Category Archives: Readings

Understanding Cause & Effect

 

Bhante Gunaratana

Bhante Gunaratana

“Once we understand that everything we think, say or do is a cause that leads inevitably to some effect, now or in the future, we will naturally want to think, say, and do things that lead to positive results and avoid those thoughts, words, and deeds that lead to negative ones. Recognizing that causes always lead to results helps us accept the consequences of past actions. It also helps us focus our attention on making choices that can lead to a happier future.

“Skillful actions are those that create the causes for happiness, such as actions motivated by loving friendliness and compassion. Any action that comes from a mind not currently filled with greed, hatred, or delusion brings happiness to the doer and to the receiver. Such an action is, therefore, skillful or right.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana

from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness”
p. 27-28

When Fear Arises WITHIN OUR MEDITATION

meditate
Image from WikiMedia

When fear arises within our meditation, we apply an antidote. Recognizing what is happening at each instant as mind, we remain in the present. It is important to remember that patterns don’t have to repeat themselves. Through remaining in the present, we can let go of the past and the future—the headquarters of our fears. We recognize and then we let go, whether coming back to the focal point of our meditation—posture, breath, visualization—or non-conceptual space. Through motivation, honesty, and confidence you can practice with your fears and go beyond them in a way you never thought possible.

Lama Tsony
Read full excerpt

Purifying the Mind

pixshark-com Picture 1
pixshark.com

“Nibbana is not a location or condition somewhere outside of us. Rather, it is within. Nibbana is the total destruction of all defilements. The very moment our greed, hatred and ignorance are destroyed, nibbana arises. The key to overcoming defilements and reaching nibbana is cultivating (or training) the mind. As the Buddha said, “As rain does not get into a well thatched house, so craving does not get into a well trained mind.”

So how should we proceed? First, we must understand what we are trying to accomplish and develop some skill in mindfulness both during meditation and in life. We use this mindfulness to prevent external defilements from entering the mind by carefully guarding the senses. We also use it to prevent latent tendencies that exist as traces within the mind, such as craving, hatred, greed, jealousy and pride, from arising. If, in spite of these efforts, latent tendencies do arise or reach the stage of manifestation in words and deeds, we apply additional mindful efforts to overcome them.

Then, instead of worrying over past unwholesome thoughts, we arouse wholesome thoughts, such as generosity, patience, and loving-friendliness and use effort to strengthen the wholesome thoughts. In addition we use mindfulness to guard the senses against external sensory experiences that might stimulate any unwholesome tendencies. As we have said, mindfulness is in essence vipassana or insight meditation. Only insight meditation can train the mind to watch and discipline itself in order to purify it, eventually destroying all the defilements, including their latent tendencies.”

~ Bhante Gunaratana
pp. 34-35, “Meditation on Perception: Ten Healing Practices to Cultivate Mindfulness”
Wisdom Publications

The Five Wonderful Precepts

thich-nhat-hanh-4

Here is Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh‘s take on the Five Precepts in Buddhism, which expands their definition to include some wonderful nuances. (Thanks to Robin Wilson for passing these on).

The Five Wonderful Precepts

FIRST PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of live, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

SECOND PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

THIRD PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

FOURTH PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I know not to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all affords to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

FIFTH PRECEPT

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

A primer on karma

stonemanCheck out this Tricycle article on the much misunderstood Buddhist concept of karma. It’s an interview with Matthieu Ricard, born in France in 1946, and who trained as a molecular biologist at the  Institute Pasteur before taking up robes as a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972. Note: the article is live to non-members of Tricycle.com only through Sunday, June 2. Some highlights:

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RICARD: At each point in our lives, we are at a crossroads. We are the fruit of our past and we are the architects of our future. When we ask, “Why did this happen to me?” it is because of our limited view. If we throw a stone up in the air and forget about it, when it falls down on our heads, we shouldn’t complain, although we usually do. We have this notion that what happens to us is somehow independent of our own actions. We can ask, why did this happen? but the more important question is, what we are going to do about it?

If you want to know your past, look at your present circumstances. If you want to know your future, look at what is in your mind. If we know that our fate is in our hands, then the quality of our actions becomes a central issue. The whole point of karma is to recognize how our actions determine our future, so that we can begin to act properly. It’s not just a cosmological or philosophical matter. It’s entirely practical. The main point is not to get in trouble again.

THE LAWS OF KARMA

1. Karma is definite: An action will definitely bring its specific results unless it meets an obstacle. A positive action will result in happiness. A negative action will ultimately produce suffering.

2. Karma increases: Just as a small seed gives rise to a towering tree, the seeds of both positive and negative karma increase in potency unless they are obstructed. Positive results can be obstructed by expressions of anger and other negative actions. Negative results can be obstructed through purification.

3. Karma is specific: Karmic results are experienced only by one who created the cause for that experience.

4. Karma is never lost: The karmic seeds do not lose their potency of their own accord. Without purification and the cessation of negative actions, those karmic seeds will never lose their potential. They will continue to have the power to bring us suffering when the proper conditions arise. -Mark Magill

Excerpt: Breathing Life into the Suttas

Except from the article “From Thought to Stillness: Breathing Life Into the Suttas,” by Rodney Smith | TRICYCLE, Winter 2012 |
Read the whole article by becoming a Tricycle online member


By Rodney Smith
| Tricycle Winter 2012 |The constant inquiry among meditators is how to maintain awareness, but the question is being considered from the wrong end of the suffering continuum. The anxiety associated with the continuation of awareness is suffering, and becoming more worried about how we practice does not move us in a wise direction. We can begin to see how our personal struggle to be mindful is misplaced when we observe the sense of self arising within our effort to maintain mindfulness. The harder we try in this, the more forgetful we become. Since the sense of self is the embodiment of the absence of awareness, forgetting to observe is inevitable as we try harder to be aware. The problem of how to be mindful is actually resolved not through strenuous effort but by relaxing, allowing, and observing what is already here. Within the framework of relaxation, the sense of self has a diminishing power center, making space for awareness to be revealed.

If we place an emphasis on “me” entering the here and now, the here and now becomes a project, when actually the “me” is the real project. The “I” state is the unnatural component, but from the sense of self’s twisted logic the moment becomes the problem and needs “my” effort to enter it. This inherent contradiction— of trying to enter something that already is—limits access to the here and now and takes away what is naturally here already. An authentic spiritual practice begins to reverse this perception by abiding with the natural and dismissing the artificial.

If we think of ourselves as outside the moment needing to get in, this is working our practice from the wrong view, intention, and effort. If we want to move from thinking to stillness, we have to relax and see what was there before we created the storybased assumption that we were outside anything. It dawns on us that we are powerless to make freedom happen because our efforts only disconnect us from our intended goal. We exist as a thought believed, and it is not within the power of a thought to control awareness. When this is realized, we stop trying to be mindful and relax into the awareness that existed before thought instead of holding to the mindfulness driven by thought. One is eternal, the other temporal.

We give up the “doing” of mindfulness to fully participate in what mindfulness is attempting to do—that is, to allow a full abiding presence. Mindfulness has a way of both advancing and retracting that cause. It can maintain the observer and the observed and straddle the fence between these two. Mindfulness tries to have it both ways by proclaiming full participation in the moment even as it applies a fail-safe plan to pull out if the experience gets a little frightening. The observer or watcher is the part of our mind that likes to know what it is getting into, the contained and controlled part that maintains an escape route “just in case.” At a certain level of understanding our practice, this is all fine, but we soon tire of holding ourselves in reserve. The observer and the observed must eventually merge into a single abiding presence if there is to be spiritual fulfillment. | Read on (must be a Tricycle.com member)

Links to the Buddha’s teachings on breath-centered meditation

“Getting to Know the Breath” is the ongoing theme for 2012 we’ll be considering in the weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday gatherings of the Meditation Circle of Charleston at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation building in Charleston, W.Va. In past weeks. Thad and I have mentioned some of the core teachings of the Buddha on breath-centered meditation. We are not qualified to teach suttas, but we’re all qualified to absorb and discuss them as they relate to our ongoing lay meditation practice.

To that end, we encourage Circle members and others to take a dip into the Buddha’s direct teachings on meditation instruction in the following suttas (We’re borrowing these links and their descriptions with our thanks from the Washington D.C. Buddhist Studies Group).

An inescapable fact and challenge

Bhavana Society Buddha ~ 2010

In this uncertain political season, full of angst, anger and fear, I have wondered what to remark about the current agitated national scene in America. I will not use a Buddhist blog to share my own particular points of view except to note that when it comes to nations and politics, angst seems the norm. Yet how are we to face bedeviling fears and enormous questions – how shall we run our country? – when we are also consumed with the equally enormous question of how to run our daily lives?

I’ve been on vacation the past week, the first four days spent at the Bhavana Society Buddhist monastery in the eastern mountains of West Virginia. Now, I abide in a friend’s lovely townhouse in Washington, D.C., preparing to head out to the National Mall for Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” (and good luck with that!). So, the personal and the national have been playing out in my travels and in my thoughts. With coffee cup in hand, I cracked open Chapter 15 of Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano’s remarkable book, “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publication) this morning, instead of  lap-topping to my favorite political blog and getting all agitated again.

The good monk serves up much nourishment in the closing pages of a book whose voice and vivid imagery on finding Dhamma in daily life has become a treasured resource for me. The following is a gorgeously written call to attention to wake up out of the gloom of our moody, distracted introspections. Some members of our Meditation Circle purchased this book after reading other excerpts on this blog. I encourage other readers to do likewise for the full course of this American monk’s wise peregrinations and clear-headed expositions of the Buddha’s core teachings:

Excerpt (p. 71) by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano from “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publications).

After enough hard experience we cannot believe that living comes to any wise conclusion by itself, or that suffering will finally be outlasted by patience alone. Among the numberless hours of dreaming and speculating, where is the true time that counts toward wisdom? Cause and effect crash through us every moment, unseen and unheard, perhaps, but making us and remaking us according to the nature of our actions. In considering history – of our own family or of all humanity – we are considering actions, changes, the endless turn of circumstances, the surge and fall of generations. Why should our own generation necessarily surge higher than any other and carry us with it? Whatever the fanfare around us, still we act as individuals, well or badly, and receive the results of those actions. Our own past and all of history teach us the essential sameness of worldly things, show us the prevailing passions of living beings, but do not direct us to liberation from suffering. For that we need the teachings of the Buddha.

We gaze out the window at the dazzling, motionless neighborhood – bright white under a winter blue – and through the near houses are new enough, time seems strangely indefinite, blown away as the snow has been blown away from the branches of the trees. We might also be living in any century, looking up with surprise from any life, any domestic moment, into that amazing emptiness of sky. Always it is something like this when we sit still enough and watch with mindfulness. We sense the vastness of the season, wherein we are always, it seems, beginning again to grapple with birth and death, beginning and hesitating and faltering for lack of knowledge or lack of faith.

Whether we yearn for the charming past or the intriguing future, still those white and blue depths of winter surround us – emblematic of the great dukkha that is continually regenerated out of ignorance by our actions. While cause and effect inexorably race on we have no grounds for esteeming ourselves necessarily superior or inferior, in moral safety or religious confidence, to past generations or our own past lives. We make our guesses, restrain or obey our impulses, and run along through the brief warmth of our years, hoping to attain at last to peace and contentment; but history, read out of books or sensed now in the belongings of our family, tells only of sameness beneath the flickering of incidents – the timeless moral questions and groping for certainty. Continue reading An inescapable fact and challenge

“A Pilgrimage in Autumn”

autumn cul-de-sac | october 2010

NOTE: An earlier posting of this excerpt contained several misspellings. This one fixes them!

Regular readers of this occasional blog will know of my current infatuation with the book “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” (Wisdom Publications) by Bhikku Nyanasobhano, excerpted once before here. It may be that this American Buddhist monk’s approach to Buddhist Dhamma accords with my own stumblebum Buddhist path – seeking out the actuality and truth of the Buddha’s teaching in the evidence of daily life, often through the filter of the senses on long peregrinations through the back woods. Yet it is also one of the most beautifully written books you’ll hope to find by an American-born Buddhist, steeped in the teachings of the Buddha and capable of communicating them in vivid, accessible language culled from common experience.

Since we here in West Virginia are now experiencing one of the most glorious Indian summers in many a year, it came as both serendipity and blessing to come to Chapter 13 in the Bhikku’s book this morning, titled “A Pilgrimage in Autumn.” An excerpt follows. But the chapter and book is so rich I encourage those of like-minded sensibilities to buy it for the full flavor of his strolling investigations of Dhamma in daily life.

Or if you attend the weekly 6 p.m. Tuesday gatherings of the Meditation Circle of Charleston, ask me for my copy once I finish or Thad’s when he’s done since he bought the book after I posted the last excerpt. And yes, I realize it’s a form of attachment to be infatuated with a Buddhist book – what’s a stumblebum Buddhist to do but stumble onward, carting along all his contradictions? This chapter also contains a skillful explication of one of the Buddha’s most difficult teachings, that of “no self.” ~ Douglas I.

READINGS | From “Longing For Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” by Bhikku Nyanasobhano

… OUT HERE IN THE COUNTRY the world looks different – not necessarily more beautiful or cheerful, but more dignified, at least, more graceful and significant. We had been intending to enjoy some of that autumn beauty, but if we cannot we may as well take meaning instead – or not even meaning if we think of it as chunks of information or succinct conclusions, but perhaps the intuition of splendor that the land inspires in us. For we feel that the land is old, ancient with respect to us and our ancestors. Empty woods all around, windy solitude, antiquity, huge oaks in the distance – these shrink us almost to nothing, yet impart something of richness and freedom. We hurry on through our trivial moment with the intention (frail as it is) of glimpsing certainty in old things, great things not made by man.

The noise, speed, and brilliance of what is called society do not, it seems, satisfactorily answer our longing for certainty; at any rate, from the stimulation of our social life we have turned aside for a while, to get far away from even from ourselves so that we might look around unimpeded and contemplate whatever is noble and true. Out here we walk through the wind that streams and lags and streams again, exploring the cold, vital, primitive land until we feel somewhat less bound to our old preoccupations, more concerned with wind, creeks, and brambly meadows. A day of sunshine and stillness would have given us more pleasure, but by now we are not really sorry about it, for the gray weather smooths a fine wonder over everything, suggesting greater truths than we might have suspected in more conventional beauty. Continue reading “A Pilgrimage in Autumn”

A few words on karma

“Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life,” is one of the richest books I’ve ever read on weaving Buddhist teachings into the way we live our daily lives. The book interleaves clear expositions of basic Buddhist teachings with seemingly mundane walks in Nature. The author – Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano – teases out from the cycles of the seasons and from the growth, blossoming and decay of all things what the Buddha was talking about. Below is his concise and direct exposition of kamma (the Pali pronunciation of the more familiar Sanskrit word ‘karma’). This work, by the way, is the book for Buddhist sympathizers who find their deepest connection to spirituaity in the back woods and blooming things of the world:

“Kamma, we should always remember, is intentional action; so when we are in doubt about the morality of some action we are considering, or when we cannot find a rule that exactly covers the case, or when we have done something that has resulted in harm to others, it is helpful to examine our motives. Unintended actions are not kamma. No future suffering, no moral degradation, comes to us because of harm we have not meant to happen and have not tried to bring about.  We are only responsible for what we directly intend and do. As long as we act with sincere good will according to virtuous principles we are acting correctly. Since the world is a snowstorm of contradictory conditions flying this way and that, and since other beings are constantly doing actions themselves and experiencing the results of actions, we can never be certain that misfortunes will not occur for someone.

When, however, we become aware that on some occasion we have indeed intended and acted badly, violating a precept or otherwise behaving in an ignoble way, we should face up to the misdeed without evasion, recognize our mistake, and distinctly resolve not to behave in that way again. Then we should go on about our business without unduly steeping ourselves in regret, which benefits no one. There is, when we look around us, always much good to be done, even in small, daily matters of courtesy and friendliness, and this sort of action, gladly undertaken, refreshes and elevates the mind.

Our duty is always to consider carefully and act as mindfully and honorably as we can. But we cannot stop here, because if we wish our deeds to become purer and more beneficial to ourselves and others we must observe more, learn more, contemplate more. The better we behave, the easier it will be for us to understand the Dhamma; the better we understand the Dhamma, the more we wil be inspired to cultivate virtue. The noble person, the person of outstanding character, is the result of countless actions that he or she has done, countless efforts made according to noble standards. We ought not to think that we can govern all our actions with sheer improvisation, trusting to our supposed natural goodness. As long as desire and aversion burn and confusion and delusion gust across the mind we are liable to err and therefore should anchor ourselves to what is firm, to the Dhamma which the Buddha taught for our welfare. Continue reading A few words on karma

Faith in Awakening

Bhavana Society Temple Buddha | May 2010 | High View, W.Va. |

Thad Settle found this article from a May 2010 edition of Tricycle stimulating and thought-provoking.

Faith in Awakening

Are faith and empiricism compatible? For Thanissaro Bhikkhu, they are inseparable components of an authentic Buddhist practice.


By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

THE BUDDHA NEVER PLACED unconditional demands on anyone’s faith. For people from a culture where the dominant religions do make such demands, this is one of Buddhism’s most attractive features. It’s especially appealing to those who—in reaction to the demands of organized religion—embrace the view of scientific empiricism that nothing deserves our trust unless it can be measured against physical data. In this light, the Buddha’s famous instructions to the Kalamas are often read as an invitation to believe, or not, whatever we like.

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 mental qualities are skillful; these mental qualities are blameless; these mental qualities are praised by the wise; these mental qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness”—then you should enter and remain in them. (Anguttara Nikaya 3.65)

Pointing to this passage, many modern writers have gone so far as to say that faith has no place in the Buddhist tradition, that the proper Buddhist attitude is one of skepticism. But even though the Buddha recommends tolerance and a healthy skepticism toward matters of faith, he also notes a conditional imperative: if you sincerely want to put an end to suffering (that’s the condition) you should take certain things on faith, as working hypotheses, and then test them by following his path of practice. The advice to the Kalamas, in fact, contains the crucial caveat that you must take into account what wise people value.

This caveat gives balance to the Buddha’s advice: just as you shouldn’t give unreserved trust to outside authority, you can’t give unreserved trust to your own logic and feelings if they go against experience and the genuine wisdom of others. As other early discourses make clear, wise people can be recognized by their words and behavior as measured against standards set by the Buddha and his awakened disciples. The proper attitude toward those who meet these standards is faith:

For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher’s message and lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this: “The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I.” (Majjhima Nikaya 70)

Repeatedly the Buddha stated that faith in a teacher is what leads you to learn from that teacher. Faith in the Buddha’s own awakening is a requisite strength for anyone else who wants to attain awakening. As it fosters persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, this faith can take you all the way to the deathless … | Read On

“Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

HERE IS THE READING SELECTION for the Dec. 15 meeting of the Meditation Circle of Charleston, an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana, which can be read in its entirety for free online or for purchase through Wisdom or Amazon. See this post for more on the Circle’s ongoing discussion in 2010 on the basics of a meditation practice in the Buddhist style of insight or vipassana meditation.

Excerpt from Chapter 1, “Meditation: Why Bother?” from “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (Wisdom Publications)

Meditation is not easy. It takes time and it takes energy. It also takes grit, determination and discipline. It requires a host of personal qualities which we normally regard as unpleasant and which we like to avoid whenever possible. We can sum it all up in the American word ‘gumption’. Meditation takes ‘gumption’. It is certainly a great deal easier just to kick back and watch television. So why bother? Why waste all that time and energy when you could be out enjoying yourself? Why bother? Simple. Because you are human. And just because of the simple fact that you are human, you find yourself heir to an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life which simply will not go away. You can suppress it from your awareness for a time. You can distract yourself for hours on end, but it always comes back — usually when you least expect it. All of a sudden, seemingly out of the blue, you sit up, take stock, and realize your actual situation in life.

There you are, and you suddenly realize that you are spending your whole life just barely getting by. You keep up a good front. You manage to make ends meet somehow and look OK from the outside. But those periods of desperation, those times when you feel everything caving in on you, you keep those to yourself. You are a mess. And you know it. But you hide it beautifully. Meanwhile, way down under all that you just know there has got be some other way to live, some better way to look at the world, some way to touch life more fully. You click into it by chance now and then. You get a good job. You fall in love. You win the game. and for a while, things are different. Life takes on a richness and clarity that makes all the bad times and humdrum fade away. The whole texture of your experience changes and you say to yourself, “OK, now I’ve made it; now I will be happy”. But then that fades, too, like smoke in the wind. You are left with just a memory. That and a vague awareness that something is wrong.

But there is really another whole realm of depth and sensitivity available in life, somehow, you are just not seeing it. You wind up feeling cut off. You feel insulated from the sweetness of experience by some sort of sensory cotton. You are not really touching life. You are not making it again. And then even that vague awareness fades away, and you are back to the same old reality. The world looks like the usual foul place, which is boring at best. It is an emotional roller coaster, and you spend a lot of your time down at the bottom of the ramp, yearning for the heights.

Continue reading “Meditation is not easy…” | Reading Selection for Dec. 15 Meditation Circle gathering

EXCERPT: ‘Noble Standards’ by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano

This excerpt from “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano explores the Buddha’s teachings on the significance of wholesome, ethical behavior and how this paves the way for meditation practice and spiritual maturity. Without a basic grounding in morality or sila, all the devotional, meditative practices in the world may bear scant fruit. Note the end of the piece, which features a particularly succint explanation of the Buddhist view of kamma (or karma):

When we think of a holy person, an arahant, one who has attained full liberation, who is entirely free from the defilements of greed, hatred and delusion, we do not imagine a specific physical appearance but rather a pattern of noble actions, a manifestation of poise, of serenity, of inspiring dignity. We imagine a way of speaking, standing or sitting. Those inner qualities of saintliness must, to be meaningful to us, show themselves in behavior. It is behavior — observable conduct — which defines and exemplifies the true character of a person.

While we certainly have ideas, clear or vague, of what constitutes noble behavior, we are perhaps less sure of how that behavior is brought into being, how a person might actually come to conduct himself in a saintly fashion, distinct from the usual human course. Is it the case that someone first attains liberation and then begins to behave in an especially virtuous way? Is moral purity the incidental product of an abstract mental discipline? Might we simply apply ourselves to some meditative practice with sufficient energy, setting aside our moral deficiencies, until wisdom shall arise and by itself purify our conduct?

Such ideas are tempting, but wrong. There is no postponing good moral conduct, for it is just such conduct, even in tentative form, which makes possible the development of mental concentration and thence of insight or wisdom. Good moral conduct means, at its most basic, honorable restraint of bodily and verbal actions — the healthy, judicious self-discipline which must be practiced along with any kind of meditative exploration of reality. Furthermore,  morality or virtue remains incomplete until it is extended to mental conduct as well. Because all this is difficult, because it goes against selfish interest, it requires specific attention and effort and a clear understanding of what actions lead to what results.

The Buddha taught that bodily conduct, verbal conduct, and mental conduct are each of two kinds — that which should be cultivated and that which should not be cultivated. The distinction can be seen in the results of each. Certain kinds of conduct naturally result in benefit, happiness and well-being, and other kinds naturally result in pain and misery. It then should behoove a serious-minded person to learn the difference between the two — which may easily be obscured by passion and delusion — and to strive for honor in action as well as in belief. Continue reading EXCERPT: ‘Noble Standards’ by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano

READINGS: ‘Is my meditation correct? When shall I ever make progress?

In “READINGS,” we pass on Buddhist talks and texts we’ve come upon that helped or inspired us.

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

BUDDHA-NATURE
by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Is my meditation correct? When shall I ever make progress? Never shall I attain the level of my spiritual Master. Juggled between hope and doubt, our mind is never at peace.

According to our mood, one day we will practice intensely, and the next day, not at all. We are attached to the agreeable experiences which emerge from the state of mental calm, and we wish to abandon meditation when we fail to slow down the flow of thoughts. That is not the right way to practice.

Whatever the state of our thoughts may be, we must apply ourselves steadfastly to regular practice, day after day; observing the movement of our thoughts and tracing them back to their source. We should not count on being immediately capable of maintaining the flow of our concentration day and night.

When we begin to meditate on the nature of mind, it is preferable to make short sessions of meditation, several times per day. With perseverance, we will progressively realize the nature of our mind, and that realization will become more stable. At this stage, thoughts will have lost their power to disturb and subdue us.

Emptiness, the ultimate nature of Dharmakaya, the Absolute Body, is not a simple nothingness. It possesses intrinsically the faculty of knowing all phenomena. This faculty is the luminous or cognitive aspect of the Dharmakaya, whose expression is spontaneous. The Dharmakaya is not the product of causes and conditions; it is the original nature of mind.

Recognition of this primordial nature resembles the rising of the sun of wisdom in the night of ignorance: the darkness is instantly dispelled. The clarity of the Dharmakaya does not wax and wane like the moon; it is like the immutable light which shines at the centre of the sun.

Whenever clouds gather, the nature of the sky is not corrupted, and when they disperse, it is not ameliorated. The sky does not become less or more vast. It does not change. It is the same with the nature of mind: it is not spoiled by the arrival of thoughts; nor improved by their disappearance. The nature of the mind is emptiness; its expression is clarity. These two aspects are essentially one’s simple images designed to indicate the diverse modalities of the mind. It would be useless to attach oneself in turn to the notion of emptiness, and then to that of clarity, as if they were independent entities. The ultimate nature of mind is beyond all concepts, all definition and all fragmentation…

Read the rest of this piece here (along with a pitch or two for Tibetan incense)

Quotes

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“Whenever we get angry we should realize that the strength we feel is not the strength of the charioteer. It is the strength of the runaway horse. We should immediately try to put the charioteer back in control. If we can do this, we are masters. If we cannot, we are slaves.

~ Ananda Pereira from “Escape to Reality: Buddhist Essays,” Wheel Publication No. 45/36

“The wisdom that shatters craving and release the mind from suffering is not some esoteric, fortuitous inspiration but the gradual, built-up, practical understanding of the experience that flies through the senses. Liberation is obtainable – so taught the Buddha. There is a means, a path available to all who will exert themselves properly. We have head of such a thing, have heard that it lasted down through the riotous, forgetful centuries and survives even now, powerful and free.

~ from “Longing for Certainty: Reflections on the Buddhist Life” by Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano. See longer excerpt here

Even if, bright as a flash of lightning,
Death were to strike you today,
Be prepared to die without sorrow
Or regret, giving up attachment to
What you are leaving behind.
Without ever ceasing to recognize
The authentic view of the real,
Leave this life like the eagle
That soars into the blue sky.

~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991). See related post: ‘Is My Meditation Correct?”

“AS WE WILLING ENTER each place of fear, each place of deficiency and insecurity in ourselves, we will discover that its walls are made of untruths, of old images of ourselves, of ancient fears, of false ideas of what is pure and what is not. ~ Jack Kornfield

“IT IS MY EXPERIENCE that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up…release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast true nature.” ~ Joanna Macy from “World as Lover, World as Self

“MANY YEARS AGO IN THAILAND the local villages surrounding our monastery held a party. The noise from the loudspeakers was so loud that it seemed to destroy the peace of our monastery. So we complained to our teacher, Ajahn Chah, that the noise was disturbing our meditation. The great master replied, ‘It is not the noise that disturbs you, it is you who disturbs the noise!’ ~ Ajahn Brahm, from “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook” (Wisdom, 2005) Continue reading Quotes