Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
This is a law eternal.
– Dhammapada, verse 5.
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“You should train yourselves thus:
We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by loving-kindness,
make it our vehicle,
make it our basis,
exercise ourselves in it,
and fully perfect it.
Thus should you train yourselves.”
– Buddha, from the Samyutta Nikaya
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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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‘Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself- if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself- it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice.’
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Linji School, Thiền Buddhism
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Happy Christmas everyone. I hope you and those you love are having a happy day.
Since it is Christmas it seemed appropirate to post this small speech by Ajahn Candasiri about Jesus through Buddhist eyes.
“Having tried with sincerity to approach my Christian journey in a way that was meaningful within the context of everyday life, I had reached a point of deep weariness and despair. I was weary with the apparent complexity of it all; despair had arisen because I was not able to find any way of working with the less helpful states that would creep, unbidden, into the mind: the worry, jealousy, grumpiness, and so on. And even positive states could turn around and transform themselves into pride or conceit, which were of course equally unwanted.
Eventually, I met Ajahn Sumedho, an American-born Buddhist monk, who had just arrived in England after training for ten years in Thailand. His teacher was Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk of the Forest Tradition who, in spite of little formal education, won the hearts of many thousands of people, including a significant number of Westerners. I attended a ten-day retreat at Oakenholt Buddhist Centre, near Oxford, and sat in agony on a mat on the floor of the draughty meditation hall, along with about 40 other retreatants of different shapes and sizes. In front of us was Ajahn Sumedho, who presented the teachings and guided us in meditation, with three other monks.
This was a turning point for me. Although the whole experience was extremely tough – both physically and emotionally – I felt hugely encouraged. The teachings were presented in a wonderfully accessible style, and just seemed like ordinary common sense. It didn’t occur to me that it was ‘Buddhism’. Also, they were immensely practical and as if to prove it, we had, directly in front of us, the professionals – people who had made a commitment to living them out, twenty-four hours a day. I was totally fascinated by those monks: by their robes and shaven heads, and by what I heard of their renunciant lifestyle, with its 227 rules of training. I also saw that they were relaxed and happy – perhaps that was the most remarkable, and indeed slightly puzzling, thing about them.
I felt deeply drawn by the teachings, and by the Truth they were pointing to: the acknowledgement that, yes, this life is inherently unsatisfactory, we experience suffering or dis-ease – but there is a Way that can lead us to the ending of this suffering. Also, although the idea was quite shocking to me, I saw within the awakening of interest in being part of a monastic community.
So now, after more than twenty years as a Buddhist nun, what do I find as I encounter Jesus in the gospel stories?
Well, I have to say that he comes across as being much more human than I remember. Although there is much said about him being the son of God, somehow that doesn’t seem nearly as significant to me as the fact that he is a person – a man of great presence, enormous energy and compassion, and significant psychic abilities.
He also has a great gift for conveying spiritual truth in the form of images, using the most everyday things to illustrate points he wishes to make: bread, fields, corn, salt, children, trees. People don’t always understand at once, but are left with an image to ponder. Also he has a mission – to re-open the Way to eternal life; and he’s quite uncompromising in his commitment to, as he puts it, “carrying out his Father’s will”.
His ministry is short but eventful. Reading through Mark’s account, I feel tired as I imagine the relentless demands on his time and energy. It’s a relief to find the occasional reference to him having time alone or with his immediate disciples, and to read how, like us, he at times needs to rest.
A story I like very much is of how, after a strenuous day of giving teachings to a vast crowd, he is sound asleep in the boat that is taking them across the sea. His calm in response to the violent storm that arises as he is sleeping I find most helpful when things are turbulent in my own life.
I feel very caught up in the drama of it all; there is one thing after another. People listen to him, love what he has to say (or in some cases are disturbed or angered by it) and are healed. They can’t have enough of what he has to share with them. I’m touched by his response to the 4000 people who, having spent three days with him in the desert listening to his teaching, are tired and hungry. Realising this, he uses his gifts to manifest bread and fish for them all to eat.
Jesus dies as a young man. His ministry begins when he is thirty (I would be interested to know more of the spiritual training he undoubtedly received before then), and ends abruptly when he is only thirty-three. Fortunately, before the crucifixion he is able to instruct his immediate disciples in a simple ritual whereby they can re-affirm their link with him and each other (I refer, of course, to the last supper) – thereby providing a central focus of devotion and renewal for his followers, right up to the present time.
I have the impression that he is not particularly interested in converting people to his way of thinking. Rather it’s a case of teaching those who are ready; interestingly, often the people who seek him out come from quite depraved or lowly backgrounds. It is quite clear to Jesus that purity is a quality of the heart, not something that comes from unquestioning adherence to a set of rules.
His response to the Pharisees when they criticise his disciples for failing to observe the rules of purity around eating expresses this perfectly: “There is nothing from outside that can defile a man” – and to his disciples he is quite explicit in what happens to food once it has been consumed. “Rather, it is from within the heart that defilements arise.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t at this point go on to explain what to do about these.
What we hear of his last hours: the trial, the taunting, the agony and humiliation of being stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die – is an extraordinary account of patient endurance, of willingness to bear the unbearable without any sense of blame or ill will. It reminds me of a simile used by the Buddha to demonstrate the quality of metta, or kindliness, he expected of his disciples: “Even if robbers were to attack you and saw off your limbs one by one, should you give way to anger, you would not be following my advice.” A tall order, but one that clearly Jesus fulfills to perfection: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
– Ajahn Candasiri, Thai Forest Tradition.
There are times when the heart is in bad shape. Bad mental qualities get mixed up with it, making it even worse, making us suffer both in body and mind. These bad mental qualities are said to be “unskillful” (akusala). The Buddha teaches us to study these qualities so that we can abandon them.
There are other times when the heart is in good shape: at ease with a sense of well being. We feel at ease whether we’re sitting or lying down, whether we’re alone or associating with our friends and relatives. When the heart gains a sense of ease in this way, it’s said to be staying with the Dhamma. In other words, skillful (kusala) mental qualities have appeared in the heart. The skillful heart is what gives us happiness. This is why the Buddha taught us to develop these skillful qualities, to give rise to them within ourselves.
– Ajaan Suwat, Thai Forest Tradition.
Long, long ago, when Brahmadatta was reigning in Baranasi, a shifty ascetic with long, matted hair, lived near a certain little village. The landowner had built a modest hermitage in the forest for him, and daily provided him with excellent food in his own house.
The landowner had a great fear of robbers and decided that the safest course to protect his money was to hide it in an unlikely place. Believing the matted-haired ascetic to be a model of sainthood, he brought a hundred pieces of gold to the hermitage, buried them there, and asked the ascetic to keep watch over the treasure.
“There’s no need to say more, sir, to a man like me who has renounced the world. We hermits never covet what belongs to others.”
“That’s wonderful,” said the landowner, who went off with complete confidence in the hermit’s words.
As soon as the landowner was out of sight, the ascetic chuckled to himself, “Why, there’s enough here to last a man his whole life!”
Allowing a few days to elapse, the hermit dug up the gold and reburied it conveniently by the road. The following morning, after a meal of rice and succulent curries at the landowner’s house, the ascetic said,
“My good sir, I’ve been staying here, supported by you, for a long time. Frankly, living so long in one place is like living in the world, which is forbidden to ascetics like me. I really cannot remain here any longer; the time has come for me to leave.”
The landowner urged him to stay, but nothing could overcome the hermit’s determination.
“Well, then,” said the landowner, “if you must go, good luck to you.” Reluctantly, he escorted the ascetic to the outskirts of the village and returned home.
After walking a short way by himself, the ascetic thought it would be a good thing to cajole the landowner. Sticking a straw in his matted hair, he hurried back to the village.
“What brings you back again?” asked the surprised landowner.
“I just noticed that a straw from your roof got stuck in my hair. We hermits must not take anything which has not been given to us, so I have brought it back to you.”
“Throw it down, sir, and go your way,” said the landowner. “Imagine!” he said to himself.
“This ascetic is so honest he won’t even take a straw which does not belong to him. What a rare person!” Thus, greatly impressed by the ascetic’s honesty, the landowner bid him farewell again.
At that time a merchant was traveling to the border on business and happened to stop at that same little village, where he witnessed the ascetic’s return with the piece of straw. Suspicion grew in his mind that the hermit must have robbed the landowner of something. He asked the rich man whether he had deposited anything in the ascetic’s care.
“Yes,” the landowner answered rather hesitantly, “a hundred pieces of gold.”
“Well, why don’t you just go and see if it’s still safe?” the merchant suggested.
The landowner went to the deserted hermitage, dug where he had left his money, and found it gone. Rushing back to the merchant, he cried, “It’s not there!”
“The thief is certainly that long-haired rascal of an ascetic,” said the merchant. “Let’s catch him.”
The two men ran after the rogue and quickly caught him. They kicked him and beat him until he showed them where he had hidden the gold. After they had gotten back the money, the merchant looked at the coins and scornfully asked the ascetic,
“Why didn’t this hundred pieces of gold trouble your conscience as much as that straw? Take care, you hypocrite, never to play such a trick again!”
When his life ended, the merchant (who is said to have been the Buddha-to-be in a previous birth) passed away to fare according to his deserts.
– A Jataka tale, retold by Ken and Visakha Kawasaki.
Easily one of the saddest stories in the Buddhist texts, if not the saddest, the story of Patacara:
“Pregnant with her second child, Patacara was returning to her parents’ home, along with her husband and small firstborn child, to give birth.
Along the way, a great storm blew up, and she asked her husband to provide shelter for the family. As he was cutting grass and sticks to build a shelter, a snake bit him and he died of the poison. Unsheltered, and wondering at her husband’s long absence, Patacara gave birth and had to spend the night sheltering both her children against the rain and wind with nothing more than her body. The next morning, she found her husband dead.
Distraught, she decided to return to her parents’ home. However, a river — swollen from the rain of the previous night — ran across her way. Unable to carry both children across the river, she left her first-born on the near bank and waded through the raging current carrying her baby. Placing the baby on the far bank, she turned back to fetch her first-born. A hawk, seeing the baby, took it for a piece of flesh, and swooped down on it.
Seeing this, Patacara raised her hands and tried to chase it away, but to no avail: The hawk picked up the baby and carried it off. Meanwhile, her first-born — seeing his mother raising her hands — took it for a signal to cross the river. As he jumped into the raging current, he was carried off to his death.
Overwhelmed with grief, Patacara returned to her parents’ home, only to learn that it had burned down from a lightning strike in the previous night’s storm. Her parents and brother were at that moment being cremated on a single pyre. At this point, she went mad and began wandering around half-naked. Only on coming into the Buddha’s presence did she recover her senses. He taught her the Dhamma, and eventually she ordained and became an arahant.”
This heart wrenching story was very likely based on true events, but we’re given a happy ending of sorts. Patacara is alone, and mad, suffering intensely. She has lost everything. But then she gains everything – she becomes an arahant under Buddha’s guidance and finds the joy of enlightenment.
A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, “Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?”
The Buddha answered, “Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, ‘Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind… and show them an elephant.’ ‘Very good, sire,’ replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, ‘Here is an elephant,’ and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.
“When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, ‘Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?’
“Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, ‘Sire, an elephant is like a pot.’ And the men who had observed the ear replied, ‘An elephant is like a winnowing basket.’ Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.
“Then they began to quarrel, shouting, ‘Yes it is!’ ‘No, it is not!’ ‘An elephant is not that!’ ‘Yes, it’s like that!’ and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.
“Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.
“Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing…. In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus.”
Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,
“O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim,
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
– from the Tittha Sutta.