PART I: MASTERING VIRTUE PRECEPTS FOR LAY PEOPLE There are three sets of precepts for layp

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PART I: MASTERING VIRTUE PRECEPTS FOR LAY PEOPLE There are three sets of precepts for laypeople: the five precepts, the eight precepts, and the ten guidelines. Here we will discuss the five and the eight precepts first, saving the ten guidelines for later. The five precepts can be divided into two sorts: those dealing with bodily action and those dealing with speech. Normalcy in bodily action is expressed by the precept against lying, which involves refraining not only from lying, but also from divisive tale-bearing, from coarse or abusive speech, and from aimless or idle talk. As for the precept against taking intoxicants, it fits in with the third precept -- against illicit sex -- in that both deal with forms of intoxication. The eight precepts are derived from the five --and, like the five, can be divided into two sorts. Seven deal with bodily action: refraining from taking life; from stealing the possessions of others; from any and all sexual intercourse; from eating food from the period from noon until the following dawn; from watching dancing, singing, instrumental music, and other shows, and from using garlands, perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry; and from using high and luxurious beds and seats. The precepts, whether five or eight, are ultimately two: right normalcy in bodily action and right normalcy in speech. //Sila//, the Pali word for virtue and precept, literally means normalcy -- a quality that can be separated into either five or eight component virtues. The eight //uposatha// precepts do away with more defilements of bodily action than do either the five precepts or the ten guidelines. The bodily actions of a person who observes them weigh lightly, like those of one who is ordained. (Speaking of ordination, for women at least, it would appear that a person who observes the eight precepts does away with more greed, anger, and delusion in terms of bodily action than did the //sikkhamanas// (aspirants to nunhood) of the past. Although as a novice the //sikkhamana// was expected to observe the ten precepts, still when she was about to be ordained as a nun she had to be strict in observing only the first six). So whoever observes the eight precepts can be said to lead one form of the chaste life -- //kala-brahmacariya//, temporary renunciation -- the only difference being that one doesn't have to change one's mode of dress. It's a rare man or woman who will act in this way. Whoever does can be counted as a person of value, a vessel for what is wise and worthwhile, into which the practice of concentration (//samadhi//) should be placed. The ten guidelines, unlike the five and eight precepts, don't have to be taken as vows. Once you understand them, simply go ahead and follow them. Altogether, they are of three sorts; three principles dealing with bodily action, four with speech, and three with the heart. The three principles dealing with bodily action are: not taking life, not stealing, and not engaging in illicit sex or taking intoxicants (the last two being counted as one). The four principles dealing with speech are derived from the precept against lying: refraining from lying, from divisive tale-bearing, from coarse or abusive speech, and from idle, aimless and useless chatter. The three principles dealing with the heart are: //anabhijjha// -- not coveting the possessions of others; //abyapada// -- not feeling ill will, i.e. not wanting others to suffer misfortune; and //samma-ditthi// -- right view, being convinced that the pleasure and pain we experience come from our own good and bad actions: Whoever does good will meet with good, whoever does evil will meet with evil. So altogether there are ten guidelines. These guidelines are termed //kusala kammapatha//, wise policies or clean actions. They are policies that should be adopted and followed -- the more constantly, the better. Defilements related to greed will die away; those related to anger and delusion won't have a chance to arise. Greed arises from the thought of coveting -- the focusing of desire -- which is then expressed as greed in one's thoughts, words, and deeds. One's thoughts thus become restless and disturbed; one's words and deeds, unwise and defiled. As for anger, it arises from ill will, which then gives rise to hostility and finally to anger, fury, and violence. One's thoughts, words, and deeds thus become unwise and defiled. Delusion arises from wrong views, from ignorance of right and wrong, good and evil, making one's thoughts, words, and deeds unwise and defiled. So you should kill these things off their source. Kill off covetousness by sharing your possessions with others -- with your children, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, monks, nuns, and recluses -- which in the long run will be to your own benefit. This is termed generosity (//dana//). Kill off ill will by developing thoughts of benevolence, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity; and avoid detrimental actions by observing the precepts (//sila//). Kill off wrong views by associating with people who are knowledgeable and wise, learning from them so as to develop your own insight and discernment. This is termed mental development (//bhavana//). These are the techniques for curing greed, anger, and delusion. Covetousness, ill will, and wrong views are the tap roots of defilement; greed, anger, and delusion are the crown. The thoughts, words, and deeds that express these qualities form the trunk and branches, and the fruit is pain: the pain of birth, ageing, illness, and death; of sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair. Normally, when we've eaten the flesh of a fruit, if we don't destroy the seed, it will have a chance to sprout and form another tree. So it is with defilement: If we don't destroy the seed, it will produce more fruit. Thoughts that fasten and cling: These are the seed. People who don't realize this, imagine this fruit to be something tasty and delicious, and so are unwilling to abandon and destroy covetousness, greed, ill will, and wrong views. As a result, they spin around in this cycle in various ways, under the influence of these three sorts of defilement. When these defilements arise in full force, whatever status one may have will be shattered, whatever wealth one has will be lost, the good opinion of others will turn to censure, one's happiness will turn to misery, one's friends will flee, and one's family will fall apart -- or even if it doesn't fall apart, it will be pained with sorrow, as if its heart had been scalded with boiling water. So we should kill off these defilements by being generous with our belongings; by observing the five precepts, the eight precepts, or the ten guidelines; and by practicing concentration to develop the mind, making it firm, unwavering, and still. Once these defilements die, then even if you've never had wealth, you'll be wealthy; even if you've never reached heaven, you'll attain it, constant and unchanging, in line with the Buddha's verse on the rewards of the five precepts: //silena sugatim yanti// Through virtue they go to heaven. //silena bhoga-sampada// Through virtue wealth is attained. //silena nibbutim yanti// Through virtue they go to liberation -- secure happiness, free from all suffering and stress. //tasma silam visodhaye// Thus we should all purify our virtue. * * * Question: At what times should the five precepts, the eight precepts, and the ten guidelines be observed? Answer: The five precepts and ten guidelines should be observed at all times -- without any reference to morning, evening, noon, or night -- as constant or timeless principles (//nicca-sila//, //akalika-sila//). As for the eight uposatha precepts, a pattern has been established -- in line with the varying abilities and opportunities of laypeople -- of gathering to observe the precepts together once every seven or eight days on the lunar sabbath: the day of the new moon, the full moon, and the eighth day of the waxing and waning moons -- altogether four times a month. This pattern is for people who don't have much time or opportunity. If, however, you have plenty of time and opportunity, let your own conviction be your guide. Focus on goodness, and not on the calendar, observing the precepts on your own, making whatever day you observe them -- no matter what the date or season -- your own personal uposatha day. Someone might object here, saying, "If it isn't the lunar sabbath, then you can't say you're observing the uposatha precepts." "If they're not uposatha precepts, what are they?" "Just the ordinary eight precepts." "Is it good or bad to observe the eight precepts?" "...Good." "And we observe the precepts for the sake of the good, don't we? So if we've hit the good right on the nose, what does it matter if we've hit the wrong day?" Here we should translate the word "uposatha." Literally, it means "approaching respite" from all that is corrupt and unwise. So by definitions, if there's no respite from corruption in your actions, then it's not uposatha day. There's no way you can guarantee that this or that date is an uposatha day or whatever. Still, the pattern of observing the eight precepts on the lunar sabbath is a good one for people who don't have much opportunity. But if you do have the opportunity, you shouldn't limit yourself just to those days, because virtue, by its nature, isn't too particular about the date. This being the case, we should set up gradations so that those who feel inspired to practice can do so as they are able: 1. The first group observes the eight precepts on each lunar sabbath during the rainy season: three months, four days a month, thus twelve days. This is termed //mudu//, the weak level. 2. The intermediate level -- //majjhima uposatha// -- observes the eight precepts on each lunar sabbath, without fail, throughout the year: twelve months, four days a month, thus 48 days a year. 3. The highest level -- //ukkattha uposatha// -- observes the eight precepts on each lunar sabbath, and on the day before and the day after each sabbath, without reference to month or season: twelve months, twelve days a month, thus 144 days a year. This is for people of firm conviction. Or, if you want, you can aim higher than that and observe the eight precepts at all times and in every season, focusing on the quality of virtue itself instead of on the ordinances and conventions of the world -- just like the Buddhist nuns who, in our day and times, observe these very same eight precepts. * * * Virtue can be established on one of two bases: either through (1) making a vow (//samadana-virati//), as when we repeat the precepts after a monk or novice (here it is also necessary to learn exactly what vices and misdeeds are forbidden by each of the five or eight precepts); or (2) simply deciding on our own to abstain from a particular vice or misdeed (//sampatta-virati//). In other words, when you want to keep your character pure, you can go ahead and decide to refrain from misconduct on your own. Once virtue is established, and you are careful to safeguard it out of a sense of conscience so that it doesn't lapse, this is termed //samuccheda-virati//: absolute abstinence. For virtue to be kept pure depends on two factors: perseverance and the four Sublime Attitudes (benevolence, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity). An example of keeping the precepts through perseverance would be: Suppose you're accustomed to killing animals. If you decide to observe the precepts, you hold off for a day or so, but you have no strong sense of perseverance to get you through. Once you get past your self-imposed time limit, you go back to your old ways. Observing the precepts through perseverance in this way means to exercise self-control so as not to commit whatever misdeeds you've been accustomed to. Question: Is there any value in observing the precepts in this way? Answer: There can be -- as far as that particular day is concerned. Seeing the light every once in a long while is better than never seeing it at all. To observe the precepts through the Sublime Attitudes, though, means to wish for the happiness of other living beings, to sympathize with the fact that no one wants to suffer, that we all desire well-being and freedom from harm. Once you realize this, and a sense of compassion arises, you wouldn't dare transgress the precepts you've undertaken. Observing the precepts through benevolence in this way bears powerful rewards. Whoever puts virtue fully and completely into practice can aspire to any attainment: rebirth as a human being, rebirth in heaven, or //nibbana//. Such a person can aspire to a beautiful appearance and voice, fragrant aromas, delicious tastes, delicate sensations, and delightful moods. To have virtue is to have wealth: The five precepts are equal to 50 pounds of gold bullion; the eight precepts, 80 pounds; the ten guidelines, 100. Actually, moral virtue is something valuable beyond price. Virtue and generosity, taken together, are the qualifying factors for rebirth as a human being and rebirth in heaven. Virtue, generosity, and the development of the mind through meditation are the qualifying factors for nibbana. So we should all try to find the time to perform those actions that will lead to our true welfare in the coming future. * * * THE SERVICE FOR THE LUNAR SABBATH Before taking the precepts, first pay respect to the Triple Gem -- the Buddha, the Dhamma (the Truth he taught), and the Sangha (those of his followers who attained that Truth) -- ARAHAM SAMMA-SAMBUDDHO BHAGAVA The Blessed One is Worthy & Rightly Self-awakened BUDDHAM BHAGAVANTAM ABHIVADEMI I bow down before the Awakened, Blessed One. (bow down) SVAKKHATO BHAGAVATA DHAMMO The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One. DHAMMAM NAMASSAMI I pay homage to the Dhamma (bow down) SUPATIPANNO BHAGAVATO SAVAKA-SANGHO The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples has practiced well. SANGHAM NAMAMI I pay respect to the Sangha. (bow down) Now the group will chant the standard morning service. If you don't know it, simply remain silent. When the group has finished, it will chant the request for the precepts in unison. Again, if you don't know it, remain silent. The request for the five precepts is as follows: MAYAM BHANTE TI-SARANENA SAHA PANCA SILANI YACAMA Venerable sir, we request the five precepts together with the Three Refuges. DUTIYAMPI MAYAM BHANTE ....YACAMA A second time.... TATIYAMPI MAYAM BHANTE ....YACAMA A third time.... The request for the eight uposatha precepts: MAYAM BHANTE TI-SARANENA SAHA ATTHANGA-SAMANNAGATAM UPOSATHAM YACAMA Venerable sir, we request the eight-factored uposatha observance together with the Three Refuges. DUTIYAMPI MAYAM BHANTE ....YACAMA A second time.... TATIYAMPI MAYAM BHANTE ....YACAMA A third time.... Then repeat the phrase paying homage to the Buddha: NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMA-SAMBUDDHASSA (three times) Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One. And then the phrases for taking refuge in the Triple Gem: BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI I go to the Buddha for refuge. DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI I go to the Dhamma for refuge. SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI I go to the Sangha for refuge. DUTIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A second time, I go to the Buddha for refuge. DUTIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A second time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge. DUTIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A second time, I go to the Sangha for refuge. TATIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A third time, I go to the Buddha for refuge. TATIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A third time, I go to the Dhamma for refuge. TATIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI A third time, I go to the Sangha for refuge. This finished, the monk who is officiating will say, TI-SARANA-GAMANAM NITTHITAM ("The taking of the three refuges is now completed"). You say, AMA BHANTE (Yes, sir). Now repeat the precepts after him (translations are given below): 1. PANATIPATA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI 2. ADINNADANA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI 3. KAMESU MICCHACARA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI (If you are taking the eight precepts replace this with: ABRAHMA-CARIYA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI) 4. MUSAVADA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI 5. SURA-MERAYA-MAJJA-PAMADATTHANA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI (If you are taking the five precepts, stop here. If you are taking the eight precepts, continue: 6. VIKALA-BHOJANA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI 7. NACCA-GITA-VADITA-VISUKA-DASSANA MALA-GANDHA-VILEPENA- DHARANA-MANDANA-VIBHUSANATTHANA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI 8. UCCASAYANA-MAHASAYANA VERAMANI SIKKHAPADAM SAMADIYAMI If you are taking the uposatha precepts, the monk will announce the duration of the uposatha period. Repeat after him: IMAM ATTHANGA-SAMANNAGATAM BUDDHA-PANNATTAM UPOSATHAM IMANCA RATTIM IMANCA DIVASAM SAMMADEVA ABHIRAKKHITUM SAMADIYAMI (which means: I undertake to maintain, perfect and pure for today and tonight, this uposatha observance formulated by the Buddha and composed of eight factors.) The monk will counsel heedfulness and announce the rewards of observing the precepts: IMANI ATTHA SIKKHAPADANI ACCEKAM RATTIN-DIVAM UPOSATHASILA-VASENA SADHUKAM RAKKHITABBANI (These eight training rules are to be well maintained for the entire day & night of the Uposatha period.) (you say, AMA BHANTE (Yes, sir.)) The monk will continue: SILENA SUGATIM YANTI SILENA BHOGA-SAMPADA SILENA NIBBUTIM YANTI TASMA SILAM VISODHAYE Through virtue they go to heaven. Through virtue wealth is attained. Through virtue they go to liberation Thus we should all purify our virtue. This ends the taking of the precepts. * * * The precepts translated are as follows: 1. I undertake the training rule to refrain from taking life. 2. To refrain from stealing. 3. To refrain from illicit sex. (This is for those who are taking the five precepts. The precept, ABRAHMA-CARIYA..., for those taking the eight precepts, forbids all forms of sexual intercourse.) 4. To refrain from speaking falsehood. 5. To refrain from taking intoxicants. 6. To refrain from eating food during the period from noon until the following dawn. 7. To refrain from watching shows (e.g., dancing, singing, instrumental music) and from ornamenting the body with flowers, scents, cosmetics, or jewelry. 8. To refrain from using high and luxurious beds and seats. "Luxurious" means having a stuffed cushion or mattress. "High" means more than ten inches high. Armchairs and couches with arms, however, even if they are more than ten inches high, are not prohibited by this precept. * * * The precepts, whether five or eight, have two foundations. In other words, for them to be broken, they must be transgressed by either (1) the body in conjunction with the mind, or (2) speech in conjunction with the mind. A precept transgressed unintentionally with a bodily action is nevertheless still intact. Say, for instance, you cut a tree or gather flowers to place on an altar, and it so happens that the insects living in the tree or flower stem die. You had no idea they were there in the first place. In this case, your precepts are still intact because you had no intention in mind for them to die. As for verbal acts, suppose that you speak hurriedly, and what you end up saying is different from what you had meant to say, out of either carelessness or inattention. For example, you meant to say three words, but ended up saying four; you meant to tell the truth, but what you actually said was false. Since it was simply a verbal act, and you didn't have it in mind to speak misleadingly, your precepts are still intact. A breach of the ten guidelines can be effected with one of as many as three factors: the body in conjunction with the mind, speech in conjunction with the mind, or the mind acting alone. In other words, a transgression of any sort in thought, word, or deed has to be intentional for there to be a breach in one's virtue, because the intention -- the will to abstain (//cetana-virati//) -- forms the essence of virtue. This can be checked against any of the various precepts. Intention is the essence of virtue; aspects of virtue apart from that intention are simply its expressions and applications. The intention that qualifies as virtue is the will to abstain in line with the five or eight precepts. As for the precepts, they give expression to the intention, while the rules that detail exactly what actions are forbidden by the various precepts indicate the scope of its application. Virtue is normalcy. Normalcy and right equilibrium in word and deed is expressed by the five precepts and eight uposatha precepts. Normalcy and right equilibrium in thought, word, and deed is expressed by the ten guidelines. The statement that intention is the essence of virtue is supported by the passage in the Canon where the Buddha says, //cetanaham bhikkhave kammam vadami// The intention, monks, is what I maintain to be action. * * * Virtue, as practiced by Buddhists in general, can be summarized into three categories: //hina-sila//, //gocara-sila// and //anagocara-sila//. 1. //Hina-sila// means simply obeying the precepts. For instance, the first precept tells you not to kill, so you hope to gain merit by looking out for the lives of others, not causing them to die. The second precept tells you not to steal, so you hope to get some good out of taking care of the possessions of others, not causing them to disappear. The third precept rules out illicit sex, so you go around looking out for other people's spouses and children. The fourth precept rules out lying, so you go around looking after other people's ears by not putting lies in them. The fifth precept rules out alcohol, so you do your part for other people's liquor bottles by not making them go empty. The same holds true for the other precepts. Practicing virtue in this way is tantamount to being a watchman for other people's goods. You put yourself on the level of a slave or hired cow-hand. Whether you observe the five or even the eight precepts, this is classed as the lowest level of virtue, or as //silabbatupadana//, attachment to external forms of goodness. 2. //Gocara-sila// means making sure that the mind occupies itself only with good intentions, such as thinking of ways to act that will be wise and meritorious. Whether your thoughts deal with the past or the future, with visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or ideas, you are careful to keep them in line with wise intentions, not letting them fall into ways that are corrupt or ill-considered. 3. //Anagocara-sila// means keeping the mind in the present, not letting it wander among distracting thoughts. You are mindful and self-aware, keeping watch over the mind so that it stays exclusively in the present. //This// is virtue -- when virtue reaches a state of normalcy -- the sort of virtue worthy of heaven and //nibbana//. The virtue that is careful not to break the precepts can counter the cruder forms of greed. The virtue that guards the mind's train of thought, keeping it from traveling in the area of shoddy intentions, can do away with anger and aversion. The virtue that enters into the present -- i.e., virtue in a state of normalcy -- can do away with delusion. Thus we can say that virtue can do away with the cruder forms of defilement, i.e., certain levels of greed, anger, and delusion. * * * To continue with the service for the lunar sabbath: Now you have the opportunity to hear a sermon. The request for a sermon is as follows: BRAHMA CA LOKADHIPATI SAHAMPATI KATANJALI ANDHIVARAM AYACATHA SANTIDHA SATTAPPARAJAKKHA-JATIKA DESETU DHAMMAM ANUKAMPIMAM PAJAM (The Brahma Sahampati, lord of the world, With hands palm-to-palm before his heart [approached the Lord Buddha and] requested a blessing: There are beings here with only a little dust in their eyes. Please teach the Dhamma out of compassion for them.) Now compose your thoughts and keep them fixed on absorbing the nourishment of the Dhamma. Once the sermon is finished, you may proclaim yourself to be a lay adherent of the Buddha, as follows: AHAM BUDDHANCA DHAMMANCA SANGHANCA SARANAM GATO I have gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha for refuge. UPASAKATTAM DESESIM BHIKKHU-SANGHASSA SAMUKKHA I have declared my adherence in the presence of the Bhikkhu Sangha. ETAM ME SARANAM KHEMAM ETAM SARANAM-UTTAMAM This is my secure refuge, This is my highest refuge ETAM SARANAM-AGAMMA SABBA-DUKKHA PAMUCCAYE This is the refuge, having gone to which, One is released from all suffering & stress. YATHA-BALAM CAREYYAHAM SAMMA-SAMBUDDHA-SASANAM I will follow, as well as I am able The teachings of the Rightly Self-awakened One DUKKHA-NISSARANASSEVA BHAGI ASSAM ANAGATE So that in the future I will have a part Of the escape from suffering & stress. (Women should substitute GATA for GATO, UPASIKATTAM for UPASAKATTAM, and BHAGINISSAM for BHAGI ASSAM.) The Pali word for adherent, //upasaka// (fem. //upasika//), literally means "one who is close." There are ten qualities looked for in adherent: five activities to be refrained from and five qualities to possess. The five to be refrained from are: 1. selling weapons, 2. selling human beings, 3. selling animals to be killed for food, or the flesh of animals that one has killed oneself, 4. selling intoxicants, 5. selling poison. The five qualities to possess: 1. conviction, 2. observance of the precepts, 3. belief in nothing but the principle of //kamma// -- that those who do good will meet with good, those who do evil will meet with evil, 4. an unwillingness to look for merit in ways excluded by the Buddha's teachings, 5. performance of merit in ways particular to the Buddha's teachings. To possess these qualifications means by definition that one is an adherent to generosity, virtue, and meditation. * * * Now that the service is over, you should take the opportunity to develop peace and respite of mind. Don't let the day go to waste. Take the word //buddho// as your meditation exercise. To be intent on repeating the word //buddho// in your mind is one form of concentration (//samadhi//). Discernment (//panna//) means thorough comprehension of all fashioned and conditioned things. The value of discernment is that it abandons all forms of defilement. Virtue, concentration, and discernment: These qualities form the heart of the Buddha's message, which we should all try to develop to the best of our abilities. Now we will pose a number of questions dealing with virtue and concentration as a way of further elaborating on these topics. * * * VIRTUE: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS 1. What are the benefits of observing the precepts? What are the drawbacks of not observing them? 2. What is meant by virtue? 3. How many kinds of virtue are there? 4. What is the essence of virtue? 5. What is needed for virtue to be maintained? 1. To answer the first question: People observing the precepts can perceive the following benefits as far as this lifetime is concerned: They are not distrusted or despised by people at large; they can enter with confidence into the company of sages and people in general. After they die, they are sure to qualify for rebirth on the human plane at the very least. For these reasons, virtuous people are not willing to let their virtue be defiled. Another answer is that virtuous people are admired throughout the world. Why is this so? Because no one in the world likes abuse, not even the least little bit. Not to mention good people, even thieves and robbers complain about people who have no principles, as when they get together to commit a robbery: The members of the band are sure to find fault with each other because of the hardships involved in what they're doing. Still, they go ahead and do it, out of their own ignorance, stupidity, and lack of judgment. Another answer is that people who observe the precepts work for the prosperity of this world and the next. Most of us overlook this aspect of virtue. Wrong looks right to us, and we think that observing the precepts retards progress, that people who observe the precepts are old-fashioned and behind the times, or that the precepts make it impossible to earn a living. All of these views have no basis in truth. Exactly how do the precepts retard progress? Consider this carefully: The nature of the world is that not a single person likes to suffer. Even common animals don't set their sights on pain. So to be virtuous means not to ruin the world, but to protect it and help it advance. When the Buddha established the precepts, he did so not merely in line with his own opinions, but rather in line with the ways and opinions of people throughout the world. How can we know that this is so? We needn't ask the Buddha himself; we can consider the matter on our own: (a) Take a simple example, like killing: Fishermen make their living by killing, and some of them end up making money by the fistfuls from it. Still, they complain about the hardships of their work and sometimes they even fall in the ocean and drown. The fact that they complain about their work shows they don't like it. As for the fish, they don't like it either. Even gnats and mosquitoes don't like being abused. So why do we abuse them? Because we haven't associated with wise people. We see the harm and the pain, yet we still go ahead and do it out of our own darkness and delusion. This is one example to show that the Buddha established the precepts in line with the views of the world. Example (b): Stealing, Is there anyone in the world who likes it? If the world liked stealing, there probably wouldn't be laws forbidding it -- and what human society doesn't have such laws? The fact that we have these laws shows that we don't like stealing. Even things about to be stolen don't like to have people steal them. Animals, for instance, when they're cornered by thieves, will try to run away. Thieves and robbers usually complain that their work is hard -- always having to lurk and keep out of sight, going without food and sleep. The fact that they complain shows that they don't like their work. So why do they do it? Because they haven't associated with wise people. Wrong looks right to them because of their own darkness and delusion. Example (c): Adultery. Who in the world likes it? Go ask those who do it, and they'll complain that they suffer from it. Ask those who are done to, and they'll complain that they suffer from it and don't like it. Sometimes they end up killing themselves. This shows that the world doesn't care for it. So why do people do it? Because they haven't associated with wise people. Wrong looks right to them, and so they bring about the ruin of the world. They get fined or put in jail, and get into difficulties with their families, knocking one another over the skull just for the fun of it. To do wrong in this way will bring tears to a parent's eyes and ears, and trouble to the hearts of the authorities. These are things that bring about the ruin of the world. Example (d): Lying. Is there anyone in the world who likes it? When a person is lying, he has to be wary out of fear that others will find him out. When he's about to lie, he suffers in trying to figure out how to get away with it. Once he's lied, he suffers out of fear that no one will believe him. A person who is lied to has to question and cross-examine, out of fear that what he's heard may not be true. Even small children don't like to be lied to. Say that a child is crying for its mother, and its father lies to it, saying, "There -- your mother's coming." When it doesn't see its mother, it'll cry without stopping. Why? Because it can't trust its father. But not to mention human beings, even animals don't like to be lied to. Say that we take some cooked rice and lure a dog with it. Once it sees the rice, it'll think we're going to feed it, so it comes prancing up with its rear high and its tail wagging -- but instead of feeding it, we take the rice and run off. If we do this three or four times, after that it probably won't come, because it knows we're lying. This shows that no one likes lies. So why do people lie? Because they haven't associated with wise people. Wrong looks right to them, and so they cause the world to degenerate. Example (e): Alcohol. There is one who likes the drinking of alcohol. People who brew it complain of their difficulties: that it's a losing business, that they're afraid they'll be seen by the police or cheated by their customers. People who drink alcohol complain that it makes them dizzy, or that it eats up their salaries and leaves them poor. I have yet to hear anyone extol drinking as a way to health, wealth, and happiness. If people who drink really thought it were good, they probably wouldn't come back to drinking plain old water or eating plain old food again. Once people get drunk, they start acting rowdy and disgusting in ways that people in general neither praise nor admire. Even their own families get disgusted with them, and they themselves complain that they're in debt or don't have enough money to spend, which shows that they themselves don't like or admire their habit. In some places the government, acting out of concern for the public well-being, has established laws to prevent the damages that come from the drinking of alcohol. (I personally have wondered whether the money the government makes from taxing alcohol is enough to cover the damages caused by people who drink. I doubt that it is, but this is simply my own opinion. You might want to consider the matter for yourself. One common example is when people get together to drink -- either legal whiskey or bootleg -- and get to talking: One bottle of whiskey, and maybe one of them ends up killed. The pittance the government gets from the bottle of whiskey is probably nowhere near enough to pay for the costs of tracking down the guilty parties in a case like this.) Thus the Buddha saw the evils in this sort of behavior: that it causes the world to degenerate and hampers people from making a living. A drunk person, for instance, can't do any steady labor. All he can do is brag. I don't mean to be critical here, but it's something I've often seen. For instance, when a farmer has his neighbors over to help harvest his rice, they'll make plenty of noise, but when you go to take a look at their work, you'll find the rice scattered all over the place. Once I came across a well dug at a crazy angle, but when I peered down at the water, it looked clean and fresh. So I said to the owner, "The water looks good. Why didn't you do a good job of digging the well? Was it because you ran into a rock? Or a tree root? When was it dug? Who dug it? Did you do it yourself, or hire someone to do it for you?" So the owner answered, "I had some friends over to help dig it." "How did you get them to dig so deep? It must have cost a lot of money." "I served whiskey until we were all good and drunk, and then we got down to digging the well, which is why it ended up so crooked." This goes to show how liquor can spoil a job. All of the examples I've mentioned here -- brief, but enough to serve as food for thought -- show that the world doesn't like these things, that they cause damage and loss, putting money, labor and people to waste. And this goes to show that the Buddha forbade these things in line with the views of the world. Not one of the precepts runs counter to those views. This being so, which one of the precepts retards progress or creates trouble? Then why don't people perceive this? Because they haven't associated with wise people, and so wrong looks right to them. They go counter to the world, and suffer for it. The Buddha taught in line with the aspirations of the world, for the progress of people and nations. If people were truly to abstain in line with the precepts, life on earth would be happy in the visible present. This ends the discussion of the first topic, the benefits and drawbacks of observing and not observing the precepts. 2. The second question -- "What is meant by virtue?" -- can be answered as follows: The Pali word for virtue, sila, means normalcy. "Normalcy" refers to a lack of deviation in thought, word, and deed, while "lack of deviation" refers to the act of not doing evil with one's deeds, not speaking evil with one's words, and not thinking evil with one's thoughts: in other words, abstaining from three types of harmful bodily action, four types of harmful speech, and three types of harmful thought. The three bodily actions to be avoided are taking life, stealing, and taking intoxicants and engaging in illicit sex. To avoid these things, not letting the body deviate in their direction, is for the body to be in a state of normalcy. The four types of speech to be avoided are lies, divisive tale-bearing, coarse and abusive speech, and idle, aimless chatter. To keep one's speech from deviating in the direction of these things is for speech to be in a state of normalcy. For thought to be in a state of normalcy means (a) not coveting the belongings of others, (b) not feeling ill will towards those people or living beings whose actions are displeasing, and (c) viewing things rightly: seeing that all living beings fare according to their actions -- those with good intentions will meet with good, those with evil intentions will meet with evil -- and that no one aspires to suffering. Once you see things in this way, maintain this viewpoint. Don't let it deviate into ways that are wrong. To keep one's thoughts, words and deeds in a state of normalcy and equilibrium like this is what is meant by virtue. The word "equilibrium" here, though, doesn't rule out all action; it rules out only the types of action that cause one's words and deeds to move in ways that are wrong. Apart from such deviations, whoever has the energy to perform work of whatever sort in making a living is free to do so, because the precepts of the Buddha aren't lazy precepts or faint-hearted precepts, down-and out or bump-on-the-log precepts -- i.e., precepts that don't let you do anything at all. That's not the sort of thing the Buddha taught. As for speech, whoever has anything to say that is free from harm is free to go ahead and say it. The precepts of the Buddha aren't mute precepts or dumb precepts; they're precepts that let you speak what is proper. And as for the mind, whoever has ideas that will lead to knowledge or ingenuity in making a living is free to think them through. The Buddha didn't forbid this sort of thinking. He forbade only those things that are harmful, because the basic principle of virtue in Buddhism is to abstain from what is evil or crooked in thought, word, and deed, and to develop what is upright and honest in thought, word, and deed. This shows that the Buddha taught to abstain from those things that ought to be abstained from, and to do those things that ought to be done. This point is substantiated by such factors of the Noble Path as Right Undertaking and Right Livelihood. But most of us believe that to maintain the precepts confines you to a monastery and prevents you from making a living or even wiggling a finger. This belief is wrong: counter to the Buddha's teaching and detrimental to the progress of the world. To maintain the precepts -- to be virtuous -- means to keep one's words and deeds in a state of normalcy. Whatever work virtuous people perform is pure. The wealth they obtain as a result is solid and lasting. Whatever virtuous people say -- no matter how much they speak -- won't grate on the ears of their listeners. It can bring fortune their way, as well as leaving the ears of their listeners soothed. Whatever virtuous people contemplate, if it's a difficult job, it will become easier; if it's an object to be made, it may become beautiful, all because of the very principles of virtue. Most of us, though, tend to be too contemptuous of virtue to put it to use in our work and activities, which is why we act as a deadweight and can't keep up with the progress of the world. A person whose thoughts, words and deeds are not governed by virtue is like a person covered with germs or soot: Whatever work he or she touches is soiled and will rarely succeed in its aims. Even if it does succeed, its success won't be lasting. The same holds true for speech: A person whose speech isn't consistently virtuous will usually be distrusted and despised by his listeners. If he tries to talk them out of their money, it will come with difficulty; once he gets it, it won't stay with him for long. And so it is with the mind: If a person doesn't have virtue in charge of his heart, his thinking is darkened. Whatever projects he contemplates will succeed with difficulty and -- even if they do succeed -- will be neither good nor lasting. People who want to keep their thoughts, words, and deeds in a state of normalcy have to be mindful. In other words, they have to keep check over their actions in all they do -- sitting, standing, walking, and lying down -- so they can know that they haven't done anything evil. A person who doesn't keep his actions in check is like a person without any clothes: Wherever he goes, he offends people. There's even the story of the man was so absent-minded that he went out wearing his wife's blouse and sarong, which goes to show what happens to a person who doesn't keep his actions in check. A person who doesn't keep his speech in check is like a rice pot without a lid. When the water boils, it will overflow and put out the fire. A person who doesn't always keep his thoughts in check -- thinking endlessly of how to make money, of how to get rich, until he loses touch with reality -- is bound to do himself harm. Some people think so much that they can't eat or sleep, to the point where they damage their nerves and become mentally unbalanced, all because their thinking has nothing to act as a basis, nothing to keep it in check. Thus people who lack mindfulness can harm themselves, in line with the fact that they are at the same time people without virtue. This ends the discussion of the second topic. 3. The third question -- "How many kinds of virtue are there?" -- can be answered as follows: To divide them in precise terms, there are five kinds, corresponding to the five precepts, the eight precepts, the ten guidelines, the ten precepts, and the 227 precepts. To divide them in broad terms, there are two: The virtues for laypeople on the one hand, and for monks and novices on the other. From another standpoint, there are three: those dealing with bodily action, those dealing with speech, and those dealing with the mind. From another standpoint, there are two: primary virtues (//adi-brahma-cariya-sikkha//), i.e. the five basic precepts that have to be studied and observed first, such as the precepts against taking life; and then, once these are mastered, the next level: mannerly behavior (//abhisamacara//) dealing with personal conduct in such areas as having one's meals, etc. From still another standpoint, there are two sorts of virtue: mundane (//lokiya//) and transcendent (//lokuttara//). Transcendent virtues can be either the lay virtues or the virtues for monks. If a person, lay or ordained, has attained true normalcy of mind, his or her virtues are transcendent. The virtues of a person who has yet to attain the normalcy of Stream-entry, though -- no matter whether that person is a layperson or a monk, strict in observing the precepts or not -- are merely mundane. Mundane virtues are by nature inconstant, sometimes pure and sometimes not; some people who observe them go to heaven, others who do go to hell. The transcendent virtues, however, are constant and lead straight to nibbana. They are virtues that can rule out rebirth in the four realms of deprivation (//apaya-bhumi//). The virtues of a person who has reached the transcendent level are the genuine virtues taught by the Buddha, which are nobler and more valuable than all other virtues. The mundane virtues, even the 227 precepts of a monk, are no match in quality for the five virtues of a lay Stream-enterer: That's how valuable the transcendent virtues are. Why is it that a Stream-enterer's virtues are constant, while those of ordinary run-of-the-mill people aren't? Because Stream-enterers have shed self-identification (//sakkaya-ditthi//) once and for all through the power of discernment. What does their discernment come from? From having developed concentration, making the mind firm to the point where discernment arises and washes self-identification away for good. They've seen the harm that comes from being deluded about the mind and body, and can realize that these things aren't the self. They've investigated the body until they've seen that it's nothing but the four physical properties (//dhatu//), that they didn't bring it with them when they came and won't take it with them when they go. Thus they are able to let it go, without attachment or false assumptions. If we view the body as our own, we become possessive of it and are unwilling to expend it in ways that are wise and worthwhile. We get stuck on the level of physical pleasure -- and that pleasure is what kills off our merit and welfare. When physical pain arises, that pain is what kills off the merit we should make. This can be classed as a form of //panatipata// (taking life): using pleasure and pain to kill off the merit and welfare that living beings are looking for. This is one aspect of self-identification that Stream-enterers have abandoned. (b) //Adinnadana//: Stream-enterers don't fasten onto the body as being their own, because they've realized that it's nothing but a compound of the four physical properties, that these properties are part and parcel of the world and can't be taken from it. As a result, they don't try to cheat or swindle the world by laying claim to its properties as being their own, and in this way they abandon another aspect of self-identification. (c) //Kamesu micchacara//: Stream-enterers have seen the harm that comes from sensual preoccupations -- sights, sounds, smells, flavors, tactile sensations, and ideas. Whatever is right to indulge in, they indulge in; whatever isn't, they don't. This means that they don't misconduct themselves with regard to sensual matters. Thus they abandon another aspect of self-identification. (d) //Musavada//: Stream-enterers have seen the absolute truth that doesn't lie. In other words, they've seen the four Noble Truths and so have abandoned another aspect of self-identification. (e) //Surameraya//: Stream-enterers are not intoxicated or heedless with regard to sights, sounds, smells, flavors, tactile sensations, or ideas. Thus they abandon another aspect of self-identification. This is called virtue on the level of discernment. Once this level is reached, the more common forms of virtue become constant and lasting, because self-identification has been shed through the power of discernment. As for //silabbata-paramasa// ("groping" with regard to precepts and practices), Stream-enterers no longer grope in their behavior, because they've seen for sure that it's right. And as for //vicikiccha// (uncertainty), they've abandoned all doubts concerning the value of discernment, their way of life, and their path of practice: They no longer wonder as to whether they're right or wrong. Once they can do this, they set themselves apart from mundane virtues. Mundane virtues are inconstant because they lack discernment. Why do they lack discernment? Because we don't practice concentration in the heart, and so we take stubborn possession of the body, latching onto it and wrongly assuming it to be the self, to the point where even the slightest touch from mosquitoes or horseflies, sun or rain, can cause our goodness to wither and die. Transcendent virtues are thus supreme; mundane virtues are not yet lasting. As to whether virtue will be transcendent or mundane, the matter lies entirely with the heart. A dull-witted heart, lacking discernment, Latches onto the body, But once it dies, it doesn't get to eat the meat Or sit on the skin-- It'll choke on the bones. Lacking training, it lies sunk in pain. But a trained heart gives rise to discernment, Lets go of the body, Discards it at death without regret. Having seen the truth, It's called noble, supreme. This ends the discussion of the third topic. 4. To answer the fourth question -- "What is the essence of virtue?" -- we first have to distinguish the essence of virtue, the intention to abstain (//cetana-virati//), from the expressions of virtue, which are of three kinds: //sampatta-virati//, //samadana virati// and //samuchheda-virati//. These three are called expressions of virtue because they follow on the precepts. //Sampatta-virati// means to restrain one's behavior on one's own, without taking a vow -- for example, going out into the wide open fields or into the forest and seeing an animal that would be good to kill, but not killing it, for fear of the sin; or seeing another person's belongings that would be good to take, but not taking them, for fear of doing evil. //Samadana-virati// means to take the precepts as a vow -- either on one's own or repeating them after another person -- and then being careful not to violate them. //Samuccheda-virati// means to keep one's precepts pure and unblemished, regardless of whether or not one has taken them as vows. For these expression of virtue to be pure or impure depends on a number of minor factors arising from the exercise of thought, word, and deed that either run counter to these expressions (thus blemishing them) or are careful to follow them (thus keeping them pure). As for the essence of virtue -- "essence" here meaning the chief agent or determining factor -- the essence is the heart that wills to abstain from harm in thought, word, or deed -- the five forms of harm, the eight, the ten, or what-have-you -- and is mindful to keep the mind in a state of normalcy. Thus there are two kinds of virtue: pure virtue, i.e., spotlessness in thought, word, and deed; and blemished virtue, i.e., virtue torn into pieces or cut into holes. For example, to observe two precepts but to break three that come in succession, is virtue torn into pieces. If the precepts that are broken don't come in succession, this is called stained virtue or virtue cut into holes. This is how to develop a bad character. People of bad character do have virtue, but they don't take care of it. They don't make the effort to maintain the precepts and so let evil come flowing in through their words and deeds. Stained virtue, torn virtue, and virtue cut into holes: Even though these are classed as evil, they're still better than having no virtue at all. To have torn virtue is better than having no virtue to tear, just as wearing torn clothes is better than wearing no clothes at all. Everyone born has virtue built into them; the only exceptions are those who have died. If this is the case, why do we have to observe precepts? To observe precepts means that we take the virtue we already have and cleanse it, not that we go gathering the virtues that grow on monks and novices. We've already seen that virtue means a mind with sound intentions; blemished virtue means a mind with unsound intentions. This is enough to show that all of us in the world have virtue, because who doesn't have a mind? Even crazy people have minds. The only person without a mind is a corpse. Any and every human being who breathes in and out has virtue, the only difference being whether or not that virtue is pure. As the Buddha said to his followers, //cetanaham bhikkhave kammam vadami//: The intention, monks, is what I maintain to be the action. An evil intention blemishes virtue. A good intention helps keep it pure. This ends the discussion of the fourth topic. 5. The fifth question -- "What is needed for virtue to be maintained?" -- can be answered as follows: Virtue here means purity of virtue. For purity to be firm and lasting depends on the support of casual factors, just as a new-born child depends on the support of its parents to survive and grow. If its parents feed it plenty of food, it will escape from the dangers of malnutrition and grow to be healthy and strong; if they underfeed it, it'll become thin and frail. In the same way, for virtue to be maintained depends on our being mindful and self-aware: These two qualities are the guardians of purity. At the same time, we have to nourish virtue and give it food. If it isn't fed, it'll wither away and die. Even if it has mindfulness and self-awareness watching over it, it can never grow plump, just as a child who has parents but isn't fed is sure to waste and wither away. For virtue to grow strong requires food, and the food of virtue is: a. //metta// -- good will, love for oneself and all others, hoping that all living beings will be happy; b. //karuna// -- compassion for oneself and others, hoping that we will all escape from suffering; c. //mudita// -- appreciation, ungrudging delight in the goodness of all living beings; d. //upekkha// -- equanimity, letting go in those cases where we should remain indifferent, being unruffled -- neither pleased nor upset -- where we are no longer able to be of help, as when an executioner is beheading a criminal who has broken the law. These four Sublime Attitudes are the food of virtue. Mindfulness is the father, Self-awareness, the mother, And the "immeasurables" are the food. Whoever can do this will have virtues that are fat and strong. In other words, when good will, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity are expressed in thought, word, and deed, then virtue will be firm and lasting and will head straight toward //nibbana//. This translates as fat virtues, plump virtues, rich virtues, the virtues taught by the Buddha Gotama. Whoever can't do this will end up with poor virtues, sickly virtues, orphaned virtues, withered-and-wasting-away virtues. To have virtue is to have character, To have character is to have wealth, To have wealth is to be happy; The happiness of virtue is something supreme. Virtue is an adornment that can be worn by people of every variety. Young and old alike are attractive when wearing it, for no matter who wears it, it never looks incongruous or out-of-place, unlike external ornaments. External ornaments look good only in the right circumstances, but virtue can be worn at all times. Whoever can maintain virtue will escape from danger and animosity in this life and the next. For this reason, people of discernment are careful to safeguard their virtue. People without discernment go looking for chains: golden chains for snaring their wrists, ankles, necks, and earlobes. Even if they watch after them carefully and wear them only on the right occasions, they still can't escape from harm -- as when a thief rips off the chains, tearing their ears, scraping the skin from their arms and legs. Consider, then, just how much good comes from external adornment. As for virtue, when it encircles our thoughts, encircles our words, and encircles our deeds, who can destroy it, what thief can steal it, what fires can burn it away? After we die, we'll enjoy ourselves in heaven, as guaranteed by the verse, //silena sugatim yanti silena bhogasampada// //silena nibbutim yanti// The attainment of heaven, wealth and nibbana all depend on virtue. //silam loke anuttaram// Virtue is unexcelled in the world. //candanadinam gandhanam sila-gandho anuttaro// Among all scents, such as sandalwood, the scent of virtue is supreme. //silo rahado akuddamo// Virtue is like a limpid pool. //sukham yava jara silam// Virtue brings happiness to the end of old age. //silam yava jara sadhu// Virtue is good to the end of old age. Thus all who aspire to goodness that is limpid and pure should be diligent in nourishing their virtues to the full with the four Sublime Attitudes. Having done this, whoever then aspires to the middle part of the Path -- concentration -- will attain quick results. This ends the discussion of the fifth topic. * * * CONCENTRATION: QUESTIONS & ANSWERS 1. How does one go about practicing concentration? 2. What benefits come from practicing it? 3. How many kinds of concentration are there? 4. What is needed for concentration to be maintained? 5. What is the essence of concentration? 1. The first question -- "How does one go about practicing concentration?" -- can be answered as follows: The first step is to kneel down with your hands palm-to-palm in front of your heart, and sincerely pay respect to the Triple Gem, saying as follows: ARAHAM SAMMA-SAMBUDDHO BHAGAVA BUDDHAM BHAGAVANTAM ABHIVADEMI (bow down) SVAKKHATO BHAGAVATA DHAMMO DHAMMAM NAMASSAMI (bow down) SUPATIPANNO BHAGAVATO SAVAKA-SANGHO SANGHAM NAMAMI (bow down) Then showing respect with your thought, words, and deeds, pay homage to the Buddha: NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMA-SAMBUDDHASSA (three times) And then take refuge in the Triple Gem: BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI DUTIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI DUTIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI DUTIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI TATIYAMPI BUDDHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI TATIYAMPI DHAMMAM SARANAM GACCHAMI TATIYAMPI SANGHAM SARANAM GACCHAMI Make the following resolution : "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Pure One, completely free from defilement; and in his Dhamma -- doctrine, practice, and attainment; and in the Sangha, the four levels of his Noble Disciples, from now until the end of my life." Then formulate the intention to observe the five precepts, the eight precepts, or the ten guidelines -- according to how many you are normally able to observe -- expressing them in a single vow. For those observing the five precepts: IMANI PANCA SIKKHAPADANI SAMADIYAMI (three times) For those observing the eight precepts: IMANI ATTHA SIKKHAPADANI SAMADIYAMI (three times) For those observing the ten precepts: IMANI DASA SIKKHAPADANI SAMADIYAMI (three times) For those observing the 227 precepts: PARISUDDHO AHAM BHANTE PARISUDDHOTI MAM BUDDHO DHAMMO SANGHO DHARETU Now that you have professed the purity of your thoughts, words, and deeds toward the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, bow down three times and sit down. Place your hands palm-to-palm in front of your heart, steady your thoughts and develop the four Sublime Attitudes: good will, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. To spread these thoughts to all living beings without distinction is called the immeasurable Sublime Attitude. A short Pali formula, for those who have trouble memorizing, is: "METTA" -- thoughts of good will (benevolence and love for oneself and others, hoping for their welfare), "KARUNA" -- thoughts of compassion (for oneself and others), "MUDITA" -- thoughts of appreciation (taking delight in one's own goodness and that of others), "UPEKKHA" -- thoughts of equanimity (imperturbability with regard to those things that should be let go). This finished, sit in a half-lotus position, right leg on top of the left, your hands placed palm-up on your lap, right hand on top of the left. Keep your body straight and your mind on the task before you. Raise your hands in respect, palm-to-palm in front of the heart, and think of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha: BUDDHO ME NATHO, DHAMMO ME NATHO, SANGHO ME NATHO (The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are my mainstay). Then repeat, BUDDHO BUDDHO, DHAMMO DHAMMO, SANGHO SANGHO. Return your hands to your lap, and repeat one word -- BUDDHO -- over and over in your mind, at the same time focusing on your in-and-out breath until your mind settles down into one-pointedness. This is the beginning step in practicing concentration. If you're steady and persistent, the desired results will appear in your heart. For people who are really intent, even just this is enough to start seeing results. Those who don't see results either aren't intent on what they're doing or, if they are intent, aren't doing it right. If you're intent and you do it right, you're sure to reap rewards in proportion to the strength of your persistence. This ends the discussion of the first topic. 2. To answer the second question -- "What benefits come from practicing concentration?" -- A person who practices concentration benefits in the following ways: a. The heart of a person who practices concentration is radiant, steady, and fearless. Whatever projects such a person may contemplate can succeed because the mind has a solid footing for its thinking. Whatever work such a person may undertake will yield results that are substantial, worthwhile, and long-lasting. b. Whoever has trained the mind to be steady and firm will be solid from the standpoint both of the world and of the Dhamma. A solid heart can be compared to a slab of rock: No matter whether the wind blows, the rain falls or the sun shines, rock doesn't waver or flinch. To put it briefly: the eight fetters, i.e., the eight ways of the world (//lokadhamma//) -- gain and loss, status and disgrace, praise and censure, pleasure and pain -- can't chain the heart of a person who has concentration. The five weevils, i.e., the five hindrances (//nivarana//) -- sensual desires, ill will, drowsiness, restlessness, and uncertainty -- can't bore into such a person's heart. c. A heart made firm is like a tree with solid heartwood -- Indian rosewood or teak -- which, once it has died, is of use to people of ingenuity. The goodness of people who have trained their hearts in concentration can be of substantial use, even after they've died, both to themselves and to those surviving, an example being the Buddha who -- even though he has nibbana-ed -- has set an example that people still follow today. A person who practices concentration is like someone with a home and family; a person without concentration is like a vagrant with no place to sleep: Even though he may have belongings, he has nowhere to keep them. A person with a mind made firm in concentration, though, has a place for his belongings. In other words, all major and minor acts of merit and wisdom come together in a mind that has concentration. A person without concentration is like a softwood tree with a hollow trunk: Poisonous animals, like cobras or crocodile birds, will come and make their nests in the hollow, laying their eggs and filling the hollow with their urine and dung. When such a tree dies, there's no use for it but to throw it into the fire. If people haven't trained their hearts with concentration, all the defilements -- greed, anger and delusion -- will come and make their nest there, causing harm and pain. When these people die, they are of no use except as food for worms or fuel for a pyre. d. A person without concentration is like a boat without a dock or a train without a station: The passengers are put to all sorts of hardships. Concentration is not something exclusive to Buddhism. Even in mundane activities, people use concentration. No matter what work you do, if you're not intent on it, you won't succeed. Even our ordinary everyday expressions teach concentration: "Set your heart on a goal." "Set your mind on your work." "Set yourself up in business." Whoever follows this sort of advice is bound to succeed. But apart from mundane activities, whoever comes to put the Buddha's teachings into practice is sure to perceive the great worth of concentration. To be brief: It forms the basis for discernment, which is the central principle in the craft taught by the Buddha, the craft of the heart. "Discernment" here refers to the wisdom and insight that come only from training the heart. People who haven't practiced concentration -- even if they're ingenious -- can't really be classed as discerning. Their ingenuity is nothing more than restless distraction -- an example being the person who thinks to the point where his nerves break down, which goes to show that his thoughts have no place to rest. They run loose, with no concentration. People with responsibilities on the level of the world or of the Dhamma should train their hearts and minds to a state of concentration. Then when the time comes to think, they can put their thinking to work. When the time is past, they can put their thinking away in concentration. In other words, they have a sense of time and place, of when and where to think. People without concentration, who haven't developed this sense, can wear out their minds; and when their minds are worn out, everything breaks down. Even though they may have the energy to speak and act, yet if their minds are exhausted, they can't accomplish their purpose. Most of us use our minds without caring for them. Morning, noon, and night; sitting, standing, walking, and lying down, we don't rest for a moment. We're like a man who drives a car or a boat: If he doesn't let it rest, he's headed for trouble. The boat may rust out or the parts may break down, and when this happens, he's in for a difficult time. When a person's mind hasn't been developed in concentration, it can create difficulties for its owner's body, as well as for the bodies of others. Thus the Buddha saw that concentration can be of value on the level of the world and on the level of the Dhamma, which is why he taught it in various ways to the people of the world. But some people are deaf, i.e., they can't understand what concentration is about; or else they're blind, i.e., they can't stand to look at the example of those who practice, and so they become detractors and fault-finders. Those of us who hope to secure ourselves -- on either the level of the world or the level of the Dhamma -- should thus give firm support to the message of the Buddha. We shouldn't claim to be his followers simply because we've been ordained in his order or have studied his teachings, without putting those teachings into practice. If we let ourselves be parasites like this, we'll do nothing but cause Buddhism to degenerate. Thus people who train their minds to attain concentration are of use to themselves and to others; people who don't train their minds to attain concentration will cause harm to themselves and to others. To attain concentration is like having a strategic fortress with a good vantage point: If enemies come from within or without, you'll be able to see them in time. The discernment that comes from concentration will be the weapon enabling you to wage war and destroy defilement. Whatever is worthwhile, you will keep in your heart. Whatever is harmful, you will throw out. The discernment that comes from concentration will enable you to tell which is which. These, then, are the benefits reaped by those who practice concentration, and the drawbacks suffered by those who don't. This ends the discussion of the second topic. 3. To answer the third question: a. There are two kinds of concentration, general (//sadharana//) and exclusive (//asadharana//). General concentration refers to the type of mental training found throughout the world and not restricted to any particular religion, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism. All of these religions are based on concentration, which can thus be called "general concentration." Exclusive concentration is a type of concentration specifically Buddhist and not shared by other religions. When practiced, it gives to the transcendent states: the paths, their fruitions, and //nibbana//. Thus it can be called "exclusive concentration." General and exclusive, though can be understood in still another sense: General concentration means concentration that can be focused on any of your postures -- sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Exclusive concentration has nothing to do with your posture, but is done exclusively in the heart: You focus attention solely on the in-and-out breath, without getting involved in actions or speech; your attention is directed solely to the activities of the mind. b. With regard to its levels, there are three kinds of concentration: momentary (//khanika//), threshold (//upacara//), and fixed (//appana//). Momentary concentration can arise when you're intent on your work or when you see a visual object, hear a sound, smell an aroma, taste a flavor, when the body comes into contact with a tactile sensation, or a mental notion arises to the mind -- as when you become firm in your repetition of //buddho//. When the mind becomes still for a moment under conditions like these, this is classed as momentary concentration. Momentary concentration is like a person diving down into a pond and then climbing up onto the bank when he resurfaces. Threshold concentration: When you practice mindfulness immersed in the body (//kayagatasati//), mentally scrutinizing the parts of the body until you are struck by the fact that they are filthy and repulsive, simply compounds of the four physical properties of earth, water, fire, and wind: Thinking in this way is termed //vitakka//; to come to this sort of realization is termed //vicara//. The mind will then come to a halt, still and at ease for a short period, and then withdraw, like a person who dives down into a pond, resurfaces, and then swims around for a while before climbing up onto the bank. This is called threshold concentration because it comes on the verge of fixed penetration. Fixed penetration: The mind is steady and firmly concentrated -- paying no attention at all to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations -- being completely absorbed in a single mental notion. It takes shelter in a subtle preoccupation (//arammana//), and so is able to hide away from the five hindrances, although it can't yet kill them off absolutely. Even so, this is still termed fixed penetration because it can be entered for long periods of time, like a person who dives down to the bottom of a pond, resurfaces, and then swims around in all four directions (the four levels of //jhana//). All three of these levels of concentration are classed as general. They're practiced all over the world. The only form of concentration particular to Buddhism is transcendent concentration. Viewed from this standpoint, the forms of concentration are only two: mundane and transcendent. Mundane concentration is further divided into two sorts: that which is accompanied by the hindrances, and that which is accompanied by the discernment of liberating insight (//vipassana//). Transcendent concentration is also divided into two sorts: that which has abandoned the five lower fetters (//sanyojana//) but is still accompanied by a number of the hindrances; and that which is accompanied by the realization of liberating insight, eradicating all the hindrances. The three levels of concentration (momentary, threshold, and fixed) form the basis of discernment. Both mundane and transcendent discernment have to depend on one or another of these three levels of concentration, but concentration is not what constitutes Awakening. Awakening is accomplished by discernment. If discernment is lacking, no amount of concentration, however great, can lead to Awakening. Once you have attained concentration, the arising of discernment can depend on one of two factors: an experienced friend makes a suggestion that sparks a realization of the opening leading onto discernment; or external events -- sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations -- strike the mind, which stirs for a moment and sets out to scrutinize them (this is called //vitakka// and //vicara//) so as to ferret out an understanding of their nature. If you see that any of these two kinds of events give beneficial results, then fix your attention on them and keep after them, using the power of your discernment and ingenuity to gain true insight into their nature. But if you see that your discernment is still no match for them, focus back on the original object of your concentration. If you focus back and forth in this manner, you'll give rise to liberating insight; and once you've given rise to liberating insight, you will attain transcendent discernment, the understanding that will enable you to abandon once and for all your views of self-identification. Transcendent concentration derives its name from the discernment it gives rise to: The discernment itself is what constitutes Awakening. But for discernment to be effective in line with the aims of the Buddha's teachings, it requires the back-up and support of concentration. This ends the discussion of the third topic. 4. The fourth question -- "What is needed for concentration to be maintained?" -- can be answered as follows: Concentration means for the mind to be firmly intent on a single preoccupation, but for the mind to be firm, it needs a footing to hold onto. In general, if your mind lacks a solid footing, nothing you attempt will succeed. Just as the body needs a shelter as a basis for its well-being, and speech needs a listener as a basis for being effective, in a similar way, the mind -- if it's to become trained and firm in concentration -- needs a //kammatthana//: an assignment or exercise. A //kammatthana// is like medicine or food. To know the theme of your exercise is enough to start getting results in your practice of concentration. Here we will first divide the exercises into two categories: external and internal. External exercises deal with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas; the internal exercises deal with the five aggregates (//khandha//): physical phenomena (//rupa//), feelings (//vedana//), labels (//sanna//), mental fashionings (//sankhara//), and cognizance (//vinnana//). If you're alert and discerning, both categories -- external as well as internal -- are enough to achieve concentration unless you neglect to treat them as exercises. If you attend to them, they are all you need to attain concentration. But beginners, whose powers of discernment are still weak, should start first with the internal exercises. Start out by studying the body -- "physiology from the inside" -- by scrutinizing the four properties of earth, water, fire, and wind. People whose powers of discernment have been sufficiently developed can then give rise to concentration using any of the themes of meditation, whether internal or external. The internal exercises should be done as follows: Focus on the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind that appear in the body. Don't let your thoughts wander outside. Focus exclusively on your own body and mind, fixing your attention first on five examples of the earth property: //kesa// -- hair of the head; //loma// -- hair of the body; //nakha// -- nails; //danta// -- teeth; //taco// -- skin, which wraps up the body and bones. Scrutinize these five parts until you see that they are unattractive, filthy, and repulsive, either with regard to where they come from, where they are, their color, their shape, or their smell. If, after focusing your thoughts in this way, your mind doesn't become still, go on to scrutinize five examples of the water property: //pittam// -- gall, bitter and green; //semham// -- phlegm, which prevents the smell of digesting food from rising to the mouth; //pubbo// -- pus, decayed and decomposing, which comes from wounds; //lohitam// -- blood and lymph, which permeate throughout the body; //sedo// -- sweat, which is exuded whenever the body is heated. Scrutinize these things until you see that -- with regard to origin, location, color, smell and the above-mentioned aspects -- they are enough to make your skin crawl. Focus on them until you're convinced that that's how they really are, and the mind should settle down and be still. If it doesn't, go on to examine four aspects of the fire property: the heat that keeps the body warm; the heat that inflames the body, making it feverish and restless; the heat that digests food, distilling the nutritive essence so as to send it throughout the body (of the food we eat, one part is burned away by the fires of digestion, one part becomes refuse, one part feeds our parasites, and the remaining part nourishes the body); the heat that ages the body and wastes it away. Consider these four aspects of the fire property until you see their three inherent characteristics, i.e., that they are inconstant (//aniccam//), stressful (//dukkham//) and not-self (//anatta//). If the mind doesn't settle down, go on to consider the wind property: the up-going breath sensations, the down-going breath sensations, the breath sensations in the stomach, the breath sensations in the intestines, the breath sensations flowing throughout the entire body, and the in-and-out breath. Examine the wind property from the viewpoint of any one of its three inherent characteristics, as inconstant, stressful, or not-self. If the mind doesn't develop a sense of dispassion and detachment, gather all four properties together -- earth, water, fire and wind -- and consider them as a single whole: a physical phenomenon. That's all they are, just physical phenomena. There's nothing of any substance or lasting worth to them at all. If this doesn't lead to a sense of dispassion and detachment, go on to consider mental phenomena (//nama//), which are formless: //vedana//) -- the experiencing of feelings and moods, likes and dislikes; //sanna// -- labels, names, allusions; //sankhara// -- mental fashionings; and //vinnana// -- cognizance. Once you understand what these terms refer to, focus on the feelings that appear in your own heart and mind. In other words, observe the mental states that experience moods and feelings, to see at which moments there are feelings of pleasure, pain, or indifference. Be aware that, "Right now I'm experiencing pleasure," "Right now I'm experiencing pain," "Right now I'm experiencing a feeling that's neither pleasure nor pain." Be constantly aware of these three alternatives (the feeling that's neither pleasure nor pain doesn't last for very long). If you're really composed and observant, you'll come to see that all three of these feelings are, without exception, fleeting, stressful, and not-self; neither long nor lasting, always shifting and changing out of necessity: sometimes pleasure, sometimes a little, never satisfying your wants or desires. Once you see this, let go of them. Don't fasten onto them. Fix your mind on a single preoccupation. If your mind still isn't firm, though, consider mental labels next. What, at the moment, are your thoughts alluding to: things past, present, or future? Good or bad? Keep your awareness right with the body and mind. If you happen to be labeling or alluding to a feeling of pleasure, be aware of the pleasure. If pain, be aware of the pain. Focus on whatever you are labeling in the present, to see which will disappear first: your awareness or the act of labeling. Before long, you'll see that the act of labeling is fleeting, stressful, and not-self. When you see this, let go of labels and allusions. Don't latch onto them. Fix your mind on a single preoccupation. If your mind still isn't firm, go on to consider mental fashionings: What issues are your thoughts forming at the moment: past or future? Are your thoughts running in a good direction or bad? About issues outside the body and mind, or inside? Leading to peace of mind or to restlessness? Make yourself constantly self-aware, and once you're aware of the act of mental fashioning, you'll see that all thinking is fleeting, stressful, and not-self. Focus your thoughts down on the body and mind, and then let go of all aspects of thinking, fixing your attention on a single preoccupation. If the mind still doesn't settle down, though, consider cognizance next: What, at the moment, are you cognizant of -- things within or without? Past, present, or future? Good or bad? Worthwhile or worthless? Make yourself constantly self-aware. Once your powers of reference and presence of mind are constant, you'll see immediately that all acts of cognizance are fleeting, stressful, and not-self. Then focus on the absolute present, being aware of the body and mind. Whatever appears in the body, focus on it. Whatever appears in the mind, focus on just what appears. Keep your attention fixed until the mind becomes firm, steady, and still in a single preoccupation -- either as momentary concentration, threshold concentration, or fixed penetration -- so as to form a basis for liberating insight. Thus for concentration or steadiness of mind to arise in a fully developed form and to be firmly maintained depends on the sort of internal exercises mentioned here, dealing with the body, feelings, labels, mental fashionings, and acts of cognizance. These are the foods of concentration. The four frames of reference (//satipatthana//) are its guardian nurses. Whoever wants his or her concentration to be strong should nourish it well. Once the mind has been properly nourished and put into shape, it can be put to effective use. This ends the discussion of the fourth topic. 5. The fifth question -- -"What is the essence of concentration?" -- can be answered as follows: Concentration means for the mind to be firmly intent. To be firmly intent can mean either (a) intent on a mental prop or preoccupation, which is termed //appana jhana//, fixed absorption; or (b) intent exclusively on the mind itself, which is termed //appana citta//, the fixed mind. The mind that's intent forms the essence of concentration. If we were to put this another way, we could make a distinction between //cetana samadhi//, concentration that is intent on concentration, and //cetana-virati samadhi//, concentration that is intent on abstinence. In //cetana samadhi//, the mind has cut itself off from external preoccupations through the power of concentration. In //cetana-virati samadhi//, the mind is set on finding a technique for letting go of all preoccupations, both within and without. //Cetana samadhi// means to be focused directly on the mind. In other words, the mind doesn't think of using any other way to straighten itself out. Simply focusing down is enough to repress the defilements, because we all are bound to have defilements intermixed in our minds, and the very mind that has defilements can cure the mind of its defilements, without having to look for any other means -- just like using heat to cure heat, cold to cure cold, or wind to cure wind. For example, suppose a man is slightly singed by a small flame, but then is burned by a glowing ember or lantern flame: The pain from the first burn will disappear. Or suppose you feel a little chilly and have to wrap yourself up in a blanket: If you then get exposed to a bitter cold winter wind, you'll feel that the slight chill you had earlier didn't warrant getting wrapped up in a blanket at all. As for an example of wind curing wind: Suppose a person suffers a slight disorder of the internal wind element, causing him to belch. If he then suffers a violent disorder of the wind element, causing cramps in a part of his body, his belching will immediately disappear. In the same way, the mind can use defilement to suppress defilement. This is called //cetana samadhi//. In //cetama-virati samadhi//, though, the mind has to search for strategies both within and without, using a good preoccupation to cure a bad one, such as making reference to the ten themes for recollection (//anussati//). The mind is what is intent; the intent mind forms the essence of concentration. The term "fixed mind" (//appana citta//) refers to the mind that is resilient, firm, and uninfluenced by its preoccupations. In fixed penetration or fixed absorption, though, the mind is firmly implanted in its preoccupation, but is still in bad straits because it doesn't yet know the true nature of that preoccupation. It can't yet let it go. For the mind to let go of its preoccupations, you have to use discernment to keep after it, safeguarding it so that it doesn't move in line with them. Only then will the mind be on the verge of purity, in line with the statement, "The mind, when disciplined by discernment, is freed from all mental effluents." For the mind to arrive at these two forms of concentration -- which we have termed //cetana samadhi// and //cetana-virati samadhi// -- it must first be disciplined by virtue. Concentration then disciplines discernment; discernment disciplines virtue; discernment disciplines concentration; discernment disciplines the mind. Once we are able to follow through with this, we are bound to see the true essence of concentration. Most of us, though, simply use virtue to discipline concentration, and concentration to discipline discernment, without using discernment to discipline the mind, which is why we get attached to our own views and our own way of doing things. This is called self-identification (//sakkaya-ditthi//), the way of viewing things that leads us to latch onto them as belonging to us or as being the self. We're unable to let go and so get stuck on virtue, or stuck on concentration, or infatuated with our own discernment. We drown in a flood of views and opinions (//ditthi ogha//) simply because we don't know what lies at the essence of concentration. To be able to know, we have to vary our practice slightly, by cleansing virtue so as to foster concentration, cleansing concentration so as to foster discernment, cleansing discernment so that our views are right, and then using that discernment to cleanse virtue and concentration once more. Once virtue and concentration have been made pure, we don't need to use discernment to cleanse them any further. We simply practice them as a matter of course, and use discernment to cleanse directly at the mind. The aspects of virtue and concentration that are concerned with methods and rules will disappear, leaving just discernment working at cleansing the mind until it is steady and firm -- but not firm in the preoccupations of concentration, though; firm in the preoccupations of discernment. If we were to classify the mind at this stage, it is //appana citta//, the fixed mind. As for concentration, it is momentary concentration. Momentary concentration is the basis for the tempered discernment of liberating insight. The mind can't stay long with any preoccupations, for it is constantly wiping them out, like the bubbles formed by rain on the surface of a lake: As soon as they appear, they vanish flat away, like a sea without the striking of waves. When discernment is tempered through the power of a fixed mind, the preoccupations of momentary concentration constantly disband and disappear, not letting the heart get caught up on them. This is termed release (//vimutti//): The mind is freed from all preoccupations, among them the effluents of sensuality, becoming, views, and unawareness. It becomes a mind beyond all effluents. Thus it is said, //khina jati vusitam brahmacariyam katam karaniyam naparam itthattayati pajanatiti// which means, "The Noble Disciple discerns that birth is ended, the holy life is completed, the task done. There is nothing further to be done for the sake of this state." So ultimately, when the practice of concentration reaches the true essence of the mind, discernment is attained. This ends the discussion of the fifth topic. The issues discussed here People of wisdom should chew over well. Chew them up fine So they don't stick in your throat. If they aren't well-chewed, they'll have no flavor. If you chew them well, you'll know their taste. Like eating: If you have no teeth, you'll waste away. If you don't crack open the Dhamma, You'll end up in doubt, And won't get out and away from stress. If you don't get release, You'll only get to heaven. The worthiness of our own actions Is what counts Both in the Dhamma and in the world. So inspect this And yourself, Thoroughly. With this, //Mastering Virtue// is completed. Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo The Forest Temple Shrimp Canal Chanthaburi * * * * * * * *


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