Category Archives: Death

This Delicate, Fleeting Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is a practice of mine to try to ensure that first thing in the morning, before my day gets going – before I straighten out my duvet or become suitably attired; before I open the main gate or drink my cup of sweet and strong Assam tea; before my mind is stirred by the rising currents of the day’s worries and vain desires – I calmly introduce into my awareness certain thoughts. Thoughts of death.

The fact that this could be my last day. The fact that one day I will wake up and it will be my last day, and that this could be the one. The fact that many people are waking up at this very moment who will die on this very day. The fact that my time is limited and that the time I have with those people whom I care for and value is limited. The fact that one day they won’t be here any more, and neither will I. The fact, the only fact, that I will die.

And then I smile, have a cup of tea, open the gate, get dressed (should’ve done that before I opened the gate…), straighten my duvet, and watch the little worries and desires slow and still and cease as the sobering truth of death shows me my priorities.

Teachers will now be cherished; friends and family will be loved. Strangers will be befriended; enemies will be understood. Grudges will gain no foothold; anger will be cast away. The bully fear will be cut down to size; desire will be seen for the empty promise that it is. The quest for meaning will take priority; meaningless priorities will be put aside. And I will not allow to slip away unused this delicate, fleeting life.

Full Moon Day: The Four Protections Part 4: Mindfulness of Death

All is Vanity.

Death is the single most important thing we can contemplate. Understandably, people would rather not, but to do so is foolish. Blind to the vanity of life, people lose perspective; they hold grudges; problems overwhelm them; they waste time; they act stupidly; they are distraught when they lose something or someone close. Contemplating death ensures these things do not happen. The most important reason for contemplating death, however, is that it gives us a vital kick up the backside: ‘I have this precious opportunity, but it won’t last for long. Don’t waste it!’
When young Prince Siddhattha saw the dead man on his tour of his father’s capital, some accounts state it was the very first time he had seen such a thing. There is naturally some speculation over whether this really could have been the case. But even if he had seen a dead body before it does not matter; because it was as though it was the first time he had seen one. We have all seen dead people, either on the television or in the flesh. But have we ever really seen a dead body? Have we seen one and realised: ‘One day I will be like that!’?
This is the thought that jolted the Prince from his slumber. He woke to his predicament: whatever I experience, whatever I achieve, however wealthy or famous or loved I become – it is all impermanent and must end in death.
When we see, as the Prince did, the reality of our situation, we cannot help but ask: ‘What is the point? What is the purpose of it all?’
Well, there is no point. There is no master plan, no integral purpose to our being here. We are born because of the coming together of our father’s sperm, our mother’s egg, and the stream of consciousness propelled by craving. Having been born we are then bound to die. In the lightning-flash of an interval between these two points we participate in the pantomime of life – loving and hating, laughing and crying, gaining and losing, being young and being old – all the time developing habits in thoughts, words and deeds that shape the course of events. And then we die and the whole charade continues. It is a blind process for which no beginning can be found; a process that has been going on, and will continue to go on, forever – that is if craving and ignorance remain rooted in the mind.
Our situation is thus a difficult one: to have no purpose; to be born only to die. This state of affairs is not so much a pantomime as it is a tragedy: the tragedy of life.
Now, there seem to be number of ways people respond to this tragedy.
Firstly, they are blind to it. They don’t see further than their Big Mac.
Secondly, they peer above their Big Mac and catch a glimpse of something else. They see there are some serious questions hanging over their head. They do acknowledge that death will take place. They recognise their possessions and relations will not be with them forever. And they wonder if there is some other way to live their life. But then they snap out of it, and plunge their nose back into the gherkins and ketchup.
Thirdly, there are those who have a clear understanding of their situation. They find the pretence of the masses sickening. They are aware of the suffering inherent in life. But they allow this angst to overwhelm them, and they do not search for a solution. They simply rock back and forth in their metaphorical crib, banging their head against the sides – overcome by the purposelessness of it all.
And fourthly, there are those who also have their eyes open, but who, instead of wallowing in the mire of suffering, give their life a purpose. This is what Prince Siddhattha did and it is what we should do. That purpose is not any old purpose. It is the most important of them all: to wake up to the true nature of things and be free from suffering.
This sense of purpose that comes from following the Noble Eightfold Path goes a long way to reducing our suffering. Never mind where we are on the path; what matters is that we are on it. And knowing that we are heading somewhere – a knowing that is based on what we have already experienced owing to the practice – brings a tremendous sense of relief.
The danger for us, then, is not that we succumb to the purposelessness of it all, but that we get complacent. The layers of trivia easily overlap our sense of purpose. The pantomime quickly engulfs us. And the winner of the X-Factor really begins to matter to us. This serious problem is countered in one way: by reminding ourselves that we will die.

The single most important thing we can contemplate is death. Understandably, people would rather not. But to sweep it under that all too familiar carpet is the golden road to suffering. Blind to the vanity of life people lose perspective: they hold grudges, problems overwhelm them, they waste time, they act stupidly, and they live intoxicated with anger, desire and attachment. Contemplating death ensures these things do not happen. The most important reason for contemplating death, however, is that it gives us a vital kick up the backside: ‘I have this precious opportunity, but it won’t last for long. Don’t waste it!’

When young Prince Siddhattha saw the dead man on his tour of his father’s capital, some accounts state it was the very first time he had seen such a thing. Whether this was really the case we do not know. But even if he had seen a dead body before it does not matter; because it was as though it was the first time. We have all seen dead people, either in the newspapers, on the television, or in the flesh. But have we ever really seen a dead body? Have we seen one and realised: ‘One day I will be like that!’?

This is the thought that jolted the Prince out of his stupor. He understood: whatever I experience, whatever I achieve, however wealthy or famous or loved I become – it is all impermanent and must end in death.

When we see, as the Prince did, the reality of our situation, we cannot help but ask: ‘What is the point? What is the purpose of it all?’

Well, there is no point. There is no master plan, no integral purpose to our being here. We are born because of the coming together of our father’s sperm, our mother’s egg, and the stream of consciousness propelled by craving. Having been born we are then bound to die. In the lightning-flash of an interval between these two points we participate in the pantomime of life – loving and hating, laughing and crying, gaining and losing, being young and being old – all the time crafting habits in thoughts, words and deeds, shaping what will come later on. And then we die, and the whole charade is repeated. It is a blind process for which no beginning can be found; a process that has been going on, and will continue to go on, forever – that is if craving and ignorance remain rooted in the mind.

Our situation is thus a difficult one: to have no purpose; to be born only to die. This state of affairs is not so much a pantomime as it is a tragedy: the tragedy of life.

Now, there seem to be number of ways people respond to this tragedy.

Firstly, they are blind to it. They don’t see further than their Big Mac.

Secondly, they peer above their Big Mac and catch a glimpse of something else. They see there are some serious questions hanging over their head. They do acknowledge that death will take place. They recognise their possessions and relations will not be with them forever. And they wonder if there is some other way to live their life. But then they snap out of it, and plunge their nose back into the gherkins and ketchup.

Thirdly, there are those who have a clear understanding of their situation. They find the pretence of the masses sickening. They are aware of the suffering inherent in life. But they allow this angst to overwhelm them, and they do not search for a solution. They simply rock back and forth in their metaphorical crib, banging their head against the sides – overcome by the purposelessness of it all.

And fourthly, there are those who also have their eyes open, but who, instead of wallowing in the mire of suffering, give their life a purpose. This is what Prince Siddhattha did and it is what we should do. That purpose is not any old purpose. It is the most important of them all: to wake up to the true nature of things and be free from suffering.

This sense of purpose that comes from following the Noble Eightfold Path goes a long way to reducing our suffering. Never mind where we are on the path; what matters is that we are on it. And knowing that we are heading somewhere – a knowing that is based on what we have already experienced owing to the practice – brings a tremendous sense of relief.

The danger for us, then, is not that we succumb to the purposelessness of it all, but that we get complacent. The layers of trivia easily overlap our sense of purpose. The pantomime quickly engulfs us. And the winner of the X-Factor begins to matter to us. This serious problem is countered in one way: by reminding ourselves that we will die.

.

New Moon Day: The Four Protections Part 3: Contemplation of the Body

In early 2002, just weeks before we were going to fly to India for our unforgettable tour of the Buddhist holy places, I happened to glance inside my passport. That was a fortunate decision: it was due to expire in the middle of our trip! Being very keen to go to India, but also to return, I hopped on a train with my brother and we bolted down to the Passport Office to get it renewed.

As the train raced through the winter countryside on the way to London, I gazed out of the window while Tim perused a glossy magazine. The first stop for him was the cover, which was graced – naturally – by a pretty woman. Turning and seeing her I asked him:

‘Do you think she’s pretty?’

‘Yup,’ he replied.

‘Imagine her without any eyeballs.’

Silence.

And so we see how easily the illusion of beauty is shattered. One little alteration and a pretty spectacle turns into an abhorrent one. And even if those lovely blue eyes were still nestled into those lovely sockets – what lies two inches behind them? A lovely brain.

The way of the world is to be infatuated with the body. But the way of the world is also the way of suffering. The Buddha’s only concern being suffering and its end, he taught us to take a good and sober look at this body to see what it is actually like. Not what we want it to be like, or what we perceive it to be like, but what it is actually like.

This body is not the desirable thing that our delusions tell us it is: it is a bag of flesh and bones with a large range of other slippery bits and pieces that cause us nothing but trouble. We have to feed it, clean it, wash it, empty it, rest it, keep it warm, keep it cool, keep it out of the rain, keep it out of the sun, keep it free from sickness, care for it when it does get sick, fix it when it’s broken, make it look presentable…

Now can we rely upon a thing such as this? Is it really a good idea to be obsessed with and attached to the body? Can such attachment bring anything but mental suffering and anguish? No. No. And no. But our delusions don’t respond to reason, which is why it is important that we contemplate the other side – to address the balance, to straighten our view.

When we remove the blindfold of delusion we view the body as simply an aspect of nature – not as a self, or a me, or mine – but as an amalgamation of a variety of organs, that each fulfil a particular function, but which will one day break down and fall apart just like an old wooden cart. Seeing in this way obviously goes against the worldly way. But it does not produce suffering, and that is what matters.

Whether we are ordained or lay, if we care for our well-being we will cultivate a more disenchanted relationship to the body. Although some of us may be young and our bodies are in reasonable working order, there will come a time – sooner or later – when they won’t be. And if we are attached to the body when it fails then our mind will fail too.

The Practice

It is a very good idea to include a period of body contemplation in our formal practice. In the method below we imagine parts of the body in neat little piles around us. Don’t worry, we don’t have to get too gory here; let’s just stick to the external bits – the first five in the traditional list of the thirty-two parts. And we don’t need to spend too long on it either; just a sweeping review will cause a sense of dispassion – and therefore peace – to arise.

Before we go any further an important point needs to be made: one must be sensible when approaching this practice, and not everyone will find it beneficial. A person with an angry temperament, for example, may find themselves experiencing strong aversion when focusing on the body in this way. This is obviously not what we are aiming for and in such cases that person would be advised to concentrate on more neutral and supportive practices such as mindfulness and breathing and loving-kindness.

For most people however, a sober perspective is sorely needed. But be careful, or that perspective might just lead you to the monastery gate…

(Forty or so years ago a certain young Thai man was preparing to get married. Dutifully following Thai custom he entered a local monastery to ordain for two weeks. Naturally he followed the routine of the monks – going on alms-round, studying the rules, doing the sweeping, learning the chanting. One of the morning chants in Thai monasteries focuses on the parts of the body. It is a kind of discursive meditation: ‘Head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin…’. So there was this young monk, soon to be married and full of the joys of spring, chanting away. However, after going over and over these parts he inevitably began to put two and two together: these body parts, and his fiancé!

Two weeks came. And went. But the new monk didn’t leave the monastery. Forty years later and he’s still in robes. I wonder if the not-so-young lady is still waiting?)

Five Heaps

Back to imagining those five heaps.

Firstly we have head hair. In front of you is a pile of your head hair. Oh, how much trouble people go to over their hair! And yet when you imagine it in a pile in front of you can you say it is beautiful?  What about when you are sitting in the hairdresser and you watch those flowing locks tumble off your shoulders and on to the floor? Do you care for it then?

To the right of that delightful spectacle is your body hair. Here it is – a heap of little hairs of varying lengths, thicknesses and degrees of squigglyness. Would you like to find some of those in your soup?

Next we have nails. Again, often dressed up, sometimes with quite extravagant designs. But what about when they are just lying there – semi-transparent, lifeless pieces of skin-cum-bone. When someone cuts their nails do they feel anything for the cast-offs? Do they think – ‘Oh, what a beautiful bit of nail!’ as it drops into the bin?

And next to the nails we have the teeth. Along with adverts telling you how to lose several inches of flab from your belly, I keep seeing ones for whiter teeth. It’s certainly true that we must care for our appearance. (Indeed, I was a little concerned when I was recently asked by a school kid if I brushed my teeth. I’ve been careful to brush them vigorously ever since to try to counter the effects of strong tea!) But we must remember they’re only teeth. Little oblong pieces of yellowing bone, with a jagged top where they are connected to the gum.

And lastly we have the skin. If there is one part of the body towards which so much lust, desire and delusion is directed it is skin. ‘Oh what soft skin!’ ‘Oh what smooth skin!’ ‘Oh what tanned skin!’ ‘Oh what moist skin!’ ‘Oh what young skin!’. And on and on it goes. But what about if it were heaped up next to you, stripped off like a discarded snake skin? On a typical Forest monk’s day out a few years ago we went to an exhibition in London called ‘Bodies’. It was fascinating. A technique has recently been developed whereby plastic is injected into body parts to preserve them. This was an exhibition of those parts, among which was a complete human skin, lying there, full-length, empty of everything else. It was remarkable. But it wasn’t attractive.

Just a Body

So that’s the body. And, as Ajahn Chah taught us to frequently repeat: ‘It’s just a body’. Very bland, purely functional, nothing special. An aspect of nature that is born, is aging and will die soon enough.

But the way of the world is to not see this. Watch the young models and actors dominating our screens and newspapers. They are principally there because of their looks. But can they depend on those looks? Or will those looks one day fail them? And if those looks do fail them will they suffer? The answer can be found by observing the people who were in exactly the same position as these youngsters 30 – 40 years ago – the Sophia Lorens and Elizabeth Taylors. Here they are, with aging bodies, but still clinging on to the illusion of beauty – getting a lift here, a little tuck there – desperate to retain a fraction of what they once had in abundance. But now it has gone. And they are suffering. Why not just let go?

New Moon Day: To be Happy or not to be Happy: That is the Question

To be Happy or not to be Happy: That is the Question
Right View as the First Step on the Path
Right View, the raison d’être of Buddhist practice, the antidote to all suffering, lies not at the end of the Noble Eightfold Path, but at the beginning. Why so? Because without a small degree of it we wouldn’t even consider walking this path. Indeed, we would see no reason to.
What is Right View? It is wisdom. It is seeing things clearly – as they really are. On the ultimate, transcendent, level it is the total comprehension of the Four Noble Truths. In its initial stages it comprises an understanding of these truths to a lesser extent, and in a sometimes indirect way; and of the law of kamma – of how our actions result in either happiness or suffering depending on the intent behind them.
Both of these truths will no doubt have had a bearing on our own decision to tread this path. Looking back at my own life prior to finding the Dhamma I can see an understanding of dukkha was firmly in place. It is what propelled me into this life. My grasp of dukkha had long been with me. In fact, he is my oldest friend!
Appreciating the Law of Kamma
So one very important aspect of right view concerns the law of kamma. Put simply we can say that to possess a modicum of right view one must have some appreciation of the fact that good actions bring happy results and bad actions bring unhappy results.
Just over nine years ago I phoned my father to give him the ‘news’. “I don’t mind if you’re gay.” He said. “No, I’m not gay (but thanks anyway).” “You’re going to join an ashram?” (he knew I meditated). “Warmer…” “What then?” “I have decided to become a Buddhist monk.”
Then over the course of the following weeks we had a number of lively conversations. On the whole he was fairly relaxed about the whole thing; after all, he left home when I was five, so it wasn’t as if he would see a lot less of me. Having said that, he wasn’t going to let me go too easily.
During one of our characteristically demanding chats I told him that one of the reasons I wanted to ordain was in order to invest in my future. “The future? You should be living now!” he retorted. “Make the most of your life now!”
Of course he had a point. A very big point. When are we ever going to live our life if we don’t live it now? But what we do now has consequences; our present actions are continually shaping our future state. And dependent on what lies behind these actions is nothing less than our own happiness and suffering. Considering the future with right view in this way we cannot help but live fully now.
I had always been very aware that however I might live my life, barring following this path, I would only find myself being unhappy. How could I possibly end up being happy? What was I doing that would bring happiness? I distinctly remember going out for a drive with my brother not long after I had passed my driving test, stopping in the countryside somewhere, and having a deep and not so jolly conversation with him. We both came to the conclusion that we would never be truly happy. How could we know that? Well, I guess it boiled down to a smidgen of right view: an understanding that maybe we weren’t providing the conditions for that happiness to arise in the future; that the paths we were currently treading could not lead to that happiness.
So it was an investment, I told my father. I had often looked at older people and observed how they were just not happy. I did not want to be in that situation later on. But why this path? Well, I had been practising Buddhist meditation seriously for a good half a year or so and it had opened up two appealing avenues for me: happiness and wisdom.
When we consider that we are – at this moment – creating our future, then it makes us take stock. If we project our mind into the future and consider what kind of life we want to be living, what state of mind we want to have, what level of wisdom we want to possess, and how happy we would like to be, then we shine the light of right view on our thoughts and actions now and see whether they are leading us in that direction, or whether they are not. If they are not then we make an effort to change that.
Think of a potter at his wheel. There he sits with the lump of clay poised ready before him – its future shape entirely in his hands. Around spins the wheel and the potter begins to work. With every twitch and nudge and caress the potter shapes the supple clay. At every moment that clay is the perfect record of the movements of the potter’s hand. No movement will go unnoticed, each one will be unfailingly recorded in the clay. And so it is with our life. In every moment, with every intentional action, we are shaping our future state. And consequently, at every moment, our life is a record of our actions that have gone before.
This is one reason why it so crucial that we as Buddhists feel able to reject outright the existence of a creator God as wrong view. As soon as we lay the responsibility for our existence elsewhere we undermine this fundamental aspect of right view: that we are our own creators, that we alone are responsible for our present and future happiness and suffering; that the reasons for our existence are none other than our own ignorance and craving. These two things are the causes, the conditions, for us being here, now. And it is by uprooting them – which is done by gaining a direct insight into the Four Noble Truths – that we are able to free ourselves, through our own efforts, from this realm of birth and death.
So it all comes back to what we are doing now, and most importantly to what is behind what we are doing now. We trace these actions and our thoughts to their roots. And what do we find when we do this? We find six things: greed, hatred and delusion, and generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. We find the six roots (mula) of action – the architects of suffering and happiness.
It’s pretty simple really! Avoid what is wrong and cultivate what is right. Avoid acting on greed, hatred and delusion, and be generous, compassionate and wise. Exercise your right view: look at your mind before you are about to say or do anything, and also when you are doing something, out of the six roots of actions, what is there in your mind? If it’s harmful – stop; if it’s helpful – carry on.
We as monks naturally depend on others to provide and cook our food. Being thoroughly unenlightened this sometimes leads to a stirring of the three unwholesome roots in my mind, and therefore the potential to heap more suffering upon myself.
For instance, say I’ve observed that a lovely fresh pack of ready-salted Pringles has been given. There they are, taste bud tinglers in a tube, destined for my tongue. But they don’t appear at the meal time. Concern arises. Why aren’t they being offered? And so the desire to make a subtle hint manifests: ‘I noticed some Pringles were offered the other day…..’ – Just a casual, just thought I’d mention it in passing, type comment – you know the kind. ‘But hold on!’ I say to myself. ‘What is there in my mind right now? Why do I want to say this? What is the root of this potential action?’ Well, I give you three guesses: greed, hatred and delusion!
So there we have them: the architects of suffering; the enemies of happiness; the seamstresses of the veil of darkness before my very eyes. I then consider that if I am to act on these I will create future suffering for myself and possibly others. Just as if I were to throw a stone into the sky it would surely come back down, so too if I were to act on these unwholesome forces I would suffer in the future. Considering in this way and teaching myself to be careful, I refrain, and non-greed – a wholesome root of action – takes it place.
There is a famous account in the suttas of the Buddha speaking to young Rahula the novice. The Buddha tells him that if, before, during or after an action, he sees that it will cause himself, another, or both himself and another harm, he should stop and refrain.
A Reward
I think it would be fitting to conclude by reminding ourselves that as humans who have access to the Dhamma we are very fortunate indeed. To have an affinity with the Dhamma, and to possess a healthy degree of right view, shows that much work has been done already. Indeed, we should look upon this opportunity that we have as a reward, a reward for countless lifetimes of striving and struggling towards the light in this beginningless cycle of birth and death. And so we should not throw this opportunity away.
.

.

Right View as the First Step on the Path

Right View, the raison d’être of Buddhist practice, the antidote to all suffering, lies not at the end of the Noble Eightfold Path, but at the beginning. Why so? Because without a small degree of it we wouldn’t even consider walking this path. Indeed, we would see no reason to.

What is Right View? It is wisdom. It is seeing things clearly – as they really are. On the ultimate, transcendent, level it is the total comprehension of the Four Noble Truths. In its initial stages it comprises an understanding of these truths to a lesser extent, and in a sometimes indirect way; and of the law of kamma – of how our actions result in either happiness or suffering depending on the intent behind them. Both of these truths will no doubt have had a bearing on our own decision to tread this path.

Appreciating the Law of Kamma

So one very important aspect of right view concerns the law of kamma. Put simply we can say that to possess a modicum of right view one must have some appreciation of the fact that good actions bring happy results and bad actions bring unhappy results.

Just over nine years ago I phoned my father. “I’ve got some news for you Dad.” “I don’t mind if you’re gay.” He said. “No, I’m not gay (but thanks anyway!).” “You’re going to join an ashram?” (he knew I meditated). “Warmer…” “What then?” “I have decided to become a Buddhist monk.”

Then over the course of the following weeks we had a number of lively conversations. On the whole he was fairly relaxed about the whole thing; after all, he left home when I was five, so it wasn’t as if he would see a lot less of me. Having said that, he wasn’t going to let me go too easily.

During one of our characteristically demanding chats I told him that one of the reasons I wanted to ordain was in order to invest in my future. “The future? You should be living now!” he retorted. “Make the most of your life now!”

Of course he had a point. A very big point. When are we ever going to live our life if we don’t live it now? But what we do now has consequences; our present actions are continually shaping our future state. And dependent on what lies behind these actions is nothing less than our own happiness and suffering. Considering the future with right view in this way we cannot help but live fully now.

I had always been very aware that however I might live my life, barring following this path, I would only find myself being unhappy. How could I possibly end up being happy? What was I doing that would bring happiness? I distinctly remember going out for a drive with my brother not long after I had passed my driving test, stopping in the countryside somewhere, and having a deep and not so jolly conversation with him. We both came to the conclusion that we would never be truly happy. Why would we think that? Well, I guess it boiled down to a smidgen of right view: an understanding that maybe we weren’t providing the conditions for that happiness to arise in the future; that the paths we were currently treading could not lead to that happiness.

So it was an investment, I told my father. I had often looked at older people and observed how they were just not happy. I did not want to be like that. But why this path? Well, I had been practising Buddhist meditation seriously for a good half a year or so and it had opened up two appealing avenues for me: happiness and wisdom.

When we consider that we are – at this moment – creating our future, then it makes us take stock. If we project our mind into the future and consider what kind of life we want to be living, what state of mind we want to have, what level of wisdom we want to possess, and how happy we would like to be, then we shine the light of right view on our thoughts and actions now and see whether they are leading us in that direction, or whether they are not. If they are not then we make an effort to change that.

Think of a potter at his wheel. There he sits with the lump of clay poised ready before him – its future shape entirely in his hands. Around spins the wheel and the potter begins to shape the supple clay. At every moment that clay is the perfect record of the movements of the potter’s hands. No movement will go unnoticed; each one will be unfailingly recorded in the clay. And so it is with our life. In every moment, with every intentional action, we are shaping our future state. And consequently, at every moment, our life is a record of our actions that have gone before.

This is one reason why it so crucial that we as Buddhists feel able to reject outright the existence of a creator God as wrong view. As soon as we lay the responsibility for our existence elsewhere we undermine this fundamental aspect of right view: that we are our own creators, that we alone are responsible for our present and future happiness and suffering; that the reasons for our existence are none other than our own ignorance and craving. These two things are the causes, the conditions, for us being here, now. And it is by uprooting them – which is done by gaining a direct insight into the Four Noble Truths – that we are able to free ourselves, through our own efforts, from this realm of birth and death.

So it all comes back to what we are doing now, and most importantly to what is behind what we are doing now. We trace these actions and our thoughts to their roots. And what do we find when we do this? We find six things: greed, hatred and delusion, and non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion (put positively, the last three are generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom). These are the six roots (mula) of action – the architects of suffering and happiness; those that lead to happiness should be nurtured; those that lead to suffering – starved.

It is often very difficult, however, to simply begin being generous, loving and wise. There needs to be a bridge between the three unwholesome and the three wholesome roots. That bridge is restraint. Without restraint there can be no development on this path. There is a famous account in the suttas of the Buddha speaking to young Rahula the novice. The Buddha tells him that if, before, during or after an action, he sees that it will cause himself, another, or both himself and another harm, he should stop and refrain.

Mmmm… Pringles

We as monks naturally depend on others to provide and cook our food. Being thoroughly unenlightened this sometimes leads to a stirring of the three unwholesome roots in my mind, and therefore the potential to heap more suffering upon myself.

For instance, say I’ve observed that a lovely fresh pack of ready-salted Pringles has been given. There they are, taste bud tinglers in a tube, destined for my tongue. But they don’t appear at the meal time. Concern arises. Why aren’t they being offered? And so the desire to make a subtle hint manifests: ‘I noticed some Pringles were offered the other day…..’ – Just a casual, just thought I’d mention it in passing, type comment – you know the kind. ‘But hold on!’ I say to myself. ‘What is there in my mind right now? Why do I want to say this? What is the root of this potential action?’ Well, I give you three guesses: greed, hatred and delusion!

So there we have them: the architects of suffering; the enemies of happiness; the seamstresses of the veil of darkness before my very eyes. I then consider that if I am to act on these contemptible corruptions I will create future suffering for myself and possibly others. Just as if I were to throw a stone into the sky it would surely come back down, so too if I were to act on these unwholesome forces I would suffer in the future. Considering in this way and teaching myself to be careful, I refrain (usually).

A Reward

As humans who have access to the Dhamma we are very fortunate indeed. To have an affinity with the Dhamma, and to possess a healthy degree of right view, shows that much work has been done already. Furthermore, we should look upon this opportunity that we have as a reward, a reward for countless lifetimes of striving and struggling towards the light in this beginningless cycle of birth and death. So let’s not throw this opportunity away. It’ll be gone before we know it.

.

The next teaching will be on:

the full moon day, Thursday 6 August

..

Note: ‘The Sangha’ and ‘Links and Books’ pages have been updated.

.

Full Moon Day: Dhamma Curry

.

skull

.


Being in the Thai Forest Tradition we naturally eat a lot of Thai Food. Sometimes Thai people bring food in the morning to offer at the meal; sometimes our resident chefs knock up a little sticky rice and chilli; and whether the above happens or not we virtually always pull out one of Yod’s curries from the freezer.

Now some of these curries I love. Sweet and Sour, MILD Green Curry, Massaman – delicious. But there are some that – when introduced to your tongue – make a volcano’s scorching rivers of lava seem like playful and refreshing streams. When you are not used to these you soon learn what it must feel like to have your tongue stretched on to a metal plate and whacked with a hammer. And if sweating is your aim, then you need go no further.

Continue reading Full Moon Day: Dhamma Curry

Full Moon Day: Asalha Puja: Lights, Camera, Kamma

.

Lights, Camera, Kamma

.

Kamma or Karma means ‘action’. More specifically, intentional action. “Intention is kamma” said the Buddha (A.III,415). Kamma Vipaka is the result of action. Kamma is of two types: kusala and akusala – skilful and unskilful, respectively. Skilful actions are beneficial to oneself and others, unskilful actions are harmful to oneself and others. Skilfulness, of course, is understood in regard to the development of the Buddha’s path to freedom from suffering.

What are some of the effects of an actor’s or performer’s actions, both on the audience and on himself? Are their actions kusala or akusala?

One of the most famous comedians in England of recent times was Tommy Cooper. He made a lot of people laugh, but at what cost?

His final performance, I believe, was initially successful. People rolled about in their familiar bouts of hysterics. But then came an extraordinary sketch which at first proved to be uncannily real. It turned out it actually was. The flailing figure on the stage, with his characteristic red Moroccan fez, was in the middle of this piece when all of a sudden he slumped to the floor, clutching his chest. The audience roared with laughter. He was having a heart attack; they thought it was part of the act. So there was this dying man, gasping for breath and desperate for help, and the only response he got was pointing fingers and howls of laughter.

Doesn’t this make you think? That nightmare was his own creation.

Continue reading Full Moon Day: Asalha Puja: Lights, Camera, Kamma

(the day after) New Moon Day: Playing with Toys in a House that's Burning Down.

I’ve decided not to continue with the series of five posts on meditation that I’d planned. I’ve learnt that it’s not always a good idea to say you’ll be writing / talking about something several weeks from now. It can kill spontaneity. (Plus I’m fed up of talking about the plane!)

.down

Playing with Toys in a House that’s Burning Down

Before I became a monk I had an experience which caused an earthquake in the depths of my being and which undoubtedly turned me in the direction of devoting my life to the practice of the Dhamma.

Continue reading (the day after) New Moon Day: Playing with Toys in a House that's Burning Down.