Full Moon Day: Three Questions

September 14, 2008

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Cripes! Is it that time already?

The following are slightly modified versions of my attempts to answer some important questions that were put to me in an email. So you’ll have to remain restless and worried for another two weeks until we look at the fourth of the five hindrances to meditation.

The questions were roughly as follows:

One and two: Should we always strive to avoid those people, places and situations that cause us difficulties? How do we avoid being swept away by certain situations?

Three: This concerned the issue of how to recognise a) authentic Buddhism and b) authentic Buddhists. This question is of crucial importance in these times as two things increase: Buddhism’s popularity; and the number of practices antithetical to the Dhamma which fall under the ‘Buddhist’ umbrella.

There was also some explanation required about the role of the precepts in Buddhist practice. This point was incorporated in the answer to the third question.

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In answer to the third question:

There is a lot of nonsense out there that is certainly not Buddhism, though it may be labelled as such. It is often just people following their likes and dislikes and taking out and distorting the bits from the Dhamma that they like and ignoring the rest (if they even know what the rest is, which often they don’t).

Buddhism is a complete package; it does not require anything to be added and to remove any of its features is like removing a leg from a tripod. This complete package is found in the Tipitaka (lit. the Three Baskets) – otherwise known as the Buddhist Canon, where the Buddha and his close disciples personally delineate the Noble Eightfold Path of morality, meditation and wisdom in its entirety. It is this Canon which authentic Buddhist teaching and practice will have as its immediate source.

For someone to be practising Buddhism properly they must be making some effort to follow this path in its three aspects. If they are not following this path then they can’t be said to be practising Buddhism.

Really and truly a Buddhist will have formally taken the Three Refuges and at least the Five Precepts, though this is not always easily done in the West.

If someone disregards the moral aspect of the path then they cannot be regarded as a Buddhist.

Morality is the indispensable foundation of the practice; the root of the tree. Morality enables us to:

1. – live a life of relative ease due to the lack of remorse resulting from our deeds. This in turn allows the mind to progress in meditation;

2. – weaken our defilements – the greed, hatred and delusion that spoil our minds, as their growth is inhibited.

3. – develop mindfulness by causing us to be circumspect and careful of what we say, do, and think; and

4. – help us to know ourselves; and most importantly to help us to understand the nature of our minds.

Be clear in your mind what Buddhism teaches and you’ll see whether people are following it or not.

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In answer to the first and second questions:

If we try to avoid the people and situations that cause us to feel bad then we’ll end up living in a cave in the desert. Therefore we must learn to deal with problems. It’s true, sometimes we must avoid certain people, places, and situations, but we cannot always live like this. If we try to then we’ll live in fear. We must learn to deal with things skilfully – that means in a way that does not bring about more suffering. We do this by keeping the precepts as our foundation and by developing meditation, mindfulness and awareness.

We must learn to be mindful. We develop mindfulness of our body – i.e. of the breath and of our posture – to stabilise body and mind. If we can do this intermittently throughout our day it will have a big effect. It will make us gradually more composed and collected; our mind will be more in touch with the present moment. If our meditation gets going then we will naturally be more composed and stable throughout day and night. Having this focused mindfulness as a base we can then learn to watch our minds. This is of paramount importance: this ability to watch and know your mind in all situations. This is the way to solve your difficulties. When you watch and know your mind then you do not run away from thoughts or feelings or people etc. You simply watch and know what is happening within you. When you look at these things their power over you is reduced. When we do not look at and observe the feelings, thoughts and fears in our minds then they have a hold over us. It’s like if you are sitting down and you know that someone behind you is up to no good, but they’re only up to no good as long as you don’t look at them. But as soon as you turn and look at them then they stop and run away. Looking at your thoughts with mindfulness is the same; they stop causing you problems when you watch and know them. We solve our problems not by running from them but by confronting them with mindfulness and awareness. This is how wisdom is born; through maintaining watchfulness over your mind, and by gradually seeing that all these phenomena that arise in the mind are empty. They are simply movements of the mind and nothing more.

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Recommended reading: An interview with the irreplaceable Bhikkhu Bodhi, the eminent translator of a large portion of Suttas and the author of erudite essays on the Dhamma. He makes some very important points in this interview.

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The next teaching will be on:

The New Moon Day, Monday, 29th September

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