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Two Kinds of Thought

“Bhikkhus, whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of renunciation, he has abandoned the thought of sensual desire to cultivate the thought of renunciation, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of renunciation. If he frequently thinks and ponders upon thoughts of non-ill will… upon thoughts of non-cruelty, he has abandoned the thought of cruelty to cultivate the thought of non-cruelty, and then his mind inclines to thoughts of non-cruelty.”

(Majjhima Nikāya 19.11; Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, trans., and Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. and ed., The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya, 4th ed., Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009, p. 209.)

In an episode of her podcast The Happiness Lab titled “Dial D for Distracted,” Dr. Laurie Santos describes what psychologists call “inattentional blindness.” What you focus on can make you miss a lot of other things. What if our minds are lying to us about what’s important, leading us away from what really can make us happy? In particular, the quick and constant access to news and social media on our mobile devices seem to take us away from fully experiencing moments that would have enriched us or made us happy. One example was a new mother realizing she was sitting next to her newborn, absently absorbed in looking down at her phone while her baby gazed steadily at her. This realization led her to figure out how to “retrain the muscle of attention.”

Now that we are all more isolated and have a lot of bad news to follow out in the world, this problem is obviously true. And paying too much attention to these subjects can not only cause us to suffer, make us feel that things are out of control, but can also greatly interfere with our ability to remain mindful during the day and focus on our practice. I find that when I sit down to meditate, often what I’ve been paying attention to “out there” can now take a lot more effort to put aside.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu’s talk from September 21, 2019 “In Control of Your Thoughts” addresses this issue in a very helpful way. The talk explores how what we think about can affect our sense of well-being. When greed, anger, and delusion take over our minds, they can take us to places that are pretty bad. Learning how to put aside concerns of the world is a great relief for the mind. And then focusing on the breath and making it comfortable can lead us to a sense of settling down:

The real sources of the suffering that weighs down the mind, as the Buddha pointed out, come from within the mind itself. He made a comparison: It’s like rust. Rust comes out of the iron, and then the rust eats the iron away. When you find the mind weighed down with things, you can ask yourself, what is the mind doing to weigh itself down? When you learn the skill of how to stay with the breath, put down your other thoughts, you get some control over the mind. You can see when it’s wandering off in ways that are not very helpful, that are oppressive. You can pull it back. You can direct it in directions that are actually more helpful. It is the force that’s shaping our life more than anything else, the intentions of the mind. And yet if they are out of control, that means your life is out of control.

What we choose to take in and focus on can have a great effect on the mind. Training our minds to focus on skillful rather than unskillful thoughts both on and off the cushion can help us develop a sense of well-being that will settle us down and enable us to continue our practice.

May everyone abide in well-being.

—Pam

Right View and Kamma

“He has right view, undistorted vision, thus: ‘There is what is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are good and virtuous ascetics and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.’”

(From Majjhima Nikāya 41.14; Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. and ed., In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005, p. 160.)

In early Buddhist sources the Buddha makes few philosophical claims. Most of his teaching describes the path that he found led to a supreme happiness, or awakening, how to understand and practice that path, and his encouragement to others to do so. One philosophical claim that he did make, however, is that we can choose what actions we take, and that the choices have real consequences. This is the principle of kamma (Sanskrit: karma).

The Buddha’s explanation of kamma is essentially that action and its results are real, and that by cultivating skillful action one can develop actual spiritual attainments. These attainments provide insights into how things really are, which, when clearly seen and acted upon, give rise to long term happiness and the possibility of liberation.

Some of the Buddha’s contemporaries claimed that one’s welfare depended on proper performance of ritual action. The Buddha challenged this idea, describing it as wrong grasp of rules and observances. Instead, he taught that kamma equated to one’s volition (cetanā): “It is volition that I call kamma; for having willed, one acts by body, speech, and mind” (AN 6:63). The quality of the intention underlying any volition determines whether the resulting action is skillful or not.

According to the Buddha, skillful intentions, such as non-greed, goodwill and compassion, when developed and acted on, produce long-term results that support one’s well-being and happiness. Unskillful intentions, such as greed, ill-will, and wishing harm, developed and acted on, ultimately give rise to results that are contrary to one’s well-being and happiness. The Buddha urged his followers to purify their intentions, and the resulting actions by body, speech, and mind, in order to cultivate long-term happiness and develop the path to liberation.

Key to developing the path taught by the Buddha is the first element of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view (sammādiṭṭhi). Right view as explained by the Buddha consists of understanding the four noble truths, and accepting (as a working hypothesis at least) that the principle of kamma is correct. As always, he invited his followers to test these things to see for themselves if they are true.

I can’t say for sure that kamma works just as the Buddha described it, but I try to act on it as my working hypothesis. The principle motivates me to look at the quality of the intentions underlying my bodily actions, speech, and thinking. The happiness and sense of peace that comes from acting this way seems to confirm the Buddha’s claims. I also experience the principle of kamma as empowering, since it says that my well being and happiness is ultimately something that depends on my choice, not on fate, or the actions of a god or other being.

As with many of the Buddha’s teachings you can try them out as a personal experiment. If you’re inclined, this week try tuning into to the quality of your intentions before, during, or after you act on them. You might consider to what extent the intention was influenced by craving or aversion. If so, did the action seem to give rise to harm or well being for yourself, or for others? Conversely, you might notice if your actions are motivated by non-greed, goodwill, or compassion. If so, what result did that seem to produce for yourself, or for others?

For those wishing to explore this topic further, Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu has given many Dhamma talks on the the theme. You can find them by visiting Dhammatalks.org and searching on “kamma” and “karma”. A longer discussion by Ṭhānissaro on the topic that I find valuable is:

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu – The War on Karma

May we all find happiness in acting on skillful intention.

Best wishes,

—Steve

Dear friends,

We are continuing to not hold our Monday evening practice sessions and Saturday morning retreats in order to ensure that we do not contribute to further spread of the coronavirus. The Eno River UU Fellowship (ERUUF), where ERBC meets, continues to monitor health and safety guidance from local, state, and national public health experts to determine when it will be prudent to allow in-person meetings again.

We are sending out extended sutta-passage-of-the-week emails each Monday, including suggestions for practice. If you are not receiving our weekly emails, and would like to, please visit our email list sign up page.

If you have suggestions about how we can best support each other during this time, please feel free to let me know by email at smseiberling@gmail.com.

“May all beings live happily, may they be free from enmity, free from affliction, and free from anxiety.”

Steve

When the Buddha teaches lay people in early Buddhist sources, he often emphasizes generosity. In addition to benefiting recipients, one of the results of giving (dāna) is that it can uplift the mind of the person who gives. Giving can take the form of monetary donations, but we can act with generosity (cāga) in many other ways as well. Taking the time to listen to someone in need, cultivating good will, refraining from harsh speech, are just a few of those ways.

You may want to consider how you already practice generosity, and how it affects your state of mind and happiness when you do. If you do not have an intentional form of generosity practice, you may wish to explore that and see what it contributes to your development of the path.

“O monks, if people knew, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would they allow the stain of stinginess to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with. But, monks, as people do not know, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given, and the stain of stinginess obsesses them and takes root in their minds.”

From Itivuttaka 26, modified from Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans., In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pāli Canon, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005, p. 169.

The Eno River Buddhist Community Sutta Study Group will start again later this month. The study group provides an opportunity to explore more deeply what the Buddha taught based on material from the collection of discourses (Sutta Piṭaka). We will look at key topics thematically, such as impermanence (anicca), not-self (anattā), and mental proliferation (papañca), as well close reading of select discourses from the Middle Length collection (Majjhima Nikāya).

We will meet twice monthly starting at the end of September through May of next year. The group is small to allow for good discussion, and is best suited to those with previous experience studying the suttas. Please contact Steve Seiberling at smseiberling@gmail.com if you’re interested in joining us, or if you’d like more information. You’ll also find more details on our Sutta Study Group page.

Bhikkhus, these four times, rightly developed and coordinated, gradually culminate in the destruction of the taints. What four? The time for listening to the Dhamma, the time for discussing the Dhamma, the time for serenity, and the time for insight. These four times, rightly developed and coordinated, gradually culminate in the destruction of the taints.

from Aṅguttara Nikāya 4:147 (Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans., The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2012, p. 520).

 

All experience is preceded by mind,

led by mind, made by mind.

Speak or act with a corrupted mind

And suffering follows

As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

 

All experience is preceded by mind,

led by mind, made by mind.

Speak or act with a peaceful mind

And happiness follows

Like a never departing shadow.

 

He abused me, attacked me, defeated me, robbed me.

For those carrying on like this hatred does not end.

She abused me, attacked me, defeated me robbed me.

For those not carrying on like this hatred ends.

 

Hatred never ends through hatred.

By nonhate alone does it end.

This is an ancient truth.

 

Many do not realize that we here must die.

For those who realize this

Quarrels end.

           –  The Dhammapada, Chpt I,  trans. Gil Fronsdal

 

May all beings be free from suffering and from the causes of suffering.

Today, September 17, 2016, is the date chosen by the Alliance for Bhikkhunis to celebrate the establishing of the Bhikkhunī Order by the Buddha for female monastics. This year also marks the 2600th anniversary of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha, according to Theravāda tradition, and events in observance are planned internationally throughout the year.

From the beginning of his teaching to the end of his life, the Buddha asserted the importance of establishing a Four-fold Assembly composed of female and male lay people and monastics. We are privileged to live in a time during which the Buddha’s original vision is being restored. Over the past twenty years, traditions in which the Bhikkhunī lineage had disappeared, been weakened, or was never established, are experiencing a resurgence of efforts to bring about full and equal participation of women in Buddhist monastic life.

You may like to celebrate International Bhikkhunī Day and the 2600th anniversary of the Bhikkhunī Saṅgha by learning a bit more about the women and men who have worked to bring about the renewal of the Bhikkhunī Sangha. The film “The Buddha’s Forgotten Nuns” offers an inspirational telling of some aspects of this story. It is available for viewing at: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/50345/The-Buddha-s-Forgotten-Nuns.

If you’d like to learn more about the monasteries where the contemporary renaissance of the Bhikkhunī Sangha is being nurtured, the Dhammadharini website is a good place to start exploring these pioneer communities. In addition to providing a window into the life of the Dhammadharini community of Buddhist nuns, the site offers many links to other Bhikkhunī communities and organizations.

In honor of the 6th International Bhikkhunī Day, you may take inspiration from reading some of the verses composed by Bhikkhunīs who lived during the time of the Buddha. A collection of 73 of these poems taken from the Therīgāthā, can be found online at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/.

The following verses from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha express the importance of the Four-fold Assembly in supporting the life of the Buddha’s teachings.

One who is competent and self-confident,
learned, an expert on the Dhamma,
practicing in accord with the Dhamma,
is called an adornment of the Saṅgha.

A bhikkhu accomplished in virtue,
a learned bhikkhunī,
a male lay follower endowed with faith,
a female lay follower endowed with faith:
these are the ones that adorn the Saṅgha;
these are the Saṅgha’s adornments.

© Bhikkhu BodhiThe Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, AN 4:7,  (Wisdom Publications, 2012).

On Monday, August 31st, the Eno River Buddhist Community’s Monday evening program will focus on the Buddha’s teachings on the five themes for frequent reflection. In addition to the regular sitting and walking meditation periods, there will be a Dhamma talk on the five themes as well as time for guided reflection and sharing around this practice. As always, newcomers and visitors are welcome.

In Chapter 5 of The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, the Buddha recommends that all his followers, whether a woman or a man, a householder or a monastic, often reflect on these five themes:

  • ‘I am subject to aging; I am not exempt from aging.’
  • ‘I am subject to illness; I am not exempt from illness.’
  • ‘I am subject to death; I am not exempt from death.’
  • ‘I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me.’
  • ‘I am the owner of my kamma [actions], the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do.’

(AN 5:57; modified from Bhikkhu Bodhi 2012)

The five themes for frequent reflection represents one of the many teachings in the early discourses which supports of the development of samatha (tranquility) and vipassanā (insight). By regularly bringing attention to these five themes, we incline the mind towards seeing things clearly as they actually are and towards the stilling and letting go of clinging.

One way to structure a practice of reflecting on the five themes would be to set aside a specific time each day to read and consider them. You might consider questions such as the following: How do the statements offered by the Buddha match your own experience? What are your responses as you consider each statement? Do they bring up particular feelings, thoughts, images, associations? What is the relationship between the fifth theme and the other four statements?

Please bring photographs if you wish – Those who wish are encouraged to bring some photographs of yourself that were taken at different ages to the August 31st session. We will use the photos to create a table display in support of the evening’s reflections.

The August 31st program will be led by Callie Justice who is one of the Eno River Buddhist Community’s program and practice leaders. Please feel free to contact Callie if you have any questions about the plan for this Monday evening session at justice.callie@yahoo.com.

We’ve been studying and practicing the teachings on the four establishments of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna) on Monday evenings for the last several months. As we’ve done this, we’ve focused on the earliest form of this practice that can be gleaned by studying early Buddhist texts. Here are some resources if you would like to study this topic further or continue to develop your practice of it.

Callie and I have found Bhikkhu Anālayo’s work on satipaṭṭhāna to be especially helpful. He has compared the Pāli and Chinese versions of the “Discourse on Establishing Mindfulness” to clarify what is likely to have been the earliest form of this teaching. His article, Exploring the Four Satipaṭṭhānas in Study and Practice, is particularly helpful as a summary of how this approach can be applied as an integrated practice.

A guided meditation by Bhikkhu Analayo, leading one through all seven of the contemplations found in the earliest form of satipaṭṭhāna, is available on the Dharma Seed website.

For those wishing to explore this topic in depth, Ven. Anālayo’s book, Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna, is a detailed comparison of the Pāli and Chinese versions of this discourse. The book also discusses the implications of what emerges from this study and how to practice with it.

Callie and I have found these writings, as well as teachings on this topic given by Bhikkhu Analayo on his retreats, very valuable as we’ve looked into satipaṭṭhāna practice over the past year.

The Eno River Buddhist Community’s Guiding Committee would like to make available the several documents defining the structures and processes which support the life of our community. The documents listed below were developed over the past several years through the work of many people. Deepest thanks to each of them.

In order to make this information accessible, it will be available both on the Leadership Information page on this website and in ‘hard copy’ format for viewing at ERBC gatherings.

We hope that knowing more of the particulars about how ERBC works will encourage those who are interested in considering serving in a leadership role to investigate that possibility, and that it will give all who participate in ERBC a fuller, deeper sense of our community.

Please feel free to contact members of the Guiding Committee with any questions or comments on this information.

The Eno River Buddhist Community’s framework defining documents are:

Becoming More Involved in the Eno River Buddhist Community

Guidelines for Serving as a Leader in the Eno River Buddhist Community

Leadership Groups in the Eno River Buddhist Community

ERBC Mission Statement, ERUUF Mission Statement, & UUA Principles

Thank you for your interest.

With warm good wishes –

The Eno River Buddhist Guiding Committee

Regina Bartolone

rfbartolone@yahoo.com

Betsy Crites

bcrites@sonic.net

Callie Justice

justice.callie@yahoo.com