Appropriate Speech: Right for All Worlds

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Appropriate speech, along with action and livelihood, is the path of moral discipline (sila) one walks on the Eightfold Path. Together they make up the visible components of a practice committed to the promotion of human flourishing (happiness, health and harmony). Ethical voice arises in speech driven by wholesome intent, in speech grounded in the realities of karma and causal conditioning. There are four aspects speech that arise 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. 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. We must always be mindful because what we do matters.

Aphorisms are phrases that distill a wise idea into few words and sometimes vivid imagery. They come in handy tools as for memorization and for teaching ethical ideals and moral 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” and it’s meaning 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 intent. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings can be overshadowed when one “collects” the Buddha rather than practice the dharma.

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The Eightfold Path: Willingness and Experience

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

With the Four Ennobling Truths, Siddhartha set the groundwork for all Buddhists who would follow his teachings. In pragmatic Buddhism we use ennobling rather than the traditional translation of noble because like fertile ground the Truths are empty until used. Ennobling is an adjective, one that brings recognition that the Four Ennobling Truths are only furrows in a field. It isn’t until one is willing to plant the seeds, cultivate the ground, and experience what grows there is only emptiness.

Contemporary Buddhist scholars like Stephen Batchelor and David Kalupahana experience Siddhartha as presenting not a list of observations that if one believes their truth then that person can join the Buddhist club. Instead they experience the truths as a sequence of dependent origination or causality. The first Truth is, so the second is, the third is, the fourth is, and the fourth leads back to the first; and forms a causal loop. They are the truths that reveal the reality of how things are and of what works best in the here and now.

Why do we think this is what the Buddha meant? By looking at each of the ennobling truths we can see the corresponding action it requires.

#1 Unsatisfactoriness exists for human beings.

You must become fully aware of all the types of suffering that plague mankind and the world he lives in. Only by fully knowing unsatisfactoriness can we recognize the causes. You must accept that all human beings will encounter moments of suffering.

#2 The cause of unsatisfactoriness is craving, unnatural attachments and dualistic thinking that neglect an understanding of dependent origination,

You must look within (rigorous self-honesty) and without for the causes. The realization that nothing arises from nothing is where we begin. Craving for permanence and fear of change, a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Universe works, and an attachment to ego must be recognized as that cause.

#3 There is a path that leads to the cessation of craving and unnatural attachments of the mind, and thus there is a way to positively transform unsatisfactoriness.

The lessons of the Middle Path will lead us to the realization that suffering can be alleviated. You discover through experiential verification that the realities of the causal process of the Universe coupled with impermanence empower you to make the changes needed, to engage in positive transformation.

#4 This path is Eightfold.

In the Eightfold Path you find the dispositions of human beings that directly effect HOW you interact in an interconnected world. Like all Buddhist “lists” the Eightfold Path is not meant to stand alone but to be a dynamic and integral part of Buddhist practices, all which have an impact on HOW a Buddhist lives their life in relation to the causal Universe. The ideals of encompassing and corrective view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration when applied in conjunction with the Six Refinements become a “power tool” in the Buddhist toolbox.

The English Buddhist monk Novera said, “The four truths are not to be understood or known, they are injunctions in which we are directed to ACT!”

Wisdom, the sixth refinement is gradually developed as you practice generosity, morals, tolerance, energy and meditation, and acting with wisdom also helps us gradually develop those characteristics. For example the wise application of generosity takes more than just giving. You must learn to develop a clear and realistic view of the situation, what is needed as opposed to what is wanted. To start there will be a level of self-regard to your giving and that is a part of the gradual turning from that self-regard to selfless compassion. Your intent will undergo that change if you are mindful. The other aspects of the Eightfold Path – speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration – also have value in determining acts of generosity. Looking deeply into the Eightfold Path you’ll recognize the elements of the Six Refinements. View and intention are acts of wisdom. Speech, action and livelihood are acts of morals and ethics. Effort, mindfulness and concentration are acts of a meditative bodymind.

Like all Buddhist teachings meant to be useful and productive in the alleviation of suffering, their intent should lead us back to the ideals of the Four Ennobling Truths.

JUMP IN . . . THE WATER’S . . . WHAT WE MAKE IT

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Buddhist philosophy and practice has long focused on the mind as a weak point for human beings. The mind can fool you with delusions, tell you lies you want to believe, and insist on thoughts and actions it is comfortable with rather than trying something different that might work better. Strongly worded teachings to cleanse, to control, to pacify, and to know the mind are found across the sutras. This is a major reason why in Buddhism there are six senses not five: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and consciousness . . . the mind. The mind, or consciousness doesn’t only process what the other senses gather it can create scenarios real and the contrived. The mind can offer distorted memories, wrong information and a deluded view of the future. To know the mind requires rigorous self-honesty in order to achieve insight into reality, internal and external. This is a point where the ideals of Buddhism meet the realities of human existence.

In the Anguttara Nikaya (The Further-factored Discourses) the Buddha uses a pool of water as metaphor for the mind.

Udakarahaka Sutta: A Pool of Water – AN 1.45-46

“Suppose there were a pool of water – clouded with mud and trash. A man with good eyesight standing there on the bank would not see shells, gravel, and pebbles, or shoals of fish swimming about and resting. Why is that? It is because of the spoiled nature of the water. In the same way a disciple cannot know his own benefit, the benefit of others, the benefit of both due to the spoiled nature of his mind; that he would not realize a superior human state, a truly noble distinction of knowledge & vision: Such a thing would be impossible. Why is that? Because of the spoiled nature of his mind.”

“Suppose there were a pool of water — clear and free from trash. A man with good eyesight standing there on the bank would see shells, gravel, & pebbles, and also shoals of fish swimming about and resting. Why is that? It is because of the unspoiled nature of the water. In the same way a disciple would know his own benefit, the benefit of others, the benefit of both due to the unspoiled nature of his mind; that he would realize a superior human state, a truly noble distinction of knowledge & vision: Such a thing is possible. Why is that? It is because of the unspoiled nature of his mind.”

“Udakarahaka Suttas: A Pool of Water” (AN 1.45-46), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 4 August 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an01/an01.045-046.than.html

A mind “spoiled” by vexations/hindrances – sensual desire, ill-will, laziness, restlessness, and doubt – and the arising of negative habitual reactions – anger, fear, envy, greed – is incapable of realizing the positive qualities of its own nature. The mud that clouds the water is from the mind’s reluctance to let go of habitual reactivity and hindrances. Mud is internal. The trash that clouds the water is the negative influences of society that you allow to be “thrown” into the pool. Trash is external.

In the same way a disciple cannot know his own benefit, the benefit of others, the benefit of both due to the spoiled nature of his mind; that he would not realize a superior human state, a truly noble distinction of knowledge & vision . . .’ It is impossible for you to get an appropriate view and realize how you can be the cause of wholesome transformations of the self, of others, and of the world unless the mud is made to settle and the trash disposed of properly. To make a distinction between what you think you know and what you need to know (knowledge) and between what you think you see and what is reality (vision) you must be viewing yourself and the causal universe through clear water or unobstructed mind.

The Buddha offers two ways to cleanse the mind. Let the mud settle by not engaging in sensual desire, ill-will, laziness, restlessness, and doubt; and remove the ‘trash’ of anger, fear, envy, greed. There is a third manner of clearing the water that is illustrated using the image of bathtub.

Let your consciousness create the image of a bathtub made of glass. The water in the tub is dark with mud. You can let the mud fall-away to the bottom but the mud will still be there waiting to arise into the clear water above it. You can scoop the mud out causing the water to become opaque, impossible to get a clear view through and then wait for it to settle again. In the first you might be engaging in denying the mud of vexations and hindrances, allowing it to remain in the tub. In the second you might be attempting to rid yourself of emotions, getting frustrated because some mud remains to swirl around in the water. Both of these methods have limited positive effects. What is missing?

You can’t focus exclusively on mindfully removing the unwholesome from the mind, on removing the mud and trash from the water. You must also engage in adding wholesome thoughts and ideals to the mind, putting drop after drop of clear, clean water into the tub. You cannot only subtract from the mind; you must also add to it. Interconnected these three actions are a path to a cleansed mind that will be able to realize personal and societal benefit, and to achieve knowledge and appropriate view of experiences and situations.

Mindfulness allows some of the mud to go down the drain. That same mindfulness allows drops of the clear waters of loving-kindness, compassion, generosity, morals, energy, awareness, acceptance, meditation and wisdom to be added to the tub. Slowly the level of mud diminishes and the water appears cleaner and clearer. It becomes easier to see the reality of self and the causal universe.

A sangha member once asked, “Why not just drain the tub, wash all the mud out and then refill it with the clean water?” This would make it easier. Drain out the vexations/hindrances and trash and start over. Unfortunately you cannot ‘drain’ you mind of all your experiences, attitudes, beliefs, habits and dispositions. This is the time to recall that Buddhism is the Middle Path between extremes.

For the great majority of us the ideal of a completely cleansed mind is a delusion. There will always be some arising, however minor of hindrances. There will always be the arising of mindfulness that stills habitual reactivity in favor of appropriate response. There will always be a certain amount of mud in the water. That is why mindfulness and awareness must always be present. The Middle Path realizes that one is never all mud, never all clear water. It must be a constant process of mindfulness of internal mud and awareness of external trash being processed through the mind so that the unwholesome influences are recognized. It must be a constant process of learning and practice so that drops of clear water are being continuously added so that a more wholesome personal character and societal direction can be realized.

We can’t change how our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch send information to the mind. We can change how the mind responds to those stimuli. We can continue to allow the mud of hindrances and vexations to thicken and choke out our wholesome qualities, or we can put in the effort needed to be mindful of the unwholesome and limit it’s arising. With awareness we can learn to recognize the defilements of the mind caused by what we allow to become part of our thinking and acting, our habitual reactivities, as well as recognize the wholesome thoughts and actions that will cleanse the mind. Then with mindfulness we can allow the unwholesome to fall away and the wholesome to arise. We can let the mud settle and let the mud drain as we add clear, clean water drop by drop.

AGGRESSION IN MANY FORMS

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A critical aspect of Buddhist philosophy and practice is the ideal of non-violence (ahimsa). Violence, any physical action that results in the harm or death of another being, is antithetical to the development of compassion, loving-kindness and to liberation from suffering. The reality is that violence abounds in the world; violence in acts like murder, rape, war and genocide, as well as any other actions that cause harm or death to living beings. The question each Buddhist practitioner must ask, and answer with rigorous self-honesty is what acts of violence have I committed or am I considering. None, or very few is likely to be the honest answer. Most people have never purposely taken a truly violent action. It is very likely though that most people have engaged in aggression in one of its many forms in thought and in action. To reach the ideal of non-violence requires an acceptance of the reality of aggressive habitual reactivities, unwholesome dispositions and habits that arise without mindfulness. Once accepted there must be a commitment to weeding the bodymind of them. When aggression is accepted as a major causal precursor to violence then practice can begin to mitigate and finally eliminate aggression in thought and action. Eliminate aggression and violence falls away.

The Buddha began the Attadanda Sutra with this verse,“Violence breeds misery; look at people quarreling.” It offers the reality that violence leads to suffering. The words look at the people quarreling also offers a glimpse of a causal factor of violence, aggression. Some people believe that aggression is as much a part of the human condition as is suffering itself. There is a factual basis for this view that can be experienced in language. In human relationships for example an argument gets called a fight even thought nothing physical usually happens and disciplining a child gets called punishing a child. Aggression is a phenomenon of human personality, personality that is subject to causal conditioning and impermanence so aggression can be transformed into loving-kindness with the application of mindfulness and compassion. A bodymind anchored in loving-kindness is one without aggression; a bodymind anchored in unbounded compassion is incapable of violence.

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