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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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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SUPERPOWER

SUPERPOWER

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.

Buddhists Wear Clothes

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

There is a long running post titled “Buddhists Eat Meat” on this site. It has been read by hundreds and commented on by some. The comments are generally directed toward defending the commenter’s point of view and lots of talk is about compassion, specifically compassion for animals. The need to defend is not helpful; the talk about compassion is. In fact the comments present cogent defenses of a variety of views on the subject. There are also moments of critically judging the views, knowledge and decisions of others.

Two statements are made often, seemingly with the intent to shame an omnivorous Buddhist. One is that in this contemporary society it is easier to be a vegan or vegetarian because there are more choices and access to information. The other that animals suffer greatly on factory farms with the subtext being that one who is omnivorous is less compassionate. Neither is a ‘truth’ in all situations.

The intent of the lesson “Buddhists Eat Meat” was not so readers would question the choices of other Buddhists. It was offered so that readers would question their own practice, their own choices, and their own reactions to difficult subjects. There is a need to engage rigorous self-honesty rather than engage in judging the views and actions of others.

There are other aspects of human existence that require the same level of scrutiny given to dietary choices. Choosing what clothes to buy and wear for example. Others include what car to drive and how much to drive it, limiting carbon footprint, and what livelihood to engage in. Every choice made has cause and effect, wholesome and unwholesome. Every Buddhist practitioner must apply rigorous self-honesty in order to make pragmatic choices.

BUDDHISTS WEAR CLOTHES

How aware are you of the clothes you wear? From the underwear to the hat there are choices to be made. Ask yourself these questions.

Where were my clothes manufactured?

How were the raw materials sourced?

Who are the people and other sentient beings involved in the manufacturing, delivery and selling process?

What are the conditions those people live and work in?

What are they being paid?

What impact does the purchasing of your clothes have on the suffering of others?

How much energy, effort and awareness do you apply to your choice of clothes?

How compassionate is your choice?

My intent is not to single out omnivores or herbivores in the Buddhist community. The intent is to use the issue to offer that wholesome intentions and acts of compassion arise in different ways and that equanimity or balance should always be in favor of promoting compassion and human flourishing.

Every item we purchase and consume has its wholesome and unwholesome aspects. Many American companies out-source their manufacturing to places where wages can be well below subsistence level, where working conditions can be way below American standards, and child labor is legal. The items are sold by companies that engage in dubious personnel, pricing and social activities here in America. Not to focus on only the unwholesome, there are many American companies that strive to do what is right to the extent they are able. There are choices between low cost products manufactured under conditions of suffering and higher cost products that meet certain “standards” like a Made in the USA tag or are imported through organizations that promote fair trade.

A Buddhist practitioner has flaws and strengths like any other human being. The goal for a Buddhist is to have equanimity in practice; a balance that is always tipped more to the wholesome than the unwholesome. No matter the choice a practitioner must always honor life in some way.