undeniable trademark of Buddhism, also falls within these four truths. When causes and conditions come together and there are no obstacles, consequences arise. Consequence is karma. This karma is gathered by consciousness— the mind, or the self. If this self acts out of greed or aggression, negative karma is generated. If a thought or action is motivated by love, tolerance, and a wish for others to be happy, positive karma is generated.

Yet motivation, action, and the resulting karma are inherently like a dream, an illusion. Transcending karma, both good and bad, is nirvana. Any so-called good action that is not based on these four views is merely righteousness; it is not ultimately Siddhartha’s path. Even if you were to feed all the hungry beings in the world, if you acted in complete absence of these four views, then it would be merely a good deed, not the path to enlightenment. In fact it might be a righteous act designed to feed and support the ego.

It is because of these four truths that Buddhists can practice purification. If one thinks that one is stained by negative karma or is weak or “sinful,” and is frustrated, thinking that these obstacles are always getting in the way of realization, then one can take comfort in knowing that they are compounded and therefore impermanent and thus purifiable. On the other hand, if one feels lacking in ability or merit, one can take comfort knowing that merit can be accumulated through performing good deeds, because the lack of merit is impermanent and therefore changeable.

The Buddhist practice of nonviolence is not merely submissiveness with a smile or meek thoughtfulness. The fundamental cause of violence is when one is fixated on an extreme idea, such as justice or morality. This fixation usually stems from a habit of buying into dualistic views, such as bad and good, ugly and beautiful, moral and immoral. One’s inflexible self-righteousness takes up all the space that would allow empathy for others. Sanity is lost. Understanding that all these views or values are compounded and impermanent, as is the person who holds them, violence is averted. When you have no ego, no clinging to the self, there is never a reason to be violent. When one understands that one’s enemies are held under a powerful influence of their own ignorance and aggression, that they are trapped by their habits, it is easier to forgive them for their irritating behavior and actions. Similarly, if someone from the insane asylum insults you, there is no point in getting angry. When we transcend believing in the extremes of dualistic phenomena, we have transcended the causes of violence.


In Buddhism, any action that establishes or enhances the four views is a rightful path. Even seemingly ritualistic practices, such as lighting incense or practicing esoteric meditations and mantras, are designed to help focus our attention on one or all of the truths.

Anything that contradicts the four views, including some action that may seem loving and compassionate, is not part of the path. Even emptiness meditation becomes pure negation, nothing but a nihilistic path, if it is not in compliance with the four truths.

For the sake of communication we can say that these four views are the spine of Buddhism. We call them “truths” because they are simply facts. They are not manufactured; they are not a mystical revelation of the Buddha. They did not become valid only after the Buddha began to teach. Living by these principles is not a ritual or a technique.

They don’t qualify as morals or ethics, and they can’t be trademarked or owned. There is no such thing as an “infidel” or a “blasphemer” in Buddhism because there is no one to be faithful to, to insult, or to doubt. However, those who are not aware of or do not believe in these four facts are considered by Buddhists to be ignorant. Such ignorance is not cause for moral judgment. If someone doesn’t believe that humans have landed on the moon, or thinks that the world is flat, a scientist wouldn’t call him a blasphemer, just ignorant. Likewise, if he doesn’t believe in these four seals, he is not an infidel. In fact, if someone were to produce proof that the logic of the four seals is faulty, that clinging to the self is actually not pain, or that some element defies impermanence, then Buddhists should willingly follow that path instead. Because what we seek is enlightenment, and enlightenment means realization of the truth. So far, though, in all these centuries no proof has arisen to invalidate the four seals.

If you ignore the four seals but insist on considering yourself a Buddhist merely out of a love affair with the traditions, then that is superficial devotion. The Buddhist masters believe that however you choose to label yourself, unless you have faith in these truths, you will continue to live in an illusory world, believing it to be solid and real. Although such belief temporarily provides the bliss of ignorance, ultimately it always leads to some form of anxiety. You then spend all your time solving problems and trying to get rid of the anxiety. Your constant need to solve problems becomes like an addiction. How many problems have you solved only to watch others arise? If you are happy with this cycle, then you have no reason to complain.

But when you see that you will never come to the end of problem solving, that is the beginning of the search for inner truth. While Buddhism is not the answer to all the world’s temporal problems and social injustices, if you happen to be searching and if you happen to have chemistry with Siddhartha, then you may find these truths agreeable. If that is the case, you should consider following him seriously.


As a follower of Siddhartha, you don’t necessarily have to emulate his every action—you don’t have to sneak out while your wife is sleeping. Many people think that Buddhism is synonymous with renunciation, leaving home, family, and job behind, and following the path of an ascetic. This image of austerity is partly due to the fact that a great number of Buddhists revere the mendicants in the Buddhist texts and teachings, just as the Christians admire Saint Francis of Assisi. We can’t help being struck by the image of the Buddha walking barefoot in Magadha with his begging bowl, or Milarepa in his cave subsisting on nettle soup. The serenity of a simple Burmese monk accepting alms captivates our imagination.

But there is also an entirely different variety of follower of the Buddha: King Ashoka, for example, who dismounted from his royal chariot, adorned with pearls and gold, and proclaimed his wish to spread the buddhadharma throughout the world. He knelt down, seized a fistful of sand, and proclaimed that he would build as many stupas as there were grains of sand in his hand. And in fact he kept his promise. So one can be a king, a merchant, a prostitute, a junkie, or a chief executive officer and still accept the four seals. Fundamentally it is not the act of leaving behind the material world that Buddhists cherish but the ability to see the habitual clinging to this world
and ourselves and to renounce the clinging.

As we begin to understand the four views, we don’t necessarily discard things; we begin instead to change our attitude toward them, thereby changing their value. Just because you have less than someone else doesn’t mean that you are more morally pure or virtuous. In fact, humility itself can be a form of hypocrisy.

When we understand the essencelessness and impermanence of the material world, renunciation is no longer a form of self-flagellation. It doesn’t mean that we’re hard on ourselves.

The word sacrifice takes on a different meaning. Equipped with this understanding, everything becomes about as significant as the saliva we spit on the ground. We don’t feel sentimental about saliva. Losing such sentimentality is a path of bliss, sugata. When renunciation is understood as bliss, the stories of many other Indian princesses, princes, and warlords who once upon a time renounced their palace life become less outlandish.

This love of truth and veneration for the seekers of truth is an ancient tradition in countries like India. Even today, instead of looking down on renunciants, Indian society venerates them just as respectfully as we venerate professors at Harvard and Yale. Although the tradition is fading in this age when corporate culture reigns, you can still find naked, ash-clad sadhus who have given up successful law practices to become wandering mendicants. It gives me goose bumps to see how Indian society respects these people instead of shooing them away as disgraceful beggars or pests. I can’t help but imagine them at the Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong. How would the nouveauriche Chinese, desperately trying to copy Western ways, feel about these ash-clad sadhus? Would the doorman open the door for them? For that matter, how would the concierge at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles react? Instead of worshipping the truth and venerating sadhus, this is an age that worships billboards and venerates liposuction.


As you read this, you may be thinking, I’m generous and I don’t have that much attachment to my things. It may be true that you aren’t tightfisted, but in the midst of your generous activities, if someone walks off with your favorite pencil, you may get so angry that you want to bite his ear off. Or you may become completely disheartened if someone says, “Is that all you can give?” When we give, we are caught up in the notion of “generosity.”

We cling to the result—if not a good rebirth, at least recognition in this life, or maybe just a plaque on the wall. I have also met many people who think they are generous simply because they have given money to a certain museum, or even to their own children, from whom they expect a lifetime of allegiance.

If it is not accompanied by the four views, morality can be similarly distorted. Morality feeds the ego, leading us to become puritanical and to judge others whose morality is different from ours.

Fixated on our version of morality, we look down on other people and try to impose our ethics on them, even if it means taking away their freedom. The great Indian scholar and saint Shantideva, himself a prince who renounced his kingdom, taught that it is impossible for us to avoid encountering anything and everything unwholesome, but if we can apply just one of these four views, we are protected from all non-virtue.

If you think the entire West is somehow satanic or immoral, it will be impossible to conquer and rehabilitate it, but if you have tolerance within yourself, this is equal to conquering. You can’t smooth out the entire earth to make it easier to walk on with your bare feet, but by wearing shoes you protect yourself from rough, unpleasant surfaces.

If we can understand the four views not only intellectually but also experientially, we begin to free ourselves from fixating on things that are illusory. This freedom is what we call wisdom.

Buddhists venerate wisdom above all else. Wisdom surpasses morality, love, common sense, tolerance, and vegetarianism.

Wisdom is not a divine spirit that we seek from somewhere outside of ourselves. We invoke it by first hearing the teachings on the four seals—not accepting them at face value, but rather analyzing and contemplating them. If you are convinced that this path will clear some of your confusion and bring some relief, then you can actually put wisdom into practice.

In one of the oldest Buddhist teaching methods, the master gives his disciples a bone and instructs them to contemplate its origin. Through this contemplation, the disciples eventually see the bone as the end result of birth, birth as the end result of karmic formation, karmic formation as the end result of craving, and so on. Thoroughly convinced by the logic of cause, condition, and effect, they begin to apply awareness to every situation and every moment. This is what we call meditation.

People who can bring us this kind of information and understanding are venerated as masters because, even though they have profound realization and could happily live in the forest, they are willing to stick around to explain the view to those who are still in the dark. Because this information liberates us from all kinds of unnecessary hiccups, we have an automatic appreciation for the explainer. So we Buddhists pay homage to the teacher.

Once you have intellectually accepted the view, you can apply any method that deepens your understanding and realization. In other words, you can use whatever techniques or practices help you to transform your habit of thinking that things are solid into the habit of seeing them as compounded, interdependent, and impermanent. This is true Buddhist meditation and practice, not just sitting still as if you were a paperweight.

Even though we know intellectually that we are going to die, this knowledge can be eclipsed by something as small as a casual compliment. Someone comments on how graceful our knuckles look, and the next thing we know we are trying to find ways to preserve these knuckles. Suddenly we feel that we have something to lose. These days we are constantly bombarded by so many new things to lose and so many things to gain. More than ever we need methods that remind us and help us get accustomed to the view, maybe even hanging a human bone from the rearview mirror, if not shaving your head and retreating to a cave. Combined with these methods, ethics and morality become useful. Ethics and morality may be secondary in Buddhism, but they are important when they bring us closer to the truth. But even if some action appears wholesome and positive, if it takes us away from the four truths, Siddhartha himself cautioned us to leave it be.


The four seals are like tea, while all other means to actualize these truths—practices, rituals, traditions, and cultural trappings—are like a cup. The skills and methods are observable and tangible, but the truth is not. The challenge is not to get carried away by the cup. People are more inclined to sit straight in a quiet place on a meditation cushion than to contemplate which will come first, tomorrow or the next life. Outward practices are perceivable,
so the mind is quick to label them as “Buddhism,” whereas the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” is not tangible and is difficult to label. It is ironic that evidence of impermanence is all around us, yet is not obvious to us.

The essence of Buddhism is beyond culture, but it is practiced by many different cultures, which use their traditions as the cup that holds the teachings. If the elements of these cultural trappings help other beings without causing harm, and if they don’t contradict the four truths, then Siddhartha would encourage such practices.

Throughout the centuries so many brands and styles of cups have been produced, but however good the intention behind them, and however well they may work, they become a hindrance if we forget the tea inside. Even though their purpose is to hold the truth, we tend to focus on the means rather than the outcome. So people walk around with empty cups, or they forget to drink their tea. We human beings can become enchanted, or at least distracted, by the ceremony and color of Buddhist cultural practices. Incense and candles are exotic and attractive; impermanence and selflessness are not. Siddhartha himself said that the best way to worship is by simply remembering the principle of impermanence, the suffering of emotions, that phenomena have no inherent existence, and that nirvana is beyond concepts.

Now that Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I have heard of people altering Buddhist teachings to fit the modern way of thinking. If there is anything to be adapted, it would be the rituals and symbols, not the truth itself. Buddha himself said that his discipline and methods should be adapted appropriately to time and place. But the four truths don’t need to be updated or modified, and it’s impossible to do so anyway. You can change the cup, but the tea remains pure. After surviving 2,500 years and traveling 40,781,035 feet from the Bodhi tree in central India to Times Square in New York City, the concept “all compounded things are impermanent” still applies. Impermanence is still impermanence in Times Square. You cannot bend these four rules; there are no social or cultural exceptions.


Profound truths aside, these days even the most practical and obvious truths are ignored. We are like monkeys who dwell in the forest and shit on the very branches from which we hang. Every day we hear people talking about the state of the economy, not recognizing the connection between recession and greed. Because of greed, jealousy, and pride, the economy will never become strong enough to ensure that every person has access to the basic necessities of life. Our dwelling place, the Earth, becomes more and more polluted. I have met people who condemn ancient rulers and emperors and ancient religions as the source of all conflict. But the secular and modern world has not done any better; if anything, it has done worse. What is it that the modern world has made better? One of the main effects of science and technology has been to destroy the world more quickly. Many scientists believe that all living systems and all life-support systems on Earth are in decline.

It’s time for modern people like ourselves to give some thought to spiritual matters, even if we have no time to sit on a cushion, even if we are put off by those who wear rosaries around their necks, and even if we are embarrassed to exhibit our religious leanings to our secular friends. Contemplating the impermanent nature of everything that we experience and the painful effect of clinging to the self brings peace and harmony—if not to the entire world, at least within our own sphere.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dedicate Merits to Drubwang Rinpoche

I am truly saddened by the news that Drubwang Rinpoche had passed away today around 1230+ am today 26th Dec 2007. Please dedicate merits to him in whatever wholesome practice that you're doing.

Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche was born in Drikung,Tibet in 1921. He entered Drikung Nyima Changra Buddhist Institute at a very young age, and studied Buddhist philosophy. After his graduation, Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche became the disciple of one of the foremost contemporary retreat masters of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage, Drubwang Pachung Rinpoche (1901-1988). Under the guidance of Drubwang Pachung Rinpoche, Drubwang Konchok Norbu went on retreat for many years.

It was during a 10 year retreat that Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche gained the supreme experiential understanding of Mahamudra. Many a time he saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his vision. Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche is 79 years old. He lives in the Drikung Kagyu Institute in northern India . Some Time ago Drubwang Rinpoche forewarned that he would leave this world for the benefit of all sentient beings.

At the request of H.H. Dalai Lama, Drubwang Rinpoche agreed to stay on for a few more years, and in September 1999, His Holiness wrote a long life prayer for Rinpoche at the request of the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, the Supreme Co-Head of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche does not give tantric empowerments or lofty teachings on Mahamudra, or on Mahasandhi. Through his deep compasion he encourages and inspires people to do the simplest of all dharma practices: Extend kindness, and recite Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hung, and Om Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hung.

~End of Post~


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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Punk Rock Milarepa

Click to go to the book "Dharma Punx" Official homepage.

I found this article at "One City" blog and thought its worth sharing it here too. Enjoy.

Punk Rock Milarepa
By Kyle Thomas Smith

Hello, babies. I was in Barnes & Noble today and, once again, saw Noah’s second book, Against the Stream. It came out over a year ago and I have yet to read it. I’m way behind on my reading list. But, to assuage my conscience, I’ll post an article that I published on him in the September 2004 edition of CLAMOR magazine. It was right before he started gigging at Lila Yoga when he was still living in New York. If it weren’t for him, I would have never ended up finding the ID Project. Merry Christmas to all.

Noah Levine:

Punk Rock Milarepa

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Milarepa (1052-1136) was a Buddhist saint, who composed a repertoire of songs that are said to contain perfect instruction in the Dharma, or, the teachings of the Buddha. Before this, he had been a black magician and mass murderer. By and by, Milarepa’s transgressions began to weigh more heavily on his conscience than the roof he’d once sent crashing down on his uncle’s wedding party. Convinced he would perish a thousand deaths in hell, Milarepa sought out Buddhist master Marpa for purification.

Marpa would command Milarepa to shoulder boulders, one by one, from the lowest valleys of Tibet, and then erect towers to pierce the sky. Then, just as Milarepa would be setting the very last stone in place at the pinnacle, Marpa would order him to tear the whole tower down and put the boulders right back where he found them. This went on year after year until the once imperious Milarepa was ground lower than the dust beneath his master’s feet. At that point, Marpa deemed Milarepa absolved and fit to receive the Dharma. Milarepa became its most assiduous student and Tibet’s most beloved teacher, continuing the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, also called “the mishap lineage” since all of its patriarchs, including Marpa, had ill-starred pasts.

Even though Noah Levine practices in the Theravadan and not the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, he might just be the Gen X answer to Milarepa.

Browsing the Buddhism section of The Open Center’s bookstore in Soho, I was arrested by a cover like no other. Incense smoke curls up against a pitch-black background. In full relief are two heavily tattooed hands in prayer position, appendages to two heavily tattooed forearms, one of which is wrapped in Dharma beads. On the edges of the reverent-irreverent hands, needle-etched in India ink, is the book’s reverent-irreverent title, Dharma Punx by Noah Levine.

“Noah Levine?,” I asked the guy at the cash register, “Any relation to Stephen Levine?” For years, I had been reading Stephen Levine’s books on death, love, healing, and meditation via eastern pathways. “That’s his son,” he answered, “He lectured here recently.” I looked at the author’s bio on the back cover: “Levine lives in New York City.” I put my last $15 on the counter, bought the book, and started reading it on the subway back to Brooklyn. I couldn’t put it down the whole night.

Over the last decade or so, a wealth of great books has prescribed ancient meditation practices for the anxieties of modern life, but I’ve often wondered how many of them could cut any ice with the gutter punks, dead-end kids, and tortured artists I’d known. How could concepts of compassion, mindfulness, and transformation possibly penetrate the minds of those hell-bent for nihilism and self-destruction? I never would have guessed that the answer would be coming from Stephen Levine’s own son.

Many of the chapter titles that divide Levine’s journey from Gen X punk to Buddhist teacher herald punk and proto-punk anthems: “Suicide Solution” (Black Sabbath), “Fuck Authority” (universal), “Teenage Wasteland” (The Who), “Who Killed Bambi?” (Sex Pistols), and “Die, Die, My Darling” (Misfits). Levine’s no-bullshit, Hemingway-meets-Eminem narration is shot through with depictions of juvenile delinquency that make the movie Thirteen look like Full House. What does any of that have to do with Buddhism? Somehow, before I even cleared page one, I sensed the answer would be, “Everything.”

The book opens with Levine in a jail cell at 17, going cold turkey off smack and crack after being hauled in for larceny after multiple convictions: “I traded in my mohawk, Doc Martens and leather jacket for a fucking crack pipe.” A la James Dean and Sid Vicious, “Live Fast, Die Young,” was his crew’s credo: “Drowning our teen angst with drugs, sex and violence had, in the end, made me lose my punk rock ideals in what became nothing more than the pursuit of oblivion.” In fact, Levine gives a detailed account of how, at age ten, the year he discovered Sex Pistols, he envisioned only two escape routes from the ravages of his broken home (he lived with his chemically dependent mother, not his spiritual teacher father): suicide or drugs. He chose drugs, but always kept suicide in his back pocket. That jail cell was Levine’s proverbial rock bottom. Now his only two escape routes were “clean up or die.”

That night, Levine set about the most spectacular clean-up job since St. Francis of Assisi by heeding his father’s advice over the prison phone, “Attempt to stay with the sensations of each breath through counting each inhalation and exhalation.” At first, his response was, “How’s this hippy shit going to help me now?” Having nothing to lose, he sat still, tried it and found that it did help - a little. Then, he did it some more, and then some more. Little did he know, this simple instruction would be his doorway into a whole new life, one he’d actually want.

Zen writer Natalie Goldberg, who was once actually Levine’s schoolteacher, counsels, “Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.” Levine’s young life, 33, is certainly a testament to this. Dharma Punx chronicles how Levine’s love of meditation and the Buddha’s teachings took him through 12-Step recovery, on a pilgrimage to monasteries in Asia, to college and grad school for a masters in counseling psychology, and ultimately back to juvenile halls and prisons in the United States, this time as a counselor and meditation teacher. His love of punk rock never diminished either. If anything, his book and his lectures have given Buddhism a whole new audience: punk rockers and activists, seeking to overhaul a truly corrupt system in truly effective ways.


Once I finished Dharma Punx, I decided it was time to meet Noah Levine. Minutes after I contacted him on his website (www.dharmapunx.com), he called and graciously accepted my invitation for a Clamor interview at Le Gamin, my writing haunt in the East Village. Stocky with a shaved head and full-body tattoos, he isn’t the kind you’d want to run into in a dark alley. Ever since some skinheads had a gay-bashing boot party on my stomach when I was fifteen, I’ve been phobic of anything even remotely resembling them. With Levine, though, I was totally at ease. Not only had I read his book, I had also attended his lecture the week before at Barnes and Noble in Union Square, where he displayed the cadence and countenance of a kind teacher, schooled by the full spectrum of experience. He was no different at Le Gamin, where we talked for hours about the punk movement, Bush’s rape of Iraq, Buddhism, and social activism.

KTS: You talked about how you still encounter anarchists and activists who are resistant to anything spiritual because it smacks of hierarchy and authoritarianism. But don’t you think that might sometimes just be a smokescreen for a larger stumbling block? A genuine Buddhist practice requires a measure of commitment and focus and introspection that our ready-to-wear, MTV generation was never taught to have. So, could this knee-jerk, anti-authoritarian response just be a cover-up for a deeper and more pervasive fear of commitment?

NL: I think so. But there’s a healthy distrust of authority. We can look at history. Our generation can look at the hippies. They seemed to have these high ideals and they sold out. We can look at just about any generation and say, “Nobody seems to be following through with anything.” And certainly we can look at the power dynamics and structures, not only in the family - not only in the human, American, western, patriarchal family – and say, “These parents don’t seem to be doing that great of a job with their authority.” We can look at the schools, at police authority, the government. So, distrusting authority is a pretty healthy response to the truism that “power corrupts.” We see it over and over again, especially in spiritual and religious communities.

KTS: And it’s obvious. I’m not saying “when an anti-authority stance is so fervent, it’s disingenuous.” I am suggesting, however, that it could be counterfeit if it’s spat at someone who’s not proselytizing, who’s just teaching meditation or something equally benign, albeit powerful. Could that signal a fear of a deeper practice?

NL: Of course there’s that piece: saying it’s anti-authority, but it’s really just avoidance. But the Buddha suggests this: Don’t trust traditions based on what you hear or what they say. Don’t trust in the teacher. Trust in your own direct experience. Which is what I try to say every time I teach. To empower people to trust themselves – which is the Buddhist path. Some of what calls itself Buddhism these days has incorporated this guru teaching.

KTS: An over-reliance on the teacher.

NL: Precisely. It’s not a Buddhist teaching! It’s not the

teaching of the Buddha.

KTS: How do you think meditation can facilitate

activism and social justice?

NL: Well, I think that there are both angles for it. I think one is that the meditation practice itself gets one in touch with the confusion in the mind, heart, and body.

KTS: And the collective consciousness?

NL: At first it’s personal. Let me back up…Meditation is an action. It’s a personal action of introspection. Then you take that meditative stance, action, into the world and say, “I’m not only going to treat myself with kindness and compassion. I’m not only going to take this inward action. I’m going to bring it into my daily life, my livelihood, my lifestyle,” which is the political piece.

The other piece: the social activism, utilizing meditation. If one is committed to social change, it doesn’t take much wisdom to know that, to be able to respond to the reality is going to make more sense and change more things than reacting out of anger. So, there’s this switch from “I’m pissed about what’s going on” to “I care about what’s going on” and “I want to respond with compassion, with care” – wanting to be involved from that level. So, there’s been a real movement in the Buddhist scene, in the spiritual scene, to get social activists involved in meditation…There is sometimes confusion, especially around Buddhist meditation practice, where people think that Buddhism is about being detached, living in a cave or a monastery somewhere… An avoidance rather than an engagement. But it’s so clear – the Buddha is so clear in his living example of 45 years of walking on foot from town to town as an activist, as a spiritual social activist, who was changing the face of Ancient India, of the racism, of the sexism, of the war-torn country that it was – that his was the ideal activism.

This will be the subject of his next book Against the Stream: A Buddhist Approach to Positive Change, which Harper Collins is due to release in 2006. When he’s not writing the new book or doing continental book tours for Dharma Punx, Noah is teaching Vipassana meditation at Tibet House and Jiva Mukti Yoga Center in downtown Manhattan. Having recently moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco, he hopes to one day open a Vipassana meditation center in NYC.

Levine is a great model for our generation of how to rise out of your own ashes and blaze a trail for a new world. Sitting on a Zafu cushion before his Thursday night class of more than 50 students at Jiva Mukti, he made the statement: “Meditation is the most rebellious thing you can ever do.” When I asked why, he said:

“Because it’s the most counter-instinctual…We are constantly trying to avoid pain and hold on to pleasure. The Buddhist meditative traditions are pointing us to the truth of reality – the natural pain, the natural pleasure – and asking us to rebel against the instinctual tendencies of grasping and aversion. We do this by training the heart and mind in present-time, investigative awareness, a revolutionary action that brings about inner freedom and outer contentment. We begin to change our values and our views and then approach life from a place of understanding and compassion rather than fear and anger. If that is not the most rebellious action one can take, I don’t know what is.”

Kyle Thomas Smith is the Editor-in-Chief of Sentient City: The Art of Urban Dharma. He also publishes under the pseudonyms Colin MacGowan and Ethel Moneymaker. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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How the Buddha became a Catholic Saint

Written by Anil Menon
Published October 20, 2005

(Picture source: Wikipedia.org - read more about this topic there.)

Recently, I bought a wood painting from Lotus Sculpture. The painting is by "Jack," a Thai artist who lives in a little village near the border of Burma and Thailand. It shows the Gautama Buddha seated in the Bhumiparsha mudra; his legs are crossed, his left hand rests in the lap and his right hand's fingers are extended to touch the earth. The Sakyamuni is calling the Earth goddess to bear witness to his having attained enlightenment.

The wood is simply a roof tile from one of those old houses being demolished all over Burma. The painting is something a child could have produced: its lines are simple, the colors basic (red and gold), and the Buddha has a cute double chin.

I've never met Jack. I bought his work off the internet. According to Kyle Tortora of Lotus Sculpture, Jack has hand-like extensions where his legs should be. It seems Jack's mother took drugs during her pregnancy, and he was born with parts of his body attached to the wrong places. The wood painting — and many others like it — was produced by those misplaced hands.

But this is not about Jack.

It is about the Sakyamuni. I found it curious that a Thai Christian should choose the Buddha as the subject of his paintings. Why not Mother Mary or Jesus Christ? Or one of the saints?

It turns out that the Sakyamuni Buddha is in fact an official Catholic saint.

The story of how the Buddha became a Catholic saint is a story about an ancient Indian diaspora. Not the diaspora of a group of people but that of a collection of south-east Asian stories: the Jataka tales.

The Jataka tales have had a particularly strange journey. The word "jataka" means birth. The Jataka tales is a collection of fairy tales, riddles, parables, humorous moral tales and biographies all loosely centered around the previous lives of the Sakyamuni Buddha. The exact number of Jataka tales depends on how one counts. Many of the approximately 550 stories in the Jataka tales have little to do with the Buddha. The Jataka tales were told long before they were written down. The tales began as an oral tradition.

In the third or fourth century B.C., about three hundred years after the Buddha's death, the Jataka tales finally got written down. As the monks traveled, the Jataka stories traveled with them. The stories got translated, skipped languages, adapted to local conditions and became native to many different cultures [1]. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, for example, the Pardoner tells a Jataka story. Over half of La Fontaine's fables are actually from the Jataka tales.

Something very similar also happened to the Panchatantra (itself a secularized compendium of many Jataka tales). Arabic versions of the Panchatantra tales were set down in a manuscript called Kalilah and Dimnah (corruptions of Karataka and Damanaka, two recurring jackals in the Panchatantra stories). In the seventh and eight centuries A.D., Jewish merchants translated "Kalilah and Dimnah" into Greek and other European languages. The stories floated around in the collective Western consciousness until Planudes in the 14th century A.D. set them down as Aesop's fables (no actual manuscript by Aesop has survived) [1].

So widespread was the influence of these folktales from the Jataka and
Panchatantra, that Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916), the famous folktale scholar and writer wrote:

... as to the source of the tales that are common to all European children ... increasing evidence seems to show that this common nucleus is derived from India and India alone .... So far as Europe has a common store of fairy tales, it owes this to India. [2]

As Jacobs is careful to qualify, he is not claiming that every European fairy tale is from India; that's plainly ridiculous. But it seems the common stories, the stories that every child seems to know in Europe, can be traced back to tales that originally appeared in the Jataka or the Panchatantra.

What was it about these tales that made them so popular? I think it is the humor. It is of a special sort. Consider. The Jataka tales have a bull named "Delight", high-class crocodiles, monsters with sticky hair, strong-minded snakes, talkative tortoises and phony holy men. In one of the tales, Buddha works as a security guard, and in another, a queen gets laughed at by fish. Yes, fish. The humor in these tales is often droll, characteristic of British comedy. Wait. Characteristic of British comedy? Joseph Jacobs seems to think it is characteristic of the Indian storyteller:

Can we go further and say that India is the source of all the incidents that are held in common by European children? I think we may answer "Yes" as regards droll incidents, the travels of many of which we can trace, and we have the curious result that European children owe their earliest laughter to Hindu wags. [2]

Perhaps that's a bit much. Still, magic realism — whimsy's pretty new dress — is still very popular among South-East Asian writers.

At any rate, it suffices to note that around the same time the Kalilah and Dimnah was being translated by the Jews, there lived in the court of al-Walid ibn Abdul Malek, the Caliph of Baghdad, a Christian monk called John of Damascus. St. John was born around 676 A.D. and died sometime between 754 A.D and 757 A.D. He wrote a series of works defending the then still-young Christian faith. The Arabs, who then ruled most of the world, were very secure about Islam (seeing it as extension of Christianity); the Caliph gave St. John a free hand. One of the good father's books was a religious romance — the first Western one — called Barlaam and Joasaph.

The story of Barlaam and Joasaph is that of a young Indian prince, Josaphat (or Joasaph), being converted to Christianity by the arguments of Barlaam. Josaphat's story (before his conversion) is almost exactly the story of the Sakyamuni Buddha. Indeed, "Josaphat" is nothing but a Greek-formulation of "Bodhisat." This is fairly well established. For example, the online Catholic Encyclopedia says (about St. Josaphat) [3]:

The story is a Christianized version of one of the legends of Buddha, as even the name Josaphat would seem to show. This is said to be a corruption of the original Joasaph, which is again corrupted from the middle Persian Budasif (Budasif = Bodhisattva).

Barlaam and Joasaph was a huge hit. It was translated into all the European languages; there's even a version in the Spanish dialect used in the Philippines.

Now, it used to be a practice in the Catholic Church to recite the names of saints and martyrs in the most sacred part of the service (so called Canon of the Mass, just before the Host is consecrated). That is why, of course, we speak of saints as being "canonized."

But who got to decide who was a saint and who wasn't? For a long time, the decision was left to local parishes. Things changed in 1170 A.D. Pope Alexander III decreed that the power to canonize saints rested exclusively with the Holy See. The names of the martyrs were no longer recited in the Canon but moved to a sub-service called the Prime. Over time, it became less and less permissible to include new names into the list of saints — the Martyrology — without getting explicit approval from the Pope. Trouble was, there were still several equally official Martyrologies floating around (remember, this was before the invention of the printing press).

Pope Sixtus the Fifth (1585-1590) madeSixtusfifth2 a move to eliminate these multiple versions by commissioning a single standard list of martyrs. Cardinal Cesare Baronius was assigned to draw up the Martryologium. For obvious reasons, it was decided to make the official Martyrologium as broad-minded as possible; the idea was to merge existing Martyrologies rather than pick a correct one (for obvious reasons). On November 27, 1610, Cardinal Baronius included:

The holy Saints Barlaam and Josaphat, of India, on the borders of Persia, whose wonderful acts St. John of Damascus has described. [3]

Baronius seems to have included these names from the Catalogus Sanctorum, the fourteenth century Martyrology of Petrus de Natalibus, Bishop of Equilo (now Jesolo, Italy).

So there you have it. The Buddha is an official Catholic saint.

The Catholic Encyclopedia is resolutely unembarrassed about the whole incident. As I understand it, sainthood is a human assignation, based on our understanding of what constitutes a miracle. The Vatican claims authority, not infallibility.

Isn't it strange how history works? A collection of stories, scattered from their letter cages, moving across languages, belief systems and time. I'm reminded of the editor's advice in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend become fact, print the legend."

There are also strange ironies. In the 19th century, Naryanan Balkrishnan Godbole, a Sanskrit pandit, translated the so-called Aesop's Fables of Planudes of Constantinople back into Sanskrit. The stories had returned home after almost 2000 years of wandering. I'm sure St. John's Barlaam and Joasaph exists in Pali; if it doesn't, it should.

I began by saying this wasn't about the Thai artist, Jack. But perhaps it is. I think of Jack, a Christian in a predominantly Buddhist country; misplaced in space, misplaced in body. A simple story — two legs, two arms, arms connected to shoulders, legs to trunk — got told just a bit differently in his case.

And yet.

Perhaps all that matters is that a great story gets told and retold, errors and all. As Sylvia Plath wrote in her poem, The Munich Mannequins: "Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children."

St. Buddha would have agreed, I think.


1. Rhys Davids. Buddhist Birth-Stories. Srishti Publishers. New Delhi. 1998.

2. Joseph Jacobs. Indian Fairy Tales. Illustrated by John D. Batten. G. P. Putnam & Sons. New York. 1912. web: www.sacred-texts.com/hin/ift/index.htm

3. Catholic Encyclopedia. www.newadvent.org/cathen


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Sunday, December 23, 2007

What the Buddha did NOT teach

Extracted from Dharma e-News Issue 13 (January 2008 – to April 2008) by Christopher Titmuss

The Pali Discourses (Suttas) are the original body of texts of the words of the Buddha.

The purpose of this article is to point out some aspects of what the Buddha did not teach.The Pali suttas show that the Buddha refuted many views that today we attribute to him. Dharma practitioners, who regard the Buddha as their primary teacher, may need to check what the Buddha said in the Suttas.

Let us apply a discerning wisdom. Obviously, there are depths of insights outside the wisdom of the Buddha.

Source: flickr.com

(In alphabetical order)

1. Abhidhamma. According to the Theravada Buddhist tradition, Abhidhamma constitutes the teachings of the Buddha that he gave to his mother in Tusita heaven. Historical research shows that Buddhist/monks scholars wrote the Abhidhamma as a commentary on the words of the Buddha. Consisting of seven books, the Abhidhamma provides a detailed and analytical breakdown of mind and body into a variety of groups and elements. The Abhidhamma was composed over a long period and is not the Buddha´s word but only an interpretation. The Abhidamma is one of a number of Buddhist schools of interpretation of the suttas.

2. Acceptance. In the 5000 discourses of the Buddha, it is not possible to find a Pali word for acceptance. He points to an inquiry that goes deeper than acceptance of what we cannot change.

3. Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta are the true reality of existence. The Buddha has never made such a claim about impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self. He said that these are three characteristics of existence. If they were the true reality, there would no release, no liberation. The Unconditioned is anatta but not anicca or dukkha.

4. Belief in God. The Buddha regards belief in the Creator God of monontheism as just one of many kinds of religious belief. He dismissed it and numerous other religious beliefs. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is regarded as the only religious belief. In ancient India, the creator God is called Brahma. Yet the Buddha pointed the way to Abiding with Brahma (Brahma Viharas). It is important to understand that the Creator God of ancient India cannot be compared to the Western Creator God, who is absolute and all powerful. Brahma is a God among the Gods.The profound and liberating force of love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity reveal an abiding with Brahma, a creative force. The Buddha never wavered on his focus of complete liberation rather than a unitive experience with Brahma. See also number 16. See also article on the power of love following this article.

5. Being in the here and now. The Buddha does not give teachings to be here and now. Buddhist scholars have very freely translated ditthe dhamme as here and now. Ditthe means view and dhamme refers to dharma, namely all objects (in the mind and in the world, past, present or future), the teachings and truth. The Buddha did not give any kind of self entity or adopt a substance view to the present moment. Ditthe dhamma can also mean seeing with regard to the dharma.

6. Belief in God, a saviour, a sacred book, prophet or guru. God”-language is “self”-language. Ultimately the belief in God and self are two sides of the same coin, the former belief reconfirming the latter belief. An “Absolute God” is not a big issue in the suttas because it was not an influential teaching then Buddha pointed to seeing clearly, to release love (metta) and understand the nature of dependent arising. He is not opposed to ‘God’ (Brahma) language.- as used in India. He regarded the entire notion of God dependent on feelings, perceptions and beliefs. He did not refer to himself as a prophet, guru, deity or avator (incarnation of God). He did not refer to himself as an ordinary mortal. He said: I am awake. The Buddha did not appoint a successor before he died. He told his Sangha to rely upon the Dharma.

7. Cause. The Buddha kept strictly to dependent arising. He does not adopt a simplistic cause and effect, A to B, thinking such as ‘this meditation technique leads directly to liberation. The Buddha referred to cause (Pali: hetu) as a distinctive condition (paccaya). He tended to put the two questions together. What is the cause? What is the condition? (ko hetu ko paccayo). Numerous causes or conditions for numerous effects are mentioned in the suttas. The Buddha does not apply any kind of simplistic model – this alone will cause that – for awakening. He refers to a direct path (eke-yana) to awakening.

8. Choice. The view that we are always free to make a choice does not accord with experience. We did not choose to be born, to stop growing old, to get sick or to suffer pain. We can’t choose to live for ever. We can’t choose to be happy in every moment of the day. We can’t choose the outcomes of events that effect our life. We might think we make free and independent choices only to find out later that the so-called free choice that we made turned out be a nightmare. Our so-called choices are limited. We make choices without knowing countless conditions influencing those choices either from the past, present or that might arise in the future. We are heirs to our karma and bound to our karma (MLD 135). Is this a choice? Is it wise to use the language of choice? Is the notion of consumer choice keeping us deluded and imprisoned as customers? The Buddha placed more emphasis on intention affecting body, speech and mind. In clarity, we naturally cultivate ethics, samadhi and wisdom. It is a natural priority. Wisdom says that there doesn’t feel to be any choice about it. It is simply conducive to a liberated way of life. Deep down, there is really no choice.

9. Determinism and Fatalism. The past certainly can determine the process of dependent arising. The fact that the past can determine the present does not mean that we are prisoners, because the past is not an agent that ultimately can imprison us. This also means that there are no events that just happen without causes and conditions. The Buddha also does not teach fatalism. If the past absolutely determined our life, then the teachings of the Four Noble Truths are irrelevant. We would be a total prisoner to our past. Again, there would be no liberation from the past, from the unresolved forces of karma. The Buddha teaches dependent arising and liberation.

10. Enlightenment. The word ‘enlightenment’ does not appear anywhere in the Buddhist texts. Enlightenment is a Western concept referring to the modern era in the West where science and reason gradually replaced God who gave out punishments and rewards for human beliefs and behaviour. The word ‘bodhi’ means awakening. It comes from the root word ‘budh’ – to wake up. It sounds arrogant to say “I am enlightened.’ it sounds like belief in a “Self” to say “I am enlightened” since it implies a Self coming to Light We can appreciate those who woke up. In Seven Factors of ‘Enlightenment’ the Pali word is bojjhanga – bodhi to awake and anga – aspects of.or limbs of (NB A decade ago I wrote a book called Light on Englightenment. A Pali scholar made the distinction to me clear years later between awakening and enlightenemt. We live and learn!

11. Faith. In the Western sense, faith is often associated with religious faith such as there is life after death or one has faith in a sacred book, a prophet or God. There is no such equivalent word in the Buddha’s teachings. Saddha, the Pali word translated as faith, or sometimes confidence or trust, means sad – heart, dha – to put or to place. When our heart moves to action, such as to explore the teachings, then saddha has arisen rooted in going towards the profound.

12. Free will. For the will to be free, it would have to be independent, self supporting and not conditioned by circumstances inner and outer. The Buddha does not teach free will. The Buddha taught the middle way between free will and determinism. The self is tied to the notion of free will and equally tied to the notion of determinism. Truly knowing and seeing dependent arising is liberating. It reveals the emptiness of a real self and real things

13. Escape. The texts speak of the escape from suffering. Pali word nissarana means way out or exit. We often associate escape with flight, with fear that forces us to run away from ourselves, from responsibility. We need to remember the support that the Buddha gives to finding the way out. Gautama, the Buddha-to-be escaped from his responsibilities as a prince, husband and father. After his awakening, six years later, he taught about the gratification of the pursuit of pleasure, the danger in it and the way out from it.

14. Extinction of desire. The word ‘khaya’ often translated as extinction, destruction or dissolution, means the ‘exhausting’ of desire. In the exhausting of desire, we can engage in wise intention and wise action not corrupted with the preoccupations of the self and what it pursues.

15. Five Precepts. It is extraordinarily hard to find the block of Five Precepts in the teachings of the Buddha. This list of five appears on one occasion in an obscure text in all of the Suttas. The Buddha never limited sila (ethics) to five precepts. He spoke much more widely about ethics, about morality, than the Buddhist tradition has opted for. He told the monks and nuns about the importance of restraint of the senses, purification of livelihood and skillful use of food, clothing, shelter and medicine are equally important features of sila. It was convenient for the wealthy that the Buddhist tradition ignored the Buddha and confined ethics to the five precepts. The wealthy could pursue sensual gratification and privileges unchecked since the tradition largely excluded it as a moral issue. The Buddha also lists 10 paths of unskilful action and skillful action, 3 of body, 4 of speech, 3 of mind (the first 4 of which are the basis of the first 4 precepts). MN 41, Saleyyaka Sutta

16. Interconnection. This implies that every ‘thing’ is connected to every ‘thing’ else. It is a view based on the notion that there is some ‘thing’ in the first place. Is the car the engine? No. So take away the engine. Is the car the wheels? No. So take away the wheels. Is the car any other part? No. So throw away the rest of the parts. What is left of the car to be connected? Nothing of it ‘self.’ There is the conventi0on that there is a car. Many women joined the Buddha in the homeless way of life of Dharma exploration. One of the women, named Vajira, experienced disturbing thoughts in meditation.

By whom has this human being been created?
Where is the Maker of the being?
Where has the human being arisen?
Where does the human being cease?

Then it occurred to her.

Who took up this question?. A human being or a non-human being?
Ah, it comes from temptation (Mara) to arouse fear and trepidation? she realised.

Truth arose in her. Shre responded:

Just as with an assemblage of parts
the word chariot is used
So, when the aggregates exist
There is the convention a human being.

It was then said at the end of the discourse by the voice to arouse fear.
Vajira knows me and then the voice disappeared right there. SN.1.Page 230.

17. Life is suffering. This is a common misstatement of the first noble truth Again, there is no such statement from the Buddha. If this was reality, then there would be no escape. When suffering arises in life, it is due to the conditions. When the conditions for suffering are not present, then suffering does not arise.

18. Mantras. Mantras are generally a devotional practice to a Higher Self, to a God or use of sheer repetition of a word to condition the mind to reduce stress or extensive thinking. The Buddha taught direct experience with the breath, body, feelings, states of mind and dharma rather than any mantra as the priority of attention. Mantras can certainly be a useful meditation for calming the mind.

19. Metta is loving kindness. Many Pali translators defined metta as loving kindness. The Pali-English Dictionary of the much respected Pali Text Society in Britain uses the word ‘love’ for metta. Perceptions of the kindness of Buddhist monks may have influenced the modern translation of metta. The dictionary says metta derives from ‘mid’ –to love. Loving Kindness is an inadequate translation. Metta expresses unconditional love, profound friendship and limitless kindness, wide and unbounded. The Buddha spoke to Anuruddha of liberation through love (metta ceto-vimutti) and again in Itivuttaka 27.19-21. See also S.ii.265. Ananda also encouraged meditating on the characteristics of metta to realise liberation.

20. Method and Technique to develop Metta. In the Metta Sutta, the Buddha simply revealed the qualities, attitude and state of being of one deeply established in metta. Love without limits is the mark of a truly realised person. The Buddha only instructed the directing of metta in all directions so that it is unbounded. Metta, that is love, is a transformative and divine force that shares similar features as liberation. Both liberation and love know no limits. The modern methods and techniques to develop metta bear very little relationship to the realisaton of metta as a Diving Abiding. Nevertheless, the application of methods and techniques to develop metta can be very helpful. In his 5th century classical book of the Theravada tradition, the Visuddhimagga (the Path of Purification), the Venerable Acharya Buddhaghosa took some of the statements of the Buddha and used them as phrases to develop metta. Eg. May all beings be free from enmity. May they live happily’.

21. Mindfulness is the most important link in the Eightfold Path. The Buddha has never isolated one link above the others. In the Discourse on the Four Applications of Mindfulness, he said that ‘mindfulness is cultivated to the extent necessary for knowing in order to abide freely and independently in the world.’ There is no instruction in the teachings of the Buddha to be ‘mindful in every moment.’ He could not live up to such an ideal. Nor can anyone else. It is an impossible undertaking. The Buddha was not always mindful of the consequences of his decisions and would change his mind later. To take one aspect of the path and elevate it above others abandons dependent arising. This would give selfhood to mindfulness. In MLD 117, the Buddha stated that right view, right effort and right mindfulness support each other while giving a comprehensive explanation of the mutual support and meanings of each link in the Noble Eightfold Path.

22. Moment to Moment Practice. The Buddha does not adopt such a view. He advocate the application of minfulness to body, feelings, state of mind and dharma. It is a means to realise a timeless liberation . He does not teach concentrating on mindfulness for its own sake. He does not give any kind of selfness to mindfulness. There are no words for moment to moment in any of the Suttas. One develops mindfulness along with six other limbs for awekening, namel inquiry, energy, deep happiness, calmness, meditative concentration and equanimity to reach true knowing of lliberation. (MLD 118).

23. Knowing and Seeings things as they are. Not uttered by the Buddha. A common mistranslation. of yathabhutam-ñana- dassana. This celebrated one line statement of the Buddha literally means “knowing and seeing according to what has become.” Bhuta come from the root word ‘bhu’ to become. It refers to the action of knowing and seeing. There is no mention of things in this statement. This correct translation is a more dynamic and challenging approach than the mistranslation that suggests a fixed view. ‘What has become’ refers to dependent arising.

24. No-Self. The Buddha remained in noble silence when asked whether there was a self or no self. He simply stated that body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, including thoughts, and consciousness were not oneself and did not belong to self. He taught not self as vehicle for liberation from misperception. Anatta literally means ‘not-self’; if the buddha had meant ‘no self’ he would have said ‘na-atta’.

25. Oneness is the ultimate realty. The Buddha did not refute the importance of Oneness. He refers to it in the experience of Brahma Viharas (Divine Abode or Abode of God ). He does not refer to this Abode as ultimate reality since it posits the notion of a self that unites with other. The Buddha refutes All is One and equally refutes All is Many and points to dependent arising. In MLD 117, the Buddha said: Unification of mind equipped with the other seven links of the Eighfold Path is called noble right rconcentation with its supports and requisites.

26. Open to Desire. Desire (tanha), as well as craving and thirsting after, leads to unsatisfactoriness and suffering. The Buddha never endorsed a view about being open to desire. Desire springs from contact, identification with particular feelings that condition the desire and feeds clinging. The view that we can have what we desire without attachment to results compromises the Buddha’s teachings on the unsatisfactoriness of desire. Open to desire sends out a message to Buddhist consumers to be open to their desires provided they follow them through without craving. The temporary peace of mind we experience when we succeed in getting what we want is due to the temporary abeyance of the desire in our mind. Open to Desire waters down the Buddha’s teachings to fit them into Western ideology of going for what we want. It is a common view in contemporary American Buddhism where often the raft to the other shore has become an ocean going liner. The Buddha uses other words for ‘desire’ such as dhamma-canda, zeal for the dharma, when referring to the intention, practices and actions required for awakening and liberation.

27. Passion (raga) is to be eradicated. The Buddha encourages passion such as Dharma rage (Passion for the Dharma). It is not to be confused with the raga for desire. He referred to the giving up of any raga that colours and distorts objects. The word raga means to colour or dye.

28. Paramis (perfections) The Buddha did not teach the 10 Perfections. They are not found anywhere in the Suttas. He refuted the belief that we can achieve a perfection of mind no matter how much cultivate dana (giving), ethics, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, resolution, metta (love, loving kindness) and equanimity. The 10 Perfections are found in the commentaries in the Theravada and Six Perfections are found in the Tibetan tradition. The Buddha taught liberation from the notion of perfection and imperfection.

29. Personal Salvation. Personal salvation matters to those who believe in a self to be saved.

30. Rebirth. There is no word in the teachings of the Buddha that literally translates as rebirth. This word seems to come from the Pali word punnabbhava which literally means ‘rebecoming.’ In the Kalama Sutta, one of the most cherished of all his discourse on inquiry, the Buddha takes a provisional view about rebecoming rather than referring to it as an indubitable fact. There is rebecoming due to being bound to the force of desire.

31. Reincarnation. The Buddha refuted the belief of a soul, self or essence that passes from one life to the next.. Our meditation cannot show anything permanent within to leave the body upon death.

32. Right View. The Pali word for ‘right’ such as “Right View, Right Intention and the remaining six links in the Noble Eightfold Path is Samma. Samma means conducive - conducive towards complete awakening. A conduciive view reveals a depth of understanding that is liberating. Samma does not carry any implication of a moral commandment, of right and wrong. Miccha Magga means an Unconducive Path to follow in life.

33. Samatha (calmness) and vipassana (insight) are separate practices from each other. The Buddha never refers anywhere to samatha and vipassana as techniques. If so, they would be opposed to each other. He taught samatha-vipassana as qualities of experiences and insights essential for understanding the Dharma. He said some people are developed in both calmness and insight; some are developed in calmness; some are developed in insight and some remain undeveloped in both. The Buddha never said one technique is samatha (such as mindfulness of breathing) and another technique (such as body awareness or witnessing thought) is insight meditation or Vipassana. Different Buddhist traditions set one apart from the other.

34. Seeing impermanence is all that matters. The Buddha never took the exploration of impermanence in isolation from the rest of the body of his teachings. On impermanence, he encouraged a fivefold perspective – one sees the arising, the passing away (of events, phenomena, experiences, relationships etc), the gratification, the danger and the way out from the world of impermanence. The experience of impermanence (anicca - literally not permanent) is available as step towards letting go of clinging.

35. Sub atomic particle (kalapas). The Buddha did not teach development of the power of concentration (samadhi) in meditation in order to experience sub-atomic particles. The word ’kalapas’ does not appear anywhere in the suttas. The Buddha did not support such a materialistic view or non materialistic views.

36. Truth is within you. Never stated by the Buddha. He said we preserve truth when we don’t make claims about having it. Truth is neither within, nor within another, nor in between. We can’t find a thing called Truth within. Truth is that which wakes us up (bodhi-sacca), knowing truth ( sacca-nana) It is not a substantial entity that some have and some don’t have.

37. Vipassana as a technique. There is nothing in the teachings of the Buddha to indicate that Vipassana is a technique. The word simply means ‘insight.’ A moment of insight is a moment of vipassana that can arise anywhere at any time. Calmness supports insight and insight supports calmness. Calm and insight point to liberation.

38. True Self. Various senior Buddhist teachers will use in their talks and writings the concept True Self. There is nothing to validate a True Self. Who or what within determines that this is my True Self and this is not my True Self?

39. Vegetarian diet. The Buddha was concerned with what came out of our mouths rather than what went into it. He did not object to the homeless seekers receiving meat to eat, as long as animals were not killed for the them.(MLD 55). In vegetarian India, even today, wanderers, yogis, sadhus and ascetics very, very rarely touch meat. Hindus treat cows in India with holy reverence for their peaceful manner and dairy products. It is unlikely that Hindus offered the Buddha’s homeless Sangha anything with a face to eat – namely animals, birds or fish. The Buddha would need to revise radically his view today about eating of meat. There is cruelty to animals in our massive abattoirs. Livestock are provided with an unhealthy diet. Cows, sheep, pigs and birds consume a huge amount of food, whether locked up in animal factories or occupying valuable land that could provide grain, fruit and vegetables. Millions of Buddhists chant about saving all sentient beings and send out loving kindness to animals, birds and fish but they continue to eat them, often on a daily basis.

40. Visualisation Meditations. The Buddha gave direct practices to see and know through our own experience what has become rather than impose upon experience visual pictures, images or mental archetypes. As with methods for metta, use of mantras, visualation practices can be a very beneficial form of meditation.

41. We create our own reality. The Buddha never made this claim. You see this one-liner attributed to the Buddha on posters and in calendars. It is a bizarre idea. Can the mind create the sky above, the earth, below, nature and countless sentient beings. The belief that we create our own reality is a wild projection. Dependent arising conditions shape reality. The mind cannot create it. The self has substituted God the Creator with Self the Creator . It is another projection.It arises from mistranslation of the first verse in the Dhammapada. The Buddha said that all dharmas are mind made. It means that the mind makes self out of what is perceived. The mind gives sustance, essence, soul or selfness to what is dependent arising.

42. Wise Attention. A simple translation. Pali words are yoniso manasikara. Yoni is mother’s womb. Manas is mind. Kara is action. It is the action of the mind emerging from the depth of our being. Yoni is metaphorically used. Manas is mind. Kara is action. Yoniso-manasikara points to establilshing the mind.

PS. A Buddhist practitioner ordered a hot dog with dressing from the Vendor. He gave the Vendor a $20 bill.
The Vendor gave the monk the hotdog but with no change.
Where is my change?“ asked the monk.
The Vendor replied:
I don’t give change. Change comes from within.


Special thanks to
Patrick Kearney for his advice. www.dharmasalon.net,
Jenny Wilks,
Hans Gruber www.buddha-heute.de and
Asaf Federman. English: www.warwick.ac.uk/go/asaffederman
Hebrew: www.notes.co.il/assaff


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