Sunday, April 13, 2014

No shortcuts on The Path

Other [non-Buddhist] paths are either incomplete expressions of the noble eightfold path or are based on other principles.

For example, they may state that there is a being who can sidestep the law of kamma and provide for one's happiness without one's having to master the skills of the noble eightfold path, or that certain ritual actions or words can provide a similar shortcut to happiness.

People who follow either of these two latter beliefs could well feel threatened by outsiders who do not share their beliefs, for the outsiders are in effect denying the existence of a shortcut on which the insiders are placing their hopes. This explains why such people have often been intolerant of outside views.

But because the principle of kamma is a teaching of full personal responsibility, no one who believes in kamma will feel threatened by people who teach shortcuts around kamma. Buddhists who have yet to attain stream-entry may waver in their conviction — as the path can seem long and arduous, and the results slow in coming — and this is one reason why they are encouraged not to associate with anyone who rejects the principle of kamma.

But those who have had their first taste of Awakening can in no way be persuaded to doubt the principle, for they have seen that the Deathless can be touched only through a process that requires the utmost skill in mindfulness and discernment applied to the processes of one's own mind.

Their attitude toward other teachings is that of a skilled artisan toward those with lesser skills, or of a woman who has learned how to extract sesame oil from sesame seeds toward those who are still trying to extract it from gravel: she will want to teach them the right way if they are willing to listen, but if they are unwilling, she will tolerate their ignorance and hope that someday they will be ready to learn.

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "Wings to Awakening"

(formatting is mine)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Those who have been born are standing like a seed upon a needle

Life, personhood, pleasure and pain
— This is all that's bound together
In a single mental event
— A moment that quickly takes place.

Even the spirits who endure
For eighty-four thousand aeons
— Even these do not live the same
For any two moments of mind.

What ceases for one who is dead,
Or for one who's still standing here,
Are all just the same aggregates
— Gone, never to connect again.

The states which are vanishing now,
And those which will vanish some day,
Have characteristics no different
Than those which have vanished before.

With no production there's no birth;
With becoming present, one lives.
When grasped with the highest meaning,
The world is dead when the mind stops.

There's no hoarding what has vanished,
No piling up for the future;
Those who have been born are standing
Like a seed upon a needle.

The vanishing of all these states
That have become is not welcome,
Though dissolving phenomena stand
Uncombined from primordial time.

From the unseen, [states] come and go,
Glimpsed only as they're passing by;
Like lightning flashing in the sky
— They arise and then pass away.

~  Guhatthaka-suttaniddeso (Andrew Olendzki translation)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Describing "Samsara" accurately

The "guided meditation" movie "Samsara", available on Netflix, received this review:

"People who like “Samsara” — and some reviews have been ecstatic — hail it as an aesthetic feast. But the aestheticization of existence the film represents is so complete as to be utterly barren and insubstantial."

I'm assuming this is exactly what the director was (or should have) been aiming for...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Beautiful Asymmetry

True hatred requires that we view our enemy as the ultimate author of his thoughts and actions.

Love demands only that we care about our friends and find happiness in their company.

It may be hard to see this truth at first, but I encourage everyone to keep looking.

It is one of the more beautiful asymmetries to be found anywhere.

Sam Harris

Saturday, June 29, 2013

This/That conditionality - good thing it works or we'd have a real problem

The Buddha expressed this/that conditionality [idappaccayata] in a
simple-looking formula:

(1) When this is, that is. SYNCHRONIC (objects)
(2) From the arising of this comes the arising of that. LINEAR (events)
(3) When this isn’t, that isn’t. SYNCHRONIC (objects)
(4) From the stopping of this comes the stopping of that. LINEAR (events)
~ A 10.92

There are many possible ways of interpreting this formula, but only one does
justice both to the way the formula is worded and to the complex, fluid manner
in which specific examples of causal relationships are described in the Canon.
That way is to view the formula as the interplay of two causal principles, one
linear and the other synchronic, that combine to form a nonlinear pattern.
The linear principle – taking (2) and (4) as a pair – connects events, rather
than objects, over time; the synchronic principle – (1) and (3) – connects
objects and events in the present moment. The two principles intersect, so that
any given event is influenced by two sets of conditions: input acting from the
past and input acting from the present. Although each principle seems simple,
the fact that they interact makes their consequences very complex.
To begin with, every act has repercussions in the present moment together with
reverberations extending into the future. Depending on the intensity of the
act, these reverberations can last for a very short or a very long time. Thus
every event takes place in a context determined by the combined effects of past
events coming from a wide range in time, together with the effects of present
acts.

These effects can intensify one another, can coexist with little interaction or
can cancel one another out. Thus, even though it is possible to predict that a
certain type of act will tend to give a certain type of result – for example,
acting on anger will lead to pain – there is no way to predict when or where
that result will make itself felt.

The complexity of the system is further enhanced by the fact that both causal
principles meet at the mind. Through its views and intentions, the mind takes a
causal role in keeping both principles in action. Through its sensory powers it
is affected by the results of the causes it has set in motion. This creates the
possibility for the causal principles to feed back into themselves, as the mind
reacts to the results of its own actions.

These reactions can take the form of positive feedback loops, intensifying the
original input and its results, much like the howl in a speaker placed next to
the microphone feeding into it. They can also create negative feedback loops,
counteracting the original input, much like the action of a thermostat that
turns off a heater when the temperature in a room is too high, and turns it on
again when it gets too low. Because the results of actions can be immediate,
and the mind can then react to them immediately, these feedback loops can at
times quickly spin out of control; at other times, they may act as skillful
checks on one’s behavior.

For example, a man may act out of anger, which gives him an immediate sense of
dis-ease to which he may react with further anger, thus creating a snowballing
effect. On the other hand, he may come to understand that the anger is causing
his dis-ease, and so immediately does what he can to stop it. However, there
can also be times when the results of his past actions may obscure the dis-ease
he is causing himself in the present, so that he does not immediately react to
it one way or another. In this way, the combination of two causal principles –
influences from the past interacting with those in the immediate present –
accounts for the complexity of causal relationships as they function on the
level of immediate experience. However, the combination of the two principles
also opens the possibility for finding a systematic way to break the causal
web.

If causes and effects were entirely linear, the cosmos would be totally
deterministic, and nothing could be done to escape the machinations of the
causal process.

If they were entirely synchronic, there would be no relationship from one
moment to the next, and all events would be arbitrary. The web could break down
totally or reform spontaneously for no reason at all.

However, with the two modes working together, one can learn from causal
patterns observed from the past and apply one’s insights to disentangling the
same causal patterns acting in the present.  
If one’s insights are true, one can then gain freedom from those patterns.

For this reason, the principle of this/that conditionality provides an ideal
foundation, both theoretical and practical, for a doctrine of release.
And, as a teacher, the Buddha took full advantage of its implications, using it
in such a way that it accounts not only for the presentation and content of his
teachings, but also for their organization, their function, and their utility.
It even accounts for the need for the teachings and for the fact that the
Buddha was able to teach them in the first place.

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, ‘The Wings to Awakening,’ pp 10-12

(the formatting is mine)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Difference between "there is poison ivy" vs. grabbing a handful of "my" poison ivy

Whether physical or mental pain always has a cause. Everything which happens is part of a process. When we sit, pain may develop in the legs, back, shoulders and neck. When it develops, we normally identify the pain with ourselves. Out of habit, we start think ing or rather judging ourselves. We say "I am in pain" rather than "there is pain". Because we have been conditioned to react in this way, we consider this view perfectly normal and justifiable. The first description "I am in pain" is subjective and is an outcome of a defiled view. The second expression "there is pain" reflects more objectivity. It is much more accurate to say that "there is pain". There is no self, with which to identify the pain. In saying "I am in pain, my ear is painful, my shoulder is aching" we are already personalising the pain.

-Venerable Dhammasami

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Search->Possession->Loss

People are constantly trying to get beautiful things, animate or inanimate. If they do not get them, they go on searching for them until they succeed.

When they come to possess them, they to keep them and prevent them from being lost or destroyed. Thus, people are constantly striving, and constantly suffering. In the same way, they long to get other pleasant experiences, such as sweet sounds, delicious tastes, delightful touches, and they entertain fond hopes and thoughts. They strive to keep themselves healthy and long-lived so that they may enjoy these pleasures longer. In making these efforts, people have to feel anxious about themselves and others.

Though they try to obtain and maintain these pleasures, things do not happen as they wish. Pleasures go as quickly as they come. Decay soon sets in and destroys them. Then people suffer greatly, not only physically, but mentally too.

This affects not only human beings, but celestial beings too, who also try with similar purposes. Do not imagine that if one becomes a celestial being due to one’s good deeds that one gets to a place where every wish is fulfilled, and one becomes fully satisfied. No one is ever satisfied with what they have, and will always crave for more or better things.

To get more, further efforts must be made, and suffering will result from those efforts.

-Mahasi Sayadaw "A Discourse on the Hemavata Sutta"