by Wayne Ren-Cheng

You have a superpower. You can’t fly like Superman or snikt out adamantium claws like Wolverine. You aren’t bulletproof like Luke Cage or as fast as the Flash . . . your superpower is much greater. It is so much greater that it must always be used with compassion, wisdom and appropriate intent. In fact all human beings have this amazing superpower yet yours is unique to you.

Siddhartha, the historical Buddha realized that all human beings have this power. He offered his own superpower skillfully so as not to misuse it. It was like he had his own Uncle Ben whispering in his ear that with great power comes great responsibility.

This is a superpower that can illuminate the minds of men, or lay over them a cloud of delusion. It can be the cause of peace or of conflict. It can connect or it can divide. The Buddha realized the complexity of this power; its ability to shift the moral and ethical equanimity of human beings.

Each of you have the responsibility to use your unique superpower wisely. Every moment you engage it there is the potential for wholesome or unwholesome effects. The causal strength of this ability goes far beyond any other superpower.

The Buddha realized that this superpower is interconnected and interdependent with all other thought and action in the alleviation of unsatisfactoriness, discontent and anguish, suffering, and he offered it as a moral and ethical component of the Eightfold Path. Later, all Buddhist traditions made it an important factor in the precept vows taken by laypeople and monastics.

The contemporary author Thomas Wolfe says this superpower is not just one of man’s several unique attributes, it is the attribute of all attributes!

This superpower is speech. It is the unique ability that human beings have to create, define and engage each with words. These combinations of words that express how you are, this is your superpower.

So, how best can you engage this superpower known as speech? You do so appropriately.

Siddhartha realized the power of the spoken and written word, speech, as means of communication that can equally improve a situation or create a dispute. Diplomats would not be needed, lawyers would be unnecessary, and all radio disc jockeys would do is spin records if words didn’t have such profound effects on the human psyche. The Buddha knew the value of skillful speech and so made Right Speech an ideal of the moral and ethical component of the Eightfold Path. From his talk with Sigala chronicled in the Sigalovada Sutra, to his conversation with King Pasenadi and Anguilimala , Siddhartha realized that speech should be used wisely in the offering of the dharma, given whatever appropriate form was needed. In the Kakacupama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw the Buddha offers a guide to appropriate speech.

Thus I have heard

There are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or un-beneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They address you in a beneficial way or an un-beneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate.

In any event, you should train yourselves: Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. we will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. we will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will. That’s how you should train yourselves.

In the Buddha’s culture and time speech came in the forms of voice, body language, or through the iconography of Hindu faiths and the arising philosophy we now call Buddhism. Today we have the same three forms of speech: voice, writing and body language coming at us in-person and through a vast landscape of electronic media. Along with religious iconography we recognize the ‘voices’ of other modes of artistic expression such as secular paintings, sculpture and drawing. The modes of speech may have undergone additions and changes but the aspects of speech the Buddha teaches of still apply. He went into some detail of the various intents behind human communication. What he didn’t do was divide speech into “good” and “bad” categories thus revealing that there is no dualism because the mirror of beneficial speech is un-beneficial speech, and each aspect has its own reflection.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, experience proves that speech can hurt. An awareness of your own experiences will reveal the harm that words can do. Siddhartha’s experiences revealed the discontent and anguish endured by human beings that arises from using speech as a weapon, from speaking a lot but not saying anything, from using speech to create truth, and from speaking when silence is more appropriate. The way we communicate with ourselves and others has a great impact on how the world is as a whole. Threaded throughout the sutras there is evidence of the importance of speech in Buddhist practice. Call it Right Speech, Encompassing and Corrective Speech, Skillful Speech or Appropriate Speech it is action and thought that grounds ethical ideals and moral character. Speech is a tool of communication and of connection; a tool that must be used to promote human flourishing, not weaken it.

The Precept Vows taken in Engaged Dharma mirror the importance of speech in our contemporary, richly interconnected world.


I undertake the training of verbal empowerment; I will abstain from meaningless speech.

I undertake the training of kind speech; I will abstain from harsh speech.

I undertake the training of meaningful speech; I will abstain from frivolous speech.

I undertake the training of harmonious speech; I will abstain from slanderous speech.

Speech takes many forms, some wholesome, some not. Kind, meaningful and harmonious speech have the power to create compassion, altruism, wisdom, loving-kindness and generosity of spirit. Harsh, frivolous and slanderous speech have the power to create hatred, envy, ignorance and fear. For a Buddhist there is clearly the more appropriate choice. Speech is a superpower possessed and engaged by human beings. You must verbally empower yourself with speech that promotes happiness, health and harmony.

Buddhism and a Secular Path – Part V

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Secular Buddhist groups are arising in the West, most notably in America. Overall mission statements for these groups vary with one constant; they walk the Middle Path without any religious or spiritual context. Groups like the Secular Buddhist Association and many individuals practice the dharma without any affiliation with a traditional Buddhist lineage or school. These practitioners look to the wide variety of Buddhist writings, podcasts and You Tube videos, along with in-person sessions with other avowed secular Buddhists for information and instruction. They view dogmatic beliefs, unquestioning devotion, and religious ritual as having no value, though many still find value in the facilities and training offered by traditional Buddhist groups.

In his book ‘After Buddhism’, Stephen Batchelor offers Ten Theses of Secular Dharma. He prefaces the list with “In 2005 I started to formulate a series of theses to define the kind of secular Buddhist space in which I found myself then and continue to find myself today – the kind of space I have been writing about in this book. I offer a revised version of them here.”

We’ll continue now with the seventh theses: The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.

The first sentence is the definition of a sangha (community), religious or secular. All members are equal and their knowledge and expertise honored while accepting the role of the teacher as mentor and monitor. A danger here is that a strictly secular view of equality may lead to everyone trying to be the teacher. In non-denominational Buddhist groups, like the Engaged Dharma (EDIG) sangha at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life (SL), the desire for some members to make truth claims about their chosen tradition arises. It is the responsibility of the individual on the teacher’s cushion to guide members away from what they think they know, to learning and accepting the value of lessons and ideals from other traditions.

The eighth theses: A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.

This is the proper attitude whether from a religious or secular view. (Note: I guess Mr. Batchelor doesn’t believe in life on other planets🙂 )

The ninth theses: Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.

This is proper thought and action whether from a religious or secular view.

Bathelor’s theses seven through nine are pragmatic ways of being whether a practitioner views their path as secular or religiously oriented. These views are instrumental in the forming of ethical ideals that lead to taking morally appropriate actions in a given situation.

It is theses ten where the religious and the secular find the broadest divide: A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.

Mr. Batchelor is swiping a broad brush over “religion” based Buddhist practices. He is inferring that Buddhist practitioners who commit to a traditional path hesitate to look outside those teachings and texts to strengthen their practice. Admittedly there are instances where this is true. There are those who choose the Mahayana path and vehemently will defend that path while denigrating the path chosen by others. There does arise the statement that, ‘this Buddhism is the True Buddhism’. This statement is a direct view into the immature practice of the speaker. This is not a new development in Buddhism, it has been happening since the Buddha’s death.

The practice of Buddhism now, in the West is encountering a culture and social system new to its experience. It has found itself in a society that favors individualism in its most selfish form over awareness of societal impact, and a society that favors consumerism over altruism. What is needed to counter these aspects of Western society is a pragmatic path that accepts that the ‘walls’ between traditions will have to be pulled down. The Buddhism that will eventually arise will have components of all the Buddhist traditions, humanism, naturalism, pluralism and science. It will be a Pragmatic Buddhism.

Engaging the Three Refuges

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Across Buddhist traditions the Three Refuges (P., tritratna) is the initial step for all on the Noble Path. In the Chinese Ch’an tradition reciting the Three Refuges (also known as the Three Treasures or Three Jewels of Buddhism) is how a person “becomes” a Buddhist, it is known as Taking Refuge (P., sarana). It is a recognition that at any time, when needed a Buddhist can return to, or find sanctuary in the Three Refuges. It is not an act of conversion. It is a choice. We can choose approach the Noble Path with the knowledge that Siddhartha was a human being like ourselves, one whose example we can follow. We can approach the Noble Path with the realization that the dharma is a dynamic reality. We can approach the Noble Path alongside others who have similar goals and are searching for similar experiences.

The precise meanings of each of jewels, their interconnectedness, and how to honor each differs between traditions, while the intent remains steadfast. The intent being that once on the Noble Path the practitioner can return to the ideals of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha whenever needed to reinforce and strengthen practice.

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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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Schrodinger’s Dharma – A Cat Reveals Buddha-nature

by Wayne Ren-Cheng
The Buddhist concept that “form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form” found most famously in the Heart Sutra can be difficult to wrap the mind around. Emptiness is well . . . empty, and form has substance so how each can be both requires a thought experiment followed by a realization of experience. Today scientific research is proving aspects of Buddhism, in particular the changes that occur as a result of meditative practice to have beneficial effects on the bodymind. To better understand the conundrum of emptiness and form there is a scientific thought experiment that is useful.

In Buddhist philosophy everything, all dharma is causally conditioned. It becomes what it is in a particular moment as a result of the causal process of the Universe, of its interaction with other phenomena. This would not possible if all dharma had inherent and permanent form. It has neither aspect and until it is acted upon physically and/or mentally it has only potential (emptiness) to take on form. Causal conditioning, the who, what, when, where, why and how of the causal process enacts the transformation from emptiness to form. Very philosophical concept but it can be experienced if one is mindful. Still, for Westerners caught up in concrete definitions and concrete descriptions it isn’t an easy concept. Let’s look to a contemporary science model for help.


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Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art Of Skillful Detachment

Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art of Skillful Detachment
Ven. Dr. Jim Eubanks, Sensei

The following Dharma talk was given by our root teacher, Ven. Eubanks, Sensei, on February 18, 2010 in St. Louis at the CPB Meditation Center.

Acculturation and Attachment: What It Is and What It Is Not
No matter how much we seek absolute personal sovereignty (what is traditionally called “free will”), a deep and honest look at the human condition reveals that existential baggage is unavoidable because we live in a causal world.   The key is to make sure that the baggage we carry is on our terms to the extent it can be, and that it contains expressions of ourselves that we can be proud of and use skillfully.  No matter how long I sit in the silence of a secluded forest, the causal conditions that converge to make me the kind of human being I am, do not go away.  The Zen master who develops Alzheimer’s will not enlighten himself out of his condition.  I am a causally-conditioned “expression of the Universe,” and there are many causal conditions that are not up to my wants OR non-wants.  No amount of philosophy cuts me off from those conditions which create me, no matter who I am or how long I’ve been sitting.  Instead, it is the goal of the reflective and considerate person to understand the major sources of influence in his or her life, to “attend” to the baggage that he or she does and must carry.  There is a term for this existential baggage: acculturation.

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