Suffering and Buddhism
While Howell touches on possible integrations of genetic science, suffering, and aspects of Christian Womanist, process, and liberationist theologies, Dr. Paul O. Ingram of Pacific Lutheran University presents the Buddhist tradition's treatment of the problem of suffering. "Reflection about how Buddhist tradition has conceived the 'problem of evil'" as it relates to science, suffering, and genetics is problematic, Ingram says. "Buddhists have been exploring the relationship between the Buddhist doctrines of interdependence and impermanence with contemporary physics and biological evolutionary paradigms for at least fifty years. Yet Buddhists have not, to my knowledge, explicitly connected analysis of the experience of suffering with the science of genetics." And, secondly, Ingram says, "the 'problem of evil' is not a Buddhist problem." Rather, Ingram says, the question of "how one can account for the existence of evil and suffering" rises from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic characterization of God as good, just, loving, and all-powerful.
"Buddhism indeed focuses on the suffering undergone by all sentient beings - not just human beings," Ingram says, but "evil in a world created by a just, good and loving, all-powerful deity, as well as the problem of undeserved suffering of the righteous and the 'undeserved prosperity' of the unrighteous have never been structural elements in Buddhist explanations for the nature and cause of universal suffering."
To understand Buddhist treatment of suffering, one must be acquainted with four "interdependent aspects of the Buddhist world view - apart from which there is no Buddhism" - the doctrines of impermanence, non-self, and interdependent co-origination, and the Law of Karma. "The first three doctrines characterize the structural character of all things and events at every moment of space time," Ingram notes, "while the Law of Karma points to how human beings cause suffering both to themselves and other sentient beings. These elements of the Buddhist world view are so interdependent that each involves the other - like spokes of a wheel - so that each one needs to be understood in light of the other three."
The doctrine of impermanence and the Law of Karma.
"[T]he Buddha taught that all existence is duhkah, usually translated as 'suffering' in Western languages," Ingram says. "But more than simple suffering is involved in this teaching . . . all existence involves suffering, or better, 'unsatisfactoriness,' because all existence is characterized by change and impermanence. Literally, everything and event at every moment of space-time - past, present, and future - has existed, now exists, or will exist as processes of change and becoming, because all things and events are processes of change and becoming. Consequently, life as such is duhkha, 'unsatisfactory' 'suffering,' physically, mentally, morally." When "we become aware that our own lives mirror the universality of impermanence, that change and becoming are ingredient in all things, that there is no permanence anywhere; when we experience our own mortality and feel the resulting anxiety about our lack of permanence, we have an understanding of what the Buddha was driving at in the first noble truth."
"Seeing permanence of any kind forces us to live out of accord with reality, 'the way things really are,'" Ingram says. And as "Buddhists understand the Law of Karma, living out of accord with reality causes suffering in the numerous forms suffering can take individually and collectively."
The doctrines of non-self and interdependent co-origination.
"If there exist only process and becoming, but no permanent 'things' that process and 'become,' who or what experiences 'suffering?'" Ingram asks. "Or put another way, if there is no 'soul,' who suffers?"
"Hinduism, some forms of classical Greek philosophy, and traditional Christian teaching," Ingram says, suggest "the existence of a permanent soul-entity remaining self-identical through time to explain continuity, "the paradoxical experience that we are the same person through the changing moments of our lives even as we experience that we are not the same person through the moments of our lives." Buddhism, however, "rejects any and all notions of permanence, including the notion of unchanging self or soul entities," Ingram says. "We are not permanent souls or selves; we are impermanent non-selves."
"Non-self," however, does not mean "non-existence." Rather, Ingram says, "we either exist or non-exist as a continuing series of interdependently causal relationships." According to the doctrine of interdependent co-origination, "things, events, and us become in interdependent relation with everything in this universe at every moment of space time . . . we are as impermanent as the systems of relationships that constitute us." Stated differently, Ingram says, "we are not permanent soul entities that have interdependent relationships and experiences. We are those relationships and experiences as we undergo them. We are not soul-entities that suffer, we are our suffering" as we experience suffering.
Nirvana, enlightenment, and awakened compassion.
Through meditation the Buddhist experiences "nirvana," "awakening," "enlightenment," or "wisdom" - an "apprehension of the universal interdependence and interrelatedness of all sentient beings as these processes coalesce in our own lives. This wisdom "Generates 'compassion' or karuna - experiencing the suffering of all sentient beings - not just human beings - as our own suffering, which is exactly what it is in an interdependent universe." For the Buddhist, Ingram says, "no one is free from suffering unless all sentient beings are free from suffering." Thus, "energized by awakened compassion, the awakened ones . . . are moved to work in the world to relieve all beings from suffering."
The Buddhist way of addressing suffering - "social engagement," or "social activism," as it is more familiarly called by American Christians - is grounded in the practice of non-violence and the practice of meditation. Because "individual greed, hatred, and delusion are central problems from which all need deliverance," Ingram says, quoting Thich Nhat Hahn, "'social work entails inner work.'" And it is meditation, that practice in which Buddhist social engagement is grounded, that opens us "to the experience of interdependence [of] all things and events" and "engenders compassionate action."
"However," Ingram writes, "while Buddhist have always been socially engaged with the forces that engender suffering, focus on 'systemic' suffering has not generally been a central point of Buddhist thought and practice until its contemporary dialogue" with Christian liberation theology's emphasis on "issues of structural suffering" - institutionalized causes of economic, gender, social, political, and environmental oppressions, as well as racism and war. Systemic suffering, Ingram says, the "suffering all persons experience but which bears little, if any, relation to personal choice or an individual's clinging to permanence in an impermanent universe," is "the primary form 'the problem of suffering' seems to be assuming in contemporary Buddhist theory and practice."
Two particular issues - and "problems" for the Buddhist treatment of suffering - are human rights and violent social activism. "[T]hrough Buddhist eyes, the Western struggle for human rights seems to be a disguised form of clinging to permanent existence as in an impermanent universe," Ingram says. "From this perspective the struggle for human rights can only engender more suffering for all sentient beings. "Nevertheless, according to Ingram, "Buddhists realize the importance of human rights issues as issues of suffering," and thus "Buddhist debate on the nature of human rights still continues."
"Related to the issues of human rights is non-violent resistance against economic and political oppression," Ingram adds. "Since the heart of Buddhist social engagement is the practice of non-violence that grows out of the sense that all things and events are interdependent, Buddhists are in principle opposed to any form of violent social activism in the struggle for justice and release from communal suffering. The general Buddhist principle at work here," Ingram says, "is that violence only creates more violence in an interdependent universe. For this reason, until recent times, Buddhists have not been led to be socially active in struggle against unjust political systems, institutionalized forms of economic exploitation, and other forms of international violence. That is, classical Buddhist teaching and practice has tended to focus on individual suffering, but has not focused attention on how suffering becomes institutionalized in social systems."
However, in "confronting systemic suffering," Ingram says, "Buddhists are now facing this question: in a universe in which life must eat life to survive, is non-violence always the most ethical response to systemic suffering?" Or are there times in which the practice of non-violence "might itself engender more systemic suffering?"
Monotheistic theology faces "the problem of evil" and the related "problem of suffering" - the task of defending the Christian, Judaic, or Islamic good, just, all-powerful and loving god against accusations of unjust suffering and evil in the world. Buddhist teaching, however, grounded in the classical Buddhist doctrines of impermanence, non-self, interdependent co-origination and the Law of Karma, faces a different challenge. Buddhist teaching explains the presence of suffering as a result of individuals attempting to cling to permanence in a fleeting universe. The difficulty for Buddhism, however, lies in how to address, from a worldview grounded in non-violence, the suffering that results from oppression institutionalized in social systems.
According to Ingram, "the issue of suffering is not approached anywhere in Buddhist thought as a 'problem of evil,' since, given the non-theistic character [of] the Buddhist world view, the problem of theodicy cannot even occur. Furthermore, Buddhist reflection on unmerited systemic suffering has occurred only within the last thirty years, mostly inspired by Buddhist dialogue with Christianity." Ingram concludes, "All that can be said for certain in this regard is that Buddhist thought and practice on this issue [are] still in process."
Understanding and Cooperation
By Ven.Dr. Sheng Yen, D.Litt.
Dharma Drum Mountain International of Taiwan
1. Interreligious Respect
During the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, there was once a layman who, originally a devotee of another Indian religion, converted to Buddhism after meeting the Buddha. This layman was uncertain whether or not he could still make offerings to his original teacher. When he learned of the man's confusion, the Buddha told the man he could continue to make offerings to his original teacher just as before. In fact, in the Agama Sutras and Monastic Code preached by the Buddha, the Buddha frequently praises the merit of making offerings not only to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, but also to other religious practitioners such as ascetics and Brahmins. So respecting other religions is a basic criterion for a Buddhist devotee. Therefore, Buddhists will not cause conflicts with followers of other religions, and will always get along with them peacefully, like good neighbors. This is especially true in the Chinese cultural sphere. Although at times in Chinese history arguments have erupted between Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists, and there have even been large-scale persecutions of Buddhists, these incidents were all instigated by a small number of politically-connected Confucians and Taoists who used their influence at court to encourage misguided, anti-Buddhist policies.
However, relations between ordinary folks of different religions have actually been very cordial. For instance, up to the time when I escaped from mainland China in the1940s, itinerant Buddhist monks could seek lodging in Taoist temples, and itinerant Taoist clerics could pass the night in Buddhist monasteries -they respected one another's faith and method of spiritual practice. Chinese maintain that "all paths lead to the same destination." So any religious practitioner who does not go against the basic moral principles of love, peace, and the pursuit of true happiness is worthy of approval regardless of his method of practice. Hence the Chinese saying that "Buddhist monks and Taoist clerics all belong to the same family."
China has a plurality of ethnic groups and a great diversity of religions. At one time in history, the Confucians, due to their self-centeredness and superiority complex, viewed non-Han races as uncivilized barbarians. However, through mutual adaptation and interaction with one another over a long period of time, the Han eventually came to discover that other cultures were also very admirable: not only did these other cultures have much in common with Han culture, but they actually had merits which Han culture lacked. Therefore, in the areas inhabited by Chinese there have been neither religious wars nor implacable enmity between ethnic groups .
Chinese Mahayana Buddhists believe that the good teachings in all religions are the elementary prerequisites for attaining Buddhahood, and that the prophets of all religions are manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. They have manifested themselves in these various personas only to adapt to different cultures and living environments, so that they may use the most appropriate means to deliver sentient beings. Hence in the 12th century, the Confucian scholar Lu Jiuyuan (1139-1193), influenced by Buddhism, said that "When a sage appears in the East, he has the same mind and realizes the same principle; when a sage appears in the West, he has the same mind and realizes the same principle." This means that all prophets, from whatever geographical area and of whatever religion, have more or less the same love and realize roughly the same truth.
If we use this principle to view all religions, we will respect all religions. While it is perfectly natural for devotees of any particular religion to claim that their own religion is the best, we must also acknowledge and respect the fact that our neighbors and relatives also have the same right to claim their religion is the best. Once on an airplane I was sitting right next to a Christian missionary, who was piously reading the Bible and praying. Seeing that I had nothing to do, he gave me a Bible and showed me how to read it. I praised his good intentions and enthusiasm, and agreed with his statement that Christianity is the only religion through which one can attain salvation. He immediately asked me, "If this is the case, why are you a Buddhist monk? Isn't that a pity?" I said, "I'm sorry, but for me, Buddhism is most suitable. So I would say that Buddhism is the best religion."
II. Interreligious Understanding
As shown in the incident I just mentioned, it is necessary to respect one another before we can understand one another. I accepted the missionary's Bible, and in return gave him a Buddhist book. From his expression I could see how much he hoped that I would diligently read the Bible, just as I hoped he would look through the book about Buddhism.
In Taiwan and various parts of the world, I frequently go to the educational institutions and churches of other religions, sometimes to lecture on Buddhist studies, sometimes to participate in symposiums, and sometimes to attend religious ceremonies. I have quite a few friends from other religions. Other religions invite me to discuss Buddhism, and we also invite missionaries and scholars of other religions to our Buddhist schools and institutes to introduce their religions. And representatives from the major religions are always happy to attend religious conferences sponsored by Buddhists.
From what I know, the first people to introduce Buddhism to the West were not for the most part Buddhists but rather Christian missionaries who had gone to the Orient to evangelize.
Buddhism has been in China now for 2,000 years. When it was first introduced to China, it tried to adapt to indigenous Chinese culture as much as possible, even using Taoist and Confucian terminology and concepts to explain parts of its doctrines. This then contributed to the arising of Buddhist schools with distinctly Chinese characteristics such as the Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land, and Chan schools. In other words, Buddhism in China first learned and absorbed elements from traditional Chinese culture, then evolved into new schools distinct from Indian Buddhist schools. Even traditional Chinese Confucians learned and incorporated Buddhist thought, which resulted in the rise of Neo-Confucianism in the Song and Ming dynasties. Chinese Taoists, in a similar manner, transformed and incorporated many Buddhist scriptures into the Taoist Canon, thereby enriching Taoist culture. In China, Buddhist monks from the generation before mine were required to be well versed in not only the Buddhist Canon, but also Confucian and Taoist thought; otherwise, it would have been difficult for them to propagate Buddhist teachings. In our age, we should open our minds even more, and learn about the various world religions, so as not to find ourselves in self-imposed isolation with narrow horizons, like a frog gazing up at the sky from the bottom of a well.
If we turn back to discuss Indian religions, we can see that they, too, have contributed to one another's growth through mutual influence and stimulation. In fact, much of the content of Buddhism was incorporated from ancient Indian religions. In the Buddha's time, different religious sects and schools filled India, some ancient, and some newly-established. Siddhartha Gautama himself humbly learned from many teachers of various spiritual schools. After becoming a Buddha, though he developed distinctly Buddhist views, and discarded many religious views and beliefs not in conformity with Buddhism, Buddhism is still a product of Indian religious culture. Hence, in turn, in the 8th century the great Hindu philosopher Shankara (700-750) consulted Buddhist Madhyamika philosophy and thereby created Vedantic philosophy.
Buddhism stresses an ethic based on cause and effect-as you sow, so shall you reap-whereas Christianity seems to focus almost solely on the believer's salvation through faith, without relating it to his ethical behavior. Actually, according to the contemporary philosopher John Hick, if one looks at the parables of the worthy and unworthy servants and of the sheep and the goats in the Gospel of Mathew, chapter twenty-five, one can see that the teachings of Jesus Christ actually have a very strong ethical and practical character: that is, one day we will inevitably reap the consequences of what we do in our daily lives now. For this reason the Apostle Paul, in chapter six, verse seven of his letter to the Galatians "whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap." In addition, Hick said that "in our own time Catholic and Reformed ...... Christians have come, at least in a significant minority, to see an authentic response to God as requiring a dedication, individually, nationally and globally, to social justice and the preservation of endangered Mother Earth." Seen from this angle, the views of Christianity are not that far from those of Buddhism and other religions.
Let us now look at the God of Islam. In the Qur'an, Allah has ninety-nine different names, including the Protector, the Forgiver, the Bestower, the Forbearing One, the All-Forgiving, the Source of All Goodness, the Protecting Friend, the Loving One, the Lord, the Pardoner, the Compassionate, and the Guide to the Right Path. From this we can see that Allah is a God who loves all humanity, as stressed in the Qur'an, sura two, verse sixty-two, "whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord." In his book The Fifth Dimension Hick said that, when the Muslims came to India, there were some who argued that Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists were also "People of the Book." "The Book" refers to the eternal word of God that is expressed to his people in different human situations through different prophets in different revealed scriptures. Even though many mainstream and fundamentalist Muslims believe that many nonMuslims are missing their opportunity to enter Paradise, the message spread by Islam is that the possibility of entering Paradise is good news for all, not just for Muslims. The Islamic mystics, the Sufis, are especially able to believe that followers of other faiths may also receive God's mercy.
Naturally, from a standpoint of mutual respect and appreciation, religions must seek greater understanding of one another, yet there is no need to distort each other's beliefs in our search for common ground. That would not only cause great pain and trouble, but also lead to three possible outcomes: 1. twisting other religions to make them like one's own; 2. denying the position of one's own religion to comply with other religions; or 3. blending different religions together to establish a new one. None of these scenarios are healthy. Thus someone once asked His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, "If you believe that all religions are good, should we establish a syncretic religion?" He replied, "No, there are already enough religions in the world." What he meant was that, since ancient times, humanity's religions have always been diverse. Each has its own beauty. Each has its own virtue. Each has its own truth. There is no need to blend them. It might be good to seek common ground while preserving differences. For instance: Buddhism advocates the theory of conditioned arising and is non-theistic. It can respect and understand theistic religions and does not need to deny its own position in order to be on friendly terms with other faiths.
III. Interreligious Cooperation
Cooperation among religions does not mean leaders of various religions coming together to discuss doctrine to find out who is superior or inferior, higher or lower, greater or lesser, better or worse. This will only lead to conflict, deepen disagreement, increase enmity, and create opposition. If we can follow the principle of mutual respect, then we can all interact peacefully. Especially in our religiously pluralistic modem age, one has only to leave one's country, one's ethnic group, or even one's home, to come into contact with followers of different religions. In an open society, one may find several different faiths even within a family. We must respect, even support, each other's choices with an attitude of appreciation, and should never criticize other faiths based on our own subjective standpoint. We should cooperate to create a harmonious, peaceful, happy and warm community in which to live.
Today, and especially in the world of the future, due to the ever-increasing quantity and accessibility of information, the convenience of transportation, the rapid progress of technology, and the ever-changing nature of contemporary society, people separated by thousands of miles can talk as though they sat face to face. For this reason, those who would like a single faith to take over the niches of all other faiths are faced with stronger and stronger opposing influences. Unless we would isolate ourselves from the reality of the greater world, we must help one another and cooperate in sharing the various resources needed for life.
We religious believers all share a common way of thinking. We all believe that the object of our belief, be it called Jehovah, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, God, the Lord, Allah, Shiva, Vishnu, the Bodhisattvas, or the Buddha, is possessed of love, compassion, awe-inspiring presence, and great divine power; thus we believers are able to gain peace, protection, and salvation. Moreover, we also believe we must follow and practice the teachings and admonishments of our sacred scriptures, holy injunctions and revelations to help all beings also gain peace, protection, and salvation. In this way, we share the great love and compassion of God, the Bodhisattvas, and the Buddha with all people. Yet this is not limited to spreading the faith; what is more important is maintaining the safety of humanity and the peace of people's minds and raising the quality of society and people's characters. A livable environment for all requires that all work collectively for its improvement.
All the living and non-living beings on this planet are integral parts of the community of all life, how much more so the believers of various religions who are human beings. Different interpretations of sacred texts, holy injunctions and revelations have led to the differences between religions, however, if one can experience the non-personal and indivisible Ultimate Reality, he would know that in this Reality, there is no distinction between self and other, inner and outer, superior and inferior, or high and low. Yet this reality is many-sided.
Looking at the life of Gandhi, we see that he was influenced by a Jain master named Raychandbhai to accept that many different views, including religious views, may all be reasonable and valid. Thus he agreed that "religions are different roads converging on the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe they are all God given and I believe they were necessary to the people to whom they were revealed."
This is to say that the various religions have only one goal, which is Ultimate Reality. This is the transcendence of human nature and divine nature, the movement from a personal, differentiated God to a non-personal, undifferentiated reality. In Buddhism this is called Reality; in other religions it is called Absolute Truth. Gandhi saw that Reality has many sides, so he accepted that the differences did not contradict Absolute Truth. What the various religions argue over is the different aspects of reality. If they realized that a single reality underlies those aspects, they would cease arguing. Naturally, we don't have to completely endorse Gandhi's view, but it is something we can raise for consideration.
I'd like to relate a true story: Thirty years ago, several friends and I made a vow to save Chinese Buddhism. Thereafter, some went to south to Thailand, some northeast to Japan, and some into the mountains to practice austerities. More than ten years later, we unexpectedly all met again in the US. Each had learned different things, but they were all facets of Buddhism. Thus once again we agreed to cooperate on practical matters. Actually, there should be a lot of room for cooperation between different sects of a single religion or between organizations or individuals of different religions. This cooperation doesn't have to entail joining a single organization. It could simply be acting in cooperation to abandon violence, cast aside long-standing grudges, and not settle old scores. It could mean joining forces to eliminate the causes of starvation, diseases, natural disasters, and ethnic conflicts, to protect the environment and resources of this planet for future generations, and to protect the human spirit from being polluted by enmity, greed, envy, anger, pride, irresolution, fear, worry, arrogance, feelings of inferiority and voidness. If each religion can start by influencing and encouraging its own believers in this way, then the major religions of each country in the world can also influence that country's citizens, as well as politicians and businessmen. If everyone can share this kind of understanding, it will be a giant first step toward religious cooperation.
This article by Venerable Dr. Shen Yen was his Closing Address at the International Conference on Religious Cooperation held in Taipei, Taiwan, ROC, on the 21st of September, 2001.
Cameron on the Path of Creativity
The author of The Artist's Way and The Vein of Gold in conversation with Samuel Bercholz, founder and president of Shambhala Publications.
Samuel Bercholz: Your work is nominally about creativity, but it seems to be as much about tools for spiritual growth. What is the connection?
Julia Cameron: People often say to me, "Your book is a Buddhist book," or "This is a book about mysticism, really, or this is a Sufi book." That is probably because creativity is a spiritual path, and at the core of the various spiritual paths are the same lessons. For instance, I recently read Thich Nhat Hanh for the first time, and I found myself thinking that he sees the world with an artist's eye. I think that's because he is very heart-centered. Even though we think of creativity as an intellectual pursuit, in my experience creativity is a heart-centered pursuit. We actually create from the heart. I think it's interesting that the word "heart" has the word "art" embedded in it. It also has the word "ear" embedded in it.
So both Buddhism and creativity involve the art of listening to the heart. That's where the creative impulse arises from. That's why I cannot distinguish between creativity and spirituality. When you're practicing creativity you become a grounded individual, and that communicates the universal.
I've been a writer for more than thirty years, and the issues that arise in the creative practice are the same kinds of issues that arise in a spiritual practice. You get to look at your insecurity. You get to look at your inquisitiveness. You get to look at your fantasy that a satisfied desire will lead to satisfaction. As near as I can tell, this is what happens with a grounded meditation technique: you go through all of the shenanigans of the restless nature of the mind and what you are left with is, just be. Out of being, things are made. So creativity is the act of being.
Samuel Bercholz: Your creativity exercises could also be viewed as a form of therapy.
Julia Cameron: Again, I don't make those definitions. My books are taught by myriad therapists. What they have found is that if they can heal their clients' creativity, neurosis disappears. This is why they all love this approach, and why therapists facilitate artists' circles all the time.
My feeling is that an enormous amount of what we think of as neurosis is actually blocked creativity. When people begin living in their creativity, the "neurosis" disappears. I am not certain that we are a neurotic culture; I think we are more a stifled culture, needing to express the self, and you can spell that either small "s" or large "S."
My feeling is that we are exhausted with talk therapy. Because The Artist's Way is experiential, it brings people back into their bodies and their hearts. Therapists are using it to bring people into an embodied practice, and that's why everyone's calming down.
It's one of the world's best kept secrets that art makes people sane and happy. If you think creativity makes you crazy and broke, let's not do it. On the other hand, if it makes you expanded and connected and joyous and vibrant and beautiful, it may make us a little nervous, but maybe we should try it.
The only time I get in trouble is if I'm not making something myself. If I'm too busy teaching to do my own art I get very sad. It's a matter of balance for me. I must keep my artist first and my teacher second. I must be making things and then sharing out of that process. If I am only teaching what I have already learned without doing my practice in order to be learning more, I'm very desperately unhappy. It's dangerous for me.
When we are creative we become happier, more stable, more user-friendly. We have this image of writers as grumpy curmudgeons. Well, when they're blocked they are, but a writer who's writing is usually a very festive, even if it's secretly festive, person. A lot of what I teach is playing. I think that as we become more light, we take our ideas more seriously.
Samuel Bercholz: Do you mean "light" like "more brilliant" or like "light-hearted?"
Julia Cameron: Light-hearted. As we become more light-hearted, we paradoxically take our ideas more seriously. If we're trying to take our ideas seriously without a light heart we do not have the passion to execute them. This is why I say creativity is a matter of the heart: it takes heart to execute. If you can get people back in their heart, you get them into executing their creativity. If you keep them in their head, the heart becomes hobbled and the capacity to make things that connect becomes hobbled.
Samuel Bercholz: A big part of The Artist's Way and Vein of Gold is how passion and creativity relate.
Julia Cameron: I think passion is a marvelous thing. I was recently bawled out by a shaman because he took my use of the word passion to mean emotion and turbulence. I use passion to mean an act of will and commitment. I believe that we are intended to be utterly present, present with a passionate commitment. Then when we are, we create. Conversely, when we create, we become present with passionate commitment.
One of the aspects of certain forms of Buddhism that I have difficulty with is that occasionally I get the feeling that people are using their meditation to avoid experiencing the incarnation we all share. They become detached, they hold the larger view, and it becomes: leaf falls from tree, child dies, same value. I think we can hold that view some of the time, but we are intended as humans to resonate far more deeply than that. I believe that creativity as a spiritual path is very much a felt path.
Samuel Bercholz: "Felt" in the sense of passion, or heartfelt?
Julia Cameron: I don't see those as two different things. Do you?
Samuel Bercholz: No, but...sometimes feeling is just a swirl. Is there a difference between the swirl of emotion and heartfelt feeling?
Julia Cameron: When we're in a swirl of emotion, in a funny way it's intellectual. Confusing and conflicting ideas are wrapped up with the emotions, much the way smoke has particles in it. When we are in our heart, there is a clarity to the feeling, a purity to the feeling. It's less like smoke and more like water. Creativity allows you to purify swirling emotions.
Samuel Bercholz: By grounding them? By liberating them? What happens?
Julia Cameron: You see, for me it's difficult to talk so theoretically. For instance, this morning I was very frustrated. I sat down and wrote four short poems, and then I was fine. The poems both grounded and liberated what I was feeling.
Then I think we should talk just about the practice, because the intellectual part of this doesn't make any sense. You can read everything about creativity, everything about meditation, everything about spirituality, and what difference does it make?
Okay, let's look at the nuts and bolts of The Artist's Way. Get up in the morning and write three pages of long hand writing about anything.
Samuel Bercholz: What inspired you to do that? This is something you created, and people are doing it all over the world.
Julia Cameron: It didn't begin with an idea. One day I got up and started doing it, and I found that it worked.
Samuel Bercholz: What do you mean by "worked"?
Julia Cameron: It made me prioritized for my day; it rendered me present to my life; it gave me a seed bed of ideas that later became creative work; it rendered me profoundly present. So I did it more. (laughs)
Samuel Bercholz: Then you wrote the prescription for everybody else. How did you know that this wasn't just for you?
Julia Cameron: People would call me up who were confused, and I'd say, "Try this," and it would work for them. That's how it became larger: I simply shared the tool. It's a tool that arose out of the fact that I am a writer with a habit of writing; therefore, it was the most natural thing in the world for me to get up one morning and start writing, and then to notice what it did for me.
I also do believe in reincarnation. I think that I'm a teacher, and I suspect I've been a teacher for a very long time. A lot of what I know comes from my thirty years of work as a writer, but I suspect that a lot of what I know is remembered. I think this is true for all of us, that we are often doing in this life a work that we began a long time ago. That's what I think The Artist's Way is; it's a work that I probably began a long time ago. Or that artists began a long time ago.
Samuel Bercholz: So do you think there's an ancestry of artists as well as a family ancestry?
Julia Cameron: Absolutely. When people talk about a spiritual practice, they talk about the lineage of the practice. I think I'm squarely within the lineage of creativity, from the caves forward.
Samuel Bercholz: Is this a natural gift, or something you had to develop?
Julia Cameron: I think we have natural gifts and then we develop them. I think my work is helping people to wake up to their gifts and develop them.
Samuel Bercholz: Do you think everybody has natural gifts?
Julia Cameron: Absolutely!
Samuel Bercholz: So what's with all these frustrated people?
Julia Cameron: I think we've forgotten who we are. I think we've forgotten we're gifted. We've been made to feel we aren't gifted: we have an enormous mythology that creativity belongs to an elite few. They've known it since birth, they suffer no fear, they always wear black...
So what The Artist's Way tools do is reconnect people to their own creative impulses, at which point people become far stronger and begin to move in the direction of those impulses. It's essentially a spiritual process, a listening process: with morning pages you are listening to what's going on within you. You're putting it on the page and communicating it to yourself and, in a sense, to the world.
The second basic tool is something called an "artist's date," which is a once-a-week festive period of solitude. This is like turning on the radio to receive. So with morning pages you're listening to yourself and communicating out, and then you go into solitude, a festive engaged form of solitude - you are out in the world, you are interacting, you begin to feel and hear other impulses. You begin to receive.
Samuel Bercholz: In The Vein of Gold you talk about walking as more than just a physical thing. It's about visual images that come by and all kinds of things.
Julia Cameron: We are ecosystems. Creativity is an ecosystem. If we want to be creative, we fish from the well of the ecosystem. It's as though you have an inner trout run and when you strive for creativity you're fishing out of it. Then you need to replenish it, restock it.
When you walk, a couple of things happen. One is that you have an image-flow moving at you. You see and notice things. You see a tiny little bird skittering under a pine branch. You see a homeless person if you're in the city. You note the image, and the image goes into the well. The well is part of the heart, and that's where your art comes from.
Walking also moves you across the bridge into a larger realm of ideas. It allows you to listen to a different frequency. I experience it as a sort of click in the back of my head. I begin to have insights and inspirations which seem to be of a simpler and higher order. There is something enormously powerful about visualizing and moving at the same time. It may just be because we have more energy to deal with, but it really helps things to clarify, and once something clarifies it begins to be able to manifest.
I call it crossing into the imagination. When we make things they begin as thought forms, as spiritual blueprints, and when we are walking and we visualize something, we're actually drawing it into form. As a writer, if I have a tangled plot line, I go for a walk. I'm not thinking particularly about my plot; I'm thinking about the little wren that I saw, I'm thinking about the mallards, if I'm in New York maybe I'm thinking about the antique velvet rope that I saw in the shop window. And as I'm thinking about these things, "Oh! That's what I can do with my plot" emerges. Creativity is sort of Zen: as you focus north, solutions emerge south. It's not linear.
Samuel Bercholz: Well, that's magic. That's the way spiritual practice is: it works because it works. I mean, you could do whole scientific studies and they don't help anything. You can make up excuses why it works, but they're just excuses.
Julia Cameron: You know, if smart were the solution, very few of us would be screwed up. Smart isn't the solution. The heart is the solution. That's why I don't like the term "mindfulness." I like the term "heartfulness." I think it's more accurate.
Samuel Bercholz: Actually, the term is translated from the Sanskrit, and whoever translated it chose the word "mind" rather than "heart." But mindfulness refers to the Sanskrit citta, which is in fact "heart." So "heartfulness" is more accurate; it's not about our head at all.
Julia Cameron: Well, this is good. I always thought, what a dreadful word, they can't mean it.
So we're really talking about what arises from the heart.
Samuel Bercholz: You don't mean the little flesh thing, right? What do you mean by "heart?
Julia Cameron: The essence. The center. The place that is simultaneously individual and universal that each of us carries. That point of truth. I think heart is a pretty good word for that.
Samuel Bercholz: What's the relationship between time and creativity? You're struggling with a deadline now, working on a book, and all of us who are involved with the world of creativity know there are always deadlines and the panic that comes with them. Do you think it's positive that there are time restrictions or would it be better if things were eased up?
Julia Cameron: It's a central question. We yearn for more time with the illusion that if we had open time we would be creating all the time. The trick is to actually learn to use the time which we have.
What I try to teach is how to be creative within the life you've got. We are a workaholic society. We are addicted to work and often to work for work's sake. But when you are happy, rested and in touch with yourself, you can often work very quickly. That's because when you have some clarity it's easy to do something quickly. The trick is really clarity. People say, I don't have time to do the morning pages, but if they do the morning pages it gives them clarity, and that makes them do all the rest of their life more quickly and more easily.
Now, the whole issue of how to be creative within a business environment is an issue of people being connected and clear, which is contagious. I use the term "creative contagion." Very often if one person in a workplace starts working with creative emergence tools somebody else will say, "What are you doing? You seem really different." Then they'll start doing them and you have this sort of grassroots beneath the hierarchy; out of sight of the superiors you have these people who are becoming more and more grounded while also becoming more visionary, innovative and individual.
These tools render us able to see our choices in any given situation. In the middle of a demanding business day you can close the office door for ten minutes and listen to a piece of music. You can go off and write a half a page just to clear your thinking. The tools are very portable. These little tiny timeouts during a day keep you connected, and just an instant of connection creates space for what I call grace, or what other people might call inspiration or intuition. If we make the smallest opening, there is the possibility of creativity. This is why it is so much like a spiritual practice.
Samuel Bercholz: Do you want to say something about the various kinds of addictions and their relationship to creativity?
Julia Cameron: Our mythology tells us that artists are addicted people - that they are promiscuous, drug addicted, alcoholic. We've come to think that somehow those addictions are part of the creative process.
My experience is exactly the opposite. My experience is that creativity is freedom from addiction. We are frightened when we feel the force of our own creative energy, because we don't know how to ground it. This is why my tools tend to be grounding tools, and when creativity is safely grounded and used, addictions fall to one side. Conversely, if you see someone addicted, what you're seeing is a profoundly creative soul reaching for a substitute to self-expression.
When people get sober they can be profoundly creative. When people get emotionally sober off of a process addiction like workaholism or sex addiction or relationship addiction, they have freed for their use a beautiful amount of new usable energy with which they can make wonderful things. That doesn't just mean writing a poem or making a ceramic vase. It can be a new system for the office. It can be revamping the way they do parent/teacher meetings.
But often what happens is that when we experience our creative energy we don't recognize it as creative energy; we just think it's anxiety. So rather than saying, "How can I direct this energy and what should I make?" we try to block it. We block it by thinking of some titillating sexual adventure. We block it by picking up a drink. We block it with a pint of Hagen Daas. We block it by picking up workaholic work. But it doesn't go away; it's still there. Creativity is always there, because it is as innate to humanity as blood and bone. It is the animating force.
Samuel Bercholz: Although a lot of people talk about creativity and sexuality as not different energies. Do you see them as different?
Julia Cameron: No. I would tend to say that energy itself is pure, and that we can abuse it. You can feel the difference between an
addictive, deadening sexual encounter and a sexual encounter where you stay present and the other person stays present.
Samuel Bercholz: Being in the present is the issue?
Julia Cameron: I think so.
Samuel Bercholz: Is it the same with creativity?
Julia Cameron: Creativity is living in the connected moment.
Samuel Bercholz: What do you mean by connected?
Julia Cameron: Heartful, present, alert, attentive, engaged.
Samuel Bercholz: Thank you.
peace prevail on Earth
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
The belief that the only way to fight aggression is by applying more aggressive methods has led to the arms race between the great powers. And this competition to increase the weapons of war has only brought mankind to the very brink of total self-destruction. If we do nothing about it, the next war will be the end of the world where there will be neither victors nor victim... only dead bodies.
Hatred does not cease by hatred; By love alone does it cease.
Such is the Buddha's advice to those who preach the doctrine of antagonism and ill-will, and who set men to war and rebellion against one another. Many people say that the Buddha's advice to return good for evil is impracticable. Actually, it is the only correct method to solve any problem. This method was introduced by the great Teacher from His own experience. Because we are proud and egoistic, we are reluctant to return good for evil, thinking that the public may treat us as being cowardly people. Some people even think that expressions of kindness, honesty, patience and gentleness are signs of weakness. But what harm is there if we could settle our problems and bring peace and happiness by adopting this cultured method and by sacrificing our dangerous egoism?
Tolerance must be practised if peace is to come to this earth. Force and compulsion will only create intolerance. To establish peace and harmony among mankind, each and everyone of us must first learn to practise the ways leading to the extinction of hatred, greed and delusion, the roots of all evil forces. If mankind can eradicate these evil forces, tolerance and peace will come to this restless world.
Today the followers of the most compassionate Buddha have a special duty to work for the establishment of peace in the world and to show an example to others by following their Master's advice:
All tremble at punishment, All fear death; Comparing others with oneself, One should neither kill nor cause to kill. DHAMMAPADA
Peace is always obtainable. The way to peace is not only through prayers and rituals. Peace is the result of man's mental development, harmony with his fellow beings and with his environment. The peace that we try to introduce by force is not a lasting peace. It could be likened to a truce between the conflict of selfish desire and fleeting worldly conditions.
Peace cannot exist on this earth without the practice of kindness and tolerance. To be tolerant, we must have proper understanding, with unbiased mind. The Buddha says,
No enemy can harm one so much as one's own thoughts of craving, hate and jealousy. DHAMMAPADA
Buddhism is a religion of perfect understanding because it preaches a life of self-restraint and self-reliance. Buddhism teaches a life based not on rules but on principles. Buddhism has never persecuted or maltreated those whose beliefs are different. The Teaching of the Buddha is such that anyone can practise the Noble religious Principles even without any religious labels.
The world is like a mirror; if you look at it with a smiling face, you can see your own, beautiful smiling face. On the other hand, if you look at it with a grim face, you will invariably see ugliness. Similarly, if you treat the world kindly the world will also certainly treat you in like manner. Learn to be peaceful with yourself and the world in return will also be peaceful with you.
Man's mind is given to so much self-deceit or egoistic ideas that he does not want to admit his own weaknesses. He will try to find some lame excuses to justify his wrong action so as to create an illusion that he is blameless. If a man really wants to be free from problems, he must have the courage to admit such weakness. The Buddha says:
Easily seen are other's faults; Hard indeed it is to see one's own faults.
The history of mankind is a continuous manifestation of man's greed, hatred, pride, jealousy, selfishness and delusion. It is mentioned that during the last 3,000 years, men have fought 15,000 major wars. Is this the characteristic feature of man? What is his destiny? If they are really human how can they bring destruction to their fellow beings?
Although men, have discovered and invented many important things which people have not known before, they have also made great advances leading towards the destruction of their own kind by misusing this new discoveries. Many human dignity and civilisations have been completely erased from this earth. Modern man has become so sophisticated in his art and techniques of warfare that it is now possible for him to turn the whole of mankind into ashes within a few seconds. The world has become a storehouse of military hardware as a result of a little game called 'Military Superiority.'
We are told that the prototype of a nuclear weapon is more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped at Hiroshima, Japan in August, 1945. Scientists believe that a few hundred thermonuclear weapons will chart the course towards, universal destruction. just see what human beings are doing to their own human race! Think what sort of a scientific development it is! See how cruel and selfish man has become!
Man should not pander to his aggressive, intrinsic attitude. He should instead uphold the noble teachings of the religious teachers and display justice with morality to enable peace to prevail.
Treaties, pacts and peace formulae have been adopted and millions of words have been spoken by countless world leaders throughout the world who pro. claim that they have finally found the way to maintain and promote peace on earth. But for all their efforts, they have not even succeeded in removing the threat to mankind. The reasons for this is that we have all failed to educate our young to truly understand and respect the need for selfless service and instill in them the danger of selfishness. To guarantee true peace, we must use every method available to us to educate our young to practise love, goodwill and understanding.
THE BUDDHIST ATTITUDE
Buddhists should not be the aggressors even in protecting their religion. They must try their best to avoid any kind of violent act. Sometimes they may be forced to go to war by others who do not respect the concept of the brotherhood of man as taught by the Buddha. They may be called upon to defend their fellow men from aggression, and as long as they have not renounced the worldly life, they are duty-bound to join in the struggle for peace and freedom. Under these circumstances, they cannot be blamed for their actions in becoming a soldier or being involved in defence. However, if everyone were to follow the advice of the Buddha, there would be no reason for war to take place in this world. It is the duty of every cultured man to find all possible ways and means to settle disputes in a peaceful manner, without declaring war to kill his fellow men. The Buddha did not teach His followers to surrender to any form of evil powers.
Indeed, with reason and science, man could conquer nature, and yet man has not yet even secured his own life. Why is it that life is in danger? While devoted to reason and being ruled by science, man has forgotten that he has a heart which has long been neglected and been left to wither away and be polluted by selfish desire.
If we cannot secure our own lives, then how can world peace be possible? TO obtain peace, we must train our minds to face facts. We must be objective and humble. We must realise that no one person, nor one nation is always wrong. To obtain peace, we must also share the richness of the earth. We should not deprive the living right of others.
It is simply inconceivable that five percent of the world's population should enjoy fifty percent of its wealth, or that twenty-five percent of the world should be fairly well-fed and some over-fed, while seventy-five percent of the world is always hungry. Peace will only come when nations are willing to share, the rich to help the poor and the strong to help the weak, thus creating international good will. Only if and when these conditions are met, can we envision a world with no excuse for wars.
The madness of the armaments race must stop! The amount of money and human lives that various governments waste in the battlefield should be diverted to build up the economies to elevate the standard of living of the people.
The world cannot have peace until men and nations renounce selfish desires, give up racial arrogance, and eradicate crazy attitude for possession and power. Wealth cannot secure happiness. Religion alone can affect the necessary change of heart and bring about the only real disarmament... that of the mind.
All religions teach people not to kill; but unfortunately this important religious principle is conveniently ignored. Today, with modern armaments, man can kill millions within one second. Very unfortunately some people bring religious labels, slogan and banners even into their battlefields. They do not know that by so doing they are only disgracing the good name of religion.
Verily, 0 Monk,' said the Buddha, 'due to sensuous craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens, the mother quarrels with the son, the son quarrels with the father, brother with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. MAJJIHIMA NIKAYA
We can happily say that for nearly 3000 years there has never been any serious discord or conflict created by Buddhists that led to war in the name of this religion. This is the result of the dynamic character of the concept of tolerance contained in the Buddha's teaching.
People today are restless, weary filled with jealousy. They are intoxicated with the selfish desire to gain more fame, wealth and power. They crave for gratification of the senses. People are passing their days in fear, suspicion and insecurity. In this time of turmoil and crisis, it becomes difficult for people to coexist peacefully with their fellowmen. There is therefore, a great need for tolerance in the world today so that peaceful coexistence among the people of the world can be possible.
The world has bled and suffered from the disease of dogmatism and of intolerance. The land of many countries today are soaked with the blood needlessly spilled on the earth. Whether in religion or politics people have been conscious of a mission to bring humanity only to their own way of life and have been aggressive towards the ways of life of others.
Let us look back on this present century of highly publicized 'Progress'... a century of gadgets and inventions. The array of new scientific and technical devices is dazzling... the hand phone, facsimile, telephone, electric motors, aeroplanes, radio, television, computers, internet, space ship, satellites and electronic devices...
Yet in this same century the children of the earth who have developed all these inventions as the ultimate in progress, are the same people who I-lave butchered millions of others by bayonets or bullets, gas or bomb. Amidst all the great 'Progress', where does the spirit of tolerance stand?
Today man is interested in exploring outer space when he is totally unable to live even as man-to-man in peace and harmony on the earth. Man will eventually desecrate the other planets.
For the sake of material gain, modern man violates nature. His mental activities are so preoccupied with his pleasure that he is unable to discover the meaning of life. This unnatural behaviour of present day mankind is the result of his wrong conception of human life and its ultimate aim. It is the cause of the frustration, fear, insecurity and intolerance of our present time.
In fact, today intolerance is still being practiced in the name of religion. People merely talk of religion and pro. mise to provide short cuts to paradise. If Muslims really follow the concept of Brotherhood, if Christians live by the Sermon on the Mount, if the Hindus shape their life in oneness and if Buddhists follow the Noble Eightfold Path, definitely there will be peace and harmony in this world of ours. In spite of the invaluable Teachings of the great religious teachers, people have still not realised the value of harmony and understanding. The intolerance that is practised in the name of religion is most disgraceful and deplorable.
The Buddha's advice is
Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Among those who hate us, let us live free from hatred. Let us live happily and free from ailment. Let us live happily and be free from greed; among those who are greedy.
Today, more than at any other time in history, peace seems remote and has become the most unattainable commodity in the world. There have been wars and conflicts before, there have also been terrible tyrants and oppressive governments, but never have there been these forces which seem bent on wrecking human lives been so effective on a global scale. As Buddhists, we too have a great responsibility to support all right thinking men who endeavour to join hands to stop this madness which is threatening to destroy our planet.
Is there a phase in human history when people are contented after getting what they desire? Is it possible to satisfy the insatiable thirst of man's craving and anxiety? Is it not so that the more we feed our senses, the more the craving grows? How good will it be if men can develop contentment that the Buddha had appreciated.
Millions of innocent human beings now have to flee from their homelands as refugees. There are no words in the human vocabulary that can fully describe the sorrow and agony inflicted by war on the people. 'War', according to Albert Einstein, 'Is a savage and inhuman relic of an age of barbarism.' And he is right.
It seems to me today that man is a creature that finds greater pleasure in destruction than creation. Is it in man's intrinsic nature to fight? No, it looks more like men finding peace so boring and war is exciting.
The Buddha has clearly stated in the Dhammapada.
Though one should conquer a million men in the battlefield, Yet he, indeed is the noblest victor who has conquered himself.
It is easy to kill, rob and threaten, but it takes greater strength to control the mind when it is influenced by anger and jealousy. Love and compassion are not symptoms of weakness but of strength. It takes a truly strong man to refrain from taking revenge.
The Buddha says in Dhammapada
Self-conquest is, indeed far greater than the conquest of all other folk, no other supernatural being can win back the victory of such a person who is self-subdued and ever lives in restraint.
Such sentiments have been echoed in the teachings of other religious leaders who came before and after the Buddha, but the Buddha alone has stated in no uncertain terms that there can be no excuse whatsoever for attack or even retaliation. There is no excuse for aggression of any kind for the Buddhists. He says: We should not be the aggressors but the defenders.
Racial arrogance, religious discrimination, traditional and customary practices, language and cultural differences, political conflicts, superiority and inferiority complexes, capitalism and poverty are some of the main causes which arouse man's prejudice capable of persuading him to inflict violence and bloodshed on others. Selfishness or egoistic ideas will only further aggravate the situation.
So as human beings, our task is to convince the world that peace is something which can be achieved not by conquering others but by conquering our own selfishness.
The Buddhist way is not to increase the numbers of those who label them. selves 'Buddhists' but to increase the number of noble human beings who do not fear to speak out against war and reject hatred. By realizing the dangerous situation of the world today, we hope that Buddhists all over the world, irrespective of their religious denominations or sects, will contribute something within their capacity to maintain peace and harmony for human beings to live without fear and worry.
Nirvana is the goal of Buddhism, and yet it is not a heavenly paradise or any kind of eternal life or union with a divine being. It literally means "to extinguish" and refers to extinguishing the fires of greed, anger, and ignorance. Nirvana is usually spoken of in terms of what it removes or destroys, namely the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance and the suffering they engender. In the following passage, the Buddha clearly states what nirvana refers to, and also shows that an equally valid term would be "the deathless" because in extinguishing the fires of greed, anger, and ignorance one is released from the cycle of birth and death and awakens to the unconditioned.
"Venerable sir, it is said, 'the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion.' Of what now, venerable sir, is this the designation?"
"This, monk, is a designation for the element of Nirvana: the removal of lust, the removal of hatred, the removal of delusion. The destruction of the taints is spoken of in this way."
When this was said, the monk said to the Blessed One: "Venerable sir, it is said, 'the Deathless, the Deathless.' What now, venerable sir, is the Deathless? What is the path leading to the Deathless?"
"The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion: this is called the deathless. This Noble Eightfold Path is the path leading to the Deathless: that right view... right concentration." (Connected Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1528)
The third noble truth as expressed in the Buddha's first discourse at the Deer Park actually does not use the term nirvana. Rather, the third noble truth is the truth of the cessation of suffering. Nirvana is simply another name for the cessation of suffering and it's causes, but many others are used as well.
"Monks, I will teach you the taintless and the path leading to the taintless. Listen to that...
"Monks, I will teach you the truth and the path leading to the truth... I will teach you the far shore... the subtle... the very difficult to see... the unaging... the stable... the undisintegrating... the unmanifest... the unproliferated... the peaceful... the deathless ... the sublime... the auspicious... the secure... the destruction of craving... the wonderful... the amazing... the unailing... the unailing state... Nirvana... the unafflicted... dispassion... purity... freedom... the unadhesive... the island... the shelter... the asylum... the refuge..." (Ibid, pp. 1378-1379)
So nirvana is one among several possible terms used to indicate the goal of Buddhist practice. It is certainly the most well known. However, the other terms should be kept in mind because they give further clues as to the nature of this goal. Many of the terms are negative: the taintless, the unaging, the undisintegrating, the unmanifest, the unproliferated, the deathless, the destruction of craving, the unailing, the unailing state, the unafflicted, dispassion, and the unadhesive are all terms which show what this goal is not and what it is freedom from. Other terms emphasize the elusive nature of the goal: it is subtle and very difficult to see. Others convey a sense of safety and the transcendence of suffering: the far shore, the stable, the peaceful, the secure, the island, the shelter, the asylum, and the refuge. There are terms which bring out the positive nature of the goal: the truth, the sublime, the auspicious, the wonderful, the amazing, purity, and freedom. Judging from these descriptive terms, it would seem that nirvana is much more than simply the absence of the three poisons and the suffering they create. However, because it is something so unlike anything we can experience with our deluded consciousness, it is safer to say what it is not rather than to risk giving a distorted view of it by trying to say what it is.
What Nirvana Is Not
The following statement by Shakyamuni Buddha gives a good illustration of the way in which the goal of Buddhist practice is set apart from all conditioned phenomena:
"There is, monks, that state where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air; no base consisting of the infinity of space, no base consisting of the infinity of consciousness, no base consisting of the infinity of nothingness, no base consisting of the infinity of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world nor another world nor both; neither sun nor moon. Here, monks, I say there is no coming, no going, no staying, no deceasing, no uprising. Not fixed, not movable, it has no support. Just this is the end of suffering." (Udana, p. 108)
What is interesting about this list is that it not only negates worldly phenomena but also other-worldly phenomena which meditators might get fixated on. Earth, air, fire, and water are the four primary elements which the ancient world believed composed all material things. So in negating those elements as well as the sun and moon it is made clear that nirvana is unlike any worldly phenomena. But the passage goes on to say it is "neither this world nor another world nor both" which cuts off identification of nirvana with any other world including the heavens of the realms of form and formlessness.
Buddhist cosmology views the world as divided into three realms: the realm of desire, the realm of form, and the realm of formlessness. These three realms consist of all the many regions wherein one undergoes samsara, the cycle of birth and death. The realm of desire encompasses the many hells, the hungry ghosts, animals, humans, fighting demons (the asuras), and the first six of the many heavens. It is called the realm of desire because all the beings within them are primarily motivated by their desire for sensual pleasures and it is within the realm of desire that they reap the rewards of their good and bad actions. The realm of form consists of the eighteen heavens which correspond to the four states of "dhyana," or meditative concentration. Those who attain those states of concentration in this life or who are reborn in those heavens have all reached a state of mind which temporarily transcends the sensual desires in favor of the contemplation of some more abstract form or concept. The realm of formlessness consists of four heavens which correspond to four increasingly subtle subjects of meditation which are all listed in the passage above: the base consisting of the infinity of space, the base consisting of the infinity of consciousness, the base consisting of the infinity of nothingness, the base consisting of the infinity of neither perception nor non-perception. Each of these heavens or states of concentration are said to transcend form itself due to their immaterial and boundless nature. However, even the refined heavens of the realms of form and formlessness are held to be only temporary states, and after millions or billions of years the heavenly beings in those realms must "come back to earth" and undergo rebirth in one of the other realms. Likewise, even the most advanced meditator must come out of their meditative absorption at some point and if they have not uprooted clinging and delusion within their minds they will undergo just as much frustration, anxiety, and suffering in regard to life and its problems as before.
In the Brahmajala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, 95 types of wrong views held by the Buddha's contemporaries are listed. Five are specifically concerned with mistakenly claiming that nirvana can be identified with sensual pleasures or any of the four dhyanas. These are all considered views which wrongly identify nirvana "here and now" with the conditioned experiences of the three realms. (Long Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 85-86) The Brahmajala Sutta together with the passage from the Udana make it clear that nirvana is not any kind of material pleasure, altered state of consciousness, or heavenly realm. It should also be remembered that before attaining buddhahood, Siddhartha systematically rejected each of these possibilities after personally experiencing them for himself. He left the pleasures of the palace precisely because he recognized that sensual pleasures could not hold off the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. During his years of searching for the Truth he attained the meditative state of nothingness and later the state of neither perception nor non-perception but discovered that as soon as one came out of those states, one was still confronted by old age, sickness, death, and many other forms of suffering. Siddhartha's ability to see the shortcomings of both sensual pleasures and highly refined states of mental concentration and his determination to go beyond them was quite remarkable. Most people mistakenly believe that these lesser experiences are in fact the goal, when in fact nirvana is of a whole different order. This is why the Buddha impressed upon his disciples the distinction between nirvana and all the states of mind and being in the three realms.
There are other more subtle errors than simply misidentifying nirvana with the pleasures of this world or those of sublime meditative achievements. As taught in the Fire Sermon, there is nothing that should be identified or clung to as the self among the five aggregates. Nor is there anything apart from the five aggregates which can be the basis of a permanent, unchanging, independent self. This includes nirvana. So if one believes that nirvana is something that can be identified with the self, or as the abiding place of a self, owned by a self or even as something that can be contrasted with a self, then one has not really understood nirvana let alone come to know it as it really is. The experience of nirvana is simultaneously the experience of selflessness. The Buddha taught that one could analyze all the different elements of material existence such as earth, air, fire, and water, and see that none of them provide the basis for a self. In fact, in coming to know things as they really are one will also appreciate selflessness and the freedom that comes from abandoning the delusion of self. If this is true of the material elements, how much more true is it of nirvana which is the unconditioned.
"He perceives Nirvana as Nirvana. Having perceived Nirvana as Nirvana, he conceives [himself as] Nirvana, he conceives [himself] in Nirvana, he conceives [himself apart] from Nirvana, he conceives Nirvana to be 'mine,' he delights in Nirvana. Why is that? Because he has not fully understood it, I say.
"Monks, a monk who is higher in training, whose mind has not yet reached the goal, and who is still aspiring to the supreme security from bondage, directly knows earth as earth. Having directly known earth as earth, he should not conceive [himself as] earth, he should not conceive [himself] in earth, he should not conceive [himself apart] from earth, he should not conceive earth to be 'mine,' he should not delight in earth. Why is that? So that he may fully understand it, I say.
"He directly knows water as water ... He directly knows all as all...
"He directly knows Nirvana as Nirvana. Having directly known Nirvana as Nirvana, he should not conceive [himself as] Nirvana, he should not conceive [himself] in Nirvana, he should not conceive [himself apart] from Nirvana, he should not conceive Nirvana to be 'mine,' he should not delight in Nirvana. Why is that? So that he may fully understand it, I say." (Middle Length Discourses, p. 87)
Even recognizing that the spiritual goal is not sensual pleasure, or exalted states of consciousness, or the basis of a self is not enough however. The most insidious obstacle to liberation is clinging itself. If one tries to pridefully lay claim to the experience of nirvana, the unconditioned, then that very attitude of egotistic clinging gives the lie to that claim. Only when every cloud of pride and clinging have been cleared away can the genuine illumination of nirvana shine through into our lives.
"Here, monks, some recluse or brahmin, with the relinquishing of views about the past and the future, through complete lack of resolve upon the fetters of sensual pleasure, and with the surmounting of the rapture of seclusion, unworldly pleasure, and neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, regarding himself thus: 'I am at peace, I have attained Nirvana, I am without clinging.'
"The Tathagata, monks, understands this thus: 'This good recluse or brahmin, with the relinquishing of views about the past and the future...regards himself thus: "I am at peace, I have attained Nirvana, I am without clinging." Certainly this venerable one asserts the way directed to Nirvana. Yet this good recluse or brahmin still clings, clinging either to a view about the past or to a view about the future or to a fetter of sensual pleasure or to the rapture of seclusion or to unworldly pleasure or to the neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. And when this venerable one regards himself thus: "I am at peace, I have attained Nirvana, I am without clinging," that too is declared to be clinging on the part of this good recluse or brahmin. That too is conditioned and gross, but there is cessation of formations.' Having understood 'There is this,' seeing the escape from that, the Tathagata has gone beyond that.
"Monks, this supreme state of sublime peace has been discovered by the Tathagata, that is, liberation through not clinging, by understanding as they actually are the origination, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of the six bases of contact. Monks, that is the supreme state of sublime peace discovered by the Tathagata, that is, liberation through not clinging, by understanding as they actually are the origination, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger, and the escape in the case of the six bases of contact." (Ibid, p. 846)
For many, all these negations gave the impression that the Buddha was teaching a form of nihilism in which one ceased to do anything except contemplate the annihilation of the "self." The Buddha clearly stated that this was not the case. In one instance, a Jain adherent named General Siha came to the Buddha to see if the Buddha really taught a form of quietism and annihilationism. The Buddha responded:
"There is indeed a way, Siha, in which one can rightly say of me that I am a teacher of inaction; and there is also a way in which one can say that I am a teacher of action.
"I do teach people to be inactive in regard to evil conduct in deeds, words and thoughts; I teach inaction in regard to the multitude of evil, unwholesome qualities. But I also teach people to be active by way of good conduct in deeds, words and thoughts; I teach action in regard to the multitude of wholesome qualities.
"There is also a way in which one can rightly say that I am an annihilationist. For I teach the annihilation of greed, hatred and delusion; I teach the annihilation of the multitude of evil, unwholesome qualities." (The Numerical Discourses, p. 201)
Nirvana is not just passivity nor is it the annihilation of the self. The Buddha taught that the "self" is a concept with no substantial or singular referent in the first place. So there is no "self" to get rid of, and nirvana is not the extinction or annihilation of a self. But it is the extinction of greed, anger, and ignorance. It is, therefore, the extinction of the delusion of self and all the selfishness and suffering which the delusion of self engenders.
Nirvana is most often spoken of in negative terms, in terms of what it is not. But this does not mean that nirvana itself is a negative experience. Rather, it is something which is very positive because it eradicates the very things in our lives which keep us chained to the cycle of birth and death, and all the suffering which comes with it.
What Nirvana Is
The Buddha did teach that nirvana is more than a mere absence. While it is unlike any conditioned phenomena which ordinary people experience, the Buddha does describe it as something which we can awaken to as the source of freedom and bliss. It is an unconditioned reality which can be seen or experienced by those who remove delusion and clinging in regard to conditioned phenomena.
"There is, monks, a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-formed. If, monks, there were no not-born, not-brought-to-being, not-made, not-formed, no escape would be discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, formed. But since there is a not-born, a not-brought-to-being, a not-made, a not-formed, therefore an escape is discerned from what is born, brought-to-being, made, formed. (Udana, p. 109)
In the Itivuttaka, this same passage is accompanied by the following verses which explicitly describe this sublime state as one of bliss:
The born, come-to-be, produced,
The made, the formed, the unlasting,
Conjoined with decay and death,
A nest of disease, perishable,
Sprung from nutriment and craving's cord -
That is not fit to take delight in.
The escape from that, the peaceful,
Beyond reasoning, everlasting,
The not-born, the unproduced,
The sorrowless state that is void of stain,
The cessation of states linked to suffering,
The stilling of the conditioned - bliss.
(Itivuttaka, p. 31)
Nirvana is often referred to as blissful in several discourses. In the following verses, nirvana is called the "greatest bliss." It is then referred to as the deathless, which is the goal of the eightfold path.
"The greatest of all gains is health,
Nirvana is the greatest bliss,
The eightfold path is the best of paths
For it leads safely to the Deathless."
(Middle Length Discourses, p. 613)
Another passage from the Udana, said in reference to the enlightenment and passing away of Bahiya whom we shall hear more of later, includes many of the negations found in the other passages, but this time the negations are used to characterize nirvana as an otherworldly illumination which transcends the light of the sun, moon, and stars.
Where neither water nor yet earth
Nor fire nor air gain a foothold
There gleam no stars, no sun sheds light.
There shines no moon, yet there no darkness reigns.
When a sage, a brahmin, has come to know this
For himself through his own experience
Then he is freed from form and formlessness
Freed from pleasure and from pain.
(Udana, p. 21)
Despite the fact that nirvana is the unconditioned, the Buddha did distinguish between two different "types" or "elements." The first is the nirvana-element with residue left and the second is nirvana with no residue left. Actually, these are not two different kinds of nirvana, as though the unconditioned could be divided into categories, so much as they are descriptions of the impact that nirvana has at the point of realization and later on upon the death of one who has realized it. These are described in the Itivuttaka as follows:
"Monks, there are these two Nirvana-elements. What are the two? The Nirvana-element with residue left and the Nirvana-element with no residue left.
"What, monks, is the Nirvana-element with residue left? Here a monk is an arhat, one whose taints are destroyed, the holy life fulfilled, who has done what had to be done, laid down the burden, attained the goal, destroyed the fetters of being and is completely released through final knowledge. However, his five sense faculties remain unimpaired, by which he still experiences what is agreeable and disagreeable and feels pleasure and pain. It is the extinction of attachment, hate and delusion in him that is called the Nirvana-element with residue left.
"Now what, monks, is the Nirvana-element with no residue left? Here a monk is an arhat... completely released through final knowledge. For him, here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished. That, monks, is called the Nirvana-element with no residue left.
"These, monks, are the two Nirvana elements.
These two Nirvana elements were made known
By the Seeing One, serene and unattached:
One is the element seen here and now
With residue, but with the cord of being destroyed;
The other, having no residue for the future,
Is that wherein all modes of being utterly cease.
Having understood the unconditioned state,
Released in mind with the cord of being destroyed,
They have attained to the Dharma-essence.
Delighting in the destruction (of craving).
Those serene ones have abandoned all being.
(Itivuttaka, pp. 31-32)
Nirvana with residue left is what the Buddha attained beneath the Bodhi Tree. This type of nirvana is the extinction of the defilements during one's lifetime. One is still vulnerable to physical pain and discomfort, as well as the need for food and sleep and other natural functions, but one no longer suffers any emotional distress because all greed, anger, and ignorance have been rooted out. In addition, one who attains nirvana with residue left no longer produces any karma. In other words, their actions are no longer tainted by craving or egocentricity or the desire to possess or acquire anything further from or in life. Because their actions are accompanied only by pure intentions with no trace of craving or aversion there are no longer any karmic repercussions. However, while they no longer create any further karma, karma from their past (including past lives) may still come to fruition for good or ill until the time of their passing. Fortunately, those who attain nirvana with remainder are able to deal with all the vicissitudes of life with calm and equanimity from that point on.
Nirvana with no remainder describes the total extinction of all pain and suffering with no chance of it arising anymore. This is attained upon the death of the physical body and the dissipation of the five aggregates (form, sensation, perception, volition, and consciousness). Nirvana with no remainder is also called "parinirvana," which means "complete nirvana." Parinirvana thus refers to the death of a buddha or arhat whereupon they transcend the cycle of birth and death and are forever beyond the reach of all forms of pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, some sutras occasionally use the term "nirvana" to refer to the parinirvana of a buddha or arhat, and so people mistakenly got the impression that nirvana was a state which could only be achieved at death and some even came to the conclusion that it was a kind of heavenly reward. In actuality, nirvana is something which is realizable in this very lifetime; though it is true that the second type, parinirvana, is only attained at death. Even then, parinirvana depends upon the attainment of nirvana during one's lifetime as it is the culmination of the cessation of suffering which is begun at the point when one extinguishes the defilements and directly encounters the unconditioned which transcends all conditioned objects of clinging.
Perhaps the most positive characterization of nirvana is that it is liberation from suffering. It is this taste of liberation which pervades the entirety of the Buddha Dharma. All of the teachings and practices have liberation as their aim. As the Buddha put it:
"Just as the great ocean has but one taste, the taste of salt; even so this Dharma and Discipline has but one taste, the taste of liberation." (Numerical Discourses, p. 204)
Nirvana Directly Visible
Nirvana might seem to be a remote goal, something that lies forever beyond our horizon. However, the Buddha assured people that it was indeed possible to come to know it within one's lifetime. The way to do it is to abandon greed, anger, and ignorance.
Once the brahmin Janussoni approached the Blessed One ... and spoke to him thus:
"It is said, Master Gotama, 'Nirvana is directly visible.' In what way, Master Gotama, is Nirvana directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise?"
"When, brahmin, a person is impassioned with lust ... depraved through hatred ... bewildered through delusion, overwhelmed and infatuated by delusion, then he plans for his own harm, for the harm of others, for the harm of both; and he experiences in his mind suffering and grief. But when lust, hatred, and delusion have been abandoned, he neither plans for his own harm, nor for the harm of others, nor for the harm of both; and he does not experience in his mind suffering and grief. In this way, brahmin, Nirvana is directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise.
"Since he experiences the complete destruction of lust, hatred and delusion, in this way, brahmin, Nirvana is directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise." (Ibid, p. 57)
Simply abandoning greed, anger, and ignorance is easier said than done. It involves more than just a determination to be a better person. One must actually walk the eightfold path and attain a more accurate and direct perception of the way things actually are. In other words, one must develop a new perspective which recognizes that due to the impermanent and thoroughly contingent nature of all things there are no fixed or permanent signs of individual existence to grasp, that all things are empty of a self or what will establish a self, and therefore there is nothing to be wished for or desired. The Abhidharma calls this perspective the triple gateway to liberation: the signless, the empty, and the wishless. The triple gateway actually cuts both ways, because not only the conditioned but the unconditioned, nirvana, is characterized as signless, empty, and wishless. Nirvana is without any kind of sign by which it could be compared to anything else, it is empty of any kind of self or substance, and it is freedom from all wishes and desire. One can not help but wonder if this implies that the true nature of conditioned phenomena and the unconditioned are really the same since they are both said to have these three qualities. Furthermore as one sees through conditioned things and stops reacting to them on the basis of greed, anger, or ignorance one is able to see and enjoy the unconditioned.
Nirvana as the unconditioned can not be created or brought about or possessed or identified with as we have seen. Following the eightfold path and the other teachings of the Buddha do not create nirvana but enable us to make the causes whereby we can see and know it for ourselves. In some cases this can take a lifetime or even lifetimes, but it is also possible to come to know it directly and immediately by dropping all our projections and ceasing to depend upon the things around us for our happiness and identity. In learning to let go completely and allow all things to be themselves, without the distortions of the three poisons, we encounter nirvana. This is the gist of the instruction which Shakyamuni Buddha gave to the wanderer Bahiya, who instantly attained nirvana because he put the Buddha's teaching into practice without any hesitation.
"Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: 'In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognised will be merely what is cognised.' In this way you should train yourself, Bahiya.
"When, Bahiya, in the seen is merely what is seen... in the cognised is merely what is cognised, then, Bahiya, you will not be 'with that' ; when, Bahiya, you are not 'with that,' then, Bahiya, you will not be 'in that'; when, Bahiya, you are not 'in that,' then, Bahiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering."
Now through this brief Dharma teaching of the Lord, the mind of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was immediately freed from the taints without grasping. (Udana, p. 20)
The sudden liberation of Bahiya, who passed into parinirvana shortly thereafter, shows that nirvana is not so remote. It is called the unconditioned, the unborn, the deathless, the supreme joy, transcendent illumination, and the extinguishing of the fires of greed, anger, and ignorance, among many other names which put it beyond what we normally experience. However, the lesson to Bahiya and his subsequent awakening make it apparent that ultimately nirvana is not just another thing to experience in terms of our desires and delusions, but rather a profound shift in the way we experience everything. It is all about seeing reality not as we want it to be, but as it is.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.
___________, ed. A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidamma: The Abhidammattha Sangaha of Acariya Anuruddha. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993.
Buddhaghosa, Bhadantacariya. The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga). Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1991.
Ireland, John D., The Itivuttaka. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1991.
____________, The Udana. Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1990.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Nyanaponika, Thera and Bodhi, Bhikkhu trans. & ed., Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1999.
Walshe, Maurice, trans. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2003.
An interview with Swami Bharati Tirtha the Shankaracharya of Sringeri
by Chris Parish
If India is the birthplace and heart of the world's most powerful and influential mystical traditions, there are those who would say that it is equally unparalleled in its conservatism regarding gender issues. Indeed, with distinct and clearly defined religious roles for women and men, a long and only recently outlawed legacy of ritual widow-burning, and a deep renunciate tradition all but forbidding the participation of women, Mother India has, in the final decades of the twentieth century, come under considerable fire for what many say amounts to an almost universal neglect of the spiritual welfare of her daughters.
Last winter, while still in the early phases of research for this issue, we began to wonder how representatives of Hindu orthodoxy might account for some of the apparently misogynist sentiments expressed in many of the most revered scriptures of their tradition-a tradition in which, perhaps ironically, goddess worship occupies a central role. It was with an aim to find answers that we sent reporter-at-large Chris Parish deep into the jungled hills of southern India to ask some probing questions of one of contemporary Hinduism's most respected authorities, Swami Bharati Tirtha, the Shankaracharya of Sringeri. Holding a position in Hindu religious society often compared to that of the pope in Catholicism, Tirtha is one of four current representatives of a long lineage of Shankaracharyas dating back to Adi Shankara, the eighth-century founder of Advaita Vedanta and India's most revered philosopher/sage. If anyone was qualified to defend the tradition's stance on gender, we thought, surely he would be the one.
In the course of the conversation, as we might have expected, the Shankaracharya did indeed stand firm in defense of the ideological bastions of his native soil. But as the following excerpt reveals, the direction he took to do so was one that none of us could have anticipated.
WIE: In this issue, among other things, we're looking into the different advantages and disadvantages that men and women experience on the spiritual path and whether or not the spiritual path and goal are the same for men as for women.
Swami Bharati Tirtha: When one is doing practice on the spiritual path, the results of that practice will not differ based on sex, on whether one is a man or a woman. As long as the practice is done correctly, the result will be the same. From the point of view of the Lord, it is a human being that is practicing-not a person of a particular sex.
WIE: But we've noticed that the Hindu scriptures do tend to speak differently about the spiritual propensities of men and women. One of the things we were hoping to ask you, for example, is: Which qualities of men's and women's nature or conditioning are the most helpful to their spiritual development and which aspects might be hindrances to that development?
SBT: Here we will have to say the "individual human being," not "man" or "woman."
WIE: So there aren't any particular differences in your view? For example, it's been said that men can tend to be very fascinated by and attached to their intellect and that this can act as a hindrance to spiritual realization. Would you have any comment on that?
SBT: This attachment is a hindrance whether it is in man or in woman. There is no truth in saying that man alone has more attachment to knowledge. Because of the ego, whether we are speaking about man or woman, that attachment will be there. And attachment is a hindrance to the spiritual path. Ego is a big enemy-the biggest enemy.
WIE: Many scriptures in the Hindu tradition clearly state that men are inherently superior to women in their spiritual potential. We've seen numerous references to this and were wondering what the basis for this widely asserted view is.
SBT: In spiritual practice, there is definitely no greater advantage for men or women. What is said in the scriptures might be wrongly interpreted.
WIE: To be specific, in the course of our research we came across a number of strong statements in the Hindu texts criticizing women's basic character or nature. The Manu Samhita makes reference to the "natural heartlessness" of women and states that "women are as impure as falsehood itself." The Maitrayana Samhita asserts that "women are evil." And in the Mahabharata, we read that "women do not hesitate to transgress morals" and that "a man with a hundred tongues would die before finishing lecturing on the vices and defects of women, even if he were to do nothing else during a long life of a hundred years." If this were true, it would certainly seem to at least imply a difference in aptitude for spiritual pursuit.
SBT: Such things should not be taken as relevant points because intrinsically there is no difference.
WIE: How, then, do you account for the traditional notion that men and women tend to have different balances of the three gunas [essential qualities]? Well-respected scholars have asserted that men are generally considered to have a higher proportion of sattvas [lucidity], which is widely held to be the most beneficial disposition for spiritual development. Whereas, because of their biology, women tend to have a higher proportion of rajas [dynamism] and tamas [inertia]. Isn't it true that men are considered to be generally more sattvic [imbued with sattva], at least according to the tradition?
SBT: There is no difference. How can man be more sattvic than woman? All such ideas will come only when people think that man is more important than woman. This is only a man-made notion.
WIE: But from what we've seen and read it does seem that in India, it is considered better to be a man than a woman on the spiritual path. Not only are women referred to as being deceitful and untrustworthy, but they are often said to have minds that can't concentrate. There are numerous references to this in the scriptures.
SBT: Difficulty with concentration and a wandering mind occurs in both men and women. Whatever quality you find in women, or whatever quality is said to be stronger in women is there in men also. There is no difference.
WIE: What are all those references in the scriptures about? Why are they there?
SBT: What happens is that the main idea that was there in the original text gets confused in the course of interpretation. Usually, it is the interpretations that fail to acknowledge that these comments about women occurred in a particular context. In that particular context, one lady might have conducted herself in such a way that was not as good as the man. And in that particular reference, if the woman has exhibited such negative qualities, then an interpretation is given. But that does not mean it is an approved theory. So, bereft of the context, that interpretation will have no meaning. It cannot be taken as a general fact.
WIE: So are you saying that with all these references in the scriptures, there's no general point being made about women?
SBT: No general point. According to Vedanta philosophy, there is absolutely no difference between man and woman. And this is true not only with regard to sex. There is no difference in caste. There is no difference in religion. Every human being who practices his proper spiritual path is entitled to moksha [spiritual liberation]. That is the Vedanta stand about moksha.
WIE: Yet the Manu Samhita and other Hindu scriptures assert that whereas men have many religious duties to fulfill and many spiritual practices available to them, women have only a single religious duty and path-to worship their husband as a god. They're instructed to do this even if the husband doesn't have any good qualities at all, or if his command goes against the laws of scripture. A pious woman, it is said, should worship, obey and serve her husband faithfully if she is to advance spiritually. How are we to understand that?
SBT: What is wrong in that?
WIE: Well, the author seems to be suggesting that the spiritual path of women is solely to serve and honor their husband, whereas, from what I understand, men have an opportunity to take up many different forms of sadhana [spiritual practice].
SBT: Yes, that means to say that a woman's job is made easier, because the husband is doing all the sadhanas and the wife is helping him in all the sadhanas. That itself is a sadhana for her.
WIE: Does that path of serving her husband lead a woman to the goal of moksha?
SBT: Yes. If she takes it in the spirit that she will get moksha by just serving the husband, she gets it. There is a story wherein one rishi [sage] sat under a tree and there was a bird that dropped its filth on his head. The rishi was enraged and stared at the bird, and by the rishi's very sight the bird was burned to ashes. Then the rishi went to get food at a shop in town, and there he came upon one lady, a very pious lady, always serving her husband with all patience and faith. The husband had just come to the house, so in order to allow the husband to settle, she waited for a short period before cooking the food for this rishi. When she came out afterward, the rishi was angry because he was made to stand there and wait for a long period. He then began to stare at her just like he had stared at the bird. And she said, "I am not a bird to be burned by your staring." She was able to understand that this rishi had burned the bird dead, even though she had not seen it. And she was able to withstand his sight. How? She had acquired all the power only by serving her husband faithfully. So when a woman serves a husband faithfully, she will get all the spiritual powers that the husband is capable of getting. So that is why it is said that merely faithful service to the husband is itself sufficient sadhana. Separate sadhana need not be done.
WIE: How can such a seemingly simplistic sadhana as service to one's husband lead to the same goal as a practice such as jnana yoga [the path of knowledge], which is considered within Vedanta to be a much higher practice?
SBT: The most important thing is faith. They have faith that "just by serving I get everything."
WIE: So the entire path for women consists of simply serving their husband? They are not encouraged to engage in other forms of sadhana?
SBT: After serving the husband, if any time is left, she can attend to sadhana. If time is left. But her first priority is serving her husband.
WIE: Wouldn't it seem that men would therefore have an advantage on the spiritual path because they have all these different practices that they can do-practices that are not available to women? For example, the practice of renunciation, or the giving up of worldly and familial ties, is a cornerstone of Hindu religious life, but it is rarely taken up by women. The vast majority of renunciates are men.
SBT: According to Hindu faith, as long as the husband is living, the wife has no right to go away from him. If she did, she would be going away from her path of duty. But if the woman agrees, then the man can renounce and go. That is the only difference we find, that man can renounce with the consent of the wife. But the wife cannot renounce as long as the husband is living.
WIE: Earlier, you made the point that there is no fundamental difference between men and women on the spiritual path. I understand that in the view of Vedanta, ultimately there's no difference because there is only the Self, and the Self is one. But on a relative level, would you say that there are no differences even in the general characters of men and women that might make it easier or more difficult for them to practice?
SBT: The spiritual path and spiritual ideas cannot be mixed up with the day-to-day, worldly aspects of life. They are two distinct, separate things. What I have said about there being no difference is only in reference to spiritual life. In the world, however, there is a difference. Many differences are there.
WIE: And couldn't those differences affect the spiritual practice and the spiritual progress of the seeker?
SBT: One is completely different from the other. They are two different aspects of life. What we find here is purely worldly and has nothing to do with spiritual practice. The two cannot be mixed.
WIE: Could there ever be a female Shankaracharya?
SBT: That is a very hypothetical question.
WIE: Yes, I know that.
SBT: A very hypothetical question! Because the tradition is there and, as for the tradition . . . that is a highly hypothetical question. The question does not really arise.
Land in early Buddhism
By Graeme Lyall
Adapted from a lecture given
to the University of New South Wales Buddhist Society (UNIBUDS) on Friday, 5th
My earliest experience with Buddhism was with the Theravada, which is the only survivor of the earliest schools of Buddhism. When Buddhism first became established in Australia in the early 1950's, this was the only form of Buddhism known to the pioneer Buddhists. It was not until twenty years later that people became aware of the Mahayana or Northern School, having previously harboured suspicions about the Mahayana's being a deviant form of Buddhism. The establishment of Mahayana Buddhism in Sydney was due, in no small part, to the efforts of Eric Liao who founded the first Chinese Buddhist temple in Sydney. I hope to show in this paper that there is no essential difference between the two schools, particularly as far as lay practitioners are concerned. Both schools are firmly based in the Buddha Dharma, the original teaching of the Buddha. Many of the perceived differences are based, largely, on semantics and the emphasis placed on particular aspects of the teaching and are not based on differences in the teaching itself. It is as if both of us are looking at this pen. I can see no pocket clip on this pen but, I'm sure that you can. Are we then looking at different pens? No. We are both looking at the same pen but we are looking at it from different angles. I feel that it is the same with Buddhism and its different schools or traditions. It is still the same Buddhism but it can be viewed from different angles. As Buddhism developed, following the passing away of the Buddha, these various approaches to the teaching arose but the differences were mainly concerned with the interpretation of the Vinaya or monastic rules rather than the Dharma itself. As many of you are aware, Buddhism teaches that everything is subject to change - nothing remains constant. There is one exception to this concept and that exception is the Dharma - the ultimate truth. By definition, it cannot change. Soon after the Buddha's passing, five hundred Arahants, or disciples who had attained enlightenment through hearing the teachings of the Buddha, gathered, in what is often called the First Council, to recall and organise the teachings of the Buddha also known as the Dharma. Ananda, who was with the Buddha constantly throughout his life, was asked to recall the sermons that the Buddha had preached. After some discussion, they agreed that what Ananda recalled was essentially what the Buddha had taught. This collection of sermons became known as the Sutta Pitaka or Sermon collection and constitutes the middle collection of the Buddhist canon. Upali, a monk of great learning, recalled the monastic rules and these, after discussion by the monks, were agreed upon. Ananda remembered having been told by the Buddha that some minor rules could, after his passing, be dispensed with, but the major rules must be preserved. During the discussion on this point, the monks could not agree on what constituted the minor rules, so they resolved that all of the rules should be retained. This, to me, seems rather surprising because an examination of the rules shows quite clearly that some rules are considered extremely important entailing expulsion from the order should they be broken. Four of these major rules are known as Parajika or rules of defeat. Should any of these Parajika rules be broken, the monk, at the instant that it is broken, ceases to be a monk and cannot re-ordain during their present life. These four important rules are sexual intercourse, killing a human being, stealing an object of value and claiming to have attained supernormal powers. The breaking of some other important rules entail disciplining by fellow members of the Sangha. Many of the rules, however, related to rules of etiquette which change over time and differ from one society to another. A breech of these, however, requires nothing more than a promise to try not to break them again - more or less a beating with a feather. These, I would suggest, are what the Buddha may have meant by the minor rules. This collection of the monastic rules is known as the Vinaya Pitaka or Discipline Collection and is the first section of the Buddhist canon. About 100 years after the passing away of the Buddha, the Second Buddhist Council was called to adjudicate on some monks who were not strictly observing the disciplinary rules of the Vinaya as agreed at the First Buddhist Council.. These monks were accused of breaking such rules as handling gold and silver, eating after noon, etc. which they considered to be minor rules and permitted by the Buddha. The Elder Monks, known as the Theras, disagreed and said that these offences should warrant the monks' expulsion from the monastic order. These dissident monks broke away from the orthodox or Theravada monks and formed a new group or schism known as the Mahasanghikas. The Mahasanghikas also disagreed with the Theravadins as to the goal of the Buddhist practice. The Theravadins held that the highest goal that one could attain was that of the Arahant and that the monastic life was the only way that one could attain it. The Mahasanghikas, however, regarded this as a rather elitist attitude. They argued that a Buddhist practitioner, monastic or lay, should strive to become a Bodhisattva, one who postpones their full enlightenment until they can become a Buddha and thus be instrumental in leading other beings to enlightenment. From the Mahasanghikas, the major tradition of the Mahayana was later to evolve. By the third century BCE, the Sasana, or Buddhist followers, had split into eighteen sects or schools. The Theravadins had broken into eleven sub-sects whilst the remaining seven were a part of the Mahasanghikas. The divisions into these sects were on minor points of doctrine or on interpretations of the monastic discipline. The essential teachings of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, the truth of unsatisfactoriness, its cause - greed anger and a deluded mind and its ceasing and the method for its ceasing, the Noble Eightfold Path of good conduct, one pointedness of mind and wisdom, and Dependent Origination, or interconnectedness of all phenomena, however, were preserved by all sects. Another important teaching to cultivate was known to the Theravadins as the Brahma Viharas or Four Heavenly abodes and to the Mahayanists as the Four Immeasurables. These four are the cultivation of loving kindness, known in Pali as Metta or in Sanskrit as Maitri, compassion or Karuna, sympathetic joy or rejoicing in the good fortune of others, known as Mudita and a balanced or non-discriminating mind, known as Upekha. These essential teachings of the Buddha are common to both the Theravada and Mahayana schools so, on these teachings at least, there is no differences between the traditions. Whilst the Theravadins held that the Buddha was man perfected, the Mahasanghikas were the first school to consider that the Buddha was transcendental and had three bodies (Trikaya) - an eternal essence - the essence or principle of enlightenment or Bodhi which is known as the Dharmakaya or truth body. Then there is the Sambhogakaya, the body which inhabits Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the celestial realm. Finally there is the Rupakaya, or body of form which manifests in the human realm from time to time, the last instance being that of Siddhartha Gotama, also known as Sakyamuni Buddha. This teaching, to me, seems appealing and plausible. After all, Bodhi means awakening and one who is awakened to the true nature of life is a Buddha. We all have the potential to awaken to the true nature of life, otherwise Buddhist practise would be futile, so, essentially we all have within our nature to become awakened or enlightened. This is known as Bodhi Citta or enlightenment mind. We are all potential Buddhas. Sakyamuni Buddha was one who, born as a normal human being, attained this awakening and was able to show us the method for emulating his great attainment. The Mahasanghikas also held that there were heavenly Bodhisattvas, future Buddhas, who could be called upon for help in time of need. Many followers, understanding that everything is mind or a component of mind, understand these Bodhisattvas to be a part of our nature. They are not something external to ourselves but are manifestations of good qualities within our nature that can be cultivated. For instance, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, also known as Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa, is the compassionate aspect of Bodhi or the Buddha. By emulating the boundless compassion of Kuan Shih Yin Pusa, we have cultivated Karuna - one of the Four Immeasurables. These doctrines, formulated by the Mahasanghikas, became an essential ingredient of the teachings of the group of schools, traditionally to become known as the Mahayana. The fathers of the Mahayana were considered to be Nagarjuna, who lived between the first and second centuries of our era, and founded what is known as the Madhyamika philosophy or philosophy of the Middle Way and Maitreyanatha who lived in the third century of our era. Nagarjuna taught that there is neither reality nor non-reality but only relativity. This Nagarjunian concept of relativity can be better understood by studying the Heart Sutra, one of the most important and most profound sutras in the Mahayana canon. The Heart Sutra clearly teaches that every phrenomenon is, in itself, void of substance or Sunnyata. Every phenomenon does not exist independently but is dependent on other phenomena for its arising. This, I have found, is the most profound and easily understandable explanation of Paticca Samupada or Dependent Arising. Maiteyanatha's philosophy, however, was developed in the fourth century by two brothers, Asangha and Vasubandhu and was known as Yogacara or Vijnavada. They taught that consciousness is the only reality. This Yogacara teaching became known as the 'mind only school' and was the precursor of Cha'an or Zen. The Mahayana, or reformed school, spread to China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, during the early centuries of the current era. Although there is evidence that Buddhism was known in China during the Han Dynasty in the first century BCE, it was during the first centuries of the common era that there was much activity in translating the Buddhist scriptures into the Chinese language. As Buddhism developed in China, several schools or traditions arose, mainly based on the emphasis placed on a particular scripture. Some important schools which have influenced modern Chinese Buddhism are: T'ien-t'ai which evolved from the Madhyamika and based its study, mainly on the Lotus Sutra, which is considered one of the most important scriptures of the Mahayana tradition. Cha'an (Zen, Japanese), influenced by the Yogacara school which placed a great emphasis on meditation rather than scripture or Sutra study. Those scriptures that are considered important to the Cha'an school are "The Diamond Sutra" and the "Platform Sutra of Hui Neng". Hua-yen evolved from the Madhyamika school and emphasised the teachings of the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the longest sutras in the Mahayana literature. Chen-yen is the Esoteric Buddhism, which grew out of the Yogacara school in India, and is closely related to the Vajrayana teachings common to Tibetan practitioners. Ching-t'u or Pure Land Buddhism is based on the Sukhvati-Vyuha, which describes the Pure Land and the Amitayur-Dhyana Sutra, a sermon that teaches the way to attain the Pure Land. The Pure Land School has sometimes referred to as 'messianic Buddhism', or Buddhism dependent on a saviour Buddha. This misunderstanding of the purpose of the Pure Land teaching is largely due to a lack of proper understanding of its teachings, particularly by Western scholars. The Pure Land School teaches that, by reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light, that one can remanifest in the Pure Land or Sukhavati, described as the western Paradise, where Amitabha Buddha resides and, by hearing his teaching, can attain enlightenment more easily. These Chinese schools are not mutually exclusive. Chinese Buddhism today is a fusion of elements drawn from each of these schools but the main practice, especially by the laity, is Pure Land. Although, until a few years ago, I was aware of Pure Land practise, I didn't understand it and, like many Western Buddhists, regarded it as "not real Buddhism". After all, isn't one of the essential teachings of the Buddha to be self reliant. In the Dhammapada it says:
"By ourselves is evil done; by ourselves we pain endure.
By ourselves we cease from ill; by ourselves become we pure.
No one can save us but ourselves, no one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the Path, Buddhas only point the way."
It was not until I had the good fortune to meet a great Pure Land Master, Chin Kung Sifu, that I gained a better understanding of the Pure Land and came to realise how much the Pure Land teachings have been misrepresented in the West. Pure Land Buddhism has been misrepresented as being a form of Christianised Buddhism. Much literature represents it as "The Buddhism of Faith" - believe in Buddha Amitabha and you will go to the Pure Land. Master Chin Kung explained to me that the Pure Land is not a place but the state of having a Pure Mind - when the mind is pure, one is already in the Pure Land. A common definition of Buddhism is to cultivate good and avoid evil, that is by practicing good conduct or not doing anything which can harm ourselves or others, and cultivating a pure mind which is realised through meditation practice. So, with good conduct as a pre-requisite for successful meditation practice, one eventually purifies the mind and a mind purified is already in the Pure Land. There are many forms of meditation practice and it is up to the practitioner to find the one with which they are most comfortable. Reciting the Buddha's name, Amitabha in Sanskrit or Om Mi To Fo in Chinese, is similar to the Theravadin recitation of "Buddho" or similar Mantras during meditation. It is a means of fixing the attention to attain 'one pointedness of mind'. Seung Sahn Sunim, the famous Korean Zen Master, says that, in the U.S.A., he teaches students to recite "Coca Cola - Coca Cola" as a means of fixing the mind on one point to exclude extraneous thoughts. All mantras are equally effective in this respect. The important thing is to fix the mind on the object of concentration and to try to block out extraneous thoughts such as what will I do after I have finished my meditation or what am I going to eat for dinner tonight. The Buddha talks of a 'monkey mind' - one that perpetually jumps from one idea to another. Our minds, generally, are out of control. A mind out of control is in a state of chaos. It is our master rather than us being in control of it. The simplest way for us to gain control of our own minds is to practice concentration - to attain one pointedness of mind. The method employed by the Pure Land School is to totally absorb all of our senses in one thing - the Buddha's name - Amitabha. Master Chin Kung, realising that many people find making time for meditation difficult in their busy lives, suggests, what he calls, the Ten Recitation Method. He says that practising the Ten Recitation Method helps to gain mindfulness of Amitabha Buddha and to bring peace and clarity to the present moment. In this method, one should sit up straight and clearly recite Amitabha's name ten times whilst trying to maintain an undisturbed mind. This can be done out loud or silently. This should be practised nine times daily: upon awakening in the morning, at breakfast, before starting work, before eating lunch, during lunch, after lunch, when finishing work, at dinner time and before going to bed. The important thing about this method is regularity. If you are regular with this practice, you will soon notice your purity of mind increase and your wisdom will grow. If you visit the chanting hall of the Amitabha Buddhist Association at Berala, you will find that, no matter in which direction you are facing, you will see a picture of Amitabha Buddha. The chant of his name , Om Mi To Fo, can be heard at all times and the practitioners are perpetually chanting Amitabha's name during their walking meditation. If you would like to visit this Centre, I would like to invite you to come next Saturday, the 13th of May, at 9.30 a.m., when one of Master Chin Kung's disciple monks, Venerable Wu Hsin, will perform the official opening ceremony. The Centre is at 150 Woodburn Road, Berala, right opposite Berala railway station. It seems to my understanding, then, that walking meditation, totally absorbing one's senses in one object, that of the name Amitabha, is no different from the meditation methods taught by many Theravadin meditation teachers. In the Theravada school, the stage of sainthood immediately prior to attaining enlightenment is known as Anagami or non-returner. When the mind is purified to a very high degree, one does not take a form again but attains enlightenment on this high spiritual plane. This is, as far as I can see, similar to the Pure Land teaching of being born in the Pure Land where one attains enlightenment without again taking human birth. In discussion with Venerable Tan Chau Khuon Samai, one of your patrons and one of the most highly respected Theravada monks in Australia, he pointed out that the Pali word for the highest spiritual plane, attained by an Anagami, translates as "Pure Land". So, the Pure Land is not a later invention as Buddhism spread throughout the world but is well known and described in the Pali canon. Bodhi or Buddhahood - the enlightenment principle is inherent in all beings. Everyone has the Bodhi citta or enlightenment potential within them. An aspect of this enlightenment principle is Amitabha - the Buddha's infinite light of wisdom. Amitabha is not another Buddha but a part of this essence of enlightenment or Bodhi. Similarly, Kuan Yin or Avalokitesvara is the compassionate aspect of the Buddha. They are not 'out there' but an essential characteristic residing within the mind of each being - look within and cultivate them.
BLESSED PERFECTION OF WISDOM
THE MOTHER OF ALL THE ONES OF THUSNESS IN ONE LETTER
Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom!
Thus have I heard: At one time the Lord dwelt at Rajagrha, on the Vulture Peak, together with a large congregation of renunciates, with 1,250 renunciates, and with countless Enlightening Ones. At that time the Lord addressed the Venerable Ananda, and said:
"Ananda, do receive, for the sake of the welfare and happiness of all sentient existence, this perfection of wisdom in one letter, the letter 'A'."
Thus spoke the Lord. The Venerable Ananda, the large congregation of renunciates, the assembly of the Enlightening Ones, and the whole world with its gods, humans, titans, and heavenly musicians, rejoiced at the teaching of the Lord.
Colophon: Based on the Edward Conze translation.
Most English letters represent several different sounds. The letter 'A' can stand for 'Ah' as in 'father', or 'Ay' as in 'ate', or an inbetween sound as in 'lather'. In this sutra the letter 'A!' stands for the sound 'Ah' as in father so in reading this sutra one should read, " . . . this perfection of wisdom in one letter, the letter 'Ah'."
The 'A' here translates the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet. Because the Sanskrit alphabet has a completely phonetic character, no ambiguity as to the sonic designation exists in the original sutra. The first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet sounds deep in the throat, with the mouth held widely open, very resonant and full. Sanskrit considers this sound the original sound, all other sounds manifest as modifications of this deepthroated resonant 'Ah'. For example, other vowels manifest as constrictions of either the throat or the mouth of the sound 'Ah'. Because the Sanskrit letter unambiguously designates a sound I think that one could legitimately translate the sutra as follows:
THE BLESSED PERFECTION OF WISDOM
THE MOTHER OF ALL THE ONES OF THUSNESS IN ONE SOUND
Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom!
Thus have I heard: At one time the Lord dwelt at Rajagrha, on the Vulture Peak, together with a large congregation of renunciates, with 1,250 renunciates, and with countless Enlightening Ones. At that time the Lord addressed the Venerable Ananda, and said:
"Ananda, do receive, for the sake of the welfare and happiness of all sentient existence, this perfection of wisdom in one sound, the sound 'Ah'."
Thus spoke the Lord. The Venerable Ananda, the large congregation of renunciates, the assembly of the Enlightening Ones, and the whole world with its gods, humans, titans, and heavenly musicians, rejoiced at the teaching of the Lord.
This sutra represents the greatest compression of the perfection of wisdom that can occur in a text. It may at first seem almost absurd, or exceedingly abstract, to present the perfectio!n of wisdom as one sound, the sound 'Ah'. But before dismissing this idea as a clever trick, let's try to contemplate its possible meaning, and the possible reasons for such a presentation of perfect wisdom.
First, note that the discourse present the perfection of wisdom as a single sound, not a single sight (like a flame), or a single smell (like the smell of oranges), or a single touch (like the feel of ice), or a single idea (like the idea of the good), or a single taste (like the taste of tea). Why choose a sound and not some other phenomenon?
If we contemplate the three marks of emptiness (change, dependence, and impermanence) we discover that the sonic domain most clearly presents us with the nature of emptiness in a manner directly accessible to our sensory awareness. Other sensory domains do not exhibit so clearly these three marks of emptiness, these three marks of existence. For example, most objects in the visual domain do not seem to change in a manner directly available to our senses. The desk I sit at right now does not seem to differ from the desk I observed yesterday. I infer that it has changed and I can establish, through practice, a profound inferential consciousness with regard to the changing nature of visual phenomena. However, I do not directly perceive this changing nature of visual phenomena. Similarly, visual phenomena do not display to my senses their dependent nature; visual phenomena seem to exist as independent and separate entities. Once again, I can infer the dependent nature of visual objects (for example I infer that the desk came from a tree, from a furniture maker, from a truck that delivered the furniture, etc.), and this inferential consciousness can, over time, provide a strong foundation for the understanding of emptiness, but the visual domain does not, for the most part, provide a basis for experiencing emptiness.
In contrast to this, consider the sonic domain. Sonic phenomena display to our senses in a clear manner the three marks of emptiness. When I strike a bell, for example, the sound of the bell clearly depends for its existence on my action, and so the sound of the bell clearly presents its dependent nature, not just inferentially, but in a manner directly available to my senses, experientially.
The sound of the bell constantly changes, thus displaying the second mark of emptiness, once again in a manner directly available to my senses.
Finally, the sound of the bell eventually fades and disappears, manifesting impermanence, the third mark of emptiness, in a manner directly available to my senses.
From this perspective, it makes sense to distill the perfection of wisdom to a single sound for the sonic domain functions most easily as the entrance to the reality of emptiness. The sutra draws our attention to the sonic domain, telling us to contemplate a sound because sounds, sonic objects, constantly display the reality of emptiness. It resembles the Awakened One saying something like, "Pay attention. Hear emptiness and you will understand. Listen to impermanence and you will understand. Listen to dependence and you will understand. Listen to change and you will understand. All other phenomena, experiences, events, occasions, resemble the emptiness of the sonic domain. Listen!"
But the Awakened One didn't choose just any sound. He chose a sound that we humans can make, on our own, a sound that manifests as part of our presence in the world, the sound 'Ah'. This allows us to practice the perfection of wisdom, as opposed to only contemplating or thinking about emptiness. This practice of the perfection of wisdom consists of simply chanting the sound 'Ah'. Listen to this sound, and perceive emptiness. Produce this sound, and perceive emptiness.
The practice of perfect wisdom as indicated in this sutra happens best with a group of three or more participants. Gather together at an agreed upon time. Sit in a circle. Sit in a good medita!tion posture, comfortable, but with the back straight. Breathe deeply from one's belly or hara. Take in a full breath. On the exhale, chant a sustained 'Ah'. At the end of the exhale, inhale again, filling one's lungs, pulling in the air from the base of one's belly, or hara. On the next exhale once again chant the sound 'Ah'. The chant on the exhale should manifest as a sustained, unwavering pitch (though the pitch may vary from exhale to exhale), the same loudness from beginning to end. Chanters should allow themselves time to take a deep inhale; this may last anywhere from 5 to 40 seconds. Do not feel a need to leap back into chanting immediately by taking a rushed breath/inhale. In small groups, this may mean the appearance of silences during those times when all participants inhale at the same time.
Begin the chanting by striking a bell. Chant for a minimum of 10 minutes. If a large group undertakes this practice, the group as a whole can commit themselves to the sustained chanting of 'Ah' by working out a schedule of chanting, each participant committing themselves to staggered, overlapping periods of, for example, 20 to 40 minutes. After a period of chanting a participant would enter a period of silence, but some members of the group would continue the chanting. In this way the group of chanters can sustain the chanting of 'Ah' for many hours, or even days. However long the chanting lasts, conclude the chanting of 'Ah' by striking the same bell used to begin the chanting. At the end of the chanting, upon hearing the bell, those chanting 'Ah' should keep chanting untill finished with that exhale. In this way the chanting will gradually taper off, coming to a smooth conclusion.
As a group, the chanters will produce a sea of sound with waves and swirls manifesting. The chanting of perfect wisdom does not constitute a piece of music, so do not have concerns about consonance, chords, simultaneous entries or endings. All of those do not have relevance to this practice.
The sea of sound produced by the chanting, clearly reveals the empty nature of our existence. The sea of sound exists dependently. The sea of sound, the ocean of 'Ah', exists only because the chanting participants bring it into existence. If the chanters had not chanted the sea of sound would not exist as the ocean of 'Ah'. And this dependent nature of the sonic object, of the sonic ocean, reveals the dependent nature of all things.
The sea of sound manifesting as the ocean of 'Ah' constantly changes. As some chanters take a breath, their voice fades from the ocean of sound. Then it re-enters, perhaps at a different pitch and volume. The density of the sea constantly shifts. This constantly shifting nature of the sonic objects reveals the constantly shifting nature of all things.
The sea of sound manifesting as the ocean of 'Ah' at some point ceases. When the chanters end chanting, the sonic object comes to an end, thereby revealing the impermanent nature of all things.
Thus the sea of sound, the ocean of 'Ah', manifests clearly the three marks of emptiness, the marks which all things bear, but which we have trouble recognizing in many situations.
In addition, this practice of chanting perfect wisdom as the sea of sound, as the ocean of 'Ah', reveals to use the nature of our discriminative consciousness. As we participate in this practice our like and dislike mind appears. Perhaps we wish someone would chant on a different pitch, or less loudly, or more forcefully, or etc. This allows us to perceive the mind which wishes to bend existence to its own contours even in situations where such bending would serve no purpose. By simply continuing to chant, we allow ourselves the opportunity to let go of this like and dislike mind, and thereby transcend the discriminative consciousness which does so much to keep us bound to suffering.
Chanting functions as a powerful form of practice because it unites body, breath, speech, and mind into a single activity, giving a point of focus for the entire organism. In addition, normally the speech or discriminative function and the musical function of the mind do not function together. In chanting, these two spheres of the mind come together as a single activity. Thus chanting provides us with a powerful means for cultivating one-pointedness.
Chanting has yet another benefit; chanting produces a rhythm of breathing highly conducive to meditative awareness. When chanting, we take a deep inhale followed by a long drawn-out, slow exhale. This rhythm of breathing appears naturally among advanced practitioners of zazen, according to studies done in Japan. In Korean Zen, beginners consciously establish this rhythm of breathing from the beginning of their zazen practice. This manner of breathing helps to circulate chi, or life-force energy, throughout the body. In chanting we use this rhythm of breathing without thinking about it, simply as a natural consequence of breathing. For this reason, this style of chanting 'Ah' can prove very helpful as a lead-in practice for zazen, or other forms of silent meditation, or, for that matter, other forms of chanting meditation, for the chanting of 'Ah' naturally inclines us to a way of breathing conducive to meditation.
The practice of chanting perfect wisdom as the sea of sound, the ocean of 'Ah' manifests emptiness as luminous clarity. The sonic object/event/process/occasion does not hinder the appearance/manifestation/presence of any other object from any other domain. The ocean of 'Ah' manifests luminous transparency which means the primal empty nature of all things.
The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter reveals to us a means for the realization of emptiness, of transcendental wisdom. The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter reveals to us a means for directly perceiving the suchness of existence. The Perfection of Wisdom in One! Letter reveals to us the antidote to suffering. The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter guides us to the sea of sound which also means the ocean of wisdom, which names the original condition in which we dwell. The Perfection of Wisdom in One Letter gives all of us a means for the liberation of all sentient existence.
To the sea of sound, I give thanks.
To the ocean of 'Ah', I give thanks.
To the Perfection of Wisdom, Mother of all Awakened Ones, I give thanks.
To all the Enlightening Ones of all realms I give thanks.
To the Awakened Ones of all realms I give thanks.
May peace of heart and serenity of mind manifest among all sentient existence.
Notice: Copyright by Jim Wilson, also known as Dharmajim, 1998. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to download and copy this document, provided that this notice is kept as part of the document.
method of the Buddha's practice of meditation
By the Most Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
The sermon in the Buddha's own words;
Bhagava Bodhaya Dhamman Desehi : (Extract from Pathika Vagga, Digha Nikaya)
After practising and realizing the true Dhamma, the Buddha preached it to the peopleso that they may, like Himself, practise and realize the Dhamma as much as they can.
The Buddha's Dhamma is not mere speculation or theoretical. He practised it Himself and on realizing it to be the Truth then he preached it. So every being who is capable of thinking, should practise it devotedly and seriously.
How did the Buddha practise and teach it? Before His attainment to Full Enlightenment, the Bodhisattva ( the Buddha to be ) by his sublime knowledge came to know , that all beings including himself were born again and again due to commission of deeds with attachment. The Bodhisattva by his divine eye saw that beings after death were reborn in accordance with their deeds. Everytime one sees, hears, touches and cognizes there arises desire and attachment on the physical and mental phenomena. On account of this desire and attachment there is rebirth and due to rebirth one has to undergo the suffering of old age, disease and death etc. again and again. Whenever one sees, hears, touches and cognizes, if one can take notice of their arising and passing away, no desire and attachment will arise and there will be no rebirth, old, age, disease, death etc. . Thus there is the extinction of the whole mass of suffering. The Bodhisattva on having realized thus, continuosly meditated on the nature of the arising and passing away of the five groups of grasping. How he finally gained Full Enlightenment is described as follows.
The Correct Method of Insight Meditation ( Vipassana ):
"Bodhisatto aparenasamayena pancasu upadanakkhandhesu udayabbaya nupassi Vihasi. Iti rupam etc. ...... tassa pancasu upadanakkhandhesu udayabbaya nupassino, viharato na cirasseva anupadaya asavehi cittam vimucci." ( Digha-Nikaya Mahavagga 30).
The Bodhisattvava, after reflecting on how the suffering arose and ceased, meditated on the arising and passing away of physical and mental phenomena. This is physical phenomena, this is its arising, this is its passing away, etc., knowledge of the five khandas, their arising and passing away. While thus meditating before long his mind became completely detached and he gained deliverance from all defilements ( attained Arahatta Path and fruition knowledge and became the Buddha).
This extract from the Pali Text shows how the Buddha, from the Buddha Vipassi, to the Buddha Gotama, practised to become the Buddha. All the Buddhas prior to the Vipassi also practised the same method and became the Buddhas.
In this practice, one has to take notice of the true nature of the arising and passing away of physical and mental phenomena taking place in one's body at the time of their occurrence, if no noticing is made at the time of their occurrence, one is likely to to mistake them as Permanent, Happiness and Ego-entity. Because no noticing was made at the moment of seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching and thinking etc., they were not correctly seen and were mistaken to be 'happiness' and 'ego' and thus clinging to them arose. This clinging in- Pali is called Upadana. The physical and mental phenomena which are subject to clinging are called 'Upadalnakkhandhas' in Pali.
Because no proper noticing was made of these physical and mental phenomena at the moment of their occurrence, clinging arises and deeds bad and good are committed. In every existence, at the time of the approaching death, the deed (Kamma), the symbol of the deed (Kamma-Nimitta) or an indication of one's next birth (Gati-Nimitta) becomes an object of his consciousness which influences his next birth. On account of his rebirth one has to suffer old age, disease, death, etc. On proper reflection one will find them to be very frightening indeed.
So, for the extinction of the attachment and clinging, for the cessation of the five groups of grasping (Upadanakkhandhas) and thus to escape from all suffering the Bodhisattva meditated on the arising arid passing away of physical and mental phenomena at the time of thei occurrence. While thus meditating extraordinary Insight Knowledge developed in him and after attaining the Arahatta Path and Fruition Knowledge he became a Fully Enlightened One (The Buddha).
After becoming the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha preached the 'Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta' (The First Sermon) so that beings may practise Meditation on the arising and passing away of the Five Groups of Grasping (Upadanakkhandhas) and after developing the extraordinary Insight Knowledge realize Nibbana through the Path and Fruition Knowledge and thus gain deliverance from all suffering, like Himself.
In the 'Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta' it is mentioned that the Middle Way found out by the Buddha causes the Eye of Wisdom and Knowledge to arise. Here the Eye of Wisdom and Knowledge means Insight Knowledge, and the Path and Fruition Knowledge. It also clarifies that the Middle Way means the Eight-fold Noble Path. The correct awareness of seeing, hearing etc., is also the Eightfold Noble Path.
The Development of the Eightfold Noble Path
If the development of the Eight-fold Noble Path is to be explained in brief, the effort to take notice of seeing, hearing, etc., is Right Effort (Samma Vayama). The awareness of seeing, hearing, etc., is Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati). The continuous keeping of the mind on the object of meditation is Right Concentraton (Samma Samadhi). These three belong to the section 'Concentration' and are called Samadhi Maggangas.
As and when this cocentration becomes stronger Insight Knowledge develops as follows. As mentioned in the 'Satipatthana Sutta' whenever one is Mindful of Walking, Standing, Sitting, Lying, Moving, Touching, Rising, Falling etc., one can discriminate movement etc., as physical phenomena and awareness of them as mental phenomena, thus distinguishing between. the Mind and the Matter. This is the Knowledge of Distinguishing between the Mind the Matter (Nama-Rupa-Pariccheda Nana). This knowledge arises at beginning of good concentration.
Then one comes to know that because of 'intention to move', movement arises; because of 'intention to sit', sitting arises ; because of 'in-breath', there is the 'Rising of the abdomen'; because of 'out-breath', there is the 'Falling of the abdomen'; because there is 'object to touch' touching sensation arises; because, there is 'something to take notice of' 'noting arises'; because there is the 'will to take notice', 'noticing takes place'. This is understanding the relationship between Cause and Effect. It is the Second Insight Knowledge called 'the knowledge Distinguishing between Cause and Effect' (Paccaya-Pariggaha-Nana).
When concentration becomes stronger in every act of noting, instantaneous arising and passing away of both the object noticed and the awareness of it becomes evident. One seeing thus by direct knowledge there arises the reflection. 'Things are neither 'permanent nor pleasurable but suffering. Life is simply phenomena and there is no 'ego' or 'personal entity'. This reflection arises from personal experiences. Iit is the Knowledge of Comprehension ( Sammassana Nana). It is also Vipassana Sammiditti Magganga ( Mundane Right Understanding).
After that there arises the knowledge in which instantaneous arising and passing away of whatever object noticed is evident in every act of noting. It is the knowledge of Arising and Passing away ( Udayabbaya Nana). When this knowledge arises bright lights are seen even in darkness. The body seems to be very light and both the Body and Mind are at ease. Noticing becomes good and pleasant feelings arise. This is also Vipassana Sammaditthi Magganga.
Then there arises a knowledge in which only instantaneous dissolution of objects noticed, is evident, in every act of noticing. It is the extraordinary Insight Knowledge known as 'the Knowledge of Dissolution' (Bhanga Nana). This also is Vipassana Sammaditthi Magganga.
Then there follows the knowledges in which in every act of noting, the objects noticed are seen as fearful, miserable and disgusting. They are the Knowledge of Fearfulness (Bhaya Nana), theKnowledge of Misery ( Adinava Vana), and the Knowledge of Disgust (Nibbida Nana). They are also Vipassana Sammaditthi Maggangas.
Then a distinctive knowledge arises where bodily and mental processes ( Sankhara) are perceived without much effort and with equanimity. It is the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations( Sankharupekkka Nana ), This also is Vipassana Sammaditthi Magganga
From the knowledge of distinguishing between the Mind and the Matter up to the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations, the Will, which inclined the Mind into the object of Meditation so as to develop Mundane Right Understanding and Mundane Right Thought ( Vipassana Sammasankappa Magganga ) arises in every act of noting. The Mundane Right Understanding and Mundane Right Thought belong to the section 'Wisdom' (Panna Magganga ).
The development of the Insight Knowledges up to the Sankharupekkha Nana are based on the Three Samadhi Maggangas and Two Panna Maggangas. This is in conformity with the preaching of the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, which says that the Middle Way causes the Eye of Wisdom to arise.
Right speech (Samma Vaca), Right Action (Samma Kammanta), Right Livelihood (Samma Ajiva), belong to the section 'Morality' (Sila Magganga). By practising meditation these Sila Maggangas are accomplished.
The Three Samadhi Maggangas, Two Panna Maggangas and the, Three Sila Maggang in other words, are called the Middle Way ( Eight-fold Magganga). Continuous noting every act of seeing, hearing, touching, thinking, etc., develops New Eight-fold Maggan This development of New Eight-fold Magganga, beginning from the knowledge distinguishing between the Mind and the Matter up to the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations, amounts to the arising of the Eye of Wisdom. When this Eye of Wisdom (Mundane ) is matured the Nibbana is realized through Supramundane Path and Fruition Knowledges (Ariya Magga and Phala Nana). The Bodhisattva by practising the Middle Way (Eight-fold Noble Path) developed the Insight Knowledge after attaining the Arahatta Path and the Fruition Knowledge became a Fully Enlightened One. After becoming the Buddha He preached the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, so that others may, like Himself, realize Nibbana through the Ariya Magga and the Phala Nana by meditating on the arising and passing away of physical and mental phenomena.
In the Satipatthana Sutta the method, how to practise Insight Meditation is explained in detail. It is divided into Four Main Divisions, namely, (1) Contemplation on Body, i.e Mindfulness of Bodily Activities, such as, Walking, Standing, Sitting, etc.,
(2) Contemplation of Feelings, i. e., Mindfulness of Feelings, such as, Pleasant, Unpleasant, Neutral, etc.,
(3) Contemplation of Mind, i.e., Mindfulness of Thoughts, such as, Thinking, Reflecting, etc., and
(4) Contemplation of Mind-object, i.e., such as, Mindfulness of Seeing, Hearing, Touching, etc.
The Buddha said that the Four-fold Foundations of Mindfulness is the Only Way (Ekayano) to attain the Path Knowledge and to realize Nibbana ( Nayassa adhigamaya Nibbanassa sacchikiriyaya). Since the Buddha claimed that this is the Only Way, it must be remembered that no other way can lead to the attainment of the Magga, Phala and Nibbana. So as to escape from all suffering and to attain the Magga, Phala and the Nibbana one must practise this Mindfulness Meditation to the best of his ability. To be able to practise this Meditation I will explain in brief.
Meditating Vipassana For About Five Minutes:
Please sit with your legs crossed or in any suitable manner. As looking is not necessary, please close your eyes. Focus the Mind on the object of Meditation. In the beginning, it is difficult to take notice of all the arising, hearing, etc., and so begin with the noticing of the Rising and Falling of the movement of the abdomen. Put your Mind on the abdomen and when it rises note as 'Rising' and when it falls note as Falling. Noting must not be done verbally just to note mentally. Do not think of Rising and Falling as words but note only the actual process of the movement of the abdomen. Try to follow movement from the beginning to the end and the same with Falling movement. The awareness of this movement by mindful noting amounts to knowing of the element of motion in its ultimate reality. According to the Satipatthana Sutta this is Contemplation of Body. While thus noting the abdominal movement if thought or reflection arises take notice of it. This is Contemplation of the Mind. Then continue the noting of the abdominal movement. If pain or ache arises, take notice of it. This is Contemplation of Feelings. After noting it two or three times go back to the noting of the Rising and Falling of the abdomen. If hearing arises, take notice of it two or three times and go back to the noting of the abdominamovement. If seeing arises, take notice of it two or three times. This is Contemplation of Mind-objects. Then resume noting of the abdominal movement. Now let us practise for about Five Minutes.
Now five minutes are over. In one minute there can be 50 to 60 notings. For five minutes there will be not less than 250. This is developing good deed of Insight Meditation in accordance with the Teachings of the Buddha. While thuis noting, with the improvement of Concentration, Knowledge distinguishing between Mind and Matter, Knowledge of Cause and Effect, Knowledge of Arising and Passing away, Knowledge of Impermanency, Suffering and Egolessness may arise and the Nibbana be realized through the Path and the Fruition Knowledges.
By practising this Mindfulness Meditation by the Method as explained above, to of your ability, may you all realize the Nibbana in the very near future.
(From Mahasi Abroad (Second Series) the Lecture by Mahasi Sayadaw on his world Missionary Tour.)
Nature of the Buddha
The Awakened One
From the very beginning there were questions about the nature of the Buddha. Was he a god, a mere human teacher of morality or something else? Even today, many people mistakenly believe that the Buddha is the God of Buddhism or that he was just a teacher of philosophy like Socrates or that he is a transcendent savior like Jesus Christ. Even many Buddhists who are not familiar with the actual teachings of the Buddha as found in the sutras are likely to hold these same misconceptions. However, as this first passage will make clear, the Buddha did not see himself as definable in these or any other terms. The Brahmin Dona tried to discover if the Buddha was destined to become a deva (god), gandhabba (celestial musician), a yakkha (demon) or a human being. This was a polite way of asking about the Buddha's present identity. The Buddha, however, denies that he will become anything, and identifies himself only as a buddha, an "Awakened One."
On one occasion the Blessed One was walking on the highway between Ukkattha and Setavya. And it happened that the brahmin Dona was also walking along that road. Dona the brahmin saw on the footprints of the Blessed One the wheel marks with their thousand spokes, with rim and hub, perfect in every respect. Seeing these marks, he thought to himself: "It is truly wonderful, it is astonishing! These certainly cannot be the footprints of a human being."
Meanwhile the Blessed One had left the highway and had sat down under a tree not far off, with legs crossed, keeping his body erect, having set up mindfulness before him. Then Dona the brahmin, following the Blessed One's footprints, saw him seated under a tree, of pleasing appearance, inspiring confidence, with calm features and calm mind, in perfect composure and equipoise, controlled and restrained (like) a well-trained bull elephant. Seeing the Blessed One, Dona approached him and said:
"Will your reverence become a deva?"
"No, brahmin, I shall not become a deva."
"Then your reverence might become a gandhabba."
"No, brahmin, I shall not become a gandhabba."
"Then will your reverence become a yakkha?"
"No, brahmin, I shall not become a yakkha."
"Then will your reverence become a human being?"
"No, brahmin, I shall not become a human being."
"Now when I asked whether your reverence will become a deva or a gandhabba or a yakkha or a human being, you replied, 'I shall not.' What, then, will your reverence become?"
"Brahmin, those outflows whereby, if they were not abandoned, I might become a deva - these outflows are abandoned by me, cut off at the root, made barren like palm-tree stumps, obliterated so that they are no more subject to arise in the future.
"Just as, brahmin, a blue, red or white lotus, though born and grown in the water, rises up and stands unsoiled by the water, so, brahmin, though born and grown in the world, I have overcome the world and dwell unsoiled by the world. Consider me, O brahmin, a Buddha." (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 87 - 88)
The title Buddha, as mentioned before, means "the awakened one" and that is the one essential quality that sets the Buddha apart from all other sentient beings. This story also refers to the thousand spoked wheels on the Buddha's feet which were believed to be one of the thirty-two marks of a wheel rolling king or a buddha. A wheel rolling king is a divine emperor who is able to bring peace and justice to the entire world. A buddha, however, is one who changes the world by awakening himself and others to its true nature. In either case, they are said to bear these thirty-two marks so that they can be identified by those who know what to look for, such as the brahmins. Some of the thirty-two marks would strike people today as bizarre mutations, such as webbed hands and feet or hands which extend past the knees or the thousand spoked wheels on the soles of the feet. Others would perhaps inspire a sense of awe and wonder, such as a golden complexion which radiates light. Finally, there are marks like the tuft of curly hair growing between the eyebrows and the protuberance at the crown of the head which can be seen in most portraits or sculptures of the Buddha. In any case, these marks are a symbolic way of expressing the power and dignity of one who is able to change the entire world, either politically or spiritually. These marks, however, are still mere appearances and do not reveal the true character of the one who bears them. That is why Shakyamuni calls himself "Buddha," because it is his awakening and not his physical appearance or form that really matters.
The Buddha also tells Dona that he has extinguished and cut off the "outflows." What did the Buddha mean by this? The word "outflows" is actually a technical term in the Buddhist science of mind that refers to the mental defilements which lead to suffering. On the one hand, "outflows" refers to the tendency of the mind to flow out of itself in search of happiness and security. On the other hand, the deluded mind also allows outside influences to flow in and disturb the mind's clarity and equilibrium. One of the most obvious forms of this occurs when someone craves some object, person or environment in the belief that satisfying their desires will bring lasting peace and happiness. Another form of outflow is when one seeks to become something that one is not, to realize some ideal image of oneself. Finally, there is the basic ignorance that does not recognize the contingent and impermanent nature of the self and all other phenomena and so makes the false assumption that there is a fixed, permanent and independent self in the first place. Sometimes the false views and beliefs that one clings to in order to support these mistaken desires, ideals and assumptions is also counted as a form of mental defilement. As we shall see when we go deeper into the Buddha's teachings, the whole point of Buddhist teaching and practice is to uncover and uproot these defilements which are the sources of suffering. In this passage, however, what is important is that the Buddha is saying that he no longer feels the need to seek his happiness outside of himself, nor does he need to a seek out or assert a specific identity for himself. Though supremely self-aware, the Buddha also realizes that there is no real self to be aware of, therefore he denies that he is or will become anything human or supernatural. In other words, because he has woken up to the fact that there is no static or independent self to be defined, he now only refers to himself as one who is awake, a buddha.
Another time the Buddha was questioned by the wanderer Vacchagotta who wanted to know what happened to the Tathagata after death. Did he reappear in some other existence or not or both or neither? By asking this question, Vacchagotta assumes that there is some fixed entity that corresponds to the label Tathagata. The Buddha however, uses the simile of a fire to show that one should not think of the Tathagata as a fixed being that can be said to appear or disappear.
"What do you think, Vaccha? Suppose a fire were burning before you. Would you know: `This fire is burning before me'?"
"I would, Master Gotama."
"If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: `What does this fire burning before you burn in dependence on?' - being asked thus, what would you answer?"
"Being asked thus, Master Gotama, I would answer: `This fire burning before me burns in dependence on grass and sticks.'"
"If that fire before you were to be extinguished, would you know: `This fire before me has been extinguished'?"
"I would, Master Gotama."
"If someone were to ask you, Vaccha: `When that fire before you was extinguished, to which direction did it go: to the east, the west, the north, or the south?' - being asked thus, what would you answer?"
"That does not apply, Master Gotama. The fire burned in dependence on its fuel of grass and sticks. When that is used up, if it does not get any more fuel, being without fuel, it is reckoned as extinguished."
"So too, Vaccha, the Tathagata has abandoned that material form by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him; he has cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising. The Tathagata is liberated from reckoning in terms of material form, Vaccha, he is profound, immeasurable, unfathomable like the ocean. The terms `reappears' does not apply, the term `does not reappear' does not apply, the term `both reappears and does not reappear' does not apply, the term `neither reappears nor does not reappear' does not apply. The Tathagata has abandoned that feeling by which one describing the the Tathagata might describe him... has abandoned that perception by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him... has abandoned those formations by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him... has abandoned that consciousness by which one describing the Tathagata might describe him; he has cut it off at the root, made it like a palm stump, done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising. The Tathagata is liberated from reckoning in terms of consciousness, Vaccha; he is profound, immeasurable, unfathomable like the ocean. The term `reappears' does not apply, the term `does not reappear' does not apply, the term `both reappears and does not reappear' does not apply, the term `neither reappears nor does not reappear' does not apply." (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 593 - 594)
The Buddha makes this point again and again throughout his teachings. The Buddha does not think of himself in terms of a fixed identity that depends upon impermanent and contingent phenomena such as form, sensations, perceptions, volitions or even consciousness. The Buddha does not even try to identify a self apart from phenomena. It is not that the Buddha has negated or extinguished his selfhood, it is that the Buddha has awakened to the true selfless nature of reality which transcends the limitations of such self-conscious views and the finite reference points upon which such self-reference depends. One might say that before enlightenment, arbitrary boundaries between the self and the rest of reality have created a false view of self and that after enlightenment these boundaries are recognized as arbitrary and not ultimately significant. The boundaries of the self do remain insofar as they are needed to function in the world of conventional reality, but they no longer have any hold over those who have seen through them and realize that these fixed boundaries between self and other, beginning and end, inside and outside have no real substance. Free of these boundaries, the Buddha saw that there was no fixed, independent or definable self which can undergo birth or death in the first place. For this reason, the Buddha spoke of himself as the Tathagata, the "Thus Come/Thus Gone One." In other words, he was able to operate both in the realm of conventional reality in order to teach and impart liberation as the "one who comes from the realm of Truth" and in the realm of freedom from the fixed, independent and finite self as the "one who goes to the realm of Truth." The Tathagata, therefore, did not think of himself in terms of existence or non-existence, both, neither, or any other form of classification. Again and again, he pointed his disciples back to his pragmatic teachings concerning suffering and the end of suffering and away from idle speculation as to the nature of his existence as in the following passage:
"But Anuradha, when the Tathagata is not apprehended by you as real and actual here in this very life, is it fitting for you to declare: 'Friends, when a Tathagata is describing a Tathagata - the highest type of person, the supreme person, the attainer of the supreme attainment - he describes himself apart from these four cases: "The Tathagata exists after death," or "The Tathagata does not exist after death," or "The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death," or "The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death"'?"
"No, venerable sir."
"Good, good, Anuradha! Formerly, Anuradha, and also now, I make known just suffering and the cessation of suffering." (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 937 - 938)
It must be understood that the Buddha was not saying that people do not really exist, or that the Tathagata has escaped existence or that birth and death are not actual events. What he realized for himself and tried to share with others was the insight into the selfless nature of all events and phenomena. There are definitely people who are born and people who die, people who undergo suffering and joy, and on rare occasions people who awaken to the Truth and are able to teach the Truth to others. However, those who do know the Truth, the Dharma, no longer view or experience these things from the point-of-view of self-reference. For them, the very nature of self and other, suffering and joy, birth and death or even existence and non-existence has changed. In fact, the viewpoint of the Buddha has changed so radically that for him, these terms have become wholly inadequate and misleading.
Body of Dhamma
How, then, can one talk about the Buddha or Tathagata? Was the Buddha completely void of any self-image aside from awakening itself? In fact, the Buddha thought of his life in terms of the Dharma itself. One might say that through his awakening he ceased to live as a private individual and became instead a living embodiment or personification of the Dharma. The corollary to this is that the Dharma, not simply his personality or physical presence, was the true nature of his life. According to one story, there was once an elder monk named Vakkali who was fatally ill and his one regret was that he was not able to go and see the Buddha. When, out of compassion, the Buddha came to visit the sick elder, he made the following remark:
"Enough, Vakkali! Why do you want to see this foul body? One who sees the Dhamma sees me; one one who sees me sees the Dhamma. For in seeing the Dhamma, Vakkali, one sees me; and in seeing me, one sees the Dhamma." (Ibid, p. 939)
If seeing the Dharma is equivalent to seeing the Buddha, then one must ask: what exactly does it mean to see the Dharma? The Dharma, in this case, refers to the interdependent and dynamic life process which is the true nature of reality. As the Buddha states in another discourse: "One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination." (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p.284) Therefore, while the Buddha can not be defined by any particular phenomena or as any particular being, the Buddha is the true nature of reality itself which is characterized by dependent origination. In the Agganna Sutta of the Long Discourses of the Buddha the terms Brahmakaya, or Divine Body, and Dhamma-kaya, or Body of Dhamma, are used to indicate that the reality which the Buddha has awakened to is the true body of the Buddha which all his disciples will also realize for themselves by following his teachings. In the sutta, the Buddha teaches as follows:
"Vasettha, all of you, though of different birth, name, clan and family, who have gone forth from the household life into homelessness, if you are asked who you are, should reply: 'We are ascetics, followers of the Sakyan.' He whose faith in the Tathagata is settled, rooted, established, solid, unshakeable by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva or mara or Brahma or anyone in the world, can truly say: 'I am a true son of the Blessed Lord, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma.' Why is that? Because, Vasettha, this designates the Tathagata: 'The Body of Dhamma,' that is, 'The Body of Brahma,' or 'Become Dhamma,' that is, 'Become Brahma.'" (The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 409)
Teacher of Gods and Humans
While the true nature of the Buddha defied ordinary understanding because it was not dependent on the phenomena by which we usually judge and categorize, the Buddha did have certain characteristics and abilities which set him apart. The thirty-two marks of a great man have already been mentioned. Now we should turn to the actual powers and qualities of the Buddha which made him such a great teacher. The best place to begin is with the Buddha's response to the criticisms of a former disciple named Sunakkhatta. Because the Buddha would not answer his metaphysical inquiries or perform any miracles for him, Sunakkhatta left the Sangha and denounced the Buddha as a mere rationalistic philosopher.
Now on that occasion Sunakkhatta, son of the Licchavis, had recently left this Dhamma and discipline. He was making this statement before the Vesali assembly: "The recluse Gotama does not have any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. The recluse Gotama teaches a Dhamma [merely] hammered out by reasoning, following his own line of inquiry as it occurs to him, and when he teaches the Dhamma to anyone, it leads him when he practices it to the complete destruction of suffering." (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p. 164)
Upon hearing of this criticism from his chief disciple Sariputra, the Buddha stated that Sunakkhatta's denunciation was actually a form of praise, because it is true that the Buddha Dharma leads to the complete destruction of suffering. Sunakkhatta, unfortunately, was looking for magical displays and occult secrets and was unable to realize that these things are of no real consequence compared to the resolution of the problem of suffering. Many others did realize the supreme value of the Buddha's teachings and had spread the following "good report" about the Buddha and his teachings.
"The Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed. He declares this world with its gods, its Maras, and its Brahmas, this generation with its recluses and brahmins, with its princes and its people, which he has himself realize with direct knowledge. He teaches the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing, and he reveals a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure." (Ibid, p. 743)
The Buddha insists that Sunakkhatta is unable to appreciate the Buddha in this way because he did not realize the value of the Buddha Dharma. Essentially, this "good report" is asserting that the Buddha fully understands and fully expresses the true nature of life. Furthermore, this knowledge is "direct knowledge" in that the Buddha has seen for himself the true nature of the world and does not need to rely upon mere inference or any kind of divine revelation. It is even asserted that the Buddha's insight surpasses the insight of all other beings, even divine beings. For this reason, the Buddha is qualified to be the teacher of both gods and men.
This claim that the Buddha's insight surpasses even that of divine beings might seem very strange. One must remember, however, that according to the Buddha, even the gods are caught up in the cycle of birth and death. They may currently be enjoying a blissful and transcendent state as a reward for their virtuous actions in the past, but ultimately they will exhaust their store of merit and will have to relinquish their divine status and take birth again as a human being or even some lesser creature. Divine status, therefore, does not necessarily entail any greater insight into the workings of the process of birth and death than any other state. In fact, life as a divine being is said to be so comfortable, long lasting, and rewarding that very few of those who attain such a state even bother to worry about the problem of suffering and the cycle of birth and death. Also, as the Buddha, the Awakened One, the Buddha is no longer merely a human being. As we have seen above, the Buddha has transcended all categories and can no longer be assigned a place on the scale that stretches from human to divine. Finally, though one might imagine that the transcendent or cosmic vision that would be available to the gods would open up far profounder revelations than the mere "complete destruction of suffering," the Buddha taught that on the contrary the problem of suffering is truly the most fundamental issue that needs to be resolved. The problem of suffering is the key issue which deserves the highest priority, and its resolution is attainable by any human being who is able to appreciate and then apply the Buddha's teachings.
The Buddha then goes on to list the other abilities which he possesses that Sunakkhatta will not be able to realize due to his dismissal of the Buddha and the Dharma. The first three are actually the first three of the six supernatural powers which are forms of direct knowledge attained either through meditative concentration or spiritual insight. The final three of the six are listed below as the last three of the ten powers of the Tathagata. Of these six supernatural powers or direct knowledges, the first five can be attained as a by-product of meditative concentration and are available even to those who are not spiritually mature or liberated. The sixth, however, is attained only through spiritual insight and is possessed only by arhats, advanced bodhisattvas and buddhas.
"And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: `That Blessed One enjoys the various kinds of supernormal power: having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered through a wall, through an enclosure, through a mountain, as though through space; he dives in and out of the earth as though it were water; he walks on water without sinking as though it were earth; seated cross-legged, he travels in space like a bird; with his hand he touches and strokes the moon and the sun so powerful and mighty; he wields bodily mastery even as far as the Brahma-world." (Ibid, p. 165)
This first power of supernatural mastery over the body covers many of the standard miracles which holy men were thought to be capable of in ancient India and elsewhere. Many of these powers, such as walking on water or through walls, were also attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. One may or may not choose to believe in such miracles. Though the Buddha claimed to have possessed such powers, he did not consider them important, and even refused to make a display of them. The Buddha even forbid his disciples from using such powers for the sake of cheap displays to impress the masses. Assuming for a moment that such powers are actually attainable and were in fact possessed by the Buddha, it would seem as though the Buddha considered these powers a distraction from the real work of attaining insight and did not wish to draw any undue attention to such things. On a more mundane level, these miraculous powers poetically describe the accomplished meditator's total self-mastery and ease in relation to their body and surroundings.
"And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: `With the divine ear element, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Blessed One hears both kinds of sounds, the heavenly and the human, those that are far as well as near." (Ibid, p.165)
This power corresponds to the psychic ability known as clairaudience - the ability to hear things in remote locations beyond the power of the unaided human ear. This ability may have a basis in fact, but again it could also be an indication of the increased awareness of those who have cultivated mindful awareness through meditation.
"And he will never infer of me according to Dhamma: `That Blessed One encompasses with his own mind, the minds of other beings, other persons. He understands a mind affected by lust as affected by lust and a mind unaffected by lust as unaffected by lust; he understands a mind affected by hate as affected by hate and a mind unaffected by hate as unaffected by hate; he understands a mind affected by delusion as affected by delusion and a mind unaffected by delusion as unaffected by delusion; he understands a contracted mind as contracted and a distracted mind as distracted; he understands an exalted mind as exalted and an unexalted mind as unexalted; he understands a surpassed mind as surpassed and an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed; he understands a concentrated mind as concentrated and an unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated; he understands a liberated mind as liberated and an unliberated mind as unliberated." (Ibid, p. 165)
This ability is currently known as telepathy. As with the first two, there have been and still are reports of people who claim to be able to read the minds of others. Whatever the factual basis, this power would also describe the ability of someone whose awareness and empathy is so acute that they are able to intuit the mental states of others. Needless to say, this would be an invaluable ability for a teacher to have.
Ten Powers of the Tathagata
After describing these three supernatural powers, the Buddha goes on to describe the ten powers of the Tathagata which allow him to understand and express the true nature of reality to all sentient beings.
"Sariputta, the Tathagata has these ten Tathagata's powers, possessing which he claims the herd-leaders's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma. What are the ten?
(1) "Here, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the possible as possible and the impossible as impossible. And that is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, pp. 165 - 166)
According to the Bahudhatuka Sutta in the Middle Length Discourses, this means that the Buddha knows for certain that it is not possible that the enlightened can mistakenly believe that contingent phenomena are permanent, ultimately pleasurable, and possessed of a fixed identity; while it is possible that those who are unenlightened might do so.
The Buddha also knows that it is not possible for those who are enlightened to commit such heinous acts as killing their mother, killing their father, killing an arhat, shedding the blood of a Tathagata, or causing a schism in the Sangha; while it is possible for the unenlightened to do so.
The Buddha also knows that while it is possible for a single buddha or wheel-turning king to appear on any given world, it is not possible for there to be more than one on any given world. This point seems to be based upon the idea that it would be redundant for there to be more than one buddha; while a supreme ruler of a single world is by definition the only one.
The Buddha also knows that while it is impossible for a woman to become a buddha, or a wheel-turning king, or a Sakra (a.k.a, Indra), or a Brahma, or a Mara (these last being the thunder god, the creator god, and the devil respectively), it is possible for a man to become one of these five types of beings. This point does not seem to square with the Buddha's earlier position that buddhahood transcends such categorizing. It also introduces a male chauvinism that seems to go against the egalitarian nature of the rest of the Buddha's teachings. These assertions may or may not have been the actual views of Shakyamuni Buddha, but they seem to have less to do with the Buddha's insight than with the biases of Vedic culture at the time of the Buddha.
Finally, the Buddha knows that it is possible for good actions to lead to good results and even to the heavenly realms, while it is impossible that bad actions will do so; conversely, it is possible for bad actions to lead to bad results and even to hell, while it is impossible for good actions to do so. This last part is based upon the buddha's direct perception of the workings of the law of cause and effect.
(2) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the results of actions undertaken, past, future, and present, with possibilities and with causes. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
The gist of this power is that the Buddha has seen for himself that people reap what they sow. According to the Kukkuravatika Sutta in the Middle Length Discourses the Buddha taught that there are dark actions with dark results, bright actions with bright results, actions that are dark and bright with corresponding results, and finally actions that are neither-dark-nor-bright with corresponding results.
Dark actions and their results refer to the bodily karma of killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct; the verbal karma of lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and irresponsible speech; and the mental karma of greed, anger, and ignorance. Altogether these are the ten courses of unwholesome action. Dark results refer to painful rebirths in the hell realm, as a hungry ghost, or as an animal.
Bright actions refer to those who perform the ten courses of wholesome action which means refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, irresponsible speech, greed, anger, and ignorance. More positively, one could say that the ten courses of wholesome action consist of acts of loving-kindness, generosity, chastity, truthfulness, peace-making, kind words, responsible speech, living a simple life, showing compassion even to enemies, and cultivating wisdom. Bright results refer to pleasant rebirths in the heavenly realms.
Actions that are mixed could refer to either the conglomeration of dark and bright actions, or to actions that are performed with mixed motives. The result of such actions is rebirth in the realms of the fighting demons (asura), the human realm, and the lowest of the heavenly realms. Finally, actions that are neither-dark-nor-bright refer to those actions performed by one who no longer clings to results. This describes the actions of a Buddha and the actions of the arhats who are both freed from the chain of birth-and-death and are no longer bound to a future birth.
In the Culakammavibhanga Sutta of the Middle Length Discourses the Buddha describes certain specific acts and their results in terms of both the human realm and other possible rebirths. Those who are violent and murderous will end up in a realm of suffering or at the very least be reborn as a person with a very short life. Those who like to harm others will be reborn in a lower realm or as a person who must suffer from bad health. Those who are angry or easily provoked will be reborn in a realm of suffering or as an ugly person. Those who are envious will be reborn in a realm of suffering or as a person of no influence. Those who are stingy will be reborn in a realm of suffering or will suffer from poverty in the human realm. Those who are arrogant will be reborn into a realm of suffering or as a low-born person. Those who do not seek out wisdom will be born into a realm of suffering or as a person with little intelligence.
On the contrary, those who do the opposite will be reborn into the more pleasant realms within the six worlds, such as the human or heavenly realms, and their human rebirths will have the appropriate benefits. Those who are kind and gentle and who do not kill others will have long lives. Those who do not harm others will be blessed with good health. Those who are patient will be blessed with good looks. Those who are not envious will receive opportunities to attain influence. Those who are generous will be blessed with wealth. Those who are not arrogant will be born into a noble family. Finally, those who cultivate wisdom will be blessed with intelligence.
The constant refrain of this sutta is that people are responsible for their actions and that they are the creators of their own destiny. In fact, beings are composed of the fruits of their actions, but this will be taken up in another section. The Buddha says:
"Beings are owners of their actions, student, heirs of their actions; they originate from their actions, are bound to their actions, have their actions as their refuge. It is action that distinguishes beings as inferior or superior." (Ibid, p. 1053)
One last teaching in relation to the Buddha's direct knowledge of the results of actions that is important to cover is the Mahakammavibhanga Sutta of the Middle Length Discourses wherein the Buddha explains that the unfolding of actions and their results is not always a simple and straightforward affair. Again, the Buddha explains the outcome of cause and effect in terms of the ten wholesome and ten unwholesome courses of action as explained above. According to the Buddha, some who perform the ten unwholesome acts are reborn in the lower realms and some may be reborn in the higher realms. Conversely, some who perform the ten wholesome acts are reborn in the higher realms while some may be reborn in the lower realms. That some good and bad actions seem incapable of bringing about corresponding results in the next lifetime while other good and bad actions do seem capable of bringing about such results is stated by the Buddha as follows:
"Thus, Ananda, there is action that is incapable [of good result] and appears incapable; there is action that is incapable [of good result] and appears capable; there is action that is capable [of good result] and appears capable; and there is action that is capable [of good result] and appears incapable." (Ibid, p. 1065)
The Buddha explains that this is because the fruition of one's actions do not always occur immediately or even in the next lifetime. One's self-created destiny must be understood within the context of all of one's actions and not just a select few. In fact, even the causes of just one lifetime may be offset by the causal consequences from countless previous lifetimes which have yet to come to fruition. This is a very frightening revelation, because most of us do not have the power to remember our previous lifetimes, let alone the causes that we have set in motion which have yet to bear fruit. This means that a seemingly evil person may have good fortune or a pleasant rebirth due to past good deeds, while a seemingly good person may suffer great misfortune or even a painful rebirth due to bad actions done in the past. Nevertheless, the Buddha does insist that wholesome actions will have pleasant results eventually. The same holds for unwholesome actions. Whether in this lifetime, the next lifetime, or some future lifetime, one will always reap what one has sown.
Without the vast and comprehensive vision and insight of Buddhahood, the Buddha warns that those who have a limited ability to see the causal conditions of those who have died may jump to the wrong conclusions about the workings of cause and effect. They may think that wholesome actions always lead to a pleasant rebirth in the next lifetime whereas unwholesome actions always lead to a painful rebirth. Conversely, they might think that unwholesome actions could lead to pleasant rebirths or that wholesome actions could lead to painful rebirths. Because they only see a little and do not realize that the causes and consequences of countless lifetimes are involved, they totally misunderstand the workings of cause and effect and either oversimplify it or negate it. This is why the direct knowledge and comprehensive insight of the Buddha is so important when it comes to properly understanding the workings of cause and effect.
The one thing that can directly impact the nature of one's next rebirth regardless of one's past actions, whether known or unknown, is whether one has right views or wrong views at the moment of death. This is important, because one who holds wrong views will negate even the good that they have done, whereas those who hold right views will be able to repent their past evil and renounce the clinging for results which keeps us trapped within the world of birth and death. Therefore, the Buddha knew that people should not rely on simply being good if they wish to have a pleasant rebirth, because their underlying motives might be selfish and unwholesome, and the limited good performed in one lifetime may not be enough to offset the consequences of unwholesome deeds from the past. Conversely, while one should not indulge in unwholesome acts, one need not despair of either past or present unwholesome activities if one is able to sincerely repent of them and cultivate right views.
This power is actually one of the most outstanding of all the powers of the Buddha. The other powers could even be viewed as different aspects of this power. While this power may seem to imply the simple ability to know that good causes have good effects, while bad actions have bad effects over the course of many lifetimes, it actually leads to some very complex and subtle insights into the nature of the human condition as the above three suttas reveal. Through this power, the Buddha is able to see the universal laws which bring about the self-creation of destiny, character, personality, and even physical features and social standing. Beyond that, the Buddha is able to see that mere ethics or morality are not enough to secure liberation from suffering. Far from merely envisioning a universe of intractable moral laws, the Buddha actually sees where one must affirm wholesome courses of action and then transcend even the pleasant results of those actions. The Buddha saw that even more fundamental than our actions and their consequences are the views which motivate our actions and cause us to either act without regard for consequences or to act with full awareness of the chains of cause and effect. Ultimately, the Buddha envisions a universe where even morality must be transcended for the sake of liberation from suffering. In other words, even good results must be renounced if one is to achieve liberation from suffering.
(3) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the ways leading to all destinations. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
This power specifically gives the Buddha the ability to know which actions will lead to each of the six worlds which compose samsara. These are the realms of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, fighting demons, human beings, and the heavens. The principle is that one will be reborn in the realm and among those beings with whom one has an affinity due to the nature of one's thoughts, words and deeds. The Buddha also knows which actions will lead to the liberation of nirvana. The six worlds and the nature of nirvana will all be discussed in greater detail in other chapters.
(4) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the world with its many and different elements. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
This power is the knowledge of the elements which compose the world that we live in and their implications regarding our freedom and liberation. These elements are also the basis for Abhidharma analysis and are the building blocks of the Buddhist worldview and cosmology. They are enumerated in the Bahudhatuka Sutta of the Middle Length Discourses. The first set of elements are the eighteen elements of the six sense bases of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind; the six sense objects of form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental objects; and the six sense consciousnesses corresponding to each of the six senses. Awareness of these eighteen elements enables one to realize that our experience of the world is actually a conglomeration of many factors coming together, with no one element taking precedence over the others. This will be discussed further in another chapter.
The Buddha is also aware of the six elements of earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness. The first four of these are symbolic of the forces of solidity, cohesion, temperature, and movement. Again, awareness of these elements leads to the insight that this world is composed of many disparate elements which must come together interdependently in order to form the world of our experience.
The Buddha is also aware of the elements of our subjective experience of the world which can be categorized as physical pleasure and pain; mental joy and grief; and equanimity and ignorance.
The Buddha is also aware of the elements which compose human motivation: sensual desire, renunciation, ill will, non-ill will, cruelty, and non-cruelty. Knowledge of these various motivations are indispensable in discerning the right intentions that one must cultivate in order to escape from suffering and achieve liberation. Renunciation, non-ill will, and non-cruelty are, in fact, the intentions which compose the path of right thought on the eightfold path.
The Buddha is also aware of the three realms of desire, form, and formlessness; and furthermore, is aware of the unsatisfactory nature of all three. These three realms are the three basic divisions of Buddhist cosmology and will be dealt with in more detail in another chapter.
Finally, the Buddha is aware of the conditioned and the unconditioned. The conditioned refers to all contingent phenomena which arise through causes and conditions and are therefore impermanent, unsatisfactory and without a self. The unconditioned refers to nirvana.
(5) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is how beings have different inclinations. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
The Buddha is also aware of the different levels of spiritual maturity that different individuals may or may not have reached. Some are high-minded and some are low-minded. He knows what people are interested in and what they may or may not be ready to hear. With this in mind, the Buddha is able to tailor his teachings to match the inclinations of those he teaches.
(6) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the disposition of the faculties of other beings, other persons. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
This refers to the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom which will be discussed in another chapter. In short, in order to attain liberation, individuals must cultivate these five faculties. This power is the Buddha's ability to ascertain the abilities of any particular individual in regard to these faculties and their level of development.
(7) "Again, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the defilement, the cleansing, and the emergence in regard to the dhyanas, liberations, concentrations, and attainments. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
The dhyanas are the four increasingly refined states of mind which are attained through concentration on one of forty different subjects for meditation as enumerated by Buddhaghosa inteh Visuddhimagga. These will be discussed in detail later. The first dhyana is a state free of sensuality and the five hindrancs of lust, ill will, sloth/torpor, restlessness/worry, and doubt. It is positively characterized by applied and sustained thought in regard to the subject of meditation. Rapture and pleasure accompany this state as well. The second dhyana leaves behind applied and sustained thought but retains rapture and pleasure. Self-confidence and singleness of mind arise in this state. In the third dhyana, rapture fades away but pleasure remains and the meditator pleasantly abides in equanimity and mindfulness. In the fourth dhyana there is pure mindfulness. The attainments are nine states which include the first four dhyanas. After the attainment of pure awareness in the fourth dhyana one can then leave behind all material considerations and successively abide in the awareness of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and then the state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Beyond even that the meditator who has destroyed all taints (in other words, an arhat) can attain the state wherein all feeling and perception ceases. (Ibid, pp. 250-251) The eight liberations consist of seeing form internally, seeing form externally, resolving to see only the beautiful, and the last five of the nine attainments from the perception of infinite space to the total cessation of feeling and perception. (Ibid, pp. 638-639)
(8) "Again, the Tathagata recollects his manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many aeons of world-contraction, many aeons of world-exapansion: `There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my life-term; and passing away from there, I reappeared elsewhere; and there too I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my life-term; and passing away from there, I reappeared here.' Thus with their aspects and particulars he recollects his manifold past lives. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
This is also the fourth of the six supernatural powers gained through meditative concentration, so it is not exclusive to the Buddha. In modern times, the ability to recollect past lives has been claimed by psychics like Edgar Cayce, young children who claim to have memories of their previous lifetime who were studied by Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, and also the many patients of past life regression therapy which uses hypnosis to recall past life memories. Shakyamuni Buddha's power to recall past lives is on a much different level however. The Buddha did not just have faint recollections of one or two past lives in childhood or with the help of hypnosis. The Buddha claimed to have consciously recalled the details of countless past lives going back to the beginningless past. In fact, this was part of what enabled him to fully apprehend the law of cause and effect. Some have doubted that the Buddha actually taught rebirth as anything other than a metaphor or a concession to folk religion. However, according to the Buddha himself, not only did he recollect all his past lives, but he considered it one of the powers possessed by all Buddhas, and it was through such an ability that he was able to realize the law of cause and effect - the very cornerstone of his teachings.
(9) "Again, with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Tathagata sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. I understood how beings pass according to their actions thus: `These worthy beings who were ill-conducted in body, speech, and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well-conducted in body, speech, and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.' Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and I understood how beings pass on according to their actions. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 166)
This is the fifth of the six supernatural powers attained through meditative concentration. In some ways, it corresponds to the psychic ability known as clairvoyance. However, this power seems to be much more than simply the ability to see things that would normally be out of visual range. This power enables the Buddha to see into all realms of becoming, and furthermore to see where and how the various beings within those realms are being reborn. Through this power, the Buddha can actually observe the present workings of the law of cause and effect in the lives of all beings and not just in his own life.
(10) "Again, by realising for himself with direct knowledge, the Tathagata here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints. That too is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma.
"The Tathagata has these ten Tathagata's powers, possessing which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, pp. 166-167)
This is the last of the six supernatural powers. It is available only to those who have attained sufficient insight to break through the taints which keep sentient beings trapped within the cycle of birth and death. This power is the one whereby the Buddha actually knows that he is free and no longer bound by suffering or its causes. It is this power which the Buddha wishes to show others how to cultivate for themselves. All of the other powers and abilities are subordinate to this one.
Having expounded these various powers and abilities the Buddha then strongly warns against the view that the Buddha is merely a speculative philosopher. He even insists that one who holds such a view will end up in hell.
"Sariputta, when I know and see thus, should anyone say of me: `The recluse Gotama does not have any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. The recluse Gotama teaches a Dhamma [merely] hammered out by reasoning, following his own line of inquiry as it occurs to him' - unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as [surely as if he had been] carried off and put there he will wind up in hell. Just as a monk possessed of virtue, concentration, and wisdom would here and now enjoy final knowledge, so it will happen in this case, I say, that unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as [surely as if he had been] carried off and put there he will wind up in hell." (Ibid, p. 167)
Why should thinking that the Buddha's teachings were the result of mere reasoning be so serious an act that one will fall into hell for it? It is because such an assertion is a slander against the Buddha, a misrepresentation and even a denial of the very nature of the Buddha. The Buddha is one who is "awake" and who has seen the truth about life for himself. Rejecting the Buddha's claim is therefore a rejection of the one person who is actually "telling it like it is." Labeling the Buddha a speculative philosopher and his teachings as mere opinions, as Sunakkhatta is doing, is to dismiss the one person who actually does know what he is talking about. It is therefore a denial of truth itself. This turning away from the truth is what leads to delusion, self-deception and ultimately to hell.
Four Types of Fearlessness
Next, the Buddha begins his explanation of the four types of fearlessness, here called the four kinds of intrepidity. These four describe the confidence and competence with which the Buddha teaches the Dharma.
"Sariputta, the Tathagata has these four kinds of intrepidity, possessing which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma. What are these four? Here, I see no ground on which any recluse or brahmin or god or Mara or Brahma or anyone else at all in the world could, in accordance with the Dhamma, accuse me thus: `While you claim full enlightenment, you are not fully enlightened in regard to certain things.' And seeing no ground for that, I abide in safety, fearlessness, and intrepidity." (Ibid, p. 167)
Here the Buddha states that he is fully enlightened and there is nothing more that he needs to realize. He has no fear that he has overlooked anything.
"I see no ground on which any recluse...or anyone at all could accuse me thus: `While you claim to have destroyed the taints, these taints are undestroyed by you.' And seeing no ground for that, I abide in safety, fearlessness, and intrepidity." (Ibid, p. 167)
Here the Buddha states that he no longer has any taints or defilements. In other words, the Buddha is confident that he is totally free of all negative tendencies. He has reached the pinnacle of human perfection.
"I see no ground on which any recluse...or anyone at all could accuse me thus: `Those things called obstructions by you are not able to obstruct one who engages in them.' And seeing no ground for that, I abide in safety, fearlessness, and intrepidity." (Ibid, p. 167)
Here the Buddha states that what he has called obstacles to practice are in fact obstacles. He is not merely guessing, relying on conventional wisdom, tradition, or his own subjective feelings. He is claiming to know for a fact that certain actions and attitudes will hinder practice.
"I see no ground on which any recluse...or anyone at all could accuse me thus: `When you teach the Dhamma to someone, it does not lead him when he practices it to the complete destruction of suffering.' And seeing no ground for that, I abide in safety, fearlessness, and intrepidity." (Ibid, p. 168)
Finally the Buddha states that his teaching will definitely lead those who practice it to liberation. He has no fear that what he has taught will be ineffective. He is certain his teachings are the way to attain liberation.
"A Tathagata has these four kinds of intrepidity, possessing which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and set rolling the Wheel of Brahma." (Ibid, p. 168)
The Buddha is supremely confident in his awakening, his freedom from impurity, his ability to point out obstacles to his disciples and the efficaciousness of his teachings. Because he is without fear he can teach all people without hesitation or worry that someone might point out a flaw or mistake in what he teaches. He has no fear that someone else might surpass his own teaching and example. This confidence and it's basis in the Buddha's direct knowledge and many powers and abilities is what makes him a leader who is qualified to teach others the Dharma.
Three Foundations of Mindfulness
The next set of virtues which distinguish the Buddha are the three foundations of mindfulness which make the Buddha an incomparable teacher. These three types of mindfulness are different from the four foundations of mindfulness which are the basis of Buddhist meditation practice. These three pertain to the Buddha's state of mind when teaching others.
"There are three foundations of mindfulness that the Noble One cultivates, cultivating which the Noble One is a teacher fit to instruct a group." So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? "Here, monks, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: 'This is for your welfare; this is for your happiness.' His disciples do not want to hear or give ear or exert their minds to understand; they err and turn aside from the Teacher's Dispensation. With that the Tathagata is not satisfied and feels no satisfaction; yet he dwells unmoved, mindful, and fully aware. This, monks, is called the first foundation of mindfulness that the Noble One cultivates, cultivating which the Noble One is a teacher fit to instruct a group." (Ibid, p. 1071)
The first foundation of mindfulness is the Buddha's ability to remain undisturbed and fully aware even when his disciples misunderstand, ignore or even reject his teachings. He is not pleased by this, but neither does he allow it to bother him. It seems to be implied that motivated by compassion the Buddha will continue to teach until the disciples begin to understand him correctly or that he will at least be available to the disciples when they are ready to be taught.
"Furthermore, monks, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: `This is for your welfare; this is for your happiness.' Some of his disciples will not hear or give ear or exert their minds to understand; they err and turn aside from the Teacher's Dispensation. Some of his disciples will hear and give ear and exert their minds to understand; they do not err and turn aside from the Teacher's Dispensation. With that the Tathagata is not satisfied and feels no satisfaction, and he is not dissatisfied and feels no dissatisfaction; remaining free of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction, he dwells in equanimity, mindful and fully aware. This, monks, is called the second foundation of mindfulness that the Noble One cultivates, cultivating which the Noble One is a teacher fit to instruct a group." (Ibid, p. 1071)
The second foundation of mindfulness is the Buddha's ability to remain undisturbed and fully aware even when only some of his disciples pay attention and follow his teachings while others do not pay attention or follow his teachings. He is neither pleased nor displeased by this, but remains calm and compassionate.
"Furthermore, monks, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: 'This is for your welfare; this is for your happiness.' His disciples will hear and give ear and exert their minds to understand; they do not err and turn aside from the Teacher's Dispensation. With that the Tathagata is satisfied and feels satisfaction; yet he dwells unmoved, mindful, and fully aware. This, monks, is called the third foundation of mindfulness that the Noble One cultivates, cultivating which the Noble One is a teacher fit to instruct a group." (Ibid, p. 1072)
The third foundation of mindfulness is the Buddha's ability to remain undisturbed and fully aware even when all the disciples pay attention and follow his teachings. Even though he is pleased that his disciples have begun to practice as he has taught them, the Buddha does not lose his composure or give in to pride. That the Buddha is indeed satisfied shows that he is not indifferent to his disciples' success or failure. Rather, his satisfaction is characterized by the same calm and compassion displayed in the first two cases.
"So it was with reference to this that it was said: 'There are three foundations of mindfulness that the Noble One cultivates, cultivating which the Noble One is a teacher fit to instruct a group.'" (Ibid, p. 1072)
The three foundations of mindfulness in regard to teaching his disciples show that the Buddha had the ability to remain calm and compassionate in all circumstances. He did not give in to frustration when faced with misunderstanding or rejection, nor impatience when only some disciples progressed and other did not, nor did he become smug or show excessive elation when his disciples did listen to him and understand his teachings. He also was not satisfied until all his disciples were able to understand and progress in their practice. As a teacher, the Buddha approached every teaching situation with the same even-minded calmness and clarity. His compassionate wish to share his insight extended to all his disciples, whether they proved to be good or bad students. These qualities, in addition to his supernatural insight and supreme confidence, are what made the Buddha such an unexcelled teacher of the path to liberation.
Finally, we come to the great compassion which sets the Buddha apart. While others may be good teachers or may have succeeded in attaining supernatural powers or even liberation itself, it is the Buddha alone whose compassion is so great that he remains in the world of suffering beings utilizing his powers and abilities so that they too may attain liberation. The temptation to leave the world behind and enjoy the peace of nirvana and his final decision to stay in the world out of compassion has already been told in the story of the Buddha's enlightenment and his subsequent encounter with Brahma. In one sutta, the Buddha, asks his disciples what they think the Buddha's motivation for teaching is.
"What do you think about me, monks? That the recluse Gotama teaches the Dhamma for the sake of robes? Or that the recluse Gotama teaches the Dhamma for the sake of alms-food? Or that the recluse Gotama teaches the Dhamma for the sake of a resting place? Or that the recluse Gotama teaches the Dhamma for the sake of some better state of being?" (Ibid, p. 847)
The disciples respond that they do not think the Buddha teaches for any of those reasons. The Buddha then asks them what they think his real motivation is. The disciples respond as follows:
"Venerable sir, we think thus about the Blessed One: `The Blessed One is compassionate and seeks our welfare; he teaches the Dhamma out of compassion.'" (Ibid, p. 847)
The Buddha himself declares that a Buddha is the one person who appears in the world out of compassion in the following statement:
"Monks, there is one person whose arising in the world is for the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude, who comes out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare and happiness of devas and humans. Who is that one person? It is the Tathagata, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One. This is that one person." (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p. 37)
The Buddha's compassion, however, does not mean that he can do his disciple's work of reflecting upon, realizing, and living in accord with the teachings for them. In many discourses, the Buddha ends by stating that he has done all that he can out of compassion for his disciples, and now it is up to them to follow his teachings and attain liberation for themselves. The Buddha's compassion, then, is to empower others through the Dhamma.
"Thus, monks, I have taught you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned. Whatever should be done, monks, by a compassionate teacher out of compassion for his disciples, desiring their welfare, that I have done for you. These are the feet of trees, monks, these are empty huts. Meditate, monks, do not be negligent, lest you regret it later. This is our instruction to you." (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1378)
The Uniqueness of the Buddha
The ten powers, four types of fearlessness, three foundations of mindfulness, and the Buddha's great compassion are known collectively in many of the Abhidharma traditions as the eighteen unique virtues of a Buddha. While some of the virtues listed may be possessed by others, only the Buddha possesses all eighteen virtues together. In addition, the Buddha is the first one to have discovered the way to liberation in this world in this time period and no one can equal this initial accomplishment until the Dharma has once again been forgotten and must be rediscovered. The following conversation between a brahmin and Ananda after the Buddha's passing into final nirvana should illustrate this point.
"Master Ananda, is there any single monk who possesses in each and every way all those qualities that were possessed by Master Gotama, accomplished and fully enlightened?"
"There is no single monk, brahmin, who possesses in each and every way all those qualities that were possessed by the Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened. For the Blessed One was the arouser of the unarisen path, the producer of the unproduced path, the declarer of the undeclared path; he was the knower of the path, the finder of the path, the one skilled in the path. But his disciples now abide following that path and become possessed of it afterwards." (The Middle Length Discourses, p. 880 - 881)
Ultimately it is not any metaphysical quality or divine status or special powers which qualify a Buddha. The Buddha himself clearly stated that awakening to the Four Noble Truths is the primary quality of a Tathagata.
"Monks, there are these Four Noble Truths. What four? The noble truth of suffering, the noble truth of the origin of suffering, the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering. It is because he has fully awakened to these Four Noble Truths as they really are that the Tathagata is called the Arahant, the Perfectly Enlightened One." (The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, p. 1854)
Taking all of these statements by the Buddha and his closest disciples together, the nature of the Buddha can be summarized in terms of his unassisted awakening, his compassion for the suffering of all beings, and the multitude of powers and abilities which made him the consummate teacher. In the living memory of humankind, the wisdom, compassion, and power of the Buddha has served as an inspiration to millions of people. Because of the Buddha's teaching and personal example, countless numbers of people through the ages have awakened to the Dharma for themselves, thereby achieving liberation and realizing their own capacity for selfless compassion and their own ability to relieve suffering and bring happiness to the world. The Buddha's nature, while consisting of wisdom, compassion and capability to an unprecedented degree, is not the sole property of a single man who lived 2,500 years ago. It is the nature of anyone who awakens to the true nature of life. It is the nature of our own lives, and that nature is able to express itself whenever anyone hears the Dharma, confidently and joyfully puts it into practice, and awakens to the Truth for themselves.
Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Botson: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Nyanaponika, Thera and Bodhi, Bhikkhu trans. & ed., Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1999.
Walshe, Maurice, trans. The
Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom
Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1996, 2002.
Object of Life and the Means of Its Attainment
(A talk by Graeme Lyall given to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Australia on Religious Founders' Day, Al Masjid bait ul Huda, 5th May, 1996)
I am delighted to be able to share this important occasion with you, the centenary of the publication of the book, "Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam". I am dealing with one of the themes of the book, "The Object of Life and the Means of its Attainment". What, then, is the object of life? To this question people will give diverse answers. Some may say - to make a lot of money. Why do people want money? Because they believe that this will bring them many material posessions which, they imagine, will bring them happiness. Can material posessions bring happiness? To a limited extent, they can, but is one really satisfied? Usually it's the case that no matter what you have you can always envisage having something better or bigger. These posessions can also be the cause of anxiety for fear of losing them. A story from the Buddha's time tells of the Buddha sitting by the side of the road with some of his monks when a farmer came by looking very distressed. "Did you see a herd of cows pass this way?" he asked. "No!" said the Buddha. "Oh dear!" said the farmer, " I have lost all of my cows and last year there was no rain and my crops failed. I'm so unhappy. My life is ruined". After he had gone, the Buddha turned to his monks and said, " Monks, aren't you fortunate that you don't own any cows?". There is always present a craving or attachment. This craving or attachment, whether it be for material things, friends or family can be a source of sorrow - the opposite of happiness. This sorrow or unsatisfactoriness is described in the Buddha's teachings as 'dukkha', whereas happiness, which most people seek is called 'sukkha'. The Buddha taught that the nature of life is dukkha. Most of us would prefer to experience sukkha but the very fact that our happy states don't last, makes them, in effect, unsatisfying or sorrowful. The object of life, for most of us, then is to find happiness - a lasting happiness, but, life by its very nature is full of sorrow. The essence of the Buddha's teaching is contained in the Four Noble Truths, the first of which states that "Life is, by its very nature, dukkha, unsatisfying or frustrating". Dukkha is often translated as 'suffering' but it is much more than that. It certainly means physical and mental suffering but it also means that life is full of frustrations - we would always prefer things to be other than the way they are. As we grow old, we wish we could remain young. If we are poor, we wish we could be rich. When we are separated from our friends and loved ones, or, in the case of the farmer, our possessions, we are saddened. Dukkha includes birth, sickness, old age, pain and despair, separation from those whom we like and association with those whom we dislike. All of these are examples of Dukkha and that is the First Noble Truth. No matter what is the nature of things in life, we always crave for them to be other than the way they are. We don't want to face the fact that life is unsatisfactory or frustrating. We always seek to relieve this unsatisfactoriness by craving for more of this or more of that. This brings us to the second of the Four Noble Truths which tells us that the cause of dukkha is rooted in what are known as the three poisons, greed or attachment, anger or hatred and a deluded mind. We tend to be attached to people and material things and when we are separated from them, we suffer regret. We cling to these things as if they will last forever and we find it hard to accept the fact that they don't. We get angry or have aversions to those things that we do not like. Buddhism teaches that anger harms the one who is angry more than the object to which this anger is directed. Anger causes heating of the blood and an unpleasant appearance. The more we get angry with someone and they react to our anger the more this anger increases. Anger is unproductive - it doesn't solve any problems. Our minds are deluded because we do not see things as they really are - that is, subject to impermanence (anicca, Pali), frustrating (dukkha, Pali) and devoid of a permanent self or substance (anatta, Pali). Everything, material or immaterial, is subject to change or impermanence. Perhaps you are sitting comfortably in your chairs at the moment. If you remain in that chair for the next three hours, without moving, do you still think you could regard the chair as comfortable? If you remained fixed in that chair for a month, you would probably find that you are crippled and unable to move. If you remain in that chair for a hundred years, you will probably be a skeleton and the chair will be fairly seedy too. What starts as being regarded as 'comfortable' can soon change to being uncomfortable. Everything is relative. The way we see things depends on the time, place and current situation. We, ourselves, are subject to this change. Every cell in our body is constantly aging and dying and being replaced. Our thoughts and ideas are constantly changing or being modified. Your thoughts and ideas, since you arrived in this beautiful mosque, are different from before you arrived. They have changed considerably. Is there anything in you, which is not subject to this change? I don't think so. This is why Buddhists say, in the ultimate sense, there is no 'you' or unchanging self entity. There is no ghost in the machine pressing the buttons. This concept of change and the comprehension of the idea of "no self' is difficult to accept and is, therefore, Dukkha. The third Noble Truth concerns the overcoming of Dukka, that is, overcoming the greed, anger and delusion that are the source of Dukkha. Accepting change as a characteristic of life and not becoming angry or frustrated about it is part of the way to overcoming Dukkha. This overcoming of Dukkha is termed "Nirvana". Nirvana is not a place but could be described as a state of mind - a mind that sees things as they really are and not clouded by delusion. Yet it is more than just a state of mind. It transcends speculation and description. The Buddha spoke of it thus: 'Monks, there is an unborn, a not-become, a not-made, a not-compounded. Monks, if that unborn, not-become, not-made, not-compounded were not, there would be apparent no escape from this that here is born, become, made, compounded. But, monks, since there is an unborn, not-become, not-made, not-compounded, therefore the escape from this that here is born, become, made and compounded is apparent.' Some may refer to this unborn, not-become, not-made, not compounded as God. Buddhists, however, are reluctant to use the term "God". God means different things to different people. Some will say that it refers to an anthropomorphic being like ourselves who created the world whilst others, such as the Christian Philosopher of Religion, Paul Tillich, suggests that God is the 'ground of being' - the very fact of existence, whereas others prefer not to define God because such things as descriptions are inadequate when speaking of the transcendental. It is because of the confusion surrounding meaning of the term "God" that Buddhists avoid using the term altogether. Buddhists speak of Nirvana - that which is unborn, not-become, not-made, and not-compounded. Nirvana is not anihilation, as many non-Buddhists claim but is a state beyond becoming - a transcendental state. It is beyond comparison with anything that we can know in the world so how can we define it? All descriptions are inadequate. The Fourth Noble Truth is the method taught by the Buddha for attaining this state of Nirvana. It is the Noble Eightfold Path. You may be wondering why the term 'Noble'(Ariya) is used for the Path. One who walks the Path is considered to be a noble or worthy person. The eight steps of the Path are: Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Right Understanding is knowledge that the Four Noble Truths lead to the overcoming of Dukkha. It does not imply a total understanding of these Truths but a confidence that, by following the Path, the result, Nirvana, will be attained. Right Thought is to be constantly aware of one's thoughts and actions and thereby avoiding harm to any living creature. Right Speech is awareness of one's speech so that, what one says, is beneficial to the hearer. Right Action is to be aware of one's actions and observe the five precepts of avoiding the taking of life, taking what is not given to you, sexual misconduct, lying and deceiving and the partaking of alcohol and drugs which tend to distort the mind. Essentially one should avoid any action which may cause harm to oneself or any other living creature. Right Livelihood is to earn one's living in a way that does not cause harm or suffering. Such occupations as the selling of intoxicants, firearms or animals for slaughter would be considered inappropriate for Buddhists. Right Effort is the avoiding of evil which has not already arisen, rejecting evil which has already arisen, the acquiring of wholesome things which have not yet been acquired and the stabilising of those wholesome characteristics that have already been acquired. Right Mindfulness is training in constant awareness of the effects of one's actions, whether of body, speech or mind, and thus avoiding harmful actions. Right Concentration is cultivating the mind through concentration and meditation so that one attains intuitive insight. Meditation (Bhavana) is a central part of Buddhist practice. In the Theravadin tradition, two forms of meditation, calm (Samatha) and insight (Vipassana) are recognised as essential practice in achieving spiritual progress. Calming the mind is achieved by concentration on a specific object and excluding all extraneous thoughts. Often, the breath or the movement of the diaphragm is used as a suitable object for concentration. At other times, objects, such as coloured discs (Kasinas) or meditation beads (Mala) or even counting the breaths are used to fix the mind during this preliminary practice. This concentration practice, calms the mind and induces a feeling of well-being. It is also a necessary practice for gaining one-pointedness of mind or full concentration. Once the mind has been trained in concentration, the meditator can then reflect on the feelings and sensations of the body, noting them as they arise and pass away. This latter practice is known as Vipassana and is the means of cultivating insight or mindfulness. In the Cha'n (Zen, Japanese) tradition, two techniques are employed. One method is to concentrate on the breath and then try to clear the mind of all thoughts whatsoever. This method eliminates the constant chatter of the mind and results in an awakening (satori). Another Cha'an technique is to ponder a question (Kung-an, Chinese, Koan, Japanese), which has no rational answer. Typical koans are, "what was your face before you were born?" "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" or the word "Mu". These techniques are aimed at pushing the mind beyond rational thought in order to experience the ultimate awakening. A technique used by the Pure Land Sect of the Mahayana is to constantly recite the name (nien-fo, Chinese, nembutsu, Japanese) of the Buddha of infinite light, Amitabha Buddha (Omi t'o-Fo, Chinese, Amida Butsu, Japanese). This, again, is a means of fixing the mind on one object and not dissimilar to repetitions of prayers used by many Christians. The result is a calmed mind, and, according to Pure Land Buddhism, rebirth in the Pure Land where enlightenment may be attained by listening to the teaching of Buddha Amitabha. Most Buddhists believe that, upon the disolution of the body, rebirth may take place in a state consistent with the qualities of the consciousness energy, or resultant of past actions (karma) at the time of death. This rebirth may occur in human form, animal form, as a ghost (preta), in a blissful state (deva) or in a woeful state. Each of these states is impermanent and lasts as long as the karmic energy, which resulted in that rebirth state, sustains it. In other words, we are subject to a constant round of rebirths (Samsara) until Nirvana, or the release from rebirth is attained. In summary, then, the object of the Buddhist life is the overcoming of Dukkha or the unsatisfactory nature of life. In the process of overcoming this Dukkha, one empathises with the Dukkha of others and identifies with them. By this means we tend to see all creatures as one in this sea of suffering and thus we cultivate compassion for all living creatures. All have the potential, the seed of enlightenment or Buddha nature within them so we see each living creature as a potential Buddha. Once we see that all creatures have Buddha nature, we can overcome anger and aversion - two of the poisons that are the source of Dukkha. By following the Noble Eightfold Path, we have a tried and proven means of overcoming our deluded minds and attaining the wisdom to realise the bliss of Nirvana. May you all be well and happy.
Promise of Perfection
by Andrew Cohen
The following article, taken from a public talk given by Andrew Cohen at the Harvard Divinity School in late October 1997, provides the essential underpinning, framework and context for this issue of What Is Enlightenment? With bold simplicity, he articulates the relationship between our most fundamental desire to have and possess for ourselves, the compelling excitement these desires elicit in us, and the enormous potential for suffering and confusion they engender. Andrew Cohen's words echo and renew timeless teachings on the causes of human suffering and the end of that suffering. The distinctions he makes are vital to any contemporary inquiry into sexuality and spirituality because it is only from the perspective of such perennial wisdom that this endlessly confusing subject can be seen with extraordinary and liberating clarity.
I think that one of the most difficult things in human life is to be able to see things clearly, or to be able to see things as they are. And after teaching continuously for twelve years now, I think I can say with a great deal of confidence that it is the ability to see things clearly, to see things as they actually are, that even the most sincere seekers struggle with enormously.
The hardest part of spiritual practice is to get to the point where we can actually trust our interpretation of our own experience. We are all constantly in the process of interpreting our experience, and sometimes we are aware of that process and sometimes we're not. But whether we're consciously aware of it or not, the fact remains that we are all almost constantly interpreting our experience from one moment to the next, and if a human being wants to be free, if a human being wants to be able to know the truth, and if a human being wants to be able to live in a way that expresses and demonstrates that depth of perception, then of course it is absolutely essential for that individual to cultivate the ability to see things as they actually are.
Now we often hear in the spiritual literature words such as "illusion." We're often told that what we're seeing is not real, and it can be very difficult to understand what this kind of thing means-what it actually means when we are told that we're not seeing things clearly, that we're not seeing things as they are, and even worse, that what most of us are perceiving may only be "an illusion." If that were true, it would be something that would be a little bit intimidating or even frightening; it's the kind of thing that, I think for me, if it were true, would scare me to death.
So what does it actually mean? What does it mean when we hear these kinds of words spoken, when we're told that we're not seeing clearly, not seeing things as they are, and that as a matter of fact what we're seeing is illusion, that what we're actually perceiving so much of the time is illusory? If something is illusory, it means that it literally does not exist. It means that what we are perceiving-experiencing with our mind and our senses-really has no independent self-existence, that it does not exist independently of our own personal experience or perception, that it does not actually exist outside our own mind and field of sensual experience. It means that what we're perceiving is something that we're creating-somehow, in some way, for some reason-through and with our own mind and our own senses, and that we're projecting it onto the world around us, or onto particular objects, places and individuals.
Now I really do believe that most of us, even though we're rarely aware of it, live a great deal of our lives very much lost in and distracted by psychological and sensual experiences that have no independent reality outside the field of our own inner experience, which means that a large part of what many of us experience in our own inner personal sphere has no objective reality and is something that we actually create. And I can tell you what my own experience has taught me and continues to reveal to me about this. It's quite simple, but it's also very tricky.
What creates this continuity of illusory thought, this illusory stream of thought and sense perception-this movement of inner experience which has no independent self-existence and which does not exist outside our own personal sphere-is an endless craving, an endless wanting for personal gratification. This is very simple and may be even very obvious to some of you, but the fact that it may sound very simple, and may even appear very obvious, does not mean that its implications are not unthinkably profound. Because the fact is that in order to truly understand the implications of what it is that I'm speaking about, it is necessary to look very, very deeply into our own personal experience.
For example, you might hear the kind of talk I'm giving today simply intellectually-in other words, "Does what I'm hearing make sense? Is it intellectually sound?" Some people may listen to it that way and if intellectually it makes sense to them they might say, "Hmm, that makes sense; that's very nice." Or not; maybe it doesn't make sense, and they might therefore conclude that it's not worth listening to. But listening in that way to the kind of talk that I'm giving is not really enough. For what I'm speaking about to have any impact, for one to experience its liberating potential-and there's an inherent power to liberate in what I'm speaking about if one lets it in-we have to be willing not only to listen, but simultaneously to look very, very deeply as we're listening. We have to be willing to look very deeply into our own experience of our own self in this moment, and hopefully in every moment, because then we're listening not only from the point of view of "Does this make sense?"-which of course is important-but we're also looking very deeply into our own self and our own experience in order to see what it really means.
Now, the experience of perfect peace, perfect happiness, is the result of the cessation of this endless craving for oneself, this endless, endless, endless wanting for one's very own self. But once again, in order to truly recognize this, we have to look into our own experience to find out whether what I'm saying has any profound and significant relevance or not, because if this is merely an intellectual exercise it's not really that important. But if we dare to look very deeply into our own experience, we find that as much as our ego hates to admit it, the truth is that those times in our lives when we have experienced the greatest happiness, the deepest peace, have been moments when for some reason or other we ceased to want, moments when for some reason or other-it doesn't matter why-we wanted absolutely nothing from the world or from anyone else. I don't know if I can put it any more simply than that.
Of course in the world that we live in-the world of the ego, the world of the separate personal self-equating happiness with wanting nothing doesn't make sense because in the world of the ego and the personality, it is the wanting of this and the getting of this, the wanting of that and the getting of that, that generates anticipation, intense longing and excitement. And we find that it is usually when we want something or someone that we experience ourselves as being more alive, because we are very much in touch with this drive within ourselves to have.
Now you have to understand that this wanting, this compulsion to have, is experienced by the personality, by the ego, as a positive thing, as a very good thing. "I want for me. I want a particular object for myself. When I think about that object it makes me feel excited"-whatever it is, whatever beautiful thing it is that we're interested in-you know, a new house, a new car. And of course it's even easier to get in touch with the emotional significance of what I'm speaking about if we look into what it means to want another-another individual, another human being-especially if we look, for example, at the romantic/sexual arena. When we really want another person, what we perceive them to be in the midst of that intense longing and wanting is infinitely more than what they actually are. Because as we all know, falling in love is one kind of experience-a delightful experience-and falling out of love is another. And it very rarely happens, if ever, that we remain so deeply in love that we continue to find the mere presence of the other individual intoxicating, that we continue to find the mere sight of them mesmerizing. Because of course after we get to know them intimately and spend some time with them, really get to know them as a human being, it's almost impossible to sustain that experience of intoxication. We may still find them attractive, and we still may feel tremendous affection for them, but that special something, that magic, is gone.
If you want a new car, if you really want a new car and then decide that there's a certain car that you want, then you think about that car quite a bit and when you see that car you love it. You love everything about it; just to look at it makes you feel special. And when you think about the moment when you're going to buy that car you get very excited. It's very interesting to realize that, if we dare to look at this phenomenon from a certain point of view, there's not that much difference between falling in love with someone and really wanting to buy a new car.
The particular aspect of our experience that I'm trying to bring to light in this way is that when certain objects appear in consciousness-things or people, for example-they can appear to be more than they actually are. And this is the point. This is a specific aspect of our experience that I think is very important to make the effort to become aware of. When certain objects in consciousness appear to be more than they actually are-and just to keep it simple here, I've been narrowing it down to things and people but it could just as easily be thoughts or places or anything else-it means that when we perceive that object or that person, we are experiencing more than what is actually there. We're seeing the car, we're seeing the other individual, but because both of them are objects of our desire or our longing, we're also seeing more than what's actually there, more than just a car and more than just an attractive person, and that more that we're seeing has very little to do with the object we're perceiving-very little to do with the car, very little to do with the attractive individual. It has only to do with what we are imagining. It is what we are imagining-what we are adding to the picture-that makes our nerves dance and our hearts beat a little bit faster. It's very important to understand this, very important. Because of course what we're seeing does not actually exist. It has no independent self-existence, no objective reality outside the sphere of our own mind and senses.
We may have walked by that car in the window of a car dealership every day for a year and then suddenly, one day, something happens, and we find ourselves looking at it differently. Now every time we see that car we stop and we look; it has an effect on our mind and on our senses. We find it exciting and thrilling. It's a sensual experience just to look at it, and there's an excitement in that. Before, we didn't notice it, but something has happened inside us and now that particular car has become very special. It's the same way with people. You can see certain people every day, and then suddenly something happens, and then. . . . In fact, I think it's actually very revealing that from a certain point of view our experiences with the car and with the person are not that different.
As I said before, what "illusion" means is that we are experiencing something with our mind and senses that does not actually exist, that has no independent self-existence. It does not exist outside the field of our own mind and senses-we're creating it. When that magical something happens, when suddenly the car is not just a car but "the car I want," or when suddenly the individual is not just whoever they are or have been but "the person I want," in that moment, and in all the moments that follow, a very significant part of what it is that we're experiencing has nothing to do with the object itself, but only has to do with the power of our own desire to create the illusion of perfection. Perfection, you see? Because when you don't have it, when you want it but don't yet own it, when all you can do is stand in front of the window and look at it, you know it's much more than just a nice car. There's something about that car that is simply magnetic. And what that something is, of course, is the promise of perfection. And it's exactly the same kind of experience when the object of our wanting is another human being.
In the promise of perfection, you see, and in the wanting of that experience of perfection from sources outside ourselves-from things, from people, from objects outside our own selves-there's a psychophysical experience, a titillation, a thrill. That's part of what the fun is, part of the thrill of falling in love, part of the thrill of buying that car. What is so exciting about it is that there's literally a psychophysical experience in the wanting itself. And that's why, as I said earlier, it's almost impossible for the ego or the personality to recognize the experience of wanting as a bad thing. Because the experience of wanting in and of itself is quite thrilling. To recognize a beautiful car and to make the decision that you want it and that you're going to have it causes a light to go on inside yourself, so that whenever you think about that car you feel warm inside. There's a sense of fullness. And the experience of falling in love with another person you want to have and possess is identical. You merely think about that person and then a light goes on inside, so that even just the thought of them seems like it is almost enough.
So it's important to understand that for the personality, for the ego, wanting in the way that I'm describing is perceived as a very positive experience, and the reason it's experienced as positive is that it's thrilling. It's thrilling to want a beautiful thing or a beautiful person, because it causes one's nerves and mind to begin to dance.
Now of course once we get the car and we've had it for a while, it no longer seems to give us the same kind of pleasure. As a matter of fact, now to our surprise-maybe it has been only a few months since we purchased it-we may suddenly find that we have our eye on another one. And now we feel frustrated. And it's the same when we fall in love. Once we actually get to know the person, we may still feel that they're a wonderful person, but it's not the same as before we had them, before we really had them, before we were able to possess them, or at least to experience the illusion of possessing them.
So now all we see is just a nice car or a nice person. That magical something extra that made all the difference is no longer present. And my point is that what was so attractive to us, what was so irresistible to us about the car or about the individual, that special mysterious X-factor that caused us to experience such enormous anticipation that we were suddenly willing to take the risk of saying, "I'm going to get that car," or, "I'm going to ask that person to marry me," has little or nothing to do with what's actually there. Most of what we're responding to has to do with whatever it is that we're imagining, which does not actually exist and is in fact illusory and therefore completely unreal.
What's so captivating, then, in this kind of experience could not be the having of the individual or the car because once we are actually able to possess the object of our desire, we usually experience a process of gradual or perhaps even immediate disillusionment. In fact it's very significant and can be very enlightening to discover that the most exciting part of the whole process we've just gone through was in the wanting itself: It was the wanting itself that was so thrilling! You see, to the mind, to the ego and to the personality, happiness is equated with the thrill of wanting to possess, of wanting to acquire, of wanting to have for oneself. "I want that car for myself! I want that person for my very own self! I want them for me!" And inherent in this wanting for oneself is a tremendous thrill that the ego and the personality experience as excitement, and which causes the mind and the senses to begin to dance. The heart begins to beat faster and faster, and to the mind and the personality this wanting in and of itself is perceived as an ecstatic experience.
And if you look at the world that we live in, you see immediately what it is that we're all encouraged to do: We're all encouraged to be endlessly obsessed with objects and with people, with wanting to possess people and wanting to possess objects. But this is not the fault of the culture we're living in; this kind of thing is part of the human condition. And you can't blame it on advertising, either. Someone just realized what we're really up to and figured out a way to make a lot of money.
It can be very enlightening, when we begin to deeply consider the truth of our own personal experience, to realize that in fact we experience the greatest joy, the deepest peace and the greatest real happiness in those moments when we actually want nothing at all from anybody or from anything. Because if it's the case that real happiness is found in those moments when we want nothing-and if when we look very deeply into the nature of our own experience we discover that this is actually true-then that would mean that we must begin to scrutinize our own experience very closely, and with a certain degree of intensity, in order to find out what our relationship to our experience actually is.
I said at the beginning of this talk that seeing clearly, being able to see things as they are, free from illusion or self-deception, is the hardest part of spiritual practice. It's not that difficult for an individual to experience insight now and again, and it's not that difficult for a serious seeker to have some kind of experience of transcendence now and then if that's what they really want. But to be able to see things clearly, to be able to see things as they actually are-this is a very, very challenging business. Because, you see, the experience of intoxication and the promise inherent in that intoxication is so powerful-so, so powerful. Only an individual who truly wants to be free more than anything else, who wants to know the truth more than anything else, will find the power of discrimination within themselves to be able to cut through illusion. Most of us won't be able to do it because we are going to be too lost in the intoxicating experience of wanting itself.
Because the thing is: We don't want not to want, you see? This is what the problem is; we don't want that. A lot of people say, "I just want to be happy, I just want to live a simple life, I really do"-but of course it isn't true because in order for that to happen, we have to not want the wanting. It's only when the wanting diminishes that we can begin to experience the fullness that is already there. Otherwise we'll never be aware of it because we're so captivated by, intoxicated by-endlessly, over and over and over again-the experience of wanting.
In this world, in this miserable world, it is the experience of wanting, the thrill of wanting, that most people are completely hypnotized by, and intelligence has no bearing on what I'm speaking about. You can be a very intelligent human being, very well read, a powerful person in the world, and still be utterly and completely lost in this wanting which is such a big part of the fundamental problem of the human condition. And as long as we allow ourselves to be hypnotized and hypnotically distracted by the wanting of this and the wanting of that, and by the illusion of perfection that is the promise that we're entertaining, we will never be able to see things clearly, we will never be able to see things as they really are-not for more than a couple of moments, and definitely not when it really counts.
It may be easy to see clearly if you're sitting on a meditation cushion, but the point is that there are certain times in life that count more than others, moments in life when it matters a lot more that we're actually able to see things clearly, able to see things as they are-precisely those moments, in fact, when we experience this wanting with the greatest intensity. Those are the moments, you see? Because when any one of us experiences that kind of wanting with a great intensity, we don't know what we're going to do. When we begin to want something that badly, we may do whatever we need to do to get it because our desire for that object has become so compelling, so thrilling, so difficult to resist that we're willing to lie or cheat-not only to other people but to ourselves-in order to possess that object, possess that person. So this matter of being able to see clearly, being able to discriminate between the real and the unreal, between truth and falsehood, is a lot more important in those moments when we experience that wanting with the greatest intensity; it's a lot more important in those moments than when we feel relatively peaceful. This is very important to understand: It's one thing to be able to sit very quietly, very still, but it's something else altogether to find oneself very much in the midst of the intensity of this wanting. When we are in the midst of this wanting, can we cut through it? If we can, nothing's going to happen. But if we can't, then, as they say, entire universes are born.
So this matter of seeing clearly, and being able to see illusion for what it is, is entirely dependent upon our fundamental relationship to life. For most of us, our fundamental relationship to life is essentially driven by the unending desire to have and to possess for ourselves-"I want for me." For most of us, this is our modus operandi; wanting for ourselves is what our fundamental relationship to all of our experience is based on. As long as this remains the case it will be very difficult, if not almost impossible, for us to be able to cut through illusion, for us to be able to see things as they actually are, for us to be able to distinguish clearly between truth and falsehood for more than a few brief moments every now and again. Why? Because our fundamental relationship to life is this wanting itself; our very reason for being is: "I want." It really is, in the end, "I want, therefore I am." For most of us, this is the foundation of our entire relationship to life.
The way to be able to see clearly, the way to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, is discovered not simply by trying to make the effort to see clearly, because if you're trying to see clearly and you still fundamentally want for yourself, where are you going to end up? You're only going to be able to see a little bit more clearly what it is that you really, really want for yourself. So simply making the effort to look with greater intensity is not enough. We have to be willing to look into our fundamental relationship to life. "I want for me, I want for me always"-this is expressed and demonstrated in gross and subtle ways thousands of times in every single day: when we turn our head, when we look, when we reach out. Almost everything that we do is motivated by this fundamental wanting for ourselves. It is only when this movement begins to slow down that we're going to start to notice that our perception, the way that we interpret our experience, has begun to change in conjunction with the lessening of this wanting for ourselves. It happens automatically. It's not something that you have to cultivate through making effort, or through straining your brain cells in order to see in a different way. It happens by itself; it's a by-product.
So if we want to see clearly, it's not a matter of getting better glasses. If we want to see clearly, we have to look into our fundamental relationship to life and begin to see that for most of us, our entire relationship to life is based on what is in the end this very ugly, lustful, greedy and entirely selfish wanting for me, wanting for me, wanting for me. And merely the clear perception of that, without any movement away from it, merely having the courage to experience that and to stay with it, will in and of itself open the door to another possibility, another way of being. And in this other way of being we will discover, not once or twice but over and over and over again-especially if we're very interested-that real happiness, simplicity, profound peace and true sanity are experienced directly when we want nothing, when we experience liberation from, or freedom from, this painful wanting.
It's the wanting, you see, that is so painful really. Of course we-the ego and the personality-experience this wanting as pleasure. But when we look very, very closely, we become aware of the fact that this wanting is not pleasure-but pain. It's pain. It's an endless tension. And peace, joy, happiness, sanity and clarity are discovered when that tension is no longer present, when it is absent. When that tension ceases, or when it begins to lessen, or even if it has only just begun to slow down, instantly we begin to feel more comfortable, more at ease; and when the tension decreases even more, we begin to feel even more at ease, suddenly present, finally at home in our own body, in our own skin, in our own mind, in our own personality-whoever we thought we were. However miserable we thought we were, suddenly we find that we're very comfortable being exactly who we are and exactly who we always have been. This is a new experience for us, very marvelous and very unknown. And in this experience, the wanting and all the tension inherent in it, which before we perceived as pleasure, now we recognize as pain. This is one aspect of enlightenment, or at least it's one expression of it.
So what it is that makes it so difficult for us to be able to see clearly is this ceaseless wanting. And if we're interested in seeing clearly, if we're interested in knowing the truth, if we're interested in being able to distinguish between truth and falsehood, then we have to be willing to give up wanting, which means renunciation. We have to be willing to practice renouncing the thrill of wanting. I'm trying to say this as clearly as I possibly can, and I hope that all of you will be able to remember it: The thrill of the wanting itself is what has to be renounced. That may be very easy for us at certain times, and at other times it may be so difficult that it's impossible to put into words. But one way or the other, it doesn't really matter; it's still the thrill of this wanting that has to be renounced. When the thrill of wanting is renounced, I promise you that you'll recognize that thrill not as the pleasure it appeared to be; but you will recognize it as pain. And so the challenge in all of this, the great challenge, is to discover the willingness to renounce the wanting itself, the thrill of wanting. This is the greatest challenge for the ego and the personality.
Story of Angulimala
By Graeme Lyall
Bhaggava Gagga and his wife, Mantani, gave birth to a son. The father cast the baby's horoscope and discovered that he was born under the 'robber constellation'. This indicated that the boy would have a tendency to commit robbery. The father was an adviser to King Pasenadi of the Kosala kingdom. On the night that the baby was born, the king noticed that, during he night his sword began to sparkle. This worried him so he asked Bhaggava Gagga what it meant. The father replied: "Do not have any fear, oh King! The same thing happened throughout the city. My wife gave birth to a son and, unfortunately, his horoscope showed the 'robber constellation'. This must have caused your weapons to sparkle". The king asked "Will he rob alone or will he be the chief of a gang?" The father replied "He will do it alone, your Majesty. What if we were to kill him now to prevent his future evil deeds?". The King said "As he will be a lone robber, perhaps if we give him a good education he will lose his tendency to become a robber and will get a good job." The boy was named 'Ahimsaka', which means 'harmless'. The parents brought him up well and gave him lots of love and encouragement. The boy was very well behaved and was studious and intelligent. Eventually he graduated to the University at Taxila, the ancient and famous university in India. He studied hard with his professor and gained higher marks than his fellow students. He served his teacher faithfully and humbly and was often invited to have dinner with his teacher's family. The other students became very jealous of him and decided to plot against him. They thought that the teacher might not believe them if they were to go to the teacher together and tell lies about Ahimsaka. They decided to form three groups and each group would tell the teacher stories about Ahimsaka. The first group went to the teacher and said "Respected Teacher, we hear stories that Ahimsaka is planning to make trouble for you." "Get away with you, you evil students You are just trying to make trouble between me and my dear student, Ahimsaka". The next group came to the teacher and said " Ahimsaka is planning to kill you, Sir." "Go away you naughty students. Stop trying to make trouble. Ahimsaka is my best student. You should try to be like him and study hard". The third group of students approached the teacher and said "We have heard that Ahimsaka wants take your job as professor at this university. He says that you are too old and you should have retired years ago." The teacher began to think that maybe the students may be telling the truth and the only way that he could feel safe in his job was to get rid of Ahimsaka. He called Ahimsaka to him and said "Ahimsaka, you have now completed your studies with me and it is time for you to graduate. It is the duty of every student to give a gift of appreciation to their teacher at this time. Please give me your gift." "What gift would you like? I will give you whatever you ask." "You must bring me a thousand little fingers from the right hands of people. This will be your token of gratitude for all I have taught you." The teacher thought that, in obtaining his gift, Ahimsaka would be killed or that the king s soldiers would catch him and put him to death. Ahimsaka replied "How can I bring you such a gift? My family hers never engaged in violence. We are harmless people and we respect all life." "Well" replied his professor "If your learning does not receive its proper reward, then it will not be of any use to you. You will not get your certificate." Ahimsaka left his teacher to fulfil his request. He could have gone to a cemetery and collected fingers from dead bodies but he didn't think of that. Instead, he collected swords and knives and went into the Jalini forest to wait for his victims. He lived on a high cliff where he could observe the road below. Whenever he saw anybody on the road, he would hurry down, kill them and cut off one finger. He threaded the finger bones into a necklace and wore it around his neck. He was given the nick-name 'Angulimala' - he with the finger garland. Eventually, people were too scared to enter the forest, so Angulimala went into the village seeking victims. Sometimes he would kill people in the streets, cutting off their fingers and threading them on his necklace. At other times, he would go into houses at night and kill people while they were sleeping. The people eventually left the villages as they were no longer safe. They went to the Capital City, Savatthi, to complain to the king. The king ordered that his army should be sent to capture Angulimala. Although nobody realised that the murderer was Ahimsaka, his mother had a suspicion that it may be her son. She said to her husband, Bhaggava, "It is our son, that fearful bandit. Please go and warn him and ask him to change his ways. Other-wise the king will have him killed. "I have no use for such a son" said the father, "The king can do to him what he likes". A mother's heart is soft, and out of love for her son, she set out for the forest alone to warn him. Angulimala had already collected 999 fingers and needed just one more to make up the 1000 that he was seeking. He would not have hesitated in killing his own mother to reach his goal but to do so would have put him in danger of going to the worst hell. To kill either of one's parents is one of the worst sins that one can perform. The Buddha, with his psychic powers, was able to see what Angulimala was about to do and, out of his great compassion, decided to try to prevent this horrible crime. As the Buddha approached the forest, village people warned him not to enter as Angulimala was very strong and was sure to kill anybody, including monks. The Buddha continued on the path in silence. At first Angulimala saw his mother approaching. So steeped was his mind in killing that he didn't mind killing his mother to gain the final finger. As he descended on the path, suddenly the Buddha appeared between him and his mother. He thought "Why should I kill my mother for the sake of one finger when there is someone else? Let her live" He didn't realise that it was also a very serious offence to kill a monk but he could only think of the one finger needed to complete his necklace The Angulimala Sutra says: 'Now Angulimala took his sword and shield and buckled on his bow and quiver and he followed behind the Blessed one. Then the Blessed One performed such a feat of supernormal power that the bandit Angulimala, going as fast as he could was unable to catch up with the Blessed One who was walking at his normal pace' Angulimala was amazed that no matter how fast he was travelling, he was unable to catch up with the Buddha. He called "Stop, monk! Stop, monk" The Buddha replied "I have stopped, Angulimala You should stop too". Angulimala thought 'these monks are supposed to tell the truth but this monk continues to walk but he tells me he has stopped I must ask him what he means when he says that he has stopped' The Buddha explained to him "Angulimala I have stopped for ever, giving up violence to every living being, but you have no restraint towards things that breathe. That is why I have stopped and you have not " When Angulimala heard these words a great change came over him He felt deeply moved by the wise words of the Buddha He said "I will for sure renounce all evil after hearing this Dharma" He threw his sword and weapons over a cliff and bowed at the Buddha's feet He asked the Buddha if he could become his disciple as a monk. The Buddha replied "Come Bhikkhu". And that is how he became a monk. As they were leaving the forest they met the king leading his soldiers into the forest The Buddha asked the king if he was going to fight a battle with another kingdom. "No" replied the king "I am going to capture a single man, the murderous Angulimala". The Buddha asked the king "If you were to see Angulimala with a shaven head, wearing the yellow robes of a monk and that he was abstaining from killing living beings, from stealing, from lying and deceiving and was living the holy and blameless life, how would you treat him?" The king replied "I would pay homage to him and offer him my protection, but how could such an unvirtuous person of evil character have such virtue and restraint?" The Buddha extended his right arm and said "Here, Great King, this is Angulimala Do not be afraid There is nothing to fear" The king asked Angulimala the names of his father and mother He told the king that his father was named Gagga and his mother's name was Mantani. The king then remembered who he was and the strange predictions when he was born The King was amazed that the Buddha could bring about such a change in someone with such an evil reputation However, a Buddha can lead even the greatest king or the worst criminal to the Path which overcomes all suffering -- the Noble Eightfold Path. The King said to the Buddha "It is wonderful, Venerable Sir, it is marvellous how the Blessed One subdues the unsubdued, pacifies the unpeaceful and calms the uncalm. Him whom we could not subdue with punishments and weapons the Blessed One has subdued without punishment or weapon."
"To begin with, just give up any expectations of yourself. That's a simple good instruction for how to meditate."
Meditation is about dissolving our fixation on ourselves, on the process of meditating, and on any result we might gain from it. Through meditation, we begin to get the hang of living with a non-grasping attitude.
When you sit down to meditate, you can bring to your practice the notion of the threefold purity: not being caught up with ideas about yourself, not being caught up with ideas about the practice, and not being caught up with ideas about the result.
Sometimes you begin meditation with the sense, I am sitting down to meditate. That's not too helpful. However, you can't just click your fingers and Zap!-all sense of self is gone. You have to start where you are. Before you sit down you can actually reflect on the fact that you don't have to hold on to a solid identity of yourself as a worthless or worthy person, as someone who can't meditate, or as someone who can. You can practice lightening up the whole persona that you bring to meditation.
For example, if you're new at it, you might take a certain pride in being a meditator. You come back from a retreat and your friends say, "Where were you?" and you say, "Oh, I was just meditating for ten days in a monastery on Cape Breton Island. We kept silence most of the time and we meditated many, many hours every day." You have this feeling, "Wow! Are they going to be impressed." Perhaps in other situations you feel a little embarrassed. If your parents ask you where you were, you might say, "Oh, I just went on a little trip to Cape Breton."
To begin with, just give up any expectations of yourself. That's a simple good instruction for how to meditate. Liberate yourself from any sort of idea of how you're supposed to be, and just sit. Then remember this instruction occasionally during the meditation period, because you're going to do a lot of talking to yourself about how right or how wrong you are. You're going to spend a lot of time on center stage as the star of your own movie. You can spend a lot of time planning, worrying, and trying to get it all right.
Instead of holding on to a limited identity of yourself, do your best to observe yourself minute after minute. Observe what's happening. You'll keep freezing it by fixating on it, because you do have an idea of who you are; we all have an idea of who we are. But if you'll just observe instead of fixating, the meditation itself will begin to shake that identity up a lot. You'll begin to have doubt about being just one way; you'll see that who you are and how you are keep changing. The first five minutes of the meditation period you're depressed; the gong rings and you feel happy. In walking meditation you're bored; you sit down on your cushion again and your back hurts. The gong rings and you realize you've been on a shopping spree in New York City. The changes go on and on. Observe them with no expectation of how you're supposed to be, or who you are. Just sit there and see what happens.
That's the first quality of threefold purity. Traditionally it's stated as "no self." What it points to is giving up expectations of being any particular way. Meditation is the perfect vehicle for seeing how you keep changing, changing, changing. Thoughts keep changing. Emotions keep changing. They say that advanced meditators can even see molecules changing. (Personally I've never had this experience.)
The second guideline of the threefold purity is "No meditation." Don't make your meditation a project or a special event; don't bring into it an attitude of great seriousness and solemnity. For that matter, have no concept of your meditation at all, no religiosity. Don't hold any notions about it, not even, "Oh, meditation is meant to be completely natural; you just sit down, relax the mind, and be cool."
We have a lot of ideas about what's good meditation, what's bad meditation. The notion here is that we sit down with no expectations of ourselves and no expectations of what the practice is. We simply follow the instructions, without imagining that meditation is supposed to be this way or that way. We can continuously let go of any solid views on the meditator or the meditation, any caught-upness. That's the whole training-to let go and observe without judgment, without bias. We can just let go.
So you think, "That's the meditation. I'm supposed to observe and let go. But I can't observe and I can't let go, and my meditation is a mess. On the other hand, I did observe a little bit, and that's good. If I have a chance to tell my meditation instructor about this, she'll be pleased." We have a habitual tendency to solidify, but remember these instructions: no Expectations. It is as it is. You don't have to add something extra.
The third quality of threefold purity is "No result." Give up all hope of fruition. Practice without hope of anything beyond right now. That's all there is; there's no later. Being on the spot is the only way any transformation of your being occurs. If you practice with hope and fear, if you practice in order to become what you think you should be-even a calmer, more loving, more compassionate person--you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. You can't get there from here. Being fully here for each moment -that's the point, from now until you die.
After you've meditated, if you notice something that feels like a result--for example, your mind feels rested, or you feel completely one-pointed, or you feel a lot of compassion or kindness-simply observe it and let it go. Trungpa Rinpoche often used the word "disown." It's not that there's anything wrong with results. But when we cling to results, they're of no use at all. One of the mahamudra texts says, "Even the qualities of clarity, non-dwelling, and bliss are obstacles if you cling to them."
So that's threefold purity. It provides good directions for practicing meditation-or any other activity, for that matter. Have no expectation about who you are--the generous one or the mean one or whoever-no expectation of your activity or process, no expectation of fruition. This is how we go from living by concept, freezing ourselves in time and space, to relaxing into the fluid spaciousness with which we were born.
Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself
"We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look clearly and honestly at ourselves, we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others."
The journey of awakening happens just at the place where we can't get comfortable. Opening to discomfort is the basis of transmuting our so-called "negative" feelings. We somehow want to get rid of our uncomfortable feelings either by justifying them or by squelching them, but it turns out that this is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. According to the teachings of vajrayana, or tantric, Buddhism, our wisdom and our confusion are so interwoven that it doesn't work to just throw things out.
By trying to get rid of "negativity," by trying to eradicate it, by putting it into a column labelled "bad," we are throwing away our wisdom as well, because everything in us is creative energy-particularly our strong emotions. They are filled with life-force.
There is nothing wrong with negativity per se; the problem is that we never see it, we never honor it, we never look into its heart. We don't taste our negativity, smell it, get to know it. Instead, we are always trying to get rid of it by punching someone in the face, by slandering someone, by punishing ourselves, or by repressing our feelings. In between repression and acting out, however, there is something wise and profound and timeless.
If we just try to get rid of negative feelings, we don't realize that those feelings are our wisdom. The transmutation comes from the willingness to hold our seat with the feeling, to let the words go, to let the justification go. We don't have to have resolution. We can live with a dissonant note; we don't have to play the next key to end the tune.
Curiously enough, this journey of transmutation is one of tremendous joy. We usually seek joy in the wrong places, by trying to avoid feeling whole parts of the human condition. We seek happiness by believing that whole parts of what it is to be human are unacceptable. We feel that something has to change in ourselves. However, unconditional joy comes about through some kind of intelligence in which we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness. This combination of honesty, or clear-seeing, and kindness is the essence of maitri-unconditional friendship with ourselves.
This is a process of continually stepping into unknown territory. You become willing to step into the unknown territory of your own being. Then you realize that this particular adventure is not only taking you into your own being, it's also taking you out into the whole universe. You can only go into the unknown when you have made friends with yourself. You can only step into those areas "out there" by beginning to explore and have curiosity about this unknown "in here," in yourself.
Dogen Zen-ji said, "To know yourself is to forget yourself." We might think that knowing ourselves is a very ego-centered thing, but by beginning to look so clearly and so honestly at ourselves-at our emotions, at our thoughts, at who we really are-we begin to dissolve the walls that separate us from others. Somehow all of these walls, these ways of feeling separate from everything else and everyone else, are made up of opinions. They are made up of dogma; they are made of prejudice. These walls come from our fear of knowing parts of ourselves.
There is a Tibetan teaching that is often translated as, "Self-cherishing is the root of all suffering." It can be hard for a Western person to hear the term "self-cherishing" without misunderstanding what is being said. I would guess that 85% of us Westerners would interpret it as telling us that we shouldn't care for ourselves-that there is something anti-wakeful about respecting ourselves. But that isn't what it really means. What it is talking about is fixating. "Self-cherishing" refers to how we try to protect ourselves by fixating; how we put up walls so that we won't have to feel discomfort or lack of resolution. That notion of self-cherishing refers to the erroneous belief that there could be only comfort and no discomfort, or the belief that there could be only happiness and no sadness, or the belief that there could be just good and no bad.
But what the Buddhist teachings point out is that we could take a much bigger perspective, one that is beyond good and evil. Classifications of good and bad come from lack of maitri. We say that something is good if it makes us feel secure and it's bad if it makes us feel insecure. That way we get into hating people who make us feel insecure and hating all kinds of religions or nationalities that make us feel insecure. And we like those who give us ground under our feet.
When we are so involved with trying to protect ourselves, we are unable to see the pain in another person's face. "Self-cherishing" is ego fixating and grasping: it ties our hearts, our shoulders, our head, our stomach, into knots. We can't open. Everything is in a knot. When we begin to open we can see others and we can be there for them. But to the degree that we haven't worked with our own fear, we are going to shut down when others trigger our fear.
So to know yourself is to forget yourself. This is to say that when we make friends with ourselves we no longer have to be so self-involved. It's a curious twist: making friends with ourselves is a way of not being so self-involved anymore. Then Dogen Zen-ji goes on to say, "To forget yourself is to become enlightened by all things." When we are not so self-involved, we begin to realize that the world is speaking to us all of the time. Every plant, every tree, every animal, every person, every car, every airplane is speaking to us, teaching us, awakening us. It's a wonderful world, but we often miss it. It's as if we see the previews of coming attractions and never get to the main feature.
When we feel resentful or judgmental, it hurts us and it hurts others. But if we look into it we might see that behind the resentment there is fear and behind the fear there is a tremendous softness. There is a very big heart and a huge mind-a very awake, basic state of being. To experience this we begin to make a journey, the journey of unconditional friendliness toward the self that we already are.
Pema Chödrön is the director of Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and author of The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,
is the Buddha Dharma?
One thing that needs to be made clear in the very beginning is that Buddhism is not a religion or a philosophy and, in fact, is not really an "ism" either. Unlike religion, at least in the way that it is commonly understood, Buddhism does not rest upon revelation from a transcendent being or beings, nor does it put stock in miracles or other supernatural displays, nor does it direct the attention of its adherents to their possible status in the afterlife and finally, it assigns all supernatural beings to the role of fellow students and disciples of the Buddha. Unlike philosophy or metaphysics, which are often the same thing, Buddhism does not concern itself with fruitless speculation about the origins or structure of the universe (indeed it tends to take the Vedic cosmology of ancient India for granted), nor are its teachings the result of mere logic and reasoning, though the Buddha is always very logical and reasonable in his presentation of his teachings. Buddhism does not qualify as an "ism" either, if an "ism" is understood to be an institution which promotes the adoption of a system of beliefs or an ideology. It would be more accurate to refer to Buddhism as the "Buddha Dharma," meaning the Truth pointed out by the Buddha so that we can discover it for ourselves. Buddhism, then, is really a way of life designed to help people see things as they really are, free of delusion, projections, paranoia and false assumptions. This way of life is composed of a doctrine and a discipline which both serve to help the one who takes them up see for him or herself if what the Buddha taught was true. In the beginning, it is true, these things may need to be taken on faith; but the expectation is that these things will prove themselves to the Buddhist who endeavors to live in accordance with the Buddha Dharma. So, unlike an "ism" which demands that one put one's faith in something which can not be verified, Buddha Dharma is more like an experiment in seeing the Truth directly for oneself by utilizing the same methods that enabled Siddhartha Gautama to become Shakyamuni Buddha.
Knowing Truth and Falsehood for Oneself
The Kalama Sutta, in particular, makes the Buddha's common sense and non-dogmatic approach clear. At one time the Buddha came to a town called Kesaputta which was the home of the Kalama people. Apparently, the Kalamas had been afflicted with all manner of dogmatic preachers and pretentious philosophers of the variety that people usually associate with "isms." It seems, however, that the good reputation of the Buddha had proceeded him, and so the Kalamas decided to ask the Buddha about all the conflicting truth claims which they had been subjected to:
"There are, Lord, some ascetics and brahmins who come to Kesaputta. They explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of others. But then some other ascetics and brahmins come to Kesaputta, and they too explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of others. For us, Lord, there is perplexity and doubt as to which of these good ascetics speak truth and which speak falsehood?"
"It is fitting for you to be perplexed, O Kalamas, it is fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by a reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: 'The ascetic is our teacher.' But when you know for yourselves, 'These things are unwholesome, these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things if undertaken and practiced lead to harm and suffering', then you should abandon them." (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p. 65)
What is remarkable about this passage is that the Buddha comes right to the point and denies all the usual sources which people use as a basis for establishing truth claims. He does not spare anything or anyone, not religion (scriptures & tradition), not philosophy (logic, inference, reflection &pondering), nor the opinions of experts (the ascetic-teacher & those with seeming competence as speakers) nor unproven assumptions (hearsay & reliance on lineages). Having cleared the field, the Buddha then questions the Kalamas in such a way that it leads them back to the clear foundations of direct observation and common sense, the genuine starting points for any serious inquiry.
"What do you think, Kalamas? When greed, hatred and delusion rise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?" - "For his harm, Lord." - "Kalamas, a person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred, and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, will destroy life, take what is not given, engage in sexual misconduct and tell lies; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his harm and suffering for a long time?" - "Yes, Lord."
"What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome?" - "Unwholesome, Lord" - "Blamable or blameless?" - "Blamable, Lord." - "Censured or praised by the wise?" - "Censured, Lord."
"Undertaken and practiced, do they lead to harm and suffering or not, or how is it in this case?" - "Undertaken and practiced, these things lead to harm and suffering. So it appears to us in this case." (Ibid, pp. 65 - 66)
There are two things about the last passage which should be reflected upon. The first is the reference to the "the wise." Who are considered to be the wise, if this discourse itself is concerned with the fact that the claims of all the self-proclaimed wise men are in doubt? It seems likely that the reference to "the wise" refers to those who are commonly recognized as virtuous and admirable. They are not even necessarily teachers, ascetics or priests in any formal sense. This is good to know, for even in our culture there are those who are almost universally recognized as "good people," and this recognition seems to transcend all sectarian boundaries and disagreements. So, it seems as though there may be standards or criteria that go beyond the mere conceptual confusion of truth claims after all. One of the obvious examples would be Jesus, who is recognized by almost everyone in the world as one who "went about doing good," even if not everyone believes that he is the Messiah or the Son of God.
The final remark of the Kalamas, "So it appears to us in this case." has also been translated as: "Thus it strikes us here." Going by the latter translation, their comment is no mere assent to the observations which the Buddha elicited from them with his questions. This statement expresses an acknowledgement from the core of their being. It is an acknowledgement of the Dharma which they knew all along but are now certain of, the Dharma which lay at the periphery of their conscious ruminations about life, but which has now taken center stage due to the prompting of the Buddha. What is wholesome? What is unwholesome? What is Truth? These are things which we can forever talk circles around, but which we can only really know from the preconscious core of our lives out of which we live and move and have our being. Along these lines, Frank Herbert's classic Dune contains the following remark which seems to beautifully express the experience of the Kalamas:
All men must see that the teaching of religion by rules and rote is largely a hoax. The proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail because it awakens within you that sensation which tells you this is something you've always known. (Dune, p.505)
In the following passages, the Buddha turns the attention of the Kalamas to the benefits of being free of the negative qualities which have just been discussed. He then repeats the theme that Truth is something that the Kalamas can verify for themselves, it does not need to come from some privileged source.
"What do you think, Kalamas? When non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion arise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?" -- "For his welfare, Lord." -- "Kalamas, a person who is without greed, without hatred, without delusion, not overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts not controlled by them, will abstain from the destruction of life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct and from false speech; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his welfare and happiness for a long time?" -- "Yes, Lord."
"What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome?" -- "Wholesome, Lord." -- "Blamable or blameless?" -- "Blameless, Lord." -- "Censured or praised by the wise?" -- "Praised, Lord." -- "Undertaken and practiced, do they lead to welfare and happiness or not, or how is it in this case?" -- "Undertaken and practiced, these things lead to welfare and happiness. So it appears to us in this case."
"It was for this reason, Kalamas, that we said: Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by a reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think: 'The ascetic is our teacher.' But when you know for yourselves, 'These things are wholesome, these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practiced lead to welfare and happiness', then you should engage in them. (Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, p. 66)
The Four Divine Abodes
At this point the Buddha segues into a discussion of the four brahma-viharas, the four divine abodes. These are four meditations involving loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity that are brought up in many different discourses, and together they constitute the way to union with Brahma (the Vedic name of the supreme lord and creator) in the Brahma Heavens. The Buddha taught this series of meditations to those who needed to overcome feelings of aversion, hatred and contempt for others and for those who firmly believed that the highest aim in life is to seek union with God as they imagined Him [sic] to be and who would have been put off by the Buddha's teaching of nirvana, which defies all images and concepts whether personal or impersonal. The idea behind the four divine abodes is that these are the qualities of Brahma himself, and if one were to cultivate them and make them a part of one's life then one would naturally gravitate towards the Brahma Heavens after death. With the Kalamas, however, the Buddha's intention was to show that the development of these qualities of relating to the world were good-in-and-of-themselves and did not need to rely on any metaphysical presuppositions or guesswork.
"Then, Kalamas, that noble disciple -- devoid of covetousness, devoid of ill will, unconfused, clearly comprehending, ever mindful -- dwells pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second quarter, the third and the fourth. Thus above, below, across and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he dwells pervading the entire world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, vast, exalted, measureless, without hostility and without ill will. (Ibid, p. 66)
This exercise is then repeated three more times with the qualities of compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity following upon the development of loving-kindness and upon one another. Once again, none of this requires that one believe in anything. Not once has the Buddha gone beyond the basic sanity of common sense.
The Buddha's Wager Concerning the Afterlife
Having discussed with the Kalamas those things that can be known directly for themselves in this lifetime, the Buddha then begins a discussion of the four assurances, which do touch upon the possibility of rewards and punishments in the afterlife; but even here the appeal is made to common sense and not to blind faith.
"When, Kalamas, this noble disciple has thus made his mind free of enmity, free of ill will, uncorrupted and pure, he has won four assurances in this very life.
"The first assurance he has won is this: 'If there is another world, and if good and bad deeds bear fruit and yield results, it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death, I shall arise in a good destination, in a heavenly world.'
"The second assurance he has won is this: 'If there is no other world, and if good and bad deeds do not bear fruit and yield results, still right here, in this very life, I live happily, free of enmity and ill will.'
"The third assurance he has won is this: 'Suppose evil befalls the evil-doer. Then, as I do not intend evil for anyone, how can suffering afflict me, one who does no evil deed?'
"The fourth assurance he has won is this: 'Suppose evil does not befall the evil-doer. Then right here I see myself purified in both respects.' [In that he does no evil and no evil will befall him.]
"When, Kalamas, this noble disciple has thus made his mind free of enmity, free of ill will, uncorrupted and pure, he has won these four assurances in this very life." (Ibid, p. 67)
The Kalamas were very impressed with this reasoning and immediately expressed their agreement and delight at having their confusion cleared up. They then took refuge in the three jewels and became lay-disciples of the Buddha.
In the Apannaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya this argument is expanded in a discussion with the brahmin householders of Sala to include whether or not: "There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed," which refers to the belief that it is meritorious to be generous, especially when it promotes the general welfare, supports the virtuous or is in the service of religious tradition. "There is fruit and result of good and bad actions," in other words, the belief that actions have consequences that will even follow us from lifetime to lifetime, and in recognition of this we should take responsibility for ourselves as the makers of our own destiny. This law of cause-and-effect or karma is actually the lynchpin upon which everything else depends. "There is this world and the other world," which refers to the reality of this world and the afterlife. "There is mother and father," in the sense that we should look upon our parents with gratitude and respect, for at the very least they brought us into the world and were an important part of our formative process. If we can not even feel grateful for that, for whatever reasons, then at the very least we should recognize the causal links between ourselves and our parents that will constantly bring us together until they are resolved. "There are beings who are reborn spontaneously," this recognizes the belief in forms of existence which do not undergo the physical process of birth, infancy and childhood, especially those in the myriad heavens and hells of the Vedic cosmology.
"There are good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world," this refers to the existence of those wise and virtuous people who can testify to the deeper dimensions of reality that transcend the mundane world. None of these things can be proven, except perhaps through the direct knowledge provided by meditation and even that can be doubted as mere subjective delusion. However, these were beliefs which were the foundation for the morality and ethics of the society in which Shakyamuni Buddha was living. The law of cause-and-effect and its ability to operate from one lifetime to another was especially important, as noted above, because it was what gave force to the other beliefs. By subscribing to this law of cause-and-effect or karma, the Buddha and those of his contemporaries who also accepted it could insist that we are indeed held accountable for our actions for better or worse, and that morality is not just a human invention but the recognition of the very structure of life itself.
Though these beliefs were not specifically the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha did not wish to see them denied either, for the reason that his own teachings took them for granted as part of the structure of reality. In fact, the Buddha claimed to have directly realized the truth of these things through his own enlightenment, wherein he saw for himself the workings of the law of karma. He did not, however, expect those who had doubts about these things to simply take his word for it, so he spoke about the possible consequences of rejecting or accepting these beliefs in terms of a betting game. For those who chose to disbelieve and act without regard for morality he said:
"About this a wise man considers thus: 'If there is no other world, then on the dissolution of the body this good person will have made himself safe enough. But if there is another world, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. Now, whether or not the word of those recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no other world: still this good person is here and now censured by the wise as an immoral person, one of wrong view who holds the doctrine of nihilism. But on the other hand, if there is another world, then this good person has made an unlucky throw on both counts: since he is censured by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell. He has wrongly accepted and undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends only to one side, and excludes the wholesome alternative.'" (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, p. 508)
Hopefully it is obvious from the context that the term "good person" does not indicate any moral quality. Instead, it is used in the sense of "a gentleman." The last part about extending only to one side and excluding the wholesome alternative means that by not believing we only stand to gain in this life but will be denied a happy afterlife no matter what the outcome. The Buddha then discusses those who choose to believe:
"About this a wise man considers thus: 'If there is another world, then on the dissolution of the body, after death, this good person will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. Now whether or not the word of those good recluses and brahmins is true, let me assume that there is no other world: still this good person is here and now praised by the wise as a virtuous person, one with right view who holds the doctrine of affirmation. And on the other hand, if there is another world, then this good person has made a lucky throw on both counts: since he is praised by the wise here and now, and since on the dissolution of the body, after death, he will reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world. He has rightly accepted and undertaken the incontrovertible teaching in such a way that it extends to both sides and excludes the unwholesome alternative.'" (Ibid, p. 509)
So, by believing, we can gain in this lifetime as well as the next and we will not risk ending up in an unhappy afterlife. The point of course is that even if we can't prove them, those who live as though these beliefs were true stand to gain much more, no matter what may be the case, than those who live as though those beliefs were not true. For this reason, the Buddha referred to those items of belief and the value of living in accord with them as the "incontrovertible teaching". Roughly 2,200 years later, Blaise Pascal would make an equivalent argument for believing in the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Here is what Blaise had to say about choosing to believe in God:
Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great a certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognize that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing. (p. 68 Pascal's Pensees)
The Remedial Teaching
The Buddha does not, as we shall see in more detail later, teach that one should believe in any kind of God or in the immortality of the soul. In fact, dwelling on such things is considered to lead only to a spiritual dead-end. Instead, the Buddha wished to impress upon those he taught the basic causal structure of life and the need to be responsible for one's own actions. Without these basic presuppositions, nothing else that the Buddha taught would make any sense. In fact, it seems that the Buddha even had a standard remedial talk on basic Vedic cosmology to insure that his listeners were ready for the Buddha Dharma itself. One example of the Buddha using this standard remedial formula can be found in the Upali Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya:
Then the Blessed One gave the householder Upali progressive instruction, that is, talk on giving, talk on virtue, talk on the heavens; he explained the danger, degradation, and defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation. When he knew that the householder Upali's mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrances, elated, and confident, he expounded to him the teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path. (Ibid, p. 485)
When correlated with his discourse to the brahmins householders of Sala and with the discourse to the Kalamas, this progressive instruction that prepares people for the teaching special to the Buddhas can be seen as a condensed version of the incontrovertible teaching and the four solaces. So, the talk on giving, would cover the merit to be gained from giving donations, offerings and sacrifices, especially to support the needy or virtuous. The talk on virtue would cover the belief in the fruit of good and bad actions, and the gratitude and respect due to one's parents as well as the discussion with the Kalamas on the harmfulness of greed, hate and delusion. The talk on the heavens would cover the rewards of the next world for actions done in this one, the spontaneous births in the heavens, the testimony of the virtuous recluses and brahmins with direct knowledge to their existence and also instruction on the four divine abodes. The explanation of the defilements of the sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation could also be a reference to teachings like the four solaces. So, in each case, the Buddha instructs people so that they may recognize the value of charity, self-control and freedom from the poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. The importance of this progressive instruction of the Buddha becomes apparent in the Dhammapada, where in Chapter 14, verse 5, it is stated in a slightly different way and asserted to be the teaching of all Buddhas. The verse reads:
Avoid all evil,
Cultivate the good,
Purify your mind:
This sums up the teaching of the Buddhas.
(The Dhammapada, p. 132)
This teaching might seem too obvious to bother stating, but the Buddha knew that very few people truly take these things seriously enough to make them a priority in their lives. In a sense, the Buddha was simply trying to reawaken the basic values which people already hold but neglect, and by doing that he was preparing them for the deeper insights to come.
But What About God?
When most people hear the word "religion", they immediately think of revelation, miracles, the immortality of the soul and of course, God. Buddhism, however, sees these things as fruitless at best or pernicious delusions at worst. For instance, in the case of miracles, the Buddha on many occasions taught that while it was possible to attain miraculous powers through the practice of meditation, these were to be viewed as mere side effects and were certainly not to be cultivated as ends in and of themselves, nor were they to be used to attract others to the Dharma. In the Kevaddha Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, for instance, a householder named Kevaddha came to the Buddha and suggested that if some of the monks would display miracles, then the people who lived in the area would have even more faith in the Buddha. "The Lord replied: 'Kevaddha, this is not the way I teach Dhamma to the monks, by saying: "Go, monks, and perform superhuman feats and miracles for the white-clothed lay-people!"'" (The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 175) The Buddha went on to explain that the display of miracles such as bodily transformations like flying or becoming invisible or mental powers like telepathy would only impress those who already believed while at the same time causing skeptics to dismiss the Dharma as a collection of cheap magic tricks. For that reason the Buddha says, "And that is why, Kevaddha, seeing the danger of such miracles, I dislike, reject and despise them." (Ibid, p. 176) The Buddha then teaches Kavaddha that the only legitimate form of miracle is the miracle of instruction. "And what is the miracle of instruction? Here, Kevaddha, a monk gives instruction as follows: 'Consider in this way, don't consider in that, direct your mind this way, not that way, give up that, gain this and persevere in it.' That, Kevaddha, is called the miracle of instruction." (Ibid, p. 176) In the Patika Sutta of the Digha Nikaya a monk named Sunakkhatta comes to the Buddha and announces that he is going to leave the Sangha. When asked why he is choosing to quit the following discourse occurs:
"Well, Lord, you have not performed any miracles." "And did I ever say to you: 'Come under my rule, Sunakkatta, and I will perform miracles for you?'" "No, Lord." "Or did you ever say to me: 'Lord, I will be under your rule if you will perform miracles for me?'" "No, Lord." "Then it appears, Sunakkhatta, that I made no such promises, and you made no such conditions. Such being the case, you foolish man, who are you and what are you giving up? What do you think, Sunakkhatta? Whether miracles are performed or not - is it the purpose of my teaching Dhamma to lead whoever practices it to the total destruction of suffering?" "It is, Lord." "So, Sunakkhatta, whether miracles are performed or not, the purpose of my teaching Dhamma is to lead whoever practices it to the total destruction of suffering. Then what purpose would the performance of miracles serve? Consider, you foolish man, how the fault is yours." (Ibid, pp. 371-372)
In his book, Buddhism: It's Essence and Development, Edward Conze sums up the Buddhist teaching in regard to miracles and psychic powers and then recounts the following unattributed story:
Although psychic abilities are inseparable from a certain stage of spiritual development, they are not in all cases beneficial to the character or the spirituality of the person in whom they manifest themselves. There is much danger in psychic manifestations: conceit may be further increased; one may search for the power and lose the kingdom and the glory; one may expose oneself to contact with forces which demoralize. On the whole, the attitude of the Buddhist Church during the first millennium of its existence seems to have been that the occult and the psychic are all right as long as one does not take too much notice of them, and exhibits them as a kind of cheap stunt to the populace. One day the Buddha came across an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river, and who had practices austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had got out of all his labor. The ascetic proudly replied that now at last he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha tried to point out that this was little gain for so much labor, since for one penny the ferry would take him across. (pp. 104-5)
As for belief in an immortal soul or in God, these are also criticized as part of the problem and not part of the solution from the Buddhist point of view. The modern Theravadin scholar-monk, Dr. Walpola Rahula, states the Buddhist position in regard to God and the soul in the following blunt manner:
Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man: self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety and security, just as a child depends on its parent. For self-preservation man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or Atman, which will live eternally. In his ignorance, weakness, fear and desire, man needs these two things to console himself. Hence, he clings to them deeply and fanatically. (What the Buddha Taught, p. 51)
Dr. Rahula's approach may, in part, be a reaction to the arrogance of Western missionaries who assume that authentic religion must of necessity deal with the worship of God and the salvation of one's immortal soul. His statement certainly makes it clear that from the Buddhist point of view these two concepts are actually forms of selfish clinging which must be discarded if one is to authentically practice the Buddha Dharma.
Shakyamuni Buddha, however, was more tactful in his approach to the theistic brahmins of his day. Furthermore, it should be made clear that the Buddha did not dogmatically deny the existence of the soul or of God. The Buddha's real concern was to liberate people from attachment and clinging, including the subtle forms of clinging that are involved in any kind of conceptual belief system.
A detailed discussion of the Buddhist teaching of selflessness will appear later under the heading of the Human Condition. At this point, suffice it to say that the Buddha's critique was against the Upanishadic concept of the Atman, the idea that there is a permanent True Self hidden beneath the appearance of the phenomenal self. The Buddha would show that not only was this illogical, it actually led to even greater self-concern and self-preoccupation, while at the same time leading people away from the reality of the true nature of phenomena and into the abstractions of an other-worldly transcendence. The Buddha is careful, however, to point out that there is a provisional or conventional self, which arises and ceases in accordance with causes and conditions. It is this "self" which will suffer or enjoy the effects of its own deeds. It is this "self" which alone can take responsibility for its actions. Finally, it is this "self" which must take up the eightfold path in order to gain insight into its own conditioned nature and thereby become free of selfhood.
God is treated a little better by the Buddha. Whereas the concept of the self or of an immortal soul is specifically denied by the doctrine of anatman, union with God is treated as a legitimate though lesser goal for those who are unable to transcend their theistic assumptions about the goal of the religious life. Once again, the God that is being referred to is the Vedic Brahma, who is viewed as eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, the creator of the world and morally perfect. Shakyamuni Buddha, however, teaches that this understanding of the nature of God may merely be a matter of perspective. He explains this in connection with his critique of those who believe that Brahma is eternal while all else is only transitory in the Brahmajala Sutta:
"There are, monks, some ascetics and Brahmins who are partly Eternalists and partly Non-Eternalists, who proclaim the partial eternity and the partial non-eternity of the self and the world in four ways. On what grounds?
"There comes a time, monks, sooner or later after a long period when this world contracts. At the time of contraction, beings are mostly born in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious - and they stay like that for a very long time.
"But the time comes, sooner or later after a long period, when this world begins to expand. In this expanding world an empty palace of Brahma appears. And then one being, from exhaustion of his life-span or of his merits, falls from the Abhassara world and arises in the empty Brahma-palace. And there he dwells, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious - and he stays like that for a very long time.
"Then in this being who has been alone for so long there arises unrest, discontent and worry, and he thinks: 'Oh, if only some other beings would come here!' And other beings, from exhaustion of their life-span or of their merits, fall from the Abhassara world and arise in the Brahma-palace as companions for this being. And there they dwell, mind-made,...and they stay like that for a very long time.
"And then, monks, that being who first arose there thinks: 'I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me. How so? Because I first had this thought: 'Oh, if only some other beings would come here!' That was my wish, and then these beings came into existence!' But those beings who arose subsequently think: 'This, friends, is Brahma, Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. How so? We have seen that he was here first, and that we arose after him.'
"And this being that arose first is longer lived, more beautiful and more powerful than they are. And it may happen that some being falls from that realm and arises in this world. Having arisen in this world, he goes forth from the household life into homelessness. Having gone forth, he by means of effort, exertion, application, earnestness and right attention attains to such a degree of mental concentration that he thereby recalls his last existence, but recalls none before that. And he thinks:
"That Brahma,...he made us, and he is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, the same for ever and ever. But we who were created by that Brahma, we are impermanent, unstable, short-lived, fated to fall away, and we have come to this world." This is the first case whereby some ascetics and Brahmins are partly Eternalists and partly Non-Eternalists. (The Long Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 75 - 77)
Now the Buddha may not actually have intended for this story to be taken literally. It may be that some of the Buddha's teachings were actually good humored ways of making an important point, and in this case the joke is on Brahma. The point here, is that if Brahma or God is conceived as a being among beings then he will be subject to the same law of causation as all other beings. Even as the preeminent or first being among beings, God is still a part of the process and can not be apart from it. All of God's transcendent qualities, then, are simply ironic. They are simply false assumptions based upon a limited point of view. Of course, there are far subtler concepts of God that are not addressed by this story. What of God's omnipresence, what of the God who is conceived of as the cosmic process itself or what of the God who is Being itself and not any particular being? These issues are addressed in the Upanishads, which discuss Brahman, the impersonal Godhead, rather than the straw-God who appears throughout the Buddha's teachings as the haughty but deluded ruler of the heavens and creator of the world who in the end is simply a fellow disciple of the Buddha along with all mankind. However, even in the case of those subtler and more sophisticated concepts, one is still left clinging to concepts and the idea of some kind of entity who can be distinguished in some manner from ordinary phenomena. So, once again, one finds that God has been reduced to a being among beings.
As a being among beings who is also caught up in the round of birth and death, Brahma also must be considered in need of the Buddha's instruction despite his pretensions. The Buddha illustrates this point in the Kevaddha Sutta to the aforementioned miracle seeking layman Kavaddha by telling the story of a monk who wished to know where the four great elements of earth, air, fire and water cease without remainder. In the story the monk uses his power of mental concentration to travel to the various heavens in order to find someone who can answer his question. Eventually he is referred to the Great Brahma, who mysteriously appears preceded by a radiant light. Instead of answering the question, the Great Brahma tries to awe the monk into silence saying, "Monk, I am Brahma, Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be." (Ibid, p. 178) The monk, undaunted, calls his bluff and insists on receiving an answer to his question. At that point, Brahma literally pulls the monk aside so that the other celestials will not overhear and admits the following:
"Monk, these devas believe that there is nothing Brahma does not see, there is nothing he does not know, there is nothing he is unaware of. That is why I did not speak in front of them. But, monk, I don't know where the four great elements cease without remainder. And therefore, monk, you have acted wrongly, you have acted incorrectly by going beyond the Blessed Lord and going in search of an answer to the question elsewhere. Now, monk, you just go to the Blessed Lord and put this question to him, and whatever answer he gives, accept it." (Ibid, pp. 178-179)
Upon taking his inquiry to the Buddha, the Buddha gently chides the monk for wasting his time by seeking answers in the heavenly realms and then informs him that there is a better way of asking his question.
"Where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find?
Where are long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
Where are 'name-and-form' wholly destroyed?
And the answer is:
"Where consciousness is signless, boundless, all-luminous,
That's where earth, water, fire and air find no footing,
There both long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
There 'name-and-form' are wholly destroyed.
With the cessation of consciousness this is all destroyed." (Ibid, pp. 179-180)
Brahma, then, is not merely the victim of delusion in this story but is actually portrayed as a deliberate charlatan who is aware of, but hides his limitations. Once again, the conclusion is that miracles, heavenly journeys and dealings with God are all fruitless and can not compare with the insight of the Buddha. Once again, one wonders if this story were intended to poke fun at an actually existing God, or merely at the popular conception of God and those who claim to represent him. In any case, the Buddha was also sharply critical of the brahmins and their Vedic learning who claimed to teach the way to union with Brahma.
In the Tevijja Sutta the Buddha meets two young brahmins who are confused by the conflicting opinions in regard to the way to achieve union with Brahma. To resolve their doubts the brahmin Vasettha asks the Buddha his opinion in regard to the conflicting truth claims. The Buddha, however, gets Vasettha to admit that none of the supposed authorities or founders of the various traditions had any real knowledge of what they were talking about. Now it could be objected, both by Vedantists and other theists that the founders of the various God centered religions did, in fact, have personal contact with God. In the end, however, it must be admitted that even this is a matter of faith. In the final analysis, the theistic teachings are based on hearsay and are not themselves able to give direct knowledge of God.
"So, Vasettha, not one of these Brahmins learned in the Three Vedas has seen Brahma face to face, nor has one of their teachers, or teacher's teachers, nor even the ancestor seven generations back of one of their teachers. Nor could any of the early sages say: 'We know and see when, how and where Brahma appears.' So what these Brahmins learned in the Three Vedas are saying is: 'We teach this path to union with Brahma that we do not know or see, this is the only straight path, this is the direct path, the path of salvation that leads one who follows it to union with Brahma.' What do you think, Vasettha? Such being the case, does not what these Brahmins declare turn out to be ill-founded?" "Yes indeed, Reverend Gautama."
"Well, Vasettha, when these Brahmins learned in the Three Vedas teach a path that they do not know or see, saying: 'This is the only straight path...,' this cannot possibly be right. Just as a file of blind men go on, clinging to each other, and the first one sees nothing, the middle one sees nothing, and the last one sees nothing - so it is with the talk of the Brahmins learned in the Three Vedas; the first one sees nothing, the middle one sees nothing, the last one sees nothing. The talk of these Brahmins learned in the Three Vedas turns out to be laughable, mere words, empty and vain." (Ibid, pp. 188-189)
The Buddha then compares the learned brahmins to those who fall in love with a woman they have never seen, or to those who build a stairway for a palace that has not been built or to those who try to cross a river by calling out to the other bank in the hope that it will come over to them. With these similes, the Buddha points out to the young brahmins the foolishness of trying to achieve union with a God that no one has ever known or seen for themselves, or of trying to teach methods to attain something whose existence is only speculation or of trying to achieve transcendence through the mere chanting of mantras and supplications without trying to transform themselves so as to be worthy of the goal. The Buddha then teaches the young brahmins the value of purifying their minds, renouncing the householder's life and the practice of the four divine abodes that were taught to the Kalamas. In this way, one may be united with Brahma at death by embodying the qualities of Brahma while living and thus becoming worthy of the goal.
The Buddha Dharma itself, however, is able to take those who follow it far beyond even the divine realms. For the Buddha had realized that even the divine states of being were phenomenal and subject to the same shortcomings as all other forms of phenomenal existence as we shall see in the following chapters. So, while union with God is looked upon as a worthy and attainable goal, it is not the final goal, for only the peace of nirvana can provide true peace according to the Buddha.
The Dead End of Philosophy
The theistic traditions, however, were not alone in being discredited by the Buddha. Philosophy and speculation was even harder hit. The Buddha taught that not only was metaphysical speculation and philosophical debate fruitless, it was actually a pernicious waste of time. Those who engaged in it would be much better off cultivating the means to attain direct knowledge for themselves. The most famous example of the Buddha's teaching in regard to philosophical speculation is of course the parable of the poisoned arrow in the Culamalunkya Sutta. In the sutta, the monk Malunkyaputta decides that he will leave the Sangha if the Buddha does not give his opinion in regard to the following speculative views: Whether the world is eternal or not, whether it is infinite or not, whether the soul and the body are the same or different, whether the Tathagata exists or does not exist after death, or perhaps both exists and does not exist or neither exists nor does not exist. The Buddha, however, replies:
"If anyone should say thus: 'I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One declares to me "the world is eternal"... or "after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,"' that would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata and meanwhile that person would die. Suppose, Malunkyaputta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives, brought a surgeon to treat him. The man would say: 'I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble or a brahmin or a merchant or a worker.' And he would say: 'I will not let the surgeon pull out this arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me;...until I know whether the man who wounded me was tall or short or of middle height;...until I know whether the man who wounded me was dark or brown or golden-skinned;...until I know whether the man who wounded me lives in such a village or town or city;...until I know whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a crossbow;...until I know whether the bowstring that wounded me was fiber or reed or sinew or hemp or bark;...until I know whether the shaft that wounded me was wild or cultivated;...until I know with what kind of sinew the shaft that wounded me was bound - whether of an ox or a buffalo or a lion or a monkey;...until I know what kind of arrow it was that wounded me - whether it was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed or calf-toothed or oleander.'
"All this would still not be known to that man and meanwhile he would die. So too, Malunkyaputta, if anyone should say thus: 'I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One declares to me: "The world is eternal"...or "after death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,"' that would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata and meanwhile that person would die." (The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 534-535)
The Buddha then drives home the point by stating that what really matters is living the holy life in accordance with the four noble truths, since the question of suffering, its origin, its cessation and the eightfold path to its cessation are of primary importance. The resolution of metaphysical questions can wait until after the most pressing issues addressed by the four noble truths have been resolved, and at that point, one may be well beyond the need to know such things. It should be recalled at this point that all of the Buddha's teachings are based upon his direct experience of the true nature of reality, and that these teachings are for the purpose of enabling his disciples to have the same insight themselves. The Buddha's enlightenment was not a matter of esoteric knowledge which could be communicated in words, rather it was an insight into the true nature of reality which every one must arrive at for themselves. The Buddha's teachings are simply ways of helping people to mature morally, intellectually and spiritually to the point where they can do this for themselves. They point to the insight, but they can not provide the insight which leads to liberation. So, the Buddha Dharma is not a philosophy. It's purpose is not to satisfy mere intellectual curiosity. It is a way of life, a training program that can lead to the living experience of liberation from suffering that no philosophy can ever provide.
Just as the Buddha Dharma avoids the pitfalls of theism and metaphysical speculation, it is also non-dogmatic. All of the Buddha's teachings are for the sake of realization, and not for the purpose of mere belief. The value of the Dharma lies in its ability to help people liberate themselves. The greatest mistake would be to enshrine a teaching for its own sake, rather than putting it into practice and realizing the meaning of it for oneself. Unfortunately, it seems that many people chose to do exactly that, worshiping and exalting what they should be practicing and internalizing. Even worse, some even use their knowledge as a club which they use to intellectually beat others into submission. The very teachings which could have pointed them in the direction of selflessness are instead used to reinforce the very worst kind of egotism and chauvinism. Cleverness and erudition become the goals, rather than liberation from the bonds of selfishness. In the Alagaddupama Sutta, the Buddha speaks directly to this kind of misappropriation of his teachings:
"Here, bhikkhus, some misguided men learn the Dhamma - discourses, stanzas, expositions, verses, exclamations, sayings, birth stories, marvels, and answers to questions - but having learned the Dhamma, they do not examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom. Not examining the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, they do not gain a reflective acceptance of them. Instead they learn the Dhamma only for the sake of criticizing others and for winning in debates, and they do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the Dhamma. Those teachings, being wrongly grasped by them, conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time." (Ibid, p. 227)
The Buddha then explains the proper attitude to take to the Buddha Dharma through the famous parable of the raft:
"Bhikkhus, I shall show you how the Dhamma is similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping. Listen and attend closely to what I shall say." - "Yes, venerable sir," the bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this:
"Bhikkhus, suppose a man in the course of a journey saw a great expanse of water, whose near shore was dangerous and fearful and whose further shore was safe and free from fear, but there was no ferryboat or bridge going to the far shore. Then he thought: 'There is this great expanse of water, whose near shore is dangerous and fearful and whose further shore is safe and free from fear, but there is no ferryboat or bridge going to the far shore. Suppose I collect grass, twigs, branches, and leaves and bind them together into a raft, and supported by the raft and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore.' And then the man collected grass, twigs, branches, and leaves and bound them together into a raft, and supported by the raft and making an effort with my hands and feet, he got safely across to the far shore. Then, when he had got across and had arrived at the far shore, he might think thus: 'This raft has been very helpful to me, since supported by it and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore. Suppose I were to hoist it on my head or load it on my shoulder, and then go wherever I want.' Now, bhikkhus, what do you think? By doing so, would that man be doing what should be done with that raft?"
"No, venerable sir."
"By doing what would that man be doing what should be done with that raft? Here, bhikkhus, when that man got across and had arrived at the far shore, he might think thus: 'This raft has been very helpful to me, since supported by it and making an effort with my hands and feet, I got safely across to the far shore. Suppose I were to haul it onto dry land or set it adrift in the water, and then go wherever I want.' Now, bhikkhus, it is by so doing that that man would be doing what should be done with that raft. So I have shown you how the Dhamma is similar to a raft, being for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of grasping.
"Bhikkhus, when you know the Dhamma to be similar to a raft, you should abandon even good states, how much more so bad states." (Ibid, pp. 228-229)
This statement that "you should abandon even good states, how much more so bad states" could almost be a summary of the Buddha Dharma itself insofar as our subjective attitude is concerned. If the Buddha's teachings are to make people realize that clinging is the source of suffering, wouldn't clinging to these teachings defeat the very purpose of them? This does not mean that we should disregard the teachings or hold them lightly. It does mean, however, that they are useless to us if we don't put them into practice and that when we have gotten the point we no longer need to make an issue of them.
Another point at issue here is the fact that the realization of the Buddha goes beyond the many metaphors and analogies that the Buddha used to convey it. It is commonly observed that all analogies eventually break down, and yet when it comes to religion, people seem to forget that the Ultimate Truth cannot be fully expressed in terms of conventional ideas and concepts. The Buddha, however, used his analogy of the raft to underline the merely metaphorical nature of his own teachings. He wanted to be sure that his disciples did not fall into the common trap of mistaking the map for the territory or the menu for the meal. The four noble truths, the eightfold path, the twelve-fold chain of dependent origination, even nirvana itself are all very helpful teachings in that they can point the way to the same experience of awakening that Shakyamuni Buddha himself had, but the realization itself is organic and alive and can not be so rigidly contained. In the end, the Dharma is something that one can not take anyone else's word for. This is something that Shakyamuni Buddha knew very well, and so he never presumed to replace the individual's own insight with any kind of fixed revelation, he merely showed the way so that each person could cross the stream, reach the other shore and see the truth for themselves.
Conze, Edward. Buddhism: It's Essence and Development.
Herbert, Frank. Dune.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu, trans.The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Botson: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Nyanaponika, Thera and Bodhi, Bhikkhu trans. & ed., Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1999.
Pascal, Blaise. Pascal's Pensees. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958.
Rahula, Walpola, What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, 1974.
Walshe, Maurice, trans. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995.
Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 1996, 2002.
The Going Gets Rough
The most straightforward advice on how to discover your true nature is this: practice not causing harm to anyone neither yourself nor others and every day, do what you can to help.
If you take this instruction to heart and begin to use it, you will probably find very quickly that it is not so easy. Often, before you know it, someone has provoked you and either directly or indirectly, you've let them have it.
Therefore, when the intention is sincere but the going gets rough, most of us could use some help. We could use further instruction on how to lighten up and turn around our well-established habits of striking out and blaming.
The four methods for holding your seat provide just such support for developing the patience to stay open to what's happening, instead of acting on automatic pilot. These four methods are:
1) not setting up the target for the arrow;
2) connecting with the heart;
3) seeing obstacles as teachers;
4) regarding all that occurs as a dream.
First, if you have not set up the target it cannot be hit by an arrow. This is to say that each time you retaliate with words and actions that hurt, you are strengthening the habit of anger. Then, without doubt, plenty of arrows will always be coming your way.
The pattern of striking out may already be very strong; however, each time you are provoked you are given a chance to do something different. The choice is yours: you can further strengthen your painful and crippling habit or you can shake it up a bit by holding your seat.
Each time you sit still with the restlessness and heat of anger neither acting it out nor repressing it you are tamed and strengthened. Each time you act on the anger or suppress it, you are weakened; you become more and more like a walking target. Then, as the years go by, almost everything makes you mad.
So this is the first method: remember that you set the target up yourself, and only you can take it down. Understand that if you hold your seat when you want to retaliate even for 1.5 seconds longer than ever before you are starting to dissolve a pattern of aggression that, if you let it, will continue to hurt you and others forever.
Second is the instruction for connecting with the heart: in times of anger, you can contact the kindness and compassion that you already have.
When someone who is insane starts to harm you, there is the possibility of understanding that they don't know what they are doing. There is the possibility of contacting your heart and feeling sadness that this poor being is out of control and is harming themselves by hurting others. There is the possibility that even though you feel fear, you do not feel hatred or anger you might even wish to help this person if you can.
Actually, a lunatic is far less crazy than a sane person who harms you, for so-called sane people have the potential to realize that they are sowing seeds of their own misery, their own confusion, their own dissatisfaction. Their present aggression is producing further and more intense patterns of aggression. The life of one who is always angry is painful and generally very lonely. The one who harms you is under the influence of patterns that could continue to produce suffering forever.
So this is the second method: remember that the one who harms you does not need to be provoked further and neither do you. You can connect with your heart and recognize that, in this very moment, millions are burning with the fire of aggression just as you two are. Sit still with the restlessness and pain of the anger, neither acting it out nor repressing it, and let the searing quality of the energy tame you and strengthen you and make you kinder.
Third is the instruction on seeing difficulties as teachers. If there is no teacher around to give you direct personal guidance on how to stop causing harm, never fear! Life itself will provide the opportunities for learning how to hold your seat. The troublemaker, for instance, who so disturbs you without this person how could you ever get the chance to practice patience? How could you ever get the chance to know the energy of anger so intimately that it loses its power?
There is a saying that the teacher is always with us. The teacher is always showing us precisely where we are at and encouraging us to relax and open our hearts and minds, encouraging us to not speak and act in the same old stuck ways, encouraging us also not to repress or dissociate. So with this one who is scaring you or insulting you, do you retaliate as you have one hundred thousand times before, or do you start to get smart and do something different?
Right at the point when you are about to blow your top, remember this: you are a disciple being taught how to sit still with the edginess and discomfort of the energy. You are a disciple being challenged to hold your seat and open to the situation with as much courage and as much kindness as you possibly can.
Of course, like countless students before you, you may often feel, "I'm not ready for this." So sometimes you will run away, and sometimes you will kick and scream, and sometimes you will hold your seat. Somehow, gradually, all of this becomes part of your ability not to cause harm and part of your ability to understand the pain and confusion of others and to help them.
The problem with these or any instructions is that we have a tendency to get serious and rigid about them. We get tense and uptight about trying to relax and be patient. This is where the fourth instruction comes in: it is helpful to contemplate that the one who is angry, the anger itself, and the recipient of that anger are all happening as if in a dream.
You can regard your life as a movie in which you are temporarily the leading player. You can reflect on the essencelessness of your current situation rather than putting such big importance on everything. This big-deal struggle, this big-deal problematic (or self-righteous) me, and this big-deal person who opposes you, could all be lightened up considerably.
When you awaken from sleep you know that the enemies in your dreams are an illusion. That realization does a lot to cut through the drama. In the same way, instead of acting out of impulse, you could slow down and ask yourself, "Who is this monolithic me that has been so offended? And who is this other person that they can trigger me like this? What is this praise and blame that it can hook me like a fish, that it can burn me like a flame burns a moth? What is going on here that outer things have the power to propel me from hope to fear, from happy to miserable, like a ping-pong ball?"
Contemplate that these outer things, as well as these emotions, as well as this huge sense of me, are passing and essenceless, like a memory, like a movie, like a dream.
When you find yourself captured by aggression, remember this: there is no basis for striking out or for repressing. There is no basis for hatred or for shame. Whether awake or asleep, we are simply moving from one dreamlike state to another.
Recalling this instruction, you just might find it helps you to loosen your grip and open your mind.
These four methods for turning around anger and for learning a little patience come to us from the Kadampa masters of eleventh-century Tibet. These instructions have provided encouragement for practitioners in the past and they are just as useful in the present. These same Kadampa masters advised that we not procrastinate. They urged us to use these instructions immediately on this very day and not say to ourselves, "I will do it in the future when the days are longer."
Why Buddhism gets up the Pope's nose
On Wednesday, 18th of January, 1995, Pope John Paul II arrived in Sydney and attended an Interfaith Gathering in the Sydney Domain. Representatives from major religions,including Protestant, Orthodox and Coptic Christians, Jewish and Muslim were invited to share the platform with him. Notable by its absence was Australia's third largest religion, Buddhism. The organisers told SBS radio that they were unaware that Buddhism was Australia's third largest religion and, besides that, there was no national leader of Buddhism, so who were they to invite? The 'Sydney Morning Herald' reported that "Somebody in the State Government forgot to invite the Buddhists". This is unlikely as our New South Wales Government is very aware of the presence of Buddhists in this State and often invite Buddhist representatives to State functions. A more likely explanation is that the Vicar of Rome holds Buddhism in very low esteem as is evident from the following extract from his book, 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope'. Vittorio Messori: I would like to ask you to speak more fully on the subject of Buddhism. Essentially - as you well know - it offers a "doctrine of salvation" that seems increasingly to fascinate many Westerners as an "alternative" to Christianity or as a sort of ''complement" to it, at least in terms of certain ascetic and mystical techniques. John Paul II: Yes. you are right and I am grateful to you for this question. Among the religions mentioned in the Council document Nostra Actate. it is necessary to pay special attention to Buddhism. which from a certain point of view, like Christianity is a religion of salvation. Nevertheless, it needs to be said right away that the doctrines of salvation in Buddhism and Christianity are opposed. The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetans, is a well-known figure in the West. I have met him a few times. He brings Buddhism to people of the Christian West, stirring up interest both in Buddhist spirituality and in its methods of praying. I also had the chance to meet the Buddhist "patriarch" in Bangkok, Thailand, and among the monks that surrounded him there were several, for example, who came from the United States. Today we are seeing a certain diffusion of Buddhism in the West. The Buddhist doctrine of salvation constitutes the central point, or rather the only point, of this system. Nevertheless, both the Buddhist tradition and the methods deriving from it have an almost exclusive negative soteriology. The "enlightenment" experienced by Buddha comes down to the conviction that the world is bad, that it is the source of evil and of suffering for man. To liberate oneself from this evil, one must free oneself from this world, necessitating a break with the ties that join us to external realities existing in our human nature, in our psyche, in our bodies. The more we are liberated from these ties, the more we become indifferent to what is in the world, and the more we are freed from suffering, from the evil that has its source in the world. Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the "enlightenment" conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an "atheistic" system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process. At various times, attempts to link this method with the Christian mystics have been made - whether it is with those from northern Europe (Eckhart. Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck) or the later Spanish mystics (Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross). But when Saint John of the Cross, in the Ascent of Mount Garmel and in the Dark Night of the Soul, speaks of the need for purification, for detachment from the world of the senses, he does not conceive of that detachment as an end in itself. "To arrive at what now you do not enjoy, you must go where you do not en joy. To reach what you do not know, you must go where you do not know. To come into possession of what you do not have, you must go where now you have nothing" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, i, 13, ii). In Eastern Asia these classic texts of Saint John of the Cross have been, at times, interpreted as a confirmation of Eastern ascetic methods. But this Doctor of the Church does not merely propose detachment from the world. He proposes detachment from the world in order to unite oneself to that which is outside of the world - by this I do not mean nirvana, but a personal God. Union with Him comes about not only through purification, but through love. Carmelite mysticism begins at the point where the reflections of Buddha end, together with his instructions for the spiritual life. In the active and passive purification of the human soul. in those specific nights of the senses and the spirit, Saint John of the Cross sees, above all, the preparation necessary for the human soul to be permeated with the living flame of love. And this is also the title of his major work - The Living Flame of Love. Therefore, despite similar aspects, there is a fundamental difference. Christian mysticism from every period beginning with the era of the Fathers of the Eastern and Western Church, to the great theologians of Scholasticism (such as Saint Thomas Aquinas), to the northern European mystics. to the Carmelite mystics - is not born of a purely negative "Enlightenment". It is not born of an awareness of the evil which exists in man's attachment to the world through the senses, the intellect, and the spirit. Instead. Christian mysticism is born of the Revelation of the living God. This God opens Himself to union with man, arousing in him the capacity to be united with Him,especially by means of the theological virtues - faith, hope and, above all, love. Christian mysticism in every age up to our own - including the mysticism of marvellous men of action like Vincent de Paul, John Bosco, Maximillian Kolbe - has built up and continues to build up Christianity in its most essential element. It also builds up the Church as a community of faith, hope, and charity. It builds up civilization, particularly "Western civilization", which is marked by a positive approach to the world, end which developed thanks to the achievements of science and technology, two branches of knowledge rooted both in the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and in Judeo-Christian Revelation. The truth about God the Creator of the world and about Christ the Redeemer is a powerful force which inspires a positive attitude toward creation and provides a constant impetus to strive for its transformation and perfection. The Second Vatican Council has amply confirmed this truth. To indulge in a negative attitude toward the world, in the conviction that it is only a source of suffering for man and that he therefore must break away from it, is negative not only because it is unilateral but also because it is fundamentally contrary to the development of both man himself and the world. which the Creator has given and entrusted to man as his task. We read in Gaudium et Spes: "Therefore,the world which (the Council) has in mind is the world of men, of the entire human family considered in the context of all realities; the world which is the theatre of human history and which bears the marks of humanity's struggles, its defeats, and its victories; the world which the Christians believe has been created and is sustained by the Creator's love, a world enslaved by sin but liberated by the crucified and resurrected Christ in order to defeat evil, and destined, according to the divine plan, to be transformed and to reach its fulfillment" (Gaudium et Spes 2). These words indicate how between Christianity and religions of the Far East, in particular Buddhism, there is an essentially different way of perceiving the world. For Christians, the world is God's creation, redeemed by Christ. It is in the world that man meetsGod. Therefore he does not need to attain such an absolute detachment in order to find himself in the mystery of his deepest self. For Christianity, it does not make sense to speak of the world as a "radical" evil, since at the beginning of the world we find God the Creator who loves his creation, a God who "gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life' (John 3:16). For this reason it is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East - for example, techniques and methods of meditation and ascetical practice. In some quarters these have become fashionable, and are accepted rather uncritically. First one should know one's own spiritual heritage well and consider whether it is right to set it aside lightly. Here we need to recall, if only in passing, the brief but important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "on certain aspects of Christian meditation" (10/15/1989). Here we find a clear answer to the question "whether and how" (Christian prayer) can be enriched by methods of meditation originating in different religions and cultures.
the healing power of the pure unattached mind.
My spiritual practice was inaugurated twenty years ago in the Mojave Desert. A friend drove me there-ten hours south from Oakland, through the little town of Joshua Tree, and up the long desert slope to Copper Mountain Mesa where, halfway along a sandy dirt road, we came to a cluster of low buildings huddled under the killer sun. Here I first met Ruth Denison, a German-born woman trained in the Burmese tradition of Theravada Buddhism, whose flexibility and sense of what Westerners need in order to practice mindfulness had led her to a challenging teaching style grounded in traditional practice augmented with sometimes outrageously innovative techniques. She was known as an eccentric, who would employ any means to communicate her beloved "Dharma"; she was also the first Buddhist teacher to offer women-only retreats.
Another person would have approached meditation gradually, carefully, beginning with short sessions of a few minutes each day and slowly graduating to longer periods of sitting-the sane way to proceed. But I plunged in, signing up for a seven-day meditation retreat.
In the silence-observed by everyone but Ruth, who gave a talk each evening-I felt unseen, unacknowledged. At first this was excruciating, but as the week progressed, I found myself grateful to be experiencing my own livingness without the distraction of others' opinions of me and responses to me. Sometimes a sadness would well up and I would feel warm tears running down my face; sometimes I felt a great wounded tenderness for myself, as if I watched a child struggling to accomplish a task too difficult; now and then an expansive peacefulness opened in my chest and I found myself smiling. The silence had become my friend.
Over the years, Ruth's meditation center-named Dhamma Dena for a distinguished female teacher from the Buddha's lifetime (Dhammadinna)-became the cradle in which my timid beginning attempts at awareness were rocked and nurtured. I learned that the practice Ruth taught, called Vipassana, or insight-meditation, came from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Theravada is known as the gradual path, involving effort made through many lifetimes toward the goal of liberation from suffering. It emphasizes "bare attention" and "choiceless awareness," teaching a method for being wholly present to one's own experience. Its practices lead to an apprehension of the three "marks" of existence: impermanence, suffering and the insubstantiality of the self.
Theravada Buddhism was brought to the United States mostly by Westerners, young people who studied in Burma or Thailand or Sri Lanka and brought the practice back to pass on to their peers in America. Ruth Denison, somewhat older than her counterparts, journeyed to Burma with her American husband, studied and practiced there, and received "transmission" from a noted Burmese Buddhist master. The teacher, U Ba Khin, told her to go back to the United States and teach meditation, but Ruth was modest, uncertain about her capacities. On her return to this country she steadily pursued her meditation practice, both alone and at Zen centers in Los Angeles (at that time there were no Theravada centers in southern California), but did not set out to teach. She and her husband hosted spiritual teachers in their Hollywood home, and were part of a circle of seekers that included Alan Watts and Timothy Leary. Eventually, students began to gather around Ruth and ask her to teach them to meditate. They followed her to the desert, and Dhamma Dena was born in several tiny buildings.
From the beginning of my visits to Dhamma Dena, the stark, spacious environment made a vibrant container for the practice. My memory holds many encounters with Ruth, like the morning in the early eighties when I was using the break after breakfast to hide away behind the work shed and write in my journal. (Reading and writing are discouraged at meditation retreats.) I was picking up my notebook and readying myself to leave when a long-skirted figure appeared from around the woodpile, her hair covered by a white scarf tucked up behind, her long-sleeved white blouse and tan skirt fluttering against her body in the wind.
"Ah, this is where you are hiding!" said Ruth. She came to sit across from me on an upended milk carton.
Adjusting my now-stiffening buttocks on my makeshift seat of piled boards, I looked over at Ruth, who had picked up a piece of rusted metal and was examining it with the shrewd eye of one who knows how to recycle everything. I was feeling grumpy and tired, having struggled through the early morning meditation session and afterwards castigating myself that I was not really a very religious or spiritual person. She, on the other hand, had always been drawn to religious practice; as a child in Germany she was always devout. She was even attracted to her husband because he was so "spiritual," having been a monk in the Hindu tradition of Vedanta. We began to talk about how Ruth was led to offer all-women retreats.
"Certainly I am a woman who is not totally dependent on the man," Ruth said. "Before I married I was very independent. I was a schoolteacher and a principal. When I married, I just took that wifely role for a while because I didn't need to work. But as you can see, I didn't stay in that role, so there is some blood in me. But I must say, I have one thing which is remarkable, which is, I have no need for revenge." (She had told us about her experiences during the war in Germany, when she was raped and violently handled, but she obviously harbors no bitterness.)
Ruth squinted against the sun, and looked up at me from deepset thoughtful blue eyes. "In many ways I have brought good karma forces with me, with natural balance, with a sense of justice coming from a deeper soul or ground, and a great compassionate feeling. I have a love for life, hmmm?, which brings with it sensitivity and care, real care. So when you have that certain sense you cannot really charge back, no matter how wrong it was done to you. Because when you charge back, you see that you injure life. And the principle then is not injuring life."
How to be present to life, to allow each life-form to realize its full cycle and potential. I felt something celebratory in this idea, some large and joyful possibility. Later I watched Ruth stride briskly away. In headlong flight, short, square-shouldered body tilted slightly forward, skirt billowing about her legs, little cap gleaming in the sun, Ruth looked like one of the factory women in a Käthe Kollwitz lithograph, someone sturdy and strong-armed and reliable, whose life is labor. I stood thinking about the concept she articulated: To promote life, to nurture and celebrate it. Even my own life-to get out of my way and enjoy the show.
I think about what I receive from Ruth. For some people I know, it has made sense to move from spiritual teacher to spiritual teacher, seeking out the yet-more-illumined guide who can take them the next step in their practice. For me, although I have sat with numerous teachers, it has made sense to stay loyal to one teacher, for I have understood over the years that a teacher is a mirror, reflecting one back to oneself. Staying with the same mirror over years has allowed me to see the patterns in myself and how they have changed. Ruth has remained herself, offering the teachings in the ways she has developed; I come to her each time experiencing her and myself differently, learning new things, going deeper.
When we first came to the desert-a ragtag band of young hippies, political activists, and fledgling healers in the early eighties-Ruth had emphasized dukkha, the Buddha's First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering embedded in each moment of our human lives. I remembered learning that new word, rolling it on my tongue, and not wanting to admit its gritty truth. But over time, sitting in the small crowded zendo that was all we had then, I experienced the restlessness and anger and stubborn resistance that ruled my life, the insistence that things be other than they were, and I knew this to be dukkha.
Ruth taught us to redirect the urge to escape our suffering; she guided us into the sensations of each successive moment, trained us to bring our attention there and to simply watch our busy thoughts, our unruly emotions, and return again to attention to our sensory experience.
But for three years I resisted Ruth, realizing the value of what she taught but not yet ready to accept her guidance. I would sit in the meditation hall among the other meditators as she guided us, and I would argue with her in my mind. I criticized her, prayed that she would shut up and leave us alone, yearned for her to be more like other people and not so eccentrically herself. I would wait impatiently for her to do what she had said she would do, and when she did something unexpected instead, I would explode in an inner tantrum of rage and disappointment, as if she had personally betrayed me.
Even so, the truth she was offering pierced through to me, and those glimpses so drew me, with their promise of freedom, that I came every year and sometimes twice a year, to retreats at Dhamma Dena. From a worldly perspective it would seem that I was wasting my time in a particularly perverse way, but on a spiritual path there is no such thing as wasted time.
I was fighting Ruth in order to preserve the familiar, desire-ridden, out-of-control self that caused me so much suffering. It was a life and death struggle, for she threatened me with the death-in any moment-of my concepts and opinions and self-construction. I exerted all my power against her-and made myself miserable-to protect my little self-referential identity. I came to her because I could no longer bear to live in such a limited way, and yet I could not open to her. This existential struggle went on, as I said, for three years. The war raged in me, hurting me, stifling me, continually thwarting my efforts to concentrate and meditate and be simply present.
During those years I saw how much of my suffering is self-created; I experienced the tremendous power of my conditioned responses. Perhaps I could have continued my internal war for decades, if I had not found myself utterly without money as a retreat-session drew near. I telephoned Dhamma Dena and explained my predicament. Was there a way, I asked, that I could attend the retreat for free? Half an hour later someone called back to convey Ruth's message that I was welcome to work for my room and board.
So I spent hours each day painting and cleaning and building, and I began to experience myself joined with my surroundings. I became part of the physical reality of structures, carpets, windows; I entered the energy of the place, promoting its continued existence, creating order. And I began to be wholly committed to each task, fully present in the doing of it, so that self was forgotten, and only the action of hand holding rag wiping wall was known.
One particular labor tried my endurance. I had to dig a hole for a latrine, bending over the shovel, lifting the heavy dirt, within sight of the zendo where the other retreatants sat peacefully in meditation. A cold wind battered me; the wooden handle of the shovel wore against the skin of my hands raising blisters; my back began to ache. In the performance of this task, at last the hard carapace of my resistance broke apart. After hours of shoveling, I entered the zendo and lowered my body onto my cushion. To sit still, to meditate, seemed a great privilege and gift in itself. And looking at Ruth at the front of the room, I saw her anew-not as my tormentor but as one who offered a precious opportunity. I saw that she was always gently pointing to the complexity and authenticity of this moment, suggesting a new way for me to be with my experience.
I surrendered utterly to her teaching, opening to receive her directions, no longer shutting my heart and mind to them but letting them enter me, and I was profoundly touched. In those few days, all the teachings of the previous three years that I had so vigorously rejected gelled in me. I felt myself enter a deep enduring life-force, expansive and sure, and full of a quiet joy. Not that I was totally transformed-even now my resistance will pop up to impede me-but there was a qualitative change during that retreat that left me much more receptive to and able to make use of Ruth's teachings.
The spiritual teachers I have experienced use stories as devices to engage us, instruct us, and wake us up. At Dhamma Dena, Ruth Denison often weaves tales from her life, stories that will appear to wander and traverse many detours but always arrive at a moment that sticks in the mind, like an arrow pointing at something one has missed before, or has never considered. She is willing to offer up the moments of her life in the effort to give us ways to connect with ourselves.
On one particular morning, after several hours of sitting and walking meditation, someone had asked Ruth about difficulties with the breathing practice.
"If our mind is open and free of resenting or wishing, we can allow the breath to come to its own naturalness," Ruth answered. "But somehow we can't just do that! The problem is that our mind runs along on its own way. We have very little control over it. Who notices this?" A number of the meditators nodded. Ruth sat back, adjusting the chain that held her eyeglasses hanging on her chest.
"There was a time in my life when I experienced extreme states of terror and pain because of difficulties with breathing." A deeper silence fell among us as she continued. "My difficulties had arisen from wrong practice. I had been too eager-beaver, I was concentrating too harshly, pushing it too hard in a determined way. Today I know why I had to experience that. It brought me into a great space of humbleness and respect for myself, and love. But then all I knew was that I had no power over the mind. It just roamed around and created pictures and fear. Some of you are psychologists or social workers-you have probably met people in this condition, hmmm?"
She peered out among us, nodding as someone indicated agreement. "My mind suffered tremendously, but I did not suffer doubt, because I could remember that this practice is good. So I trusted, and I began humbly returning to the lowest, most modest type of practice, to begin there, and I could gradually come back. That gave me wonderful ways of exploration that I can share with you now when I am teaching."
She reminded us that the Buddha did not tell us to strive to attain something in breathing but merely directed us to observe the breath just as it is.
"This he did because he understood the healing power of the pure, unattached mind," she said, "this correcting power which demands nothing and thus allows what you observe to come into its natural order again." She adjusted herself on her seat, leaned back a little. "So if you feel difficulties and pain and congestion, don't be too much concerned. Be only concerned that your mind is pure, not reacting. With a quiet, nondetermined mind, just observe what you are doing. Watch how you breathe. Can you discover something in it? It is all for one reason-to train the mind to stay here, to invite it, hmmm? To overcome some of the difficulties and give us more trust, to give us more confidence."
Ruth finished slowly, bringing home the message. "You allow the mind to come in with its desires, with all its conditioning, with its compulsion to think, to strive, to resent, to want, and so on. And then you are really an explorer. You are noticing all this coming in and not forbidding it, not pushing it away but permitting it to live in the light of your attention.
"Remember this Vipassana mind, this witnessing, attending mind, is already part of your beautiful self. So if you can hold on to that in a modest way you can sustain that cool, you can provide again and again a beautiful condition for your practice." She lifted her head, looking to the back of the room where I sat and inquiring briskly, "Does that make sense to you, Sandy?" I thought for a moment, not wanting to answer hastily. "Yes, it does," I said. "Good." Ruth gave a decisive nod. "I hope it makes sense to all of us."
Sandy Boucher is a writer, teacher and editor with twenty years' experience of Buddhist meditation. She is the author of seven books, including Discovering Kwan Yin, Opening the Lotus and Turning the Wheel. This article is adapted from her forthcoming book, Hidden Spring: A Buddhist Woman Confronts Her Life-Threatening Illness, to be published in October by Wisdom Publications.