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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THREE CHARACTERISTICS OF EXISTENCE: PRACTICE

THREE CHARACTERISTICS OF EXISTENCE: PRACTICE

In Buddhist philosophy there are Three Characteristics of Existence realized by the Buddha. These characteristics arise from the realities of causality and causally conditioned phenomena, and fall away due to the same realities. These characteristics are impermanence, suffering, and not-self. You cannot practice the three characteristics, yet your practice is interdependent on your realization of these philosophical concepts.

A passage in many discourses reads: “Impermanent indeed are the compounded (the conditioned) things; they are of the nature of arising and falling away. Having come into being, they cease to exist.” Things are characterized as impermanent because they are subject to three stages of being: arising (uppada), falling away (vaya), and decay or change (thitassa annathatta). Impermanence is a synonym for the Buddhist ideal of ‘arising and falling away’ or ‘birth and death’. Birth in the human sense, birth of an idea, also in the sense of the combining of material phenomena from constituent parts into what is viewed as an object fit into this concept. Death as applied to living beings is readily understood; death of inanimate phenomena is sometimes termed destruction even though nothing is every truly destroyed. Inanimate death is experienced as the breaking down of its present form.

Impermanence is causality and it causally conditions all phenomena, and the same is true for suffering and not-self. Things are impermanent due to the causal nature of the Universe and human beings suffer and exist as not-self due to that same nature. All phenomena from the material to the immaterial, from rocks to emotions act as both cause and effect as they arise and fall away. A rock striking you on the head can be a cause of pain; emotional pain can be a cause for you to throw a rock. All things are causally conditioned due to the causal nature of the Universe. You were not in pain until the rock hit you on the head; you reacted with emotion when you threw the rock. Experiences are causally conditioned by internal and external factors.

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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.

Rock in the Road – Uncovering Buddha-element

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

A student asked, “Is Buddha-element easy to find?”

“No.”

“Then why should I put in the effort to find it?”

That led to a tale.

There was a road that led to a magnificent castle. The people of the kingdom used the road to get to that castle where they could sell their produce, their wares and get what they needed to live. It was a rough road made even more treacherous by a large rock directly in the middle of it.

Horses were made lame by stumbling on it. Wagon wheels shattered when they bumped against it. People who climbed over it would fall breaking legs, arms and sometimes heads. It made a trip to the market a challenge.

One day a family of farmers headed into the castle to sell their wagon load of vegetables stopped before the rock. Ahead of them a wagon had lost a wheel to the rock. The tipped over wagon had spilled melons across the ground, some cracked open and others bruised beyond use.

In the farmer’s wagon a young girl turned to her father and said, “Father, why is that rock allowed to remain there? It causes so much anger and loss, still no one tries to move it.”

Daughter, it has always been there and there it will remain.”

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