Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dealing with Anger and Making Progress

by B.F.


An inmate in federal prison, B. F. is one of the few people allowed to pursue higher education. He wrote this to me recently... Ven. Chodron

A few days ago, I was in my business management class, getting ready to take the final exam, when the woman next to me pointed out another person sitting in front of us, and said, "During the mid-term a few weeks ago, I saw her cheating, using some notes she had. That makes me so mad! Does it make you as mad as it makes me?"

"That's on her," I replied. "If I let every person sitting in the classroom 'make me mad,' I wouldn't have any time to learn anything. She's just cheating herself anyway." I paused and then continued, "After twelve years of being incarcerated, very little actually makes me really mad. I try not to give other people the power to make me mad. I'm the one who makes myself mad when I give someone else that power."

There was much more to the discussion, but I tried to point out, "Don't let things that other people do make you angry, especially if they aren't directed at you or don't an influence on your life. Yeah, the other girl cheated. So? Karma takes all into account, so the other person was creating the cause for her own unpleasant results."

The point of this story? I realized how much I've changed due to the Dharma.

Source

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Compassion and the Individual

by His Holiness Dalai Lama

One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them.

I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

How to achieve happiness

For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion.

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but everyone who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!

Thus we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

Our need for love

Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

Interdependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena, from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.

It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

We have to consider what we human beings really are. We are not like machine-made objects. If we were merely mechanical entities, then machines themselves could alleviate all of our sufferings and fulfil our needs. However, since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. Instead, we should consider our origins and nature to discover what we require.

Leaving aside the complex question of the creation and evolution of our universe, we can at least agree that each of us is the product of our own parents. In general, our conception took place not just in the context of sexual desire but from our parents' decision to have a child. Such decisions are founded on responsibility and altruism -- the parents' compassionate commitment to care for their child until it is able to take care of itself. Thus, from the very moment of our conception, our parents' love is directly involved in our creation.

Moreover, we are completely dependent upon our mother's care from the earliest stages of our growth. According to some scientists, a pregnant woman's mental state, be it calm or agitated, has a direct physical effect on her unborn child.

The expression of love is also very important at the time of birth. Since the very first thing we do is suck milk from our mother's breast, we naturally feel close to her, and she must feel love for us in order to feed us properly; if she feels anger or resentment her milk may not flow freely.

Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly.

Since a child cannot survive without the care of others, love is its most important nourishment. The happiness of childhood, the allaying of the child's many fears and the healthy development of its self- confidence all depend directly upon love.

Nowadays, many children grow up in unhappy homes. If they do not receive proper affection, in later life they will rarely love their parents and, not infrequently, will find it hard to love others. This is very sad.

As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers. If a teacher not only imparts academic education but also assumes responsibility for preparing students for life, his or her pupils will feel trust and respect and what has been taught will leave an indelible impression on their minds. On the other hand, subjects taught by a teacher who does not show true concern for his or her students' overall well-being will be regarded as temporary and not retained for long.

Similarly, if one is sick and being treated in hospital by a doctor who evinces a warm human feeling, one feels at ease and the doctor's desire to give the best possible care is itself curative, irrespective of the degree of his or her technical skill. On the other hand, if one's doctor lacks human feeling and displays an unfriendly expression, impatience or casual disregard, one will feel anxious, even if he or she is the most highly qualified doctor and the disease has been correctly diagnosed and the right medication prescribed. Inevitably, patients' feelings make a difference to the quality and completeness of their recovery.

Even when we engage in ordinary conversation in everyday life, if someone speaks with human feeling we enjoy listening, and respond accordingly; the whole conversation becomes interesting, however unimportant the topic may be. On the other hand, if a person speaks coldly or harshly, we feel uneasy and wish for a quick end to the interaction. From the least to the most important event, the affection and respect of others are vital for our happiness.

Recently I met a group of scientists in America who said that the rate of mental illness in their country was quite high around twelve percent of the population. it became clear during our discussion that the main cause of depression was not a lack of material necessities but a deprivation of the affection of others.

So, as you can see from everything I have written so far, one thing seems clear to me: whether or not we are consciously aware of it, from the day we are born, the need for human affection is in our very blood. Even if the affection comes from an animal or someone we would normally consider an enemy, both children and adults will naturally gravitate towards it.

I believe that no one is born free from the need for love. And this demonstrates that, although some modern schools of thought seek to do so, human beings cannot be defined as solely physical. No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character lie in the subjective nature of the mind.

Developing compassion

Some of my friends have told me that, while love and compassion are marvelous and good, they are not really very relevant. Our world, they say, is not a place where such beliefs have much influence or power. They claim that anger and hatred are so much a part of human nature that humanity will always be dominated by them. I do not agree.

We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are "news"; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and, therefore, largely ignored.

So far I have been discussing mainly the mental benefits of compassion, but it contributes to good physical health as well. According to my personal experience, mental stability and physical well-being are directly related. Without question, anger and agitation make us more susceptible to illness. On the other hand, if the mind is tranquil and occupied with positive thoughts, the body will not easily fall prey to disease.

But of course it is also true that we all have an innate self-centeredness that inhibits our love for others. So, since we desire the true happiness that is brought about by only a calm mind, and since such peace of mind is brought about by only a compassionate attitude, how can we develop this? Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to think about how nice compassion is! We need to make a concerted effort to develop it; we must use all the events of our daily life to transform our thoughts and behavior.

First of all, we must be clear about what we mean by compassion. Many forms of compassionate feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. For instance, the love parents feel for their child is often strongly associated with their own emotional needs, so it is not fully compassionate. Again, in marriage, the love between husband and wife -- particularly at the beginning, when each partner still may not know the other's deeper character very well -- depends more on attachment than genuine love. Our desire can be so strong that the person to whom we are attached appears to be good, when in fact he or she is very negative. In addition, we have a tendency to exaggerate small positive qualities. Thus when one partner's attitude changes, the other partner is often disappointed and his or her attitude changes too. This is an indication that love has been motivated more by personal need than by genuine care for the other individual.

True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.

Of course, developing this kind of compassion is not at all easy! As a start, let us consider the following facts:

Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one's own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.

Let me emphasize that it is within our power, given patience and time, to develop this kind of compassion. Of course, our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of an independent, self-existent "I: works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self-grasping is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start and make progress now.

How we can start

We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion: anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless, they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative emotions will plague us -- with no extra effort on their part! -- and impede our quest for the happiness of a loving mind.

So as a start, it is useful to investigate whether or not anger is of value. Sometimes, when we are discouraged by a difficult situation, anger does seem helpful, appearing to bring with it more energy, confidence and determination.

Here, though, we must examine our mental state carefully. While it is true that anger brings extra energy, if we explore the nature of this energy, we discover that it is blind: we cannot be sure whether its result will be positive or negative. This is because anger eclipses the best part of our brain: its rationality. So the energy of anger is almost always unreliable. It can cause an immense amount of destructive, unfortunate behavior. Moreover, if anger increases to the extreme, one becomes like a mad person, acting in ways that are as damaging to oneself as they are to others.

It is possible, however, to develop an equally forceful but far more controlled energy with which to handle difficult situations.

This controlled energy comes not only from a compassionate attitude, but also from reason and patience. These are the most powerful antidotes to anger. Unfortunately, many people misjudge these qualities as signs of weakness. I believe the opposite to be true: that they are the true signs of inner strength. Compassion is by nature gentle, peaceful and soft, but it is also very powerful. It is those who easily lose their patience who are insecure and unstable. Thus, to me, the arousal of anger is a direct sign of weakness.

So, when a problem first arises, try to remain humble and maintain a sincere attitude and be concerned that the outcome is fair. Of course, others may try to take advantage of you, and if your remaining detached only encourages unjust aggression, adopt a strong stand. This, however, should be done with compassion, and if it is necessary to express your views and take strong countermeasures, do so without anger or ill-intent.

You should realize that even though your opponents appear to be harming you, in the end, their destructive activity will damage only themselves. In order to check your own selfish impulse to retaliate, you should recall your desire to practice compassion and assume responsibility for helping prevent the other person from suffering the consequences of his or her acts.

Thus, because the measures you employ have been calmly chosen, they will be more effective, more accurate and more forceful. Retaliation based on the blind energy of anger seldom hits the target.

Friends and enemies

I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them.

And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble. So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!

For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So we should feel grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind! Also, it is often the case in both personal and public life, that with a change in circumstances, enemies become friends.

So anger and hatred are always harmful, and unless we train our minds and work to reduce their negative force, they will continue to disturb us and disrupt our attempts to develop a calm mind. Anger and hatred are our real enemies. These are the forces we most need to confront and defeat, not the temporary "enemies" who appear intermittently throughout life.

Of course, it is natural and right that we all want friends. I often joke that if you really want to be selfish, you should be very altruistic! You should take good care of others, be concerned for their welfare, help them, serve them, make more friends, make more smiles. The result? When you yourself need help, you find plenty of helpers! If, on the other hand, you neglect the happiness of others, in the long term you will be the loser. And is friendship produced through quarrels and anger, jealousy and intense competitiveness? I do not think so. Only affection brings us genuine close friends.

In today's materialistic society, if you have money and power, you seem to have many friends. But they are not friends of yours; they are the friends of your money and power. When you lose your wealth and influence, you will find it very difficult to track these people down.

The trouble is that when things in the world go well for us, we become confident that we can manage by ourselves and feel we do not need friends, but as our status and health decline, we quickly realize how wrong we were. That is the moment when we learn who is really helpful and who is completely useless. So to prepare for that moment, to make genuine friends who will help us when the need arises, we ourselves must cultivate altruism!

Though sometimes people laugh when I say it, I myself always want more friends. I love smiles. Because of this I have the problem of knowing how to make more friends and how to get more smiles, in particular, genuine smiles. For there are many kinds of smile, such as sarcastic, artificial or diplomatic smiles. Many smiles produce no feeling of satisfaction, and sometimes they can even create suspicion or fear, can't they? But a genuine smile really gives us a feeling of freshness and is, I believe, unique to human beings. If these are the smiles we want, then we ourselves must create the reasons for them to appear.

Compassion and the world

In conclusion, I would like briefly to expand my thoughts beyond the topic of this short piece and make a wider point: individual happiness can contribute in a profound and effective way to the overall improvement of our entire human community.

Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same.

Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others.

I believe that at every level of society -- familial, tribal, national and international -- the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.

I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the time to help create a happier world.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Need To Win

from The Way of Chuang Tzu [xix,4], Thomas Merton Translation

When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets-
He is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting -
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Emptiness

by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Emptiness is a mode of perception, a way of looking at experience. It adds nothing to and takes nothing away from the raw data of physical and mental events. You look at events in the mind and the senses with no thought of whether there's anything lying behind them.

This mode is called emptiness because it's empty of the presuppositions we usually add to experience to make sense of it: the stories and world-views we fashion to explain who we are and the world we live in. Although these stories and views have their uses, the Buddha found that some of the more abstract questions they raise -- of our true identity and the reality of the world outside -- pull attention away from a direct experience of how events influence one another in the immediate present. Thus they get in the way when we try to understand and solve the problem of suffering.

Say for instance, that you're meditating, and a feeling of anger toward your mother appears. Immediately, the mind's reaction is to identify the anger as "my" anger, or to say that "I'm" angry. It then elaborates on the feeling, either working it into the story of your relationship to your mother, or to your general views about when and where anger toward one's mother can be justified. The problem with all this, from the Buddha's perspective, is that these stories and views entail a lot of suffering. The more you get involved in them, the more you get distracted from seeing the actual cause of the suffering: the labels of "I" and "mine" that set the whole process in motion. As a result, you can't find the way to unravel that cause and bring the suffering to an end.

If, however, you can adopt the emptiness mode -- by not acting on or reacting to the anger, but simply watching it as a series of events, in and of themselves -- you can see that the anger is empty of anything worth identifying with or possessing. As you master the emptiness mode more consistently, you see that this truth holds not only for such gross emotions as anger, but also for even the most subtle events in the realm of experience. This is the sense in which all things are empty. When you see this, you realize that labels of "I" and "mine" are inappropriate, unnecessary, and cause nothing but stress and pain. You can then drop them. When you drop them totally, you discover a mode of experience that lies deeper still, one that's totally free.

To master the emptiness mode of perception requires training in firm virtue, concentration, and discernment. Without this training, the mind tends to stay in the mode that keeps creating stories and world views. And from the perspective of that mode, the teaching of emptiness sounds simply like another story or world view with new ground rules. In terms of the story of your relationship with your mother, it seems to be saying that there's really no mother, no you. In terms of your views about the world, it seems to be saying either that the world doesn't really exist, or else that emptiness is the great undifferentiated ground of being from which we all came to which someday we'll all return.

These interpretations not only miss the meaning of emptiness but also keep the mind from getting into the proper mode. If the world and the people in the story of your life don't really exist, then all the actions and reactions in that story seem like a mathematics of zeros, and you wonder why there's any point in practicing virtue at all. If, on the other hand, you see emptiness as the ground of being to which we're all going to return, then what need is there to train the mind in concentration and discernment, since we're all going to get there anyway? And even if we need training to get back to our ground of being, what's to keep us from coming out of it and suffering all over again? So in all these scenarios, the whole idea of training the mind seems futile and pointless. By focusing on the question of whether or not there really is something behind experience, they entangle the mind in issues that keep it from getting into the present mode.

Now, stories and world views do serve a purpose. The Buddha employed them when teaching people, but he never used the word emptiness when speaking in these modes. He recounted the stories of people's lives to show how suffering comes from the unskillful perceptions behind their actions, and how freedom from suffering can come from being more perceptive. And he described the basic principles that underlie the round of rebirth to show how bad intentional actions lead to pain within that round, good ones lead to pleasure, while really skillful actions can take you beyond the round altogether. In all these cases, these teachings were aimed at getting people to focus on the quality of the perceptions and intentions in their minds in the present -- in other words, to get them into the emptiness mode. Once there, they can use the teachings on emptiness for their intended purpose: to loosen all attachments to views, stories, and assumptions, leaving the mind empty of all greed, anger, and delusion, and thus empty of suffering and stress. And when you come right down to it, that's the emptiness that really counts.

Source: http://world.std.com/~metta/lib/modern/emptiness.html

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Suffering of Love

By Tam Lac Tran Quy Anh

Once, I would rather tumble in the realms of suffering,
To endure infinite kalpas of torture and pain…
Once, I would rather blind myself of the light
Than have you missing from my life

Once, I was so foolish at how much I searched
As I ignorantly hunted you down for gain
Once, I have killed your heart by millionfold
So that I would endured aeons of torture and craving
Once, I mindlessly planted sixfold debt,
As aging and dying recycled me

Once, the beat of your heart haunted each new rebirth
With every second of my helpless sorrow
Once, I regretted having fallen into love’s trap
As it was such torment which bounded my feet together

Once, Images of your face were tattooed deep into my soul.
As it hammered me down to the wheels of samsara screaming
Once, I was crucified to the grand cross of birth and death
Because of the stupidity of how much I foolishly loved you

Once, I could not imagine what life would be like
Without the water of love for the basking of a swimming fish
Once, I asked the birds in the sky what freedom felt like
Yet all I could do was imagine the loosening of my cuffs
Once, I trembled with weak desperate hopes at night.
Half hoping to forget you, half hoping to die once more

Once, I could not let go of my mundane desires
Because fear delude my functioning
Once, it seemed I was the corps of yesteryear

As Karmic retribution become unstoppable
Once, warnings of hell constantly cracked into my skull,
Dragging me further away from the heavenly surface
Oh Such cruelty that each life brought your voice to my ears.
Each breath brought your face to my eyes.
It was blinding, it horribly deafening!
Once, I was drowning in my own sea of tears
Gripping onto anything I could grasp from phoney heroes
Once, I had given up all faith of saviour,
To surrender to the numbness of the cold

But oh what treasure I have today, lord Tathagata!
…The name that strangely soothes my frustration,
like the relief of a million years’ agony.
Like an ant carrying the massive ancient globe…
I have carried love’s burden since the dawn of time.

Incompetent language unable to describe the bliss of today
For Liberation is beyond all meaningful words,

Today is the day that I finally hear of the cure of my illness
And the illness of others just as I who suffer under obsessive love
I now see all sentients beings who have journeyed my road
How they have crawled their way up this steep mountain
To finally overlook the billions burning from below
The incalculable number of wanderers at the bottom
Are just 1 millionth of the actual size who truly suffer

What joy it is to finally meet the Dharma
To be rescued from one’s own stupidity
Now I finally see the vastness of true love and its compassion
True love is the noble love for all sentient beings I have finally learnt,
Love and Kindness is what transcends the infatuation of gods and men.

May all beings escape the suffering of love to see the larger picture.

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha!

By ©Jessica Tran
Lay Buddhist Student Tam Lac
23 January 2005 www.buddhamind.tk

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Discourse on Happiness

Mahamangala Sutta (Suttanipata 1)

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was living in the vicinity of Shravasti at the Anathapindika mona-stery in the Jeta Park. Late at night a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly. After paying respects to the Buddha, the deva asked him a question in the form of a verse:


"Many gods and men are eager to know
what are the greatest blessings
which can bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?"

(This is the Buddha's answer):
"Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
to live in the company of wise people
and to honor those who are worth honoring-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To live in a good environment,
to have planted good seeds
and to realize that you are on the right path-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To have a chance to learn,
and to be skillful in your profession or craft
and to know how to practice the precepts and loving speech-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To be able to support your parents,
to cherish your own family
and to have a job that you like-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To live correctly, to be generous in giving,
to be able to give support to relatives and friends
and to live a life of blameless conduct-
this is the greatest happiness.


Discourse on Happiness

"To avoid doing bad things,
to avoid being caught by alcoholism or drugs
and to be diligent in doing good things-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To be humble and polite,
to be grateful, and content with a simple life
and not to miss the occasion to learn the dharma
this is the greatest happiness.

"To persevere and be open to change,
to have regular contact with monks and nuns
and to participate in dharma discussions-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To live diligently and attentively,
to perceive the Noble Truths
and to realize Nirvana-
this is the greatest happiness.

"To live in the world,
with your heart undisturbed by the world,
with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace,
this is the greatest happiness.

"He or she who accomplishes this
will remain unvanquished wherever she goes.
Always he will be safe and happy-
This is the greatest happiness."


Mahamangala Sutta (Suttanipata 1)

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Body, Speech and Mind of a Buddha


The Body of a Buddha
What is a Buddha? A Buddha is someone who has abandoned all unwholesome action, all obstructions to knowledge and their remnants. When one abandons unwholesome action, an imprint remains on the mind which acts as an obstructions to knowledge, just as when one drops an onion from one's hand, a smell remains on it. The Buddha has abandoned even the last remnants of these obstructions to knowledge. He perceives the reality of all phenomena directly and has fully developed compassion through meditation, so he spontaneously works for the welfare of all beings. Over countless aeons, he has accumulated limitless merit through the practice of the perfections of giving, ethics, practice and effort and has meditated with a firmly stabilized mind on the antidote to the conception of an inherently existent self-emptiness.
From the point of view of Tantra, he meditated on deity yoga, employing the many subtle and powerful means of Tantra, which enables one to attain Buddhahood in one lifetime.
Although there may be countless Buddhas in any aeon, in the present aeon 1002 Buddhas are to appear as such, of whom four have already appeared. They are already enlightened, but take birth as humans to demonstrate the twelve deeds of a Buddha and guide sentient beings towards enlightenment. The tantric path to enlightenment is peculiar to Shakyamuni's teaching and is otherwise very rare. Shakyamuni taught the sutras to ordinary disciples, in the form of a Buddha. However, he taught superior disciples the tantras in the form of a king or in the aspect of various meditational deities.
There are many ways of representing the body of the Buddha. Though they may reveal different aspects, all are the Buddha's body in nature and offerings made to them are equal to those made to Buddhas themselves. Thus, the Buddha may be portrayed as a monk, like Buddha Shakyamuni, as slightly wrathful meditational deities such as Heruka, or Guhyasamaja, or as female deities such as dakinis, as wrathful male or female deities with ugly forms and animal heads, or as embracing consorts. There are also occasions when Shakyamuni Buddha is represented as a rabbit or an elephant, recalling exemplary deeds he performed in such lives during his career as a Bodhisattva.
Similarly, religious images are also made of Arhats, those beings who have attained personal liberation, religious protectors and Lamas. If the image is a statue, it can be made of any material, whether clay, stone, wood or metal and while there are no restrictions on size, it must strictly adhere to the prescribed proportions and so forth. Whatever material is used, such images should be respected equally, a statue should not be valued more highly than another because it is made of gold and the other of clay. The same is true of two-dimensional images, which in Tibet were most commonly paintings on cloth, block prints or murals.

The Buddha's Speech or Dharma
From the point of view of experience, the Dharma is ultimately the abandonment of afflictions and obstructions to knowledge in a being's mental continuum. The way to attain this true cessation is to follow a true path. The means of communicating this understanding is the speech of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which in written form comprises the collection of scriptures. Both of these are also referred to as the Dharma. When the Buddha spoke, countless beings each found in his words what benefitted him or her most and could understand it in his or her own language.
Shortly after the Buddha's passing away, memorised collections of his teachings were recited in four different Indian languages, including Sanskrit. Later these were translated into Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Korean, Japanese and so forth. The Tibetan canon includes the Kangyur, about 108 volumes consisting of translations of Buddha's own words, and the Tengyur, about 200 volumes of commentries to teachings contained in the Kangyur composed by Indian scholars, and some commentaries to those written by later Tibetan scholars. Recently, translations of Buddhist texts have also begun to appear in Western languages. No matter what language is used to convey them, what distinguishes such texts or teachings is that their meaning is conducive to sentient beings' achieving enlightenment. This is reflected in the subjects dealt with by Buddhist teaching. The Buddha is said to have given 84,000 instructions, which elaborate on all the afflictions and the means of overcoming them. When condensed, these can be included in the Three Baskets of Doctrine- so called because the original palm-leaf texts in India were contained in baskets. The Basket of Discourses explains the three trainings of ethics, meditative stabilization and wisdom, the Basket of Discipline explains ethical discipline and meditative stabilization, and the Basket of Knowledge explains the divisions of phenomena.
When the Buddha was passing away, some people complained that he was leaving nothing behind to show them the way to enlightenment. To this the Buddha replied that they would find what they needed in the texts recording the meaning of his words.
To show appreciation and respect towards the Buddha's teachings, some texts were written out in gold, silver and other precious substances, especially the Discourse on the Perfection of Wisdom. In general, scriptures are kept carefully in a high clean place, also to denote respect. In temples, the statue of the Buddha, which may form the principal object of offering, is generally flanked by high stacks of books of scriptures which represent his speech.

The Buddha's Mind
To represent the Buddha's mind, which is free of all obstacles and has acquired all knowledge, and to gain merit by paying respect to it, people have built stupas.
The many aspects of a stupa symbolize many things, such as the ten wholesome actions, great compassion and the ability to help all sentient beings.
Stupas were erected at the sites of Buddha Shakyamuni's birth, renunciation, attainment of enlightenment and his passing into Parinirvana, as well as being built over the relics of previous Buddhas.
Circumbulating them is a means of accumulating merit. In Magadha, an Indian kingdom at the time of the Buddha, there was an old stupa reduced to a mere mound. The Buddha circumbulated it, and when asked why, answered that there were holy relics within it.
In response to a question from the gods of the Heaven of Thirty-three, the Buddha explained what to place as relics in a stupa.
These are the four types of relics:
- Mantras written out on paper
- Physical relics of a Buddha such as hair or nails, or objects used by him
- Fragments of his bones, teeth and so forth
- Other relics remaining after his cremation
After the Buddha's passing away and the cremation of his body, the people of many kingdoms argued over possession of his remains. A disciple finally settled the dispute by dividing the remains into eight, each portion being enshrined in a stupa in each kingdom. The custom of erecting stupas over the remains of great saints and lamas also continued in Tibet. In some cases, for example the Dalai Lamas, the whole body was enshrined.
Stupas can be of any size and can be made of any suitable material. Relics, other than the four described above, such as statues, clothes or scriptures are also acceptable. For example, in Tibet, sets of thousands of stamped clay images would commonly be made to be placed in stupas.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ancient Rahimin drawing found in Bamiyan


Tokyo, Aug 09: Japanese researchers said they found a seventh-century painting of a mythological Persian bird in Afghanistan`s Bamiyan ruins, showing the region`s Buddhism was influenced by pre-Islamic Iran.

The team unearthed an image of what appears to be a Simorgh, the giant and powerful bird that figures prominently in Zoroastrian-era Iranian legends.

The faded painting emerged after Japanese researchers removed soot from a Buddhist cave in Bamiyan, the region where Taliban Islamic extremists dynamited the world`s tallest standing Buddha statues in 2001.

"This is the first time a vivid image of this creature was confirmed" in Bamiyan, an expert involved in the project at Japan`s national research institute for cultural properties told reporters.

"This image shows that Iranian myth and Persian views were reflected in Bamiyan Buddhism. It indicates the influence of people from SOGD, the areas north of Afghanistan which covers what are now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan," he said.

However, the Japanese team called for more research, saying that some scholars believed the image could instead be a griffin from Greek mythology. Alexander the great conquered Afghanistan in the fourth century BC.

The picture portrays the creature with an eagle`s head, wings and a lion`s torso of gold, silver, blue and red facing off with a bull.

Inside the same cave, researchers also found a design of a boar and a lion facing each other.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Researching Buddhism And Facts Surrounding The Popular Philosophy

By: Marcus Grant iSnare Expert Author

Searching for Little Known Buddhism Facts

Buddhism is a popular religion and philosophy that originated thousands of years ago in Asia. The popularity of Buddhism has spread and followers from many countries are involved in this philosophy. Buddhism has an estimated three hundred million followers, and is something that many individuals are interested in learning about, but they do not necessarily know where to start.

The history of and facts about Buddhism are taught in many schools around the world. However, there are additional ways to learn the facts about Buddhism. To research Buddhism, traditional methods should be followed. There is a variety of different locations and resources for obtaining information concerning the philosophy of Buddhism.

The internet is a convenient and interesting way to find alot information on every topic imaginable, including the history of Buddhism its teachings which have helped it to develop a worldwide following. With numerous online encyclopedias available, you are certain to find information and little known facts concerning Buddhism. In addition to online encyclopedias, performing an internet search is a sure fire way to produce many resources and references pertaining to Buddhism. By simply typing in "Buddhism", you will be surprised at the number of websites and reference guides that will appear.

One of the best ways to learn about the history of, and interesting facts about, Buddhism is to visit a website that is operated by followers of Buddhism. One of the best websites to obtain general information on Buddhism and facts surrounding its history is http://www.buddhanet.net/index.html. BuddhaNet is an online educational network for individuals who follow Buddhism or are interested in learning more about it. The BuddaNet site is easy to navigate and designed for individuals of all ages. They have an ebook section which is completely free for all site visitors to read and use as a reference. The ebook section contains information and articles on mediation, history, teachings, and more. A large amount of information can be obtained from this website. Although this website is a great educational tool for teaching individuals about Buddhism and facts surrounding the philosophy, there are additional online resources that are just as helpful. Completing an online search is the best way to find and sort through each of them.

In addition to the internet, libraries generally offer a large amount of books or other printed materials concerning the history and teaching of buddhism. The amount of materials associated with Buddhism and facts concerning its history and practice will most likely depend on the size of the library. It usually the case that smaller libraries are limited in the number of books that they carry. If you do not find what you are looking for, do not give up. Many libraries various cities or counties are connected to a network of other libraries. Therefore, many books may be exchanged or borrowed by different library locations.

In addition to printed materials found in the library, there are number of Buddhism books that can be purchased from traditional book stores. Some of these books may be used for reference; many of the books found on today’s market include titles dealing Buddhist views, beliefs, or ways that Buddhism has positively impacted a group or an individual. Many printed materials can be purchased from conventional or online book stores. Books, VHS Tapes, DVDs, or audio cassettes tapes may be purchased from many online Buddhism websites.

Learning the history of Buddhism and facts concerning the philosophy is a fairly easy process. In addition to learning useful information, you may even find yourself wishing to become a believer or follower of Buddhism

Marcus Grant http://www.buddhism-history.com http://www.buddhismhistory.org

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Two Elements of Effective Prayer


By Thich Nhat Hanh

Effective prayer is made up of many elements, but there are two that seem the most important. The first is to establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to. It is the equivalent of connecting the electrical wire when we want to communicate by telephone.

The one who prays and the one prayed to are two realities that cannot be separated from each other. This is basic in Buddhism, and I’m quite sure that in every religion there are those who have practiced for a long time and have this understanding. They can see that God is in our heart. God is us and we are God. The entire visualization gatha goes like this:

The one who bows and the one who is bowed to
are both, by nature, empty.
Therefore the communication between us
is inexpressibly perfect.

The first element of an effective method of prayer is the communication between ourselves and the one we are praying to. Because we and the one we are praying to are interconnected, our communication is not dependent on time or space. When we meditate on this, communication is realized straight away and we are linked. At that point, there is electricity in the wire.

We know that when a television station sends its signal up to the telecommunications satellite and it is beamed back down to our television set, a certain amount of time is necessary for the waves to be transmitted through space. But the communication of prayer lies completely outside of space and time. We don’t need a satellite. We do not have to wait one or two days for there to be a result; the result is instant. When you make instant coffee, although you call it “instant,” you have to boil the water, you need time to make your coffee. Only then can you drink the coffee. But in prayer, we do not need to wait any time at all, even an instant.

The second element we need for prayer is energy. We have connected the telephone wire, now we need to send an electric current through it.

In prayer, the electric current is love, mindfulness and right concentration. Mindfulness is the real presence of our body and our mind. Our body and our mind are directed toward one point, the present moment. If this is lacking, we are not able to pray, no matter what our faith. If you are not present, who is praying?

To pray effectively, our body and mind must dwell peacefully in the present moment. When you have mindfulness, then you have concentration. This is the condition that will lead to praj├▒a, the Sanskrit word for insight and transcendent wisdom. Without that, our prayer is just superstition.

Excerpt from The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh (2006, Parallax Press, parallax.org). Reprinted with permission of the publisher.