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Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere, or through anger or resistance wish for another to suffer.

20 December 2009

With insight we are safe from pain

"The Buddha's teaching of Insight is — in as few words as possible — the training in knowledge and seeing of how it is that anything, whatever it may be whether objective or subjective, comes to be; how it acquires existence only through dependence on conditions, and is impermanent because none of the conditions for its existence is permanent; and how existence, always complex and impermanent, is never safe from pain, and is in need of a self — the will-o'-the-wisp idea, the rainbow mirage, which lures it on, and which it can never find; for the comforting illusion has constantly to be renewed. And that teaching also shows how there is a true way out from fear of pain. In its concise form this is expressed as the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of suffering's origin (craving or need), the truth of suffering's cessation (through abandonment of craving), and the truth of the way leading to suffering's cessation. These four truths are called the teaching peculiar to Buddhas (Buddhanam samukkamsika-desana) since the discovery of them is what distinguishes Buddhas." Ñanamoli Thera -The Practice of Loving-Kindness (Metta): As Taught by the Buddha in the Pali Canon
The image above is probably not familiar to many who otherwise feel they have a good grasp of the central Buddhist conceptions, namely impermanence - annicca, suffering - dukkha, and non-self - annatta. Here the Buddha is represented as the Wheel of Dhamma atop a pillar. At the time this wonderfully dynamic image was being carved at Sanchi (1st-2nd century BCE) he was also being represented as a dome-shaped stupa, a bodhi tree, an oblong seat, or two horizontal parallel lines. This subtle, symbolic, non-human, aniconic representation of Gotama persisted for centuries after his death. This truth is hard to grasp, even hard to accept, for many modern explorers of dhamma, particularly those who are drawn towards a religious reverence for the practice of insight, who like to see in statues an embodiment of an ideal. For more than 2000 years the Buddha has been conceived of as an iconic image of a man in robes seated in the familiar lotus position, the eyes closed or partly open, the hands arranged in one of the classical symbolic gestures or mudra: both resting in the lap in meditation, one touching the ground to indicate the moment of enlightenment, or both arranged in a teaching or calming posture, the fingers joined or open depending on the knowledge or intention of the artist or the patron. There is a considerable literature on the emergence of this iconic image.(The link above is a good place to explore this fascinating story).

04 December 2009

Stirring leaves

Suffering flows from unsatisfactory conditions. Just as leaves respond to the stirring wind, so mind bends to the unsatisfactory turbulence of its condition. What does the world look like if all unsatisfactory conditions are removed? From moment to moment the untrained mind busily runs back to reinvent the past, or forward to anticipate the future. It never seems to fix on the moment it leaves behind. Yet it is only in the present moment that thought can be caught and trained to consider itself as a thought; as a fleeting, transient event, one among many, rising and passing in a continuous stream of anicca - impermanence. This is the heart of dhamma - the reality of the universe. This is the impermanent always. This is where the mind is brought to with the enduring and effective technique of anapana and vipassana meditation. The technique is not in any way an end in itself. The intention, the goal and the means is to simply look at the breath rising and falling in order to focus the mind until it is steady, straight, strong and settled. From the calm mind rises equanimity. Faced with the equanimous mind, suffering flees. Craving, aversion and ignorance fade. Dhamma prevails. This is not an intellectual or a philosophical pursuit, nor is it spiritual in the sense of being derived from any religious experience. Awareness in the mind is entirely derived from the  experiential understanding of the elemental, physical nature of the universe: namely that water floods, fire burns, air flows, earth smothers. In the body, moisture rises in tears, drool, sweat; the body burns; cooled by air, its heat dissipates; dusty earth dries on the skin, ready to be washed clean. The leaves on the trees experience this same elemental interaction. However, humans alone are the only beings fortunate enough to be able to deploy the particular consciousness needed to truly articulate this understanding of dhamma.This is our kamma, our debt, our inheritence, it is also our opportunity. Why be troubled by suffering? If, as the Buddha demonstrated, it is simply a matter of taking right action, then these elemental factors that bind us to suffering can be dissected, dissolved, put in their place and finally removed as obstacles to happiness.

12 November 2009

The end of craving

"Through countless births in the cycle of existence I have run in vain 
seeking the builder of this house and again and again I faced the suffering of new birth. Oh, housebuilder! Now you are seen! You shall not build again a house for me. All your beams are broken, the ridgepole is shattered. Mind has become free from conditioning; the end of craving has been reached."
These words of the Buddha on reaching enlightenment are beautiful in the original Pali. When understood, they resonate also in English. The house is the body, composed of mind and matter and the source of suffering. The house-builder is not a god or a prime mover in the universe, but rather the accumulated conditions of unsatisfactoriness that prompt suffering. The beams are the passions that bring craving and aversion, hence leading on to suffering. "Association with the loathed is suffering; disassociation from the loved is suffering," as Buddha Gotama said in his first discourse. In other words, we crave to get away from what we don't want; we equally crave to be closer to what we want. Both conditions bring suffering. The ridgepole is ignorance of this contradictory state of mind. These contradictory cravings, pursued in ignorance, build conditioned states- sankharas -that swell up and blossom unexpectedly like ugly flowers, giving off the perfume of hate, greed, envy, jealousy, pride, fear and infatuation. We are each the house-builders of our own suffering. Once this is seen through the experience of observation, guided by the eight-fold path, the mind has the possibility of becoming freed from clinging, freed from suffering. Sankharas continue to arise in every being, even in Buddhas, but seen for what they truly are, as transient states that arise and pass like the breath, they become nothing more than tea leaves floating to the surface of the cup. They can be removed without effort. Like the leaves that made the tea, they have served their purpose. Like the leaves that made the tea, they did not begin as impurities, but as actions taken, as inclinations followed, as desires unrestrained. Take the time to learn more about this as if the matter were urgent. Dhamma will always exist. However, the right conditions for taking this sweet medicine may soon change, perhaps not for the better. Bhavatu sabbe mangalam!

05 November 2009

Free the thinker from the thought

Thoughts come in the shape of things, people, birds, animals. Thoughts bring friends: ideas, beliefs, hopes, doubts, fears, desires, anger, envy, greed, infatuation, pride, worry. Welcome them as food for thought, as lonely, tired strangers returning home. Free the thinker from the thought. The thing freed was never bound to begin with.Release the words that form the thoughts that words are anything at all, other than fleeting sparks from fires, drops of rain, dust rising from an untrammeled road.

03 November 2009

The view

Hesperus, evening star,
you bring all things homeward
which the shining dawn dispersed,
You bring the sheep, you bring the goats,
you bring the child home to its mother.

—  Sappho

The dawning of dhamma - 1

Before Vipassana - departure from helplessness.

I awoke on 7 October 2007 full of familiar despair and suffering, but also fully aware of the selfish contradiction of this condition. After all, my suffering was relative and hardly anything substantial when compared to the suffering of others. Yet the suffering was real. I could feel its presence. It was physical, persistent, ephemeral. I decided to read a book on Tibetan Buddhism and meditation, The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche. This book had found its way into my book collection by chance and like a geological feature, a diamond, or a fossil, it had worked its way through the strata of my collection to finally sit on the surface, to be noticed and dug out, dusted off and put to use. I found it very moving in its description of the fragility of life and the need to prepare for death. I also found it partly obscure and tentative in its analysis of what it was to explore these things. However, it did make clear this was not an intellectual exercise. Action was needed if anything at all was to be gained from its pages. I decided at once to follow the description given in the book of a method for open-eyed meditation. At one o’clock in the afternoon I sat down on a cushion on a mat on the floor of the spare bedroom of my flat and lit a stick of incense, ready and resolved to sit as long as it took for the incense to burn away. There it was. With such a simple gesture my meditation practice had begun, or so it seemed.