MAYBE THE 8.5 FOLD PATH? A FUTURE JATAKA TALE

MAYBE THE 8.5 FOLD PATH?

The Eightfold Path is the way to alleviation of suffering that has been part of Buddhist practice for a long, long time. Three of those pathways lead to ethical character and moral action: right speech, right action, right livelihood. Some skillful re-description reveals that something is missing.

Here is a jataka tale of the future Buddha. Find the lesson.

No Difference?: A Future Jataka Tale

Alex is angry. He applied for more than a dozen colleges and got accepted by none. Behind a desk his high school guidance counselor sits patiently and listens to the young man’s incredulous raving. The counselor reminds himself that this isn’t the first time a prospective college student held a fundamental misunderstanding of what a successful application process required.

Fourteen applications and not one acceptance. It isn’t fair.” Alex shoves forward a handful of papers crumpled in his fist. “I’ve got a great grade point average. I’ve played on the football and baseball team since I was a freshman. I’ve been active in student government. Why wasn’t I accepted into at least one? It just doesn’t make sense.”

The guidance counselor, Mr. Whitman listens.

My brother I couldn’t be more alike, we are twins after all. Wade got acceptance letters from ten of the eleven he applied to. It just isn’t fair. We both played sports, both have good grades, and both are in student government. I just don’t get it. Must’ve been that they didn’t liked my college application essay. You told me it was good.”

Mr. Whitman nods. “It was. I don’t think that was the issue. What do you think it might have been?”

Alex gets even more frustrated. He yanks a yellow folder from his backpack and flips it open. “I’ve checked my copies over and over for mistakes. Didn’t find any grammar, spelling or syntax errors. Answered all the questions fully. Looked over Wade’s but I didn’t see anything that should’ve made this much of a difference. Ten acceptance letters for him, zero for me.”

Mr. Whitman shakes his head. “No differences?”

Alex throws up his hands and exclaims, “Not that should’ve got me rejected.”

So, there were differences. Set aside the similarities between you and your brother. Focus on the differences.” Mr. Whitman sits back in his chair and waits.

Alex pulls what looks like a duplicate of his own set of application forms. He puts that set and the other set side-by-side on the desk. One is his, the other his brother’s. Page by page he flips through them. Coming to a particular page in each stack he stops. Leaning forward he reads them carefully. His comment when he looks up at Mr. Whitman is, “Really?”

What Alex sees is a page of questions about extracurricular and volunteer activities. The brothers participated in many of the same activities connected with the school; it is in the category of volunteer activities and interests outside of school that Wade’s application is much different. Wade had taken on two internships during junior and senior year. He’d volunteered on some weekends for organizations that helped the less fortunate such as a food bank and a nursing home. Alex gave Wade a hard time about not having much time for his friends, not much time to party. In school the brothers did engage in similar activities, it was when they were not at school that things were different.

Mr. Whitman nods and remember how many times in Alex’s sophomore and junior years he had highlighted the issue that Alex was just then coming to a full realization of.

The moral is: Right livelihood should be in equanimity with right life-lihood.

Livelihood as it is an aspect of the Eightfold Path is one of the ways, along with speech and action, to develop wholesome ethical character and engage in wholesome moral choices. Viewing high school as a metaphor for a job, then like a job it could reasonably be called a livelihood. With this view the college application process reveals that what a person does outside of work has equal value. To the traditional Buddhist philosophical ideal of appropriate livelihood the contemporary practitioner can add the ideal of life-lihood, what the practitioner does when they are not on the job. Live- and life-lihoods are both critical in developing wholesome ethical character and moral action.

Life-lihood is the time you aren’t working at your job or career. It is when you are engaging daily life with family and friends, pursuing a hobby, volunteering with an organization, or just relaxing. Life-lihood must also be appropriate.

Gaining an appropriate view of Life-lihood requires a practitioner to take a rigorously self-honest look at what activities they choose to pursue when not at work. Like how the extracurricular questions on a college acceptance application are answered result in a particular karmic consequence, so to does the answer to what a practitioner does when not at work have particular karmic consequences. This doesn’t mean that a life-lihood can’t be fun. Absence of fun is not a requisite for good karmic consequences. A life-lihood that promotes harmony, health and happiness (human flourishing) is a requisite for good karmic consequences.

What life-lihoods do you engage in? Now is the moment to engage in some rigorous self-honesty.

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Suffering Calf — Future Buddha Jataka Tale

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

The traditional Jataka Tales, stories of Siddhartha’s previous lives before awakening, are meant to teach lessons in moral thought and ethical action. Siddhartha was viewed as having lived lives as beggar and king, holy man and untouchable, eagle and hummingbird, lion and rabbit, water nymph and deva; in each he learned lessons of wisdom, wisdom that would eventually lead him to his life as Siddhartha, then as the Awakened One.

Siddhartha is the historical Buddha of our time. What about the future Buddha? The Awakened One told us, “I am not the first Buddha to come upon this earth; nor shall I be the last. Previously, there were many Buddhas who appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this world, within this world cycle.” Viewing this as a truth then those previous lives have been, or are currently being lived right in this moment.

What are the lives of the future Buddha? What lessons have the future Awakened One learned?

With all this, I will endeavor to write some Future Buddha Jataka Tales. Like the traditional tales the bodhisattva can arise as any sentient being because all sentient beings might be a Buddha.

Traditional Jataka Tales often begin with the words, ‘Once upon a time when . . .’, to denote events and people from their past. These Future Jataka Tales will begin with ‘In this time . . .’ to show their more immediate connection to our present moment.

Future Buddha Jataka: Suffering Calf

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Honor ALL Living Beings – Carnivore, Herbivore, Omnivore

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Have you taken the time to read, “Hoofprint of the Ox” by Master Sheng-Yen? A wonderful book of Chan Buddhist wisdom from a highly respected contemporary Master. Like the times I go to flea markets and garage sales without any particular thing I am searching for, I never read books on Buddhist philosophy or practice looking for a particular point of view that will substantiate my own worldview. One takes the fun out of digging through other people’s stuff, the other takes the wisdom out of reading. For instance I encountered Master Sheng-Yen’s teaching of counting out-breaths as an initial meditation practice. This is not a view that I agree with as I have experienced that it can become confusing and frustrating for many beginning Western meditators. Then I came to a line that leapt off the page and into my conscious mind and joined the worldview that is held by my unconscious mind, “In the Mahayana tradition, all sentient beings (and even the leaves and grass!) are identical in nature to Buddhas.” The words and the ideal arises from the Tathagatagarbha doctrine, the Indian Buddhist philosophical concept of Tathagata-Womb in which all beings are equally discoverable in their Buddha-nature.

For many months the second most viewed post on the website has been “Buddhists Eat Meat”. The point of the posting revolves around the Jivaka Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya #55) where the Five Instances relevant to a Buddhist eating meat are taught. These are: if a specific living thing is requested, if the living thing is being mistreated or mishandled, if the intent was the animal was killed directly for the consumption of the monk, if the living thing is nervous or frightened, if knowing any of these things have happened and the person eats the meat anyway. In any of these instances either the consumer, the provider, or both will accumulate demerits. The sutta further offers that if one wants to make a case for their own choice of vegetarianism it smust be from the platform of loving-kindness and equanimity, not from a misguided idea that the “Buddha said so.” Whichever we choose, herbivore or carnivore or omnivore we must remain mindful of our interconnection with everything around us. As part of our daily practice we must develop an awareness of those connections and what we eat can be an opportunity to practice. Before each meal take a moment to respect the journey that whatever you are about to eat took to get to you. Take the time to honor all life.

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