Friday, February 18, 2011

Magha Puja (Sangha Day)

The Buddha preaches the Ovada-patimokkha Gatha

Magha Puja is the day when Buddhists commemorate the occasion when 1250 enlightened monks spontaneously met to hear the Buddha’s sermon known as the Ovada-patimokkha Gatha. For those of us not familiar with this text, here’s a translation of it:
“Patient endurance is the foremost austerity.
Nirvana is foremost: that’s what the Buddha’s say.
He is no monk who injures another;
Nor is he a contemplative who mistreats another.

The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what’s skillful,
The cleansing of one’s own mind:
This is the Buddhas’ teaching.

Not disparaging, not injuring,
Restraint in line with the monastic code,
Moderation in food, dwelling in seclusion,
Commitment to the heightened mind:
This is the Buddhas’ teaching.”

Considering the fact that the Buddha surely gave these teachings to reflect on, rather than turn into an institutionalized recitation in an elaborate ceremony, let’s examine it a little, seeing what it can teach us. And, although it’s clear from the gatha that it’s primary audience are monks, it’s essential meanings can be easily extended to all Buddhists, ordained or not. (If you feel you have reflections to share on the gatha, they are most welcome; please do so by leaving a comment at the bottom of this article.)

The statement “Patient endurance is the foremost austerity” is a well known utterance of the Buddha’s in Thailand, and the late great meditation master Ajahn Chah put much emphasis on it, as often recalled by his most senior western disciple Ajahn Sumedho. The original Pali word for “patient endurance’ is khanti, and it is one of the 10 perfections promoted by the Buddha as being highly virtuous and conducive to realizing enlightenment. It not only denotes patience, but also forgiveness and forbearance.

Why are patience and forgiveness valued so highly in the Buddha’s teachings? Well, as to patience, it is clearly an advantage to have such a quality in a close-knit community such as the Buddhist monastic one. No Buddhist wants to see monks or nuns lose patience with each other and argue or even fight. Inwardly, patience is also a valuable attribute for the meditator to possess, for the fruits of meditation are not always that immediate, and it may take years for its benefits to emerge. Getting impatient is a common obstacle confronted by beginner meditators – and those of us that have been doing it for years, too!

Forgiveness is an important quality to possess for the same two reasons given above: in a monastic community having members who are forgiving of each other’s foibles will allow the community to run much more smoothly. And, not getting angry with one’s self when meditation doesn’t seem to be ‘working’ is a powerful tool in being able to sustain one’s practice and cultivate wisdom that otherwise would have remained hidden. On a personal note, after marrying, my wife and I went to the International Forest Monastery here in Ubon Rathchathani and asked the then abbot Ajahn Jayasaro for some marital advice. He paused for a second or two while I suddenly thought what a silly question to ask a monk, and then he gave us a short exhortation on patience. Afterwards, we thought what sound advice it was, and here we are ten years later still happily married.

The following words on nirvana are no surprise coming from the Buddha, and as it is an ongoing subject for reflection here on ‘Buddha Space,’ it will be glossed over for now. The next lines are a subject not often commented on in these pages, however, so let’s take a few moments to consider them. “He is no monk who injures another” is a clear reminder that monks (and nuns) should cultivate harmlessness (ahimsa) towards all beings, as in the spirit of the Metta Sutta, when the Buddhist wishes that ‘all beings may be happy.’

The Buddha also stated that “Nor is he a contemplative who mistreats another.” Inflicting injury is usually associated with doing physical harm, and this obviously against the monastic code, but to mistreat another is a much broader term and can include verbal insults or rudeness. The nuances of language can often disguise such behaviour, but it can be detected in monastics as well as fellow meditators relatively often. People are people, of course, and in the case of the laity at least, we can recognize that to err is human, and a degree of forgiveness is required. Even with inexperienced monks and nuns this approach holds water, but if we encounter long term meditating renunciates that are rude or unforgiving with others, alarm bells and not meditation bells should start ringing!

The next verse is one of the most famous in Buddhism, and is often found near the header of Buddhist websites (i.e. the excellent ‘Access to Insight’). It is a succinct summing up of the Buddhist teachings and has inspired many in their efforts to walk the eightfold path. “The non-doing of any evil,” covers those deeds that the Buddha advised us to restrain from, such as killing, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, lying, and consuming intoxicants (the five precepts). It also includes such topics as the five trades to be avoided: do not trade in weapons, poisons, meat, living beings, or intoxicants.

The next line, “The performance of what’s skilful” makes reference to doing what’s good towards our families, teachers, neighbours, etc., as well as taking care of the monastic community. It also covers living our lives in ways that help in developing heedfulness, kindness, compassion, and, of course, patience, amongst other positive qualities.  “The cleansing of one’s own mind” means mindfulness and meditation techniques, used to cultivate mind states that pave the way for enlightenment.

Further advice from the Buddha in the Ovada-patimokkha Gatha consists of “Not disparaging” and “not injuring” others: sound guidance for all of us, for certain. This is basically a repetition of the instructions in the first verse, which acts to reinforce their importance; monks, nuns, and laypeople should not indulge in such behaviour if we wish to be part of a harmonious community, let alone awaken to enlightenment. This is echoed in the next line which promotes “Restraint in line with the monastic code,” or for those of us not in robes, the code of conduct for the laity, touched upon above in the references to the five precepts and five trades to be avoided.

“Moderation in food, dwelling in seclusion ” and “ Commitment to the heightened mind” continue the wise advice from the Buddha to us all. It’s not just healthy to not overindulge in food and drink, it’s also good for our spiritual development, promoting self-control and strong determination. Dwelling in seclusion helps our meditation practice, of course, and whilst monasteries can be perfect environments for this purpose, if we live in relatively quiet areas and organize our home life appropriately, secluded moments for meditative development can be created.    

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on the line that ends both verse two and three: “This is the Buddhas’ teaching.” The apostrophe is not in the wrong place here, for as any grammarian will tell you, if the apostrophe appears after the s in relation to the word Buddhas, it means that it is referring to more than one enlightened being. This reflects the original Pali of the text, and is no mistake. The Buddha often taught that he was not the first (nor the last) Buddha, and that all Buddhas teach the same Doctrine & Discipline (Dhamma ca Vinaya). Therefore, when it is written that what appears in the Ovada-patimokkha Gatha is the teaching of the Buddhas’, it indicates that it is not the product of a single (albeit enlightened) mind, but is a collection of eternal truths that were as valid in the distant past as they are today, and will continue to be as valid in the millennia to come.


gerardo said...

conventinal truth issue.

there is a eminent monk who once said people this time take morality as something ontologically grounded as they exist in stable manner but buddhism is quite dff from these worldview. ethics in buddhism is just a means to an end not the end itself. morality or sila gives foundation for more tougher practices like mindfulness and insight. morality is only useful while there is phenomena but also finds no footing in nothingness.

G said...

If the aim of any given Buddhist is enlightenment, then sila/morality can indeed be seen as the foundation for achieving awakening, Gerardo.

It can be argued that ethics are generally a means to an end, not only in Buddhism. Nor only in religions, but also from a scientific understanding.

The Buddha, of course, did teach morality as one of the three aspects of the noble eightfold path, aimed at enlightenment, but he also taught ethics for their social and happiness benefits. He even taught an old, loving couple that ethics were important if they wished to be reborn together in future lives.

From the enlightened point of view, Gerardo, morality - along with everything else - "finds no footing in nothingness," according to the Buddha and others. However, unless we are fully enlightened, this is just a belief, and as such shouldn't interfere with our practice of goodwill & compassion towards others, should it?

freespace said...

buddhism is like the movie matrix. people in the matrix think the events inside the computer is real but actually it is not. we people think the world is real thats why all evil dualism comes into being also reincarnation. people think that their dreams is real thus add meaning but in reality instead of finding purpose in life, they should embark on a quest to go to what is real that is emptiness.

dreams are illusion they are thought as conventionally real by the unenligtened but when u are enligtened the rest is history. i think people madly gives realness to something that is not real in the first place.

good and evil are dissolved in nirvana or they are beynd good and evil because one author said nirvana in the end is beyond good and evil even contradictions reconciled.

G said...

Hi, Freespace.

You wrote: "we people think the world is real thats why all evil dualism comes into being also reincarnation...i think people madly gives realness to something that is not real in the first place."

What is not real? The world or our perceptions of it? If you are writing that the world is not real, that's not exactly what the Buddha taught (according to the Pali Canon). He taught that our experience of the world is not accurate, not that everything is a delusion. The delusion is in our egotistic experience of the world, not the world itself, as your comment suggests.

You also wrote: "good and evil are dissolved in nirvana or they are beynd good and evil because one author said nirvana in the end is beyond good and evil even contradictions reconciled."

This text suggests that you consider yourself fully enlightened - are you? If not, then what you have written is merely belief or philosophy, and not 'real' experience. Surely the reality of how we actually experience the world should never be ignored, for it is in the tasting that proof of the pudding is to be known, not in thinking about it.

Seeing the emptiness here does not negate anything in the world, but it does radically alter how we interact with the world. This is because in the experience of everything-in-nothing, there is no division of enlightened and unenlightened, real and unreal; there is simply an out-flowing of compassion towards a suffering world. Not the apparent dismissal of the world as being "not real."

If your words have been misunderstood, then apologies are offered. If, however, you really do hold the view that the world is unreal and not of any apparent concern, then the question arises why do you cling to such an idea? The opinions of other readers on this issue is most welcome. No offense is meant here, but these are important issues that require clarification, otherwise we are liable to go astray from the Buddha's path.

gerardo said...

its because sects like zen and yogacara upholds that life is an illusion.... btw is it correct to say that we have a self while we exist but the self disintegrates after death or in reality, self is just a human misunderstanding?

i think the ultimate compassion is that buddhas and bodhisattavas help beings wake up from a samsaric nightmare

G said...

Whether or not sects like Zen or Yogacara hold such views or not, Gerardo, what is your experience of the world? Do you experience the world as an illusion?

If we examine the self with Dharma,it disappears, either bit by bit as we systematically investigate the aggregates, or all at once as we experience satori. Thoughts do not disappear, and neither does the body nor the world (unless we block them out in deep samadhi), but the sense of being a separate self dissolves.

On the other hand, if we examine the Dharma with self, the sense of self will increase, with thoughts of self-aggrandizing guru-ship. In other words, it is in seeing the empty core of being that the sense of self is let go of, not through reading books about it or philosophizing ad infinitum.

Yes, Gerardo, the compassion of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas is something to be immensely grateful for. And, the best way to thank them is to see what they are pointing at. So, let's look!

Anonymous said...

does buddhism teach some sort of oneness or somekind of vedantalike?

Anonymous said...

btw so people suffers because they do not see reality as it is like they always force themselves to believe there is a self but actually there's none?

interesting insight answering gerardo s deep samadhi block thoughts and body how possible is that?

G said...

Anonymous, thank you for your queries. You asked:

"does buddhism teach some sort of oneness or somekind of vedantalike?"

Which Buddhism are you referring to, Anonymous? Theravada, Zen, Tendai, Pure Land, Vajrayana, Shingon, Nichiren...or none of the above?

In the Pali Canon, the Buddha does not "teach some sort of oneness or somekind of vedantalike," but in Mahayana Sutras there are similar-sounding concepts. We need to be careful, however, as the Buddha never taught so that we attach to his teachings as absolute truth. They are upaya (skillful means) to achieve awakening, not dogmas to be clung to. This applies to all Buddhist teachings, Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, or 'Whateveryana.'

"btw so people suffers because they do not see reality as it is like they always force themselves to believe there is a self but actually there's none?"


"interesting insight answering gerardo s deep samadhi block thoughts and body how possible is that?"

It isn't that difficult, if we practice meditation to the point of a stilled, focused mind, Anonymous. Try it!

All this is mere philosophy, Anonymous, if we approach these issues only with our intellect - we should ask ourselves what our experience of the Dharma is, not only our theoretical knowledge of it. Do you meditate?

Anonymous said...

I thank you for the lines of Ovada-patimokkha Gatha that I didn't know in this context, Gary. To read this text had a strange influence of my mind. I felt happiness and also courage to continue to follow the path of the Buddha (or Buddhas).
I thank you also for your explanations about the Buddha's sayings. It always gives me a new insight of what Buddhismus really is. So often you run the risk of wrong understanding and I must grant you that only because of the teachings of Ajahn Sumedho I have the strong impression to really understand...
Have a nice and good day, Gary and thank you for all your effort!


G said...

Renee, it's good to read of your inspiration in the Dharma, both from reading about the Ovada-Patimokkha Gatha, and the teachings of Ajahn Sumedho. He has been a big influence on me, too, so we share something here, too!

P.S. 'Buddhismus' - is that German for 'Buddhism'?

Anonymous said...

oh, I made a mistake :-)! I wanted of course say Buddhism! Yes it is German!

G said...

There! I've learnt something new today, Renee. ;-)

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

I do not comment much, but always read and reread your blog posts and, although often quite different from one another, they inspire me to be mindful and happy and compassionate. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

the so called pantheistic version of buddhism are tendai, shingon like dharmakaya vairocana, tathagathagarbha, mind only, yogacara, the big mind in zen, tibetan samathabhadra buddha or adibbuda and sometimes your post relating buddhism and eckhart who is clearly a pantheist. also sir your emptiness or n-thing all embracing and relates us all into awareness as it is. diff names or cncept but same exp.

what made our senses shut down in meditation? should we be mindful instead about the 3 marks when doing cntemplation?

what is the basis of good and evil in good deeds some say it is intention some say it is consequences and some say intention of the heart like in liao fan lessons i encountered situational ethics like depending on the issue. like it is good t spank a child if it brings his well being like learning more quickly or recieving rewards upon a good deed in poor country so people will be more motivated to help.

G said...

Thanks, Kristi.
It's good that you find the posts on 'Buddha Space' "often quite different from one another" as there are many approaches to awakening and at least as many ways to express it! (Please see the comment from Anonymous below and the reply.)

G said...

Thanks, "Anonymous." (BTW, what's your name; it seems impolite to frequently converse with you but not be able to address you properly.)

Regarding pantheism, it's just a philosophical label, isn't it? What is your experience of it; what is mine? If we use words like pantheism, do we really know what it means existentially, or solely intellectually? If we awaken, and then use the word 'Big Mind' to describe our experience, does that accurately represent the experience and therefore make it substantially different to the word 'nibbana'? Or, might these be different ways of describing the same experience?

None of the Eckhartain scholars that I've read have consider him pantheistic, Anonymous, but apparently this is a common misunderstanding of some of his teachings.

As to "our senses shutting down in meditation," language certainly seems to have failed us here! It isn't that the senses shut down, but that the concentrated mind has moved away from them and is no longer aware of them.

In the Pali Canon, the Buddha teaches that after developing meditative concentration, we should then turn attention to the three characteristics, not instead, as you suggest. If we approach these characteristics with our usual states of mind, we run the risk of responding to them intellectually and philosophically, instead of meditatively, which is what the Buddha taught. It is a step-by-step practice.

As to the "basis of good and evil in good deeds," I don't really know what you mean, Anonymous, so I can't answer the question. Language, language! :-)

One thing, Anonymous; in a dialogue, it's usual not only to ask your own questions expecting replies, but also to answer questions put to you. You have avoided answering a very important question in this discussion thus far, so I'll repeat it in the hope that you will reply to it this time!

Do you meditate?

Anonymous said...

From another anonymous.
Just a couple of points to consider: the idea or sense of self is not a cause of suffering, but attachment or clinging (tanha)to it is, and, the concept of Bhodisattvas, beings who avoid any form of enlightenment until all other beings become enlightened, would have to be the dumbest and most anti-Buddhist concept ever. How is someone rooted in greed, anger, and delusion going to help others become free from suffering?

G said...

Thanks for the comments, 'Another Anonymous.'

Attaching to the sense of self is indeed the crux of the matter where suffering is concerned.

As to your views on Bodhisattvas, I have no opinion, only one observation: to cling to the belief in Bodhisattvas or to cling to the disbelief in them is to cling, isn't it? As Ajahn Chah taught, it's surely better not to cling to such views, especially as points of philosophy, and to focus on the practice of the noble eightfold path, instead.

zencode241 said...

well not the case even you are not selfish thus having a belief there is a self is still dangerous. masters do mention the self still works subtly even someone is well in the path second, there is actually no self. what you think is the self is simply the aggregates or not even very human. in fact it is mental processes or grups of discrete volition when you lift up the skirt of maya and last if the buddha say there is a self he will rather tell us there is a self and also you can preserve your self by not being egoistic. read more dependent origination and anatta to see what u asked.

finally, difficulties and intellectual arguments hold no water like fod, you gotta taste it in meditation and see it for yourself. your head will explode trying to intellectually understand the concepts without practicing. meditation reconciles all!

G said...

Thanks, Zencode.
Yes, believing there is a self, and disbelieving there is a self are both "dangerous," as you put it. All belief when clung to is "dangerous" - even this statement is so if attached to. Ha!

Yes, the self-delusion continues subconsciously even after initial awakenings - something we all should be aware of. In Theravada terms, this is the difference between sakkaya-ditthi ('self-view) which is abandoned at the first stage of enlightenment, and mana ('conceit' or the vague feeling of selfhood) which is only abandoned with complete liberation.

And, yes, again! Meditation opens the gates of awakening, along with mindfulness and insight. This is great: "your head will explode trying to intellectually understand the concepts without practicing." Well said: let's all make the effort to practice!

Unknown said...

although there is actually no self as proven by the 5 aggregates and dependent origination. it could be best just practice dont stop just practice, AS IS!!! attachment even to buddhism binds one in reincarnation. like the simile of the raft.. saying buddhism is superior to others is also attachment and sometimes binds one to subtly concieve it is or im the best or my view is the best. what the buddha did by tuning what nature is really about is fascinating.

G said...

Lance, you've made two important points (at least) in your comments.

Firstly, yes, rather than getting caught up in concepts (including Buddhist ones), just practice.

Secondly, clinging to views (including Buddhist ones) prevents awakening rather than facilitating it. Your point about the subtle senses of self found in such misguided attitudes relates to the Buddha's teaching on mana, or 'conceit'. (See my previous comment.)

Was Once said...

Ajahn Chah said many times that we "in the west", want to figure it all out in our heads, then decide to practice.
Most of what you answered G and Lance spoke of, will never make it as clear as the Buddha... within each of us.
Drop the books, and most of the ideas and just sit, and it took me daily sits(not weekly or twice weekly) to even get a taste of the wisdom inside.

G said...

Yes, you're absolutely right, Was Once, that meditation is the key to developing wisdom. Furthermore, it's so true that consistent daily practice will supply the impetus to really cultivate the path.

It is a myth, however, that we need to "drop" books and only meditate, which is what you seem to be saying. (Especially so for those who do not have access to a Buddhist teacher). In truth, it is a balance between Dharma learned in our hearts and Dharma learned in books (or retreats etc.) that will help us to let go of it all - including the need to meditate!

Was Once said...

Drop, only in the extreme sense, of course. Balance seems always to lean towards intellectual understanding first in the west...was the point.

I started with meditation with a friend, which lead me to seek a temple, and investigate my ways of seeing combined with a meditation. Then sangha helped guide me, and then life's up and downs..led me to meditate daily...a way to balance how I perceive the world.

You are right, of only wish is that more would try meditation, not worrying of becoming Buddhist.

G said...

The important thing - as you indicated - is balance, isn't? Studying by itself is one extreme, meditation by itself is another, as is virtuous behaviour, etc. The Buddha taught the noble eightfold path that includes three main aspects, of which meditation is one part of one aspect. If we cultivate virtue, meditation, & wisdom, then this balance (the middle way) can be achieved.

Thanks for your comments, Was Once!

Dip said...

I apologize for getting off topic again, but I'm interested to know how seriously you take the practice in terms of keeping precepts and meditation. I have always loved the aspect of virtue and wisdom found in Buddhism, but I was never too keen on formal meditation. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I perceived it to be a means to become something like an arahut, which I personally never cared for. Moreover, I'm curious because I use to apply a lot of effort into practice, but gradually strayed. Also, I would appreciate in learning about some of the difficult obstacles you may have faced in practice (if any) and how you confronted them (if you did). Thank you.

Best regards to you and your family,

G said...

Hi Dip.
Well, the Buddha summed up the noble eightfold path with the threefold training of virtue, concentration, and wisdom, so if we adhere to this ideal then both precepts (virtue) and meditation (concentration) are really important.

There are different approaches to meditation (& mindfulness) in various Buddhist traditions, so if you (like me) are not overly attached to one interpretation of these terms, then there are less "formal" types of meditation to be found.

One thing here is that Buddhism isn't necessarily meant to be comfortable or easy, so if it's challenging us to go beyond our habits, likes & dislikes, then that's probably a good thing. Adopting the precepts and meditating regularly are ways to achieve this letting go.

We all lapse from time to time, and there are many challenges from within and from without, Dip. It's never about "confronting" them, however, but seeing, understanding, and letting go of them. And a focused, calm, and virtuous mind is the best tool for the job!

All the best in your practice,
and thanks for the comment.

Unknown said...

I hope to be happy married togheter forever
with great Metta

G said...

Thanks for the comment, David. Metta to you, too.

bedibhavani said...

Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as: