Well versed in the Tao of Buddha,
I go the non-Way
Without abandoning my
Ordinary person’s affairs.
The conditioned and
All are flowers in the sky.
Nameless and formless,
I leave birth-and-death.
Layman P’ang (740-808)
Well versed in the Tao of Buddha,
I go the non-Way
Without abandoning my
Ordinary person’s affairs.
The conditioned and
All are flowers in the sky.
Nameless and formless,
I leave birth-and-death.
Layman P’ang (740-808)
The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don’t try to touch it.
From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don’t think about it
Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There’s no filth to be cleansed.
With empty mind really
Penetrated, the dharmas
Have no life.
When you can be like this,
The ultimate attainment.
Layman P’ang (740-808)
Reverently I declare to the Tathagatha what Avalokitesvara said:
“When one dwells in silence, Rolls of drums in ten directions,
All can be simultaneously heard. Thus is hearing complete.
Seeing cannot penetrate a screen, Neither can taste nor smell;
Feeling comes only in contact, And thought in focus lack.
But sound whether near or far, At all times can be heard;
The other senses are imperfect, Only hearing is truly pervasive.
The presence and absence of sound, Perceived by the ear as existent or not;
Absence of sound means nothing heard, Not hearing devoid of its nature.
Absence of sound is not the end of hearing, And presence of sound is not its beginning.
The faculty of hearing is unborn, Undying and one with the Truth.
Even when thoughts stop, Hearing does not end.
For hearing is beyond all thought, Beyond both mind and body.
In this Saha world, One teaches by voice.
Sentient beings who know not true hearing, Follow false sounds to be reborn.
Though Ananda memorizes all he has heard, He is not freed from inverted thought.
By clinging to sound one falls into Samsara, By non-clinging one attains Nirvana.
Listen, Ananda, listen closely.
In Buddha’s name do I declare, By the indestructible king of enlightenment;
The inconceivable wisdom of reality- The Samadhi of all Buddhas.
You may hear of esoteric teachings, from Buddhas as countless as dust;
But if you overcome not craving, Hearing only causes more errors.
To hear your true self, you must invert, What you use to hear the Buddha’s words.
Hearing has no nature; It owes its name to sound.
Freed from sound by inverting hearing, What to you call this thing?
When one sense return to its source, All other senses will be liberated.
Seeing and hearing are both illusions, Like falling flowers in the sky.
Hearing without sound, The illusionary sense vanishes.
When object is no more, the subject is no more.
And pure is the Bodhi attained. Its pure, bright light pervades all.
Its shining stillness filling the void.
All worldly things when examined, Are like illusions seen in dreams,
So was the foolish maiden Matangi – How could she keep your body?
Like a clever artist, Presenting a puppet play,
The movements may be many, But only one controller exists.
When that control stops, The puppets become lifeless.
Likewise are the senses, Derived from one Alaya (store consciousness).
If one return to the source, So will the other senses follow.
With all illusions ended, Bodhi is thereby attained.
Defilement represents sentient beings, Enlightenment represents the Tathagata.
Ananda and those listening, Invert your false hearing.
When one hears truly, That is true Bodhi.
Buddhas of all worlds, Many as Ganges sands,
Thus entered this Nirvana.
All the past Tathagatas, Have this method perfected.
All the present Bodhisattvas, Have this teaching mastered.
All you future sentient beings, Should learn this dharma well.”
“Avalokitesvara did not practice alone; For I Manjusri was with him.
The Enlightened and World-honoured One, Asked me for the best expedient,
For those in the Dharma ending era, Who wish to escape from this Samsara;
In their search for Nirvana, It’s best to contemplate sound.
Other methods are only expedients, Used just for special cases,
To keep disciples from occasional difficulty.
They’re not for indiscriminate practice, By beings of varying minds.
I salute the Tathagatha’s treasure, Beyond all the worldly streams.
Blessed be future generations, If they can have faith,
In this excellent expedient.
It’s good for teaching Ananda, And those of future age,
Who should rely on hearing, Surpassing all the other senses –
For it is one with profound Reality.”
– END –
See also :
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s answer to a question from the Buddha .
Excerpt from The Surangama Sutra
chapter: IV Self Enlightenment
section: Meditation on the six consciousnesses
The Buddhas question to Bodhisattvas and chief Arhants in the assembly :
” When you developed your minds to awaken to the eighteen fields of sense , which one did you regard as the best means of perfection and by what methods did you enter the state of Samadhi? “
Following is Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s answer which also contains his vows/deeds.
Samantabhadra Bodhisattva then rose from his seat, prostrated himself with his head at the feet of the Buddha and declared :
“I was already a son of the Dharma king when formerly I was with the Tathagatas who were countless as the sands in the Ganges. All Buddhas in ten directions who teach their diciples to plant Bodhisattva roots, urge them to practise Samantabhadra deeds which are called after my name.World Honoured One , I always use my mind to listen in order to distinguish the variety of views held by living beings. If in a place, seperated frm here by a number of worlds as countless as the sands in the Ganges, a living beings practises Samantbhadra deeds, I mount at once on a six-tusked elephant and reproduce myself in a hundred and a thousand apparitions to come to his aid. Even if he is unable to see me because of his great karmic obstruction, I secretly lay my hand on his head to protect and comfort him so that he can succeed. As a Buddha now asks about the best means of perfection, according to my personal experience, the best consists in hearing with the mind, which leads to non-discriminative discernment”
Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva / Pu Xain Pusa
To worship and respect all Buddhas.
To make praises to the Thus Come Ones.
To practice profoundly the giving of offerings.
To repent and reform all karmic hindrance.
To rejoice and follow in merit and virtue.
To request that the Dharma wheel be turned.
To request that the Buddhas remain in the world.
To always follow the Buddha’s teaching.
To constantly accord with all living beings.
To transfer all merit and virtue universally.
Excerpted from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s remarks to the Community Dharma Leaders program at BCBS, June 29, 2006.Insight Journal • WINTER 2006
I have been thinking about the discussion we had yesterday on the problems you’ve encountered in teaching Buddhism in America. I would like to off er a few of my own thoughts on this subject. As we go along, I will also share with you the general outlines of one scheme I’ve worked out for pulling the Buddha’s teachings together into a single, all-embracing whole. In my view one of the major errors that is being made in the teaching of Buddhism here in the U.S. (and more broadly in the West) is the fl at identifi cation of Buddhadhamma (the teachings of the Buddha) with meditation, especially with insight meditation. I see the Dhamma as having a much more extensive range. It involves at least three essential components, which I would call right faith, right understanding, and right practice. Th e practical side is also extensive, and might be summed up in the famous verse of the Dhammapada (183): “To abstain from all evil, to cultivate the wholesome, and to purify one’s mind: that is the instruction of the Buddhas.” Th ese three principles, stated so simply, are quite compressed. Th ey can be elaborated in diverse ways at great length. At the very root of all proper Dhamma practice, in my view, is proper faith, which is expressed by the act of going for refuge to the Triple Gem. By going for refuge, one reposes faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha as one’s supreme ideals. Th is expression of faith should be grounded in understanding what the Th ree Gems represent. Th us faith, understanding, and practice are intricately interwoven. Now, the importance of going for refuge can be grasped by raising the question: “What connects a person to the Buddhadhamma from one life to the next?” Is it keeping one’s mind on the breath? Is it, when you hear sounds, noting “hearing, hearing”? Is it, when you’re walking, noting, “right step, left step,” or “lifting, putting down, lifting, putting down”? Of course, these practices are good. Th ey lead to calm and insight, but on their own they are insuffi cient. What keeps one tied to the Buddha’s teaching life after life, until one reaches the stage of irreversibility, is the act of sincerely and earnestly going for refuge to the Th ree Jewels: “Buddha§ sarana§ gacchāmi, Dhamma§ sarana§ gacchāmi, Sangha§ sarana§ gacchāmi.” Going for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha is like placing a block of iron in one’s heart, so that the magnet of the Dhamma will attract one as one fares on from life to life. Right faith gives birth to right understanding. When one accepts the Buddha as the supremely Enlightened One, one opens oneself up to his disclosures on the human condition and on the fundamental principles at work behind the visible order of events. Th is means that one is prepared to accept his teachings on the basic ethical lawfulness of the cosmic process as it unfolds in human life and throughout all sentient existence. Th is lawfulness is expressed in the teaching on karma and its corollary, rebirth. Th e background to authentic Buddhist practice, even to the Four Noble Truths in their deeper dimensions, is this teaching of karma and rebirth. Yet many teachers find it embarrassing to talk about these principles that underlie the whole system. But to short-circuit the Dhamma in this way seems to me to be bargaining one’s trust in the Buddha. It’s almost as if one is half-guessing the Buddha as the Enlightened One.
“If one is a Dhamma teacher, one has to teach more than what one experiences in meditation.”
Student: When we finished our original training and various teachers were giving us advice, especially on how to teach with authenticity, one said, “Teach what you know to be true based upon your own experience. Do not teach what you do not know.” For most lay teachers in the West, it is relatively uncommon to have personal knowledge of previous lives. This presents something of a conundrum. For those who don’t have that personal knowledge, it becomes merely theoretical knowledge.
I would agree with this advice in so far as it pertains to one’s role as a meditation instructor. I agree that when one is giving instructions in meditation, one shouldn’t make pretensions to have experienced things that one has not personally experienced. However, if one is a Dhamma teacher, one has to teach more than what one experiences in meditation. One also has to explain the theoretical framework that underlies and supports the practice, and this is where these teachings on karma and rebirth enter in. If one is going to teach the Dhamma correctly, one has to teach on the basis of sammādiññhi, right understanding or right view, which includes understanding cyclical existence: how past lives, the present life, and future lives are interwoven and penetrated by the law of karmic causation, which is above all a law of moral causation.
If one intends to teach Dhamma without teaching this, I have to say very frankly one is not teaching the Dhamma correctly; one is not teaching the Buddhadhamma. One is basically teaching Buddhist meditation practices uprooted from their original foundation, integrated with transpersonal psychology, and grounded on a secular humanism. I should add that I don’t have any gripe with secular humanism as the foundation for our social and political life; in fact, I think that in any multi-religious, multi-cultural society, it is the best basis for political and social institutions. But we should not use secular humanism as a lens through which to interpret the Buddhadhamma. Let’s instead take it on its own terms.
Very few of the monastics inBurma,Thailand, andSri Lankahave recollections of previous lives, but when they teach the Dhamma, they explain the teachings of karma and rebirth. How is that? If we are going to understand our existence correctly, we have to take account, not just of the present—in what I call its vertical immediacy—but also of the ground out of which the present moment arises and against which it rests. This means that one has to locate the present in relation to its spatial and temporal horizons. If we want to understand this little black dot here on the whiteboard, we can’t just take this dot and separate it from the rest of the board. To understand this black dot, we have to see it in relation to the whole whiteboard: in relation to this point here, and that point there, and that point over there. If I’m going to explain to somebody what this black dot is all about, I’m going to have to situate it in relation to the whole board.
Student: Bhante, the principle of karma is a difficult one for a Westerner who doesn’t have the background of Asian culture. Even from my own experience the idea of karma was so foreign that it was hard to get my mind around it. Over the years of doing my practice, I began to understand that karma is a central principle, but to introduce it to someone who hasn’t had it in the culture….
One has to change the culture! The question is, do you capitulate on the Buddhadhamma to fit the culture, or do you provide an opportunity for the culture to be changed by the Buddhadhamma?
Student: It’s not that most Western teachers don’t want to teach the true Buddhadhamma. We struggle to find graduated teachings to bring people along. With a new group of students, I’m a little reticent to begin laying out the cosmology in terms of rebirth. For me it’s a question of timing.
I agree that if somebody comes in and asks, “What is Buddhism about?” one shouldn’t begin with a detailed lecture on Buddhist cosmology, or even on karma and rebirth. I myself would be reticent about introducing the teaching of karma and rebirth at the very beginning. I think it is best to let people see the clear existential truth in the Dhamma first, those aspects that are immediately visible. But when the time is ripe, explain the real Dhamma. One can lead them on to see that the same causal relations that explain suffering in the here and now can be extrapolated to explain the unsatisfactory nature of the cycle of existence. Don’t be afraid to teach the real thing. Don’t think that you’re going to frighten people off by doing so. If you teach the Dhamma straight and direct, people will come to it and drink it up. They’ll delight in the taste of the real Dhamma.
Many people turn to fundamentalist Christianity because they’re teaching something straight, direct, and clear. Even though their doctrines are dogmatic and intellectually shaky, people are drawn to them because they are straightforward, clear, and ethically consistent. From what I have seen, much of Buddhism as presented inAmericahas been ambiguous and apologetic. It’s almost as though we are half-hiding the truth about the Dhamma, saying it’s not really this, it’s not really that. It’s almost as if we are trying to put it across in a pleasant disguise, fitting it out in a nice skirt and blouse, with falsies and lots of makeup. With one side of our mouth we pay homage to Gotama the Buddha as our original teacher; with the other side, we make the teaching sound not much different from that of a transpersonal psychologist with a shaved head and saffron robes.
There is a popular saying nowadays: “The Buddha didn’t teach Buddhism, he taught the Dhamma.” This saying is a half-truth, and a misleading half-truth. Of course, the Buddha didn’t teach “Buddhism,” because that is a word of Western coinage, and it has come to include all the cultural and social phenomena that have arisen in the course of Buddhist history.
“If you teach the Dhamma straight and direct, people will come to it and drink it up. They’ll delight in the taste of the real Dhamma”
But please don’t say that there is no such thing as a distinctive Dhamma unique to the Buddha with its own unique goal. Don’t say that one can have faith in another religious teacher or another religious doctrine and be practicing Dhamma in the same way, with the same intention, with the same view and conviction, as someone who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem.
Student: Bhante, when I first came to the Insight Meditation Society, I was so disillusioned with organized religion that if there had been anything that really seemed religious, I probably would have left. But through years of practice, the levels of the teaching gradually reveal themselves as one sees experience match what the teaching says. The concept of karma over many lifetimes remains a difficult one for me, though.
I’m aware that there have to be different approaches to the presentation of the Dhamma in theU.S., and I wouldn’t want all to present the same “religious” front. I 12 appreciate the use of diff erent “dharma doors” for people with diff erent inclinations and aptitudes. For many who have turned against traditional religion, a non-religious presentation of the Dhamma will be more appealing. But this doesn’t mean that one should abandon the core insights at the heart of the teaching just to be more accommodating. Perhaps one can emphasize the “immediately visible” aspects of the Dhamma, while also keeping the “world-transcending” aspects in view.
“One should not abandon the core insights at the heart of the teaching just to be more accommodating.”
Of course, karma is a diffi cult subject to teach, especially in light of anattā (non-self ). In the commentaries it is said that it isn’t easy to explain the technical details of how a rebirth takes place without a being that’s reborn. Student: Are you saying it would be unskillful of us to present the Dhamma and to not include teachings on karma? Of course, the teaching on karma and rebirth can be misused. I am hesitant to explain peoples’ personal troubles in terms of past life retribution. Generally, I prefer to seek concrete causes in this present life and to work out present-life solutions. It’s hard to give one simple recipe for how one should bring in the teaching on karma. When I teach an introductory class, I usually begin with the enlightenment of the Buddha, and then I have to teach truthfully what the Buddha realized on the night of his enlightenment. Am I going to hide, out of embarrassment, the fact that he recollected his previous lives and saw the death and rebirth of beings according to their karma? Th at would be a cover up, a bowdlerized version of the teaching. And these knowledges weren’t unique to the Buddha himself. During the Buddha’s time, many of his disciples also realized these knowledges, and there are indeed meditators even today who attain them. Th ese knowledges don’t serve the purpose of entertainment, either, but contribute towards the destruction of the āsavas (taints, infl uxes, outfl ows). When one sees one’s many past lives, one sees how one repeatedly goes through the cycle of birth, aging and death; how one takes up so many false, transient identities, gives each one up, goes through growth, romance, relationships, separation, then decay and death. Everything appears as an ever-changing, shifting stream of appearances and forms. When one sees with the divine eye the death and rebirth of beings as a process governed by their karma, how they fall from higher realms to lower realms, and then rise up, and fall again, one obtains an extraordinarily vivid picture of samsāra. Th is strengthens the understanding of dukkha, the fi rst noble truth, the truth of suff ering, and thereby the understanding of all four noble truths. Th at truth of suff ering isn’t just about: ‘’When I miss the bus, I get upset.” “When my children don’t follow my instructions, I get annoyed.” “When I stub my toe, I get angry.” “When I have to sing in front of a group, I feel embarrassed.” Of course, all that is dukkha, but the deeper meaning of dukkha is this ever-changing, empty flow of five aggregates, a changing kaleidoscopic of empty phenomena, the rolling on of bare “formations” (sankhārā) from life to life.
The scheme for arranging the Buddha’s teaching I would like to share with you today is based on a short text in the Anguttara Nikāya:
Monks, abandon the unwholesome. I tell you it is possible to abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible to abandon the unwholesome, I would not tell you to do so. But it is possible to abandon the unwholesome. Th erefore, I tell you, abandon the unwholesome. (A 2:2.9)
Unwholesome conduct is summed up in the ten unwholesome deeds of body, speech and mind, which are explained in many places (e.g., M 41). Th en there are unwholesome states that constantly arise in the mind, in day-today life, that have to be dealt with through meditation. One list is the sixteen upakkilesas, sometimes called the “minor defilements” of the mind (listed, e.g., in M 7), followed by the five hindrances, which we find in many texts. At the deeper level there are the three (in early lists) or four (in later lists) āsavas and the seven dormant tendencies (anusaya).
But I don’t want to dwell on the unwholesome types just now. This might reinforce the perception of Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, as negative, over-obsessed with the dark side of human nature. You probably have students who have left the Protestant fold after being told, “All sinners are condemned to hell,” or who have left the Catholic church after hearing, “You are stamped with original sin.” If they turn to Buddhism and are immediately told, “You have seven underlying tendencies, four āsavas, five hindrances, three unwholesome roots, and ten fetters,” they’ll conclude: “Wow! Perhaps I should just settle for the one original sin.”
I suggest instead that we place more emphasis on developing what I call “the power of the wholesome,” taking joy in the wholesome. This Anguttara text encourages us to do just that:
Develop the wholesome. It is possible to develop the wholesome. If it were not possible to develop the wholesome, I would not tell you to do so. But because it is possible to develop the wholesome, therefore, I tell you develop the wholesome. (A 2:2.9)
I have taken the wholesome qualities and put them into three main categories, each governed by a different principle.
The Bases of Merit
The first group of wholesome deeds in Buddhism is called the ten bases of merit. The suttas speak of three bases of merit; the commentaries then extend the list to ten:
1) Giving or generosity (dāna).
2) Moral conduct (sīla).
3) Meditative development (bhāvanā). Here, meditative development is considered as a cause or basis for merit that leads to a favorable rebirth rather than as a means to enlightenment. Meditative development of this sort is considered principally as the devotional meditations, such as recollection of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, or as the four divine abodes (brahmavihāra).
4) Reverence: toward those worthy of reverence, like honoring the Buddha, stupas, elders, venerable monks and nuns, and one’s parents.
5) Service: doing service to others, anything helpful and beneficial to others, any kind of self-sacrificial labor for the good and benefit of others. In a way, service is an extension of giving, but the commentaries make it an item in its own right.
“I suggest we place more emphasis on taking joy in the wholesome.”
6) Sharing one’s merits with others. When one does meritorious deeds, one invites other beings to rejoice in one’s meritorious deeds. One can’t actually transfer the merits to others, but one mentally requests others to acknowledge one’s deeds and rejoice in the merits.
7) Rejoicing in the merit of others: When one sees or hears about others doing good deeds, one rejoices in those meritorious deeds, or tries to help them and support them in those meritorious deeds.
8 Listening to the Dhamma. In ancient times, this was the way one learned because there were no printed books. But today we can even include studying the Dhamma in this base of merit, if one is studying with the aim of understanding the Dhamma as a guide to life and not just as a subject of research.
9) Teaching the Dhamma.
10) Straightening out one’s view, which can be done by listening to the Dhamma, studying the Dhamma, reflection, and by insight meditation.
The Bases of Merit are governed by what I call “the principle of fortunate retribution,” the law that wholesome activities create wholesome karma, and this in turn leads to fortunate results in the future. Wholesome activities will lead to a fortunate rebirth, and to fortunate circumstances within that rebirth.
The perfections (pāramis) are ten qualities that one has to develop both in daily life and through meditation practice. These qualities are seen primarily as contributing to the development of a noble character, to the upliftment and transformation of character.
They enable one to bring one’s character into accord with the noble ideals of the Dhamma. They are:
2) moral conduct,
9) loving-kindness and
The one who fulfills the pāramis to the ultimate degree is the perfectly enlightened Buddha (sammā sambuddha), who has become like a perfectly crafted diamond, with each pārami in balance with the others, just as
“I encourage you all to bring at least as much attention to the cultivation of what is wholesome as to the abandoning of the unwholesome.”
each facet of the diamond is balanced with every other facet. Disciples fulfill the pāramis to different levels, but everyone who wants to reach the liberating path has to develop them to a sufficient degree. So these pāramis provide a useful scheme for understanding the wholesome qualities we need to implement in our daily lives in order to develop as worthy human beings in the noble Dhamma. The pāramis, in my scheme, represent “the principle of conservation of energy” in the spiritual domain. As one continually develops these qualities and pursues the goal of enlightenment by the practice of the pāramis, the energy inherent in wholesome qualities is conserved and accumulates from life to life until it is sufficient to permit a breakthrough to realization.
Student: Is it true the pāramis are not mentioned together in any sutta?
That is so. One doesn’t find the pāramis mentioned in the old Nikāyas. They first appear in a later stratum of the Sutta Pitaka, in such texts as the Cariyāpitaka and the Buddhavamsa. The idea of the pāramis probably arose in the early Buddhist schools even before the rise of the Mahayana. This idea was originally introduced to schematize the virtues a bodhisattva perfects to reach Buddhahood, but it was later extended to signify the qualities that have to be developed by any practitioner in order to reach any kind of enlightenment. The pāramis explain how our moral qualities build up an inner force from life to life, gain momentum, and then become integral components of our character.
The Aids to Enlightenment
Now we come to the third group, the thirty-seven bodhipakkhiyā dhammā. These are thirty-seven states, factors, or aids to enlightenment, arranged in seven groups. The popular name for them now has become “wings to enlightenment,” though this is not literal. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has published a helpful book about them called The Wings to Awakening, which collects numerous sutta passages on each of the seven groups. These are the things that initially contribute to enlightenment, and then, at the most advanced stage, become the factors that precipitate the experience of enlightenment itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the basic groups: 1) the four foundations of mindfulness; 2) the four right efforts; 3) the four bases for spiritual potency; 4) the five faculties; 5) the five powers; 6) the seven factors of enlightenment; and 7) the eight factors of the noble eightfold path.
Of these thirty-seven factors, four occur repeatedly in the different lists: energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. It is these factors, rooted in faith or trust, that bring realization of the Dhamma. First they bring gradual insights into dependent origination, impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). Then, at the peak of their development, they bring the breakthrough beyond the conditioned to the unconditioned—nibbāna.
Student: I wonder if you could say more about the way faith is understood in Buddhist context. So often in a western context it’s associated with belief and dogma, but I know in Buddhism there is also the sense of confidence.
The Pali word saddhā, which I translate as “faith” rather than “confidence,” doesn’t suggest belief in dogmas. I know some people who come from Christian backgrounds struggle with “faith” as a translation, but for me this word has a richer emotional nuance than confidence. In my translation scheme I use the word “confidence” to render the Pali word pasāda, which seems to fit well. Pasāda suggests the clarity and tranquility of
mind that come when one meets a teacher whom one trusts. I take saddhā, faith, to be faith in the Triple Gem, particularly in the Buddha as the Fully Enlightened One, the one who has fully understood the ultimate truths that bring the resolution of our existential predicament. It also means trusting confidence in the Dhamma as the teaching that discloses the truth about the existential predicament and its solution, as well as the path that leads to that resolution; in other words, the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. And faith in the Sangha, that is trusting confidence in the community of noble ones, the confidence that those who have followed the teaching have personally gained wisdom and purified themselves of defilements.
Faith, as I see it, has three interwoven components: one is intellectual, one volitional, and one emotional. Of course, such separation is somewhat artificial, but with this qualification one can still speak about them separately. The intellectual component is a willingness to accept on trust the truths that the Buddha discloses, even though they might go contrary to our own habitual ways of understanding. It doesn’t mean blind belief. The way we arrive at this faith is to first test and verify for ourselves certain things the Buddha teaches that come within range of our experience. So we try out the Buddha’s teaching and find that it does bring well-being and happiness. It changes our lives for the better, so instead of being miserable, wretched, and degraded, we now feel wholesome, healthy, and strong, on the way to peace, bliss and liberation. So even though we cannot, right now, verify everything for ourselves, we have confidence that as we advance, when we develop the required faculty of wisdom, we’ll be able to validate the crux of the Dhamma and gain liberation from all suffering. That is the intellectual component of faith.
The volitional component means that faith acts upon the will, motivating one to undertake the training, to make a resolution, a commitment, a determination to follow this path without turning away, and to follow this path, not only in this life, but as long as it takes to reach the goal.
The emotional component of faith is love and devotion directed towards the Buddha, by reason of his exalted, incomparable qualities; towards the Dhamma, by reason of its beauty, purity and profundity; and towards the Sangha, by reason of the excellent qualities of its members.
To summarize briefly, I encourage you all to bring at least as much attention to the cultivation of what is wholesome as to the abandoning of the unwholesome. And you may find it a more complete and skillful means when teaching the Dhamma to others. I have sketched a very broad outline of how this might be done, and invite you to continue your own investigation of the teachings with clarity and diligence.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk originally fromNew York City. He lived in Sri Lanka for 23 years . His publications include several translations from the Pali Nikayas and most recently an anthology, In the Buddha’s Words (Wisdom 2005). He currently resides at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York (2011). Bhikkhu Bodhi is founder of the organization ( founded in 2008) “Buddhist Global Relief“, which provides relief to the poor and needy throughout the world regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religion. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that “hunger is the worst kind of illness” and “the gift of food is the gift of life.” BGR especially focuses on providing food aid to those afflicted by hunger and lack of food security. Its long-range goal, however, is to combat all the manifestations of poverty that detract from the inherent dignity of human life.
The Buddha said there were Four Foundations of Mindfulness, that can overcome our sorrow, our lamentation, destroy our suffering and grief, and guide us towards the attainment of Nirvana. He explained this in the ‘Satipatthana Sutta’, from the ‘Majjhima Nikaya 10’. This is an edited summary.
by Ajahn Sumedho
“Metta is not blinding; it means that you are willing to admit weaknesses, faultswithin your experience of life, without making that into anything. It’s a clarity: the mind is clear, radiant, bright and reflective, rather than just a pink cloud that we blot out every ugly thing with. That’s not metta, that’s projecting a pink cloud from your mind”
WHEN WE USE THE REFLECTIVE CAPACITY, we can see the way things are – even in the most ordinary things. If we forget and get caught up in our desires and fears, we don’t really notice the obvious; we’re just caught up in a world of our own creation. Things can be wonderful on a conditioned plane sometimes, but if we’re too lost in fear or desire, we’re not even aware of it. I see that in many people; everything’s perfectly all right, nothing wrong, but they’re completely caught in a mood, lost in some kind of desire or fear. So they’re not aware any more, not mindful of the way things are; they’re lost in proliferations which they create. Because our tendency is to do this, we need to keep reminding ourselves, establishing mindfulness around the way things are right now.
Reflection allows us to see that all our hopes or fears for the future are merely what they are in the present: they’re perceptions that go through the mind. They’re not anything to give any great importance to. Some things seem more significant than others, but that’s just the way it is; it’s not anything we need to grasp. So our way is always being fully with the way it is now, with the body the way it is now, with the world the way it is now; the mood, the conditions of the mind, to know them as they are now, for what they are. Anger is just anger, it’s no longer a person, it’s just what it is. If there’s anger in the present, then it’s just that.
In your meditation, as you feel calm and your mind starts feeling very peaceful and serene, then maybe nasty thoughts, or angry, irritable thoughts enter your mind; and of course, in contrast to the more exalted feelings that one might be having, these are not wanted, are they? Especially if you’ve been abiding in rather peaceful and serene mental states, then these rather selfish, unkind, irritable, unpleasant thoughts are unwanted. But ‘reflection’ means that we see them as just what they are, whether it’s an exalted thought – some lovely, altruistic thought – or some selfish, petty thought. When we reflect on it, it’s just what it is: it arises and it ceases. So we can bear with the pettiness and the irritations. We can be patient and reflect on it rather than suppress it or react to it.
As we begin to understand the mind more and more, and abide in the purity of being in the present, we can feel a kind of goodwill, or metta, towards all creatures. I like this word ‘goodwill’, because metta is a very positive radiance of mind where you’re radiating goodwill outwards, you’re wishing people well and what is good. It’s a generous act, a giving forth – willing that which is good towards people. We have this power to will things, don’t we? We have the will-power, and this can be used as a radiance from the mind, from the heart, towards all beings. When our life isn’t a reaction any more to pleasure and pain, when it’s not conditioned by indulgence and suppression, then we find we can use our will-power, not for any personal gain, but for the welfare of all others – compassion. The radiant heart radiates outwards because there’s no personal interest in it any more, it’s all-encompassing, it goes towards everything, the whole, rather than just to selfish interests. It’s like praying, isn’t it? Willing good, the best and the kindest, the finest, the most beautiful wishes and feelings, to those we feel gratitude towards. If we want to offer something to those that we feel grateful to, then metta is radiating from our hearts, a radiant quality.
The universe is energy. The sun is energy and it radiates. It’s a radiant star that is the focal point for our solar system; the sun itself is a symbol of this for us. Its warmth, its brilliance, its radiant quality is what keeps things alive and growing, and if the sun went out, it would all fall apart.
But when we’re introverted into selfish desires and fears, then of course we have no radiance, we turn sallow, our faces go flat and we become quite ugly. We become masks of desire and fear, because selfishness means the radiant quality can’t get out any more – it’s all locked up in miserable states of selfish desire and fear. You notice that selfish people, people who are caught into their desires, have no radiant quality to them, and they’re repulsive. They have more of a repelling quality than an attractive one. When you go to London you can see how people are so heedless with their bodies: in the way they try to make them attractive for lustful reasons, or for ego reinforcement. And that looks gross, doesn’t it? When you see the true radiance of the heart, then that other thing is quite repulsive, because it’s a mask, it’s low, it’s not truly generous, it’s still coming from the self view, sakkayaditthi.
As a spiritually developing being, one has to really contemplate in one’s own life how to develop the right relationship with people: with one’s parents and relatives, friends, and with society. This includes the willingness to forgive any wrongs done, the willingness to completely let go. Even though emotionally these things might still be painful, we accept the pain. With the heart, now, we’re willing to suffer, accept this unpleasant feeling in the heart. We learn how to bear with that, how to even welcome it, so it’s no longer something that we dread or resent but something that we fully accept and embrace. So then, on the conventional level – of mother and father, husband, wife, children, friends, enemies, all this – we practise metta. We can radiate this quite intentionally in the sense of actually sitting and concentrating at the heart to radiate outwards goodwill, good thoughts.
This isn’t clinical Buddhism. This is a practice, a devotional practice from the heart rather than from the intellect. But we need both: one doesn’t cancel out the other. Sometimes in religion we tend to think that either it’s all love or it’s all wisdom. ‘God is love, everything is love, the way is love’ – that’s the heartfelt form of religious experience. And then, the way of wisdom: that can seem like impersonal, cold-hearted analysis of the mind, and we feel a sense of loss in regards to the intuitive feelings of love, compassion. But remember that we’re transcending, we’re not attaching to love and compassion as ends in themselves, nor to wisdom. It’s the way of non-attachment, so that both are valid practices. If you have just a practice of love and compassion alone, without wisdom, there’s no way of understanding things as they are. You’re merely developing a way of loving-radiance. So when it comes to being able to explain, or to fully understand the truth of the way it is, you don’t know it. All you can do is practise your devotions, and that often tends towards to a sliding back into superstition, rites and rituals. If it’s not combined with wisdom, it becomes merely a series of rituals and rites, and one starts feeling guilty if one isn’t praying every day, or radiating metta throughout the universe. All these can become very fixed in the mind if you haven’t developed wisdom to understand the nature of the mind.
But then, wisdom without love: if we’re just looking analytically, then we can understand everything theoretically, but on the level of feeling we’ve repressed, we don’t have a radiance, we just have a brilliant understanding. You can figure it all out and come out with some really impressive theories, insights even. But on the level of everyday life, we can’t live in an abstract world. We have to relate to unknown things, to changing nature, the movement and flow and flux of being, to the infinite variety of the sensory world of changing conditions, and types of people and personalities, and qualities. You can’t spend your time trying to fit everything into rational terminology, thinking that that’s the way to understand.
The opening of the heart allows us to be in the flow and movement, and the change: to be with conditions as we perceive them. Conditions are impermanent, aren’t they? They arise and cease. So that to be fully open to the arising and cessation of the conditioned world, you have to be with it rather than trying to perceive it. Because you can perceive the beginning and the end, but most of what we are actually experiencing is beyond perception, it’s just as it is. Like the perceptions we have: they arise, and fix on a certain quality, a certain position; but mindfulness means that we can actually be with the changing-ness of the sensory world which has no perception. That’s why we have to use words like ‘suchness’ and ‘as-is-ness’ to remind ourselves to be with the flow and movement rather than to be attached to perceptions as reality.
Now, the rational mind tends to think: ‘Well, I’m spreading metta to my mother over in California, but is she really benefiting from that? If we could get some kind of electronic instrument, we could hook it up to my old mother, and then, while I’m spreading metta over here at Amaravati, see if there’s any visible qualitative effect upon her.’ The rational mind wants to measure, because if there’s nothing, if she’s not feeling it, then why bother, why delude ourselves, why pretend? The rational mind thinks in terms of quantity and quality – and if something doesn’t have a quantity or quality, then it’s worthless, useless! But I know this: that if I tell my mother I love her, I don’t have to keep telling her, calling her on the telephone three times a day – she’s not a stupid person – if I say, ‘I’ve spread metta to you every day, I send my goodwill to you every day.’ I know that makes her feel happy, I see it in her face when I visit her and I don’t have to have a special instrument to measure it.
It’s just good sense, isn’t it? Mothers like to be told that they’re loved. I like to be told I’m loved and I’m not even a mother! So, when I’m sending goodwill every morning to my mother in California and wondering if she’s really feeling it – that doesn’t matter, does it? That’s just the desire to have a result and to know for sure about something; it’s not the quality of faith (saddha) and trust. To me, it’s a lot better use of time to send metta to my mother, or to other beings, than to sit around thinking of myself. To spend all the time just thinking about me, and worrying about this and that . . . that really is the way towards depression and despair. And yet we might think it’s worth spending the whole day thinking about ourselves rather than radiating metta, because we find ourselves probably more significant than anyone else.
At first metta needs to be something we radiate to ourselves, willing good to this being here, because this creature is the most significant one for us. Maybe we’d rather have metta for our mothers, or for some inspiring figure. It’s easier sometimes to send goodwill to some wonderful person or to masses of people like Ethiopians or a billion Chinese. But we have to admit that, in this lifetime, this being is the most significant being for ourselves. This is the being that was born, that we are with all the time. So we admit that. It’s not a selfish practice, metta for oneself; it’s not for selfish gain, it’s just the willingness to respect and to learn how live in the right way with these conditions.
Metta has no limits: first it’s directed towards oneself, and then it radiates outwards to all beings. And so we can visualise in our minds: our parents, our teachers, the rulers of the country, friends, enemies, the sun and moon, the seen and the unseen. It has no limit – anything you can imagine: all the unfortunate beings in the world, the miserable, unwanted, unloved beings; the beautiful, loveable beings; the animal kingdom, the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky; the heavenly beings and the devils. Using these terms is a way of expanding our consciousness to where the thoughts can’t reach. The Buddhist cosmology really takes thought to its limit in extremes, from the highest formless realm of ‘neither perception nor non-perception’ to the lowest, most miserable, painful realm of hell. And that’s about where your ability to perceive stops.
The Buddhist cosmology is a kind of scheme of perception, taking us to the extremes of positive and negative, of ultimate refinement, and ultimate coarseness. And because metta is using our ability to radiate thoughts of goodwill, then of course thoughts are what we’re using. We’re thinking of, say, the animal kingdom, of animals like cats and dogs, budgies and horses; the animals that we don’t eat, but that we love. We don’t eat cats, do we? We wouldn’t eat our favourite horse, it would be unthinkable! So it’s very easy to have metta for animals we love. Cats and dogs are easier to like than people: some people prefer cats to people! Then there are the animals that we eat and that we exploit, like sheep and cattle, goats and chickens. Just think of battery chickens, thousands of wretched hens caught in hell, unmitigated misery for their lifetime. But then these chickens are providing eggs, so we eat their eggs. And then there are sheep, we eat their meat and we use their wool; and the cows’ milk, and pigs – all these are animals that we use just for survival in the human community. So, metta for them – they give a lot to us, don’t they? But how many people really think of thanking them for it, of sending goodwill to them and expressing gratitude for all the good things we get and the benefits we have from these animals?
Gratitude is a beautiful quality to have in our mind, to really bring into consciousness what a benefit these animals are to us and how little we ever fully recognise or do anything for them. Well, we could get a kind of rebellious, revolutionary impulse and go over some night, raid the battery houses in the nearby farm and let all the hens out. Free them! Liberate them! That’s it, that’s real metta! But all those poor wretched creatures wouldn’t know what to do, they’d die if you just let them out. So it might be a seemingly kind act, this idea of liberating them, but those chickens are not ready for freedom because they wouldn’t know how to survive, they would just be terrified and lost. But we can reflect and send goodwill to them – nobody can stop us from doing that. And we can develop a way of life so that eventually this sort of unkind, exploitative activity will lessen. The more we are aware and compassionate, the more we realise there are all kinds of ways and means of letting go of those kinds of exploitative activities and unnecessary cruelty.
Here in Britain we can reflect that this country allows us to live as Buddhists; it’s a benevolent country. Even though we might have a lot of views and opinions about it on the negative side, overall it’s all right, there’s nothing terribly wrong with it, even if it’s not perfect. But now we’re no longer looking at it critically. We’re not saying what’s wrong with Mrs. Thatcher and the Conservative Party, or British politics, or the social problems of the country, the economics and all that – because that’s endlessly complicated and gets you nowhere, if that’s all you do. Thinking about all the political, economic, social problems of any country whatsoever will take you to despair, because they’re just endless. But an overall reflection isn’t denying what’s wrong, or the faults and flaws in the system. The government here tends towards being benevolent, and the majority of people would rather have goodwill for each other, they’d rather be fair to each other, they want justice and fairness, mercy. Whether they actually feel like that all the time under every situation is something else; but that’s the general ideal of the population as far as I can tell.
So how can we help the government of this country? Metta is something we can spread every day: sending goodwill to the government, to Mrs. Thatcher, to the Members of Parliament, House of Commons, House of Lords; willing good to them so that as we approach each other with goodwill, then all the fears and anxieties and threats diminish. If we just look at Mrs. Thatcher with a critical eye and hate her because she doesn’t agree with our views, and want to get rid of her, and complain, then of course she reacts very strongly to that kind of treatment. Just as if I just criticise you and pick away at you all the time, then what happens? You dig in your heels and become more stubborn; unless you’re really mindful, you become more difficult. Because even if I’m right about it – even if you are doing things wrong – if I’m always on your back nagging away at you, it’s not providing you with any kind of opportunity to rise up to a situation. All you’re doing is feeling worse and worse, and then your rebelliousness is just a reaction, so you might do even worse things just to spite me! This tendency to dwell endlessly on what’s wrong and blame others, creates the very conditions for the increasing of misery. But when we regard people as intelligent, mature beings – even if they aren’t that way all the time – we give them the benefit of the doubt, and most people will rise to a situation if they have the opportunity to do so.
Metta is not a blinding kind of quality, it’s the willingness to admit the fault without dwelling on it, without being obsessed with what’s wrong. Like metta for yourself. It doesn’t mean that you say: ‘I’m all right and I’m perfect and there’s nothing wrong,’ it means that you are quite willing to admit weaknesses, faults within your experience of life, without making that into anything. It’s a clarity: the mind is clear, radiant, bright and reflective, rather than just a pink cloud that we blot out every ugly thing with. That’s not metta, that’s projecting a pink cloud from your mind!
In the course of your practice, you can start contemplating your relationship with your parents. It would really be good to let your parents know that you love them, which doesn’t mean that you agree with them or like everything that they do. Metta means that you’re not going to create a problem about the flaws and the weaknesses they have. You’re not going to say, ‘I love you, but I don’t like the way you do this and I don’t like the way you do that,’ because that’s just aggravating, isn’t it? ‘Yes, I love you. But you did this, and then you did that, and I didn’t approve of it, and it was terrible, and you’ve ruined so many things – but I still love you, yes!’ What does that do to your heart? Now this will release things within you, to be able to say these things quite openly and honestly. You’re not asking for them to even like it. You’re not saying, ‘I love you,’ and then expecting them to change suddenly overnight and be what you want, because that isn’t love, is it? That’s a deal! ‘I love you if you love me; if you don’t love me, I don’t love you.’ But this metta isn’t a kind of deal we’re making with anyone: we’re not expecting anything back from it, we’re not demanding any good result, even for ourselves. We’re not practising metta just to have a happy mind. There’s no radiance to that, because that kind of metta – although it’s better than nothing – still lacks the radiance of a mind which makes no demand. With that mind you’re not even asking to be happy or have any happy moments in your life whatsoever, because you’re willing to just work with life, to forgive, and give forth goodwill.
When we relate to each other like this, it has a good effect on our minds. But that’s not what we’re doing it for, it’s worth doing in its own right, just as it is. If we’re doing it for a good result, it will be disappointing, because immediately selfish thoughts come in (and that’s not a good result!); there will always be some form of suffering, or dukkha. We become discontented about it: ‘Well, I’ve been sending goodwill to that person for years now, and they still hate me. Haven’t got anything out of it, better stop!’ Then our goodwill is being sent with the idea of gaining something, of demand, expecting that they will appreciate it. That’s why it’s important to understand the nature of the mind, so that you begin to see the problem of selfish view (sakkayaditthi). That is going to put a damper on every experience; it’s always going to spoil every moment of your life as long as you’re deluded in this way. You could be with the Buddha himself, and yet, with sakkayaditthi, you wouldn’t even know it, you’d still be wretched. If Gotama Buddha came in here right now and sat down, and you were filled with selfish view, you’d be saying, ‘Venerable Sir, why aren’t there any Buddhas around?’
With people whom we have a lot or resentment of bitterness towards, metta is a way of forgiving and reminding ourselves to let go of it. It’s not dismissing or suppressing, but a reflection in forgiving and letting go of the perception. Start perceiving these people with metta, rather than just being overwhelmed with bitterness and resentment. Even if you can’t feel any real positive thing, metta needn’t be all that magnificent. It can be just being patient and not making any kind of problem about it. It doesn’t mean you like people who have been really rotten and unfair to you, or those whom you can’t like. Yet you can be kind to them; you can forgive, you can do what is right and generous to them – even if you don’t like them.
‘Liking’ is something else. To like somebody, you have to feel attracted. You don’t like your enemies. If somebody wants to do you in, you’re not going to want to be with them. If somebody wants to stab you, that perception isn’t one that makes you like them. If somebody wants to do me in, I’d rather keep a distance; that’s only natural. But then we can rise above the sensory reaction, towards metta, which is a way of being patient, forgiving, doing what is right to do, what is appropriate to that situation. If somebody whom I don’t like comes in, and I start thinking, ‘I don’t like you, and I don’t like this and I don’t like that,’ then I’m creating something onto the scene, I’m getting caught up in a mood of aversion to them and being carried away with it. But if somebody comes in and I feel this impulse of dislike, I can be fully aware of it, not denying it; I can accept it without adding anything to it. Then I can do what is appropriate, what is kind or generous in this circumstance. That’s from the cool mind, from the mind that is open, receptive, not caught up in selfish view. Sakkayaditthi will say, ‘You did this and you did that and you shouldn’t have, and you should have, and you don’t really like me, you never understood me . . .!’ When sakkayaditthi rants away, don’t trust that. Sakkayaditthi is totally untrustworthy.
It is important, in our lives, to straighten out any wrongs we’ve done. When I became a samanera (novice) in Thailand one Thai monk told me: ‘Before you take on the samanera training, you should try to straighten everything out. Anybody you’ve done any harm to, or any wrong to, you should write to them, or see them, and ask forgiveness.’ I thought, well, having had a very unhappy marriage in which I did a lot of unkind things, I’d better write to my former wife – so I did. I used to blame her a lot for everything, but I realised then that it wasn’t a matter of blaming her, because that would just end up in arguments, so I just wrote this letter and apologised for any wrongs that I did, and wished her well. I wasn’t expecting any kind of reply, or for her to respond in any positive way – which she didn’t, not for ten years, anyway. Ten years later I got a letter from her! She apologised to me – a very lovely letter.
In this way, even if we are one per cent wrong and they are ninety-nine per cent wrong, even if we are one per cent at fault and the other person is ninety-nine per cent definitely at fault, then we apologise. We take the attitude that we are totally at fault, and we apologise for that and say, ‘Please forgive me for being so stupid and selfish and foolish.’ Because if you say, ‘I apologise for my one per cent, can you forgive me for that? I was only one per cent at fault and you were ninety-nine per cent, but I want you to forgive me for that niggling, not-very-important one per cent.’ that would make them even angrier!
It’s not as if you’re lying about it, it’s not a matter of weighing how much, the quantity isn’t the important thing any more. It’s the way it’s done, the expression, the sincerity, the metta behind it; it’s a thing of the heart, not of the head. That usually helps to really change situations, and people will suddenly say, ‘Oh yes, well I wasn’t so good myself, I really did some pretty horrible things, I want you to forgive me.’ It gives them the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
You’re giving them the opportunity – whether they take it or not is up to them – but at least you’re not putting them in a corner by making any demands. You’re just asking for forgiveness, apologising. And that’s a relief for the heart, because if you don’t release its tensions, the body just gets more and more tense and miserable. It’s only through this going to the heart of the matter, this practice of metta, goodwill, of being able to forgive and ask for forgiveness in humility, that this whole formation is allowed to relax. Then we can really develop our spiritual life and not be caught in these terrible, unresolved, worldly problems.
There’s pride involved, isn’t there? You can see pride arising, and that’s not easy to admit, especially if you feel that someone else was at fault: ‘His fault mainly – of course I did a little bit, but it was really him, I mean, he was really . . .. I mean, why should I apologise to him . . .?’ That’s pride, isn’t it? That’s selfish view, sakkayaditthi. ‘Why should I apologise to her? What she did to me! She should be apologising to me, shouldn’t she?’ That is sakkayaditthi operating. Because in any relationship there’s no black and white. As long as we’re coming from ignorance, then even if we’re not the one who does the most wrong, we certainly do a lot of foolish things, a lot we can apologise for.
I was talking to my mother a couple of years ago; she’s in her eighties and a very calm and peaceful woman now, very clear in her mind, although she hasn’t always been this way. She told me that, about ten years ago when she was in her seventies, she decided that she would try to straighten out everything in her life; so that things she was feeling guilty about, or anything that she’d done wrong to anybody, no matter how long ago, she wrote to them and asked forgiveness. I remember when I was a child, I was aware of a lot of tension between my mother and the woman in the next house. And I knew that there was something that happened, and somehow it was one of those neighbourhood problems. Anyway, I’d forgotten all about it until my mother told me that she had written to this woman and asked forgiveness for her stupid behaviour. The woman wrote back and said she’d forgotten all about it, but was so glad to hear from my mother and would certainly forgive anything! You could see the effect on my mother was that she has a very easy mind now. She’ll probably die in a little while, but her mind is clear and there’s no bitterness in it. Her heart is peaceful.
And this is the result of really looking at one’s life and seeing what we need to do, how to set things right. Then, rather than having anxiety, guilt and remorse in our heart, there’s a fullness and peacefulness.
Two styles of insight meditation
Today the practice of insight meditation has become popular all around the
world, yet to achieve this popularity it has undergone a subtle metamorphosis. Perhaps the most powerful pressure that has shaped the contemporary style of teaching insight meditation has been the need to transplant the practice into a largely secular environment remote from its traditional matrix of Buddhist faith and doctrine. Rather than being presented as an integral part of the Buddhist path to deliverance from samsàra, insight meditation is now taught as a self-contained discipline whose fruits pertain more to life within the world than to absolute release from the world. Many people who have taken up insight meditation eloquently testify to the tangible benefits they have gained, benefits that range from such relatively mundane goods as stress reduction and enhanced job performance to more spiritual ends like greater calm, deeper self-knowledge, and clearer awareness of the present.
While such benefits are certainly admirable in their own right, it must nevertheless be stressed that, taken by themselves, they do not constitute the final goal that the Buddha himself holds up as the end point of his training. That goal, in the terminology of the texts, is the attainment of Nibbàna, understood as the destruction of all defilements here and now and ultimate release from the beginningless round of rebirths. While the concrete results brought forth by the secularized practice of insight meditation will also permeate the experience of one who takes up the practice within a classical Buddhist framework, success in reaping these benefits is not necessarily an indication that one is drawing close to the final goal.
Given the sceptical climate of the present age and the stress on personal experience as a guide to truth, it is quite appropriate that newcomers to the Dhamma be invited to explore the potential inherent in the practice for themselves, without having the full agenda of Buddhist doctrine thrust upon them from the start as if it were another system of dogma. However, though we may initially take up the practice of meditation with an open and undogmatic attitude, at a certain point in our practice we inevitably arrive at a crossroads where we find ourselves faced with a choice. We can either continue with the meditation based upon the initial premises from which we started, generally a purely naturalistic worldview, or we can set off along a different track that leads to full actualization of the potential inherent in the practice. If we choose the first route, we might still deepen our meditation and reap more abundantly the same type of benefits we have obtained so far — deeper calm, more equanimity, greater openness to the present. Nevertheless, as worthwhile as these benefits might be in their own right, from the standpoint of the Dhamma they remain incomplete. For the practice of insight meditation to achieve its full potential as intended by the Buddha himself, it must be encompassed by several other qualities that rivet it to the framework of the teaching.
Foremost among such qualities are the complimentary pair of faith and right view. As a component of the Buddhist path, faith (saddhà) does not mean blind belief but a willingness to accept on trust certain propositions that we cannot, at our present stage of development, personally verify for ourselves. These propositions concern both the nature of reality and the higher reaches of the path. In the traditional map of the Buddhist path, faith is placed at the beginning of the training, as the prerequisite for the later stages comprised in the triad of virtue, concentration, and wisdom. The canonical texts do not seem to envisage the possibility that a person lacking faith in the specifically Buddhist sense could take up the practice of insight meditation and reap positive results from it. Yet today such a phenomenon has become extremely widespread, as many present-day meditators make their initial contact with the Dhamma through intensive insight meditation and use their experience as a touchstone for deciding exactly how to incorporate the Dhamma into the pattern of their lives.
On the basis of this choice, we find that meditators divide into two broad camps. One consists of those who focus exclusively upon the immediately tangible benefits of the practice, suspending all concern with what lies beyond the horizons of their own experience. The other consists of those who recognize that the practice flows from a source of wisdom much deeper and broader than their own. In order to follow this wisdom in the direction to which it points, such meditators are ready to subordinate their own understanding of the world to the disclosures of the teaching and embrace the Dhamma as an organic whole. These are the ones who adopt Buddhism in its religious and doctrinal sense as the framework for their practice.
The fact that insight meditation can be earnestly practised even without the sustaining role of faith raises an interesting question never explicitly posed within the canon and commentaries. If insight meditation can be pursued solely for the sake of its immediately visible benefits, what role does faith play in the development of the path? Certainly faith, in the sense of a full acceptance of Buddhist doctrine, is not a necessary condition for the undertaking of the precepts or the practice of meditation. As we have seen, those who lack faith in the distinctively Buddhistic tenets of the Dhamma might still accept the Buddhist precepts as guidelines to right conduct and practise meditation as a way to inner happiness and peace. Thus faith must play a different role than that of a simple spur to action.
Perhaps an answer to our question will emerge if we ask, “What exactly does faith mean in the context of Buddhist practice?” It should be clear at once that faith cannot be adequately explained simply as reverence for the Buddha as a great spiritual teacher, or as some alloy of devotion, admiration, and gratitude. For while these qualities often exist alongside faith, they may all be present even when faith is absent. If we look at faith more closely, we would see that besides its emotional constituents, faith also involves an indispensable cognitive component. This component consists in a readiness to accept the Buddha as the unique discoverer and proclaimed of liberating truth. From this angle, faith is seen to involve a decision. As the word “decision” implies (“to decide” = to cut off), to place faith in something is to exercise an act of discrimination. Thus Buddhist faith entails, at least implicitly, a rejection of the claims of other spiritual teachers to be bearers of the liberating message on a par with the Buddha himself. As a decision, faith also entails acceptance, that is, a willingness to open oneself to the principles made known by the Enlightened One and accept them on trust as reliable presentations of the real nature of things and of the proper way of life.
It is this decision that marks the distinction between one who takes up the practice of insight meditation as a purely naturalistic discipline and one who takes it up within the framework of Buddhist faith. The former, by suspending any judgment about the picture of the human condition imparted by the Buddha, limits the fruits of the practice to those that are compatible with a purely naturalistic worldview. The latter, by accepting the Buddha’s own picture of the human condition, gains access to the goal held up by the Buddha as the final fruit of the practice, complete deliverance of mind and the realization of Nibbàna.
The second pillar that supports the practice of insight meditation is the cognitive counterpart of faith, namely, right view (sammà ditthi). Though the word “view” might suggest that the practitioner actually sees the principles considered to be “right,” at the outset of the training this is seldom the case. For all but a few exceptionally gifted disciples, “right view” initially means right belief, the acceptance of principles and doctrines out of confidence in the enlightenment of the Buddha. Though Buddhist modernists often claim that the Buddha said that one should believe only what one can see and verify for oneself, no such statement is found in the Pali Canon. What the Buddha does say is that one should not accept his teachings blindly but should inquire into their meaning and attempt to realize their truth for oneself. There are, however, many principles taught by the Buddha as essential to right understanding that we cannot, at the outset of training, ascertain for ourselves. These are by no means unimportant, but define the entire framework of the Buddha’s programmed of deliverance. They delineate the deeper dimensions of the suffering from which we need release, point in the direction where true liberation lies, and prescribe with pinpoint precision the steps to be followed to arrive at the liberating wisdom.
These principles include the tenets of both “mundane” and “transcendent” right view. Mundane right view is the type of correct understanding that leads to a fortunate destination within the round of rebirths. It involves an acceptance of the principles of kamma and its fruit; of the distinction between meritorious and evil actions; of the vast expanse and multiple domains of samsàra within which rebirth may occur. Transcendent right view is the view leading to liberation from samsàra in its entirety. It entails understanding the Four Noble Truths in their deeper dimensions, as offering not merely a diagnosis of psychological distress but a description of samsàric bondage and a programme for final release. It also involves understanding dependent origination as an account of the causal dynamism of samsàra; recognizing the inadequacy in all conditioned modes of being; and accepting Nibbàna as the sphere that offers final deliverance from suffering.
While the actual techniques for practising insight meditation may be identical whether it be pursued as a purely naturalistic discipline or taken up as an integral part of the Buddha’s path, the two styles of practice will nevertheless differ profoundly with respect to the results those techniques are capable of yielding. When practised conscientiously within the framework of a naturalistic understanding, insight meditation will bring greater calm, understanding, and equanimity. It will purify the mind of the coarser layers of defilements and can culminate in a tranquil acceptance of life’s vicissitudes coupled with a capacity for compassionate action. Thus this style of practice should not be disparaged. However, practice in this style will still remain confined to the sphere of the conditioned; it will still be tied to the round of wholesome kamma and its fruit. It is only when insight meditation is buttressed from below by deep faith in the Buddha as the perfectly enlightened teacher, and illuminated from above by the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings, that it acquires the power to cut away all the fetters that have kept us in bondage through beginningless time. It then becomes the key to open the doors to the Deathless, to winning a freedom that can never be lost. With this, insight meditation transcends the limits of the conditioned, transcends even itself, and arrives at its proper goal: the unconditioned truth of Nibbàna, final release from all fetters and from the round of birth,aging, and death.
BPS Newsletter, No. 45, 2000,
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It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it. So you should be grateful that you have a sign or a warning signal to show you the weak point in your practice.
There are several poor ways of practice which you should understand. Usually when you practice zazen, you become very idealistic, and you set up an ideal or goal which you strive to attain and fulfill. But as I have often said, this is absurd. When you are idealistic, you have some gaining idea within yourself; by the time you attain your ideal or goal, your gaining idea will create another ideal.
So as long as your practice is based on a gaining idea, and you practice zazen in an idealistic way, you will have no time actually to attain your ideal.
Moreover, you will be sacrificing the meat of your practice. Because your attainment is always ahead, you will always be sacrificing yourself now for some ideal in the future. You end up with nothing. This is absurd; it is not adequate practice at all. But even worse than this idealistic attitude is to practice zazen in competition with someone else. This is a poor, shabby kind of practice.
Our Soto way puts an emphasis on shikan taza, or “just sitting.” Actually we do not have any particular name for our practice; when we practice zazen we just practice it, and whether we find joy in our practice or not, we just do it…
“When our mind works freely without any hindrance, and is at liberty to ‘come’ or to ‘go’, we attain Samadhi of Prajna, or liberation. Such a state is called the function of ‘thoughtlessness’. But to refrain from thinking of anything, so that all thoughts are suppressed, is to be Dharma-ridden, and this is an erroneous view.”
Bodhidharma was a great master from suthern India. He first arrived in China by sea in the Song Dynasty. Later, in the Liang Dyansaty, he crossed the Yangtze River and arived in Loyang, the capital of Bei Wei Dyansty. He went to the Shao Lin Monastery in Songshan. There is a lengend that he meditated and contemplated in front of a wall there for nine years. As a result, he became known as the “Brahmana (Holy One) who gazes at the wall.”
He taught the Mahayana way of meditation and did not emphasis on the studies of doctrines and sutras. He did not show much interest in Buddhist rituals or ceremonies. His emphasis was to practice meditation. His teachings were based on the Lankavatara Sutra, which emphasises on the “Direct exploration of the human mind, penetration of the truth and attainment of Buddhahood.”
However , this method is very deep and profound. It is not easy to practice. Only a few people, such as Venerable Hui Ke, managed to learn the method from him.
In the Tang Dynasty, Bodhidharma’s method of meditation had passed down to its fifth generation. It was mastered by Venerable Hong Ren of the Dong Shan Monastery in Huangmei. By that time, the meditatin method was reasonably well develooped.
Lu Hui Neng from Lingnan came to the Dong Shan Monastery. There he worked and practiced at the same time. He was illiterate and had not studied the doctrines. However, he practised meditation and contemplated whole heartedly. During one examination, he created the following poem:
There is no true Bodhi tree,
Nor is there a true mirror stand
Since all is empty in nature,
Where is there for dust to land?
This poem gained the praise of Venerable Hong Ren. He felt that Hui Neng has mastered the principle of Bodhidharma’s teaching. After Hui Neng returned to the south, he resided at the Nab Hua Monastery in Caoxi Shan and propagated the meditation method of Bodhidharma and the method of “Sudden Enlightenment”. From then on, the School of Chan became popular. It became the most powerful and most influential school in Chinese Buddhism. Hui Neng gained the title of the Sixth Patriarch. He is regarded as a great Master who exerted the most significant influence on Chinese Buddhism and culture.Source: From Selected Translations of Miao Yun Part 4 ( Revised Edition) Venerable Yin-shun see Hwa Tsang Buddhist Monastery for more information on Miao Yun publications.
“Do not concern yourself with whether or not you will become enlightened.
Do not concern yourself with existence and non-existence, with inside and outside and in-between.
Do not concern yourself with “stopping” [shammata/samatha]and “observing” [vipashyana/vipasyana].
Do not concern yourself with whether [this method of reciting the buddha-name] is the same or not the same as other Buddhist methods.
If the feeling of doubt does not arise, do not concern yourself with who it is or who it is not [who is reciting the buddha-name]. Simply go on reciting the buddha-name with unified mind and unified intent without a break, pure and unmixed.”
Throw Everything into the Ocean
You must believe that everything is due to past causes. Throw everything into the ocean: not only favorable events and adversities, and your failures and successes, but even life and death.
Do not be worried or afraid. Gather up your body and mind, turn your awareness around and reflect within on the fundamental meditation point: Who is reciting the buddha-name?This is the most important thing to remember!