Jul 01

All Phenomena is Causally Conditioned . . . Even You

All Phenomena is Causally Conditioned . . . Even You

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Causality, co-dependent arising, the causal chain, the arising and falling away of phenomena, causal conditioning, these are all labels for the causes and effects brought about by the reality of impermanence. Due to the dynamism of the Universe we inhabit there is always change, always room for change, always the potential for change. The reality of the arising and falling away of phenomena adds vitality to the Noble Path, the path of positive transformation. Impermanence is a dharma ideal. Causal conditioning is the reality that arises from that ideal.

In the Paccaya Sutta the Buddha says:

When this is present, that comes to be:

from the arising of this, that arises.

When this is absent, that does not come to be:

on the cessation of this, that ceases.

In causal conditioning there can be no ONE cause or ONE effect. All phenomena arise from a variety of causes and effects. No matter whether it is a thought, action, philosophy, material, food, theories, emotions, or ideas they are all subject to the actions of other phenomena though every causal event that contributed may be beyond our ability to comprehend or discover. This does not negate the reality of causal conditions, just our ability as human beings to recognize all the nuances of the causal Universe.

There is an aphorism that says you are the author of your own story. That is true given that you choose how you respond to each situation, still you are responding to causes and effects you are mindful and aware of . . . and not to those causes you have no awareness of. Your intent must be to engage with causal factors more likely to cause the arising of wholesome consequences, and to allow the falling away of those causal factors likely to cause unwholesome consequences. You must seek to take control of the causal conditions you can so that those you can’t control will have a lesser impact on your wholesome personal transformation.

In the Majjhima Nikayas, the Maha-hatthipadopama-sutta (36) the Buddha teaches that “He who sees causality (dependent origination, co-dependent arising) sees the dharma, and he who sees the dharma sees causality.” Without an understanding and recognition of dependent origination following the Eightfold Path or engaging in any other Buddhist practice can be an empty exercise. The potential is there but the realization of possibilities will not be. In another teaching (Itivuttaka, from the Kuddhaka Nikaya) the Buddha said, “A disciple sees the dharma, and seeing the dharma sees me.” The Buddha was speaking directly to a gathering of monks but the same holds true for anyone. Causality is the core of understanding the dharma, and of realizing how Buddhist practice can be effective in transforming our personal character and the world around us. Realizing the ideal of causality empowers us with the knowledge that we can make a difference through our engaged actions, whether they be within ourselves, or with others, or with the world around us. This is a powerful and liberating realization.

The Buddha talked about four characteristics of causal relationships:

Objectivity: Dependent origination or causal conditioning is a fact no matter what angle it is viewed from. Metaphysics or science, human or animal, seen or not seen, there are causal results of actions taken, or not taken, recognized or not.
Necessity: Nothing happens from “thin air”. The cause may not be discernible but there is a cause, and often a chain, or web of causes.
Invariability: Even events that appear to have no cause, have a cause. While an action/result may have been unintentional, it wasn’t accidental, there was a cause. One may not have intended a particular outcome of their actions, yet they bear at least some responsibility for that outcome. This is why intent is critical in how we interact with the world around us. Whether we recognize it or not our actions are going to have consequences so we engage the world in such a way as to engender positive outcomes, positive karmic consequences.
Conditionality: Events are situational due to the conditions under which they happen. Unconditional would imply determinism, that an event was pre-destined or was an arbitrary occurrence. All phenomena are causally conditioned; they arise, fall, change and interact as a result of being influenced by some other action or thought. In RL when the ching bell is struck the sound follows. That is its causally conditioned action. In SL that is not always so. I can ring the ching bell here by aligning the hand symbol on it and tapping the keyboard but it doesn’t always lead to the sound. In SL the ching bell might not ring due to a glitch in programming or in the transmission of my physical action to the virtual action. This is virtual causal conditioning.
All causal relationships are dependent on all four of the factors above. It is one of the Three Characteristics of Existence, along with not-self and impermanence, that the Buddha awakened to.

In the Paccaya Sutta (Discourse on Causal Relations – SN), the Buddha tells his disciples that the dharma is subject to causality and so would undergo changes in accordance with causal factors like environment, culture, context and level of need; the reality of causally conditioned phenomena. He offered that a realization of causal conditioning explains the existence of all phenomena and the complex interactions between them. A realization of causality empowers one with the knowledge that you can make a difference through your intentional actions, but also you make a difference through unintentional ones. It brings with the knowledge that internal and external phenomena mold HOW you are so effort and commitment made to be more mindful of those influences is valuable on the Noble Path or any other positively oriented path. It is a liberating realization.

Viewing how you interact with the Universe through a causal lens can change your perceptions, intent and actions. When you realize that every move, thought and word WILL become part of the web of causal conditioning the need and value of mindfulness and awareness becomes crystal clear.

Think before you speak or act is an age-old aphorism. What about think before you think? How you think leads to a causal chain of how you’ll continue to think unless you become the cause of your own transformation. How we think naturally leads to how we act. Through practice and study we may come to realize that some patterns of thought are negative and they are leading us to make even more bad decisions. Causality allows the opportunity to make positive changes along with the knowledge that intentional thought leads to good decisions and positively directed actions.

Viewing issues and problems through a causal lens improves your ability to enact lasting positive solutions. We are less likely to place blame on one individual or one vent as a cause by looking for weak strands in the causal web that connects cause to effect to cause to effect . . . Fixing or adjusting more than one strand of the web will enable you to spin more corrective and encompassing solutions to the unique situations you experience each moment.

Picture a spider’s web, yourself at the center. Whatever happens to, or on that web affects you. When the web “vibrates” then something caused it, and that vibration will effect something else. A strand of web doesn’t just snap . . . like your friend doesn’t get angry for nothing. Dew doesn’t just appear on the web . . . like that twenty dollar bill didn’t just appear on the sidewalk. It might have been the wind, an unusually strong moth, it hadn’t been properly attached, or a cause that can’t be clearly viewed that snapped the strand. No matter how you view a phenomena it has undergone its own unique set of circumstances; nothing arises “out of thin air”. You are responsible for developing mindfulness of self-caused effects, as well awareness of possible of outside causes. You are responsible for your intent and your actions because the center of your web is interlinked with all other webs.

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Jun 29

DHAMMAPADA – Yourself

From the SHAMBHALA POCKET CLASSICS (DHAMMAPADAThe Sayings of the Buddha)

12 – Yourself

Love yourself and watch —

Today, Tomorrow, always.

 

First establish yourself in the way,

Then teach,

And so defeat sorrow.

 

To straighten the crooked

You must first do a harder thing —

Straighten yourself.

 

You are your only master.

Who else?

Subdue yourself,

And discover your master.

 

Willfully you have fed

Your own mischief.

Soon it will crush you

As the diamond crushes stone.

 

By your own folly

You will be brought as low

As your worst enemy wishes.

So the creeper chokes the tree.

 

How hard it is to serve yourself,

How easy to lose yourself

In mischief and folly.

 

The kashta reed dies when it bears

fruit.

So the fool,

Scorning the teachings of the

awakened,

Spurning those who follow the law,

Perishes when his folly flowers.

 

Mischief is yours.

Sorrow is yours.

But virtue is also yours,

And purity.

 

You are the source

Of all purity and impurity.

 

No one purifies another.

 

Never neglect your work

For another’s,

However great his need.

 

Your work is to discover your work

And then with all your heart

To give yourself to it.

 

I have been dealing with a situation in Second Life for three months. In a nutshell, a painful personal relationship developed in Second Life. On this night, after much soul searching, I decided to end this relationship, and in great pain randomly chose one of the chapters of this book. It of course was right on the money as they say. There is not much else I can share about this, except I wandered away from the Buddha Center, ran into my reflection, and now I have returned. I share this because I think it is a common occurrence and this piece in the DHAMMAPADA could save you the detour if you take it as a meditation now, and if you have already lost your way, then again, NOW. I thank the Sangha for their support and all the true friends I have made there and elsewhere in-world. Namaste Jinpa Karu.

 

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Jun 27

Thich Nhat Hanh – Through The Insight Of Interbeing

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Jun 23

Friendships

In an ancient Buddhist story, the Buddha’s faithful attendant, Ananda, asked about the importance of having wholesome companions. Ananda asked the Buddha whether having noble friends and companions wasn’t half of the holy life. The Buddha replied: “Do not say so, Ananda. Noble friends and companions are the whole of the holy life.” (SN 45.2, Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Whatever kind of life you have, your friends are both a part of it and a reflection of it. Work or school associates, sports teammates, companions in religious community – in all of these there is some degree of choice. You accept a job, join a team, or become a member of a social group; and you choose how closely to associate with the people in each group. Even in your family, you choose how close or distant to be with individual members.
Within each of these affiliation groups, there may be people you’d like to know better and those you’d like to avoid spending time with. How do you choose which people fall into which category? Do you like the ones who seem to like you? Or the people you consider the most physically attractive? Are you drawn to people you consider thoughtful, or wise and helpful? Do you passively wait to be contacted, by anyone at all? Somehow, by some sorting method, you end up with friends and acquaintances that influence you and whom you influence.

Are your friends wholesome companions?
One definition of a good friend is someone who brings out what is best in you. She might do this by following your lead when you do something worth emulating, and by telling you directly what she admires about you. A good friend discourages what is worst in you, perhaps by declining to follow an unwise lead, and sometimes by telling you directly when she thinks something is off. By her actions and words, a good friend gives you helpful feedback. Out of genuine concern for your well-being, a good friend will support your wholesome actions and discourage your unwholesome actions.

Are you a wholesome friend to your companions?
On the other side of the question, how much of the time are you a wise and beneficial friend? Do you encourage people to do what’s best, even if there’s nothing in it for you? Are you willing to bring up awkward topics if you think it will help another person? Do you appreciate your relationships? Do you attend to them regularly, showing that you are grateful for them?

What did the Buddha say about friends?

In a lesson directed to a person not connected with the Buddha (DN31, tr. Kelly, Sawyer, Yareham), the Buddha outlines what to look out for in a false friend, and what actions would make you a false friend.

Young man, be aware of these four enemies disguised as friends: the taker, the talker, the flatterer, and the reckless companion.

The taker can be identified by four things: by only taking, asking for a lot while giving little, performing duty out of fear, and offering service in order to gain something.

The talker can be identified by four things: by reminding of past generosity, promising future generosity, mouthing empty words of kindness, and protesting personal misfortune when called on to help.

The flatterer can be identified by four things: by supporting both bad and good behavior indiscriminately, praising you to your face, and putting you down behind your back.

The reckless companion can be identified by four things: by accompanying you in drinking, roaming around at night, partying, and gambling.

In the same lesson, the Buddha continues by outlining what to look for in a good friend and how to be that valuable friend.

Young man, be aware of these four good-hearted friends:

the helper, the friend who endures in good times and bad, the mentor, and the compassionate friend.
The helper can be identified by four things: by protecting you when you are vulnerable, and likewise your wealth, being a refuge when you are afraid, and in various tasks providing double what is requested.

The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.

The mentor can be identified by four things: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, telling you what you ought to know, and showing you the path to heaven [lasting happiness].

The compassionate friend can be identified by four things: by not rejoicing in your misfortune, delighting in your good fortune, preventing others from speaking ill of you, and encouraging others who praise your good qualities.

That is what the Buddha said.

Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven?

He gives what is beautiful, hard to give,
does what is hard to do,
endures painful, ill-spoken words.
His secrets he tells you,
your secrets he keeps.
When misfortunes strike,
he doesn’t abandon you;
when you’re down & out,
doesn’t look down on you.
A person in whom these traits are found,
is a friend to be cultivated
by anyone wanting a friend.

Remember what the Buddha said. There is no condition of life that more powerfully influences your development than cultivating wholesome friends and companions. Start with yourself, as you are today, and build on your strengths to become a better friend and companion to others. And choose who you spend time with carefully.

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Jun 20

SUMMER SOLSTICE FULL MOON IN JUNE!

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 5.20.52 AM

I am Posting this article I found on today and tonight’s event because I feel Summer Solstice is a most auspicious time of the year, the longest day. For me the longest day of the year means a day when I can choose to live as virtuously as possible and then dedicate that action to all beings with the intention that they may have an auspicious year full of virtuous actions. So here I give you Bob Bermans article from “The Old Farmers Almanac”  Also here is a link for the article and viewing the full moon in action.http://www.almanac.com/content/first-day-summer-2016-summer-solstice

 

On June  20, 2016, the Full Moon appears on the same night as the summer solstice! It’s rare, all right.

 

A full Moon hasn’t landed smack on the solstice since 1948.  But that’s what’s actually happening on Monday, June 20.

This has visible in-your-face consequences.

First, there’s the solstice …

  • The solstice is, of course, the day with the most minutes of sunshine.
  • It’s when the midday Sun is the year’s highest.
  • The sun rises at its leftmost spot on the horizon and sets at its rightmost position.
  • The setting sun sprays into windows at a strange angle, and touches bits of furniture that are not illuminated at any other time.
  • The Sun’s path across the sky makes its longest and most curvy arc.
  • Check out your shadow at 1:00 PM, like Puxtatawney Phil.  This Monday that’s your shortest shadow of the year.

Then you have the full Moon.  By landing exactly on the solstice, this Full Moon doesn’t just rise as the Sun sets but is opposite the Sun in all other ways too.

The Sun gets super high so this Moon must be super-low. Even at its loftiest at 1 AM, it’s downright wimpy-low. This forces its light through thicker air, which also tends to be humid this time of year, and the combination typically makes it amber colored.

This is the true Honey Moon.

The moment of full Moon is early Monday morning.  So it will look equally full on Sunday night and Monday night.  You get two chances to enjoy the Solstice honeymoon.

On the evening of June 20, join me. We’ll be looking through a giant telescope at the Moon, courtesy of Slooh, and you can see it, too, through our live feed right to this Web site. Pretty amazing, right?

~ By  Bob Berman

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Jun 13

Dharma of the Individual

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Buddhism in the West must find a way to skillfully harness the power of the individualistic view and action of those who choose the Noble Path. In each person is a reservoir of imagination, skills, gifts, compassion and the Buddha-element. These are reservoirs that can be tapped for the benefit of all. Their attitude might begin with the ideal of what’s in it for me. What does Buddhist philosophy and practice offer that will improve my situation? Each practitioner must be guided to the gradual realization that while expression is unique, suffering in some form is not. Awareness of the effects of the practitioners intent and action beyond themselves must be developed and nurtured so the realization that whatever the thought or action there are causal consequences.

There are practitioners who view Judeo/Christian beliefs as the cultural aspect of the West that Buddhism must come to terms with. In the West it is the dominant religious and social framework, especially in America. However, there is a prevailing psychological phenomena endemic to the majority of Americans regardless of religious or secular identity. Individualism. Finding skillful means of transforming perceptions of “what’s in it for me” to “what’s in it for all beings” is a major challenge for Western Buddhists.

We must first come to an understanding of individualism as a moral view and a social view common in the West. People who hold this worldview believe that the interests, wants and needs of the individual should come before that of any government or group. They resist all attempts by society or groups to interfere with their individual goals. The results of their individual actions might have some benefit to others but it is not their intention. Means of transforming individualism to an individual aware of the discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish of others and themselves equally, transforming individualism to an individual mindful of their own discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish.

In the Raga-vinaya Sutta: The Subduing of Passion (Anguttara Nikaya), the Buddha describes four types of individuals. There is one who practices only for their own benefit, one who practices only for the benefit of others, one who practices neither for their own benefit or the benefit of others, and one who practice for both their own benefit and that of others. The individualist tendency in the West is the first one described. That tendency is often what brings a Westerner to the practice of Buddhism, some want or need they hope that Buddhism can provide for them. The Buddha was clear that a Buddhist practice begins with development of the individual. He was equally clear that it must not end there. Skillful means must be found to lead the practitioner along a path to the fourth type of individual, one who practices for the benefit of self and others.

The lesson in the Lekha Sutta: Inscriptions (Anguttara Nikaya) offers a glimpse of that path. It describes three types of individuals based on their perceptions of their ability to transform. There is the individual that is like an inscription on rock, one that is like an inscription in soil, and one like an inscription in water. Each can be viewed as metaphor for the stages of bodymind in Buddhist practice.

An individualistic worldview combines the first type of person in each sutta. They will practice for only for their own benefit believing that like an inscription in rock their worldview is permanent. They hold to the ‘what’s in it for me’ mode of thinking and acting. Initially Buddhist practice can seem to verify this view. Emphasis is on personal transformation that begins with how that practice can improve the state of the individual bodymind. One learns to sit in meditation among a sangha, yet the bulk of that practice is done at home, alone, individually. One learns that emotions and habitual reactivities that plague the bodymind are transient phenomena, a view that the individual must come to realize. For a ‘what’s in it for me’ state of bodymind the serenity, the equanimity and the sense of personal accomplishment are enough, just what they were looking for. It is written in stone.

Siddhartha began his journey of personal spiritual transformation with the goal of understanding the forms of suffering he witnessed but never experienced. Prior to his achieving awareness of the plight of some human beings he was like an inscription in stone. In accordance with Hindu beliefs his personal and social actions were taken that would positively affect his rebirth. When he chose to leave his wife and child behind, to seek answers, he did so for his own benefit.

The next two types of individual present a danger to the bodymind and the view of an inscription in soil is a skillful way of getting beyond that danger. The view and action of one who practices only for the benefit of others misses entirely a critical aspect of Buddhism. The Buddha teaches that only with equanimity of focus on self and others can the value of the dharma be experienced. The person who practices neither for their own benefit or the benefit of others is going through the motions of being a Buddhist without any intent to engage the dharma in themselves or the world around them.

My nephew is an example of an individual who practices neither for himself or for others. He labels himself a Buddhist on forms for the United States Military because it allows him avoid particular requirements put on people of other faiths.

These views can seem to written in stone. In time and with effort any stone can be turned into soil. Buddhists are farmers and soil is where the unwholesome views and actions are weeded out and wholesome seeds planted and nurtured. Unwholesome views that are inscribed in a bodymind of soil can be transformed as the wind and water of the dharma wear them away allowing the planted seeds of appropriate view and intent to grow.

The fourth type of individual offered in the Raga-vinaya Sutta is the bodhisattva-in-training ideal, one who practices for the benefit of self and others. An individual that is like an inscription on water is most capable of reaching this view and intent, and taking the actions that arise as a result. They experience the current of the dharma from individualistic intent, to social intent, flow around the obstruction of neither self or social intent, to the realization that the dharma, when applied equally to self and other has its greatest value in the promotion of human flourishing.

Siddhartha transformed from one who practiced for their own benefit to one who practiced for the benefit of self and other. He awakened and stood up under the branches of the bodhi tree it is said he doubted his ability to teach others what he had come to realize as a Middle Path that could relieve the suffering of human beings. Siddhartha hesitated, and for that moment he was still practicing for himself. In the next moment he made the decision to try and transformed into one who would practice for self and others.

It takes skillful means to guide an individualistic Westerner along a path that not only accepts the benefit of the dharma to the individual but encourages it . . . in the beginning of practice, to the realization that practice of dharma is most valuable when equally engaged in service of the individual and society as that practice matures. This skillful means cannot just be the efforts and mentoring of a teacher. It must also arise in the thoughts and actions of the practitioner. To develop a mature Buddhist practice it takes both external and internal skillful means or one may find themselves inscribed in rock and fail to engaged the opportunities of soil and water to grow wholesome dispositions and habits.

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Jun 13

Schedule Update BC

Monday

08:30 AM SLT – 30 minutes of silent meditation with Tashi Aura in the Main Temple.

01:00 PM SLT – 1st and 3rd of the month teaching with Venerable Wayne Slacker in Deer Park (in voice).

03:00 PM SLT – Session with Mani in Deer Park (in voice).

05:30 PM SLT -30 minutes of silent meditation with Cysix Sage in the Main Temple.

06:30 PM SLT – 2nd and 4th of the month teaching with Venerable Wayne Slacker in Deer Park (in voice).

06:30 PM SLT – 1st and 3rd of each month teaching with Samanera Jayantha in Deer Park (in voice).

7:30 PM SLT – Teaching with Rev. Douglas Sanyo (Douglas Tragonach) in the Main Temple (in voice).

Tuesday

08:30 AM SLT – 30 minutes of silent meditation with Jinpa Karu in the Main Temple.

05:00 PM SLT – Teaching with Douglas Tragonach in the Main Temple (in voice).

07:00 PM SLT – Pure Land Ceremony with Prosper Telling in Deer Park.

08:00 PM SLT – 30 minutes of silent meditation with Asendeson Svenson in Deer Park.

Wednesday

08:30 AM SLT – Short Lecture and Zazen in the Main Temple with Delani (in voice).

09:30 AM SLT – Metta Mediation with Jenn in Deer Park.

01:00 PM SLT – Jataka Tales and Meditation with Zino March in the main temple (in voice).

05:30 PM SLT – 30 minutes of silent meditation with Cysix Sage in the Main Temple.

Thursday

08:30 AM SLT – 30 minutes of silent meditation with Tashi Aura in the Main Temple.

07:00 AM SLT –Pure Land Ceremony with Prosper Telling in Deer Park

12 PM SLT – Meditation Teaching Session with Mani in Deer Park (in voice).

Friday

10:00 AM SLT – Reading with Jinpa Karu in Deer Park (in voice).

11:00 AM SLT – Discussion and Q&A on Tibetan Sitting Meditation Technique –Jinpa Karu in Deer Park (in voice)

02:00 PM SLT – Teaching with Venerable Wayne Slacker in the main temple (in voice).

Saturday

10:00 AM SLT –Lecture with Rollo in Deer Park (in voice).

Sunday

10:00 AM SLT – 30 minutes of meditation with Quinn Sepupta in Deer Park.

10:30 AM SLT – The First Sunday of the Month. – Puja Ceremony for the release of compassionate energy. In the Main Temple, Venerable Wayne (in voice).

03:00 PM SLT – Teaching with Lama Tsewang in the Main Temple (in voice).

There will be spontaneous sessions and/or chanting with Mani in Deer Park. Watch for Notices.

Venerable Wayne will be doing “pop up” sessions over the next few months and may not be doing his regular sessions Watch for Notices.

Douglas Tragonach will conduct “pop-up”sessions during the Summer. Watch for Notices.

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Jun 08

PRINCE WICKED AND THE GRATEFUL ANIMALS

PRINCE WICKED AND THE GRATEFUL ANIMALS

Once upon a time a king had a son named Prince Wicked. He was fierce and cruel, and he spoke to nobody without abuse, or blows. Like grit in the eye, was Prince Wicked to every one, both in the palace and out of it.
His people said to one another, “If he acts this way while he is a prince, how will he act when he is king?” One day when the prince was swimming in the river, suddenly a great storm came on, and it grew very dark.

In the darkness the servants who were with the prince swam from him, saying to themselves, “Let us leave him alone in the river, and he may drown.”
When they reached the shore, some of the servants who had not gone into the river said, “Where is Prince Wicked?” “Isn’t he here?” they asked. “Perhaps he came out of the river in the darkness and went home.” Then the servants all went back to the palace.

The king asked where his son was, and again the servants said: “Isn’t he here, O King? A great storm came on soon after we went into the water. It grew very dark. When we came out of the water the prince was not with us.”
At once the king had the gates thrown open. He and all his men searched up and down the banks of the river for the missing prince. But no trace of him could be found.

In the darkness the prince had been swept down the river. He was crying for fear he would drown when he came across a log. He climbed upon the log, and floated farther down the river. When the great storm arose, the water rushed into the homes of a Rat and a Snake who lived on the river bank. The Rat and the Snake swam out into the river and found the same log the prince had found. The Snake climbed upon one end of the log, and the Rat climbed upon the other.

On the river’s bank a cottonwood-tree grew, and a young Parrot lived in its branches. The storm pulled up this tree, and it fell into the river. The heavy rain beat down the Parrot when it tried to fly, and it could not go far. Looking down it saw the log and flew down to rest. Now there were four on the log floating down stream together. Just around the bend in the river a certain poor man had built himself a hut. As he walked to and fro late at night listening to the storm, he heard the loud cries of the prince. The poor man said to himself: “I must get that man out of the water. I must save his life.” So he shouted: “I will save you! I will save you!” as he swam out in the river.

Soon he reached the log, and pushing it by one end, he soon pushed it into the bank. The prince jumped up and down, he was so glad to be safe and sound on dry land.
Then the poor man saw the Snake, the Rat, and the Parrot, and carried them to his hut. He built a fire, putting the animals near it so they could get dry. He took care of them first, because they were the weaker, and afterwards he looked after the comfort of the prince. Then the poor man brought food and set it before them, looking after the animals first and the prince afterwards. This made the young prince angry, and he said to himself: “This poor man does not treat me like a prince. He takes care of the animals before taking care of me.” Then the prince began to hate the poor man.

A few days later, when the prince, and the Snake, the Rat, and the Parrot were rested, and the storm was all over, the Snake said good-by to the poor man with these words:
“Father, you have been very kind to me. I know where there is some buried gold. If ever you want gold, you have only to come to my home and call, ‘Snake!’ and I will show you the buried gold. It shall all be yours.”

Next the Rat said good-by to the poor man. “If ever you want money,” said the Rat, “come to my home, and call out, ‘Rat!’ and I will show you where a great deal of money is buried near my home. It shall all be yours.”
Then the Parrot came, saying: “Father, silver and gold have I none, but if you ever want choice rice, come to where I live and call, ‘Parrot!’ and I will call all my family and friends together, and we will gather the choicest rice in the fields for you.” Last came the prince. In his heart he hated the poor man who had saved his life. But he pretended to be as thankful as the animals had been, saying, “Come to me when I am king, and I will give you great riches.” So saying, he went away.

Not long after this the prince’s father died, and Prince Wicked was made king. He was then very rich.
By and by the poor man said to himself: “Each of the four whose lives I saved made a promise to me. I will see if they will keep their promises.”

First of all he went to the Snake, and standing near his hole, the poor man called out, “Snake!” At once the Snake darted forth, and with every mark of respect he said: “Father, in this place there is much gold. Dig it up and take it all.”
“Very well,” said the poor man. “When I need it, I will not forget.” After visiting for a while, the poor man said good-by to the Snake, and went to where the Rat lived, calling out, “Rat!” The Rat came at once, and did as the Snake had done, showing the poor man where the money was buried.
“When I need it, I will come for it,” said the poor man. Going next to the Parrot, he called out, “Parrot!” and the bird flew down from the tree-top as soon as he heard the call. “O Father,” said the Parrot, “shall I call together all my family and friends to gather choice rice for you?” The poor man, seeing that the Parrot was willing and ready to keep his promise, said: “I do not need rice now. If ever I do, I will not forget your offer.”

Last of all, the poor man went into the city where the king lived. The king, seated on his great white elephant, was riding through the city. The king saw the poor man, and said to himself: “That poor man has come to ask me for the great riches I promised to give him. I must have his head cut off before he can tell the people how he saved my life when I was the prince.”
So the king called his servants to him and said: “You see that poor man over there? Seize him and bind him, beat him at every corner of the street as you march him out of the city, and then chop off his head.”

The servants had to obey their king. So they seized and bound the poor man. They beat him at every corner of the street. The poor man did not cry out, but he said, over and over again, “It is better to save poor, weak animals than to save a prince.” At last some wise men among the crowds along the street asked the poor man what prince he had saved. Then the poor man told the whole story, ending with the words, “By saving your king, I brought all this pain upon myself.”
The wise men and all the rest of the crowd cried out: “This poor man saved the life of our king, and now the king has ordered him to be killed. How can we be sure that he will not have any, or all, of us killed? Let us kill him.” And in their anger they rushed from every side upon the king as he rode on his elephant, and with arrows and stones they killed him then and there.

Then they made the poor man king, and set him to rule over them. The poor man ruled his people well. One day he decided once more to try the Snake, the Rat, and the Parrot. So, followed by many servants, the king went to where the Snake lived.

At the call of “Snake!” out came the Snake from his hole, saying, “Here, O King, is your treasure; take it.” “I will,” said the king. “And I want you to come with me.” Then the king had his servants dig up the gold. Going to where the Rat lived, the king called, “Rat!” Out came the Rat, and bowing low to the king, the Rat said, “Take all the money buried here and have your servants carry it away.” “I will,” said the king, and he asked the Rat to go with him and the Snake.
Then the king went to where the Parrot lived, and called, “Parrot!” The Parrot flew down to the king’s feet and said, “O King, shall I and my family and my friends gather choice rice for you?” “Not now, not until rice is needed,” said the king. “Will you come with us?” The Parrot was glad to join them.
So with the gold, and the money, and with the Snake, the Rat, and the Parrot as well, the king went back to the city. The king had the gold and the money hidden away in the palace. He had a tube of gold made for the Snake to live in. He had a glass box made for the Rat’s home, and a cage of gold for the Parrot. Each had the food he liked best of all to eat every day, and so these four lived happily all their lives.

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Jun 07

A SQUIRREL AND THE DHARMA: PRAGMATISM IN BUDDHISM

By Wayne Hughes

Pragmatism is not a modern phenomena. It is a multi-layered philosophical concept with Charles Sandford Pierce and William James as its roots, and the growth of the Neo-pragmatist ideas of Richard Rorty as its branch into contemporary thought and action. The realization that pragmatism did not begin with Pierce’s labeling it, that other philosophers and teachers practiced it before it was named. Big names like Socrates, Aristotle and Hume . . . and Siddhartha engaged the pragmatic method. It was a method of thought without a label.

William James, an early American pragmatic philosopher used an anecdote to explain the pragmatic method. Some years before he had been on a camping trip with a group of friends. Returning from a solitary hike in the surrounding woods he found a hot dispute going on among the men gathered around the camp fire. At the center of the argument was a squirrel – a live squirrel clinging to a nearby tree trunk. A human trying to get a glimpse of the squirrel would move around the tree in a clockwise direction. With each step around the squirrel would also move keeping the trunk between it and its pursuer. No matter how fast the man moved, the squirrel moved in the same direction always keeping the trunk between them. The dispute involved this question, “Does the man go round the squirrel or not?”

It was agreed by all that the man does go round the tree. The squirrel is on the tree. Does the man go round the squirrel, or only around the tree? Opinions were equally split. His friends looked to him to break the tie.

James’ response began with, “Which party is right depends on what you practically mean by ‘going round’ the squirrel.” He went on to illustrate. One view is of the man moving north to east to south to west, and then north again as the squirrel circles the tree south to west to north to east, and then south again. In this the man is going around. A view that going around the squirrel means to first be in front of, to the right of, behind, to the left of, and finally in front again means that the man did not go round the animal because as it circles the tree it’s belly is always toward the man. The answer lies in the practical perception of the concept of going around.

This is James’ example of the pragmatic method. The pragmatic method, when applied to Buddhist philosophy and practice is to view each purposed thought through a lens of its probably causal consequences. James’ focus for the pragmatic method was its application to philosophical disputes. He experienced that those disputes became insignificant the moment they were subjected to the simple act of tracing the possible concrete consequences.

Siddhartha engaged the pragmatic method whenever he remained silent regarding metaphysical questions. The realization that any answer would be theoretical meant it would have no practical value in moment-to-moment engagement with the world.

Siddhartha practiced pragmatism. He set aside the habitual reactivities of the Hindu faith and beliefs of his culture. He set aside any metaphysical questions, dogmatic principles, the closed caste system, the concept of absolutes, and the search for how it all began. Instead he turned toward what thoughts and actions could make a positive concrete difference in how human beings engaged themselves and the world around them. He applied the pragmatic method to action, not only to thought.

The pragmatic method arises in the traditional parable of the “The Monks at the River”.

“The Monks at the River”
A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her.
The senior monk carried this woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing.
They both were walking and senior monk noticed that his junior was suddenly silent and enquired “Is something the matter, you seem very upset?”
The junior monk replied, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The senior monk was silent.
They continued on and soon the junior monk said, “But what will you tell the Master?”
The senior monk was silent.
“It was against the rules.”
The senior monk said, “I left the woman a long time ago at the bank, however, you seem to be carrying her still.” He engaged the pragmatic method. The senior monk set aside the dogma that declared “no touching women” and I can imagine the sequences of thoughts he processed. ‘The rule says no touching women’ but the Three Pure Precepts tell me to do good. Leaving the woman in fear on the bank of the river, with the possibility she might drown trying to cross on her own would do nothing to alleviate suffering. Assisting her in crossing will have the consequence of alleviating some of her suffering and will become a lesson for the younger monk. Considering the possible karmic consequences I choose to carry her across. I choose an appropriate view of the situation, a view that reveals the probable concrete consequences. I choose practical application of the ‘rule’ rather than a dogmatic one.

The aspect of pragmatism that arises in the parable is making practical decisions and taking practical actions in a unique situation. This requires a practitioner to set aside any dogma that declares “there is only one way” and respond to each unique situation in whatever manner will result in positive karmic consequences. To put it simply acting pragmatically is doing what is useful and productive in each moment.

Buddhist philosophy and American Pragmatic philosophy places a high degree of importance on direct experience (experiential verification) rather than on theory, and it focuses is “what we can do right now to make things better”. In the West it is important that prevalent worldviews such as pragmatism be brought to the foreground of Buddhist philosophy so that parallels in approach can be recognized. At the core of the American psyche is the drive to “do what is best”. In Buddhism the same is true. The American psyche readily applies this to the self, “do what is best” . . . for me”. Most Americans, either through family, school or friends, arrive at the worldview that all things they do must benefit themselves in some way . . . even those actions taken to help others. This is why donors get their names in the paper, and gold medals for outstanding non-profit work are given out. In Buddhism this idea of positive self-development is the first steps on the Noble Path, later to become selfless acts performed for the benefit of all beings. This is pragmatism in action and thought.

The story of the Buddha, and the teachings that followed his Awakening shows that the Buddha was pragmatist, he used skillful means, whatever practical method a situation called for to present the dharma and guide others on the Middle Path.

The Eightfold Path is an example of the Buddha’s use of pragmatism. The Eightfold Path isn’t a dogmatic blueprint of what we must do in given situations, instead each of the eight are guidelines that we must engage as part of how we are, be mindful of our experiences when doing so, and then use that knowledge to determine if those actions were useful and practically valuable. What works in one situation may not work in a similar situation. Each time this is done a practitioner comes closer and closer to the arising of wisdom. Such is the challenge that a Universe of co-dependent arising presents us with.

Whether a Buddhist practitioner looks to View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration . . . it is the responsibility of the individual to make an honest assessment of the situation and determine the most practical response. We want to take the most useful and productive course that leads to human flourishing. This is skillful pragmatism.

Does this mean we always make the right decision? Being human beings, no! And here is where pragmatism in the form of skillful means arises again. We shouldn’t berate ourselves for making the wrong choice . . . there is no sin, gilt or shame involved . . . instead we make another honest assessment of our actions and thoughts and DO BETTER NEXT TIME.

The pragmatic method, both in thought or action requires a practitioner to be situational. There is practical value in developing an appropriate view of each situation and taking actions appropriate to the promotion of human flourishing. Whether one is ‘going around a squirrel’ or ‘carrying a woman across a river’ a Buddhist practitioner must always strive to take whatever action will have the most practical value, whatever action leads to the most positive causal consequences.

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Apr 24

FOUR ENNOBLING TRUTHS/EIGHTFOLD PATH

FOUR ENNOBLING TRUTHS/EIGHTFOLD PATH
by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Thus I have heard,

“And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.”

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – The Wheel of Law

During the first sermon in the Deer Park, when Siddhartha Guatama, who had recently become the Awakened One spoke to the five ascetics he introduced a new paradigm of spiritual quest and personal responsibility. Instead of the dogmatic rules imposed by deities and brahmin, he presented a spirituality based on the potential for human beings to become better caretakers of themselves and the world around them. The belief that the fate of human beings and the world around them was predetermined by deities and that brahmin were there “hands” on earth was replaced by the knowledge of suffering as presented in the Four Ennobling Truths and the potential of human beings to alleviate as offered in the Fourth Truth, the Eightfold Path.

The Buddha’s new spiritual paradigm was then, and is now a call to action. The Four Ennobling Truths are the realities of the world we live in, that we elevate to the forefront of our bodymind remaining always aware of our goal of the alleviation/cessation of craving. This is not a deific problem or a clerical problem, this is a human problem that must be solved and the Buddha gave us the guide to solving them. The Fourth Truth, the Eightfold Path is the guide to a deeper understanding and way for each of our thoughts and actions to be directed toward that goal. Through Buddhist practice we first recognize the efficacy of these practices and act upon them, then we realize them as an itegral part of how we are in each moment and we become positive agents of change, examples to others of a social self.

The Four Ennobling Truths

Inherent in this life is suffering, unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish.
The cause of suffering, unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish is craving.
The cessation of craving is attainable due to the causal nature of the Universe; it leads to the resolution of unsatisfactoriness, discontentment and anguish
The path to the cessation of craving is Eightfold

The Eightfold Path

Traditionally each ideal of the Eightfold Path begins “right” with its implication that there is one specific mode to practice, one “right” view, one “right” intention, etc. When the interconnection between the Eightfold Path, impermanence and causality are realized though it becomes clear that by viewing the 8FP as “encompassing and corrective” we integrate a dynamism that allows an elevated level of situational thought and action. We live in a causal Universe where all phenomena change and where only through the option of applying multiple methods can we reach desired positive results. We have to keep a “beginner’s mind” in ever situation as each will be unique, requiring unique solutions. So, “right” becomes two words, “encompassing and corrective”. To be encompassing when applying the 8FP is to be mindful that our actions and thoughts will have wide-ranging positive, neutral or negative effects. It reminds us that we must act with the intention of securing the most harmonious outcome for the situation overall. And, that our thoughts/actions must be directed toward being positive causal agents that lessen or negate our own craving, and promote human flourishing.

The 8FP is not only a path to the alleviation of suffering; it is also one that leads to the development of a positive personal character. The eight ideals are paths to developing the three key characteristics of a social self: wisdom (prajna), ethical conduct (sila), and meditation (samadhi).

Encompassing and corrective view and intention are tools of wisdom. View is simply seeing the world around us as it IS, rather than creating a view of what we WANT it to be. It is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. Realizing the Three Characteristics of Existence – suffering, impermanence and not-self – is an encompassing and corrective view. Intention is our commitment to practicing situational ethics and our dedication to a life-long learning that drives positive personal development. The Buddha spoke of three E&C intentions: intention to resist craving, of goodwill and generosity, of harmlessness and compassion.

Encompassing and corrective speech, action and livelihood are tools of ethical conduct, guides to moral discipline. Our speech (written and verbal) and actions must be directed toward the promotion of harmony, the old adage “sticks and stones . . .” was never true; words do hurt, cause conflict and suffering. E&C livelihood really requires a situational view. A job can’t always be adandoned due to some “negative aspects” but any job can be approached wit the intention of changing negatives within the structure of it.

Encompassing and corrective effort, mindfulness and concentration are tools of meditative practice, and the application of meditative skills off the cushion. Our mental energy, our effort must be directed as wholesome force fueling self-improvement, self-honesty and social self while avoiding forces like desire, aggression and lust. Mindfulness is the cognitive process of seeing how reality is, our perceptions must be clear, going beyond first impressions. Concentration is developed through meditation practice where we learn to focus and sustain concentration. Then this skill is taken off the cushion into moment-to-moment situations.

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