Tuesday Reading Material

Joy of Meditation Part One | 4 . 3 . 2018

Meditation practice doesn’t save all its pleasure for the end.

You can enjoy it now.

Click for PDF | Joy_Of_Meditation_PartOne

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

When explaining meditation, the Buddha often drew analogies with the skills of artists, carpenters, musicians, archers, and cooks. Finding the right level of effort, he said, is like a musician’s tuning of a lute. Reading the mind’s needs in the moment—to be gladdened, steadied, or inspired—is like a palace cook’s ability to read and please the tastes of a prince.
Collectively, these analogies make an important point: Meditation is a skill, and mastering it should be enjoyable in the same way mastering any other rewarding skill can be. The Buddha said as much to his son, Rahula: “When you see that you’ve acted, spoken, or thought in a skillful way—conducive to happiness while causing no harm to yourself or others—take joy in that fact and keep on training.”
Of course, saying that meditation should be enjoyable doesn’t mean that it will always be easy or pleasant. Every meditator knows that it requires serious discipline to sit with long, unpleasant stretches and untangle all the mind’s difficult issues. But if you can approach difficulties with the enthusiasm with which an artist approaches challenges in her work, the discipline becomes enjoyable. Problems are solved through your own ingenuity, and the mind is energized for even greater challenges.
This joyful attitude is a useful antidote to the more pessimistic attitudes that people often bring to meditation, which tend to fall into two extremes. On the one hand, there’s the belief that meditation is a series of dull and dreary exercises, allowing no room for imagination and inquiry: simply grit your teeth, and at the end of the long haul your mind will be processed into an awakened state. On the other hand, there’s the belief that effort is counterproductive to happiness, so meditation should involve no exertion at all: simply accept things as they are—it’s foolish to demand that they get any better—and relax into the moment.
While it’s true that both repetition and relaxation can bring results in meditation, when either is pursued to the exclusion of the other, it leads to a dead end. If, however, you can integrate them both into the greater skill of learning how to apply whatever level of effort the practice requires at any given moment, they can take you far. This greater skill requires strong powers of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, and if you stick with it, it can lead you all the way to the Buddha’s ultimate aim in teaching meditation: nirvana, a totally unconditioned happiness, free from the constraints of space and time.
That’s an inspiring aim, but it requires work. And the key to maintaining your inspiration in the day-to-day work of meditation practice is to approach it as play—a happy opportunity to master practical skills, to raise questions, experiment, and explore. This is precisely how the Buddha himself taught meditation. Instead of formulating a cut-and-dried method, he first trained his students in the personal qualities—such as honesty and patience—needed to make trustworthy observations. Only after this training did he teach meditation techniques, and even then he didn’t spell everything out. He raised questions and suggested areas for exploration in the hope that his questions would capture his students’ imagination, so they’d develop discernment and gain insights on their own.
We can see this in the way the Buddha taught Rahula how to meditate. He started with the issue of patience. Meditate, he said, so that your mind is like the earth. Disgusting things get thrown on the earth, but the earth isn’t horrified by them. When you make your mind like the earth, neither agreeable nor disagreeable sensory impressions will take charge of it.
Now, the Buddha wasn’t telling Rahula to become a passive clod of dirt. He was teaching Rahula to be grounded, to develop his powers of endurance, so that he’d be able to observe both pleasant and painful events in his body and mind without becoming engrossed in the pleasure or blown away by the pain. This is what patience does. It helps you sit with things until you understand them well enough to respond to them skillfully.
To develop honesty in meditation, the Buddha taught Rahula a further exercise. Look at the inconstancy of events in body and mind, he said, so that you don’t develop a sense of “I am” around them. Here the Buddha was building on a lesson he had taught Rahula when the boy was seven years old. Learn to look at your actions, he had said, before you do them, while you’re doing them, and after they’re done. If you see that you’ve acted unskillfully and caused harm, resolve not to repeat the mistake. Then talk it over with someone you respect.
In these lessons, the Buddha was training Rahula to be honest with himself and with others. And the key to this honesty is to treat your actions as experiments. Then, if you see the results aren’t good, you’re free to change your ways.
This attitude is essential for developing honesty in your meditation as well. If you regard everything—good or bad—that arises in the meditation as a sign of the sort of person you are, it will be hard to observe anything honestly at all. If an unskillful intention arises, you’re likely either to come down on yourself as a miserable meditator or to smother the intention under a cloak of denial. If a skillful intention arises, you’re likely to become proud and complacent, reading it as a sign of your innate good nature. As a result, you never get to see whether these intentions are actually as skillful as they seemed at first glance.
To avoid these pitfalls, you can learn to see events simply as events and not as signs of your innate Buddha-ness or badness. Then you can observe these events honestly, to see where they come from and where they lead. Honesty, together with patience, puts you in a better position to use the techniques of meditation to explore your own mind.

 

Uplifting Eight Fold Path

Lotus

The Uplifting Eightfold Path

The Buddha’s practical instructions to reach the end of suffering
– Walpola Sri Rahula

Within the fourth noble truth is found the guide to the end of suffering: the noble eightfold path. The eight parts of the path to liberation are grouped into three essential elements of Buddhist practice—moral conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom. The Buddha taught the eightfold path in virtually all his discourses, and his directions are as clear and practical to his followers today as they were when he first gave them.
The Noble Eightfold Path: Right understanding
Right thought, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration.
(some current scholars translate “samma” as harmonious instead of right.)

Practically the whole teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during 45 years, deals in some way or other with this path. He explained it in different ways and in different words to different people, according to the stage of their development and their capacity to understand and follow him.
These eight factors aim at developing the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline: ethical conduct, mental discipline, wisdom.

Ethical Conduct
Ethical conduct (sila) is built on the vast conception of universal love and compassion for all living beings, on which the Buddha’s teaching is based. It is regrettable that many scholars forget this great ideal of the Buddha’s teaching.

According to Buddhism, for one to practice effectivley and progress there are two qualities that one should develop equally: compassion (karuna) on one side, and wisdom (panna) on the other. Here compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance, and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind. If one develops only the emotional, neglecting the intellectual, one may become a good-hearted fool; while to develop only the intellectual side [and] neglecting the emotional may turn one into a hard-hearted intellect without feeling for others. Therefore, to be perfect one has to develop both equally. That is the aim of the Buddhist way of life: in it wisdom and compassion are inseparably linked together, as we shall see later.

Now, in ethical conduct (sila), based on love and compassion, are included three factors of the noble eightfold path: namely, right speech, right action, and right livelihood.

Right Speech
Right speech means abstention (1) from telling lies, (2) from backbiting and slander and talk that may bring about hatred, enmity, disunity, and disharmony among individuals or groups of people, (3) from harsh, rude, impolite, malicious, and abusive language, and (4) from idle, useless, and foolish babble and gossip. When one abstains from these forms of wrong and harmful speech one naturally has to speak the truth, has to use words that are friendly and benevolent, pleasant and gentle, meaningful, and useful. One should not speak carelessly: speech should be at the right time and place. If one cannot say something useful, one should keep “noble silence.”

Right Action
Right action aims at promoting moral, honorable, and peaceful conduct. It admonishes us that we should abstain from destroying life, from stealing, from dishonest dealings, from illegitimate sexual intercourse, and that we should also help others to lead a peaceful and honorable life in the right way.

Right Livelihood
Right livelihood means that one should abstain from making one’s living through a profession that brings harm to others, such as trading in arms and lethal weapons, intoxicating drinks or poisons, killing animals, cheating, etc., and should live by a profession which is honorable, blameless, and innocent of harm to others. One can clearly see here that Buddhism is strongly opposed to any kind of war, when it lays down that trade in arms and lethal weapons is an evil and unjust means of livelihood.

These three factors (right speech, right action, and right livelihood) of the eightfold path constitute ethical conduct. It should be realized that the Buddhist ethical and moral conduct aims at promoting a happy and harmonious life both for the individual and for society. This moral conduct is considered as the indispensable foundation for all higher spiritual attainments. No spiritual development is possible without this moral basis.

Mental Discipline
Next comes mental discipline, in which are included three other factors of the eightfold path: namely, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. (Nos. 6, 7 and 8 in the list).

Right Effort
Right effort is the energetic will (1) to prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising, and (2) to get rid of such evil and unwholesome states that have already arisen within a man, and also (3) to produce, to cause to arise, good, and wholesome states of mind not yet arisen, and (4) to develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present in a man.

Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is to be diligently aware, mindful, and attentive with regard to (1) the activities of the body (kaya), (2) sensations or feelings (vedana), (3) the activities of the mind (citta) and (4) ideas, thoughts, conceptions, and things (dhamma).

The practice of concentration on breathing (anapanasati) is one of the well-known exercises, connected with the body, for mental development. There are several other ways of developing attentiveness in relation to the body as modes of meditation.

With regard to sensations and feelings, one should be clearly aware of all forms of feelings and sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, of how they appear and disappear within oneself. Concerning the activities of mind, one should be aware whether one’s mind is lustful or not, given to hatred or not, deluded or not, distracted or concentrated, etc. In this way one should be aware of all movements of mind, how they arise and disappear.

As regards ideas, thoughts, conceptions and things, one should know their nature, how they appear and disappear, how they are developed, how they are suppressed, destroyed, and so on.

These four forms of mental culture or meditation are treated in detail in the Satipatthana Sutta (Setting-up of Mindfulness).

Right Concentration
The third and last factor of mental discipline is right concentration, leading to the four stages of Dhyana, generally called trance or recueillement. In the first stage of Dhyana, passionate desires and certain unwholesome thoughts like sensuous lust, ill-will, languor, worry, restlessness, and skeptical doubt are discarded, and feelings of joy and happiness are maintained, along with certain mental activities. Then, in the second stage, all intellectual activities are suppressed, tranquillity, and “one-pointedness” of mind developed, and the feelings of joy and happiness are still retained. In the third stage, the feeling of joy, which is an active sensation, also disappears, while the disposition of happiness still remains in addition to mindful equanimity. Finally, in the fourth stage of Dhyana, all sensations, even of happiness and unhappiness, of joy and sorrow, disappear, only pure equanimity and awareness remaining.

Thus the mind is trained and disciplined and developed through right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Wisdom
The remaining two factors, namely right thought and right understanding, constitute wisdom in the noble eightfold path.

Right Thought
Right thought denotes the thoughts of selfless renunciation or detachment, thoughts of love and thoughts of non-violence, which are extended to all beings. It is very interesting and important to note here that thoughts of selfless detachment, love and non-violence are grouped on the side of wisdom. This clearly shows that true wisdom is endowed with these noble qualities, and that all thoughts of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred, and violence are the result of a lack of wisdom in all spheres of life whether individual, social, or political.

Right Understanding
Right understanding is the understanding of things as they are, and it is the four noble truths that explain things as they really are. Right understanding therefore is ultimately reduced to the understanding of the four noble truths. This understanding is the highest wisdom which sees the Ultimate Reality. According to Buddhism there are two sorts of understanding. What we generally call “understanding” is knowledge, an accumulated memory, an intellectual grasping of a subject according to certain given data. This is called “knowing accordingly” (anubodha). It is not very deep. Real deep understanding or “penetration” (pativedha) is seeing a thing in its true nature, without name and label. This penetration is possible only when the mind is free from all impurities and is fully developed through meditation.

From this brief account of the noble eightfold path, one may see that it is a way of life to be followed, practiced and developed by each individual. It is self-discipline in body, word, and mind, self-development, and self-purification. It has nothing to do with belief, prayer, worship, or ceremony. In that sense, it has nothing which may popularly be called “religious.” It is a Path leading to the realization of “things as they are”, to complete freedom, happiness, and peace through moral, spiritual, and intellectual development.

Shared Joy | 3 . 20 . 18

Click here for Printable PDF of this Post: Shared_Joy_Mar20_201

 ___________________________________________

Four Divine Abodes:

Joy or Mudita, Compassion or Karuna , Loving-Kindness or Metta, Equanimity or Upekka
___________________________________________

Shared Joy
(Mudita: gladness at other’s good fortune, or empathetic joy)
– C.F. Knight

A feature of the Buddha’s teachings is recognition of the pairs of opposites to get beyond them. The Buddha’s method of mental training and development was to first define unwholesome or unskillful thoughts, words, and deeds, or practices which characterize many of one’s habits, and then to show the opposites of wholesome or skillful nature as an achievement to be sought after for the abolition of them both, eventually, when even the good must be left behind as well as the evil; when even the Raft of Dhamma Teachings is to be abandoned — after crossing the flood of samsara. The Buddha’s method of expounding the negative and the positive, the passive, and the dynamic aspects of behavior, in both abstract and concrete terms, is to create awareness of what is to be abandone and what is to be sought after and nurtured.

The basic ignorance pointed out by the Buddha is not so much a rejection of the truth, but a failure to perceive truth. It is, as it were, a “blind spot” in our perception akin to the weakened section of the brain or the nervous system which results in limited understanding. In other words, the depth of our ignorance may be measured by our lack of consciousness of it.

This is why it is so necessary that we should see and recognize our ignorance if we are to eradicate it. It is also important that we should be mindful of “the good that has arisen,” and to foster and develop it to the point of wholeness. To realize our ignorance is the beginning of wisdom — the first light to shine on the darkness of our obscured view. While we are blissfully unaware of unwholesome states of mind within ourselves, such states will continue to flourish, and their roots will dig deeper into our very being. Just so too, in our relationships with our fellow men, the unperceived evils will be repeated unconsciously and unrecognized, building up a cumulative unhappy future for us under the retributive causal law of karma.

As with all wholesome states, these four desirable characteristics are the antidotes to the poisons of their opposite unwholesome states. Less has been said or written of mudita than of the other three of these four characteristic. While loving-kindness and compassion are objective, reaching out to all sentient beings, mudita and equanimity are subjective, or personal in their application.

How is Joy an antidote to other unwholesome stats?

We never tire of asserting the interdependence of every aspect of the Buddha’s teachings. We have already stated that ignorance is a failure of perception, and it is true that greed and hatred do arise through the lack of understanding of their source and lack of understanding of their results; that craving born of ignorance is the culprit, and the purpose of the Bhudda’s teachings is to eliminate craving. It is craving that gives rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed in all of its manifestations. Here mudita, when practiced and developed, becomes a “sublime” and “boundless” state of mind to be “dwelt in” as a corrective characteristic—one has taken fuel away from the unwholesome, by turning one’s intentions and attention instead to the wholesome state of gladness.

One of the most frequently used similes by the Buddha was that of fire. At times it was the destructive quality of fire that was likened to the destructive nature of the ignorance. At other times it was the ardent nature of fire that was to be emulated in the pursuance of the path of liberation. In its uncontrolled existence fire is a destructive danger. When fire is understood it can be one of our greatest boons and blessings.

The three roots of evil — greed, hatred, and delusion — are also known as “the three fires.” On one occasion the Buddha and his band of monks were staying on Gaya Head, a mountain near the city of Gaya. From their elevated position they watched one of the great fires that from time to time ravaged the countryside. This inspired what is known as “The Fire Sermon,” which is the third recorded discourse delivered by the Buddha subsequent to his Enlightenment, and at the beginning of his long ministry. To the Buddha, the world of ignorance was like the flaming plains below, “Everything is burning,” said the Buddha, “burning with the fire of greed, with the fired of hatred, with the fire of delusion.” (Vin. 21)

It is these three fires that give rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, and avarice. The craving for possessions, the craving for sense pleasures, the begrudged success of others, the hatred that is begotten by the gains of others, the odious comparison of greater status compared with our humble circumstances, these are the “fires” that burn endlessly, causing suffering, if unattended..

It is now evident why gladness is such an important characteristic to be cultivated. When we view the success of others with the gladness—in the same way we would offer compassion and loving-kindness to those who suffer grief and distress, sadness and tribulation, sorrow and mourning—then we are experiencing empathetic joy, and are eradicating our own greed and craving. Developed still further, we can reach the stage of sharing with others their joy of possession, their financial or social successes, their elevation to positions of civic or national importance, or their receipt of titles and honorifics. In such a manner joy is an antidote to conceits of all kinds, and its growth and development removes craving’s grip and our own suffering.

________________________________________

Finding Joy in the Joy of Others: How to Cultivate It
– Patrick Zeis

Before we explore four ways that you can begin practicing Mudita in daily life, two words of caution should be mention. First, when practicing Mudita, it is important to remember to not celebrate the material acquisitions or possession another receives, rather only the feelings of joy they experience. Because external objects, social status, and financial wealth are impermanent in nature, it is vital that we do not attach ourselves to their obtainment. Secondly, it is also important to express Mudita with internal equanimity and avoid over-exuberance, as this signals a deprivation from moments of happiness. Now, let’s look at four ways we can practice Mudita in our daily lives:
1. Using intention and attention to develop Mudita: One of the best strategies that we can use to develop and cultivate any personal quality is through the power of intention and attention. After deciding that the practice of Mudita is something we want to start utilizing, we can take five to ten minutes each day to focus on the benefits others and ourselves will obtain from our practice. Similarly, we can use this time to focus on the negatives that come from living with envy, hatred, and resentment.

2. Cultivating Mudita while using social media: Social media websites and Apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are oftentimes used by individuals who want to celebrate the good things happening in their lives. Over the past decade, scientific research has shown how individuals often experience feelings of jealousy when seeing or reading about the good fortune of others. We can use social media to first become aware of the feelings that arise when others post or tweet about their success and/or happiness. If we have negative or envious feelings, we can consciously make the effort to replace them with feeling of joy.

3. Practicing Mudita in everyday encounters: There are particular times throughout each of our lives when we see individuals living expressively happy. Due to cultural conditioning and society’s overtly negative outlook on life, it is easy to get annoyed when individuals openly express joy. We may judgmentally ask ourselves, ‘Why are these people so happy?’ before giving them a look of scorn. If we are able to consciously be aware of our resentful reactions to others who exhibit happiness in our everyday encounters, we can begin to purposefully replace our negative feelings with Mudita.

4. Cultivating Mudita in meditation: There are a number of Buddhist meditation practices that focus directly on the cultivation of Mudita. One such practice tells us to cultivate Mudita inside of ourselves and visualize a number of people we can send positive feelings towards. In sequential order, we may want to send feelings of Mudita towards an affectionate friend, a successful benefactor, a neutral person, and a person we dislike, before sending it towards all beings. Moreover, we can use a number of mantra based sayings after we sent joyful feelings towards one individual and once again when we have completed the practice. For example, you may want to say: I’m happy that you’re happy. May your happiness continue. May your happiness increase. May your good fortune shine.

Practical Joy | 3 . 13 . 18

Access a printable PDF here: Practical_Joy_Mar13_2018

ON JOY

-Buddha

The awakened one, the Buddha, said: Here, one lets one’s mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of unselfish joy, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around, everywhere and equally, onee continues to pervade with a heart of unselfish joy, abundant, grown great, measureless, without hostility or ill-will.

 

UNSELFISH JOY
– Nyanaponika Thera

The virtue of mudita, finding joy in the happiness and success of others, has not received sufficient attention either in expositions of Buddhist ethics, or in the meditative development of the four sublime states (brahma-vihara), of which mudita is one.

It has been rightly stated that it is relatively easier for people to feel compassion or friendliness in situations which demand them, than to cherish a spontaneous feeling of shared joy, outside a narrow circle of one’s family and friends. It mostly requires a deliberate effort to identify oneself with the joys and successes of others. Yet the capacity of doing so has psychological roots in man’s nature which may be even deeper that his compassionate responses. There is firstly the fact that people do like to feel happy (with — or without — good reason) and would prefer it to the shared sadness of compassion. Man’s gregarious nature (his “sociability”) already gives him some familiarity with shared emotions and shared pleasure, though mostly on a much lower level than that of our present concern. There is also in man (and in some animals) not only an aggressive impulse, but also a natural bent towards mutual aid and co-operative action. Furthermore, there is the fact that happiness is infectious and an unselfish joy can easily grow out of it. Children readily respond by their own smiles and happy mood to smiling faces and happiness around them. Though children can be quite jealous and envious at times, they also can visibly enjoy it when they have made a playmate happy by a little gift and they are then quite pleased with themselves. Let parents and educators wisely encourage this potential in the child. Then this seed will quite naturally grow into a strong plant in the adolescent and the adult, maturing from impulsive and simple manifestations into the sublime state of unselfish joy (mudita-brahmavihara). Thus, here too, the child may become “the father of a man.” Such education towards joy with others should, of course, not be given in a dry didactic manner, but chiefly in a practical way by gently making the child observe, appreciate, and enjoy the happiness and success of others, and by trying himself to create a little joy in others. This can be aided by acquainting the child with examples of selfless lives and actions for his joyful admiration of them (and these, of course, should not be limited to Buddhist history). This feature should not be absent in Buddhist youth literature and schoolbooks, throughout all age groups. And this theme should be continued in Buddhist magazines and literature for adults.

Admittedly, the negative impulses in man, like aggression, envy, jealousy, etc., are much more in evidence than his positive tendencies towards communal service, mutual aid, unselfish joy, generous appreciation of the good qualities of his fellow-men, etc. Yet, as all these positive features are definitely found in man (though rarely developed), it is quite realistic to appeal to them, and activate and develop that potential by whatever means we can, in our personal relationships, in education, etc. “If it were impossible to cultivate the Good, I would not tell you to do so,” said the Buddha. This is, indeed, a positive, optimistic assurance.

If this potential for unselfish joy is widely and methodically encouraged and developed, starting with the Buddhist child (or, for that matter, with any child) and continued with adults (individuals and Buddhist groups, including the Sangha), the seed of mudita can grow into a strong plant which will blossom forth and find fruition in many other virtues, as a kind of beneficial “chain reaction”: magnanimity, tolerance, generosity (of both heart and purse), friendliness, and compassion. When unselfish joy grows, many noxious weeds in the human heart will die a natural death (or will, at least, shrink): jealousy and envy, ill will in various degrees and manifestations, cold-heartedness, miserliness (also in one’s concern for others), and so forth. Unselfish joy can, indeed, act as a powerful agent in releasing dormant forces of the Good in the human heart.

We know very well how envy and jealousy (the chief opponents of unselfish joy) can poison a man’s character as well as the social relationships on many levels of his life. They can paralyze the productivity of society, on governmental, professional, industrial, and commercial levels. Should not, therefore, all effort be made to cultivate their antidote, that is mudita?

Mudita will also vitalize and ennoble charitable and social work. While compassion (karuna [karu.naa]) is, or should be, the inspiration for it, unselfish joy should be its boon companion. Mudita will prevent compassionate action from being marred by a condescending and patronizing attitude which often repels or hurts the recipient. Also, when active compassion and unselfish joy go together, it will be less likely that works of service turn into dead routine performed indifferently. Indifference, listlessness, boredom (all nuances of the Pali term arati) are said to be the ‘distant enemies’ of mudita. They can be vanquished by an alliance of compassion and unselfish joy.

In him who gives and helps, the joy he finds in such action will enhance the blessings imparted by these wholesome deeds: unselfishness will become more and more natural to him, and such ethical unselfishness will help him towards a better appreciation and the final realization of the Buddha’s central doctrine of No-self (anatta [anattaa]). He will also find it confirmed that he who is joyful in his heart will gain easier the serenity of a concentrated mind. These are, indeed, great blessings which the cultivation of joy with others’ happiness can bestow!
A virtue like unselfish and altruistic joy has its natural roots in the human heart and can be of immediate benefit to the individual and society.

In this troubled world of ours, there are plenty of opportunities for thoughts and deeds of compassion; but there seem to be all too few for sharing in others’ joy. Hence it is necessary for us to create new opportunities for unselfish joy, by the active practice of loving-kindness (metta [mettaa]) and compassion (karuna), in deeds, words, and meditative thought. Yet, in a world that can never be without disappointments and failures, we must also connect ourselves with the equanimity (upekkha [upekkhaa]) to give us strength in the fac of discouragement and feelings of frustration, should we encounter difficulties in our efforts to expand the realm of unselfish joy.