Category Archives: Readings

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

Suggest new quotes in the ‘Comments’ section above.

“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