In Your Face: Aggressive Action

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Yesterday I was walking on the sidewalk in an industrial part of St. Louis. All around the area were small lakes that attracted hundreds of Canadian Geese. They were everywhere . . . in the parking lots, the street, and gathered near the sidewalk. I wasn’t paying them much attention, until . . .

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One large male, they can stand three feet high and weigh more than 15 pounds, was sitting near the sidewalk. As I got close he suddenly rose up, spread his wings and with a loud hiss, rushed at me and struck out at me with his beak. Startled, I jumped back. The bird continued stalking toward me, hissing and jabbing his head forward. His aggression was easily recognizable.

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Encompassing 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?” Initially it seemed like a silly question until I took a moment to be mindful of the question from the questioner point of view. In the West so much of who 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 – that tie winning with what knowledge a person has, usually on a broad range of subjects. A mind full of encompassing knowledge. The persons who ask the question are seeing the word they are saying out . . . 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.”

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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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Don’t Be An Ass — The Gadrabha Sutta

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The Anguttara Nikaya is the fourth section of the Sutta Pitaka. Found there are eleven books (nipatas) arranged as numbered discourses — Book of Ones, Twos, Threes, etc. – numbered for how many lessons are meant to be realized in each discourse. Like any sutta one lesson or topic may be as beautiful as the white lotus that the Buddha held forth at Vulture Mountain, and in the Book of Ones that would be the lesson, that there is beauty in the dharma. The Book of Twos would take the reader deeper to the silence of thousands of disciples viewing that flower. The Book of Threes to Mahakasyapa’s enlightened moment. Each Book of the Anguttara Nikaya requires the reader to engaged in realizing deeper and deeper levels of Buddhist philosophy and practice.

There are also wonderful, and entertaining similes and parables to found in the Anguttara Nikaya. Tales that make the bodymind think differently, to realize in new ways the teachings of the Awakened One. From the Book of Threes comes the – Gadrabha Sutta: The Donkey.

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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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Say the Magic Words: Intent in Action

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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What Do You Teach? — The Annataro Brahmano Sutra

What Do You Teach?

By Wayne Ren-Cheng

You’ve heard it said that the dharma is deep and expansive . . . and it is. The encompassing teachings of the dharma span the entirety of the human condition, and it goes beyond to how the human condition comes to affect the non-human aspects of phenomena through conditioned arising and falling away. Throughout the complexities though, what is the intent of the Buddha’s teachings . . . what does he want us to learn?

In my own experience I have come to the realization that what the Buddha was skillfully attempting to lead the human race to is being better human beings. We need to keep in mind that as the Buddha traveled and taught, as he gathered together individuals willing and able to join the monastic ranks, and as he attracted the attention of the people of India, he wasn’t doing so in the name of any religion (that concept came after his death). All he did was in the name of humanity.

In the Anguttara Nikayas is the Annataro Brahmano Sutta, a short text with a teaching that reveals the encompassing intent of what the Buddha teaches, and what any contemporary Buddhist teacher’s intent must be. It is from this sutra that my own view of the Awakened One’s intent arose. These words are what lead me to first say the words, ‘It doesn’t matter to me if you are Buddhist, Christian, atheist, agnostic, Jewish, Muslim, any other faith, or even one who believes they have no spiritual direction at all . . . just strive to be the best human being you can be.

Aññataro Brāhmaṇo Sutta: A Certain Brahman

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Thinking Differently: Vessantara, The Charitable Prince

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Reading the Jataka Tale: Vessantara the Charitable Prince reveals the deep Hindu roots of a story that was a cultural religious parable a thousand years or more before the arising of the historical Buddha. In the Theravada tradition the Buddha is said to have told this tale on his first return visit to Kapilivatsu, his home. Even now it is a story venerated in the Thet Mahachat festival in Thailand.

It is taught to explain the significance of dana on the path to enlightenment and the story of Prince Vessantara has been celebrated historically in Theravadan literature, art and popular practice. Vessantara was a arhat said to be the past life that directly preceded the historical Buddha of this era. This connection is important in Theravadan literature and practice because it highlights the importance of generosity in reaching enlightenment.

VESSANTARA THE CHARITABLE PRINCE

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