In the Bahudhàtuka Sutta (MN 115), the Buddha explains that there are actually eighteen physical and mental elements. These are six triads of elements where each triad is composed of a sense object (the external sense bases), a sense organ (the internal sense bases), and the six related sense-consciousnesses (viññāṇa):
1. There is the element of the eyes as a visual organ
2. The form element as an objective visual
3. Eye-consciousness as the cognizance of the form perceived by the eyes
4. The ear element, or the ears as auditory organs
5. The element of sounds or audible objects
6. Ear-consciousness as the cognizance of the sounds perceived by the ears
7. The nose element as the olfactory organ
8. The element of aromas, scents, odors, fragrances, etc.
9. The nose-consciousness as the cognizance of the oflactive objects sensed by the nose
10. The tongue element as the gustatory organ
11. The elements of tastes, flavors, etc.
12. The tongue-consciousness as the cognizance of gustation sensed by the tongue
13. The body element as the tactile organ
14. The tangible element of touch, contact, etc.
15. Body-consciousness as the cognizance of the tangible objects sensed through body-contact
16. The mind element as consciousness and discernment
17. The element of mental objects (mano-dhātu) such as intellect, ideas, thought-processes, etc.
18. The mind-consciousness element (mano-viññāna-dhātu) as cognizance itself, or that which discerns
As a more concise, alternative description, the Buddha condensed these eighteen elements into only six descriptive natural elements. These include the four great elements that most people are familiar with – earth, air/wind, sea/water, and fire. Some traditions include a fifth element such as akasha/aether/sky/space/etc. These four classical elements (dhātu or mahā-bhūta), as well as the fifth, are also found within Buddhism. There is also a sixth element, which is consciousness. However, these elements themselves are more properly understood to be categories of sensorial qualities which are used to relate to the sensible physical world, rather than as substances. Therefore, these six elements can be understood as:
1. The Earth Element, or everything solid (pathavī) in the body, such as sense organs, hairs, teeth, tendons, bones, etc.
2. The Water Element, or all that is liquid (āpo) within the body. This is quite a bit, considering that up to 60% of the human body is water, while the brain itself is composed of about 70% water.
3. The Fire Element, or the heat (tejo) energy in the body. This can be related to body temperature, metabolism, temper, etc.
4. The Air Element, or everything internal that is in like wind (i.e. in motion; vāyo). This quite obviously applies to the air we breathe, but it can also relate to other things as well such as blood flow.
5. The Space Element, or the aether (ākāsa) constituted by the physical elements. This can be more easily comprehended as the bodily orifices such as the mouth, ears, nostrils, etc.
6. The Mind Element, or the emergent consciousness (viññāna) that arises from the other elements, by which they become conscious of themselves. This is cognizance, or that which discerns the three feelings (vedanā) of pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, and the arising and passing of the sense contact (phassa) upon which these feelings are dependent.
So it is easy to see how the six elements make for an easier mindfulness practice. There are of course other examples given which can be used for understanding the elements, but for now we will focus on this formula of six elements.
There was once a wandering aesthetic named Pukkusati who went traveling to search out and meet the Buddha. However, he had never seen the Buddha before so how would he even be able to recognize him once he did? Well, he wasn’t. He was only able to realize his mistake after the Buddha related to him the six properties/elements, six media of sensory contact, eighteen considerations, and the four determinations.
However, the main point of the six element practice is to note that how each is an ever-changing, temporal process, rather than a static, abiding quality or substance. Each element, that is: solidity, fluidity, airiness, aether, and consciousness, makes up our body but none of them can be identified as an intrinsic whole in their own right. They are all empty of inherent existence as they are all dependently co-arisen processes.
Therefore, all things perceived by the these six elements (or even just one of them) are actually unfit for identification with a “self”/”ego” or “soul” (atta) since they are impermanent (anicca) – and because there is anicca there is dukkha. The mark of not-self (anatta) states that one should regard the six elements with right discernment as, “This is not mine, this is not my self, this is not what I am.” Realizing this one grows weary and disenchanted with the each of these elements, letting go of attachment to each by progression through the jhanas, until there is only consciousness which discerns pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain.
With the cessation of the very sensory contact which is to be felt as pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain, the concomitant feeling of said pleasure, pain and neither-pleasure-nor-pain also ceases. That is, consciousness is stilled. When this occurs, only equanimity will remain: pure and bright, pliant, malleable, and luminous. This can lead one to Nibbāna (Skt. Nirvāṇa), in which “birth is exhausted,the holy life fulfilled, the task done” and there is “nothing more of this becoming.”
When I first made my post on Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I never would have thought that it would expand into a three part series. Yet now it seems that Seon Master Jinje, the head of the Joyge Order in Korea, had to apologize Friday after the revelation of certain footage. According to MSNBC, this particular video didn’t show “some supposedly serene monks” cursing during a meditation sesshin. No, they were supposedly “raising hell, playing high-stakes poker, drinking and smoking.”
These so-called “monks” were shot with a hidden camera at a luxury hotel in late April which they were staying at for a fellow monk’s memorial service. The video shows them smoking, drinking, and gambling illegally. The Guardian reported that:
South Korean TV networks aired shots of monks playing poker, smoking and drinking, after gathering at a luxury lakeside hotel in late April for a fellow monk’s memorial service. “The stakes for 13 hours of gambling were more than 1bn won [£543,000],” Seongho, a senior monk, told Reuters on Friday. He said he had reported the incident to prosecutors.
Gambling is illegal in South Korea outside of licensed casinos and horse racing tracks and is frowned upon by religious leaders.
“Buddhist rules say don’t steal. Look at what they did, they abused money from Buddhists for gambling,” Seongho said.
Seongho said he had obtained a computer memory stick with the video clip from a camera that had been hidden in the hotel. He would not say who had planted the camera because of recent threats made against him.
The scandal has cast doubt on the future of the order’s head, Jaseung, who apologised to all of South Korea’s 12 million Buddhists.
“We deeply apologize for the behavior of several monks in our order,” he said in a statement. “The monks who have caused public concern are currently being investigated and will be punished according to Buddhist regulations as soon as the truth is verified by the prosecution.”
Chung Yoon-sun, the secretary general of the Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, said conflict between South Korean monks had become as commonplace as disputes between the country’s politicians. “It’s just like politics,” she was quoted as saying by the Korea Times. “If there’s a conflict in interest between two groups, they make a deal or they fight.”
Chung said the scandal highlighted the need to monitor how Buddhist orders spend their large, and untaxed, donations from the public.
I think the last point is worth emphasizing. There is definitely a need to monitor and regulate Buddhist orders. In Theravada, for example, monks aren’t even supposed to handle money. All of the financing is to be done by the laity. Which is why in Thailand, when people donate money they use envelopes. However, there were reports of supposedly bogus monks that were begging for money from the public.
A lot of people don’t know that there are actually “monastic police” in Thailand, as well, whose job is basically to protect the Sangha. They can’t make arrests, or anything. They just pass information on. A long time ago, the National Buddhism Bureau established four teams of officials to monitor the “wayward activities” of any suspicious Buddhist monk. Any monk that is accused of breaching the Vinaya or engaging in any kind of wrongdoing will be investigated by a panel of monks, and if there is any basis to the accusation – the monks will therefore be defrocked.
Therefore, for us lay Buddhists, since we aren’t monks or nuns we should always do our part to keep harmony and order in the Sangha. It’s pretty much our job to make sure that people are held accountable for abusing the teachings, their monastic vows, etc. Everybody is aware of the important role of a monk or nun in Buddhism, but we can’t forget that the laity holds just as an important role – and these recent incidents only emphasize that. In fact, us lay people make up half of the four groups of Buddha’s following (parisa or “assembly”) – i.e. monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. These recent events only emphasize how important of a role us lay Buddhists must have for any kind of coherent semblance of order in the Sangha, and it is a role that we must take seriously.
In my post Spiritual Materialism and Cherry Picking, I explained that its “perfectly okay to not belong to any tradition, and to test each of them out for many years before ever committing to one” and that is, in fact, “much better than just ‘diving in’ into any tradition simply because of its outward attractiveness, or following any teacher simply because of their charisma. That is exactly how people end up in cults, and end up being even more confused than when they initially began their spiritual journey.”
The tragic events that happened in Arizona may prove to be a sad example of my point above. This is why it is always important to choose your teachers wisely and with caution. Upon investigating the teachers Christie McNally and Michael Roach, one will learn that Roach was once ordained in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, he was said to be the first westerner to qualify for a Geshe degree at the Sera Monastery in India. He is said to have once recognized McNally as a “Lama” and his “spiritual partner”. This has led to quite a bit of controversy itself – which eventually lead to the Dalai Lama censuring Roach, who refused to renounce his monastic vows, effectively barring him from having anything further to do with the order, stating that his “unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practices.” Their “spiritual partnership” eventually ended, although they supposedly still teach together. McNally began a relationship with and eventually married one of their students – Ian Thorson, who was recently found dead in a cave in Arizona.
Before ever deciding upon a teacher or school, it is always wise to do some proper investigation first. Sometimes, we may put our trust in those who would only misuse it and misinform us – filling our heads with all kinds of incorrect ideas. We should always check out our potential teacher’s credentials and their lineage and be entirely confident in their ability to teach us and lead us correctly on the path. However, even this can sometimes be tricky as well. As in the example of Roach, some people may have been ordained into a certain lineage at one point – even though they may not be recognized by that lineage anymore. Therefore, although a certain person may appear to have the credentials to back them up, that is no guarantee that they are still involved with any school or that they are not misrepresenting the teachings.
In fact, the Buddha himself insisted in the Upali Sutta that people think carefully before following any teacher – including himself! The Upali Sutta tells the story of a famous Jain who came to debate with the Buddha and prove him wrong. However, instead of being proven wrong, he was very impressed by the Buddha and decided to become a disciple right then and there on the spot. The Buddha told him to take more time to carefully think about this and to reconsider it before finally making a conclusive decision. Upali was even more impressed by this, saying that if it were any other teacher they would gloat and brag and go on about converting a chief lay-disciple of Mahavira. Upali then went on to say that he wouldn’t stand up until the Buddha accepted him. Therefore, the Buddha did on one condition: since he had been a Jain and gave alms to Jain monks, he should continue giving alms to Jain monks if he was to become a disciple of Buddha.
So, we should all consider the advice of the Buddha and think things over carefully before ever committing to any practice, school, teacher, etc. We should keep in mind that it’s okay to take our time, as there is absolutely no reason to rush anything. Ultimately, we have to walk the path ourselves – and at our own pace.
This post is dedicated to the memory of Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, who passed away yesterday at the age of 47. He had been battling salivary gland and lymph node cancer for several years. He was one of the founding members of Beastie Boys, and he directed many of their videos under the moniker of Nathanial Hornblower. The Beastie Boys started out as a hardcore punk band inspired by the Bad Brains (which is where they derived their name), later expanding into hip hop and dance. They subsequently helped make rap music even more mainstream throughout the years.
As a practicing Buddhist, Adam founded the Milarepa Fund and also organized the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. After 9/11, he and the Beastie Boys organized New Yorkers Against Violence, as a benefit concert for those victims who were least likely to recieve much help elsewhere.
As I noted in my last post, for many Buddhists today marks the observance of Vesak Puja because it is the first full moon of May. For many people in Mexico and the United States, today is also Cinco de Mayo which commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). So today is certainly an auspicious day for many throughout the world. But that isn’t all.
This full moon is also considered to be a “supermoon” or “harvest moon” because this is the closest point that the moon gets to the Earth on its elliptical orbit. This will make it bigger and brighter than at any other point of the year. But that is not the only thing that is happening in the night sky tonight. There will also be the Eta Aquarid meteor shower.
These meteors are actually fragments of Halley’s Comet and they tend to leave large streaks in the sky. However, the harvest moon may be bright enough to wash out any of the smaller meteors, so they may not be very easily detectable tonight. You will probably have a better chance of seeing the meteors a few hours before dawn. Regardless, there are plenty of reasons to keep your eyes on the night skies tonight.
The following video is of Adam Yauch performing Bodhisattva Vow live in 1994.
As I noted in my post Zombie Jesus and Buddha’s Birthday, many different traditions celebrate the Buddha’s birth on different dates, such as Vesak (or “Visakah Puja”) which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of the Buddha all in one day. This celebration is called Vesak because it is the name of the month in the Indian calendar.
China/HK and Taiwan celebrated Vesak already on April 28th, in accordance with Chinese Mahayana liturgy. However, most Theravadin traditions will observe Vesak on either May 5th or 6th, with the exception of Thailand. They, along with Tibetan Buddhists (who call this day “Saga Dawa Duchen” or simply “Saka Dawa”), will observe it on June 4th.
Vesak is a day to recommit to our practice and study of Buddhist teachings. To paraphrase Ven. Mahinda:
“The significance of Vesak lies with the Buddha and his universal peace message to mankind…The teaching of the Buddha became a great civilising force wherever it went. It appeals to reason and freedom of thought, recognising the dignity and potentiality of the human mind. It calls for equality, fraternity and understanding, exhorting its followers to avoid evil, to do good and to purify their minds.”
May the three auspicious days of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana be a blessing to all of us. May we all attain the wisdom and courage that can liberate us from all stress and suffering!
Also, on a different note, fellow blogger Priyesh at Meditation 4 All nominated me for the Sunshine Award! This award is given to blogs that contribute to the blogosphere in a positive or inspirational way. I am extremely grateful for the nomination, and even more grateful for everyone who visits this blog. You are all my inspiration to keep doing what I do!
1. Thank the person who nominated you and write a post about it.
2. Answer ten questions about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 10 or 12 bloggers you enjoy, link to their blogs, and let them know you nominated them.
Blogs I Nominate (in no particular order):
1. Fierce Buddhist
2. Zen and the Art of Borderline Maintenance
3. Fundamental Happiness
4. Live. Grow. Nourish. Create.
5. The Heart Drive
6. Serene One
7. Surface Nuisance
8. Living in the Now
9. Five Reflections
10. Tales from the Lou
Ten Q&A’s about myself
1. Favorite drink? Tea, of course.
2. Favorite food? This is a tough question. But I’ll go with vegetarian chili because its soooo yummy.
3. Age? 26
4. Favorite time of day? Sunset
5. Favorite time of year? Fall
6. Favorite animal? Another tough question. I love all different types of animals, but I do think megabats are amazing creatures.
7. Favorite movie? Suburbia.
8. Favorite vacation?: The beach, of course!
9. Physical activity?: I do a lot of walking, but I have to say my favorite “physical” activity would be just sitting, counting my breaths.
10. Favorite thing?: No-thing.
Since ancient times, May 1st marked a holiday celebrating the beginning of spring in many cultures. This day probably has more holidays than any other day of the year. One example is Walpurgisnacht, the day designated for St. Walburga – who helped St. Boniface bring Christianity to Germany in the 8th century. She had several different days dedicated in her honor, one of which was May 1st. This date actually coincided with an already existing pagan holiday in Germany, which included rituals to protect people from witchcraft. This led to the two holidays being meshed together, and the hybrid legend of witches meeting with the devil on the eve of May 1st.
Some ancient cultures such as in Egypt, India, and Rome held fertility festivals. For example, there is the Roman festival which was celebrated from April 28th through May 3rd, which centered around Flora – the goddess of fertility, f|owers, and spring. There was also the Celtic festival of Beltane, which was a feast celebrating the start of summer. It included rituals involving bonfires, such as dancing around the fires, driving cattle between two fires, and burning witches in effigy. There was also this tradition which involved the baking of “Beltane cakes”, which were broken down into several pieces. One of these pieces would be blackened, and the unlucky person who received this blackened piece would face a mock execution.
May 1st is also known as the International Worker’s Day, or simply May Day, around the world. May Day actually has its origin in the United States labor movement in the late 19th century. Unions across the country went on strike on May 1, 1886. Their demand was simply an 8-hour workday. Something that many people in the US take for granted. These strikes eventually lead to the now infamous “Haymarket Riot”. On May 4th, someone threw a bomb. Nobody really knows who it was, but a lot of anarchists were ultimately blamed and executed without any proof other than their political ideology.
In Zen Buddhism, “samu” is an extension of meditation which is a relevant practice for this particular aspect of May Day. It is bringing mindfulness to work practice. Samu includes the practice of dana (giving or generosity), mindfulness, and devotion. So one doesn’t have to just meditate while sitting (zazen), but they can also meditate while working (samu), walking (kinhin), eating (i.e. seiza), chanting (okyo), listening to Dharma talks (teisho), and even while having private meetings with a teacher (dokusan). The point is to bring mindfulness and clarity to all aspects of our life.
Also, in honor of the spring holidays, the Subha Jivakambavanika recounts a story of an arahant nun who lived alone in the forest, and is hounded by a man who lusts after her insisting that she “delight” in the pleasant season of spring. In this story, the nun Subha was walking through the delightful mango grove of Jivaka. As she was walking, she was approached by a young libertine – who was the son of a goldsmith. He blocked her path so that she couldn’t walk any further. So she asked him what wrong has she done to him, and why is he standing in her way? She also reminded him that she was pure, without blemish, and it wouldn’t be right for him to touch her since she has “gone forth”.
So he tries to convince her to renounce her robes and vows, insisting that she is young and beautiful. So what need does she have for “going forth”? He further insists that she:
“Throw off your ochre robe — Come, let’s delight in the f|owering forest. A sweetness they exude from all around, the towering trees with their pollen. The beginning of spring is a pleasant season — Come, let’s delight in the f|owering forest. The trees with their blossoming tips moan, as it were, in the breeze: What delight will you have if you plunge into the forest alone? Frequented by herds of wild beasts, disturbed by elephants rutting and aroused: you want to go unaccompanied into the great, lonely, frightening forest? Like a doll made of gold, you will go about, like a goddess in the gardens of heaven. With delicate, smooth Kasi fabrics, you will shine, O beauty without compare. I would be under your power if we were to dwell in the wood. For there is no creature dearer to me than you, O nymph with the languid regard. If you do as I ask, happy, come live in my house. Dwelling in the calm of a palace, have women wait on you, wear delicate Kasi fabrics, adorn yourself with garlands and creams. I will make you many and varied ornaments of gold, jewels, and pearls. Climb onto a costly bed, scented with sandalwood carvings, with a well-washed coverlet, beautiful, spread with a woolen quilt, brand new. Like a blue lotus rising from the water, where there dwell non-human spirits, you will go to old age with your limbs unseen, if you stay as you are in the holy life.”
So she asked him what in the world he assumes of any essence in her body, and what it is that he sees when he looks at her? So he tells her that it is her eyes that are “like those of a fawn, like those of a nymph in the mountains.” When he gazes into her eyes, his “sensual delight grows all the more”. He said that even if she were to go far away, he will think of only her “pure, long-lashed gaze”, for there is nothing dearer to him than her eyes.
Upon hearing this, Subha explained,
“You want to stray from the road, you want the moon as a plaything, you want to jump over Mount Sineru, you who have designs on one born of the Buddha. For there is nothing anywhere at all in the world with its devas, that would be an object of passion for me. I don’t even know what that passion would be, for it’s been killed, root and all, by the path. Like embers from a pit — scattered, like a bowl of poison — evaporated, I don’t even see what that passion would be, for it’s been killed, root and all, by the path. Try to seduce one who hasn’t ref|ected on this, or who the Master hasn’t instructed. But try it with this one who knows and you do yourself violence. For whether insulted or worshiped, in pleasure or pain, my mindfulness stands firm.
Knowing the unattractiveness of fabricated things, my heart adheres nowhere at all. I am a follower of the one well-gone, riding the vehicle of the eightfold way: My arrow removed, eff|uent-free, I delight, having gone to an empty dwelling. For I have seen well-painted puppets, hitched up with sticks and strings, made to dance in various ways. When the sticks and strings are removed, thrown away, scattered, shredded, smashed into pieces, not to be found, in what will the mind there make its home? This body of mine, which is just like that, when devoid of dhammas doesn’t function. When, devoid of dhammas, it doesn’t function, in what will the mind there make its home? Like a mural you’ve seen, painted on a wall, smeared with yellow orpiment, there your vision has been distorted, meaningless your perception of a human being.
Like an evaporated mirage, like a tree of gold in a dream, like a magic show in the midst of a crowd — you run blind after what is unreal. Resembling a ball of sealing wax, set in a hollow, with a bubble in the middle and bathed with tears, eye secretions are born there too: The parts of the eye are rolled all together in various ways.”
After saying all of this to him, without any sense of regret, she plucked out one of her eyes. With her mind completely unattached, she gave it to him. She said to him, “Here, take this eye. It’s yours.” As soon as she did this his passion faded right then and there as he begged her for forgiveness. He promised that he will never let this happen again. He said that harming a person like her is like embracing a blazing fire, or having seized a poisonous snake. After this encounter, Subha went to the Buddha. It is said that when she saw the mark of his excellent merit, her eye became as it was before.
One of the main teachings in Buddhism is how we deal with the problems and adversities we are faced with in everyday life – by understanding and preventing their causes. We are usually accustomed to looking towards outward circumstances for the reasons we have such difficulties in our life, but with the application of techniques such as meditation – Buddhist teaching urges us to look inwards. Most of our feelings of alienation and dissatisfaction are the result of negative states of mind we encounter throughout our lives, namely: anger, sense-desire, and ignorance. Buddha also taught us how to overcome and eliminate these negative states of mind by understanding and applying the Noble Eightfold Path while developing more positive states of mind such as compassion, generosity, virtue, wisdom, etc.
There is all of this talk about this thing called “inner peace”, and how it is the real source of lasting happiness. If inner peace is referring to a calm, stilled mind – then yes, this is pretty close to the truth. For example, when the mind is agitated – then it does not matter how peaceful our outward circumstances are. Alternatively, if the mind is calmed and at peace then one may be able to encounter any amount of outward difficulties without the least bit of disturbance.
Of course, you can find inner peace right where you are by letting go, taking a step back, and realizing that everyone, everywhere suffers the hardships of life – although for others it may be more or less. Or, perhaps you could simply try looking at it from another perspective. This may not actually be as easy as it sounds, for it will require all of your reasoning skills to look at your situation as objectively as possible.
For example, think of someone you don’t like at all. You might think of them as having nothing but negative qualities. On the other hand, think of someone you absolutely love or adore. You might perceive them as having 100% positive qualities – or as being near perfect. However, neither of these views are grounded in reality. If a friend, whom you think of as having 100% good qualities, purposely does something that hurts you – you will suddenly become aware that they are not 100% perfect. Likewise, if someone you dislike sincerely begs you for your forgiveness, then you will become aware that they are not 100% bad, after all. Therefore, this tendency we have to see our situation as completely negative or positive is only due to our own perception based on our own mental projection, rather than due to the true nature of our situation.
Once someone asked Nanao Sakaki, the Japanese poet who saw Hiroshima and was a leading personality of Buzoku (“The Tribe”, a counterculture of 1960′s and 70′s Japan), “How do we survive nuclear catastrophe?” He simply stated, “No need to survive. No need to survive hell either. Wherever you are, that can be the pure land.”
Perhaps this is a bit more straightforward. If you wish to transform your life and attain “inner peace” you must first learn to transform your mind. Suffering, stress, problems, anxieties, anguish, worries, unhappiness, and pain all exist within the mind; they are all unpleasant feelings, which are part of the mind. Through controlling and purifying our mind we can stop them once and for all. In Buddhism, this is achieved by examining, understanding, and applying what is known as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
To quote the Dhammapada:
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
The Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön also offers this heartfelt advice in her book When Things Fall Apart. She explains that sometimes, in order to have inner peace, the point isn’t necessarily to overcome the problems – but to have a deeper understanding of them, and to act accordingly.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Although Buddha did leave his entire kingdom, and family, when he renounced the world as an ascetic in search for enlightenment – he did not leave them all behind for good. After his enlightenment, both his wife and son joined the Sangha (Community) as a bhikkhuni (nun) and bhikkhu (monk), respectively – as did most of his family. In fact, Buddha’s son has his own short sutta, naturally called the Rahula Sutta. It was Buddha’s maternal aunt, Mahapajapati, who not only raised Buddha when his mother (Queen Mahamaya) died a week after his birth – but she also became the very first bhikkhuni.
Buddhism is a “gradual instruction” (anupubbi-katha) which utilizes “gradual training” (anupubbi-sikkha) on the path of enlightenment and Nirvana. Therefore, penetrating enlightenment doesn’t occur for the untrained and unprepared mind, but only after a long, gradual progression through many stages. In my post Smells Like Nirvana, I explained that the stage of “renunciation” is simply “giving up” or “letting go of” the more familiar, conditioned forms of happiness for a more noble, pure, unconditional and lasting form of happiness – that is, Nirvana. This release of sense-desire can be seen as “going against the stream” of our intrinsic cravings.
Therefore, “renunciation” is not necessarily about the “giving up of everything”; rather, it is about realizing that they will pass away. In fact, the Buddha’s last words are said to be, “All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness (presence of mindfulness)!” Therefore, Buddhism is really about realizing the true nature of all phenomena, and renouncing the conditioned forms of happiness for something even more noble and pure.
However, in the Tapussa Sutta, Ven. Ananda and Tapussa the householder went to the Buddha saying that since householders “indulge in sensuality, delight in sensuality, enjoy sensuality, rejoice in sensuality” that the path of renunciation seems like “a sheer drop-off” and is contrary to the popular opinion of most people. The Buddha goes on to explain meditative practice can only truly begin when one appreciates the value of true “renunciation”:
“So it is, Ananda. So it is. Even I myself, before my Awakening, when I was still an unawakened Bodhisatta, thought: ‘Renunciation is good. Seclusion is good.’ But my heart didn’t leap up at renunciation, didn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace. The thought occurred to me: ‘What is the cause, what is the reason, why my heart doesn’t leap up at renunciation, doesn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace?’ Then the thought occurred to me: ‘I haven’t seen the drawback of sensual pleasures; I haven’t pursued [that theme]. I haven’t understood the reward of renunciation; I haven’t familiarized myself with it. That’s why my heart doesn’t leap up at renunciation, doesn’t grow confident, steadfast, or firm, seeing it as peace.’
“Then the thought occurred to me: ‘If, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I were to pursue that theme; and if, having understood the reward of renunciation, I were to familiarize myself with it, there’s the possibility that my heart would leap up at renunciation, grow confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace.’
“So at a later time, having seen the drawback of sensual pleasures, I pursued that theme; having understood the reward of renunciation, I familiarized myself with it. My heart leaped up at renunciation, grew confident, steadfast, & firm, seeing it as peace. Then, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities, I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation…”
The Hatthaka Sutta compares the path of renunciation to getting a good night’s sleep:
“Always, always, he sleeps in ease: the brahman totally unbound, who doesn’t adhere to sensual pleasures, who’s without acquisitions & cooled. Having cut all ties & subdued fear in the heart, calmed, he sleeps in ease, having reached peace of awareness.”
The image of Brahmajala, or Indra’s Net, is used as a metaphor to describe the unimpeded interpretation of the entire cosmos. At each interval of this net there is a luminous gem which not only mirrors the other gems, but also all of the multiple images that are reflected in them as well – ad infinitum. Therefore Indra’s Net represents a chiliocosm, or countless universes which comprise the greater multiverse.
In the Kosala Sutta, Buddha explains that there are other world systems with other suns, other planets, and other beings on them. The Buddha explains that these world systems will deteriorate or “devolve” and die out, while new ones are in the process of evolving. Therefore there are many different worlds, in many different solar systems, and to think that we are the pinnacle of evolution in the entire universe would be very egotistical.
In fact, throughout the suttas there are many “planes”, “realms”, or “worlds” (loka) of existence into which beings can be subjected to in Samsara. These different realms can be interpreted either as literal planes of existence, or as allegorical depictions of the mental states which people may experience throughout their life. These realms can range from the dark realms of hellish torment (niraya) to even the five Pure Abodes (suddhavasa), which are accessible only to non-returners (anagami) and arahants.
However, existence in any of these realms is impermanent – there is no concept of an eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to both their past karma/consciousnessness and their karma/consciousnessness at the moment of death (cuti-citta or “dying-consciousness”). Once their karma is finally exhausted, they will pass away, and their consciousnessness will be reborn once again in the corresponding realm.
The realms of existence are usually grouped together into three distinct “worlds” themselves (Triloka):
1. The Immaterial World (arupa-loka). This realm consists of the four realms which are accessible to those who pass away while meditating in the formless jhanas.
2. The Fine-Material World (rupa-loka). This realm consists of the sixteen realms of the devas, who experience extremely refined degrees of mental pleasure. These realms are accessible to those who have attained at least some level of jhana and who have thereby managed to (temporarily) suppress hatred and ill-will. The devas are said to possess extremely refined bodies of pure light. The highest of these realms are the five Pure Abodes. The Fine-Material World and the Immaterial World together constitute the “heavens” (sagga).
3. The Sensuous World (kama-loka). This realm consists of eleven realms in which both pleasurable and non-pleasurable experience is dominated by the five senses. Seven of these realms are considered favorable destinations, and they include our very own human realm as well as several deva realms. The lowest realms are the four destinations of asuras, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings.
The bhavacakra or samsara-cakka, is variously rendered in to English as the “wheel of life, becoming, rebirth, etc.” The Buddha actually never really compared this process to a wheel, but this simile is found in the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) and in the other commentarial literature. In the Visuddhimagga, Acariya Buddhaghosa commented that:
“It is the beginningless round of rebirths that is called the ‘wheel of the round of rebirths’ (samsara-cakka). Ignorance (avijja) is its hub because it is its root. Ageing-and-death (jara-marana) is its rim because it terminates it. The remaining ten states [of the dependent origination] are its spokes because ignorance is their root and aging-and-death their termination. Herein, ignorance is unknowing about suffering and the rest. And ignorance in sensual becoming is a condition for formations in sensual becoming. Ignorance in fine-material becoming is a condition for formations in fine-material becoming. Ignorance in immaterial becoming is a condition for formations in immaterial becoming. Formations in sensual becoming are a condition for rebirth-linking consciousness in sensual becoming. And similarly with the rest.”
The picture of the bhavacakra on this post is an illustration which is often seen within Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries. It is a graphical portrayal of karma, the kilesas, dependent origination and the six realms of becoming, with the wheel of becoming being held by Yama, the lord of death, as a fierce figure representing impermanence. The lowest of the six realms are the hell realms (niraya), which are regions of severe affliction and torment where evil actions receive their due atonement. There is also, of course, the animal kingdom which is where the stress/suffering (dukkha) of brute force and herd/pack mentality prevails. Next is the realm of hungry ghosts (petavisaya), which are beings afflicted with strong desires that they can never satisfy. For example, they may always be “starving to death” because their necks are so small that they could never swallow anything. Next is the human world, with its familiar balance of happiness (sukha) and stress/suffering (dukkha), virtue and ill-will. Then comes the world of the asuras, or “demi-gods”, who are titanic beings completely obsessed by jealousy and egotism. Finally, there are the heavenly realms which are inhabited by the various devas, or celestial beings.
It is easy to see how these different realms are metaphors for the various psychological states of the mind. If these realms are taken literally, one may wonder how – if all conditioned things are impermanent and not-self, there is rebirth. Simply put, there is no fixed, permanent, abiding entity which experiences rebirth. The principle of rebirth states that karmic influence (kammavega) perpetuates the cyclic existence of suffering and stress called Samsara. Although rebirth may appear to be a continuing process which lasts for an inconceivably long time, there is an end to the process of becoming. The process of rebirth is not permanent. When the afflictions (kilesa) of ignorance (avijja, lit. “unawareness”), delusion (moha), lobha (greed, covetousness, etc), aversion (dosa), conceit (mana), etc. is uprooted and Nirvana is attained, there is no more future becoming.
“They go to many a refuge, to mountains and forests, to park and tree shrines: people threatened with danger. That’s not the secure refuge, not the supreme refuge, that’s not the refuge – having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering and stress.
But when, having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha for refuge, you see with right discernment the Four Noble Truths — stress, the cause of stress, the transcending of stress, and the Noble Eightfold Path, the way to the stilling of stress: that is the secure refuge, that is the supreme refuge, that is the refuge – having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering and stress.”
A refuge is a place, person, or thing that offers protection from harm and danger. Since the “Triple Gem” or “Three Jewels” (Triratna, also known as Tisarana or Threefold Refuge) of the Buddha (Awakened One), Dharma (his teachings), and Sangha (community of noble disciples) offers release from dukkha (suffering/stress) – it is the highest refuge. Its also called the “Triple Gem” because way back during Buddha’s time, gems were very valuable and thought to offer protection.
Therefore, “going for refuge” is taking the Triple Gem as guides (and protectors) along the path. This is a commitment to learn from Buddha’s example, his teachings (Dharma), and the community or Sangha. This is also like making a commitment to Buddhist teaching and practice. Also, most Buddhists don’t go for refuge just once in their lifetime. It is often an ongoing process which is renewed every day as part of one’s daily routine. Therefore, going for refuge becomes a practice of cultivation which reaffirms our commitment to learn from the example of the Buddha, from his teachings, and from the community of disciples.
Traditionally, one is usually considered a Buddhist if they have taken the five precepts, and if they have also taken refuge in the Triple Gem/Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. It is usually suggested to take refuge with an ordained monk, but if one is not available it is also possible to take refuge on your own. Bhikkhu Samãhita provides a “virtual Sangha” in which he, an ordained monk, will bear witness to your refuge and vows at his Saddhamma Sangha. However, if you wish to perform your own refuge ceremony at home, all that you will need is an image of the Buddha at about the same height as your head. When refuge is taken, one usually kneels before this image with their palms together at the their chest. This is a gesture of respect called anjali (literally meaning “divine offering”). If possible, keep a composed posture and calm your mind. Before taking refuge, one pays respect to Buddha by reciting the following vandana (or “homage”) three times, bowing each time with the palms moving from chest level to the forehead as they are touching the floor. It should be noted the reason for the triple repetition is that the mind is easily distracted, and repetition helps ensure concentration:
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa
(Homage to the Blessed One, the Perfect One, the Fully-Enlightened One.)
Once homage has been given, recite the following refuge with hands still placed in anjali:
Buddham saranam gaccha-mi
Dhammam saranam gaccha-mi
Sangham saranam gaccha-mi
(I take refuge in the [Buddha, Dharma, Sangha])
Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gaccha-mi
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gaccha-mi
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gaccha-mi
(For the second time I take refuge in the [Buddha, Dharma, Sangha])
Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gaccha-mi
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gaccha-mi
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gaccha-mi
(For the third time I take refuge in the [Buddha, Dharma, Sangha])
The Pancha Sila (Five Precepts or Virtues) form the very basis of ethical discipline for all practicing lay Buddhists. They are often recited after the Threefold Refuge. The Abhisanda Sutta calls them “five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives and priests.” In living accordingly with these five precepts, one “gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings” and thus “gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression”.
In my previous post On Being a Lay Buddhist, I explained that the Dhammika Sutta also gives a detailed analysis of the five precepts as duties of a lay Buddhist. However, the five precepts are generally explained as follows:
1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the discipline to refrain from destroying living creatures (This is ahimsa or nonviolence, harmlessness, amiability, etc. Ahimsa is realized through the application of metta [loving-kindness] and karuna [compassion]. Because of this, some Buddhists may be strict vegetarians, but Buddhists can still eat meat if the being has not been killed for them specifically. Buddhism – in contrast to contemporary teachings such as Jainism, does not require one to become a vegetarian although it is encouraged)
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the discipline to refrain from taking that which is not given. (This is refraining from stealing, fraud, extortion, ransom, embezzlement, etc.).
3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the discipline to refrain from sexual misconduct (e.g. being unfaithful to one’s partner, involvement with prostitution, rape and other unlawful illicit sex, etc.).
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the discipline to refrain from incorrect speech (e.g. lying, gossip, etc.).
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the discipline to refrain from the abusive consumption of intoxicants (which lead to carelessness and diminish clarity of consciousness).
If you followed the formula above, then congratulations – you are now officially a practicing Buddhist! You can recite the above any time you wish, as taking refuge and the five precepts also constitute a daily Buddhist practice.
Taking refuge vows
Cultivating five virtues
Essence of practice
Most people, at least those of us who were alive back then, remember the popular 90′s grunge-rock band from Seattle named Nirvana. Yes, it is true that they are named after a Buddhist term (Nirvana, Pali: Nibbana) which refers to an ultimate state of awareness and the second ultimate state, to paranirvana, of harmony. In fact, Kurt Cobain himself was actually very interested in both Buddhism and Jainism. A Buddhist monk chanted at his funeral while his daughter, Frances Bean, scattered her father’s ashes into McLane Creek in Olympia, Washington.
The Dhammapada says that Nirvana is “the highest happiness”, as this is not the sense-based concept of happiness in everyday life. Instead, this refers to an enduring, transcendental happiness which is integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment (bodhi). Nirvana is free from any defilements (kilesa) such as lust, anger or craving; or any mental effluents (asava) such as sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance. Thus it is a state of perfect peace unobstructed by psychological conditioning (sankhara). All forms of craving are extinguished so that one is no longer subject to dukkha (stress/suffering/dissatisfaction/etc.) or further states of rebirths in Samsara (vatta). Buddha describes the abiding in Nirvana as “deathlessness” (amata or amaravati) or “the unconditioned” (asankhata).
A lot of people think Nirvana is basically the Buddhist concept of Heaven. This isn’t true, as Nirvana isn’t a place and the concept of Heaven in Buddhism is called “sagga” or “deva-loka”. When one practices generosity and charity (dana) and develops virtue (sila), they will understand that there is a happiness which goes beyond, and is much more dependable, than any form of self-gratification could provide. With the break-up of the body at death, this superior form of happiness can lead to renewed existence or “rebirth” in “sagga” – or the heavenly abode of the devas. “Sagga” or “heaven” here can be seen as either literal or metaphorical. Some Mahayana Buddhist schools provide a path of rebirth in heavenly realms for those who are unable to realize Nirvana within this lifetime (which is often what Buddha suggested for lay practitioners), such as Amitabha Buddha’s Western Pure Land and the surplus merit of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva allowing for rebirth in heavenly realms without ever falling into the suffering realms of hell, hungry ghosts, or animals.
However, when one has reached the stage of “sagga”, one begins to see the drawbacks (adinava) of even this kind of happiness. As great as renewed existence in heavenly abodes may be, this form of happiness is conditioned and is therefore not lasting. Upon seeing the drawbacks of “sagga”, one begins to realize that true happiness is not found within the physical and sensual realm. With this realization, one sees that the path of unconditioned happiness relies upon renunciation of the physical and sensual realm.
The stage of “nekkhamma”, or “renunciation”, is the release of sensuality and can be seen as “going against the stream” of our intrinsic cravings. This is simply giving up the lower forms of happiness for a more noble, pure, unconditional and lasting form of happiness. It is with this training that one is ready to receive the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the highest happiness, known as “Nibbana” or “Nirvana”.
According to the Sukhavagga:
“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred. Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the afflicted (by craving). Amidst afflicted men we dwell free from affliction. Happy indeed we live, free from avarice amidst the avaricious. Amidst the avaricious men we dwell free from avarice. Happy indeed we live, we who possess nothing. Feeders on joy we shall be, like the Radiant Gods.
“Victory begets enmity; the defeated dwell in pain. Happily the peaceful live, discarding both victory and defeat.
“There is no fire like lust and no crime like hatred. There is no ill like the aggregates (of existence) and no bliss higher than the peace (of Nibbana). Hunger is the worst disease, conditioned things the worst suffering. Knowing this as it really is, the wise realize Nibbana, the highest bliss. Health is the most precious gain and contentment the greatest wealth. A trustworthy person is the best kinsman, Nibbana the highest bliss.
“Having savored the taste of solitude and peace (of Nibbana), pain-free and stainless he becomes, drinking deep the taste of the bliss of the Truth.
Good is it to see the Noble Ones; to live with them is ever blissful. One will always be happy by not encountering fools. Indeed, he who moves in the company of fools grieves for longing. Association with fools is ever painful, like partnership with an enemy. But association with the wise is happy, like meeting one’s own kinsmen. Therefore, follow the Noble One, who is steadfast, wise, learned, dutiful and devout. One should follow only such a man, who is truly good and discerning, even as the moon follows the path of the stars.”
In the last post, I talked about dukkha as the First Noble Truth and one of the three seals. I talked about how it is not the only factor of Samsara (the continuous cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth), and more importantly that there is a way that leads to the ending or cessation of dukkha. However, sometimes it seems hard to reconcile the realities and hardships of dukkha with principles such as karma. One can’t help but wonder how seemingly good people encounter such hardships and misfortune, while seemingly corrupt and bad people can profit from the excessive greed and misery present in the world. Trayvon Martin, the recent shooting at the Oikos University, the plane crash in the Siberian city of Tyumen, the murder of two Thai Buddhists in Pattani’s Thung Yang Daeng district, the self-immolation of so many Tibetans, on and on and on – the news is rife with such disheartening stories. Sometimes, it may seem very difficult to reconcile such events with principles such as karma.
Too add insult to injury, some people will even write it off by just saying, “that’s just the way things are” – or worse, saying things like “it can’t be helped, its just their karma” as if karma was simply some kind of cosmic retribution. However, if the present condition is simply the result of past karma, then no amount of present action would have any effect on present experience. Therefore, this fatalistic view would render practice and cultivation completely pointless and useless in the first place. Things can certainly change – after all, anicca is a factor of all conditioned phenomena as well. It may not necessarily always have to be so, but sometimes unfortunate things do happen.
The Buddha answers why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people in the Lonaphala Sutta, or the Salt Crystal Discourse, which gets its name from this parable:
“There is the case where a trifling evil deed done by a certain individual takes him to hell. There is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by another individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.
“Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual takes him to hell? There is the case where a certain individual is undeveloped in [contemplating] the body, undeveloped in virtue, undeveloped in mind, undeveloped in discernment: restricted, small-hearted, dwelling with suffering. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual takes him to hell.
“Now, a trifling evil deed done by what sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment? There is the case where a certain individual is developed in [contemplating] the body, developed in virtue, developed in mind, developed in discernment: unrestricted, large-hearted, dwelling with the immeasurable. A trifling evil deed done by this sort of individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.
“Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”
“Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink.”
“Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”
“No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink.”
“In the same way, there is the case where a trifling evil deed done by one individual [the first] takes him to hell; and there is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by the other individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.
An action which is taken by one person can lead to future states of deprivation and detriment (apaya) such as hellish states (Naraka or Niraya), whereas the same action can be undertaken by another individual but the misfortune will be experienced in the here and now – and will not lead to any further states of deprivation. In the Maha-kammavibhanga Sutta, Buddha asked his attendant Ananda that if one were to see a “bad person” experience states of deprivation such as hellish realms after death, would a person assume that bad people always goes to hell? Or, if one were to see a “bad person” reappear, after death, in a happy, heavenly world – one could infer that bad people always go to heaven. Likewise, if one sees a “good” person reappear in a heavenly realm, one would assume that good people go to heaven. Yet, if one was to see a “good person” go to a hellish realm after death, one might think that even good people will always experience states of perdition and deprivation. This is easily misapprehended, as it is only grounded in partial experience. This is because the minds of people are complex, and people make all kinds of different karma in one lifetime, with a variety of intentions and motives (cetana) – some skillful (kusala), and some unskillful (akusala).
In fact, in the Ariyamagga Sutta Buddha described four types of karma which “have been directly realized, verified, and made known by me. Which four? There is kamma that is dark with dark result. There is kamma that is bright with bright result. There is kamma that is dark and bright with dark and bright result. There is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.”
In more detail, the four types of karma can be described as:
1. Dark (negative) with a dark (negative) result;
There is the case where a certain person fabricates an injurious bodily fabrication, fabricates an injurious verbal fabrication, fabricates an injurious mental fabrication. Having fabricated an injurious bodily fabrication, having fabricated an injurious verbal fabrication, having fabricated an injurious mental fabrication, he rearises in an injurious world. On rearising in an injurious world, he is there touched by injurious contacts. Touched by injurious contacts, he experiences feelings that are exclusively painful, like those of the beings in hell. This is called kamma that is dark with dark result.
2. Bright (positive) with a bright (positive) result;
There is the case where a certain person fabricates a non-injurious bodily fabrication … a non-injurious verbal fabrication … a non-injurious mental fabrication … He rearises in a non-injurious world … There he is touched by non-injurious contacts … He experiences feelings that are exclusively pleasant, like those of the Beautiful Black Devas. This is called kamma that is bright with bright result.
3. Dark (negative) and bright (positive) with a dark (negative) and bright (positive) result;
There is the case where a certain person fabricates a bodily fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious … a verbal fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious … a mental fabrication that is injurious & non-injurious … He rearises in an injurious & non-injurious world … There he is touched by injurious & non-injurious contacts … He experiences injurious & non-injurious feelings, pleasure mingled with pain, like those of human beings, some devas, and some beings in the lower realms. This is called kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result.
4. Neither dark (negative) nor bright (positive) with a neither dark (negative) nor bright (positive) result.
This is the karma which leads to giving up the attachment to, and interest in, the other three, leading beyond the range of karma. This nothing else but the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the highest happiness (sukha) of Nirvana.
Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.
Buddha taught past karma is not the sole determining factor of present conditions – instead, it is a mixture of both past and present karma. The very variable of present karma may seem insignificant at first, but it opens up a lot of room for free will and overcoming the unavoidable consequences of past karma. Also, the exact timing of the result (vipaka) of karma is not very easy to discern. There are essentially three types of karma-vipaka according to its timing: karma resulting in the present life (ditthadhamma-vedaniya-kamma), karma resulting in the next life (upapajja-vedaniya-kamma), and karma resulting in later lives (aparapariya-vedaniya-kamma). Adding complexity to the karmic process is the fact that karma is but only one of five natural laws (niyamas) that govern physical and mental processes, determining the state of existence of all sentient beings. Therefore, everything that happens in the world is not only due to karma.
In short, bad things happen to good people because they aren’t going to suffer much longer, for they are going to experience the ripening of the result or “vipaka” of karma in the here and now. Good things happen to bad people, sure, but they will have their own karma to work with. The timing of karma isn’t something that is easily known – as we do not really know what each other has experienced. We can only better our own condition by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which leads beyond the range of karma to the highest happiness of Nirvana.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on this blog. Almost an entire year! I guess I’ll be trying to update this blog a lot more periodically. Feel free to also check out my website which seems to get updated a lot more than this blog.
Buddha often referred to Nirvana as the unconditioned, unbinding, undying and the “deathless state”. However, the deathless state is something that can be realized right here and now. In the Kodhavagga, the Buddha said, “Those sages who are inoffensive and ever restrained in body, go to the Deathless State, where, having gone, they grieve no more.” The property of the deathless state is that of exquisite peace as it is the resolution of all fabrications and the relinquishment of all acquisitions; it is the ending of craving; it is dispassion, cessation, and unbinding.
The “deathless state” of Nirvana is not defined in terms of time and space. There is no coming, going, here, there, past, present, etc. This is why the consciousness of the Deathless (or Nirvana) is said to be “without feature” or “without surface”, without end, and luminous all around. The “consciousness without feature” is not included in the five skandhas, because the consciousness-aggregate only covers the consciousness that is in connection with time and space. Therefore, “consciousness without feature” should not be confused with the formless stage of concentration called the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, which is fabricated and willed. Since “consciousness without feature” is not defined in terms of time and space, it can not be said to be eternal because eternity is still a function of time.
Buddha insisted that an awakened person, unlike us ordinary folk, can not be located or defined in any relation to the aggregates in this life. Therefore, after death (or “parinirvana”), a Buddha or Arahant can not be described as existing, not existing, neither, or both, because these descriptions can only apply to definable things
Since my birthday is coming up, I thought I would post the Upajjhatthana or the “Five Remembrances.” These are five subjects that all people (male and female, lay followers and monastics) should constantly bear in mind (abhinha-paccavekkhana).
1. Jaradhammata: I am subject to aging, I have not gone beyond aging.
2. Byadhidhammata: I am subject to pain and illness, I have not gone beyond pain and illness.
3. Maranadhammata: I am subject to death, I have not gone beyond death.
4. Piyavinabhavata: I will grow different, I separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
5. Kammassakata: I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.
The first three remembrances are antidotes to the “threefold pride” of youthfulness (yobbana-mada), health (ārogya-mada) and life (jīvita-mada). The fourth contemplation is to weaken or overcome lust (rāga); and, the fifth contemplation is to weaken or overcome irresponsibility embodied in improper (duccarita) acts, speech and thoughts.
“Subject to birth, subject to aging, subject to death, run-of-the-mill people are repelled by those who suffer from that to which they are subject. And if I were to be repelled by beings subject to these things, it would not be fitting for me, living as they do. As I maintained this attitude — knowing the Dhamma without paraphernalia — I overcame all intoxication with health, youth, & life as one who sees renunciation as rest. For me, energy arose, Unbinding was clearly seen. There’s now no way I could partake of sensual pleasures. Having followed the holy life, I will not return.” – Upajjhatthana Sutta
After Buddha’s enlightenment, he taught what is known as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are comparable to a medical diagnosis:
1. Disease and symptoms – Dukkha (unease, stress, suffering, anguish, unsatisfactoriness, imperfection, etc).
When you’re born, the doctor slaps you on the ass and you begin crying. When you get older, things start changing and eventually some things just don’t make sense or work the way they used to. You can catch a cold or H5N1; you have bills and mortgage payments; the beer can get warm. Eventually, you’ll die. Sometimes you don’t get what you want, and sometimes you can lose things that are dear to you. But cheer up emo kid, there is hope.
2. Cause or diagnosis - Samudaya (Tanha or craving)
We’re not born as Rhodes scholars or little Einsteins. In fact, we’re not completely developed and, quite frankly, we’re pretty ignorant. Born out of ignorance, we crave for material things, sensual experiences, opinions and ideas, beliefs and concepts, existence, etc.- and when disappointed, we even crave for extinction. However, because these things are impermanent, changeable, perishable, etc. we always fail to satisfy our desires and it thus causes disappointment and suffering. It is by not seeing things clearly as they truly are that we continue to desire and crave attachment.
3. Prognosis – Nirodha (cessation of that same craving)
Hey, there is a bright side to all of this. We don’t have to be ignorant, crave for existence or nonexistence, or suffer. This is achievable by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path.
4. Prescription – Aryastangamarga (the Noble Eightfold Path)
The Noble Eightfold Path can be explained briefly as follows:
1. Right view or understanding of the Four Noble Truths – that is, knowledge with regard to dukkha, the origination of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha. This may seem redundant at first, but we will find that we have to keep coming back to this throughout our practice.
2. Right aspiration (or resolve) is for the renunciation of selfish desires and ill-will for benevolence and harmlessness.
3. Right speech is abstaining from lying, slander, and frivolous idle talk.
4. Right action is abstaining from taking life, stealing, and promiscuity.
5. Right livelihood is abstaining from profiting in dishonesty, corruption, or harm.
6. Right endeavor (or effort) is to develop skilled mental states.
7. Right mindfulness is to see things as they truly are, in and of themselves, and putting away greed and distress with reference to the world.
8. Right concentration is jhana (or dhyana), or meditation.
Baka Brahma (literally “crane-Brahma”) is a deva who believes that his world is constant, permanent, eternal and without decay (and that therefore he is immortal), and there is no higher refuge. The Buddha counters Baka’s claims by relating the concept of annicca (impermanence), but one of Baka’s attendants (under the influence of Mara, the archetypal personification of unskillfulness) claims that Baka is “the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be”, and that those who praise him will be rewarded – but those who defied the word of Brahma would be like someone who chases fortune away with a stick and accomplishes nothing. Yet the Buddha identified that the real speaker was Mara, and stated that he is free of his power and control.
Baka then claims that his domain is universal and that if Buddha depends upon any of the things within Bakas jurisdiction, he will be within his realm thus Baka can do whatever he sees fit. The Buddha responds that Baka does in fact have this much power, might and influence – but that there are also realms beyond Baka’s understanding, and that the Buddha’s knowledge places him beyond Baka’s power.
Baka is at last convinced by a display of the Buddha’s “fabrication of psychic power to the extent that Brahma, the Brahma assembly, and the attendants of the Brahma assembly heard my voice but did not see me. Having disappeared, I recited this verse: ‘Having seen danger right in becoming, and becoming searching for non-becoming, I didn’t affirm any kind of becoming, or cling to any delight.’”
Buddha was also able to explain Baka’s present situation by reference to his past lives. Baka was in a past life a human ascetic named Kesava who by various means saved many people (e.g. giving drinking water to many people who were dying of thirst). For his meditative prowess he was born as a Brhatphala deva (lit. “having great fruit”), and in successive rebirths gradually sank through the levels of the Rupadhatu (“Form Realm”) until he became an ordinary Brahma.
On another occasion, Baka believed that no monk or contemplative can enter his world (through the supramundane powers of manifestation), but the Buddha himself and several of his disciples visit him to prove him wrong.