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.

The Ideal Meets the Real: Buddhism and Reality

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Buddhist philosophy and practice is packed with high ideals. Generosity of spirit and ‘cease to do harm’; compassion is non-negotiable, mindfulness, serenity arising from meditation, Nirvana, bodhisattvas, co-dependent arising, selflessness and . . . it is a long list of noble ideals. Contemporary living provides moment-to-moment opportunities to put those ideals into practice. At each of those moments the ideal meets the real.

There are a host of reasons for recognizing a need for something more. For some they need to fill what they experience as an empty place in their being, emptiness that they want to give form. Others need to find a way to come to terms with the prospect of death that they may fear or welcome, and to contemplate what might be before or beyond life from birth to death. Illness, chronic or unexpected is known to precipitate the need for drastic changes in psycho-emotional health. There are the curious; some who come for the novelty of exotic cultures and stay for the ideals, other who come out of curiosity, don’t connect and go in search of a different path. This recognized need is given form in the first three verses of the Three Refuges Vow: I go for refuge to the Buddha, the teacher; I go for refuge to the Dhamma, the teaching; I go for refuge to the Sangha, the taught. One ‘goes’ in order to experience if the ideals offer what they are searching for. They continue to ‘go’ when value in the refuges is experienced.

There are a host of reasons for choosing to continue a Buddhist practice. For some it is the goal of Nirvana or Enlightenment for themselves, others pursue the Noble Path for purely selfless reasons. Someone with psychological issues might see a way out of depression, guilt or grief through meditation; those with physical issues a way to control pain and suffering through mindfulness meditation. There are the curious who seek purely knowledge, and the seeker who is curious what Buddhism has to offer. Some are attracted to what they see as a simpler existence, others to what they see as a strict spiritual discipline. Each of them see the ideals of Buddhist philosophy and practice as a path to their destination, choosing to put in the effort necessary to fully engage the Noble Path. Among these reasons some discover the value of choosing to commit to Buddhist philosophy and practice which are given form in the second set of verses: I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dhamma; I take refuge in the Sangha. They choose to ‘take’ the guidance and support offered by the Refuges and make it part of HOW they are.

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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.