The fire inside

We all have fuel inside, ready to be lit, ready to burn. It can burn with anger, pleasure, hatred, jealousy, craving, etc. When lit it burns the mind and body, though many do not realise it. It’s hard to speak and act wisely when on fire. 

Some people’s fire is lit with the tiniest spark, like a pile of dry straw. Others take more to light, like a pile of heartwood logs. 

When we practice the dharma we aim to douse our fuel with cool waters allowing us to keep a mind of compassion and equanimity even when standing amongst a blaze.

– Anonymous

The blind men and the elephant

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.

Believe nothing, no matter who said it…

This is not my usual type of post. Today I’m posting this fairly well known ‘quote’:

Believe nothing, no matter who said it, not even if I said it, if it doesn’t fit in with your own reason and common sense.

– Buddha?

But the reason I’ve put ‘quote’ in inverted commas like that is because this is not something that the Buddha is recorded to have ever said. 

And it’s misleading. 

The quote is a heavily paraphrased variation of something said in the Kalama Sutta:

“So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical deduction, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.'”

– Buddha. 

The first one, the misquote, is dangerous if you intend to follow the middle path because it can be used by people to justify carving out their own path, picking and choosing from the teachings, and clinging to their own views (maybe even views trapping the person in samsara – and here lies the danger).

The second, the genuine quote, actually warns against this. “…by logical deduction, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability…”

What the Buddha is actually teaching here is to test everything. To gain insight through first hand experience. Learning teachings is easy, but knowing them for yourself is hard. You must put the teachings to the test, put your own views to the test, put everything to the test before accepting it.

How do we put them to the test? With open minded discernment, with wisdom and right view, ideally with the guidance of a teacher, with an acceptance that your judgement will change and grow over time. 

“When you know for yourselves that, ‘These dhammas are unskillful; these dhammas are blameworthy; these dhammas are criticized by the wise; these dhammas, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.”

“When you know for yourselves that, ‘These dharmas are skillful; these dharmas are blameless; these dharmas are praised by the wise; these dharmas, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”

– Buddha. 

Crows

If the mind is continually in good shape, evil won’t have any place to land or catch hold. But if our goodness isn’t constant, evil will be able to find a perch. It’s like rowing a boat out into the ocean. If we stay close to shore, crows flying from the shore will be able to perch on the mast of the boat. If you don’t want them perching there, you have to row out as far as you can. The crows then won’t be able to perch on the mast. If any crow tries to keep flying out to the boat, it’ll lose sight of the shore and is likely to die out there in the ocean, because it’ll run out of strength, it’ll run out of food. It’ll have to die.

In the same way, if goodness catches hold of the greater part of the mind, evil will have to circle aimlessly around with nowhere to land. If it stays close by — meaning that goodness has only a small part of the heart — evil will be able to come flying in. Sometimes it waits on the opposite shore. If your strength of mind runs low, it’ll stay right nearby and catch hold of you easily.

– Ajahn Lee.

Bag of Nails

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the first day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.

“You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”

– Unknown origin.