BHAVANA SOCIETY NEWSLETTER (excerpts) Vol. 9, No. 2 April-June, 1993 Copyright 1993 Bhavan
BHAVANA SOCIETY NEWSLETTER
Vol. 9, No. 2
Copyright 1993 Bhavana Society
Rt. 1 Box 218-3
High View, WV 26808
Tel: (304) 856-3241
Fax: (304) 856-2111
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the Bhavana Society.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
"The Middle Path" by Bhante Rahula
"Revisiting the land of the Buddha" - Bhante Rahula Talks of His
Pilgrimage to Several Asian Lands
Notes and News
* * * * * * * *
THE MIDDLE PATH
by Bhante Rahula
The teachings have been described as a raft to carry us across
the river of life to the other shore of liberation. We use the
teachings and doctrines to help us see the path and make it across.
Once we get to the other side we don't have to carry it around with
us. We can let it be. We can walk around freely on the firm ground.
These teachings have different elements. They are framed in the
Four Noble Truths: Suffering exists, the cause of suffering is desire
and ignorance, there can be an end to suffering, and the path to end
suffering. Other aspects of the teachings exist, such as the Law of
Karma--if we do negative actions, we will feel painful results. If we
cultivate positive qualities, then suffering will diminish and we will
realize more lightness, clarity and happiness. And there are the
teachings about Impermanence and No-self. The world is impermanent.
Attaching to it will bring suffering. There is nobody that can control
it. It is empty of substantiality.
All these different ideas, whether you believe them or not, are
part of a clever scheme to help us let go of what it is that causes us
suffering. So we use it like medicine. It doesn't really matter if
it's true or false. In the West everything has to be proven true or it
has to be proven false or people won't believe it. Scientists are out
to prove everything. So people say prove if karma is real, prove if
there's rebirth, prove if there's no self, prove if there's God.
People want proof before they believe it.
There's a little story about the poison arrow. A man is shot with
a poison arrow and his friends come rushing over to pull out the
arrow. But he stops them and says, "Don't pull out that arrow. I want
to know the name of the person who shot the arrow and what family he
is from and why he shot it and what the arrow is made of". And on and
on. That man will probably die before he finds out the answers to
The same is true with us. We have suffering. Everybody
experiences suffering. And there is medicine to relieve this suffering
but people won't take it until one proves that everything in the
medicine is true.
We use the Dhamma teachings as a medicine to cure our disease. Of
course, we believe the teachings are true but that's not the important
point-- whether all of it is absolutely true. But by looking at the
teachings they all point to one thing--getting us to let go of what
we're clinging to, getting us to wake up to what we're doing, helping
us to let go of our negative actions that bring us pain.
Consider the Law of Karma--if you do negative actions, you will
experience suffering. It scares us into not wanting to do unwholesome
things. Or the idea of rebirth--if you live your life in greed, hatred
and delusion you will be reborn so many times in many different planes
of suffering. It's a scare tactic. But if it makes us stop doing the
unwholesome actions, that's good because we will experience the
coolness that comes from it. So it doesn't really matter if it's true
or not. If it makes us change our life to the better, then it's worth
The teachings of the Buddha have also been called the Middle
Path, meaning the middle path between the two extremes of whether the
world is real or not real. People believe the world is really
concrete, that their self is real, existing forever. Or they believe
the world is unreal, that it is all an illusion.
But the Buddha wasn't interested in that. He was interested in
how things appeared to be real. To the average person things appear to
be real. How and why they seem real was what the Buddha was interested
in. Not that things are or aren't real, but how do they appear to be
real. When you see how things arise, then you don't believe that
they're not real. But when you see that they also pass away and cease,
you don't believe that they are real either.
So the Buddhist doctrine is the doctrine down the middle, the
conditioned arising. On one hand things do have conventional existence
and are real in the relative sense. In the absolute sense, however,
things are not real because when one gets insight and experiences
emptiness, the world is not the way it seems to be. But again, when we
are caught in delusion and really suffering, then the world is real in
the relative sense.
There was an English philosopher, Berkely, who would always
expound the philosophy that nothing is real, the world is an illusion.
He would go on and on about this to everyone that he met. One day he
was walking with a friend by the river. Berkely was saying, "Nothing
is real. Nothing is real. Everything is an illusion." The friend was
getting tired of hearing this. He picked up a big stone and threw it
on Berkely's foot. When Berkely started screaming and grabbed his foot
the friend said, "Berkely, what are you doing? The stone isn't real.
The pain isn't real." Berkely realized he had been a fool.
So the world is real for one who doesn't have wisdom. How do we
use our wisdom to help us get through the world, to live in the world
without getting stuck in either of the two extremes?
The Middle Path is a state of mind. It is the mind that is
balanced in the middle. It's mindfulness. The mind that's not pushing
away pain and not grasping after pleasure, not getting thrown off
balance by anything, remaining in the middle, in the present moment.
It's not going to the past and not running to the future. It sees the
relative side of existence and knows how to skillfully walk in the
conditioned world, the world of impermanence. At the same time it
knows when to rest and abide in the unconditioned. So it gets the best
of both worlds.
It all hinges on letting go, letting go of concepts. All this
dhamma, the precepts, sitting on the cushion, all these retreats -
wouldn't be necessary if only we could let go, let go from the
grossest to the very subtlest.
In theory it's really very simple but in reality we find it very
difficult. One of the practices to help one let go, that is an
integral part of the dhamma practice, is the practice of dana or
giving. You could say that giving is the whole practice. It means
giving up whatever we're clinging to. It starts, maybe, by giving up
some of the material things you're attached to. Someone is in need and
you give. It helps to loosen up a lot of things too. It's relatively
easy to give material things but then there's giving one's time. That
goes a little deeper. Then there's the ultimate giving--giving up the
Meditation is total giving. You're giving up what you're attached
to. You're giving up the sound that's coming to your ears. You're
giving up the little itching sensation on your cheek. You're giving up
the bubble of anger arising in your mind. You're giving up the "I want
this" and "I want that" that continues to arise. Just letting them
arise and pass through without wanting to hold on to them. And then it
comes down to giving up of the self, even that sense that I am
meditating. When that starts to get weak and fade away, let it go,
There are ways that we can practice this in our daily life. It's
not practiced only in meditation. We can practice whenever the
opportunity arises. If you do not have time to meditate, you can still
practice Dhamma in other ways, in activity. There are the practices of
giving, loving kindness, compassion, patience and sila. One can find
many ways to develop the mindfulness and wisdom that keeps us balanced
in the Middle Path and use that raft to ferry us over the ocean of
suffering and confusion.
* * * * * * * *
REVISITING THE LAND OF THE BUDDHA
Bhante Rahula Talks of His Pilgrimage to Several Asian Lands
I'd like to thank all those Dhamma friends who kindly and
generously helped in various ways to make the six months journey back
to Nepal, India and Sri Lanka possible. It was seven years ago that I
had previously left the Indian subcontinent. Keeping in step with
Anicca there were many changes, some blatantly obvious with others
more subtle. The natural law of growth, change, decay and death wait
for no thing that has come to be.
Some of you may remember meeting Saul here at the Bhavana Society
a couple of years back. This trip had initially germinated and taken
shape out of his desire to travel to India. He was already staying in
Bangkok for a few months when I arrived there on November 6th;
however, he was not at the airport to meet me as planned. A Thai lady
had arranged to have me picked up and I stayed at her large house in
Bangkok for two days. As I was waiting in the departure lounge prior
to boarding the Royal Nepal Airlines flight to Kathmandu who shows up
but Saul. He tells me that during his sojourn in Thailand, the
friendly country, he developed a friendship with one of the fair
gender and would not be able to accompany me on our trekking in Nepal
and pilgrimage down through India. As he was relating this the
boarding announcement began. And before it sank in that he was not
coming along, this body and mind was gravitating towards the boarding
gate. The mind just let go of thinking about it as the aircraft
glided over the spine of the majestic Himalayas into the Kathmandu
At the airport I met up with two of our original four member
party: Raju, an Indian doctor living in North Carolina, and Toni
Childs, a friend of Saul's. The three of us then proceeded to Pokhara
to begin the trek up to the Annapurna Sanctuary. We traversed the
"Himalayan highway" through villages perched on steep hillsides and
terraced paddy fields plowed by water buffaloes, and across deep river
gorges on rickety suspension bridges over churning white water. At
night we stayed in rustic stone/wood lodges conveniently spaced two or
three kilometers apart along the way, right up to the end at the
Annapurna base camp. The trail leads right by the base of the picture
post card "Fish Tail" and into a basin encircled by about fifteen
peaks over 18,000 feet including the peaks of Annapurna at 25,000
feet. The highest elevation reached (physically) at the base camp was
13,000 feet. Needless to say, it was "cold", but this monk made it
fine with little more than birkenstocks, wool socks, long underwear
under the robes, a good sleeping bag and a lot of awareness on the
"fire element". We took ten days for the round trip. There are many
inspiring places to sit to meditate but if exercising mindfulness, the
whole journey can become a reflection of the Dhamma.
From Pokhara, Raju and I headed south on part 2 of our
travel-pilgrimage to Bodhgaya. The way took us to Lumbini, the site
of Prince Siddhartha's birth and to Kushinagar, the place where the
Blessed One relinquished his mortal bones for the last time. We
stayed in each place two days meditating and reflecting on the meaning
of those two important events. We traveled by local buses and trains.
Raju was on a limited time schedule and his pack weighed about fifty
pounds, so the preferred mode of spiritual pilgrimage by foot would be
put off when I would be on my own "dhutanga".
In the nine years since I was last in Bodhgaya, the site of
Siddhartha's complete Awakening, many new temples and structures have
been erected in the environs. Most prominent is the giant replica of
the Japanese Kamakura Buddha built of huge sandstone blocks. Most
Asian countries with sizable Buddhist populations have a temple there
now. At the time of our visit a gold-plated railing and canopy were
being constructed around the sacred Bodhi Tree, donated by the
recently assassinated President of Sri Lanka. There were a couple of
armed policemen inside the sacred complex protecting the cache of
building supplies, ten feet from the Bo-Tree! So it was not as
congenial a place to sit to allow the mind to expand or be filled with
inspiration as I had remembered in previous visits. It was an
opportunity, however, to let go of judgments, comparisons and
cultivate patience and compassion and be with "what is."
After five days in Bodhgaya, Raju's vacation time was nearing its
end and he had to fly back to North Carolina. I was now more or less
on my own. A man from Singapore staying at the Maha Bodhi Resthouse
invited me to accompany him in a first-class train compartment to
Banares and on to Sarnath. Sarnath or Isipatana is where the Buddha
turned the wheel of Dhamma, which is continuing to roll and evidently
picking up momentum.
This completed the pilgrimage to the four major holy sites
connected with the life and teachings of the Supremely Awakened One.
The day I left Sarnath was the day after the Mosque at Ayodya was
demolished and Banares city streets were on curfew. But some movement
was allowed so I managed to make it to the railway station and train
that would take this body and mind South--next destination Ajanta
I never get tired of visiting Ajanta Caves. It is inspiring to
reflect and imagine the dedication of the monastics who carved the 26
caves into the horseshoe shaped cliff. I spent two nights during the
full moon period sleeping out at the viewpoint atop a promontory and
was offered alms by the park service personnel most of whom are
Buddhists. I was pleasantly surprised this trip by how many more
Indian Buddhists there are especially in Maharashtra. There are quite
a number of new Theravada oriented temples/shrines/ viharas in the
state, some in very out of the way, least expected places.
The route then meandered over to the west coast, with me walking
along the coastline and sleeping on the beaches in rock coves.
Crossing over towards Madras through Karnataka, I sojourned a few days
at Hampi. Hampi covers a huge area of rock/boulder hills scattered
through which are numerous ancient Hindu rock temples--great for
passing a night in. Being a tourist pilgrimage destination, the dirt
main street of the small village lined with restaurants and shops made
pindapata (alms round) a less time- and mind-consuming routine. I
flew from Madras to Colombo on January 1st.
Sri Lanka was relatively peaceful while I was there. Mr. Mapa,
the Public Trustee, arranged much of my stay in Colombo, including a
well attended public lecture and three short talks which were
televised on Poya days. I stayed a couple of weeks at my old haunt,
Unawatuna. Seaside kuti no more exists, compliments of Anicca, but
instead a white stupa crowns the hilltop overlooking Unawatuna Bay
where I had lived for five years. As had been prearranged, I led a
ten-day retreat at the Nilambe meditation center high in the mountains
one hour from Kandy. It was heartening to see that the interest in
serious meditation has increased amongst educated Sri Lankans.
A visit to Forest Hermitage in Kandy brought meetings with Ven.
Nyanaponika Mahathera and Bhikkhu Bodhi of the Buddhist Publications
Society. Ven. Nyanaponika is now ninety-two years old and showing it
physically, but his mind/memory is still quite clear and he is able to
converse albeit haltingly.
The wheel of life moves on and before I knew it three months in
Sri Lanka were over. The mind just let it all go. Three weeks were
spent in Germany leading a retreat, and I landed back in D.C. on April
27th. Bhante G. was there to meet me along with Bhante Uparatana and
Upasaka Patrick Hamilton. Bhante G. departed the next day for his
three month teaching tour in Europe.
Ah, the whippoorwills and woodpeckers in the humble woods of West
So it is...
* * * * * * * *
NOTES AND NEWS
September 3-6 (Labor Day Weekend)
Calling all Karma Yogis. It's that time of the year again when we
need some extra hands to prepare for the fall/winter season. Last year
we got a lot of forest cleared up and wood stacked. This year again
there is wood to collect, split, and stack in our wood lot. We now
have several hungry wood stoves to feed over the winter. There are
also other jobs to choose from - gardening, painting, etc. You can
bring your family along. Sometimes parents hesitate to come with their
children. But they are welcome to this weekend. Our dog and cats love
children. During our two daily meditation periods and work periods a
parent can take turns child/baby sitting if necessary. There will be
morning and evening yoga sessions. You are welcome to arrive and leave
any day during the period and to cut short or skip a work period to
meditate more or just relax. It's casual. Please call or write if you
can join us.
6:30-7:00 yoga (optional)
8:30-11:00 work period
2:00-5:00 work period
5:00 tea, fruit, etc.
5:30-6:30 yoga (optional)
8:00-closing Dhamma discussion
Young People's Retreat
It may be weeks away, but nearly 30 young people and five adult
helpers have already signed up for the August 6-8 retreat. We are only
taking names for the waiting list.
Our Retreats well attended
The weekend retreat on May 28-30 was attended by 20
retreatants--"a full house". A similar number is expected for the June
retreat, so please try to reserve your space at least two weeks in
advance. That will also give us enough time to mail you some new
information we have been sending to all our retreatants.
If you cannot make it after reserving a space, please let us
know; we can allow someone on our waiting list to come. A postcard or
phone call is all it takes.
Tapes from Bhavana are available once again
We thank Ruth Sperber for the many hours she spent checking
dozens of tapes. Due to her efforts we are again able to offer you
Bhante Gunaratana and Rahula's dhamma tapes.
Guided meditation tape
Have you been putting off starting to meditate. Or did you give
up after several attempts because your mind wanders away. The answer
may just be Bhante Rahula's new Guided meditation tape Side A is a
(guided) breath and posture awareness meditation --it will help you
relax. Side B is a (guided) body awareness meditation. It will help
you observe the sensations in the body; it is called contemplation of
the body and is the first of the four parts that make up insight
meditation. Once you have mastered this first part you can easily
progress to "full" insight meditation--contemplation of body,
feelings, consciousness, and the mind and mental objects. Bhante
Rahula starts both meditations by getting you seated in the correct
posture and then taking you through a short breathing exercise. Each
side is long enough to get your mind to settle down, so when the tape
stops, you can continue to sit if you wish. For details on how to get
this very helpful audio tape, check the Bhavana Society Tape
Collection elsewhere in this issue.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank