Sunday, January 11, 2015

We Create the Evil in Our World

Evil is a word many people use without thinking deeply about what it means. I want to compare common ideas about evil with Buddhist teachings on evil, if for no other reason than to facilitate deeper thinking about evil. I do not have perfect wisdom or perfect understanding of evil, I'm just talking about it because of all the horrible things going on in our world everyday. I cringe when I turn on the news, but I have to watch it. I usually have what I think is a healthy detachment, meaning I can carry on with my life without too much fear or too much sadness while still maintaining an awareness of the world I live in. I believe we are doing this to ourselves. We live in the world we create.

Thinking About Evil

People have different ideas about evil, where it comes from, why it exists. Here are the two I think are most common.

Evil as an intrinsic characteristic. It's common to think of evil as an intrinsic characteristic of some people or groups. In other words, some people are said to be evil. Evil is a quality that is inherent in their being.

Evil as an external force. In this view, evil lurks about and infects or seduces the unwary into doing bad things. Sometimes evil is personified as Satan or some other character from religious literature.

You can find much more profound ideas about evil in philosophies and theologies, eastern and western. But for this post I want to focus on Buddhist teachings and explain why Buddhism rejects both of these common ways of thinking about evil. 

Evil as a Characteristic

The act of sorting humanity into good and evil carries a terrible trap. When other people are thought to be evil, it becomes possible to justify doing harm to them. And in that kind of thinking are the seeds of genuine evil.

Human history is thoroughly saturated by violence and atrocities committed on behalf of good people against other people categorized as evil. I think I can say that most of the mass horrors humanity has inflicted on itself have come from this kind of thinking. People who are intoxicated by their own self-righteousness or who believe in their own intrinsic moral superiority can too easily give themselves permission to do terrible things to those they hate or fear. Or who get in their way.

Sorting people into divisions and categories is very un-Buddhist. The Buddha's teaching of the The Four Noble Truths tells us that suffering is caused by greed, but also that greed is rooted in the delusion of an isolated and separate self.

Closely related to this is the teaching of dependent origination, which says that everything and everyone is a web of interconnection, and every part of the web expresses and reflects every other part of the web.

And also closely related is the Mahayana teaching of shunyata, emptiness. If we are empty of intrinsic being, how can we be intrinsically anything? There is no-self for intrinsic qualities to stick to. (there are a ton of posts about shunyata on this blog...)

For this reason, a Buddhist is strongly advised not to fall into the habit of thinking of herself and others as intrinsically good or bad. Ultimately there is just action and reaction; cause and effect - Karma.

Evil as External Force

Some religions teach that evil is a force outside ourselves that seduces us into sin. This force is sometimes thought to be generated by Satan or various demons. The faithful are encouraged to seek strength outside themselves to fight evil, by looking to God.

The Buddha's teaching could not be more different --
"By oneself, indeed, is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself, indeed, is one purified. Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one purifies another." (Dhammapada, chapter 12, verse 165)
Buddhism teaches us that evil is something we create, not something we are or some outside force that infects us.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Siddartha Gautama's Story

There was a small country in what is now southern Nepal that was ruled by a clan called the Shakyas.  The head of this clan, and the king of this country, was named Shuddodana Gautama, and his wife was the beautiful Mahamaya.  Mahamaya was expecting her first born.  She had had a strange dream in which a baby elephant had blessed her with his trunk, which was understood to be a very auspicious sign to say the least.

As was the custom of the day, when the time came near for Queen Mahamaya to have her child, she traveled to her father's kingdom for the birth.  But during the long journey, her birth pains began.  In the small town of Lumbini, she asked her handmaidens to assist her to a nearby grove of trees for privacy.  One large tree lowered a branch to her to serve as a support for her delivery.  They say the  birth was nearly painless, even though the child had to be delivered from her side.  After, a gentle rain fell on the mother and the child to cleanse them.

It is said that the child was born fully awake.  He could speak, and told his mother he had come to free all mankind from suffering.  He could stand, and he walked a short distance in each of the four directions.  Lotus blossoms rose in his footsteps.  They named him Siddhartha, which means "he who has attained his goals."  Sadly, Mahamaya died only seven days after the birth.  After that Siddhartha was raised by his mother’s kind sister,  Mahaprajapati.

King Shuddodana consulted Asita, a well-known sooth-sayer, concerning the future of his son.  Asita proclaimed that he would be one of two things:  He could become a great king, even an emperor.  Or he could become a great sage and savior of humanity.  The king, eager that his son should become a king like himself, was determined to shield the child from anything that might result in him taking up the religious life.  And so Siddhartha was kept in one or another of their three palaces, and was prevented from experiencing much of what ordinary folk might consider quite commonplace.  He was not permitted to see the elderly, the sickly, the dead, or anyone who had dedicated themselves to spiritual practices.  Only beauty and health surrounded Siddhartha.

Siddhartha grew up to be a strong and handsome young man.  As a prince of the warrior caste, he trained in the arts of war.  When it came time for him to marry, he won the hand of a beautiful princess of a neighboring kingdom by besting all competitors at a variety of sports. Yashodhara was her name, and they married when both were 16 years old.

As Siddhartha continued living in the luxury of his palaces, he grew increasing restless and curious about the world beyond the palace walls.  He finally demanded that he be permitted to see his people and his lands.  The king carefully arranged that Siddhartha should still not see the kind of suffering that he feared would lead him to a religious life, and decried that only young and healthy people should greet the prince.
As he was lead through Kapilavatthu, the capital, he chanced to see a couple of old men who had accidentally wandered near the parade route.  Amazed and confused, he chased after them to find out what they were.  Then he came across some people who were severely ill.  And finally, he came across a funeral ceremony by the side of a river, and for the first time in his life saw death.  He asked his friend and squire Chandaka the meaning of all these things, and Chandaka informed him of the simple truths that Siddhartha should have known all along:  That all of us get old, sick, and eventually die.

Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had renounced all the pleasures of the flesh.  The peaceful look on the monks face would stay with Siddhartha for a long time to come.  Later, he would say this about that time:
When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old some day.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with youth anymore.When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick some day.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with health anymore.When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be dead some day.  I thought to myself:  I don’t want to be like the ignorant people.  After than, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore. 
At the age of 29, Siddhartha came to realize that he could not be happy living as he had been.  He had discovered suffering, and wanted more than anything to discover how one might overcome suffering.  After kissing his sleeping wife and newborn son Rahula goodbye, he snuck out of the palace with his squire Chandara and his favorite horse Kanthaka.  He gave away his rich clothing, cut his long hair, and gave the horse to Chandara and told him to return to the palace.    He studied for a while with two famous gurus of the day, but found their practices lacking.

He then began to practice the austerities and self-mortifications practiced by a group of five ascetics. For six years, he practiced. The sincerity and intensity of his practice were so astounding that, before long, the five ascetics became followers of Siddhartha.  But the answers to his questions were not forthcoming.  He redoubled his efforts, refusing food and water, until he was in a state of near death.One day, a peasant girl named Sujata saw this starving monk and took pity on him.  She begged him to eat some of her milk-rice.  Siddhartha then realized that these extreme practices were leading him nowhere, that in fact it might be better to find some middle way between the extremes of the life of luxury and the life of self-mortification.  So he ate, and drank, and bathed in the river.  The five ascetics saw him and concluded that Siddhartha had given up the ascetic life and taken to the ways of the flesh, and left him.

In the town of Bodh Gaya, Siddhartha decided that he would sit under a certain fig tree as long as it would take for the answers to the problem of suffering to come.  He sat there for many days, first in deep concentration to clear his mind of all distractions, then in mindfulness meditation, opening himself up to the truth.  He began, they say, to recall all his previous lives, and to see everything that was going on in the entire universe.  On the full moon of May, with the rising of the morning star, Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question of suffering and became the Buddha, which means “he who is awake.”

It is said that Mara, the evil one, tried to prevent this great occurrence.  He first tried to frighten Siddhartha with storms and armies of demons.  Siddhartha remained completely calm.  Then he sent his three beautiful daughters to tempt him, again to no avail.  Finally, he tried to ensnare Siddhartha in his own ego by appealing to his pride.  That, too, failed.  Siddhartha, having conquered all temptations, touched the ground with one hand and asked the earth to be his witness.

Siddhartha, now the Buddha, remained seated under the tree -- which we call the bodhi tree -- for many days longer. It seemed to him that this knowledge he had gained was far too difficult to communicate to others.  Legend has it that Brahma, king of the gods, convinced Buddha to teach, saying that some of us perhaps have only a little dirt in our eyes and could awaken if we only heard his story.  Buddha agreed to teach.

At Sarnath near Benares, about one hundred miles from Bodh Gaya, he came across the five ascetics he had practiced with for so long.  There, in a deer park, he preached his first sermon, which is called “setting the wheel of the teaching in motion.”  He explained to them the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.  They became his very first disciples and the beginnings of the Sangha or community of monks.

King Bimbisara of Magadha, having heard Buddha’s words, granted him a monastery near Rahagriha, his capital, for use during the rainy season.  This and other generous donations permitted the community of converts to continue their practice throughout the years, and gave many more people an opportunity to hear the teachings of the Buddha.

Over time, he was approached by members of his family, including his wife, son, father, and aunt.  His son became a monk and is particularly remembered in a sutra based on a conversation between father and son on the dangers of lying.  His father became a lay follower.  Because he was saddened by the departures of his son and grandson into the monastic life, he asked Buddha to make it a rule that a man must have the permission of his parents to become a monk.  Buddha obliged him.

His aunt and wife asked to be permitted into the Sangha, which was originally composed only of men.  The culture of the time ranked women far below men in importance, and at first it seemed that permitting women to enter the community would weaken it.  But the Buddha relented, and his aunt and wife became the first Buddhist nuns.

The Buddha said that it didn’t matter what a person’s status in the world was, or what their background or wealth or nationality might be.  All were capable of enlightenment, and all were welcome into the Sangha.  The first ordained Buddhist monk, Upali, had been a barber, yet he was ranked higher than monks who had been kings, only because he had taken his vows earlier than they!

Buddha’s life wasn’t without disappointments.  His cousin, Devadatta, was an ambitious man.  As a convert and monk, he felt that he should have greater power in the Sangha.   He managed to influence quite a few monks with a call to a return to extreme asceticism. Eventually, he conspired with a local king to have the Buddha killed and to take over the Buddhist community.  Of course, he failed.

Buddha had achieved his enlightenment at the age of 35.  He would teach throughout northeast India for another 45 years.  When the Buddha was 80 years old, he told his friend and cousin Ananda that he would be leaving them soon.  And so it came to be that in Kushinagara, not a hundred miles from his homeland, he ate some spoiled food and became very ill.  He went into a deep meditation under a grove of sala trees and died.  His last words were...
Impermanent are all created things;
Strive on with awareness.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Method of Developing Metta

The Method of Developing Metta 
from The State of Mind Called Beautiful
 by Sayadah U. Pandita

The method for developing metta is much the same as the methods for the other brahmacariyas. We will explain metta bhavana, then, as a basic example; and we will also briefly describe the theme of protective meditations.

The basic method for metta bhavana is simple. One deliberately generates wishes for others' welfare and happiness. Identifying one's own wish to be happy, one recognizes that others feel just the same way. A desire to help them arises; and so one goes out and does whatever helpful things one can. Helpful actions are a form of metta, known as kaya-kamma metta, friendly actions performed with the body. True loving-kindness includes kaya-kamma metta and two other forms of metta: vaci-kamma mettd, verbal acts of metta; and mano-kamma metta, friendly mental actions.

Four Kinds of Loving Speech

 To speak friendly words, recite suttas, give good advice, or simply to speak in a friendly, beneficial manner--all are forms of vaci-kamma metta.

The specific teachings on skillful speech, vaci-sucarita, indicate that for speech to be skillful it must be motivated by loving-kindness. Thus, to practice skillful speech is vaci-kamma metta.

The first type of skillful speech is truthful speech. One wishes to inform the other person honestly, so he or she may have correct understanding and knowledge. This is a wholesome, kind intention. Honesty is a form of loving-kindness.

Second, one chooses words that are unifying rather than divisive. Not only is the intent based in metta but the result of such speech is sure to be a further expression of loving-kindness.

Third, we choose words that are sweet and pleasing, not rough, harsh language. We want to make people happy when they hear us talking. At the same time, we guard against deceit and flattery, which contain an element of dishonesty.

The fourth type of vaci-sucarita is speaking of meaningful, essential things. Not wanting to waste the other person's time, we offer worthwhile information and understanding.''

People who practice vaci-sucarita will easily find friends and support. Should they become leaders, they must not suddenly abandon the principles of skillful speech. Leaders will be trusted and respected if they do not lie to the public, if they speak in a way that builds trust and friendship, if they refrain from speaking roughly or threateningly; and if they make speeches that are pithy and meaningful.

Vaci-sucarita is important in all kinds of organizations and groups --families, businesses, communities, governments. It is especially crucial in the religious arena, given that skillful speech is based on cetana-metta, or kind intention. When people sense cetana-metta in a religious figure they become devoted; but if kind intent is lacking, they won't want to hear anything else. As soon as a religious leader indulges in wrongful or deliberately deceptive speech, it's the beginning of the end. So long as their lies remain concealed, leaders may retain some followers, but when the truth is exposed they will undergo a public downfall.

People who love to gossip and pass around divisive tidbits often claim they just want to be kind and helpful, but this is untrue. Similarly, rough, coarse language and frivolous time-wasting chatter reveal a dearth of metta. In general, ill-intentioned speech, vaci-duccarita, turns people away. People are attracted to speech that is truthful, meaningful, unifying, and friendly.

Vaci-sucarita, skillful speech, and vaci-kamma metta verbal acts of loving-kindness, are beneficial for everyone. The more one practices them, the more power one will have to gather others together into a respectful and supportive group. The kind intentions must be genuine, though.

Mental Kindness
The third and final form of metta is mano-kamma metta acts of loving-kindness performed by the mind. Essentially this means wishing others to be well and happy. Mano-kamma metta can be radiated at all times, in all postures. It can occur as a spontaneous wish or a deliberately repeated phrase like "May she (or he, or they) be happy." To recite verbal formulas silently in the mind is the method of formal metta meditation, which can develop one's loving-kindness to an extraordinary level. It will be described extensively below.

Loving-Kindness as a Protective Practice
Metta bhavana has two possible goals. It can be used to gain the jhanas, or absorptions, states of very strong concentration; or it can be used as a Guardian Meditation, leading to freedom from danger and enmity.

The technique for developing jhanic concentration has many fine points that we will not go into here, since our emphasis is on developing the insight knowledges through satipattthana vipassana meditation. Sufficient moment-to-moment concentration arises in satipatthana vipassana practice to fulfill the Noble Eightfold Path and lead to freedom from the defilements.

The protective form of metta bhavana is extremely beneficial. It generates wholesome mental states, guards against inner and outer dangers and disturbances, and develops the perfections according to the example of the Buddha.

There are enemies, vera; and there is also fear, bhaya. The two are related, for if we are not free from enemies we endure danger and fear. We already distinguished outer and inner enemies--puggala vera, the enemy that comes in the form of a person, and akusala vera and kilesa vera, unwholesomeness and mental defilements. Outer enemies are encountered relatively rarely, while the inner enemies attack us night and day, unless we protect ourselves with meditation.

Dosa is an internal enemy, as is raga, or lust, which so often poses as metta. When dosa and raga arise in the stream of consciousness they disturb it; they also have the potential to bring disaster to oneself and others. Hatred, when indulged, hardens into resentment. Lust too can grow into a destructive passion. Whenever a destructive mental state is present, the mind becomes rough, coarse, wild, heavy, dosed, disgusting, and dreadful. In contrast, a mind filled with metta is peaceFul, lovable, light, and open.

The First Wish of Metta Meditation
To be free from hatred and lust is avera, to lack an enemy. This wonderful state is the first wish we generate toward others in formal metta bhavana. "May he or she be free from enemies," we say to ourselves, thinking of both inner and outer enemies. (It is all right to vary the verbal formula slightly, as long as the essence of the wish remains. For instance, the phrase you use could be "May he or she be free from danger" or "May he or she be free from enmity, danger, and fear.")

People often ask, When one meditates by radiating metta to other beings, will these others become peaceful? This is not certain. What is certain is that one's own internal enemies, dosa and raga, will be pacified and one will become peaceful oneself.
If we practice loving-kindness, it will certainly arise. If we keep at it, our metta will gradually increase, growing powerful enough to quell the internal enemies of hatred and greed. Once these enemies are subdued, one is no longer so quick to respond to others in an angry or self-centered way--for example, by immediately forming negative judgments of those we meet, or by feeling jealous and suspicious of family members. Generally if one does not radiate metta, or if one's practice is weak, one remains easy prey for hatred, greed, lust, and so forth. One can end up violating the precepts by killing, stealing, verbal unkindness, sexual misconduct, or intoxication.

Protection from Inner and Outer Danger
Wrongdoing results from a tormented mind; it also leads to further dangers. By protecting us against inner enemies, metta bhavana also averts the dangers that result from wrongdoing. These dangers are:

Attanuvada-bhaya, the fear or danger of self-blame, feeling ashamed and guilty about what one has done.
Paranuvdda-bhaya, the fear of censure by others, losing the respect and support of people who have good judgment. Kind, ethical people tend to avoid those who habitually indulge in wrongdoing.
Danda-bhaya, fear of punishment by the authorities. If one kills, steals, lies, takes intoxicants, and is generally unruly, sooner or later this will lead to conflict with the secular authorities.
Duggati-bhaya, fear of being reborn in an unfavorable existence. Just as eating unsuitable food leads to an upset stomach, anytime one acts on a defiled intention one will suffer the consequences.
Clearly, no happiness arises in the mind of a person who is facing guilt, punishment, torture, and unfavorable rebirths.

Formula for Reciting Loving-Kindness

The wish we are emanating, for others to be free from enemies or danger, is expressed in a short, simple phrase that encompasses all possible problems a being can face: outer and inner enemies, wrongdoing, and all of its future consequences. If this wish were to come true, the being toward whom we're directing it would be perfectly happy and calm. Since we're wishing them to be freed from inner enemies, we are also wishing they might reach ultimate liberation of mind, perfect peace and freedom.

So, as we mentally recite the formula "May this person be free from enemies," we're emanating a pure volition for their happiness. Though it's uncertain what the result of this will be for the recipient, great joy will develop in one's own mind. One begins to understand what it is like to be freed from inner enemies, oneself.

Metta practice bestows the power to overcome kodhummattaka, mental madness based on hatred, colloquially called blind rage. Gripped by kodhummattaka, one goes berserk, out of control, and barely knows what one is doing. With metta bhfivanfi, one's knee-jerk responses become gentler, toned down; one's thoughts are less distorted, more humane.

People with strong metta no longer wish disadvantages upon others. They genuinely hope for others' happiness. They can put up with being insulted; they can forgive and forget. They let go of grudges and can sacrifice their own benefit for the sake of other beings. These wise, kind, beautiful qualities all arise due to lack of hatred in the mind. As metta grows stronger, the beauty of the mind increases. A generous, tolerant, unselfish person will also tend to be loved by others; he or she will be relatively free of puggala vera, enemies in human form. Thus, the protective quality of metta bhavana works inwardly and outwardly. It gradually tames the mind and behavior. As one's own little world is pacified, peace arises in the surrounding world.
Radiating Metta

To wish others to be free from enmity and danger is an efficient, focused way of radiating metta. The wish, in the form of a phrase, is radiated repeatedly. Metta can also be radiated spatially, first to those within one's home, then to those in the immediate neighborhood, and progressively to all beings in one's village, township, state, country, world, and universe.

If one's wishes are dedicated wholly to the welfare and happiness of others, metta reaches the level of metta-parami, the perfected loving-kindness of a buddha. Each and every time one radiates loving-kindness, either to individuals or groups, one is protecting oneself, developing metta-parami, gaining merit, and sowing a beneficial kammic seed that will bear fruit someday. By radiating metta hundreds or thousands of times, one protects oneself, develops metta-parami, and gains merit hundreds or thousands of times~quite a matter for rejoicing.

Radiating metta once per second, within a minute one protects oneself, develops metta-parami, and gains merit sixty times. Radiating loving-kindness for five minutes, one develops metta-parami and gains merit three hundred times. An hour offers thirty-six hundred instances of protection, parami, and merit.

But if we radiate the phrase "May so-and-so be well and happy" a thousand times and then speak roughly to that person, we cannot be said to possess real loving-kindness. After radiating loving-kindness mentally, we must also express it in verbal and bodily actions. Anytime we relate to other beings, we should do so with threefold loving-kindness–mental, verbal, and bodily acts of metta. This point should be well noted.

Still, it is said in the texts that a single moment of radiating loving-kindness mentally is more beneficial than cooking up huge pots of rice and offering them to others in the morning, noon, and evening. The Sarhyutta Nikaya states this very clearly radiating loving-kindness even for the time it takes to pull a cow's udder once is far better than
making huge rice offerings three times a day. They're not talking about just one giant pot of rice, but three hundred giant pots in the morning, three hundred more at noon, and again three hundred gigantic rice pots in the evening! It would seem that a point is being made.

Self-Esteem and Human Status
Most people hold themselves in high esteem; this is why they so easily lose patience. Impatience is a form of anger based on pride and conceit, or mana. Conceited ill will causes one to lose one's tolerance and humanity. One may continue to look like a human being from the outside, but one's mind and behavior resemble a hungry ghost's. If one remains just as irritable and impatient after radiating metta, the practice has been superficial. It is a sign that one needs to practice more. Maybe then one will start being a little bit more generous and succeed in rising up to human status and eventually become a distinguished, even an outstanding human being.

In human life it is quite possible to fulfill one's social duties, be generous, and improve one's mental states through meditation. If one can do all this, one will not be just a human being, and not just a distinguished human being, but a true human being. As such, when relating to others one will feel happy, cool, and peaceful.

Unselfishness, the Perfection of Loving-Kindness
Since we are practicing metta along the direction of developing paramis, it is good to delve into the meaning of this term.

Parami translated as "perfection," but it means "noble becoming" or "the business of a noble person." When performing wholesome deeds of generosity, dana, when observing morality (sila), and especially in metta-bhavana it is extremely important that there be no selfish interest involved. This is the meaning of the term "noble." It has nothing to do with social class--or, rather, it expresses the Buddha's definition of what is valuable and respectable in human affairs.

When performing a generous deed, it should be done entirely for the benefit of others. Only then does it qualify as true generosity. This is fairly obvious, since selfishness and generosity are contradictory. The commitment to maintain sila, too, can be altruistic, since a refined morality includes the recognition that others are just as worthy of good treatment as oneself. Likewise, when radiating loving-kindness we can do so entirely for the welfare and happiness of others.

Anytime we are generous, moral, or kind, there should be no hint of selfishness in our attitude.

Wholesome acts of morality, generosity, and kindness do not, however, lead to assurance in the Dhamma. Only the insight knowledges attained in satipatthana vipassana meditation can give that ultimate assurance--the assurance that one has understood the truth of existence and will no longer be subjected to suffering. We have been talking about the importance of selflessness in the metta practice. However, metta practice does not by itself lead to the ultimate understanding of the Noble Eightfold Path, to liberation of the mind from suffering, or to what is called "assurance in the Dhamma." When it comes time to practice the Dhamma to attain stream entry, we may feel motivated by a profound wish for release from the suffering we experience in ourselves. To have a certain degree of self-interest here is fine. The texts say that this desire is perfectly legitimate. So, when practicing the Dhamma to attain stream entry, one will be working hard in hopes of being freed from wrong views, doubt, and the danger of rebirth in states of loss. There's nothing wrong with harboring some hope of success, and no harm is done to others either. We've already discussed how one's own insight meditation practice benefits other beings.

In all other areas besides this, one should guard strenuously against selfish interest and instead focus on benefiting others. This is a noble aim; a person who undertakes such noble activity is also called parami. Persons worthy of the title parami will act from genuine loving-kindness and compassion. They are not hoping to gain name and fame or a long life nor even to be freed from the cycle of birth and death, samsara. Their motivation is altruistic.