ENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST TO ENLIGHTENED SELFLESSNESS

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

What’s in it for me is not the question a bodhisattva-in-training asks before taking action. Actions to promote human flourishing are meant to be taken without any expectations of reward. No atta-boys, pats on the back, raise on your paycheck, or new car. The ideals of nirvana and enlightenment are dangled as possibilities, not as rewards but as destinations that may, or may not be at the finish line. There is a commitment to putting in a lot of selfless effort to be a better human being without any expectation of how that will benefit you.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t a notion of enlightened self-interest in the choices one makes. Not enlightened as in the Buddhist philosophical sense of the term, but in the Western view of performing acts with the understanding and knowledge that personal gain of some sort will be one effect. There is a wide difference between expecting something in return and the knowledge gained through experience that there are selfish reasons to be a better human being. The Buddha knew that the Noble Path, given the effort and commitment needed to walk it, would initially be walked for reasons of self development, of self betterment, of enlightened self-interest. He accepted this dharma and so should we all.

It takes commitment to walk the path of a bodhisattva-in-training. Whether it is walked as a lay person or as a monk there is a lot to be mindful of, and a lot of practices to be mindful of as the causal world is engaged. However many people are on the planet . . . you vow to lead them all to liberation through the example you set with your own life. However many delusions you hold about yourself and the world around you . . . you vow to extinguish, to make fall away each and every one of them. However many Dharma teachings there are . . . and there a bunch . . . you vow to learn about them and practice them . . . all. However far the Noble Path stretches . . . you vow to walk it to the end. It is a huge commitment. And, to top it all off you are supposed to commit to it without any expectation . . . at least once Buddhist practice and knowledge of causal consequences matures.

In the Saddha Sutra the Buddha taught that there were rewards for the committed practitioner. There were five rewards that truly good people would “give”. The sutra was originally written for the monastic disciples to spark their self-interest so that they would pursue positive self-transformation. The Buddha knew from his own experience that through time and mindfulness that self-interest would fall away and selfless loving-kindness would arise in its place.

Saddha Sutra

NOTE: Know that I’ve taken the liberty to put this sutra into contemporary language and have used the buzz-words of the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition. Venerable David and myself have often discussed if any of sutras re-worded (or creatively re-described) in such a way could offer the same intent as the those translated directly from the Pali, and holding to the symbology and textual references of that time 2600 years ago. In this instance I’ve replaced monk (bhikkhu) with lay person so that lay practitioners can gain the appropriate view that this teachings is of equal value to them. The sutra re-described was initially translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu – “Saddha Sutta: Conviction” (AN 5.38), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.038.than.html .

“For a lay person, there are these five rewards of commitment. Which five?

When the truly good people in the world show compassion, they will naturally first show compassion to people of commitment, and not to people without commitment.

When visiting, they naturally first visit people of commitment, and not people without commitment.

When accepting gifts, they will naturally first accept those from people with commitment, and not from people without commitment.

When teaching the Dhamma, they will naturally first teach those with commitment, and not those without commitment.

A person of commitment, on death, will leave behind a legacy of positive thought and action. For a lay person, these are the five rewards of commitment.

Just as a large banyan tree, on level ground where four roads meet, is a haven for the birds all around, even so a lay person of commitment is a haven for many people: monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers.”

The commitment spoken of in the sutra is the commitment to ideals like the Three Pure Precepts: cease to do harm, do only good, and do good for others. The karmic causal process of the universe clearly reveals that a person looking to do good is more apt to offer their skills, gifts and practice to those people striving to do good themselves. So, in the name of enlightened self-interest it is better to be seen as doing good so positive causal effects can be experienced.

When the truly good people in the world show compassion, they will naturally first show compassion to people of commitment, and not to people without commitment.

It is not an expectation that because you act with compassion that others will show you compassion; it is knowledge that can be experientially verified through your own actions. You freely offer compassion to a person volunteering their time and skills in a nursing home. You naturally find it more difficult to offer that same compassion to a child molester.

When visiting, they naturally first visit people of commitment, and not people without commitment.

It is in a person’s self-interest to first visit someone with whom they have a shared commitment, or at least a parallel commitment. It is with those people that positive personal development will strengthen. Later, when visiting those without commitment that gained strength can be put to use building new commitments.

When accepting gifts, they will naturally first accept those from people with commitment, and not from people without commitment.

A bodhisattva-in-training must practice skillful generosity. Offering skills, gifts and practices to those people and organizations that will pass along that generosity doesn’t take a lot of conscious thinking. Offering the same to those who may not appreciate or acknowledge it is a more difficult practice. Engaging with those with similar commitments allows one to experience the feelings of acceptance and gratitude that future acts of generosity may not generate.

When teaching the Dharma, they will naturally first teach those with commitment, and not those without commitment.

There is an ideal in Buddhism that the student will come to the teacher. The teacher commits to teaching someone is showed the commitment to find a teacher. A layperson offers the dharma through their actions, so someone already committed, at some level to becoming a better human being is more likely to aware of the lesson and mindful of its value.

A person of commitment, on death, will leave behind a legacy of positive thought and action. For a lay person, these are the five rewards of commitment.

Many people regret their actions as they lay dying. They winge and complain about what they could have, or should have done with their lives. They regret not committing to something positive. This is part of the foundation for the traditional Buddhist philosophy behind rebirth and karma. There are many people who come to practice Buddhism as a way of expunging their past negative choices (stealing, sexual misconduct, killing, etc.) or past negative experiences (loss, illness, pain, depression) in order to pave the path for a better next life. This is an ultimate form of enlightened self-interest. In Engaged Dharma there is a more pragmatic, and selfless way of viewing this. A person committed to, and acting with the knowledge that what they do matters now, and after they die, will endeavor to always cease to do harm, do only good, and do good for others. In this way they live a life of enlightened self-interest that is also enlightened selflessness.

Just as a large banyan tree, on level ground where four roads meet, is a haven for the birds all around, even so a lay person of commitment is a haven for many people: monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers.”

The actions of a sincere and committed bodhisattva-in-training are clearly evident to those people with, or seeking the same commitment to human flourishing, and to positive personal transformation. Siddhartha is our example of the reality of this phenomena of karmic causality. Others, of all castes, were drawn toward the cool abiding shade of his wisdom and compassion. Enlightened self-interest arose as a need to figure out the human condition. After his awakening he questioned whether he should, or could offer what he discovered about the realities of human existence, and choose to allow enlightened self-interest to transform into enlightened selflessness.

Art of Renewing Vows

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a tendency for people to misunderstand the purpose and value of the vows taken when one first accepts the Noble Path, and on through lay and monastic Buddhist practice. This fundamental misunderstanding likely arises as the word and concept of promise is given as a synonym for vow. The ideal of promise carries the heavy emotional weight of ‘a promise cannot be broken’, and ‘a promise is forever’, giving promise an aura of permanence. This view is one of clinging that will lead to unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish when some causal factor arises that necessitates the promise being broken. Such situations lead to anger or guilt depending on which side of the promise a person is on. Often, promises broken lead to an abandonment of the target of that promise. Vows are meant to renewed whenever the need arises.

In Japanese art there is a practice known as kin-tsugi, “golden joinery”. Ander Monson, in his book ‘Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found In Libraries’ is this note found in a returned library book – Kin-tsugi is the art . . . in which a broken bowl is fixed and seamed with glow, cracks to the forefront, filled in by gold, rendering the repaired thing more remarkable, honoring its shatter. The result is neither broken nor unbroken, but both at once, shadow, object, corona around an eclipsed sun. Rather than discard a broken item of beauty and usefulness the Japanese artisan sees the object with a different intent. There is an emptiness to viewed in the shattered pieces, neither broken nor unbroken. There is a form to be viewed in the shattered pieces, both at once. A vow is both emptiness and form. Emptiness of potential and the form of thought and action.

A vow taken in Buddhism should be viewed as a commitment; a commitment to being willing to return to the intent of the vow as many times as needed without recrimination or guilt. Each return to a vow strengthens it with the gold of intent, the silver of mindfulness, and the copper of compassion.

Like the kin-tsugi artisan honors shatter, so can the practitioner honor themselves and their vows. Rather than deny and hide the ‘cracks’ . . . view them clearly and seam them with better intentions, with stronger practice, make them more remarkable by honoring them.

RIGHT MINDFULNESS: INDIVIDUALITY PARADOX Part Two

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

See Right View: Individuality Paradox Part One

The Buddha awakened to unnatural craving being at the core of unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish experienced by human beings. That was true then and it is true now. In the contemporary Western culture there is an aspect of societal interaction that is a major causal factor for feelings of unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish. Human beings crave associations based on group, interest and worldview, etc. Current and possible interactions and interconnections are decided upon based on those associations. This way of determining interconnections can, and often does, result in the arising of violence, hatred, envy and mistrust. Associations are natural expressions of individuality, and are causal factors in how a person is, but they should not be the determining factors in how a person connects and responds to the others.

In the sutras, legacy texts or teachings there are no teachings that delve into the propensity for human beings to crave an individual identity tied into a self, or societally defined group of people. The Buddha found it necessary to separate his disciples by gender, and after his death there is historical evidence that Buddhists sects divided themselves into traditions on the grounds of belief, of ritual, and of practice. Yet, this is never addressed as directly opposing the Buddhist doctrines of interdependence and interconnectivity. Sounds paradoxical but in Buddhist philosophy there are many paradoxes that one must find their Way to an understanding and acceptance of.

People crave being the individual . . . the whole unique expression of the universe ideal, but that craving is also connected to being an individual within a group of like-minded and/or physically similar individuals. People crave the company of others that they view have the same qualities that they have, or think they have. Identifying too strongly with any social group leads to an Us-vs-Them mentality. The recognition that they aren’t like I view myself and my group as being, so they are wrong, bad, dangerous, immoral, illegal or alien leads to conflict. Since primitive man realized that there were primitive women the divisions began to arise. It likely started with gender within the species, but it expanded quickly to include all those emotions and concepts that the ego revels in . . . territory, sex, money, material possessions, intelligence, faith, race, political choices, etc. It only takes a modicum of mindfulness and awareness to realize the unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish this view has caused.

I have listened to Americans speak eloquently about the dangers and inequality of the caste system in India, or the cultural divisions in other countries; then in the next sentence proclaim their own ‘caste’ through their words or actions. Their proclamation might arises as one based on political affiliation, sexual preference, education, race . . . and the list is a long one.

CATEGORY VENN 1

In the Venn diagram above is a representation of the layers of association that many people surround their Buddha-element, the essence of ‘how you are’ with. While these are shown in a specific order, the order will be different for each individual dependent on which cultural division they deem most important. This way of defining ones’ self makes it extremely difficult to experience interconnection with all but those people who can pierce each layer. White, black, brown, yellow, red . . . ? Gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, asexual . . . ? Humanist, racist, nudist, revolutionist, pacifist . . . ? Vegan, omnivore, carnivore or vegetarian . . . ? Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green . . . ? Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist . . . ? High school, college, MBA, PhD, none . . . ? Geek, Millennial, intellectual, hippie . . . ? 10, 20, 30, 40 . . . ? Cancer survivor, alcoholic, ADHD, gym member . . . ? Each of the categories define an aspect of what, who, when, why and where a person is. At the center will be found ‘how you are’ . . . if that center can be reached.

There is a Venn diagram that illustrates what Professor Thomas P. Kasulis, in his book “Intimacy and Integrity,” termed an intimate relationship (see Right View: Individuality Paradox Part One). It is two circles that overlap depicting the shared experiences and connections of two people. If the initial layer can’t be breached due to a difference than an intimate relationship of any level is impossible to achieve. Professor Kasulis also offers an illustration of an integral relationship. Two circles that instead of overlapping have a line depicting a temporary or sporadic connection that benefits both without leading to actual shared experiences. While the interdependent nature of a relationship can be achieved given this diagram, there will be little chance of any deeper relationship developing.

CATEGORY VENN 2

The above Venn diagram offers a different way of viewing layers of associations. Instead of layers they take on the look of a cluster of Intimate Venn diagrams within a circle, one that is indicative of influences rather than associations. Note that the categories all overlap and have varying degrees of interdependence. They are not separate aspects of an individual. They combine, each as causal factors that are interconnected and interdependent, to have an effect on how one is. It is the choices one makes interdependent on those factors, and others that determine how one interacts with themselves and the world around them. In this illustration the core of ‘how you are’ is at the center leaving the possibility of intimate and integral relationships wide open. There is space to interconnect without the preconceptions and judgments that come with social categories.

That race, sexual orientation, worldview, diet, politics, health issues, age, social group, education, religion, and other categories are factors in causal conditioning, they shouldn’t be used to limit interconnection. They must be factors in developing and strengthening encompassing interconnections. Race needn’t make one a racist and politics needn’t make one a staunch partisan. Education needn’t make one judgmental and religion needn’t make one a fundamentalist. How one chooses to be must be based in knowledge and wisdom, not in an attachment to any category.

Causal conditioning does arise as a result of the associations one accepts. Some, like race and sexual orientation are genetic factors that come with the individual; others, like politics and religion are choices. Whether genetic or choice they shouldn’t become dispositions or habits that inhibit positive personal transformation. These associations are interconnected and interdependent parts of how you are and of how you choose to be. In the case of genetic factors, while they are permanent in that you can’t alter them, they don’t have to dictate how you interact with world. Some people let race for example hinder their interactions with people of other races . . . becoming the disposition of racism. That is a choice that is causally conditioned and can re-conditioned with a more appropriate view of the similarities between all human beings. Choices can also hinder interactions when they are allowed to dictate thought and action. Whether one is chooses to be a vegetarian, a carnivore, or an omnivore doesn’t make them better or worse than the other. None of these associations should limit connections between people.

CAT_LAYER_INTIMATE_RGB

The above diagram illustrates the near impossibility of achieving deep interconnections when presented with a bodymind dominated by a Layered Associations. As an example, someone whose religion and education are the same can penetrate those layers, but connection ceases at social group; one may be a Millenial, the other a Mason. There is little chance that either will experience how the other person really is. ‘How you are’ is too deeply protected the layers of ego, so an intimate relationship is difficult to achieve and to maintain.

CAT_CAUSAL_INTIMATE_RGB

This diagram illustrates an individual whose sense of ‘how you are’ is the entirety of their being. Note the circles depicting others are unlabeled. It isn’t the label that is important, it is how those individuals interact with others. There can be different levels of intimate relationships that respect the associations while cherishing the similarities.

Associations must not become mechanisms of judgement. I am Republican . . . you are not. I am a geek . . . you are not. I am a particular Buddhist tradition . . . you are not. This is dualistic thinking. Judging others based on these divisions is dualistic action.

It must be accepted that no one will be just like us . . . we are each unique expressions of the universe. Each individual is the product of different experiences, different associations, and different external factors. It must equally be accepted that everyone is a human being who encounters suffering and joy, gain and loss, fear and courage, all the ups and downs of existence . . . we are not unique in the universe. Accepting this reality will lead to thoughts of enlightenment, awakened moments when interconnection and interdependence are fully realized and become a deep part of how we are. It will cause the arising of the knowledge that what we do matters on an encompassing scale, so we must engage in thoughts and actions that promote positive individual and societal transformation. It is a matter of choice.

RIGHT VIEW: INDIVIDUALITY PARADOX – Part One

RIGHT VIEW: INDIVIDUALITY PARADOX

PART ONE

There is a paradox in the human bodymind that causes suffering, discontent and anguish. There is a craving for individuality, to stand out from all other human beings, to be unique. There is also the need, admitted to or not, to be part of a group, to have a circle of other human beings to be accepted by and who hold similar worldviews. Therein is the paradox of individuality.

It is a truth that you are each unique expressions of the universe; and it is equally a truth that you are each not unique in the universe. Realizing this appropriate view of human existence by coming to terms with this individuality paradox will open up your bodymind to the knowledge that it isn’t what, who, when, why, or what you are is not as important as how you are. How you are in relation to other human beings is what determines how effective a social self you can be. How you view and act upon relationships is key.

Relationships begin as the result of a variety of stimuli – family, love, respect, friendship, mutual goal, locality, hardship, need, want and . . . I’m certain you can think of others. Relationships thrive when those same stimuli are nurtured where appropriate, creatively re-described when needed, and accepted for what they are. Most often the questions concerning relationships arise from within those involving family and loved ones because these are the folks we likely have intimate relationships with, relationships in which loss and pain can arise when they are broken. Relationships with co-workers, acquaintances and people outside your circle tend to be integrity based relationships, relationships that are temporarily engaged in due to want or need.

Your circle is composed of beings, beings because pets and service animals are included, with whom you have a deep sense of sharing your life. This type of relationship is an intimate one, one of experiences shared, situations endured. Intimacy involves a sharing composed of many connections, connections that are missed when there is a loss of personal contact. In his book, “Intimacy and Integrity”, Professor Thomas Kasulis defines the concepts of intimate and integral relationships across many spectrums of human relationships.

Intimate relationships develop as the result of shared experiences, while integral relationships arise with individuals who supply wants or needs, but whose relationships ends with the immediate transaction. Intimate relationships arise between parent and child, close friends, domestic partners and in the bond that can develop between students and teachers. These are the bonds that can have dramatic effects on how one views themselves and the world around them. Integral relationships develop with friends who part ways as a result of time or distance and consistently arise in the connection between employer and employee. The relationship dynamic that can define whether it is one based in intimacy or integrity is the sharing without expectation.

INTIMATE VENN DIAGRAM

To visualize an intimate relationship start with two circles. One is you and your experiences; the other is a close friend or family member and their experiences. Bring them together and overlap them. The section that overlaps is experiences shared in each moment (a+b) — talking about problems and successes, seeing the same movie or reading the same book, taking vacations together, it is where your lives intersect in intimate ways. Pull the two circles apart and the sharing of experiences is lost to both; the memories remain but the state of active involvement is gone. In an intimate relationship this loss of active involvement can cause suffering and unsatisfactoriness, depression and sadness. You lose what has become part of yourself, a sharing of experience and building of memories.

Intimate relationships are not always the result of positive interactions. Human beings look for connection, even if that connection is a negative one it can be viewed as ‘better than nothing’ for someone craving closeness. The Stockholm Syndrome experienced by hostages is one example, a co-dependent abusive one example. Response to captivity can change from rebellion and fear to acceptance and understanding, albeit a deluded understanding as the relationships become more intimate. Hostage totally dependent on their captors for survival; the captors dependent on the hostages as tools needed to accomplish their goals. There are documented examples of hostages that feel a loss after being rescued or released. The loss of active involvement causes the arising of suffering and discontent. A co-dependent abusive relationship is similar in the fact that one, or both individuals remain over fear of losing connection.

INTEGRAL VENN DIAGRAM

Integrity based relationships can also be illustrated with two circles; ‘a’ and ‘d’. Instead of an overlap there is a temporary line between them that represents an interaction. A relationship built on integrity is based solely on an individual-to-individual connection and it is often a singular interaction meant to benefit both. Think about the cashier at your local grocery store. You connect with them when you need food, they take your money, and when you leave neither person loses anything; these are shared moments, not shared experiences. Once the interaction is completed the line fades without a feeling of loss. The relationship with the cashier is renewed when you return to the store but it tends to toward the same dynamics each time.

Interaction complete the relationship dissolves. Some integral relationships repeat frequently; dentist, doctor, librarian, bus driver. Others may have little chance of repeating; person you meet on vacation, classmate, police officer. Individuals ‘a’ and ‘d’ have the potential of reconnecting. There is the chance of a repeated encounter that could lead to a more meaningful relationship, possibly an intimate one. Equally an intimate relationship can transform to an integral as interactions change, though residue of the intimate connection is likely to persist. Divorced parents fit this model.

Intimate and integral relationships aren’t limited only to person-to-person connections. We have links with possessions, ideas and delusions that can seem just as strong and just as important. In “Intimacy and Integrity”, Professor Kasulis gives an example of just such a individual-to-possession relationship. “Someone steals your wallet. Both the money and the treasured family pictures – negatives lost long ago – are gone. The money belonged to you; it was your money. But the pictures belonged with you not to you. In taking the photos, the thief stole part of your self, not merely something external like the money over which you held temporary title.” Cash is the integral relationship; the photos, the intimate.

We view these two aspects of relationships separately as a skillful way to understand them. In practice though there is no dualism when it comes to how we act as Buddhists whether it is an intimate or integral relationship . . . they are all relationships that require the same level of mindfulness, compassion and ethical behavior.

There is another ideal that affects how a relationship begins and develops. Along with the desire to be an individual, is the desire to be part of a group. These social divisions can weaken or strengthen relationships dependent on how the individual manifests them in their bodymind. Is your relationship circle one that excludes, or includes others?

More to come in PART TWO.

Unique Expressions: Buddhism from the Garden

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Awareness of the world we engage each moment, coupled with mindfulness of our own perceptions that lead to our thoughts and actions allows Buddhist lessons to arise even in the most mundane of activities or experiences. We are part of a community gardening project. In two 4′ X 8′ spaces we grow all manner of vegetables . . . but I must admit to being partial to the tomatoes. Each morning I tour them, check the progress of all the plants, water when needed, weed when necessary, and always marvel at the joy of being a farmer, even an urban one. This morning the realization that a lesson was being offered arose and I listened deeply to it. Tomato plants were the muse of realization this morning.

PG_TT_2

There is a sort of mantra in Engaged Dharma that connects to an important ideal. It is meant to act as an intentional reminder that while there are always differences, those differences don’t separate us. The mantra is ‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’ At each end of the eight foot garden space are tomato plants . . . 2 Big Boys, 2 Lemon Boys, 1 yellow cherry, 1 red cherry. The six plants on the left are growing and maturing significantly faster than the right side. They were planted at the same time; the soil is the same; they get watered with the same frequency; yet there is a clear difference in their development. The ones on the left flowered first, and have the most flowers. The ones on the right haven’t grown as tall or as bushy. They are unique expressions of tomato plants . . . but not unique in the garden. PG_TT1      PG_ST1

Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being unique. Even those that ‘grow in the same soil’ have characters, skills, goals, thoughts and dispositions that make them unique expressions of the universe, that make them unique human beings. Each of us are like those tomato plants. There are factors that make each human being not unique in the universe. The Buddha teaches of the Four Ennobling Truths. Every human being in the known universe encounters moments of suffering during their lives, suffering that arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of how the causal universe works. For those human beings there is a path, a way to minimize and ultimately alleviate suffering. That way is the Middle Path, the Eightfold Path. In this era and culture there is a lot of time and effort put into proving and reveling in whatever unique expression someone may be. So many human beings are focused on what makes them separate from others that they deny or ignore what makes each human being similar. Focus on differences weakens compassion, weakens interdependence, and weakens interconnectedness. Focus on similarities strengthens compassion, strengthens interdependence, and strengthens interconnectedness. Tomato plants don’t care whose is taller, more bushy, or who has the most flowers . . . it the fruit of their actions that is important. It must be the same for human beings. PG_TT4       PG_ST4

‘We are each unique expressions of the Universe . . . we are not each unique in the Universe.’

The Arising of Meditation

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Many spiritual seekers across the world and across belief systems hold the Indian ideal of meditative practice as one of it’s greatest contributions to world culture. Meditation is spoken of in the Bhagavad-gitta, “Better than information, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.” Many religious and philosophical traditions engage in some form of meditative practice whose processes can be traced back to Indian origins. Bhavana, translated as cultivation or development is often used in the West as a synonym for meditation. Pragmatically, cultivation of how you are and development of a positive personal character is what meditation practice is directed toward. No matter the tradition, Buddhist or otherwise that applies meditative practice they do so to bring into existence a more positively developed personal character or clearer view of reality. It is a spiritual exercise that develops mental experiences that differ greatly from any normal perception of how we are.

Meditation is an English word that was chosen to describe the Indian spiritual practices because those practices had many parallels to existing Western meditative techniques. “Meditations” have come from such diverse Western sources as Marcus Aurelius and Descartes and medieval European monasteries. Meditative practice has been offered in a wide variety of guises from the contemplative meditations of Christian sects to contemporary mindfulness meditations that have arisen from Hindi and Buddhist practices to become secular based pursuits. Some of these practices may not seem to have any connection to Hindi or Buddhist meditative practices but that is a matter of cultural perception, or of lack of knowledge of those practices. Even in Western context the main purpose behind meditation was to develop a spiritual practice, one that would alter the practitioner’s perception of the how they interacted with the world. The commitment and concentration necessary in meditation was proven through experience to have a positive effect on a practitioner’s spiritual development.

Generosity, morals, tolerance, energy, and wisdom presented in the Six Refinements as personal virtues make sense; the addition of meditation to that list may not. Meditation is a psycho-physical activity that most see as consisting of sitting and “not thinking”. And that is true, or not . . . dependent on what type of meditation is being practiced. Look again and as the personal virtues of generosity, morals, tolerance, energy and wisdom are presented in the Mahayana tradition they too are physical practices as one must act in these ways for them to have value as virtues. The idea that meditation does not fit as a personal virtue is the result of a misunderstanding of a particular aspect of meditative practice. A regular, committed meditative practice leads to the development of thoughtfulness, imagination, serenity and contemplation that like the other refinements becomes a noticeable component of a persons character. The practitioner approaches the experiences in life with an equanimity and serenity that is noticed by others and thus becomes an example to others.

Meditation, in the list of Refinements, comes after the refinement of energy because it takes vitality and vigor to pursue a redirection and reconfiguration of one’s conscious thinking and subconscious input. Energy and meditation are closely tied as one directly develops the other in a never-ending loop. The Mahayana legacy masters understood that the realizing of raw energy, or “energy of spirit” required the guidance of a meditative and wise mind. In the early encounters between Buddhist meditative practices and the West a fundamental misunderstanding of that practice had scholars announcing that Buddhists were “anti-social and unintelligible,” that they separated themselves from society in order to pursue their religion. That the Buddha required all early disciples to walk the land, coming together during the rainy season to study and practice is proof enough that the Buddha realized the importance of being socially engaged. Contemporary thought and experience is proving that social engagement has long been an extremely important aspect of Buddhism, including meditative practices.

Meditation has been a core practice for Buddhists as evidenced by the earliest Buddhist texts such as the Potthapada Sutta, from the Digha Nikayas. The “three poisons” of greed, aversion and delusion could be negated by the discipline and concentration required of meditative practice. The first goal of meditation was to remove these obstructions to a calm and deliberate pursuit of enlightenment. A practitioner also worked through meditation to come to an awareness of their own mind and dispositions, this being the single most productive knowledge for any human being. This “reflexive awareness” allowed the practitioner the ability to overcome the “five hindrances”, conscious triggers that were known to cause human suffering – sensual desire, ill-will, tiredness/laziness, elation/depression, and doubt. Meditation could give one the mental skills needed to realize and combat these forces working against human flourishing.

Traditional Buddhists did not feel that just anyone, in any situation could make use of meditation as a skill. They felt that one had to have a certain moral platform, and innate or taught mindful character, and a teacher and surrounding group of like-minded individuals to have any chance of reaching a level of understanding that would make meditative practice useful. This thinking spurred the development of monasteries and the building of temples, one where monastics could be trained, the other where the laity could come and worship.

Early in the developing tradition there were two distinct types of meditative practice that develop parallel and then became inexorably linked as one strategy to achieve a strong spiritual practice. These were calming (samatha) and insight (vipassana) meditation. Calming meditation is recognized today as “mindfulness breathing” meditations where focusing on the breath brings the practitioner to a “one-pointedness of mind”, the ability to concentrate moment-to-moment without distraction. Insight meditation cultivates the practitioner’s ability to think specifically about the arising of enlightening wisdom. This practice paralleled the example set by the Buddha as he sat and meditated to realize how human beings and their world actually worked. These meditative techniques were taught separately and then as Buddhism matured there was the realization that calming and insight we co-dependent in that the strength of one technique offered strength to the other. Calming enabled the mind to avoid distraction and to focus intently so that reflection on the dharma would be deeper and more meaningful in the pursuit of enlightenment.

There is also a purely metaphysical aspect in the traditional Buddhist understanding of meditation. Experienced meditators were thought to develop miraculous, some might say magical powers as a result of their devoted practice. Pursuing meditative practice to a certain point they would have access to five powers (abhijna): divine eye with the ability to view worldwide suffering and that of other existences as well — divine ear with the ability to hear the calls for assistance from all places and the teaching of the dharma no matter where it is being spoken – clairvoyance — knowledge of past lives — and magical powers such as teleportation, shape changing. There may, or may not be magical abilities that arise from highly developed meditations . . . there is no doubt that real positive mental and physical transformations do occur.

No matter the tradition that applies meditative practice they do so to bring into existence a more positively developed personal character or clearer view of reality.

Siddhartha chose to sit in meditation at the base of a bodhi tree, so that he might awaken. He could have chosen to speak in front of hundreds of people, to speak one-on-one with a king or brahmin, to continue to travel across India to achieve that goal. He must have recognized that to find the answer he sought would take a calm, balanced bodymind, and an insight into how his own experiences reflected the moment-to-moment experiences of all other peoples. Mediation was a key component of Siddhartha’s awakening.

Patience is a Virtue – Perfection of Acceptance

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In the traditional teaching of the Six Refinements in Mahayana Buddhism there is the ideal of tolerance, sometimes translated as acceptance, and in the Edward Conze translation of the Perfection of Wisdom in 8000 Lines text the ideal is named patience. “Maxima omnium virtutum est patientia”, or “Patience is the greatest of all virtues,” first appeared in an ancient Latin. In 1377, the poet William Langland wrote the phrase as ‘patience is a virtue’ and it still resonates as an aphorism of wisdom today. In Western language means the ability and intent to wait without anger or expectation for something or someone, and this view has value in a Buddhist practice. Patience, for some, takes on a religious dimension when one is told to be patient while waiting on deliverance, ascension or a land of virgins. On a path of transformative social engagement patience allows the thought and action of its Western meaning, as well as the bodymind practice of tolerance.

Chapter 30 of the Perfection of Wisdom text offers The Perfection of Patience as a practice necessary for all bodhisattva-in-training:

When he hears someone else speaking to him harshly and offensively

The wise bodhisattva (in-training) remains quite at ease and contented.

He thinks; ‘Who speaks? Who hears? How, to whom, by whom?’

The discerning is devoted to the foremost perfection of patience.

In these two verses can be experienced situations centering on the ideals of patience and tolerance.

Speech is the dominant way the human beings communicate their pleasure and displeasure in the midst of experiences. There will be instances when you are spoken to in less than respectful and gentle manner. Some may resort to yelling and screaming, calling you rude and offensive names, questioning your knowledge or truthfulness . . . each of which might result in the arising of negative thoughts like anger, fear or hatred, or might result in you reacting with violence or aversion, each of which are bad choices for a bodhisattva-in-training. These are opportunities to engage in the practice of patience, to practice making better choices. Before you respond, the bodhisattva-in-training whose goal is to thing and act wisely asks themselves questions.

Asking yourself the question, ‘Who speaks?’ offers an appropriate view of the speaker. Your experience may be that this is the person’s usual way of communicating with others, and as such they intend no harm even as they might cause it. Also the appropriate view that the state of mind they are in, and the situation they find themselves in causally condition how they speak must be considered.

‘Who hears?’ If the person hearing allows emotion to dictate their response then the experience will only get worse; while if the person hearing responds from a foundation of loving-kindness and acceptance the result has a greater opportunity to be one of harmony and contentment.

Engaging moments of discernment allows you to practice patience, to accept the reality of the situation without emotional context, and without preconceptions. This is practice that leads to a refinement of patience, and eventually to wise thought and action in the midst of subsequent experiences. The appropriate action and intent of waiting without anger or expectation before responding in a situation is the practice of patience, and of acceptance.

When I was in the military ‘Be Patient’ was an order that a soldier was trained to follow. Waiting was often the only option so one either succumbed to anxiety and anger, or found contentment and value in the wait. There is much truth in the military saying, ‘Hurry up . . . and wait’. You sometimes hurry to arrive at a destination only to find that the destination isn’t ready for you yet. Then how do you react? A bodhisattva-in-training accepts the reality of waiting and finds equanimity in the act of patience.

For bird watchers, nature photographers, and kindergarten teachers patience is a necessity. These are vocations where patience is part of the job description: watchers have to watch, photographers want certain light and particular subjects, and kindergarten teachers guide the development of active bodyminds. There is no way to hurry the outcome so the ability to wait is an appropriate part of their livelihood.

In his book “Born in Tibet”, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche relates a parable about patience, told to him by one of his venerated teachers, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Parable of the White Hat (my title)

Once there was a great teacher called Patrul Rinpoche. He did not belong to any monastery, but traveled everywhere about the country, without any attendants or baggage. One day he went to visit a certain hermit who had been living alone in a hut for many years: In fact he had become quite famous and many people came to see him there. Some came for advice and some to test how advanced he was in spiritual knowledge. Paltrul Rinpoche entered the hut unknown and unannounced.

“Where have you come from,’ said the hermit, ‘and where are you going?”

“I came from behind my back and am going in the direction I am facing.”

The hermit was taken aback, but he asked, “Where were you born?”

“On earth” was the reply.

“Which school do you follow?”

“The Buddha.”

The hermit was now feeling rather put out, and seeing that his visitor was wearing a white lambskin hat, he asked him, “If you are a monk, why are you wearing that hat?”

“Now I see your sort”, said Paltrul Rinpoche. “Look here. If I wear a red hat, the Gelukpas will be looking down their noses, and if I wear a yellow one, the others will at me. So I have a white one; it saves trouble.” He was referring jocularly to the fact that the Geluk order of monks wear a yellow what and all the remaining orders a red one. This was a little joke about intermonastic rivalries!

The hermit did not understand what he was saying, so Paltrul Rinpoche began asking him why on earth he had come to live in such a remote and wild part of the country. He knew the answer to that one, and explained that he had been there for twenty years meditating. “At the moment”, he said, “I am meditating on the perfection of patience.”

“That’s a good one”, said his visitor, and leaned forward as if confiding something to him. “A couple of frauds like us could never manage anything like that.”

The hermit rose from his seat — “You’re the liar,” he said. “What made you come here? Why couldn’t you leave a poor hermit like me to practice meditation in peace?”

“And now,” said Paltrul Rinpoche, “where is your perfection of patience?”

Patrul Rinpoche is skillfully guiding the hermit to recognize his own pomposity and pride so he could then re-realize the value of the ideal of patience he thought he was practicing. Much like the wounded man in the Parable of the Arrow who demanded the unknown before dealing with known, the hermit was attached to what he didn’t know and this hindered what he had the opportunity to learn. Patience allows . . . deep listening. Deep listening isn’t possible without the level of intent that patience allows.

Patience is not inaction, it is part of contemplating action. At the core of patience is equanimity and the acquiring of an appropriate view of a situation. Time is a precious commodity, each moment has value, so we don’t choose to ‘spend time waiting'; instead waiting is an opportunity to spend time being how we are. It takes showing yourself some patience during your early steps on the Noble Path. It takes time and energy to recognize the value of the Eightfold Path, and to realize the practices of appropriate intent, view, speech, action, livelihood, effort, meditation, concentration as part of HOW one is. Patience allows . . . the Noble Path.

Impatience is the action of a monkey-mind, a mind that is so undisciplined that it can’t be in-the-moment. It causes the arising of a bodymind that is focused on some nebulous, unknowable future instead of being mindful of the present in each moment. Impatience is marked by anxiety (am I in the right line?), anger (I don’t have time for this), envy (I should be first), ego (I shouldn’t have to wait), and other negative dispositions. Patience is the action of owl-mind — if owls are as wise as they say :), a mind disciplined to recognize the opportunities that each unique moment can bring. It causes the arising of a bodymind that is focused on the moment, able to realize those opportunities and engage them in a positive way.

Mind in a New Moment — Engaging Beginner’s Mind

By Wayne Ren-Cheng, Shi

Be in the moment. This adamant instruction arises in many talks or writings about the practice of Zen. To experience the moment one is further instructed to develop a beginner’s mind. How is that done?

In Zen Buddhism this practice starts with the recognition of the value of a “beginner’s mind” (shoshin) is a way of approaching all situations with an open mind, fresh energy, and without preconceptions. In the 1960s this term came into common usage as a result of a talk given by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the venerated Zen teacher who founded the San Francisco Zen Center, and whose book ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ offered a way to realize this ideal in a Buddhist pracitce. Beginner’s mind is the path to discovering the new experiences and knowledge that are invisible to the unaware. It is a factor in the stilling of the “monkey mind”, the state of being when the mind continually chatters like an excited monkey. The beginner’s mind opens the practitioner up to fully experiencing the reality of each moment and to respond to those moments without preconceptions.

Each of us engage in activities that have become habitual. From putting together jigsaw puzzles to hiking in the woods we can find ourselves becoming complacent. The aphorism, “been there . . . done that” can cause us to miss that piece of the puzzle with a bit of sky and the tiny curve of a bird’s wing or fall into the washed out gully that wasn’t along that trail last year. We may have in fact “been there” but it is just as much a fact that we haven’t “been there . . . right in that moment”. The aphorism Buddhist style could be, “unique situation, unique experience” as an intentional reminder that a past experience doesn’t equal a present experience.

Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

The beginner’s mind in Buddhism is always asking, “what is there to learn now?”. The beginner’s mind is one that questions. The expert’s mind is always saying, “this is what I know”. The expert’s mind is one that thinks it already knows what others need to hear. The question does arise, “If I am always beginning then how do I progress?” Thinking with a beginner’s mind doesn’t require starting over. It is the action of setting aside what you think you already know . . . to learn what you need to know. This is when ego can arise as a hindrance. Few people are comfortable admitting their own ignorance. The ego may cause one to resist acting with a beginner’s mind because it views that action as a tacit admittance that there are gaps in information, and gaps in practice. What needs arise in the hearts of men . . . the ego knows . . . or likes to believe it does.

Before I became a formal student of Buddhism I had read many books on the subject. I was a hard-core “book Buddhist”. From the colorful and mystical Buddhism of Tibet to formally structured Soto Zen, the words of Thich Naht Hanh to translations of the sutras by Edward Conze I had gathered quite a bit of information. . . or thought I did, and I did. What I hadn’t gained was the knowledge that comes through engaging the information with a commitment to moment-to-moment practice. . . there just wasn’t any real foundation to it. It wasn’t until I sat before my first Buddhist teacher, decided that his was the tradition I felt connected with, listened with an open-mind and open-heart, letting my beginner’s mind arise that I discovered how much I didn’t know. At first I had to consciously set-aside what I thought I knew so that I could deeply listen to what was being taught. My discursive mind eventually stopped comparing what I was learning to what I had learned. . . and then real learning began. With the view that each moment we encounter is unique, and each situation is unique then each moment and situation requires a beginner’s mind so that it can be appropriately engaged.

It is meditation practice that the beginner’s mind can most readily be experienced. In fact, this can be the first thought of enlightenment that many practitioners recognize. You get into a good meditation posture, erect but relaxed, chin tucked, tongue touching behind the upper front teeth, eyes half-lidded, arms resting in the lap, hands in the proper mudra, and begin to watch your breath. Then . . . suddenly . . . the phone rings, the dog barks, the image of your Google calendar pops into your head, did you mail the electric bill, boredom arises, leg itches . . . and there goes your focus. That was the monkey mind. You stop the chattering of the monkey mind by gently starting over. You get into a good meditation posture, erect but relaxed, chin tucked, tongue touching behind the upper front teeth, eyes half-lidded, arms resting in the lap, hands in the proper mudra, and you begin again to watch your breath. The act of starting over, of gently returning to a practice is the way of a beginner’s mind.

There is a parable that Shunryu Suzuki Roshi would offer his listeners as an opportunity for a thought of enlightenment concerning a beginner’s mind.

The Parable of Overflowing

Once, a learned professor of Asian studies went to a Buddhist Zen Master. He asked him to explain the meaning of Zen. The Master quietly poured a cup of tea. The cup was full but he continued to pour.

The professor could not stand this any longer, so he questioned the Master impatiently, “Why do you keep pouring when the cup is full?”

“I want to point out to you,” the Master said, “that you are similarly attempting to understand Zen while your mind is full. First, empty your mind of preconceptions before you attempt to understand Zen.”

Beginner’s mind requires one to ’empty the cup’ between moments, so that the next moment can fill it with that reality.

Engaging Appropriate Mindfulness

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

I’ve encountered people new to, or just curious about Buddhism who ask, “To be mindful, what is my mind supposed to be full of?” This is a clear indication of a prevalent Western mind-set. In the West so much of how a person sees themselves as is tied up in what they know . . . or, in some cases what they think they know. Look at the popular games shows – Jeopardy, I Want to be a Millionaire, Do You Know More Than A Fifth Grader – that tie winning with what information a person holds in their memory, and how broad a range of subjects they have answers for. They exhibit a mind full of encompassing information. The persons who ask the question are seeing the word they are saying . . . mindful . . . as mind full. A mind full of what? A legitimate question considering the culture and time of the person asking.

The answer I give tends to cause confusion. “Actually your mind should be mostly empty.”

But how can an empty mind be mindful?”

And the reply is, “You’ve got it.”

In order for you to mindful you can’t let a whirlwind of thoughts and information dominate your head. The whistling in your ears and the swirling of letters and numbers in front of your eyes will blind you to whatever is going on in each moment. To be mindful you’ve got to be ‘mind mostly empty’. That isn’t to say a mind without thought because that isn’t possible. You are a human, a biological machine with a brain whose main function is to think and it is really difficult to make that thinking slow down . . . much less stop. And, you don’t want it to stop. That should only happen when you are dead. You want it to make better choices as to what to think about so that meaningless thoughts don’t arise . . . so that there is more space, some emptiness is there.

Think about the computer, pad or phone you’re sitting at right now. You don’t want it’s active memory full do you? You know that if that is full its “brain” won’t be able to process the stuff you want it to do in that moment. It’ll lag, slow down and maybe even crash. Its processor will be so busy you might get kicked out of Second Life and miss that moment. You only want to be running programs that have value in that moment.

The brain is biological computer, a fantastic one no doubt, but it has limitations. A mind too full doesn’t allow space for processing the moment, and for responding to the moment. It is more likely to react spontaneously based on past situations, rather than in a way that will encompass the unique moment you find yourself in presently. It’ll choose to rely on what was corrective for an old situation. It will miss the significance of the present moment.

There are three aspects of mindfulness that will lead you to an encompassing and corrective state of being. States of being that will allow you to be in the moment, and respond more appropriately in each moment.

Mindfulness of Bodymind is the key to the realization of mindfulness as a moment-to-moment mental state. It is mindfulness that begins with a meditation practice. Meditation leads you to uncovering how you are and how you want to be. Mindfulness of habits and dispositions, knowledge and ignorance will open avenues of improvement that will make you a more effective social self. You first come to recognize how your bodymind reacts to situation whether they are stressful, joyful, fearful or just ordinary. You learn to know through your breathing and posture whether anger or calm, fear or courage are arising in your bodymind. The breath is an honest indication of how the bodymind responds to situations and experiences. Heavy breathing may be the result of exertion passing the limits of the body or of the arising of anxiety or fear. Relaxed posture may indicate contentment or laziness; arms crossed over chest might indicate fear or mistrust. Communication, speaking and body language is directly influenced by how mindful we are of bodymind. This allows you to better choose an appropriate way to think and act.

Recognizing how the bodymind is (Mindfulness of Bodymind) you engage in Mindfulness of Practice to take the actions needed to realize positive change. To reach the goal of how we imagine ourselves and world could be takes action and that is what is expected in an engaged Buddhist practice. It empowers us with the truth that emotions are not feelings. Emotions like anger and joy we can find control over. Feelings like hot and cold you can learn to endure (to a point because a hot stove will still burn and dry ice will still do the same). You must be mindful that practice is a 24/7/365 commitment for lasting encompassing and corrective effects. Mindfulness of Practice is just as it sounds. Every moment is an opportunity for you to practice. You must be mindful of what can hinder your achievement and what practices will counter them – unnatural attachment/bodymind meditation, anger/compassion, laziness/posture and light, worry/breathing, doubt/study and ask. Making mistakes is also a factor in Mindfulness of Practice. They are opportunities to learn through experience. Practice is just that, you keep trying in order to become better.

The body and mind are meant to work as a holistic unit. Mindfulness of Bodymind develops mindfulness of how you are, Mindfulness of Practice is actions taken to make positive, lasting changes. Engaging in a regular committed meditation practice encompasses the bodymind and opens up the path to the corrective actions necessary to do, and be better. The calm and contentment the arises from understanding yourself is a powerful tool when practicing generosity, morals, tolerance and wisdom off the cushion.

The verification of the effectiveness of Mindfulness of Bodymind and Mindfulness of Practice can be experienced through engagement with Mindfulness of Karmic Causality. Awareness that everything you do matters, that what others do matters, and that what the Universe does matters leads logically to you maintaining mindfulness your actions, the only ones you can truly control. It is also crucial that you develop awareness that there are events, situations and experiences whose arising you can’t control and focus efforts on how you react to them, and in some cases how to subtract them from your life. You are just part of the causal process of the Universe. You learn that you can promote more positive occurrences through your own positive actions and you can choose to engage with those people and activities that seek to do the same. When, at the end of a sangha meeting I recite the sharing of merit: Showing our gratitude and generosity, practicing the way of awareness which gives rise to benefits without limit, we vow to share these benefits of our practice, service, and gifts with all beings. Let us be reminded that a life of engagement and compassion is supremely important. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to become aware of our connectedness to others, and not squander the gift of realizing the wisdom of engaging the Dharma, it is a call to be mindful of all actions taken. This is the most important consideration in engaging mindfulness.

In the beginning these states of mindfulness – Mindfulness of Bodymind, Practice and Karmic Causality – will seem to take up a lot of brain space. With the passage of time and with experience they become a natural part of how you think and act, spontaneous ways of being that arise from practice. Your mindfulness will encompass each moment and you’ll experience those moments as they are, not as the past or future might color them. Because the brain won’t be lagging with useless and meaningless thought you’ll experience the beauty and suffering of human existence more fully. How you are and how you choose to be will encompass your being, and you’ll become a corrective force in the causal Universe.

Engaging Pragmatism in Buddhism

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Three ethical ideals are the foundation of an Engaged Buddhist practice. They are pragmatism that arises from the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition of my teacher, the Venerable Shi Yong Xiang, and his teacher, the Venerable Shi Shen Long; pluralism as it arises from its value in connecting with others in a respectful and productive way; and in a commitment to practice as practice is the only way to experience the teachings of the Buddha as they can be positively applied to contemporary life. From these three ideals arises the moral actions that are most likely to have positive karmic consequences for the individual and for society.

Pragmatism 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. In Engaged Dharma those ideals can be trimmed down to the importance of language, because it is how ideas and concepts are recognized; as well as the importance of going beyond language to experience the realization of the value of a teaching when it is put into practice.

In the traditional parable of the “The Monks at the River” the language teaches a lesson on attachment, while the experience teaches one of the value of pragmatism.

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.”

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.
In Buddhist philosophy and in American Pragmatic philosophy importance is placed on direct experience (experiential verification) rather than on theory, and it’s focus is on “what we can do right now to make things better” strengthens an engaged practice. The Buddhist worldview underwent changes, and affected changes in the worldviews it encountered as it spread from India across the continents. 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.

In the parable of the “Monks at the River” a pragmatic lesson is one of detachment. It is a valuable skill to know when to detach from the letter of a rule, and instead act with the intent of an entire body of teaching. The senior monk knew the rules, but he used them as a guide to taking the most appropriate action dependent on each unique situation. Pragmatically this is known as thinking and acting situationally. The junior monk was dogmatically focused on the rule, “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” His lack of experience wasn’t allowing him to realize that the senior monk’s decision was based on the Three Pure Precepts and the ideal of skillful action as taught by the Awakened One.

The senior monk, seeing a human being in need set aside dogmatism and achieved an appropriate view of the situation. That led him to take appropriate action to alleviate suffering.
Cease to do harm – If he left the woman stranded she would undergo the suffering of anxiety and fear and possibly drown or be injured.

Do only good – Ignoring the woman’s plight, causing suffering is not a good action.

Do good for others – Note here that this precept doesn’t add “if it isn’t against the rules”.
The senior monk did not create the situation of the woman at the river. It was a causally conditioned phenomenon that he had to choose how to react to. As human beings we don’t create the nature of the event; we have the choice of responding negatively or positively. The senior monk recognized a need and chose to act altruistically. The senior monk not only does good for a fellow citizen; he also does good for the junior monk. His actions allow the junior monk to learn the lessons of detachment and pragmatism.

Pragmatism in the Buddha’s teachings

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

We can use the Eightfold Path as an example of the Buddha’s use of pragmatism. The Eightfold Path isn’t a blueprint of what we must do in given situations, instead each of the eight are guidelines that we must engage the teachings 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 productive. 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 encompassing 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 involved . . . instead we make another honest assessment of our actions and thoughts and DO BETTER NEXT TIME.