Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Namu Amida Butsu!

If you can purify your mind, then you will become one with Amitabha Buddha. If you can purify your mind, the Land of Ultimate Bliss appears right in front of you. It is especially important that you cut off all desire. All your desirous thoughts, just cut them off so that you think of nothing whatsoever. If you can stop all thoughts of sexual desire, have no greedy, hateful, or ignorant thoughts, then Amitabha’s power is your power as well;

they are two and yet not two; not two and yet two.
(Master Hua, ‘Back to the Source’)

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu! Namu Amida Butsu!

The source of the above quote is an interview with Master Hua and can be found here:

Back to the Source

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on the Karaniya Metta Sutta #4

Let none deceive another

Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will

Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings,

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

In this, the fourth segment of the Metta Sutta to be looked at here, we start with an injunction for all those that wish to develop loving-kindness fully, with the Buddha declaring, Let none deceive another. This relates to the earlier statement in favor of those that are straightforward and gentle in speech, emphasizing the factor of honesty in one that shares true kindness. Looked at from the viewpoint of one already established in metta, it can be said that they would certainly not deceive others, always wanting people to know the truth and be able to make the right decisions for themselves. Again, the Blessed One exalts being truthful, for the Dharma is the truth, and to know the Dharma is to know the Buddha, which is the same as knowing the truth of the way things are, which includes the value of truth itself.

Not to despise any being in any state is also a quality of one immersed in goodwill. For, if resentment is retained towards even one being, then the metta that one produces cannot be said to perfected, for it is limited, and in that which is limited there is no perfection. The sutra continues in the same vein of harmlessness with the following: Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another. Here, the Buddha makes it clear that in one whose heart is full of metta there is no room left for negative or nasty sentiments towards others. Metta is all-inclusive, extending to those that we like and dislike, wishing them a life without harm.

The sutra focuses in on this aspect of the metta-developer by using a powerful image of a mother that protects with her life her child, her only child. How does a (good) mother take care of her child? She is selfless, full of love and concern for her offspring, even willing to give up her own life if necessary to protect her child. Moreover, if a mother has two children, perhaps she might hold back on such a sacrifice in the knowledge that she has another child to care for, but here, the sutra uses the example of the love of a mother that has only a single child. She will die for that child rather than see him or her come to any harm. With such care does one imbued with metta wish well being to all beings in existence, not only those that they already know or love.

So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings, says the Buddha. It’s important to note that the Awakened One is refering to beings here and not people or humans specifically. In Buddhism, we are encouraged to cultivate a kindness that is not only inclusive of all human beings, but all other beings, too. This includes all sentient beings, those that have some semblance of a mind, no matter how big or small their brain, and no matter how intelligent or stupid they may be. Here, again, metta is shown to be a boundless form of love that knows no barriers and is felt for all and every creature in existence. Humans, monkeys, dogs, elephants, snakes, birds, and even insects such as mosquitoes are included in the feelings of loving-kindness that an adept of goodwill produces. Do you love snakes? Do you care for mosquitoes, or do you swat them without thinking twice? If you do swat them, then you should know that from the Buddha’s point of view, your metta is still yet limited and not the genuine boundless article, and your cultivation of it needs further work.

This limitless love is achieved through radiating kindness over the entire world. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But, when you actually reflect on it, a loving-kindness that’s boundless and includes every living being on the earth (and beyond!) isn’t such a simple thing to cultivate, and it’s certainly not easy. Fortunately, in the Buddhadharma there are many ways to develop metta, established by the Buddha himself over two-and-a-half thousand years ago and refined by meditation masters over the centuries since. Such meditative activities are traditionally referred to as metta-bhavana, or ‘cultivation of metta’, and are systematic endeavors built around the production of goodwill.

A modern advocate of metta meditation is Ajahn Brahm, a widely respected monk in the lineage of the famous Ajahn Chah of Thailand. He has promoted both meditation and metta across the world, and has developed techniques combining the two that build on basic Buddhist forms of contemplation. As a foundation to any meditative practice, Ajahn Brahm encourages meditators to establish what he calls present-moment awareness, where attention is focused entirely in the present, neither recalling the past nor imagining the future. This done by totally immersing awareness in a meditation object, such as the breath, and letting go of any thought that takes one away from this moment. To do this, sit in a comfortable position, preferably with legs crossed and hands resting on the lap as in traditional Buddhist style, put attention on the in and out breaths, until the mind consistently adheres to them, established in a peaceful state.

Next, all thought is to be let go of, not by repressing it, however, but by focusing the mind on the breath to such an extent that not only thoughts of the past and future are no longer arising, but also thoughts of the present. One is so immersed in watching the breath that there is no longer the whining voice of the inner commentator, the moaner that constantly complains, “I’m cold. I’m hot. My back aches, my head aches, and I’ve a terrible itch on my nose!” Of this inner voice Ajahn Brahm has said

“Sometimes it is through the inner commentary that we think we know the world. Actually, that inner speech does not know the world at all! It is the inner speech that weaves the delusions that cause suffering. It is the inner speech that causes us to be angry at those we make our enemies, and to have dangerous attachments to those we make our loved ones. Inner speech causes all life’s problems. It constructs fear and guilt. It creates anxiety and depression. It builds these illusions as surely as the skillful commentator on T.V. can manipulate an audience to create anger or tears. So, if you seek for Truth, you should value silent awareness, considering it more important, when meditating, than any thought whatsoever.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘The Basic Method of Meditation’, p.5)

Ajahn Brahm considers this silent present moment awareness a prerequisite to development of more complicated meditations such as metta-bhavana. For, having achieved a silent, calm mind, it is ready to focus entirely on the task of generating genuine feelings of goodwill. His technique to establish the mind in metta involves the use of visualizations, which help to concentrate loving-kindness on an object of awareness log enough for the ‘kindle’ of metta to be fully burning. In the following extract, he talks of exactly how to achieve this state of mind:

“Keeping your eyes closed, imagine in front of you a small kitten or a puppy or a baby or whatever you find easy to generate loving-kindness towards. (I personally like using a small kitten.) Imagine it to be abandoned, hungry, afraid, and in your mind open your heart to it. Take it up gently, in imaginary arms, and use inner speech to say: ‘May you not feel so afraid. Be at Peace. May you be happy. I will look after you, be your friend and protector. I care for you. Whatever you do, my heart will always welcome you. I give you my love unconditionally, always.” Say those words inside (or similar ones that you make up) with full meaning, even though it is to a being only in your imagination. Say them many times until you feel the joy of Metta arise in your heart like a golden glow. Stay with this exercise until the feeing of Metta is strong and stable.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’, p.3)

After establishing metta in your heart, exchange the imaginary being for someone that you actually know, a friend or work colleague that you like, but are not in love with. (We don’t want to generate amorous feelings here, just kindly ones!) Extend the same feelings of goodwill towards them that you did the imaginary recipient, until you are full of metta for your associate. Do the same with another associate, before moving on to all the people that you live with, your neighbors, and all the beings in your local vicinity. Project this warm feeling of loving-kindness outwards in all directions to all beings, filling the world (and universe) with metta. Finally, turn this goodwill around and direct it towards your self, perhaps imagining your face in a mirror and wishing yourself well, just as you did for all other beings earlier. After you have developed metta in this way, take a few moments to reflect on how you feel. Generating goodwill in this way can produce intensely blissful feelings; that’s why it’s called a divine abiding, as it’s like living in a heavenly realm.

When you have practiced metta-bhavana in the above manner several times, and feel that you are succeeding in spreading loving-kindness towards the various beings in your meditation, you can take it a step further by issuing metta to someone that you actually dislike. After focusing on a friend or colleague as shown above, you can then turn your heart in the direction of a neutral person, as a kind of preliminary prior to concentrating on the one you are averse to. A neutral person is someone that you know, perhaps vaguely, but have no real feelings of warmth or dislike towards. It might be someone you encounter whilst commuting each day, a neighbor you don’t have much contact with, or a shop assistant that sells you the newspaper every morning. Whoever it is, learn to flood them with the same feelings of goodwill that you developed towards your friend previously, overcoming any indifference you may have towards them with loving metta. Next, you may bring to mind the person that you actively dislike. Obviously, don’t dwell too long on your negative feelings for them, but picture them in your mind’s eye and then wish them happiness and safety in the same manner as before. Over time, perhaps after many such meditations, you will find that your animosity towards this person will diminish, maybe gradually, maybe quickly, dependent on the strength of your previously negative feelings. In time, you may grow to care for this person as much as you do your friend; maybe practicing metta meditation will enable you to make a friend of this person. Anything’s possible with the power of metta! Ajahn Brahm views it thus:

“By accepting even an imaginary being like the little kitten or little puppy exactly as it is, you embrace forgiveness. This is acceptance. When you can develop this acceptance toward a little puppy or a kitten or a flower, you find that when you do other meditations, even the meditation on the breath, you can be much more accepting and not so critical of the process. You won’t be so faultfinding towards the moment. You’ll find you have much more contentment. You’ll be able to embrace the moment as it is rather than being aware of so much that is wrong in the moment. The whole attitude of mind is changing. ‘The world is the world.’ It’s what we add to the world that creates the difficulties. We can add the faults to the world or we can add acceptance to the world. It’s really up to us.” (Ajahn Brahm, ‘Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation’, p.7)

In such a state of mind as described by Ajahn Brahm above, one really is radiating kindness over the entire world, as the Metta Sutta puts it. Being so immersed in loving-kindness is a liberation from those negative mind states like hatred and ill-will that the Buddha warned us against in the sutra. In this liberated state, no one is our enemy, and all beings can be seen to be suffering in the ocean of ignorance and rebirth. Metta simply wishes all suffering beings release from the round of pain and anguish, which naturally includes such beings becoming harmless and more metta-centered themselves. In such a world, we would all wish each other happiness with the feeling of goodwill dominating and directing our thoughts. It’s up to us to make such a world. It’s up to us to cultivate metta.

The free e-books quoted in this article are available from the following links:

The Basic Method of Meditation

Using Variety to Freshen Up Our Meditation

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pavarana Day & 'Buddha Space'

On Pavarana Day, it is the tradition of Buddhist monks to confess any misdeeds that they have done over the previous months of the rains retreat, when they have been primarily practicing in the confines of a monastery and not traveling. This is usually a positive occasion for the monastic community when they let go of recent shortcomings and start afresh in their practice of the Way.

All Buddhists can take inspiration from this monastic example. We can look back at our thoughts, words and deeds of recent times and reflect on them, considering whether they were skillful for a Buddhist, and if they were in line with the living of the Buddhadharma or not. More than this, however, there is another approach to past activities that can benefit us, and this is to see who, or what, it is that actually had them, and what the current condition of this who-or-what is right now. When you have some spare minutes to spend, please carry out the following exercise and see what conclusions arise from it.

Bring to mind recent thoughts, speech or actions that one felt might have been inappropriate from the viewpoint of your particular moral code or approach to life. Consider the ins and outs of what you thought, said, or did. Without making a snap decision as to whether it was acceptable or not, reflect on it thoroughly; does it contradict your ethical outlook on life, and if so, how? Don’t become caught up in any powerful emotions that may arise in response to all this; merely note them. Now, turn your attention to that which is having all these thoughts and feelings. What are they occurring in - a person or a brain? Can you locate or identify that in which these reflections are happening, or is it more of an indefinable awareness? Here, thoughts and emotions exist in a clear awareness that notes them but is not caught up in them. It is spacious clarity. Is it not true that even at the time when the occurrence that you’re considering happened, it took place in this same naked knowing? Is there a person here to be found to identify with these specific events, or is it in truth an emptiness that’s awake to its contents?

When thoughts, words, and deeds are examined in the context of their existence, what we might term ‘Buddha Space’ is revealed, that spacious awareness that lies at the origin of all experiences. This voidness isn’t merely an absolute nothing as such, for it is awake (Bodhi), being alive to the comings and goings of the mind and the world. This doesn’t negate the relevance of previous karma (action), for it will have an effect on the individual level. What it does do is reveal the knower, that which is ultimately untouched and unaffected by its contents and their results. This is the natural Dharma from which the Buddhadharma grows, and it teaches us that what we do on the human level matters, and yet at the same time, the myriad things and events of this life cannot color what we truly are beneath these psychophysical masks.

So, in recalling something that you did recently that was inconsistent with your own ethical standards, it is right that on the human level a sense of shame should arise, and that this should lead to the intent not to do what is harmful and unwise again. At the same time, to maintain awareness of this ‘Buddha Space’ that remains untarnished by previous actions is to open the door to enlightenment, which the sages have told us is beyond good and evil. In essence, the Way can be said to consist of following the precepts whilst becoming awake to that which is awake: the awakened one (Buddha) within. Living in this awakened state allows those negative and harmful thoughts, words, and deeds to drop away, leaving the naked truth that can teach us the natural Dharma. And what is this naked truth? Turn around your attention and see!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reflections on the Karaniya Metta Sutta #3

Whatever beings there may be,

Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,

The great or the mighty, medium, short, or small,

The seen and the unseen,

Those living near and far away,

Those born and to be born,

May all beings be at ease.

In this third section of the Metta Sutta, it makes absolutely clear who is to receive feelings of loving-kindness – every living creature in existence. Whatever beings there may be emphasizes this general point that the heart producing true metta knows no boundaries, and does not pick and choose who to have goodwill for and not. If I feel kindness towards my family, friends and colleagues, how is that different from any run-of-the-mill person that cares for those close to them? Moreover, is it that different to the positive feelings that a despot or serial killer might have for the special people in their lives? Metta is greater than this: it is a love that is inclusive not exclusive, shared with whatever beings there may be in this world or any other.

Following this general point that metta is meant for all, the sutra next goes into more detail, giving examples of the various beings that make up potential recipients of goodwill, starting with the great or the mighty. Now, the great could mean those that are great in size, or those great in their achievements or social standing, such as famous entertainers, politicians, scientists, or religious types. Mighty can have similar connotations also, of course. In the context of the sutra, where the following words refer to those that are medium, short, or small, we might take it that the Buddha was referring to physically big and powerful beings. But, as the wisdom of a Buddha is without bounds, we can also interpret his words to mean those considered great and mighty in societal terms, and, in the all-inclusive spirit of metta, those not so great.

It is common for human beings to respect or even idolize those people that we consider great and mighty. We may revere an actor such as Tom Cruise, a political figure like Nelson Mandela, a scientist such as Albert Einstein, or a religious figure like the Buddha. Having feelings of goodwill to successful and influential people like these can be very easily cultivated, and hero-worship is a common phenomenon in human society, where amazingly diverse figures can be the recipients of people’s devotion and goodwill, modern examples being the Dalai Lama, Hillary Clinton, Roger Federer and Celine Dion! All great in one sense of the word or another, and all readily cared for by their followers. But true goodwill also cares for the less famous and not so mighty.

Considering the great or the mighty to mean big beings, along with medium, short, or small, it can be seen that the Buddha encourages us not to judge potential recipients of our metta by their physical stature, any more than by how successful we consider them to be. Feeling loving-kindness towards an elephant or a dog is pretty commonly found amongst humans, but how many of us can say we have wished all the best to an ant or a microbe? When being buzzed by a bee or a mosquito, how would you respond? With metta, or with a swipe and a curse? True loving-kindness is felt for even the tiniest, most annoying insect, not just a cute poodle or a majestic elephant. “May all gnats be at ease!” is not something heard often, but in the light of the teachings of the Buddha, perhaps it should be!

Nor should our development of loving-kindness be restricted to those beings that we come into contact with. Both the seen and the unseen are included in the sutra’s list of those deserving of metta, as are those beings that are living near and far away. Again, it’s easier to feel kindness towards those people and other beings that one has met or seen, but those that are unknown to one are less comfortably incorporated into the development of metta. Not knowing their appearance, their characters, or even their species, can make it difficult to generate loving-kindness for them. But, if one’s metta is to be truly transcending, then it needs to be boundless, traveling across the space that divides us, extending to the possible creatures that dwell on other worlds. Like the boy Elliot in Stephen Spielberg’s movie E.T., we can even care for extraterrestrials, if our cultivation of goodwill is great enough!

Genuine loving-kindness isn’t limited to those beings presently in existence, however, for those to be born should receive our goodwill, not only those already born. So, time as well as space is to be no hindrance to true metta; all future beings are to be included in the expansive scope of one’s kindly wishes.

But, what of the actual wish may all beings be at ease, often translated as “may all beings be happy”, which amounts to much the same thing; what form should or could it take. Well, obviously the way the Buddha himself presents in the sutra is just fine for the purpose of generating feelings of goodwill to limitless beings, but if one wants to be more specific in what one is actually wishing for all these creatures, there are examples found in Buddhism. Many, many, generations of followers of the Way have reflected on metta and come up with various elaborations and variations on the sentiments the Buddha describes in the Metta Sutta. One such variation that is recited on a daily basis by Buddhists across the world is found in the Reflections on Universal Well-Being:

May everyone abide in well-being, in freedom from hostility, in freedom from ill-will, in freedom from anxiety, and may they maintain well-being in themselves. May all beings be released from all suffering, and may they not be parted from the good fortune they have attained. (From the ‘Reflections on Universal Well-Being’ in the Western Forest Sangha Chanting Book)

Here, metta is expressed as the heartfelt wish that all beings should experience “freedom from hostility” and “ill-will”. Such negative attitudes come in many forms of course, all of them debilitating and causing much suffering in the receiver. Hostility can be both verbal and physical; it can also be both active and passive. A hostile glance can be just as hurtful as harsh words, and no one would deny the damage done both in body and in mind by a serious physical assault. In the above wish, it is hoped that beings may be freed from such suffering.

Anxiety and a lack of well-being are important aspects to a happy and content life, as well. If we are in constant worry over our safety, money matters, or matters of the heart, we will suffer. Being anxious can eat away at our sense of well-being, not only causing psychological problems but also affecting our physical health. Having a healthy body can be a source of great contentment, just as having a sound mind. If we are unwell in our body we can suffer mentally as well; it is a commonly heard modern piece of wisdom that mind and body affect each other, sometimes with dire results. Of course, in such traditions as Buddhism, such knowledge has been known for millennia, but we moderns are only recently catching up with this knowledge of our forebears.

“May all beings be released from suffering” lies at the heart of this daily reflection, and indeed forms the essence of the cultivation and sharing of metta for the Buddhist. This is because suffering has been emphasized from the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching of the Dharma to the present day. It is because beings suffer that we feel for them, and because of the Buddha Way and such practices as sharing metta that we have a way to help them and ourselves move away from suffering and its hold on our lives. The ultimate goal of the Buddhist, Nirvana, is the very transcendence of suffering. In this light it can be seen that this reflection on metta is actually wishing that all beings realize Nirvana.

There is also a reference to karma in the above reflection on loving-kindness, too, with the wish that beings are “not parted from the good fortune they have attained”. Here “good fortune” means the results of positive karma or actions from the past reaping positive effects in the present or future. That karma and its fruits are referred to in this reflection is important, for it is partially in the context of past actions that the present, including at least some of the suffering that we experience, takes place. Although Buddhism is not, as some might think, a fatalistic religion, it does recognize the relationship between the past and the present and the present and the future. Cause and effect are central to the Buddhadharma, and this is where metta comes in, for in producing loving-kindness one is creating good karmic results for both oneself and others.

A free e-book containing both the Karaniya Metta Sutta & the Reflections on Universal Well-Being is available from the following link:

Western Forest Sangha Chanting Book