Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No Strings Attached

Why is it that we don't choose our children, yet we love them forever, and unconditionally? Even if they turn out far less than desired, we still love them.

On the other hand, although we carefully choose our husband or wife, checking them out more thoroughly than anything else in our life before signing the contract, on the whole we do not love them forever, and certainly never unconditionally! Why?

It is because the love that flows between partners in a relationship is not the same as the love that flows between parents and children.

In an article in Time magazine several years ago entitled, "The Chemistry of Love", bio-chemists demonstrated that when boy meets girl over a romantic, candle-lit dinner, hormones are secreted into the bloodstream to produce a chemically induced high.

Your partner literally "turns you on". And you love that high, not that person. Or as Time put it, "You love the way they make you feel".

Later, when your body builds up a natural tolerance to those chemicals, your partner doesn't turn you on any more. So it's not their fault after all. It is just chemistry. So, please, never shout and get angry with your partner, shout and get angry at the chemistry book instead!

The love between a parent and a child is substantially different. You love them even though there may be nothing in it for you. You love them irrespective of the way they make you feel.

It is selfless love, unconditional love.

Extract from: Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully, by Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso

Monday, May 22, 2006

Transform Our Mind

There is a story of one Tibetan man who wanted to practice Dharma, so he spent days circumambulating holy relic monuments.

Soon his teacher came by and said, "What you're doing is very nice, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?" The man scratched his head in wonder and the next day began to do prostrations.

He did hundreds of thousands of prostrations, and when he reported the total to his teacher, his teacher responded, "That's very nice, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?"

Puzzled, the man now thought to recite the Buddhist scriptures aloud. But when his teacher came by, he again commented, "Very good, but wouldn't it be better to practice the Dharma?"

Thoroughly bewildered, the exasperated man queried his spiritual master, "But what does that mean? I thought I have been practicing the Dharma."

The teacher responded concisely, "The practice of Dharma is to change your attitude towards life and give up attachment to worldly concerns."

The real Dharma practice is not something we can see with our eyes. Real practice is changing our mind, not just changing our behavior so that we appear holy, blessed, and others say, "Wow, what a fantastic person!"

We have already spent our lives putting on various acts in an effort to convince ourselves and others that we are indeed what in fact we aren't at all. We hardly need to create another facade, this time of a super-holy person.

What we do need to do is change our mind, our way of viewing, interpreting and reacting to the world around and within us.

* * * * *

Once, Bengungyel, a meditator doing retreat in a cave, was expecting his benefactor to visit.

As he set up offerings on his altar that morning, he did so with more care and in a much elaborate and impressive way than usual, hoping that his benefactor would think what a great practitioner he was and would give him more offerings.

Later, when he realized his own corrupt motivation, he jumped up in disgust, grabbed handfuls of ashes from the ashbin and flung them over the altar while he shouted, "I throw this in the face of attachment to worldly concerns."

In another part of Tibet, Padampa Sangyey, a master with clairvoyant powers, viewed all that had happened in the cave. With delight, he declared to those around him, "Bengungyel has just made the purest offering in all Tibet!"

The essence of the Dharma practice isn't our external performance, but our internal motivation.

Real Dharma is not huge temples, pompous ceremonies, elaborate dress and intricate rituals. These things are tools that can help our mind if they are used properly, with correct motivation.

We can't judge another person's motivation, nor should we waste our time trying to evaluate others' actions. We can only look at our own mind, thereby determining whether our actions, words and thoughts are beneficial or not.

For that reason we must be ever attentive not to let our minds come under the influence of selfishness, attachment, anger, etc.

As it says in the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, "Vigilant, the moment a disturbing attitude appears, endangering myself and others, I will confront and avert it without delay."

In this way, our Dharma practice becomes pure and is effective not only in leading us to temporal and ultimate happiness, but also in enabling us to make our lives beneficial for others.

Extract from: Chocolate Frosting and Garbage, by Venerable Thubten Chodron

Friday, May 19, 2006

Can You Bend Spoons With Your Mind?

One time I gave a talk in a Hong Kong school to a group of children.

One child asked, "Can you bend spoons with your mind?" Another asked, "Has God ever talked to you?" They were very disappointed when I said, "No."

I went on to explain that for me a real true miracle is becoming a kind human being.

If you have psychic powers but lack a kind heart, the powers are of no use. In fact, they could even be disadvantageous: people may get very upset if they find all their spoons have been bent!

How do we cultivate a kind heart?

It is not enough to tell ourselves that we should be nice, because telling ourselves what we should or should not be, feel, or do doesn't make us become that way.

Filling ourselves with "shoulds" often just makes us feel guilty because we never are what we think we should be. We need to know how to actually transform our mind.

In other words, we must realize the disadvantages of being self-centered. We must truly want to develop a kind heart, not just keep thinking that we should develop a kind heart.

In the morning, when we first wake up, before getting out of bed, before thinking about what we will eat for breakfast or which obnoxious jerk we will see at the office, we can start the day by thinking, "Today as much as possible, I won't harm anybody. Today as much as possible I am going to try be of service and benefit to others. Today I want to do all actions so that all living beings can attain the long-term happiness of enlightenment."

Setting a positive motivation the first thing in the morning is very beneficial.

When we first wake up, our mind is very subtle and delicate. If we set a strong positive motivation at this time, there is a greater chance of it staying with us and influencing us throughout the day.

After generating our positive motivation, we get out of bed, wash, maybe have a cup of tea, and then meditate or recite prayers.

By starting the day in this way, we get in touch with ourselves and become our own friend by treasuring and re-enforcing our good qualities.

Extract from: Practicing Buddhism in Daily Life, by Venerable Thubten Chodron

Thursday, May 18, 2006

No Fighting

He was saying that once he had malaria and, instead of just laying in bed, in typical Ajahn Maha Boowa style he decided to fight it, to battle it and conquer it with his will. So he got off the floor, went out of his hut, got a broom, and started to sweep even though he was sweating and shaking.

Tan Ajahn Mun saw him and told him off. Later that evening he gave a talk to the monks saying: "There are some people in this monastery who are born boxers and they haven't changed". He was of course alluding to Ajahn Maha Boowa who was a boxer when he was a layperson. Ajahn Mun said that's not the way of Buddhism. He actually said it is the way of Hindu yogis.

The way of Buddhism is to investigate suffering, not to fight it. Because if you fight you will find that you just get more and more suffering. Instead, use wisdom power rather than will power.

Wisdom power is always much more effective because it's coming from a good place.

Will power, in nearly all cases, comes from ego, from self, and you cannot expect it to produce results if it's coming from such an unfortunate source.

To use wisdom power means remembering the Teachings and looking at your experience in the framework of those teachings, the framework of the Four Noble Truths.

The Lord Buddha taught that birth is suffering, old age, sickness and death are suffering. And all that goes in between is also suffering. In brief, life is suffering.

So when suffering comes -- as disappointment, as frustration, as loneliness or depression, or as wondering what you're supposed to be doing -- you're seeing here a basic truth of nature which every human being, whether in a monastery or outside, must come across from time to time in their lives.

There are times when you don't know what to do because the suffering is so bad. As Ajahn Chah used to say, "You cannot go forward, you cannot go back, you cannot stand still" -- you don't know what to do. This is a beautiful time. It is the time you can really understand what the Lord Buddha was talking about -- about the suffering of life.

The thing to do when suffering arises is to investigate. To investigate means to watch and to observe in silence. You have to watch without interfering, without getting involved, because if you get involved you're not watching fully.

Extract from: Joy at Last to Know There is No Happiness in The World, by Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Driveless Bus

Years ago I gave the simile of "the driverless bus".

It's like you're driving through life in a bus, and you get pleasant experiences and unpleasant experiences. You think it's your fault; or you think that it's the driver's fault.

"Why is it that the driver doesn't drive into pleasant country and stay there for a long time? Why does he always drive into unpleasant territory and stay there a long time?"

You want to find out who is controlling this journey called "my life".

Why is it that you experience so much pain and suffering? You want to find out where the driver is, the driver of these five aggregates (Khandhas): body, feeling, perception, mentality and consciousness - the driver of you.

After doing a lot of meditation and listening to the Dhamma, you finally go up to where the driver's seat is in the bus, and you find it's empty!

It shocks you at first, but it gives you so much relief to know there's no one to blame.

How many people blame somebody when there is suffering? They either blame God, or they blame their parents, or they blame the government, or they blame the weather, or they blame some sickness they have, and in the last resort if they can't find anyone else to blame, they blame themselves.

It's stupidity. There is no one to blame!

Look inside and see it's empty, "a driverless bus". When you see non-self (Anatta), you see there is no one to blame; it's Anatta.

The result is that you go back into your seat and just enjoy the journey. If it's a driverless bus, what else can you do?

You sit there when you go through pleasant experiences, "just pleasant experiences that's all".

You go through painful experiences, "just painful experiences, that's all".

It's just a driverless bus.

Extract from: The Ending of Things, by Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happiness vs. Unhappiness

So are you saying that you can let go of happiness easily, while unhappiness is difficult to let go of?

And you think that the things we like are easy to give up, but you’re wondering why the things we dislike are hard to give up-but if they’re not good, why are they hard to give up?

It’s not like that.

Think anew - they are completely equal. It’s just that we don’t incline to them equally.

When there is unhappiness, we feel bothered, and we want it to go away quickly, so we feel it’s hard to get rid of.

Happiness doesn’t usually bother us, so we are friends with it and we feel we can let go of it easily.

It’s not like that; it’s not oppressing and squeezing our hearts, that’s all. Unhappiness oppresses us. We think one has more value or weight than the other, but in truth they are equal.

It’s like heat and cold. We can be burned to death by fire. We can also be frozen stiff by cold, and we die just the same. Neither is greater than the other.

Happiness and suffering are like this, but in our thinking we give them different value.

Extract from: The Exhaustion of Doubt, by Venerable Ajahn Chah

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Hole Is Too Deep

Most people just want to perform good deeds to make merit, but they don't want to give up wrongdoing. It's just that "the hole is too deep."

Suppose there was a hole and there was something at the bottom of it. Now anyone who put his hand into the hole and didn't reach the bottom would say the hole was too deep. If a hundred or a thousand people put their hands down the hole, they'd all say, "The hole is too deep!" No one would say that his arm was too short.

We have to come back to ourselves. We have to take a step back and look at ourselves. Don't blame the hole for being too deep. Turn around and look at your own arm. If you can see this, then you will make progress on the spiritual path and will find happiness.

* * * * *

Oil and water are different in the same way that a wise man and an ignorant man are different.

The Buddha lived with form, sound, odor, taste, touch and thought, but he was an arahant so he was able to turn away from them rather than toward them. He turned away and let go little by little, since he understood that the heart is just the heart and thought is just thought. He didn't confuse them and mix them together like an ignorant man does.

The heart is just the heart. Thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings.

Let things be as they are. Let form be just form, let sound be just sound, let thought be just thought.

Why should we bother to attach to them?

If we feel and think in this way, then there is detachment and separateness. Our thoughts and feelings will be on one side and our heart will be on the other.

Just like oil and water - they are in the same bottle but they are separate.

* * * * *

Right now we are sitting in a peaceful forest.

Here, if there's no wind, the leaves remain still. When a wind blows, they flap and flutter.

The mind is the same. When it contacts a mental impression, it, too, flaps and flutters. According to the nature of that mental impression.

And the less we know of Dhamma, the more the mind will continually pursue mental impressions.

Feeling happy, it succumbs to happiness. Feeling suffering, it succumbs to suffering. It's in a constant flap.

* * * * *

Don't be angry with those who don't practice.

Don't speak against them. Just continually advise them. They will come to the Dhamma when their spiritual factors are developed.

It's like selling medicines. We advertise our medicines and those with a headache or stomachache will come and take some. Those who don't want our medicines let them be.

They're like fruit that are still green. We can't force them to be ripe and sweet — just let them be. Let them grow up, sweeten and ripen all by themselves.

If we think like this, our minds will be at ease. So we don't need to force anybody. Simply advertise our medicines and leave it at that. When someone is ill, he'll come around and buy some.

Extract from: A Tree in a Forest, by Venerable Ajahn Chah

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tricky Mind

The mind plays a lot of tricks.

When you are living a life in which you can’t simply fulfill your wishes and do what you want, strange feelings and incredible forms of obsessive greed can arise over things that had never really seemed a problem before.

When I had been a layman, my greed was spread over a wide range of things, but in monastic life it was all focused on sugar and sweets. Here I was, an ordained monk trying to lead a spiritual life, acting like a hungry ghost, dreaming about sugar. Another American monk even had his mother send big boxes of sweets and chocolate cakes.

Because the greed was so focused, I could easily contemplate it. Learning to reflect on these desires, these obsessions of the mind, is very important.

It’s here that we often need the precepts to stop us from following our habits or whatever is easiest to do. Precepts help us to see our impulses, how we follow them, and the results. The restraint and restriction of the precepts give us a sense of stopping.

With reflective awareness, we begin to notice how strong the mind’s impulses and compulsions can be. We see them as mental objects rather than as needs we must fulfill.

Even though the mind sometimes screams, "I can’t take any more of this," the truth of the matter is that we can take more. Human beings have amazing powers of endurance. If we learn to endure and not just be caught in the momentum of impulsivity, then we begin to find a strength in our practice.

We don’t have to be a slave to habits and impulses.

* * * * *

We can’t control what arises in the mind, but we can reflect on what we are feeling and learn from it rather than simply being caught helplessly in our impulses and habits.

Even though there is a lot in life that we can’t change, we can change our attitude towards it. That’s what so much of meditation is really about—changing our attitude from a self-centered, "get rid of this or get more of that" to one of welcoming life as it is.

Welcoming the opportunity to eat food that we don’t like. Welcoming wearing three robes on a hot morning. Welcoming discomfort, feeling fed up, wanting to run away. This way of welcoming life reflects a deeper understanding.

Life is like this.

Sometimes it’s very nice, sometimes it’s horrible, and much of the time it’s neither one way nor the other. Life is like this.

Extract from: Life Is Like This, by Venerable Ajahn Sumedho

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Drive Safely

When we drive a car, we are expected to observe certain rules so that we do not have an accident.

Two thousand five years ago, the Buddha offered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome, and happy lives. They were the Five Wonderful Precepts, and at the foundation of each of these precepts is mindfulness.

With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others.

When we are mindful, we can see that by refraining from doing "this," we prevent "that" from happening.

* * * * *

In Buddhism, precepts, concentration, and insight always go together.

Practicing the precepts brings about concentration, and concentration is needed for insight. Mindfulness is the ground for concentration, concentration allows us to look deeply, and insight is the fruit of looking deeply.

Practicing the precepts, therefore, helps us be more calm and concentrated and brings more insight and enlightenment, which makes our practice of the precepts more solid.

Extract from: For A Future To Be Possible - Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts, by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh