The Garden You Grow

Our intentions – noticed or unnoticed, gross or subtle – contribute either to our suffering or to our happiness

Intentions are sometimes called seeds.

The garden you grow depends on the seeds you plant and water. Long after a deed is done, the trace or momentum of the intention behind it remains as a seed, conditioning our future happiness or unhappiness.

– Gil Fronsdal, Vipassana Teacher.

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Buddha’s discourse on love

He or she who wants to attain peace should practice being upright, humble, and capable of using loving speech. He or she will know how to live simply and happily, with senses calmed, without being covetous and carried away by the emotions of the majority. Let him or her not do anything that will be disapproved of by the wise.

And this is what he or she contemplates: 

“May everyone be happy and safe, and may their hearts be filled with joy.”

“May all living beings live in security and in peace—beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, big or small, visible or not visible, near or faraway, already born, or yet to be born. May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.”

“Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will, wish anyone any harm.”

“Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life, we should cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos. We should let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across. Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake, we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart. This is the noblest way of living.

“Free from wrong views, greed, and sensual desires, living in beauty and realizing Perfect Understanding, those who practice boundless love will certainly transcend birth and death.”

– Metta Sutta, Sutta Nipata. 

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I am a Flower, I am a Mountain

Breathing in,
I see myself as a flower.
I am the freshness 
of a dewdrop.
Breathing out,
my eyes have become flowers.
Please look at me.
I am looking with the eyes of love

Breathing in,
I am a mountain,
imperturbable,
still,
alive,
vigorous.
Breathing out,
I feel solid.
The waves of emotion can never carry me away.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Linji School, Thiền Buddhism

The Last Request of Anathapindika

There was a layperson in the time of the Buddha whose name was Sudatta, but was called Anathapindika. Anathapindika means “feeder of the orphans or helpless”. 

Anathapindika was a very wealthy man who was unmatched in his generosity. As an example, he once bought a beautiful park from a Prince and offered it to the Buddha to make a practice center. This was the famous Jeta Park or Jeta Grove, a location where Buddha gave many of his teachings.

When Anathapindika was close to death, the Buddha sent two beloved disciples – Sariputta and Ananda- to help him to die peacefully.

When they arrived, Sariputta asked; “How is your illness? Is it getting better or worse? Is the physical pain easing at all or is it getting greater?”

Anathapindika replied,”Venerable monks, it does not seem to be getting better. The pain is not easing. It is getting greater all the time.”

Sariputta said, “Friend Anathapindika, now is the time to practice the meditation on the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Meditating in this way, you can destroy the obstacles of wrong deeds and the afflictions. You can harvest a fruit that is as fresh and sweet as the balm of compassion. A woman or a man practicing an upright way of life who knows how to meditate on the Three Jewels will have no chance of falling into the three lower realms but will be reborn as a human or a god.”

After that, Sariputta gave him a guided meditation on the six sense bases: Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.

“Breathing in, I know this body is not me. I am much more than this body.”

“Breathing in, I know that this mind is not me. I am much more than this mind.”

The purpose of the meditation is to help a person see that s/he is not limited to the six sense organs.

The meditation continues for:

  • the Six Sense Objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, mental objects),
  • the Six Sense Consciousnesses (visual consciousness, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental conciousness),
  • the Six Elements (earth, water, fire, air, space, consciousness)
  • the Five Aggregates (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness), and
  • the Three Times (past, present, future).

Once complete, Sariputta explained: “Anathapindika, everything that arises is due to causes and conditions. Everything that is has the nature not to be born and not to die, not to arrive and not to depart. When eyes arise, they arise, but they do not come from anywhere. When eyes cease to be, they cease to be, but they do not go anywhere. Eyes are neither nonexistent before they arise, nor are they existent after they arise. Everything that is comes to be because of a combination of causes and conditions. When the causes and conditions are sufficient, eyes are present. When the causes and conditions are not sufficient, eyes are absent. The same is true of ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind; form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought; sight, hearing, and the consciousnesses based on the nose, tongue, body, and mind; the Six Elements, the Five Aggregates, and the Three Times.

“In the Five Aggregates, there is nothing that we can call ‘I,’ a ‘person,’ or a ‘soul.’ Ignorance is the inability to see this truth. Because there is ignorance, there are mistaken impulses. Because there are mistaken impulses, there is mistaken consciousness. Because there is mistaken consciousness, there is the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived. Because there is the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived, there is the distinction between the six organs and the six objects of sense. Because there is the distinction between the six organs and the six objects of sense, there is contact. Because there is contact, there is feeling. Because there is feeling, there is thirst. Because there is thirst, there is grasping. Because there is grasping, there is being. Because there is becoming, there are birth, death, and the subsequent pain and grief.

“Friend Anathapindika, you have meditated that everything that arises is due to causes and conditions and does not have a separate self. That is called ‘the meditation on emptiness.’ It is the highest and the most profound meditation.”

When he had practiced to this point, Anathapindika began to cry.

Ananda asked him, “Friend, why are you crying? Has your meditation not been successful? Do you have some regret?”

Anathapindika replied, “Venerable Ananda, I do not regret anything. The meditation has been most successful. I am crying because I am so deeply moved. I have been fortunate to have been able to serve the Buddha and his community for many years, yet I have never heard a teaching so wonderful and precious as the teaching transmitted by the Venerable Sariputta today.”

Ananda said, “Do you not know, friend, that the Buddha often gives this teaching to monks and nuns?”

Anathapindika replied, “Venerable Ananda, please tell the Buddha that there are also laypeople with the capacity to listen, understand, and put into practice these deep and wonderful teachings.”

Venerable Ananda agreed to go home and tell the Buddha of Anathapindika’s request. 

That was the last request made by the layman Anathapindika. After that, he passed away peacefully and happily. Even to his last request he was generous, thinking of others. 

– Based on the Anathapindikovada Sutta: Instructions to Anathapindika, from the Pali Cannon (also present in the Chinese Cannon). 

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You are what you “eat”

“We digest and assimilate all of our thoughts and our mental states, and they become part of our conditioning. There are mental states and impulses that are terribly detrimental, and in meditation we can learn to recognize them as they arise. You could be sitting quite calmly eating your breakfast, when an impulse of hatred, or ill will, or contempt arises. Just like a scuba diver watching a bubble rise, you watch it come up. Then it may pop; or you may go along for the ride and develop it. Then it becomes more like oil on paper, and starts to suffuse your mentality, in which case you have to live with it for a while.

Judgment as an expression of wisdom is not in the business of judging the self. It is in the business of recognizing what are wholesome and unwholesome mental factors. 

When ill will arises, wise judgment recognizes it. ” Aha! I’ve heard of you! You are the worst affliction I can suffer from. You completely destroy all loving – kindness. You’re the enemy of my happiness, the enemy of my relations with other people. If I go along with you, you’ll destroy all my happiness and all my friendships and I’ll make myself a thoroughly miserable person. I recognize you” … That is wisdom and some judgment too. ” 

– Excerpt from The Four Immeasurables – B Alan Wallace. 

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Starfish thrower

Here is a lovely story written by Loren Eisley, a man of many titles but I think ‘anthropologist and philosopher’ may be a passable summary. 

From time to time we all come across the attitude of “I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference so why bother trying?” Or “The task is so large that I’ll never do it, so I might as well not even bother trying.” Maybe sometimes that attitude is coming from within. 

When we practice Buddhism it’s all about small steps leading to a larger goal – a goal that sometimes seems overwhelmingly huge. But step by step we abandon unskillful qualities and nurture skilful ones. De parvis grandis acervus erit. 

This story is a reminder of how we can each make a difference. So without further ado:

Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.

The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the person he said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference to that one!”

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The Ecstasy of Solitude

“The ecstasy of solitude comes when you are not frightened to be alone.”

– J. Krishnamurti 

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Is using an Amazon Go store ‘Right Action’?

Many of you, by now, have heard of Amazon’s new Just Walk Out technology. When I first heard about it my first reaction was how futuristic and exciting it looked. My second reaction was to worry about what this meant for the future of jobs in the service industry. 
And this is only one of many things to come along to threaten jobs as we move towards more and more common use of robotics and AI in the future. The brilliant Steven Hawking wrote an article recently where he stated:

the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

We should remember that in a free society we are free to choose many aspects of how we live our lives – what we spend our money on, what we participate in, etc. And we should also remember that this is an aspect of participating in a democracy.  More than simply one vote every x years, you have several ‘votes’ each day. Whether you spend money at local businesses or large chains is a vote for one or the other. Buying battery-farmed hen eggs is a vote for that industry to continue. Using a self service check out is a vote to move to a more automated service industry. 

It is the true ‘power of the people’, and it arguably shapes society more than any political vote ever could. 

I once heard a Dhamma teacher talk about ‘society-level kamma’ remarking that as well as individual action & result, there is also the fact that the combined actions of many people have consequences for society as a whole. The individuals of that society can be affected by the ‘bad kamma’ of the larger group. It can go some way to explaining why bad things happen to good people. 

So when we consider ‘Right Action’ should we be considering the wider impacts of our actions on society as a whole? Should we start being more aware of what we are ‘voting for’ with our wallets and actions each day?

(Image used is from Amazon Go Introduction video on YouTube.)

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The True Sound of Truth

A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified! 

“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit. 

“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”

“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?” 

“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced. 

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island. 

– Old Tibetan story. 

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Taking care of others is the same as taking care of myself

“If I am good to someone, he or she will learn goodness and, in turn, will be good to others. If I am not good, he or she will harbor hatred and resentment and will, in turn, pass it on to others. If the world is not good, I have to make more effort to be good myself.

Taking care of others is the same as taking care of myself. When I respect and serve others, I am serving all Buddhas everywhere. This is called great compassion. Compassion is a happy mental state.

When we protect ourselves through mindfulness, we are protecting others as well. When we protect other living beings through compassionate actions, we are also protecting ourselves.”

– Maha Ghosananda, Theravada Tradition