Monkey Mind, Puppy Mind

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

At the Cherokee Buddhist Temple (Wat Buddhamanee Rattanaram) a couple of Sundays ago the topic was the Five Precepts. As part of that discussion Lorena talked about the ‘monkey mind’ except she used a different term, one that speaks more directly to a Western sensibility. She called it ‘puppy mind’. Wow. That metaphor made me smile then, and it still does. With some time to contemplate the concept of ‘puppy mind’ I’ve come to realize what a use of skillful means that is. Westerners have very little experience with monkeys while most have first-hand knowledge of puppies.

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Puppies are all over the place, unable to focus on one thing as they try to take in all the world has to offer their senses. A puppy must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow commands. A mind must be trained for much the same reason. A mind must learn to set aside sense input in order to follow the Middle Path.

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Practice of Acceptance

By Wayne Ren-Cheng

It is difficult to ignore or discount the image of the Buddhist who exhibits acceptance and patience in the midst of the most extreme situations, ones that would drive most human beings to distraction and anxiety. The ability to respond to experiences with equanimity that arises from the practices of acceptance and patience is a wholesome personal character trait. The importance of refining one’s ability to accept the realities of impermanence and causality is recognized to be as critical, in Mahayana training, to developing positive character traits as any other aspect of the Six Refinements. The traditional views of tolerance and it’s counterparts, endurance and patience need to be expanded to include acceptance as an element of personal character development in order to better deal with contemporary issues.

From the Khama Sutra (Anguttara Nikaya):

“And which is intolerant practice? There is the case where a certain individual doesn’t tolerate cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words; & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. This is called intolerant practice.

“And which is tolerant practice? There is the case where a certain individual tolerates cold, heat, hunger, & thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, & reptiles; ill-spoken, unwelcome words; & bodily feelings that, when they arise, are painful, racking, sharp, piercing, disagreeable, displeasing, & menacing to life. This is called tolerant practice.

There are questions that need to be asked: Do we tolerate everything and anything? Does patience and endurance have a limit? How do we decide when and if enough is enough? The practice of tolerance needs to be viewed through the same lens that is applied to generosity and moral/ethical concerns, a lens that acknowledges the unique situations we all encounter in life. A practitioner must develop an awareness of how they and the world around them really are by working to strip away the misperceptions found in each of us. Further one must learn to accept that change can happen with commitment and effort, and that change will happen that is the cause and effect of other human beings and of the causal universe. One is self-initiated . . . the other . . . not.

Yes, we must accept that there are wholesome and unwholesome phenomena. We must learn to differentiate between the wholesome and the unwholesome, and accept that we can grow the wholesome and weed out the unwholesome if we are willing to make the effort. Tolerance in any of its guises is not passive indifference, the idea that we are powerless or choose to set ourselves apart from situations. We must accept the responsibility to think and act in ways that have the potential to be the cause and effect of positive transformation. We must be passionate in our practice of acceptance so it becomes integral to achieving “enlightened moments”, in revealing the interconnectedness and interdependence of all phenomena. There is no compassionate or logical reason to accept or tolerate murder, sexism, rape, homophobia, racism or any type of violence or acts of cruelty. To mindfully deal with situations that might involve intolerable acts we must practice the six refinements and the Four Ennobling Truths for the sake of the important goal of human flourishing and the alleviation of discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish.

Practicing acceptance does not allow one to take a neutral position (neutral is not the Middle Way . . . neutral is avoidance), it requires us to recognize the what, when and how to accept. Note here that we must remain nonjudgemental of the WHO because we are intolerant of the action while showing compassion and acceptance to the individual. In cases of acts of cruelty this may be difficult but as Buddhists we must not act out of anger, revenge or retaliation. This view of acceptance requires a deeper level of mindfulness be applied to each situation than is suggested in traditional Buddhist thought.

Practiced along with acceptance, wisdom and morality can provide us the skills to determine when to be accepting and how. Like the refinement of generosity, patience, acceptance must be situational in its application. Wisdom guides us to viewing the issue in its unique context and to an understanding of what about the situation troubles us and where an encompassing and corrective solution may be found. It gives realization that while the situation may be troubling at that time the ideal of impermanence reminds us that it is transient. Our moral/ethical character will help us view the issue from a place of compassion even when that is extremely difficult. It also will guide us toward a solution that maintains the humanity and dignity of all involved.

One must be mindful that compassion for all others, no matter their crime, situation or attitude is non-negotiable in a Buddhist practice. For the majority of human beings the idea that a person who has committed crimes of terrorism should be treated with compassion is ridiculous. They are criminals who should be severely punished and ostracized from a civilized society. While punishment is called for, acceptance that they are also human beings whose lives mirror our own in many ways must lead us to having true compassion for them.

The energy required to maintain intolerance can leave us with little energy to apply to positive dispositions and actions. It can lead us to resent the situation we find ourselves involved in and lead further to a dimming of awareness and the ability to find solutions. Rather than approaching an issue with a large mind of compassion and tolerance we’d find ourselves acting from a small mind mired in the misperceptions and ignorance of our own ego. Instead we must accept how things really are and use that as the starting point for being a positive agent of change. We must be patient in our resolve and be content to be in the moment we find ourselves in so that we may view it through a clear lens. Contentment though does not mean our effort weakens; we remain mindful of what stands in the way of a positive result and hold to our conviction to engage in thoughts and actions that promote wholesome, live affirming results.

The Refinement of Acceptance is a meditative practice that leads to becoming aware of everything that assaults us, makes us uneasy, and brings discontent, unsatisfactoriness and anguish into our lives. Through meditation we uncover the dispositions, habits and preferences that negatively affect us and develop strategies to deal with them effectively. We learn to accept the reality of the causal Universe and how we can take action to make things better. The skills we develop through meditation become the actions we take we faced with difficult and complex situations in our moment-to-moment experience.

Like so much of Buddhist practice acceptance begins as an individual effort that evolves into a community one so that the virtue of acting with acceptance, patience and endurance becomes an encompassing and corrective virtue practiced by all. In a contemporary context where democracy has its role in decision making, the practice of acceptance goes beyond the concept of “leaving others to do as they will,” beyond being indifferent to the cause and effect generated by others. It is coming together to promote human flourishing through institutions meant to help everyone in need.

Next week we’ll look at the ideal of patience as it relates to the Refinement of Acceptance.

Self-Help Awakening

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Below is the script for the talk I gave as part of the day-long observance of Vesak Day held at the Buddha Center in virtual world of Second Life on May 29th.  Before reading imagine this is the Buddha himself channeling a contemporary self-help guru so he can offer 2600 years of wisdom to his audience.

SELF-HELP AWAKENING

Greetings and welcome to the Main Temple at the Buddha Center in Second Life . . . my name is Sid . . . I am AWAKENED and I want you to be AWAKENED too!

All right I see some of you looking confused because you think you are awake. Others of you are looking at your neighbors and they don’t appear to be asleep either. Yes, you are awake but are you AWAKENED! Today I offer each of you the opportunity to become aware of the moment-to-moment reality you live in. You can come to see how you are in the world through a completely different lens . . . one that will empower you to make better decisions, be a better human being, and help others flourish!

You can take the first step to alleviate suffering. I am going to show you the way to get on the path to a more fulfilling existence . . . and who or what you are right now doesn’t matter. It is how you are right now and how you want to be that matters.

As I said, my name is Sid . . and like you I am a human being. I was born to a fairly well-to-do family . . . okay I was what some of you would consider a prince. Life seemed good, got an education, had a fine horse, got a wife and a beautiful baby boy, but something was missing. There was an emptiness. I thought I needed some me time so I left my home. Let me tell you now that what I thought was reality wasn’t even close.

I had no idea what was going on outside the walls. There were people starving because no one seemed to care. There were people maimed and ill because no one seemed to care. There were people dead and putrefying right on the street with family and friends wailing and crying. I’ll admit to you that this suffering was all a big shock to me. I felt compassion and wondered if others felt the same way. I was compelled to look deeper into this suffering that human beings endured.

It came to me then that surely the holy Brahmins knew about this and had a plan to alleviate suffering. With that idea in mind I went off to study and practice. I studied with some of the finest teachers around . . . Brahmin Arada Kalama who taught me about atman, the eternal soul . . . the guru Udraka Ramaputra who connected the soul, karma and morality . . . the Vedic scriptures and practice had a lot to offer but nothing about suffering . . . the Jains taught me non-action as a way for the soul to attain bliss . . . non-action and the alleviation of suffering didn’t connect for me . . . finally I choose to live as an ascetic for six years and nearly starved myself to death. One day I decided to cross the stream and so weak I fell and nearly drowned. A young woman, Sujata found me on the stream bank and brought me some rice . . . it was then I realized two things: there are compassionate people out there and starving myself just wasn’t working. I’d experienced being the pampered son of a rich and powerful man, and I had denied myself to the extreme and neither was useful in answering the question of suffering.

So, the Brahmins, the Hindi teachers, the Jains, and the ascetics weren’t able to tell me anything so what was left . . . me . . . I hadn’t tried relying on myself to find the answer. Coming across this beautiful pipa tree I sat down in it’s cooling shade and decided to sit for as long it might take and try being mindful of how I was, how the world was, and how I wanted both to be . . . I call that mindfulness meditation now. It took hours, commitment and effort before I had my AH HA! Moment.

Today I offer you the opportunity to have that same experience.

So, I was sitting under that bodhi tree and became AWAKENED but you’d be right to ask just what was I AWAKENED to? I came to the realization that there are two extremes of living that you’ve got to avoid. One is to ease up on the sensual pleasures. I don’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, or a movie . . . just don’t let the pursuit and indulgence control your existence. Don’t become so attached to the temporary feelings pleasures induce because that could lead to craving them when you don’t have them. Second is don’t deny yourself the basics of life or you won’t have the energy to find the path. Avoiding extremes is the Middle Path.
TO BE A HUMAN BEING IS TO SUFFER. That got your attention didn’t it . . . it sure got mine. I, and all of you are human beings and we will each suffer disillusionment, illness, unsatisfactoriness, and death. In this ennobling truth we are all the same. This a reality that you must be mindful of and accept before any further action can be taken. I once sent a woman out to collect a mustard seed from every home in her village that had not been visited by suffering. The proof of suffering is in the fact that there was no mustard for the hot dogs that day.

WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE GET ATTACHED AND THAT LEADS TO CRAVING. When material possessions, ideas, people and ourselves change we find it hard to accept, to be aware change is inevitable, and to take action to alter how we are. We develop a craving for sensual pleasures, pleasures that don’t last. We pursue things we think we want . . . get them and feel they aren’t enough . . . or they don’t last. It is a cycle of psychoemotional stress you bring on yourself.

SUFFERING CAN BE ALLEVIATED. There has to be an effort to apply rigorous self-honesty and become aware of what causes suffering, a commitment to accept our part in those causes, and the will to take the actions necessary to alleviate suffering in ourselves and others. It is a reality that suffering can be alleviated.

Did you notice the pattern in the first three Ennobling Truths? Walk the path . . . must be realized . . . become aware . . . accept our part . . . take the actions . . . all self-initiated behavior, what I realized is a true self-help philosophy. Only YOU can do it for YOURSELF. The great thing about being human beings is that we are empowered to take the needed steps on the path. You just need to learn the path and then to make some effort to walk it.

The fourth aspect of the Ennobling Truths is the Ennobling Eightfold Path, one of experiencing reality through your own efforts. Ennobling because it is the best way I have discovered to avoid the dangers of craving sensual pleasures and to find the realization that all things are impermanent, there is no permanent self, and that for everything there is a cause and effect. These are realizations necessary for a path to a noble life of service to ones’ self and their community. You’ve got to commit yourself to a practice that will lead to the cessation of stress and unsatisfactoriness . . . and that is the Ennobling Eightfold Path of appropriate view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. A view that does not fear seeing phenomena as they are . . . intention directed toward doing what is useful and productive in all situations . . . speech that promotes harmony . . . action taken that promotes human flourishing . . . livelihood that contributes positively to the Universe . . . effort made to improve your own personal character and the state of the world around you . . . mindfulness that what you do matters . . . concentration on the positive aspects and actions of moment-to-moment experience . . . these are the guides on the Ennobling Eightfold Path.
I understand that the Middle Path is now named Buddhism. Interesting choice . . . and that I am now called The Buddha . . . that seems a little pretentious but whatever works for you works for me. Whatever you call it and however you practice it, religion or philosophy, it doesn’t change the core goal of the alleviation of suffering through the realization of Four Ennobling Truths and the practice of the Ennobling Eightfold Path. It also doesn’t change the fact that I am a human being and I was AWAKENED . . . you are human beings too and you can be AWAKENED.

Normally at this point my friends would circulate with dana bowls. Here in this unique world of Second Life that won’t work. Any contributions made to me or to the Buddha Center are not only appreciated but they are your first step in practicing generosity of spirit and developing compassion that begins with you and then spreads to encompass all phenomena.

We’ve got time for few questions.

Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Enlightenment

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a seeming paradox that centers around the attaining of Nirvana. There is a view that it is a gradual process, while another view is of sudden attainment (satori). In truth it is a Middle Way that accepts that there can’t be the sudden without the gradual. Gradual and sudden attainment can be experienced in the story of Ananda’s quest for enlightenment

Ananda was one of the earliest disciples of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Some scholars say he was Siddhartha’s cousin. It is known for certain that he was the Awakened One’s right hand man up until Parinirvanna, the moment of the Buddha’s death. Ananda’s story didn’t end there though. What occurred offers insight into meditation practice from a Ch’an perspective.

One of the original disciples of the Buddha, Ananda had a intellectual mind endowed with what today we might term a ‘photographic memory’ that included remembering word-for-word what he heard. With all of his gifts, skills and effort he was unable to reach enlightenment during the Buddha’s lifetime. Ananda thought that the Awakened One would reward him with enlightenment as a result of his intelligence, actions and devotion. Ananda stood by the Buddha as he passed into Nirvana and possibly wondered if his chance for enlightenment had also passed.

Ananda then turned to the man who had stepped into the Buddha’s sandals, asking Mahakasyapa to help him achieve the goal of enlightenment. After the Buddha’s death, Mahakasyapa, set out to gather together 500 enlightened disciples to continue to offer the dharma, and legend says he could only find 499. Many of the gathered said, “Go to Ananda.” Mahakasyapa’s reply was that Ananda was unqualified because he wasn’t an arhat. He went further to state that he’d sooner disband the entire assembly then allow Ananda entrance.

Ananda returned to Mahakasyapa three more times only to be turned away. He beseeched him, “The Buddha entered Nirvana and now only you can help me to reach enlightenment!” Mahakasyapa replied, “I am too busy and cannot help you. You are on your own.” Only then did Ananda become mindful of an enlightened moment, he realized then that only through his own efforts would he attain his goal.

It is said that Ananda went to a quiet, secluded place. He prepared himself to sit in meditation and as he was about to sit, he attained enlightenment. At that moment he ceased to rely on others, letting go of his attachments and dispositions through his own efforts.

The two main characters in this tale reveal two aspects of meditation and enlightenment in Ch’an philosophy and practice, the gradual arising of sudden enlightenment. Mayakasyapa seems to have achieved sudden enlightenment; Ananda’s was a gradual achievement. Seeing the interconnection and interdependence of sudden and gradual requires a seeming duality in viewing meditation practice, and how it can become an integral part of a lay-persons’ practice in contrast to that of a monastic practice. For one committed to a traditional monastic practice it is meditation with the goal of reaching enlightenment and the ceasing of the cycle of rebirth; for the traditional lay-person a meditation practice is engaged in order to come to terms with dispositions and habits, gain control over negative emotional states, and to prepare themselves for an advanced rebirth. The seeming duality falls away when the realization arises that both a monastic and lay practice begins with personal development and matures into a socially engaged practice; the practices just develop at different levels and have different effects on the individual practitioner’s worldview. The paths are not the same but the intent surely is.

In the Pragmatic Buddhist tradition, the core of Engaged Dharma Insight Group, as monastics we live and practice with the ideal that “life is our monastery”. A deeply focused meditation practice is engaged on the cushion, but equally important is that we extend that meditative state to all aspects of how we interact within the causal Universe. It is the experiences and situations encountered throughout each day, and each moment that practice matures and becomes more useful and productive. For a contemporary lay-person the focus for meditation practice is similar to the traditional in that rigorous self-honesty is applied to dispositions and habits, and negative emotional states so that Buddha-nature can be recognized. Rebirth is set-aside and practice is directed toward HOW one is between birth and death. The recognition of not-self leads directly to the realization of the value of being a social engaged person, Buddhist or not.

From this arises what is critical in either worldview, sudden or gradual . . . be a better human being. A regular, focused meditation practice is a powerful tool for becoming that better human being you imagine you can be.

Back to the two characters:

Traditionally it is said that Mahakasyapa achieved enlightenment by viewing a white lotus flower held aloft by the Buddha. In the Silent Sermon given on Vulture Peak, the Buddha held up a white flower, its roots dripping with water and mire. He slowly turned so that all the assembled disciples could view it. Only one, Kasyapa, “got it”. At that moment it is said he attained enlightenment and stood ready to lead the Buddha’s disciples after the Awakened One’s parinirvana. Ch’an Buddhism’s foundation in mysticism is said to arise from this event, Mahakasyapa’s “sudden enlightenment” (Jp., satori).

Ananda spent his adult life as the Awakened One’s main attendant. He traveled across India with the Buddha, learned from him through word and example, performed daily duties that enabled the Buddha to teach, and with all that, engaged his own practice with the goal of reaching enlightment. Then, with the death of the Buddha he finds himself on a plateau of practice and learning. No teacher, no direction, but still with his goal not reached he beseeches Mahakasyapa to help him. His enlightenment, in contrast to Mahakasyapa is an example of “gradual enlightenment”.

In accord with the Buddha’s teaching in the Uposatha Sutta, gradual learning occurs in all situations, even when phenomena seems sudden.

Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch; in the same way this Dhamma & Vinaya has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual practice, with a penetration to gnosis (knowledge and wisdom) only after a long stretch.

Neither Mayaskayapa or Ananda experienced “sudden” or “gradual” enlightenment. In Ch’an the acceptance of ‘sudden enlightenment preceding gradual cultivation’ comes with understanding. One gradually cultivates a spiritual/religious life after sudden realization of need, gradually developing wisdom refined through practice and experience.

Both Mahakasyapa and Ananda spent many hours with the Awakened One, hearing the teachings and practicing the ideals of the dharma before one experienced a flower, the other experienced death. In any instance, for any person enlightenment will seem sudden when it happens because one moment it is not there, the next it is. No matter how sudden an experience seems there is always a gradual chain of causal factors that contribute to any experience. This is the Middle Way of understanding. There can be no sudden enlightenment without gradual training in the dharma.