Dukkha X 4: The Truths of Human Existence

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In Buddhist philosophy there are three types of suffering (dukkha) traditionally recognized in the human experience. In our contemporary culture there is another to be recognized. There are physical phenomena that arise as the result from injury or disease, psycho-emotional phenomena that arise from unrealistic views, and conscious phenomena that arise as a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the causal Universe. There is also suffering that arises from social and economic factors. The Four Ennobling Truths offer the realities of suffering and the Eightfold Path as the way to alleviate suffering; it is up to each of us to learn to recognize the unique situations that bring about the arising of suffering and the skillful methods needed to alleviate it.

 

Dukkha-dukkha is obvious suffering. It is physical pain that arises from injury or disease.

 

Some people enjoy growing roses. They invest time, effort and skill in order to reap the reward of beauty. Invariably during planting or pruning, even when harvesting beautiful flowers to put in a vase in the house they’ll get pricked by thorns or nick their finger with pruning shears. This is suffering caused by physical pain (dukkha-dukkha).

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4 Wheel Drive Prosperity: Drive to Wealth

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

With the state of world economies it isn’t a surprise that people are searching for any means to improve their situations. Buddhists are no different. The posting, ‘Money Chant’ on the EDIG website has been very popular lately. Some of the search terms that have found it are: buddhist money chant – vasudhare – buddhist prosperity gospel – buddhism and economics – wealth and buddhism. The trend toward this posting reveals one aspect of human existence that is a root cause of suffering . . . wealth, material and spiritual.

The Awakened One shares practices that will enhance our wealth, material and spiritual. Most notably in the Sigalovada Sutra he teaches how material wealth affects personal relationships. Expanding the teaching from individual effects to the broader karmic consequences he arrived at the core lesson, it isn’t how much wealth one has, it is how one uses that wealth. Wealth should be viewed as a tool, a tool that can be an effective tool when used wisely. Some scholars and teachers say that the Awakened One tells practitioners that enhancing wealth will allow students to pursue their spiritual goals with less distractions.

Enhancing personal monetary wealth will indeed minimize distractions caused by bills due, home repairs needed and family to be provided for. Surplus wealth not needed for the comfort and care of family and friends should be directed toward helping others. This ideal fits firmly in the goal of the Four Ennobling Truths and the realization of personal responsibility for how we live. Some scholars and teachers offer that the Buddha introduced a wealth deity, a traditional Hindu goddess named Vasudhara (Sk., stream of treasure) who, when her name is chanted will bring prosperity and riches to the devotee. This concept is often heard referred to as the Buddhist Prosperity teaching, and offers the “Money Chant” as a path to that prosperity.

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Contenment from Not Knowing: Ancintita Sutra

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In many aspects of human endeavor competition plays a valuable role. Competition spurs new invention and new extremes of human physical and mental strengths. Competition can also be a contributing causal factor in fear, hatred, anxiety, frustration, anger and envy; all negative dispositions that can tag along in the unconscious mind. In Chan practice there is no room for dispositions and actions that hinder progress. That is why, in the sangha is no place for competition between members. In Buddhist practice there is no place for competition because all people are unique expressions of the Universe, so one’s level of progress cannot be measured with another’s.

Siddhartha, the historical Buddha didn’t have to imagine the detrimental effects that competition could cause. After all, he had been to school, had siblings, had a father’s legacy to look up to, and he’d experienced who could deprive themselves the most when he traveled with the ascetics. The Awakened One must have contemplated what aspects of human existence were most likely to cause the arising of competition and conflict. In the Acintita Sutta he offered four and the negative consequences of pursuing them.

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Honor ALL Living Beings – Carnivore, Herbivore, Omnivore

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

I’ve been reading “Hoofprint of the Ox” by Master Sheng-Yen. A wonderful book of Chan Buddhist wisdom from a highly respected contemporary Master. Like the times I go to flea markets and garage sales without any particular thing I am searching for, I never read books on Buddhist philosophy or practice looking for a particular point of view that will substantiate my own worldview. One takes the fun out of digging through other people’s stuff, the other takes the wisdom out of reading. For instance I encountered Master Sheng-Yen’s teaching of counting out-breaths as an initial meditation practice. This is not a view that I agree with as I have experienced that it can become confusing and frustrating for many beginning Western meditators. Then I came to a line that leapt off the page and into my conscious mind and joined the worldview that is held by my unconscious mind, “In the Mahayana tradition, all sentient beings (and even the leaves and grass!) are identical in nature to Buddhas.” The words and the ideal arises from the Tathagatagarbha doctrine, the Indian Buddhist philosophical concept of Tathagata-Womb in which all beings are equally discoverable in their Buddha-nature.

For many months the second most viewed post on the website has been “Buddhists Eat Meat”. The point of the posting revolves around the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya #55) where the Five Instances relevant to a Buddhist eating meat are taught. These are: if a specific living thing is requested, if the living thing is being mistreated or mishandled, if the intent was the animal was killed directly for the consumption of the monk, if the living thing is nervous or frightened, if knowing any of these things have happened and the person eats the meat anyway. In any of these instances either the consumer, the provider, or both will accumulate demerits. The sutta further offers that if one wants to make a case for their own choice of vegetarianism it smust be from the platform of loving-kindness and equanimity, not from a misguided idea that the “Buddha said so.” Whichever we choose, herbivore or carnivore or omnivore we must remain mindful of our interconnection with everything around us. As part of our daily practice we must develop an awareness of those connections and what we eat can be an opportunity to practice. Before each meal take a moment to respect the journey that whatever you are about to eat took to get to you. Take the time to honor all life.

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Candala Sutta: Fully Realized Disciple

A Creative Re-Description of the Sutra

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Acting with these five dispositions a lay-disciple is practicing falsely, a shadow of a lay-disciple, a lay-disciple in name only. What five? They do not have conviction for the value of an awakened bodymind; are without virtuous character; seek out the protection of charms, chants and the comfort of ceremony; believe that charms, chants and ceremony are cause rather than their own actions; and offer their wealth and skills only to heighten ego. Acting with these five dispositions, a lay-disciple practices falsely, is a shadow, is a disciple in name only.

Acting with these five dispositions a lay-disciple is aware of the Three Jewels, accepts the Pure Precepts, realizes the actions inherent in the Four Ennobling Truths. What five? They have conviction for the value of awakened bodymind; develop a virtuous character; see beyond the delusion of charms, chants and ceremony to their value as reminders of intent; know that what they do matters is revealed in karmic consequence; offer their wealth and skills selflessly for the benefit of others. Acting with these five dispositions, a lay-disciple practices the dharma, is an example of the dharma, is a fully realized disciple.

NOTE: Know that I’ve taken the liberty to put this important 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. Using the sutra as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu – “Candala Sutta: The Outcaste” (AN 5.175), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 3 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an05/an05.175.than.html . – I’ve attempted to do just that, present the sutra in a contemporary way and be true to the intent of the Buddha.

Sutras teaching a direct lesson sometimes begin with a ‘slap on the hand’, focusing on what not to do or be. The negative aspects of dispositions, habits and practices come first and are then, but not always followed by the positive. You might think that this was is only a cultural norm for Siddhartha’s time and place. Not so. Look at many Western writings, religious or secular, meant to convey lessons on behavior and character and you’re likely to encounter the negative first. What you ought not to be, followed by the ideal. Contrasting the opposites in Buddhist texts is not at all meant to show a duality of personality and action . . . instead it is meant to reveal that those contrasts exist in all bodyminds . . . in the unconscious mind are habits and dispositions we make the effort to recognize through rigorous self-honesty and follow that up with effort to practice positive transformations in the conscious mind. Transformation that will replace the negative aspects of our unconscious mind.

Let’s just skip even discussing the lay-disciple that practices falsely. Instead, let’s remind ourselves of the dispositions of a fully realized lay-disciple on the path of positive transformation and liberation.

The Buddha, a human like each of us, isn’t the only example of an awakened bodymind, though he is certainly at the top of a list that mustn’t in truth include only Buddhists. Think about Bill and Melinda Gates, Thomas Merton, Thich Naht Hanh, Venerable Shi Shen Long, Ghandi, Jesus, Mohammed . . . and even those times when you, yourself have an awakened moment . . . might not last but a flash but it has likely happened. In those moments you have the opportunity to personally realize the value of an awakened mind. In the next, and all moments to follow you have the opportunity to build your awareness and experience an awakened mind more often until an awakened mind is your natural state of being.

The Noble Path is one of practicing a virtuous character until it becomes a spontaneous part of how you are. Generosity becomes spontaneous. Without thought you give of your skills, wealth and gifts to any sentient being in need. Compassion becomes spontaneous. Hatred and intolerance in any form doesn’t arise in your bodymind no matter the situation or experience. You feel an empathetic connection with all sentient beings and want them each to discover their own way out of discontent, anguish and unsatisfactoriness. All the virtues of moral ideals and ethical behaviors become your ‘go to’ thoughts and actions because you know the value of a virtuous social self.

Everyday I wear a brass amulet depicting the Buddha. It was made in Vietnam during the latter years of that horrible war. I don’t wear it for protection from anything. The weight of it against my chest is an intentional reminder of the horrors of violence, the suffering of others, and of the path I’ve chosen to walk. Reliance on charms weaken personal responsibility.

AMULET

Every morning I chant the Heart Sutra, an American version and a Japanese version. The words, the tone, the rhythm combined are an intentional reminder of compassion, the serenity that comes with acceptance, and the importance of mindfulness for an awakened mind. Belief that ceremonies allow contact with higher beings weakens personal responsibility.

Before each meal I silently recite to the causal Universe: ‘I honor all living things who gave their lives and all beings whose efforts brought this food before me. May the strength and vitality acquired by eating this meal be used for the benefit of all living beings. Svaha!’ This dharani, or prayer, isn’t being said to the Buddha. It is being said to me, to remind me that honoring all whose efforts keep my bodymind alive is an action of a fully realized awakened mind.

MEAL DHARANI

An object, a sound, or a recitation does not have any intrinsic power to affect change. Their only power is in triggering intentional practice. Whether it is bowing, chanting or lighting a stick of incense you are engaging in a ritual of intent. You are awakening your mind to the potential in each moment. This is a traditional and contemporary view in Chan Buddhism that all of your effort in practice is toward unleashing that potential.

Mindfulness of your thoughts and actions in each moment arises as you come to recognize that those thoughts and actions are both cause and effect. Cause and effect that have karmic consequences that will not be experienced by you, but will become part of the karmic web of potential. Awareness that what you do in each moment matters is how a fully realized disciple views their thoughts and actions.

Generosity of spirit without expectation of personal gain is a virtue realized by all disciples. At the end of each sangha session ‘sharing of merit’ is recited beginning with – 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. – words meant to remind each practitioner of the immense value that comes with generosity of spirit.

With these five dispositions – faith in an awakened bodymind, virtue, intentional action, awareness of karmic consequence, and generosity of spirit – you are a fully realized Buddhist lay-disciple. You look to the Buddha, the consummate teacher; the Dharma, the consummate teachings; and the Sangha, the consummate gathering of spiritual friends. Your intent in all thought and action is to cease to do harm, do only, and do good for others. And, you recognize that the Four Ennobling Truths are calls to action to accept, to learn about, to practice compassion through taking intentional actions.You are a fully realized lay-disciple.

Upajjhatthana Sutta: Contemplating the Realities

Upajjhatthana Sutta: Contemplating the Realities

Creatively Re-described by Wayne Ren-Cheng

“There are five realities that you must contemplate whether you are a woman or a man, lay-Buddhist or ordained monk.

I am going to grow older, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am going to get ill at some time, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am going to die, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I will constantly change and seem to separate from all that I care about, I cannot avoid that reality . . .

I am cause of my actions, actions born of me and causally conditioned by other phenomena, my actions are my examples and I must learn from those experiences. Whether my choices are good or bad, the karmic consequences will not be only mine, others will be affected . . .

These are the five realities that you must contemplate often, whether woman or a man, lay-Buddhist or ordained monk.

Now, why must you contemplate that . . . ‘I will grow older?’ Some people are so desirous of the ideal of youth that they make bad decisions, take negative paths meant to achieve eternal youth. But, when you contemplate the reality of growing older that ideal of youth will fall away . . .

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Appropriate Speech: It Is Right for All Worlds

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Appropriate speech, along with action and livelihood, is a path of moral discipline (sila) on the Eightfold Path. Together they encompass the outward signs of a practice committed to the promotion of human flourishing (happiness, health and harmony). A moral voice arises in speech driven by positive intent, in speech grounded in the realities of causal conditioning. There are four divisions to speech, in one wording or another, in all Buddhist precept traditions: abstain from slanderous speech, from harsh speech, from false speech, and from meaningless speech. The adage that many schoolchildren are taught, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, they quickly learn is far from true. Words spoken or written can hurt, words can destroy, or words can heal, words can cause the arising of emotions from hatred to compassion. Along with words there is the “speech” of body language and facial expressions, and even of how we dress that we must also be mindful of. Lips do not have to move for others to recognize fear, joy, acceptance or tension that is loudly announced by how we physically present our dispositions.

Aphorisms; phrases that distill a wise idea into few words and sometimes vivid imagery are handy tools for memorization and for teaching moral ideals and ethical behaviors. Sayings such as “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” . . . have value when engaging socially with others, though a Buddhist might practice them a little differently with different intent . . . “loving-kindness to all living beings” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto others”. Some aphorisms are clear in their intent, others are not. A well-known Buddhist aphorism is “If you meet the Buddha on the road . . . kill him” can cofound Westerners. ” In the 9th century the Zen Master Lin Chi was making a valuable point about spiritual materialism. Gathering the trappings of Buddhism . . . statues, paintings and shelves of books, speaking the language . . . bowing, saying namaste, and worrying about karma in relation to rebirth are the ‘materials’ of Buddhism . . . they are not the practice of its encompassing philosophy. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings can be overshadowed when one “collects” the Buddha rather than practice his teachings.

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Three Pure Precepts: Cleansing the Mind

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Buddhist tradition teaches that the Three Pure Precepts came from the Dhammapada, Buddhavagga Sutra , verse #183 – To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. Translations have changed over the centuries and according to the culture, place and tradition, though they are all directed toward doing good as a fundamental part of Buddhist practice. They pay homage to the Bodhisattva ideal of the Mahayana tradition as they are as much a social contract, as a personal one.

Evil in Buddhism is not that of the Judeo/Christian worldview. Evil is not a thing, it is an effect of the bad choices that human beings make when they live a life ignorant of the causal nature of the Universe. They lack the realization that there are karmic consequences that go way beyond just one person’s view. Bad choices that arise from bad intent and action don’t just fall away. They tend to be the cause and effect of more bad choices.

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Intent in Action: Manners Matter

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Growing up with a Canadian mother and a father born and raised in America’s deep south, and who was in the U.S. Air Force, I learned early the power of the magic words . . . please, thank you, excuse me, and sorry. My parents came from different countries and different cultures but had the same worldview when it came to showing respect to other people by being polite. You say “please” when asking for something. You say “thank you” when given something or when something is done for you. You say “excuse me” or “sorry” when appropriate. For a child these words do have a sense of magic about them. “Please” was more likely to lead to getting what you wanted and “thank you”, while meant to convey appreciation was sometimes viewed as a way to get more later. You said “excuse me” when you wanted attention or bumped into someone. After a burp or fart “excuse me” was usually followed by a smile and a giggle. “Sorry” was meant to convey regret or repentance whenever you did something wrong. For me these words did seem magical, did seem to have power when they defused anger in adults or gave me access to something I wasn’t sure I’d get.

These words don’t hold their magical power for long though. Most children quickly learn that just because they say “please, please, please” it doesn’t always lead to satisfaction of desires and wants. “Thank you” becomes a rote phrase that is a cultural expectation after receiving something and so may become insincere. Saying “excuse me” wasn’t a license to interrupt other people’s conversations or to fart in a room full of people. Of them all the word “sorry”, which for many kids held the most magical power, no longer absolved them of responsibility.

Mother: “Did you hit your sister?”

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Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra – An Awakened Mind II

Hello to all,

Here is the second in the series of talks given in the Deer Park at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life.  The first talk can found here.

We picked up the thread of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutra where we left off last week.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

“The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha), monks, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, association with the unpleasant is suffering, dissociation from the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one desires is suffering — in brief the five aggregates subject to grasping are suffering.

The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering is this: It is this craving which produces re-becoming (rebirth) accompanied by passionate greed, and finding fresh delight now here, and now there, namely craving for sense pleasure, craving for existence and craving for non-existence.

The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the complete cessation of those very cravings, giving them up, relinquishing them, liberating oneself from them, and detaching oneself from them.

The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering is this: It is the Noble Eightfold Path, and nothing else, namely: appropriate understanding, appropriate thought, appropriate speech, appropriate action, appropriate livelihood, appropriate effort, appropriate mindfulness and appropriate concentration.

This is the Four Ennobling Truths': such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before. ‘This suffering, as a noble truth, should be fully realized': such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before. ‘This suffering, as ennobling truths have been fully realized': such was the vision, the knowledge, the wisdom, the science, the light that arose in me concerning things not heard before.”

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