Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buddha's Raft

In the similitude of Buddha’s teaching to a raft*, it is explained that we shouldn’t cling to Buddhist teachings but rather use them for “crossing over to the other shore.” (The other shore being a synonym for enlightenment.)  This is because Buddhist teachings (Dharma) are expedient means (upaya) to achieve awakening, and not doctrines to be clung to and identified with. In fact, if we cling to the teachings as indispensable dogmas, we can never achieve complete release from suffering, for the latter entails letting go of all attachments, including the Buddhist teachings themselves. Indeed, in letter to this author, the well-known Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho wrote that enlightenment involves a complete letting go of everything including Buddhist teachings to realize what he calls ‘ultimate simplicity.’

To understand this point further, it would be helpful to look at Buddhist teachings as part of the noble eightfold path (ariya-attangika-magga). In this path, Buddhist teachings are known as ‘right-view’ (samma-ditthi), as opposed to other views which are classified as ‘wrong-views’ (miccha-ditthi). Right-view is ‘right’ because it leads to awakening to the way things are, which is what Buddhism is ultimately about. Wrong-views are ‘wrong’ because they do not lead to such an awakening. But, as written above, Buddhist teachings are skillful means that point to this awakening and merely believing in them or identifying with them does not use them in the correct way, if enlightenment is one’s aim. So, right-view is not so much the holding of certain views as opposed to others, but rather a different way of looking at life altogether. It is this seeing that is the doorway that opens to a whole new vista that we might term the enlightened perspective.

Obviously, right-view (which includes the four noble truths, the three characteristics, dependent arising, and emptiness, not to mention many other major Buddhist teachings) is to be used in some way by the Buddhist aspirant, otherwise what is its purpose? Well, right-view exists as a focus for reflection; we should develop a calm, focused mind though meditation and then reflect upon right-view to allow our inner wisdom to illumine the above teachings. In this way, right-view is developed as opposed to clung to. This means that Buddhist teachings are not doctrines to be dogmatically adhered to and argued for in the face of other, different beliefs, but tools by which we awaken our innate wisdom. Arguing with someone that holds different views to our own may feel good or right, but this is not the purpose of Buddhist teachings; using them in this way to uphold our sense of self as a Buddhist is a major hindrance to awakening to our true nature. Indeed, it should be abundantly clear that to cling to the Buddhist teachings, which include the teaching of not-self (anatta), as a form of self-identification is nonsense. Right-view is right not because it is clung to but rather because it is reflected upon correctly.

Right-view is right in another way, too. It is right because it is the absence of any specific view at all. Instead, it is the experience of enlightenment, awakening. And this is neither the result of holding particular views nor is it an intellectual understanding of such views. Rather, it is the transcendence of all views altogether, and the realization of what Ajahn Sumedho calls ultimate simplicity. Thing is, caught up as we are in the delusory self-view (sakkaya-ditthi), we require teachings to enable us to free ourselves from our self-made prisons. This is where right-view comes in; reflecting on it with a calm focus can free us of the delusion of self, revealing our true nature in its unfettered state. Using Buddhist teachings wisely in this way is to truly follow the example of Buddha, and like him, will lead us to the ultimate unbinding from all views. May we all use right-view to achieve awakening!

 *See the previous article on Buddha Space, ‘Buddha on His Teaching As a Raft,’ dated 07/04/2014.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Buddha on His Teaching As a Raft

“I shall show you, monks, the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to. Listen, monks, and heed well what I shall say.”

 
“Yes, Blessed One,” replied the monks.
 
And the Blessed One spoke thus: “Suppose, monks, there is a man journeying on a road and he sees a vast expanse of water, of which this shore is perilous and fearful, while the other shore is safe and free from danger. But there is no boat for crossing nor is there a bridge for going over from this side to the other. So the man thinks: ‘This is a vast expanse of water; and this shore is perilous and fearful, but the other shore is safe and free from danger. There is, however, no boat here for crossing, nor a bridge for going over from this side to the other. Suppose I gather reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and bind them into a raft.’ Now, that man collects reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, and binds them into a raft. Carried by that raft, labouring with hands and feet, he safely crosses over to the other shore. Having crossed and arrived at the other shore, he thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, labouring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not lift this raft on my head or put it on my shoulders, and go where I like?’
 
“What do you think about it, O monks? Will this man by acting thus, do what should be done with a raft?”
 
“No, Blessed One”
 
“How then, monks, would he be doing what should be done with a raft? Here, monks, having got across and arrived at the other shore, the man thinks: ‘This raft, indeed, has been very helpful to me. Carried by it, and labouring with hands and feet, I got safely across to the other shore. Should I not pull it up now to the dry land or let it float in the water, and then go as I please?’ By acting thus, monks, would that man do what should be done with a raft?
 
“In the same way, monks, have I shown to you the Teaching’s similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to.
 
“You, O monks, who understand the Teaching’s similitude to a raft, you should let go even (good) teachings, how much more false ones!”
 
(Buddha, from the Alagaddūpama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 22, Tipitaka)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buddha on the Five Precepts


"When a lay follower possesses five things, he lives with confidence in his house, and he will find himself in heaven as sure as if he had been carried off and put there. What are the five? He abstains from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sensual desires, from speaking falsehood, and from indulging in liquor, wine, and fermented brews."
(Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya 5:172-73, Tipitaka)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Five Precious Precepts

High Five for Five Precious Precepts

At the core of Buddha's teachings are the five precepts. These moral undertakings underpin Buddhist practice, giving meditative practices a sound ethical foundation upon which to build. Adhering to them leaves us without anything major to feel guilty about; we can rest easy not only at night but also when on the meditation cushion. Such peace of mind is crucial to meditation practice, for if we try to meditate with an agitated, guilt-ridden mind, we are bound to hit an almighty wall of resistance to any deep meditative progress. Our internal ghosts will come to haunt us sooner or later, causing inner strife and disharmony. 

Of course, turning attention around from the inner to the outer world will reveal much that is good about the five precepts that is to be lauded. Keeping them not only creates a healthier, happy inner world, but also helps to create a happier, healthier outer one, too. Our relationships with those that we come into contact with, both close relations and those we know less well will benefit profoundly. We will be a much nicer person to be around, and not only will we be happier in ourselves, but others will feel better too. So, what are these five precepts that Buddha gave us? Let's take a look:
  • Not to kill
  • Not to steal
  • Not to commit sexual misconduct
  • Not to lie
  • Not to take intoxicants
Now, several of the precepts may seem pretty straightforward, but it will help our investigation of them to explore exactly what each one entails so that we're clear on them before reflecting further on their implications. Not to kill doesn't just just include human beings, but, reflecting the Buddha's compassion for all suffering beings, it also covers taking the life of any sentient being. Now, what does Buddhism mean by a sentient being? Well, alongside humans and other animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish etc.), it also includes any creature with a brain (no matter how small that piece of 'grey matter' might be). So, insects and other tiny creatures are included, too. No deliberate killing of any sentient being whatsoever.

Not to steal covers not taking what clearly belongs to others, whether individuals or collectives such as companies or countries. It also means not taking what might belong to others; we should be clear in our mind that what we have wasn't stolen. Sexual misconduct in Buddhist understanding covers forced sex of any kind, sex with minors, those non compos mentis, animals and people that are already married or spoken for. It also includes people that are under the protection or guardianship of others, so sex with a young person living at home would come under this category too. Unless already married (or committed) to one another, only those free, adult, sane individuals are eligible for a sexual relationship, and even then, the relationship itself should be respectful and not abusive. 

Not to lie means either telling the truth, changing the subject, or keeping quiet. Bending the truth or telling half-truths is still lying, representing something as true when knowing that it is not. Doing this to protect others or oneself from danger is generally thought of as an acceptable alternative to allowing a worse thing to happen, but in general lying leads to a guilty mind in conflict with itself, and if we're not conscious if this before we take up meditation, we will be afterwards. Be warned! Not to take intoxicants means abstaining from alcohol and the recreational drugs. Medicinal drugs that have mind-altering side-effects are acceptable, as there's no need to neglect one's health for the sake of the fifth precept, but we must be clear to our motives for taking such substances, and not abuse them. Having a clear, sober mind helps us to maintain the the four precepts, as getting 'out of our heads' can easily lead to a breakdown in moral standards (as many of us are acutely aware!). It also assists clear, mindful seeing in both meditation and mindfulness practices.

These are just some of the advantages of keeping the five precepts, which not only help those that keep them, but also others that they come into contact with. This latter point hints at a broader application of the precepts at the level of society. Imagine if everyone kept the five precepts? No killing of people or animals; no stealing; no sexual abuse; no lying; and no drunken or drugged behavior. What a peaceful, safe society this would be. Furthermore, imagine countries abiding by the five precepts; no war, no deceptive diplomacy, no invading of another country's territory, no sexual mistreatment of foreigners. What a wonderful vision! Impossible? Perhaps. And yet, even if a minority of humanity keep the five precepts, they benefit both themselves and the world in so many priceless ways. Not following the harmful behavior of others, but by taking the lead and living by these five precious precepts that can help free us from the bondage of these suffering selves. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Buddha on the Path Leading to the Ending of Suffering

"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of the path leading to the ending of suffering (dukkha)?
It is the Noble Eightfold Path, namely, Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

And what, monks, is Right View? The understanding of suffering; the understanding of the cause of suffering; the understanding of the cessation of suffering; the understanding of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. This, monks, is called Right View.
And what, monks, is Right Thought? Thoughts directed to liberation from sensuality; thoughts free from ill-will; and thoughts free from cruelty. This, monks, is called Right Thought.
And what,monks, is Right Speech? Abstaining from lying, from tale-bearing, from abusive speech, and from vain and not beneficial talk. This, monks, is called Right Speech.
And what, monks, is Right Action? Abstaining from killing living beings,from stealing and from wrongful indulgence in sense pleasures. This, monks, is called Right Action.
And what, monks, is Right Livelihood? Here (in this teaching), monks, the noble disciple completely abstains from a wrong way of livelihood and makes his living by a right means of livelihood. This, monks, is called Right Livelihood.
And what, monks, is Right Effort? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to prevent the arising of evil, unwholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to abandon evil, unwholesome states of mind that have arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to attain wholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen. He generates an intention, makes effort, rouses energy, applies his mind, and strives ardently to maintain the wholesome states of mind that have arisen, to prevent their lapsing, to increase them, to cause them to grow, and to completely develop them. This, monks, is called Right Effort.
And what, monks, is Right Mindfulness? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple dwells perceiving again and again the body as just the body with diligence, clear understanding, and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world; he dwells perceiving again and again feelings as just feelings with diligence, clear understanding and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world, he dwells perceiving again and again the mind as just the mind with diligence, clear understanding, and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world; he dwells perceiving again and again mind-objects as just mind-objects with diligence, clear understanding and mindfulness, thus keeping away covetousness and mental pain in the world. This, monks, is called Right Mindfulness.
And what, monks, is Right Concentration? Here (in this teaching), monks, a disciple being detached from sensual desire and unwholesome states attains and dwells in the first absorption (jhana) which has applied and sustained thought; and rapture and happiness born of detachment (from the hindrances). With the subsiding of applied and sustained thought, a disciple attains and dwells in the second absorption, with internal tranquility and one-pointedness of mind, without applied and sustained thought, but with rapture and happiness born of concentration. Being without rapture, a disciple dwells in equanimity with mindfulness and clear understanding, and experiences happiness in mind and body. He attains and dwells in the third absorption; that which causes a person who attains it to be praised by the Noble Ones as one who has equanimity and mindfulness, one who abides in happiness. By becoming detached from both happiness and suffering and by the previous cessation of gladness and mental pain, a disciple attains and dwells in the fourth absorption, a state of pure mindfulness born of equanimity. This, monks, is called Right Concentration.
This, monks, is called the Noble Truth of the path leading to the ending of suffering."

(Digha Nikaya 22, Tipitaka)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Buddha on the Ending of Suffering


"What, now, is the Noble Truth of the Ending of Suffering? It is the complete fading away and extinction of this craving, its forsaking and abandonment, liberation and detachment from it.

But where may this craving vanish, where may it be extinguished? Wherever in the world there are delightful and pleasurable things, there this craving may vanish, there it may be extinguished.

Be it in the past, present, or future, whichever disciples regard the delightful and pleasurable things in the world as impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and without a self (anatta), as diseases and cankers, it is they who overcome craving."

(Digha Nikaya 22, Tipitaka)

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Buddhist Reflection on Listening



Listen up, folks!

There are different levels of listening that normally we do not explore or even know of that well. This is because we’re so caught up in the world, with its many, many distractions that our desires feed on, sustaining themselves and begetting more desires. We’re too busy to stop and listen to the world around us, including the people we meet. In fact, we’re usually too preoccupied to listen to ourselves, never paying attention to these bodies and minds that we take to be our selves. If we do manage to wriggle free of the entanglements of the passions for a moment, however, we can learn to see things as they truly are and not as we take them to be. We can learn to listen.

Listening to the world: The visual sense is predominant for most of us, most of the time. We rely on it to identify and negotiate the world around us, and in doing so build up our worlds of delusion upon it. We see, we want, or we see, we dislike. Vision is so caught up in our desires and misconceptions of this life that it can take another sense all together to challenge those misconceptions. If we close our eyes right now and simply listen to the world, we can open the door of wisdom. What can you hear in this moment? I can hear insects in the tropical evening, as well as music flowing from the stereo speakers in the room that I’m writing. These sounds aren’t full of desire or delusion in them selves, are they? They’re simply what they are: sounds. It’s what we think and feel about them that make them appear pleasant or unpleasant, desirable or undesirable.

Listening to others: So often in life we don’t really listen to each other. We wait for the other person to cease talking so that we can air our views and opinions (no matter how misguided they may be). We don’t make the effort to actually listen to the other person’s tone of voice, choice of words, and what they’re talking about. We hear them, but don’t truly listen to them. We’re unaware of just how upset they are if we aren’t taking note of how they saying what they’re saying; they may be angry with us, frustrated with life, or making subtle invitations, but if we’re not attentive to them, we’ll miss all these signs. And then we’ll wonder how we missed what they were really saying. We’ll be astounded by our own ignorance, born of the fact that we didn’t listen to them.

Listening to ourselves: Not only do we fail to listen to others, including the ones we hold most dear, but we don’t even listen to ourselves. Our bodies produce all subtle (and unsubtle!) sounds, including the creaking of bones, the chewing of food, the swallowing reflex, and the sound of our breathing. Listening to the breath, for instance, we can determine if we are more agitated than we realize, or discover that we’re not as fit as we previously thought, panting like a randy poodle! The mind can be listened to also, in the sense that we can hear the silence that thoughts, feelings, and memories appear in. Ever had a song that sticks in the brain and repeats endlessly despite our wish that it didn’t? Well, next time that arises, try listening to the silence that surrounds it, and see what happens to the annoying tune.

Listening to the sound of silence: The American monk Ajahn Sumedho has for many years talked of ‘the sound of silence’, an inner sound that can be heard if one quiets the mind to the point that it opens up to the subtlest of noises. This sound is also called the ‘primal’ buzzing or hissing, and appears to be a kind of ringing inside the ears rather than outside of them. It’s a physical sound that isn’t ‘out there’, but rather ‘in here’. Listening to this sound has a calming affect on the mind and helps it to develop concentration also. It gives consciousness something less distracting to focus on, enabling one to let go of other noises as well as the ‘inner voice’ that normally rambles on about every little event that occurs in our lives. It leads us to the real silence that’s found not in tranquil surroundings, but within ourselves.

Listening to the silence: This silence is with us always. But usually we’re unaware of it because we never listen out for it. We don’t know where to look for this transcending silence: we never imagine that it could be found inside ourselves. Once we’ve become alive to it, we can focus on this silence and notice that all sounds arise in it, whether the sounds of nature or of humanity, whether outside of us or within us. This silence is ever present if we have the skill to listen to it. It’s a peace that we take with us everywhere we go, but are normally completely oblivious to it! It puts all our delusions and desires into perspective, as objects in audio-awareness. They lose a lot of their power to disturb us, seeming much less important in this sea of tranquility.

So, true silence is found whatever audio objects can be heard. Even in the deafening din of loud music, the silence is still here, as calm and unaffected as ever. If the mind can be turned away from particular noises to that in which they exist, then a radically different way of experiencing oneself and the world will be discovered. Those distracting sounds will lose their power to disrupt the contentment that lies at the very heart of every human being, and is waiting to be found and fed upon. For feeding on this silence leads us to our real home: peace. This can be achieved by truly listening to the world, others, ourselves, the ‘sound of silence’, and ultimately silence itself. And this silence is one that can never be disturbed, whatever the cacophony that inhabits it!