BHAVANA SOCIETY NEWSLETTER (excerpts) Vol. 10, No. 1 January-March, 1994 Copyright 1994 Bh

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BHAVANA SOCIETY NEWSLETTER (excerpts) Vol. 10, No. 1 January-March, 1994 Copyright 1994 Bhavana Society 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. DharmaNet International P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951 * * * * * * * * CONTENTS "Catching The Next Bus" by Petr-Karel Ontle "Have You Seen Hells and Heavens?" (excerpt from S. iv, 126) "The Social Teachings Of The Buddha" by Bhikkhu Bodhi * * * * * * * * CATCHING THE NEXT BUS By Petr-Karel Ontle Some say that it is no longer possible for people to become enlightened, that is, to attain Nibbana. They claim that it has not been possible for anyone to do so for decades, or even for centuries. These individuals try to tell us that while the Buddha knew that Truth, and effectively taught the Unique and Perfect Path to Liberation, the best we can do now, in our day, is to honor the Buddha, respect the Dhamma, and support the Temples and the monks. And then, supposedly, we should content ourselves with earning merit for a good rebirth, in hopes that in the age of the next Buddha, the Buddha Metteyya (Maitreya in Sanskrit) we may again earn a place in line, as it were, to receive the 'new teaching' and attain Nibbana in the 'new dispensation'. Where, how, and why this view came into being probably no one knows. Nor does it matter. What is important is for us to see the foolishness and danger inherent in it. More than twenty-five centuries ago, the Buddha Gotama was born into His last existence in the conditioned realm of Samsara. At the age of thirty-five, well before the mid-point of His eighty-year life, He attained Full Liberation, Enlightenment, Freedom, Nibbana... call it what you will. After that highest point in His life, for forty-five years, He taught both the theory and practice of that same Attainment to any and all who would listen. Whenever the Buddha spoke, there were monks sitting at His side who heard every syllable, and remembered it. Memorized it. They in turn repeated it to other monks, also specially trained, or naturally gifted with powerful memories, who in their turn preserved the Dhamma as an oral tradition for centuries. Vast numbers of men and women, young and old, rich and poor, high-born and low-caste, healthy and ill, monastic and lay, and of varying degrees of intelligence, also listened to the Buddha's Teaching. Laymen and monastics alike, they followed His instructions, undertook the same practice of self-purification which is called the Noble Eightfold Path and includes Vipassana meditation, and in due course attained the same Liberation, the same Freedom, the same Nibbana, in their present, in their here-and-now, while they were still alive. And from that point they were for the rest of their lives witnesses, living testimonials, to the effectiveness and genuineness of That Which The Buddha Taught. At the age of eighty, the Buddha Gotama passed away never to re-arise in the conditioned realm. The Buddha is no longer with us. Although He was urged to do so, He appointed no one to take His place as leader or teacher. He refused to, and that is most significant. He had done all that could be done; He pointed the Way to Freedom, and He gave clear instructions. After that it was -- and still is -- up to each and every follower to take up the map, and walk the distance on his own. No one can do it for us. This map, these instructions, they are the Teaching, The Dhamma, The Buddha-Word. The Dhamma alone, is our guide. Eventually, with the adoption of writing, the monks meticulously wrote down what they had memorized, and from that time, the Dhamma has been passed down through the centuries in written form, both in the original Pali language, and in translation in many other languages of Asian peoples. Now, at last, very fine translations are also being made from the original Pali into Western Languages, especially into English. How accurate are these memorized 'hand-me-downs' and their later written counterparts? How accurate are the translations? Very accurate indeed. Let us not forget that all the ancient world used the same or similar memory-mnemonic systems to preserve all manner of historical and literary material. The great epics of GILGAMESH, the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY are but three examples of enormously long poems that were composed by illiterate men (Homer was blind to boot) and preserved to modern times in the memories of other illiterate men and women until the time that writing was invented! The modern translations are done by Buddhist scholars who painstakingly check every syllable against the original Pali. And finally, there is the best proof: seeing through application and experience "whether it will fly." By the time the Buddha had passed away, His teaching had spread far and wide throughout the land, in the hearts and minds of his enlightened followers. He rediscovered for His age the Technique of Liberation. The Technique, the original Teaching, the Dhamma, Theory, Application, and Practice, preserved intact in the Pali Canon, has served to Liberate uncountable numbers of His disciples right up to the present day, and continues to do so even as you read. It is true that in the distant future, the day will come when through the carelessness of the people, and perhaps the interplay of a variety of causes and effects, not the Dhamma, but the knowledge-of-the Dhamma will become seriously weakened and diluted, broken and corrupted, and the veil of Ignorance will again fall. The day will come when Truth is forgotten altogether, and the name of the Buddha will mean nothing if it is indeed even remembered or spoken at all. In those times it will indeed be impossible to attain to Enlightenment, and those who live in those dark days will have no hope of escape from Samsara until the coming of the new Buddha, the Buddha Metteyya, who will again re-discover the Truth that is always around us, obscured only by the veils of our own Nescience and ego. This cycle of Dhamma-uncovering, Its spread, and Its eventual loss has been played out innumerable times in the beginningless past, and will continue in the endless future. But here we are, in the middle of a flourishing Buddha-Cycle. The Dhamma has not lost its potency, its strength, its validity. It is still pristine and pure as ever. Its spark is still ready to banish the Nescience from our minds. We have the same undiminished opportunity to practice intensively, and to attain the same Enlightenment as those who preceded us throughout the ages. It is sheer foolishness to even hint that we can afford to wait for the next Buddha. There is no need for it, nor any advantage to be had from it. All the Buddhas re-discover and teach again the self-same Dhamma. There is only One Dhamma, One Truth ! It will be no different under the dispensation of the coming Buddha, or the next One, or the One after that, down through the ages. If we apply ourselves fully now, there is no reason why we cannot reach full enlightenment, or at the very least, Stream-Entry, now, in our present day. It depends only on the strength of our defilements, and the degree of our determination. And that latter factor is a potent trap. It is where complacency undermines urgency. Under the hype and hooplah of today's technology, materialism has become deeply rooted in most people's minds. Relatively speaking, never in the recorded history of humanity have there been so many gadgets and trinkets and toys to distract adult and child alike. The cult of consumerism spends billions of dollars worldwide to convince billions of people that they simply must have the Latest, the Biggest, the Shiniest, the Fastest. Advertising moguls invent ever new ways to convince us that unless we possess at least one of whatever it is they just happen to be peddling, life is hardly worthy living. Add to this the Hollywood-MTV cult of eternal youth physical beauty, and pleasure, and we are kept busy every waking moment from womb to tomb in the non-stop pursuit of non-stop sex, more money, and ever-greater glamour and fame. Materialistic Western culture has brainwashed us into believing that Samsara is FUN! A veritable carnival! We are mesmerized by what we perceive as pleasure. We are content to play in Samsara's sugary enticements, like insects on the deadly blossoms of the Venus Fly-Trap, or the Pitcher Plant. Our priorities do not include so much as a glance at the real meaning of life, at Reality, and what we are up against in Samsara. Not until it is too late. Samsara for us is not so bad. We are having a decent enough time; wine, women, and song intoxicate us; pleasure, and success give us a false feeling of security. We think that Samsara will always treat us this way. It isn't so bad. We can enjoy this and put up with an occasional splinter or bruise here and there. We're too busy having fun, too close to success now. We will work on Liberation later. We'll 'catch the next but to Nibbana'. It will be newer, better equipped, less crowded, airconditioned, heated. We invent a thousand reasons to procrastinate. All sorts of rationalizations to justify waiting till next time. Later. We have no sense of urgency. we cannot smell the danger. The sense of urgency is born of suffering. It begins to stir as we grow older, as the body begins to fail, as things around us go wrong. Family and friends die, material security is lost, sometimes suddenly and totally. What are you waiting for? Do you first need to experience urgency as a starving refugee in a Somalia? As a terrorized victim in a Bosnia-Hercegovina? As a victim of some future Pol Pot or Hitler? Or just as the inhabitant of one of the hell-hole ghettos, the drug-and-violence ridden cities of the world, not the least of which is Washington DC itself, capital of what is touted as the greatest and richest and most powerful nation on earth? But what good does their sense of urgency do for those poor wretches who are in these positions right now? Many have never heard of the Buddha. Preach the Dhamma to them, and It will fall on deaf ears. They are too cold, hungry, and terrified to ponder anything. And those who have heard the Dhamma, such as the Cambodians, they are none of them in the position to apply the Dhamma, to undertake the study and meditative practices that would liberate them. Relentless, cutting misery destroys their bodies, spirits, and minds. If we allow ourselves, in our present sojourn, in the relative safety and comfort of our fragile ivory towers, for whatever reason, to believe that there is no possibility of attaining Liberation in our day, or even that it is too difficult, or that it is too late for us to start now, there is no telling to what depth of misery, nor for what expanses of time, we are condemning ourselves! No one of us knows what horrors lie latent in our kamma-vipaka, ready to materialize under the appropriate circumstances. The opportunity to break the chain of kamma-vipaka through meditation is in our hands right now. Let us not let the rare moment escape. The 'next bus' will surely come, but will we be there at the bus-stop to meet it? Will we be able to board it? Will we even recognize it? That is the big question. * * * * * * * * HAVE YOU SEEN HELLS AND HEAVENS? "Bhikkhus, it is gain for you, it is great gain for you, to have found the moment for living the divine life out. Bhikkhus, I have seen hells that provide the six bases for contact. There whatever the form one sees with the eye, one sees only the un-wished-for, never the wished-for, sees only the undesired, never the desired, sees only the disagreeable, never the agreeable. Whatever the sound one hears with the ear...odour one smells with the nose...flavour one tastes with the tongue...tangible one touches with the body...Whatever the idea one cognizes with the mind, one cognizes only the un-wished-for never the wished for, cognizes only the undesired, never the desired, cognizes only the disagreeable, never the agreeable. "Bhikkhus, it is gain for you, it is great gain for you, to have found the moment for living the divine life out. Bhikkhus, I have seen heavens that provide the six bases for contact. There whatever the form one sees with the eye, one sees only the wished for, never the un-wished-for, sees only the desired, never the undesired, sees only the agreeable, never the disagreeable. Whatever the sound one hears with the ear...odour one smells wit the nose...flavour one tastes with the tongue...tangible one touches with the body...Whatever the idea one cognizes with the mind, one cognizes only the wished for, never the un-wished-for, cognizes only the desirable, never the undesirable, cognizes only the agreeable, never the disagreeable. Bhikkhus, it is gain..." (S. iv, 126) [G. 236 Translated by Bhikkhu ¥anamoli]] * * * * * * * * THE SOCIAL TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA By Bhikkhu Bodhi [Transcriber's Note: The following text was transcribed from cassette #9 of the ten cassette educational program, "The Buddha's Teaching As It Is". I was considering writing an article myself on the aspects of the Dhamma that deal specifically with the "practical world". However, I had also been listening to the Bhikkhu Bodhi tapes in my car and was very impressed. His description of the Buddha's social teachings is superb and I wanted to share his wording. The following excerpt begins side two of the tape. --Chris O'Keefe] Buddhism...tends to promote economic well-being in society by its stress on the virtue of generosity. The Buddha teaches all his disciples, whether they be monks or lay-people, to practice giving. To be generous and bountiful towards others, living with open hands. The wealthy, in particular, in Buddhist society, have the duty and obligation to give to the poor. To help and to assist the poor. The things that can be given, these the Buddhist text classify very minutely. The main objects are the basic requisites of existence: clothing, food, dwelling places and medicine. Secondary objects include seats, vehicles, lights, books, utensils and so forth. All of these get classified very minutely. But the Buddha praises, especially, the giving of food. He says that if people knew the value or benefit of giving food -- the rewards they would get for themselves by giving food -- they would not sit down to eat even a single meal, without giving something to eat to somebody else if there is an opportunity to do so. He says that one who give food gives five things: he gives life -- long life, he gives beauty ( or good complexion), he give happiness, strength (physical health) and he gives intelligence. Because the person who receives the food and who eats it then he gets...his life gets extended...he acquires a good complexion, he feels happy...pleasure over receiving the food, he gains health and his mind is able to function properly and to utilize its intelligence. The Buddha says that one who gives food gives these five things and in turn he receives these five things back. That is, the karmic result of giving food is to obtain for oneself long life, and if not in this lifetime then in some other lifetime. You obtain yourself beauty, happiness, health and intelligence. All of this comes through giving. Then on many occasions, the Buddha has given practical bits of advice to lay-people on how to deal with their economic affairs. One time a group of lay-people came to the Buddha and said, "Bhante, we aren't monks living in the forest, we don't know much about meditation or philosophy. But we need something that's practical, something that can help us right here and now. And also something that will help us advance in future lives. Teach us what is appropriate for us." Then the Buddha taught them four things that lead to happiness hear and now. He said, first, the first thing that's required, is energy and diligence. If you work at some job, some profession, trade or business, you have to be energetic and diligent in performing your work. The second factor is security. Because when you acquire wealth, you have to protect it carefully, to make sure it remains safe. The third thing is good friendship. You have to associate with good friends, true friends, with virtuous people who will help you and protect you. Then fourthly, you have to maintain a balanced livelihood. You shouldn't be too bountiful, spending more than your means permit. And you shouldn't be niggardly, clinging to your wealth. But you should avoid these extremes and spend in proportion to your income. Those are the four things the Buddha taught leading to welfare here and now, then he went on to teach four things that lead to long term benefit in the future. That is faith, or confidence, in spiritual values, generosity, moral discipline and wisdom. The Buddha also got down to the very practical matters of the right ways of acquiring wealth. The four standards of right livelihood to which the lay-follower should conform. That is, he should acquire wealth only by legal means, not by illegal means. He should acquire it without violence. He should acquire it honestly and he should acquire wealth in ways which do not harm others. Then, having acquired wealth in these ways, the Buddha went on to teach five uses that the lay-person should make of his wealth. Firstly, he should use it to provide for his own household -- his family, relatives, children and so on. Secondly, he should use the wealth to make gifts to friends, to entertain them, to give them presents at the holiday season, and so on. Thirdly, he should use wealth to protect and repair his property and his dwelling. Fourth, he should pay taxes and make the oblations to the deities. And fifth, he should use wealth to offer alms and requisites to the monks and brahmins. This deals with the...some of the aspects of the Buddha's economic teachings. Now coming to the specific social teachings of the Buddha, the teachings that are designed for molding and transforming society. Now from the Buddhist viewpoint, society itself is an abstraction, not a reality. Society is a collective whole made up of individuals, and the quality of society reflects the individuals who compose it. If the individuals are corrupt, the society will be corrupt. If the individuals are noble and pure, the society will be noble and pure. Since society merely reflects the individual...its individual members, the Buddha aimed at transforming society by giving individuals new standards of conduct, new ideals and patterns of behavior which would elevate and transform their conduct. Then changes in the social order would follow as a matter of course. There are various codes of conduct taught by the Buddha which fulfill this requirement. These codes were designed originally for individual observance, but when put into practice, they bring about far reaching changes in the social order. Some instances we might mention are the five precepts, to abstain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from false speech, and from intoxication. Though these lines of conduct help improve our individual conduct but when they're observed by many people throughout the society, then they purify and elevate the society. * * * * * * * *


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