Archive for September, 2006



THE ELIMINATION OF ANGER, With two stories retold from the Buddhist texts by Ven. K. Piyatissa Thera

The ultimate goal of Buddhism is the deathless condition of Nibbana, the sole reality.  Hence, one who aspires to that state should renounce mundane pursuits and attachments, which are ephemeral, for the sake of that reality.  But there are very few who are sufficiently mature to develop themselves to achieve that state in this very life. Thus the Buddha does not force the life of renunciation upon those who lack the spiritual capacity to embark upon the higher life. Therefore, one should follow the path of mundane advantage which is twofold, namely, the advantage obtainable here in this very life and the advantage obtainable in future lives, as steps on the path to the spiritual life.  Although one may enjoy the pleasures of life, one must regard one’s body as an instrument with which to practice virtue for one’s own and other’s benefit; in short, one should live a useful life of moral integrity, a life of simplicity and paucity of wants. As regards acquisition of wealth, the Buddha said:  "One must be diligent and energetic," and as regards the safeguarding of one’s wealth, "one must be mindful and economical." It is not impossible that even the life of such a man may be somehow or other disturbed and harassed as a result of the actions of "unskillful" men.  Although this might induce him to abandon his chosen path, it is at such times that one must not forget the steps to be taken for the purpose of establishing peace.  According to the teaching of the Buddha this includes the reflection:  "Others may be harmful, but I shall be harmless, thus should I train myself."  We must not forget that the whole spirit of Buddhism is one of pacification.  In the calm and placid atmosphere of the Buddha’s teaching there is every chance, every possibility, of removing hatred, jealousy and violence from our mind. It is no wonder if we, at times, in our everyday life, feel angry with somebody about something.  But we should not allow this feeling to reside in our mind.  We should try to curb it at the very moment it has arisen.  

Generally there are eight ways to curb or control our anger.

The first method is to recollect the teachings of the Buddha.  On very many occasions the Buddha explained the disadvantages of an angry temper.  Here is one of his admonitions:

Suppose some bandits catch one of you and sever his body limb from limb with a two-handed saw, and if he should feel angry thereby even at that moment, he is no follower of my teaching. — Kakacupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 21


As a log from a pyre, burnt at both ends and fouled in the middle, serves neither for firewood in the village nor for timber in the forest, so is such a wrathful man.  —  Anguttara Nikaya II, 95

Further, we may consider the Buddha’s advice to be found in the Dhammapada:

He abused me,
he beat me,
he defeated me,
he robbed me of my property.
Whosoever harbor such thoughts will never be able to still their enmity.

Never indeed is hatred stilled by hatred;
it will only be stilled by non-hatred — this is an eternal law.                                                                                            — Dhp., vv. 4-5

Do not speak harshly to anyone.  Those who are harshly spoken to might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other’s feelings, even blows may overtake you in return. — Dhp., v. 133

Forbearance is the highest observance.  Patience is the highest virtue.  So the Buddhas say. — Dhp., v. 184

Let a man remove his anger.  Let him root out his pride.  Let him overcome all fetters of passions.  No sufferings overtake him who neither clings to mind-and-body nor claims anything of the world. — Dhp., v. 221

Conquer anger by non-anger.  Conquer evil by good.  Conquer miserliness by liberality. Conquer a liar by truthfulness. — Dhp., v. 223

Guard your mind against an outburst of wrong feelings.  Keep your mind controlled.  Renouncing evil thoughts, develop purity of mind. — Dhp., v. 233

If by contemplating the advice of the Buddha in this way one cannot curb his anger, then let him try the second method. Naturally, any bad person may possess some good quality.  Some men are evil in mind but speak in deceptive language or slyly perform their deeds in an unsuspecting manner.  Some men are coarse only in their language but not in their mind or deeds. Some men are coarse and cruel in their deeds but neither in their speech nor in their mind. Some are soft and kind in mind, speech and deed as well.
When we feel angry with any person, we should try to find out some good in him, either in his way of thinking, or in his way of speaking or in his way of acting.  If we find some redeeming quality in him, we should ponder its value and ignore his bad qualities as natural weaknesses that are to be found in everyone. Whilst we think thus, our mind will soften and we may even feel kindly towards that person.  If we develop this way of thinking we will be able to curb or eliminate our anger towards him.
At times, this method may not be successful and we shall then have to try the third method.  Basically, this entails reflecting thus: "He has done some wrong to me and in so doing has spoiled his mind.  Then why should I spoil or impair my own mind because of his foolishness? Sometimes I ignore support or help offered by my relatives; sometimes their tears even shed because of my activities. Being a person of such type myself, why should I not therefore ignore that foolish man’s deed?
"He has done that wrong, being subject to anger, should I too follow him, making my mind subject to anger?  Is it not foolish to imitate him?  He harboring his hatred destroys himself internally.  Why should I, on his account, destroy my reputation?
"All things are momentary.  Both his mind and body are momentary too.  The thoughts and the body with which the wrong was done to me are not now existing.  What I call the same man now are the thoughts and physical parts which are different from the earlier ones that harmed me although belonging to the same psycho-physical process. Thus, one thought together with one mass of physical parts did me some wrong, and vanished there and then, giving place to succeeding thoughts and material parts to appear.  So with which am I getting angry?  With the vanished and disappeared thoughts and physical parts or with the thoughts and material parts which do not do any wrong now? Should I get angry with one thing which is innocent whereas another thing has done me wrong and vanished?
"The so-called ‘I’ is not the same for two consecutive moments. At the moment the wrong was done there was another thought and another mass of molecules which were regarded as ‘I’, whereas what are regarded as ‘I’ at the present moment are a different thought and collection of molecules, though belonging to the same process. Thus some other being did wrong to someone else and another gets angry with another.  Is this not a ridiculous situation?"
If we scrutinize the exact nature of our life and its happenings in this manner, our anger might subside or vanish there and then.
There is another way, too, to eliminate upsurging anger.  Suppose we think of someone who has done wrong to us.  On such occasions we should remember that we suffer harm or loss as a result of our previous kamma.  Even if others were angry with us, they could not harm us if there were no latent force of past unwholesome kamma committed by us which took advantage of this opportunity to arouse our adversary.  So it is I who am responsible for this harm or loss and not anybody else.  And at the same time, now while I am suffering the result of past kamma, if I, on account of this, should get angry and do any harm to him, by that do I accumulate much more unwholesome kamma which would bring me correspondingly unwholesome results.
If we recall to mind this law of kamma, our anger may subside immediately.  We can consider such a situation in another way too. We as the followers of Buddha believe that our Bodhisatta passed through incalculable numbers of lives practicing virtues before he attained Buddhahood.  The Buddha related the history of some of his past lives as illustrations to teach us how he practiced these virtues.  The lives of the prince Dhammapala and the ascetic Khantivadi are most illustrative and draw our attention.
At one time the Bodhisatta had been born as the son of a certain king named Mahapatapa.  The child was named Culla Dhammapala. One day the Queen sat on a chair fondling her child and did not notice the King passing by.  The King thought the Queen was so proud of her child as not to get up from her chair even when she saw that her lord the King passed that way.  So he grew angry and immediately sent for the executioner.  When he came the King ordered him to snatch the child from the Queen’s arms and cut his hands, feet and head off, which he did instantly.  The child, our Bodhisatta, suffered all that with extreme patience and did not grow ill-tempered or relinquish his impartial love for his cruel father, lamenting mother and the executioner.  So far had he matured in the practice of forbearance and loving-kindness at that time.
At another time, our Bodhisatta was an ascetic well-known for his developed virtue of forbearance and consequently people named him Khantivadi, the preacher of forbearance. One day he visited Benares and took his lodgings at the royal pleasure grove. Meanwhile, the King passed that way with his harem and, seeing the ascetic seated under a tree, asked what virtue he was practicing, to which the ascetic replied that of forbearance. The King was a materialist who regarded the practice of virtue to be humbug.  So, hearing the words of the ascetic, he sent for the executioner and ordered him to cut off his hands and feet and questioned the ascetic as to whether he could hold to forbearance at the severing of his limbs.  The ascetic did not feel ill-tempered but even at that time he lay down extending his loving-kindness and holding his forbearance undiminished.  He spoke to the King in reply to the effect that his forbearance and other virtues were not in his limbs but in his mind.  The King, being unsuccessful in his attempts to disturb the ascetic’s feelings, grew angrier and kicked the stomach of the ascetic with his heel and went away. Meanwhile, the King’s minister came over and, seeing what had happened, bowed before the dying ascetic and begged him saying: "Venerable one, none of us agreed to this cruel act of the King and we are all sorrowing over what has been done to you by that devilish man. We ask you to curse the King but not us." At this the ascetic said: "May that king who has caused my hands and feet to be cut off, as well as you, live long in happiness. Persons who practice virtues like me never get angry."  Saying this, he breathed his last.
Since the Buddha in his past lives, while still imperfect like us, practiced forbearance and loving-kindness to such a high extent, why cannot we follow his example?
When we remember and think of similar noble characters of great souls, we should be able to bear any harm, unmoved by anger.  Or if we consider the nature of the round of rebirths in this beginningless and infinite universe, we will be able to curb our upspringing anger. For, it is said by the Buddha:  "It is not easy to find a being who has not been your mother, your father, your brother, sister, son or daughter." Hence with regard to the person whom we have now taken for our enemy, we should think: "This one now, in the past has been my mother who bore me in her womb for nine months, gave birth to me, unweariedly cleansed me of impurities, hid me in her bosom, carried me on her hip and nourished me.  This one was my father in another life and spent time and energy, engaged in toilsome business, with a view to maintaining me, even sacrificing life for my sake", and so on. When we ponder over these facts, it should be expected that our arisen anger against our enemy will subside.
And further, we should reflect on the advantages of the development of mind through the practice of extending loving-kindness.  For, the Buddha has expounded to us eleven advantages to be looked for from its development.  What are the eleven?  The person who fully develops loving-kindness sleeps happily.  He wakes happily.  He experiences no evil dreams.  He is beloved of men.  He is beloved even of non-human beings.  He is protected by the gods.  He can be harmed neither by fire, poison or a weapon.  His mind is quickly composed.  His complexion is serene.  At the moment of his death he passes away unbewildered.  If he can go no further along the path of realization, he will at least be reborn in the heavenly abode of the Brahma Devas.
So, by every similar and possible way should we endeavor to quench our anger and at last be able to extend our loving-kindness towards any and every being in the world.
When we are able to curb our anger and control our mind, we should extend from ourselves boundless love as far as we can imagine throughout every direction pervading and touching all living beings with loving-kindness.  We should practice this meditation every day at regular times without any break.  As a result of this practice, we will be able, one day, to attain to the //jhanas// or meditative absorptions, comprising four grades which entail the control of sensuality, ill-will and many other passions, bringing at the same time purity, serenity and peace of mind. 
* ** * * * *
Two Stories Retold from the Buddhist Texts
The Reviler
Once while the Blessed One stayed near Rajagaha in the Veluvana Monastery at the Squirrels’ Feeding Place, there lived at Rajagha a Brahmin of the Bharadvaja clan who was later called "the Reviler." When he learned that one of his clan had gone forth from home life and had become a monk under the recluse Gotama, he was angry and displeased.  And in that mood he went to see the Blessed One, and having arrived he reviled and abused him in rude and harsh speech.
Thus being spoken to, the Blessed One said:  "How is it, Brahmin: do you sometimes receive visits from friends, relatives or other guests?"
"Yes, Master Gotama, I sometimes have visitors."
"When they come, do you offer to them various kinds of foods and a place for resting?"
"Yes, I sometimes do so."
"But if, Brahmin, your visitors do not accept what you offer, to whom does it then belong?"
"Well, Master Gotama, if they do not accept it, these things remain with us."
"It is just so in this case, Brahmin:  you revile us who do not revile in return, you scold us who do not scold in return, you abuse us who do not abuse in return.  So we do not accept it from you and hence it remains with you, it belongs to you, Brahmin."…
[The Buddha finally said:]
"Whence should wrath rise for him who void of wrath,
Holds on the even tenor of his way,
Self-tamed, serene, by highest insight free?
"Worse of the two is he who, when reviled,
Reviles again.  Who doth not when reviled,
Revile again, a two-fold victory wins.
Both of the other and himself he seeks
The good; for he the other’s angry mood
Doth understand and groweth calm and still.
He who of both is a physician, since
Himself he healeth and the other too, —
Folk deem him a fool, they knowing not the Norm."
Abridged and freely rendered from Samyutta Nikaya, Brahmana Samyutta, No. 2.  Verses translated by C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in "Kindred Sayings", vol. I.
* [The "Norm" or law (dhamma), here referred to, may be expressed in the words of the Dhammapada (v. 5):
"Not by hating hatred ceases
In this world of tooth and claw;
Love alone from hate releases —
This is the Eternal Law."

                        Translated by Francis Story]

* * *

Retold from an ancient Buddhist Story
by Nyanaponika Thera
Once there lived a demon who had a peculiar diet:  he fed on the anger of others.  And as his feeding ground was the human world, there was no lack of food for him.  He found it quite easy to provoke a family quarrel, or national and racial hatred.  Even to stir up a war was not very difficult for him.  And whenever he succeeded in causing a war, he could properly gorge himself without much further effort; because once a war starts, hate multiplies by its own momentum and affects even normally friendly people.  So the demon’s food supply became so rich that he sometimes had to restrain himself from over-eating, being content with nibbling just a small piece of resentment found close-by.
But as it often happens with successful people, he became rather overbearing and one day when feeling bored he thought:  "Shouldn’t I try it with the gods?"  On reflection he chose the Heaven of the Thirty-three Deities, ruled by Sakka, Lord of Gods.  He knew that only a few of these gods had entirely eliminated the fetters of ill-will and aversion, though they were far above petty and selfish quarrels. So by magic power he transferred himself to that heavenly realm and was lucky enough to come at a time when Sakka the Divine King was absent.  There was none in the large audience hall and without much ado the demon seated himself on Sakka’s empty throne, waiting quietly for things to happen, which he hoped would bring him a good feed. Soon some of the gods came to the hall and first they could hardly believe their own divine eyes when they saw that ugly demon sitting on the throne, squat and grinning.  Having recovered from their shock, they started to shout and lament: "Oh you ugly demon, how can you dare to sit on the throne of our Lord?  What utter cheekiness!  What a crime! you should be thrown headlong into the hell and straight into a boiling cauldron!  You should be quartered alive!  Begone!  Begone!"
But while the gods were growing more and more angry, the demon was quite pleased because from moment to moment he grew in size, in strength and in power.  The anger he absorbed into his system started to ooze from his body as a smoky red-glowing mist.  This evil aura kept the gods at a distance and their radiance was dimmed.
Suddenly a bright glow appeared at the other end of the hall and it grew into a dazzling light from which Sakka emerged, the King of Gods. He who had firmly entered the undeflectible Stream that leads Nibbana-wards, was unshaken by what he saw.  The smoke-screen created by the gods’ anger parted when he slowly and politely approached the usurper of his throne.  "Welcome, friend! Please remain seated.  I can take another chair.  May I offer you the drink of hospitality?  Our Amrita is not bad this year.  Or do you prefer a stronger brew, the vedic Soma?"
While Sakka spoke these friendly words, the demon rapidly shrank to a diminutive size and finally disappeared, trailing behind a whiff of malodorous smoke which likewise soon dissolved.
The gist of this story dates back to the discourses of the Buddha. But even now, over 2500 years later, our world looks as if large hordes of Anger-eating Demons were haunting it and were kept well nourished by millions slaving for them all over the earth.  Fires of hate and wide-traveling waves of violence threaten to engulf mankind.  Also the grass roots of society are poisoned by conflict and discord, manifesting in angry thoughts and words and in violent deeds.  Is it not time to end this self-destructive slavery of man to his impulses of hate and aggression which only serve the demoniac forces?  Our story tells how these demons of hate can be exorcised by the power of gentleness and love.  If this power of love can be tested and proven, at grass-root level, in the widely spread net of personal relationships, society at large, the world at large, will not remain unaffected by it.
Based on Samyutta Nikaya, Sakka Samyutta, No. 22



One of the oldest problems which confronted the human race when it became self conscious was to ask about the after life. Where did we come from? Where do we go after death? In between we ask ourselves what is the purpose of being good. After all most people would agree that being good is much harder than being bad and unless there were very good reasons we would much rather do the easy thing. To my mind this is why religions came into existence and together with them came the notions of heaven and hell. Good behaviour promised an eternity of happiness and pleasure in heaven while bad behaviour threatened us with eternity in the other place. Thus with the twin weapons of promise and threat people were made to behave in a manner which would be beneficial to society.
However, at a higher level of mental development and spiritual maturity people were urged to lead a noble life because it raised their dignity and righteous behaviour brought its own rewards. To do this people were led to develop Perfect Understanding about the nature of their own existence and to realise their highest potential not out of fear of punishment but because true lasting happiness results from pursuing a noble way of life. The aim of this teaching was to encourage people to lead blameless lives for themselves and this would naturally protect and ensure the well being of everyone around them.
The second approach was the one taught by the Buddha. According to the Buddha merely behaving oneself by following religious laws to gain entry into heaven was not enough. One had to work diligently to develop concentration of the mind, because all actions originate in the mind. It is only by controlling the mind that one can control one’s actions. When mind and body are harmoniously balanced True Understanding which leads to Ultimate Happiness can be reached.
According to the Buddha heaven and hell are not places which one is consigned to after death but attitudes of mind which can be experienced here and now. Simply put, be happy and you are in heaven, be upset and you are in hell. Of course it is not just as simple as that, so let us ask ourselves what is meant by heaven and hell.
Let us explain the nature of hell and heaven by using common sense without depending on belief, holy books or traditions. We should not depend on traditions, beliefs or texts to understand the truth. Of course, there are some guidelines in every religious book. It depends on how we interpret this concept. Some people believe that there are eternal heavens and hells. So according to them, those who do not follow their religions have no chance to enjoy heavenly bliss or to escape from hell. On this basis, it seems that they have assumed sole monopoly for heaven. But the Buddhist concept of this issue is entirely different. "Whether we have religious labels or not, there is no difficulty whatsoever for us to experience heavenly bliss if we lead a noble and reasonable life". According to the Buddha, heaven is not reserved for the members of any one particular religion; it is open to every person who can lead a noble life.
Some people come and frighten us saying that we will miss the chance to go to heaven if we do not follow their religion. On the other hand, they also try to frighten us by saying that we will be in hell, if we do not accept their religions. This is how they try to introduce their religions by creating fear in the ignorant. Buddhists over the last 2,500 years never adopted this kind of tactic to disseminate Buddhism. The Buddha neither introduced heaven to create temptation, nor did he create fear of hell to promote Buddhism. He also did not decline that the aim of Buddhists is to go to heaven to enjoy sensual pleasure. Many religionists promise people that they would gain everything after their death but they have nothing very much to offer to the living. They generally encourage their followers to endure suffering here, because nothing can be done about it, but they make many promises about permanent, eternal happiness in heaven. They are not reluctant to make such promises because they very well know that nobody will ever come back from the next world and report to them that they could not gain what those religionists had promised.
During the Buddha’s time, some people who wanted to enjoy heavenly bliss after death, came to see the Buddha and told him that being lay people they found it difficult to lead a pure religious life. As worldly people they would like to enjoy worldly pleasures and requested him to explain how to gain happiness without turning their backs on the material world. Then the Buddha asked, "Why do you have to wait to experience heavenly bliss after death? You can experience this heavenly bliss while you are living in this world." If you know how to handle your way of life in a respectable way, you too can experience heavenly bliss here and hereafter as well. There are other similar discourses delivered by the Buddha regarding this heavenly life. With regard to the concept of hell he also mentioned in another discourse that we should not think that hell is located somewhere under this earth, at the bottom of the great oceans or at the bottom of the Maha Meru (a mythical rock reputed to be the greatest in this world). In the Buddhist context, heaven and hell are neither located in one particular area nor a ready-made place created by somebody. When people talk about about heaven and hell , they say heaven is above and hell is below. But when we define the words, heaven and hell by considering the position of this earth in space, the object that we point to others would in fact be situated below. If we were to dig this earth up to the other end, I think it is impossible to find out hell.
According to the Buddha, anybody can experience heavenly bliss if his or her mind rests constantly on four divine abodes in this very life: we call them the four Brahma Viharas or the four Divine Abidings. These are Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita ( Sympathetic Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity). To be happy a person must develop Right Understanding which among other things is the ability to see that one exists only in relation to all other living beings. This means that in order to be happy one must ensure the well being and happiness of others. When we practise Metta, we suffuse the entire universe, beginning with ourselves, with pure unselfish love without discrimination. We also radiate our feelings of compassion (Karuna) towards those less fortunate then we are and work actively and ceaselessly to reduce their suffering. Then we rejoice at the happiness enjoyed by others (Mudita) because by so doing we eradicate the poisonous feelings of jealousy and ill-will. But the highest of all these positive states of well-being is Upekkha where the mind remains unaffected by any emotions positive or negative but is supremely calm, serene and undisturbed. Anyone who lives in these four states can be said to be living in Heaven on earth. Of course those who dwell in the opposite states of ill-will, anger, hatred and so on are in hell, here on earth.
Usually people create imaginary heavens to which the faithful go according to their worldly needs. Long ago those who lived in deserts too had their own beliefs on heaven and hell. They illustrated heaven as a place where they could enjoy beautiful waterfalls. To them, heaven provided them with things (water, coolness, greenery) which they lacked in this life. To the Red Indians, heaven was a happy hunting ground where they could hunt any number of animals according to their needs. This of course was because they had difficulty in hunting enough animals for their daily survival. When Tibetans experience Himalayan winter, the suffering they face is described as hell. To them warmth or fire is Heaven. I think now you can understand how people create images of heaven and hell according to their own earthly needs. Our instinct is to desire something good and avoid another thing which is bad. In this sense we can say that the Buddha did not deny the existence of a heaven and hell, but unlike some belief that Heaven and Hell in specific locations. Buddhism declares that Heaven and Hell are not located in any one particular area, but in various "planes of existence". Buddhism categorises all living beings existing in the world and beyond into 31 states , which are put together into several groups.
The first of these groups are: hell, animal kingdom, spirits and demons who are in a suffering state in different ways. Some are visible and others are invisible. Then there is human life, six kinds of celestial kingdoms where beings experience more sensual pleasures than any other living beings. Devas (or beings of light) in the celestial kingdom concentrate more on pleasure than on spiritual development. Of these birth in the human plane is the most desirable because being blessed with a superior mind and the opportunity to observe both suffering and pleasure as well as death, decay and disease, humans can more readily understand the truth of the Buddha’s Teaching.
All other religions talk about Heaven and they say that heaven is permanent or everlasting. But Buddhism does not agree with this belief that there is an eternal Heaven for people to experience their pleasure forever since everything is impermanent. On the other hand according to Buddhism, there are six kinds of Devaloka or Heavenly realms. Their way of life and worldly pleasure that they experience is far superior compared to human life span. However, although they experience sensual pleasures up to the maximum level, they are not free from selfish desire, anger, jealousy and worries.
Buddhism says that they are born in one of the heavenly realms according to their own good karma that thy have accumulated during their existence as human beings in the previous births. Rebirth takes place in different forms of existence according to their own karma and not due to the influence of any supernatural or divine being. But no one can remain in any of these places of existence forever because the power of their good karmic energy is limited and when it is exhausted they must move on according to previously accumulated karma which is stored in the consciousness. Therefore Buddhism says that heaven and hell are not permanent places where living beings can enjoy or suffer forever.
Many scholars, philosophers, scientists, rationalists and great thinkers also do not agree with the belief of a permanent existence. A well-known western philosopher – Julian Huxley ridiculed this belief saying, “How can we believe that there is an eternal hell created by a god to punish beings forever for a mistake done by man? How can they justify this?. Give another chance for this poor man to try again – how can god condemn a man forever in this manner?”.
There are many ways in which ignorant people are enslaved to their religious beliefs by the threat of punishment in hell. Let us examine a few of these.  
There are some who believe that entering into the place of worship of another religion tor paying respect o its founder is a sin and because of that they will have to go to hell. How could they have committed a sin, because those people have not done any harm to anybody and have never polluted their minds with jealousy, hatred or any other evil thoughts. So how can their leaders justify the argument that they have committed such a bad sin as to go to hell? If they say that their God would get angry if his followers go and respect another God or a founder of another religion, how can they claim that this God is merciful? Could it not be said that this God is jealous just like a human being? They also teach that those who lead a very respectable life by upholding all the good virtues and humane qualities and serve others in every possible way would have no chance to go to heaven if they do not believe in their God. It is reasonable to say no matter how people behave they surely can go to heaven if only they believe in God and pray to him. Those who succumb to such irrational teachings, following their emotions are fickle minded. They change their religion which they have have been practising for generations and shift to another religion in the simple minded belief that they can be miriculously ‘saved’ . They have no common sense to reason whether these claims are reasonable or practical. This is the reason why many sick and old people are converted at their death beds. Being ignorant of the true nature of
existence, they are afraid to die, but are easily persuaded they can go to heaven if they accept a particular religion, that their sins will somehow be ‘wasted’ away.
They may think that their lives are at the mercy of a God and they have no way to mould their future lives according to their own effort and understanding. Buddhism teaches us how to mould our future lives according to our way of life, good and bad thoughts, words and actions without depending on any eternal agent and to also take the responsibility of our lives with conviction. A well known American rationalist who lived a long time ago, once said that to his observation, he would prefer to go to hell rather than heaven, because of the concept maintained by some religionists that all intellectuals, scholars, scientists, psychologists, free-thinkers, rationalists, including the Buddha, were all in hell as they did not believe in their God. He said that in that case, if he happened to go to Heaven, he would feel out of place there without any intellectuals, and heaven would be a very dull place. As far as he was concerned heaven is a place only for those who want to enjoy worldly pleasures without using their brains. Buddhism certainly does not regard an afterlife in heaven as the most important aim of life or as a place where people can have eternal rest.
Beyond this earthly life, there is a category of beings called Devas who experience
peace calm and tranquility and spend an immensely long period in the celestial realms . They are known as Brahmas in the sixteen kind of Brahma realms. They have reduced craving towards worldly sense pleasures to a certain degree and experience more calmness which they have developed during their previous existence specially through meditation. Although this existence is also not permanent because of the immensely long time span, they are considered eternal. This is why some religionists still believe that the attainment of the Brahma (or God) state is permanent. The Buddha pointed out that it is not so.
Four more stages of Brahma life are mentioned in Buddhism. These Beings exist only in their consciousness without any visible physical bodies. Another state of life in the Brahma realm is existence of a physical body but without any perception in their minds. They spend such lives without any perception in their minds. They do not experience physical and mental burdens for a long period, more than the peace experienced by other Brahmas, and their life span is also longer that the others running into millions of years. Even so, these states of existence are impermanent according to the Buddha. All these states are the 31 planes of existence as explained in the Buddhist texts. The concept is close to Indian cosmology. However, in Buddhist perspective, we interpret them as different states of the human mind. They vary according to the development and deterioration of the human mind. They do not manifest themselves in gross or material form. In addition to this, there is no doubt about the existence also of different kinds of living beings in various forms according to environment or atmosphere, elements and many other factors. They exist in different world cycles depending on their mental forces and experience pleasure or suffering according to their good and bad Karmic energies gained in their previous existences.
The following story may explain how buddhists view heaven and hell. A monk was once preaching about heaven and hell. Someone from the audience who did not believe in heaven and hell challenged the monk, stating that he was misleading innocent people by talking about non existent places. The man was very fierce and in a raised voice he asked the monk to prove where these two places exist.
Seeing his angry mood, the monk said: “Do you know that you are now in hell?” The man at once realised the concept of hell according to the monk’s expression.
Then with a smiling face, again he asked: “All right. Now tell me, where heaven is.” The monk calmly replied: “Now you are in heaven”.
This simple yet meaningful simile gives us some idea how to use our common sense to understand that we create heaven and hell according to our own mental attitude.
In certain homes, husbands and wives, parents and children every day quarrel each other, cry, lament and curse each other, and though they live in the same house. They sometimes go without enough food to eat, proper clothing to wear, or without enough space even to sleep. Such places can be regarded as hells on this earth. In certain other cases, although people have more than enough things for them to live comfortably, their poor mental attitude completely disturbs the peace and happiness. Therefore, such people make their lives more miserable due to their anger, narrow-mindedness, jealousy and selfishness. This is also another kind of hell that people create here within this life.
On the other hand there are certain families where people experience peace, happiness, harmony and satisfaction due to their understanding, patience and kindness even though they are poor. And some others with enough material wealth enjoy their worldly lives in good health, by maintaining mutual understanding and love. Such people have created their heavenly bliss here on this very earth itself.
Heaven and hell are portrayed in many religious books to suit the mentality of human nature. They know that unless there is reward and punishment in the other life people would never take their way of life seriously. Usually, portrayal of heaven and hell in this way is the only effective method for people not to be selfish but to do some service to others and also not to harm others for their own benefit. In the past heaven was depicted as a place where sensual pleasures as enjoyed by the rich and the powerful was easily obtained, as a reward for having lived a good life on earth. Torture as punishment in hell was portrayed as nothing more than the punishment given by the rulers to the culprits who had violated peace and order.
According to Buddhism, suffering in hell and enjoyment in heaven are not permanent. At the same time, heaven and hell is not confined to one particular area but exists where living beings experience pleasant and unpleasant states of existence in any part of the universe, in any physical form and according to their mental state of pleasure or pain regarded as heavenly bliss and suffering in hell.
On another level the belief which some people maintain that all our pleasant and unpleasant feelings are only experienced within this life time is not acceptable to Buddhism. Either we experience pain and pleasure as the effects of our own good and bad Karma, as long as existence or rebirth takes place. Just by praying to or  worshipping anybody, we cannot escape from the effect of our bad deeds that we have committed. This is the Buddhist attitude. If anybody can forgive our sins at all it must be ourselves not an outsider. According to the Buddha, good and bad deeds are done by ourselves and we are responsible for the purity or the impurity of our own mind. It is therefore impossible for another person either to purify or to pollute our minds.
Is there any chance for us either to overcome or to escape the bad effects? Yes, it is not impossible but it is not very easy either. Buddhism does not accept the belief which many others hold regarding forgiveness of sins, of worshipping and praying to God to ask for forgiveness, of performing various kinds of religious rites and rituals, of offering animal sacrifices to please God and of torturing physical body in order to escape punishment. Such practices are not justifiable from the Buddhist point of view. Is there any practical and reasonable method to be practised in the Buddhist context when we realize that our actions are wrong and harmful? Once we realize we have done wrong the first thing that we have to do is to create a strong determination not to commit such evil deeds again. But that itself is not enough. After that we should try to do more and more good deeds or meritorious deeds by cultivating kindness, honesty, generosity and proper understanding. The cultivation of such good qualities and meritorious deeds accumulates good Karma. The increasing purity of the mind and good Karma create more powerful energy to strengthen the mind and provide confidence on our future life is produced. When the good Karma is powerful and active in the mind the bad Karmas that we had committed earlier would subside, become weak or inactive. If death occurs with this state of mind predominating rebirth takes place in a favourable condition. This explanation helps us understand how we can eradicate the effects of our own sins. However, this is not the end of our bad Karma, because it is not possible to eradicate them completely so easily. In the process of continuing to accumulate more good and meritorious deeds, by serving others and reducing mental impurities, we can overcome the effects of bad Karma because good Karma can eclipse the effects of bad Karma. In this way, we can continue to improve the life process and consolidate our spiritual progress until we attain perfection or sainthood and the final goal. When craving, which conditions rebirth, is extinguished, bad Karmic forces are also eliminated automatically. Only after that will we be free from the effects of the bad Karmas. Although this method is meaningful and rational still some people try to find a short cut to avoid the effects and try to go to heaven simply by praying to God and performing some rites and rituals. Many believe that Heaven and Hell were created by God and that those places are ready made. When a preacher was giving a talk on the creation of Heaven and Earth, somebody from the audience asked: “May I know actually what was he doing before he started to create Heaven and Earth?” Then the speaker answered: “Do you know during that period he was creating hell for those who ask such kind of questions.”
Heaven and Hell are very important to many people. But this is a concept introduced by primitive religions. When people could not understand how to perform their duties as human beings, to cultivate certain virtues, to maintain human dignity and to understand how to behave as cultured people, their leaders introduced this belief to make them behave in a good way. They said that if people follow such religious principles, fulfilling their duties towards parents, wives, husbands, neighbours, after their death, they can have a wonderful eternal life in Heaven. That was the only way to convince people to do good – just like training small children to do good because they cannot understand or appreciate the necessity to do good. With children it is necessary to promise something for them in the form of something desirable like chocolates, sweets or a toy. Only then will they pay attention. The Buddha did not adopt that attitude to introduce his religious way of life. He regarded us as mature human beings. He did not use sweet language to create temptation. He knew that we have the potential to understand things although many of us do not take the trouble to do so. His method is not to promise anything but to teach people to understand what is right and what is wrong and the nature of cause and effect. According to him, if we do a good thing only aiming at heaven, we are selfish, because according to that motive we would not develop virtues such as compassion, honesty and understanding and would never reduce selfishness and altruistic behaviour. True happiness can only come about when a person completely loses his or her egoistic concept of a Self or “I”.
In one of his discourses the Buddha says that those who have worldly happiness are fortunate in their household lives but they must be wise to make use of their wealth without developing selfishness. They must be kind enough to share the happiness with others. The Buddha did not condemn worldly gains and happiness. But if we know how to utilise them, experience pleasure in a respectable way, we can gain this heavenly bliss whilst we are here and not only after death. But physical burdens in a heavenly existence are fewer than in human existence. On the other hand the intellectual capacity of the human minds has the potential for spiritual development. Celestial beings do not think of performing meritorious deeds. Humans are more fortunate in that respect. We have the chance to enrich our knowledge.
According to our Buddhist stories, when the Devas had certain subtle problems, they too had come to the Buddha to find out the solution. As human beings we ‘spend’ the good Karmic energy we have accumulated as merits in a previous birth. While spending we can also accumulate more and more merit and deposit such merits for the future as well as for the next life because we know that this is not the complete end of our life existence. The continuity of life process again takes place according to our merits, whether we believe it or not, whether we can understand it or not. The celestial beings cannot create new Karma s human being can.
We say that animals are unfortunate although they get food and many other things. They are unfortunate because they do not know anything about the fate of their life. It is impossible for them to accumulate merits or acquire spiritual development. That is why human beings can do anything to them by using their human intelligence. They catch them, torture them and kill them for their pleasure. Animals have no idea according to their animal way of thinking that there will be continuity in life. They do not understand that animal life does not necessarily end at the end of that life itself. Existence again takes place because in that animal’s mind, there exists residual anger, jealousy, craving and ignorance developed in past existences and which have not been expended. These are the main evil forces  latent in each and every living being. Since they are not free from such thoughts rebirth takes place again. In our case, we have controlled certain evil thoughts but they still exist. We can tame animals by beating, training and frightening them. Because of that fear, they behave like tame animals. When they associate with us for a time, they automatically become tame. In the same way cats, dogs, cows, goats and elephants, become docile because they have been with us for generations. But still they have their own animal instinct or nature. Although we are humans still many of us do not know how to make use of our valuable human life. We abuse the opportunities or facilities that we have to cultivate our way of life. We abuse our valuable human life due to our selfishness and cunningness. For this reason the Buddha’s Teaching is important to pave the way for such ignorant people to think properly and to develop human values.
According to the Buddha, human life is more important than any other kind of life amongst the 31 planes of existence. Devas are not superior to human beings as far as virtues and the spiritual development of the Mind are concerned. According to Buddhism it is pointless to aspire to go to Heaven even though the other religions have portrayed it in such a way to tempt us. In heaven we spend millions of years enjoying the benefits of past good karmas, but have no opportunity to develop our minds to remove the three evils of ignorance, greed and hatred.
Now let us discuss hell, since many religions take advantage of the concept of Hell to propagate their religion. This is a very strong weapon for them to frighten people. Once the medical authorities in England made an appeal to missionaries not to create fear in the minds of people by threatening them about hell fire to introduce their religion, because they have come across many people who suffered from mental disturbance due to that fear of hell fire. Creating fear in man’s mind has become a very effective method to introduce religion mostly in Asian countries today. They say that the Buddha cannot save you because He being a Man is long dead and gone. “Why do you pray and worship a man who is no more here”, they say. “Our God is the only saviour who can save you because he is alive in heaven.” Buddhist missionaries for the last 2,500 years never used this kind of technique to introduce Buddhism. Buddhists never say that others who do not accept their religion will have to go to hell. The Buddha’s attitude to other religions is very compassionate and reasonable.
Life is uncertain. When we neglect our life, then falling down or declining is very easy. After that to rise up again becomes a big problem. The belief in rebirth is another subject which some missionaries take advantage of to ridicule Buddhism. They say that those who follow Buddhism, will have to suffer more, since their rebirth only prolongs the final salvation by becoming animals, ghosts and so on. But those who follow their religion, do not become animals or ghosts but straight away can go to heaven without remaining here to suffer after their death. Many people believe what they preach without using their common sense.
Rebirth does not take place according to different religious labels but by man’s way of thinking, way of speech and by way of doing things with good and evil thoughts. So our thoughts and actions are responsible for moulding the life hereafter. Whether people have a religion or not is not the important factor to condition rebirth.
However, their concept of hell is eternal suffering, but Buddhism teaches that wherever rebirth takes place it is not permanent. One day they can end their suffering. Think for yourself – which is more reasonable. We leave it to your better judgement.
Although the Buddha advised people not to violate religious principles but to uphold human dignity, he did not lay down religious principles as commandments or laws. In simple language, he said that if you commit evil deeds, you would have to face the consequences in the form of suffering either physically or mentally, within this life time hereafter. You should also consider nature of pleasure or suffering in different stages of existence, and these stages introduced by giving different names such as heaven, hell, ghost world and animal world.
Today many people are educated. Modern science and technology have widened their knowledge and perceptions to understand many things in this world and the universe which early primitive people could understand. Due to their ignorance they explained life and death in very primitive terms, which they later accepted religious truths or Dogmas.
We do not know that every day we moulding our own heaven and hell according to our way of life, as well as good and bad effects which we also experience here and hereafter. It does mean that Buddhism denies outright belief of a ‘heavenly’ life or a suffering ‘Hell’ after our deaths. But the Buddhist concept of this belief is different from the others. This means that when we live by cultivating our humane qualities and virtues following certain religious principles without violating the peace and happiness of others we also can experience a more comfortable, happy, prosperous and peaceful life in any part of the universe after our death where life exists. To us, that is Heaven.
On the other hand if we send our lives by harbouring our anger, jealousy, grudge, ill-will and various evil thoughts in our Minds by worrying, crying, fighting and disturbing others, we have to face the consequences in the form of suffering either within this life time or hereafter. It would also be difficult for us to have a better rebirth in a good environment to cultivate good virtues. When life becomes more miserable, we regard this state of existence as Hell.
By knowing the real situation in worldly life, understanding people try to mould their way of life and live peacefully without hurting others and also by doing some service to them. We prefer to have a favourable, nice and pleasant existence. But our ambitions are very seldom realised. The world is not positioned in our favour. The formation of this world did not take place just to suit us. The world operates according to its own universal law and nature. These things are impartial – whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, as religious people we can maintain happiness and contentment through this understanding. When troubles, sickness, worries, disturbances, calamities come to us, we should not grumble nor should we curse or accuse others. We should consider the situation carefully to understand who or what is responsible for all our problems or if anything outside of us can be blamed. Sometimes we ourselves have done something wrong. Do not think that we are always right and that others are wrong. Every person in this world makes mistakes.
We are living in a world where we always experience clashes, disagreements, conflicts, calamities, disturbances and war. The world is saturated with these worldly conditions. Therefore, the challenge is to find peace in a world where friction and clashes are daily occurrences.  

Words of Wisdom

In putting the teachings into practice, the first thing we should cultivate is the Pure Heart. The Pure Heart is a mind without discrimination or attachments. We must also develop proper understanding by listening to explanations of the Buddha’s Teachings.
What is purity? Purity is apart from defilement. Defilement is the greed, hatred, and stupidity present in our minds. Cultivation is cleansing these impurities from out hearts.
To keep our mind pure and at peace is like keeping a pond clean and undisturbed. When the water is clear and still, it can reflect the sky, sun and trees just as they are, without distortion. When we are polluted by greed, hatred, ignorance and disturbed by discriminations and attachments, we distort our picture of reality and fail to see things as they are. Wrong perceptions of reality can prevent us from enjoying a clear and happy life.
We should not be afraid to see our faults and mistakes because only then can be corrected. People who fail to see their own mistakes will not be able to change for the better.
Be considerate and kind in your speech. To put-down another person is only proving your own arrogance and lack of self-confidence to others.
Practicing virtue is to keep a kind heart, speak kind words, and do kind acts to benefit others.
A wise mind is like a mirror, reflecting and perceiving everything clearly without distortion.
Worries arise from the mind. You are wise if you do not let things worry you. Nothing and nobody can make you worry without your permission.
Our heart finds peace when we understand the law of cause and effect; "What goes around, comes around". We would cease to blame others for our own misfortunes because we would be aware of the fact that we brought it upon ourselves. When our heart is at peace, we develop concentration, and with concentration, wisdom comes forth. Wisdom is the key to changing our lives for the better because only with wisdom can we see true reality.
If we wish to bring peace to the world, we must start by changing our evil ways. World peace stems from inner peace.
We must cleanse ourselves of greed, hatred, and ignorance. These three poisons are the roots behind all our sufferings.
True love is undiscriminating, unattached, and unconditional, we should share this love with all beings. This is call compassion.
We must learn to "let go" and not be too stubborn with our viewpoints. If this goal can be achieved, then we will be at great ease and live a happy and fulfilling life.
Wise people do not harbour feelings of gain or loss. In this way, they often dwell in the joy of possessing peace of mind.
When we encounter a person or a situation we do not like, it is the perfect opportunity for us to practice patience and cultivate a pure and compassionate heart.
Everything changes, nothing remains without change.
Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shartened. Hapiness never decreases by being shared.
Hatred never cease by hatred, but by Love.
Have not remorseful thoughts of yesterday, or wishful thoughts of tomorrow.
Dwell instead in the present moment.


Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda
Human problems are complicated. One day one of the Devas approached the Buddha and asked him how to overcome problems. The Devas said,” Lord, can you explain the mystery of the inner tangle and the outer tangle. Human beings are entangled in a tangle and I would like to ask, who will succeed in disentangling the tangle.”
The words “tangle” refers to all the mental and physical disturbances that we have to face in our day- to-day life. We are tangled with various problems. From our birth up to the last breath numerous problems confront us. It is impossible for any human being to exist without facing such problems in this world. The Buddha has advised us to understand the nature of our problems if we want to exist peacefully in this world. He has advised us to ponder on the purpose of our existence and to try to find out why we are not satisfied with our lives. If we can understand this situation, there will be no reason for us to suffer from undue fear, to harbour enmity or grudges and worries.
We all like to lead very happy, contented and peaceful lives but how many of us can really say that we experience such happiness? We are willing to do anything in every way possible to gain contentment but we never really experience true satisfaction because we can minimize certain problems and overcome some others only through a complete understanding of the nature of this world, how some thing we crave for are merely illusory, while others only create greater craving once achieved.
Facing problems
We usually create other serious problems while trying to solve our existing ones. If the new problem is minor, we tolerate it to the best of our ability and do what we can to alleviate the pain. For example, when we have gastric ulcers and suffer severe pain, we consult a doctor. Then if the doctor says we have to undergo an operation, we will accept the fact that we will have to suffer more pain if we want to be cured. But since we know there is no other solution, we decide to face the new problem of the operation to get rid of the existing gastric ulcers. Then we make up our minds to bear the pain and uneasiness during the operation thinking that we can finally be rid of the pain once and for all.
In the same manner we are willing to tolerate certain problems or pain to overcome the existing big problem created by existence. That is why we sometimes face suffering with smiling faces. We cannot overcome our existing problems without facing other new problems or without sacrificing something. But one thing is clear, it is impossible to settle our problems permanently by being selfish, stubborn or violent. That is why a “give and take policy” is important to settle our problems.
The Buddha has advocated a meaningful, practical and realistic method to settle this problem. He did not recommend a method just to patch up a problem here and there simple to make us happy for the time being. Rather he taught us the way to penetrate to the root of the problem and find out the main cause of it. His method was not even to reduce the symptom of the problem just like some doctors do when they cure only the symptom of our sickness but not the sickness itself.
Nature of life
When we have a severe stomach pain, or headache, doctors give us painkiller tablets. After that, we feel better for a short period. But it is not the complete cure, because the pain can come back. Assume that we have a very big painful wound on our body. After applying all sorts of medicines, we can manage to get rid of the pain. When the doctors or somebody asks “How do you feel now?” we say we feel very good. But can you define this word “good”? Can we show anything to prove what good feeling is? Here it means there is no more pain. For anything in this world, we say we feel good or nice only to tell others that there is no problem for the time being. When we say we feel good we are aware that this “good” feeling is not permanent. It will be replaced with other painful feelings. This is the nature of life. The Buddha’s method for gaining permanent happiness is to uproot the main cause of our problems and not to suppress it. Of course some people say it is difficult to practice the Buddha’s teaching, because it does not provide short-term relief. The Buddha taught that the cause of our misery is so deep-rooted that we must take very strong measures to root it out permanently, so that it can never return.
To the question on how to disentangle the tangle, the answer given by the Buddha is, “When a wise man, established well in morality (sila) has developed his mind and understanding, (panna) then such an ardent and wise person succeeds in disentangling this tangle”. A person who is diligent and understanding, by realising the real nature of existence, develops his Sila, his moral behaviour or self-discipline. Sila means discipline of the senses, speech and action according to a moral code. When a man is diligent and wise he knows how to face his problems and how to overcome some of them. Here the Buddha’s advice for us is to be good, diligent and act wisely if we want to solve our problems. No other method can give a final solution to our problems.
Superstitious beliefs
Whenever we have problems, we approach others, and seek their advice. They may ask us to go and pray to certain gods in a temple or other places of worship or to recite some mantras. But the Buddha’s attitude is entirely, different. He never gives such advice because he wants us to directly approach the problems and analyse it and discover where the main cause is. The trouble with us is that whenever we face any problem, we suffer from fear, ignorance imagination and suspicion and we seek advice from others in order to get rid of them. For example, when people face failure in their business they try to use magical power to gain good luck and success in their business. But they do not realise that many of such practices are also based on superstitious beliefs. Some of these so-called “seers” or astrologers exploit the ignorance of innocent people and make them believe that “evil forces” are behind their bad luck.
The Buddha advised us to develop patience and understanding, without depending on superstitious beliefs, and to cultivate the rational way of life without wasting time and money on meaningless practices and to use our full effort to overcome problems in a reasonable way, if we want to succeed. Most of the time, we cannot understand the
causes of many of our problems because our way of thinking is clouded by a worldly life, which is filled with selfish desire and illusion. Because of ignorance, we give the wrong reasons for our misery and seek the wrong means to overcome such unhappiness. We pray, we make offerings and vows by thinking that our misery is due to the working of an external force. Actually our misery is caused by ourselves.
We do not strive to develop our way of life through moral and spiritual development. We thing think religion is only for us to pray or to perform certain rituals. When we believe in superstition like these how can we concentrate on enriching our knowledge to understand things in their proper perspective?
Today we have organised our worldly life in such a way that we have no time to devote for mental training or to cultivate inner peace. Although we may have more than enough to satisfy our material needs like food, shelter and clothing, all the while we go on thinking how to make more money, how to enjoy life in a materialistic, worldly sense even at the cost of other’ happiness.
When we experience certain problems, we start to grumble, show our temper and create more disturbances and blame others for our troubles.
Sensual pleasures
Today, especially in many so-called advanced societies, people are facing more problems, unsatisfactoriness and mental derangement than in underdeveloped societies. This is because men have become slaves to their sensual pleasures and crave for worldly enjoyment without proper moral and spiritual development. Their tensions, fears, anxieties and insecurity disturb their minds. This kind of mental imbalance disturbs the human psychology. This state of affairs has become the biggest problem in many countries. Since people have not learnt to maintain contentment in their lives in industrial societies they experience unsatisfactoriness in their lives.
Many young people have lost confidence and face difficulty in deciding what to do with their lives. The main cause of this mental attitude is excessive ambition and anxieties created by competition, jealousy and fear. Such problems naturally create a very bad atmosphere for others who want to live a peaceful life. It is a fact that when one individual creates a problem, his behaviour affects the well being of others. In every society “good begets good and evil begets evil”.
There is no short cut for us to get rid of our problems. We must cultivate our way of life to discover the cause of the human problems that we are facing. It is true that there is no existence without problems. If we want to be really free we must examine our problems and understand why they make life miserable.
Marital problems
One of the common problems that people always complain of is about their married lives or family problems. On the other hand, unmarried people also complain about the loneliness in their lives. They say life is dull without a married partner. But the same people start to grumble after getting married when they are confronted with problems. In many conservative societies, as soon as some problems arise, people immediately suspect that others might have done some “charm” or black magic” to disturb their peace. But they are not ready to admit their own weaknesses or to think that they may be the cause of the mistake and that ultimately they are responsible for the problem. In their ignorance they ask some spiritualists to invoke the power of some invisible beings to stop their problems.
Married people are confronted with many other family problems such as to maintain their families and to protect them. They have to work hard to support their families. Those who have children, have to attend to their education and to guide them. Those who cannot cope with these problems, create more worries. When misunderstanding occurs in their families it makes life more miserable. Sometimes there is violence, bloodshed and suicide. Those who have many children have to face a lot of responsibilities and worries. At the same time those who have no children also worry. So where is the satisfaction in a worldly life?
Today, people need more income, not only for their living and to fulfil their duties, but because their craving for indulgence is increased. It has become a sort of competition.
People concentrate more on pleasure rather than their duties and responsibilities. Some people entertain worries by considering their future although they have more than enough at the moment. They worry about their sickness, old age, death, and funerals and also about heaven and hell or the next birth. Everyday, they experience unsatisfactoriness in their lives. They run here and there searching for a remedy to end their problems. Throughout their lives they continue this search for peace and happiness until they die but they never find the real solution. When they feel that they are getting old, they worry. They worry when they cannot gain what they want. They worry when they lose their belonging or person they love. After that, they create frustration, anguish, and mental agony and later suffer from mental derangement.
Not knowing the real nature of our existence, we try to maintain life without experiencing any disappointments and changes. But life is changeable. It is a bundle of elements and energies, which are always changing, and the situation is always not according to our satisfaction. Sometimes we feel life is not in our favour. When the elements and energies are imbalanced, we experience uneasiness, sickness, pain and many other problems. When mental energy is being disturbed, we experience mental problems. After that our organs and glands also change their normal functions and affect the blood circulation, heartbeat and brain cells. We can avoid many of these problems if we can understand this conflict in our nature and if we lead a natural life in harmony with these natural forces, which make up our physical existence.
Facing realities
Today many people lead an artificial life not knowing its danger. Many of our problems are created by us due to our ignorance and crazy attitude for too much pleasure. Many of our problems and burdens come after middle age For example, assume there is a pit about 100 feet deep and we put burning charcoal at the bottom. After that we lower a ladder into it and ask some people to go down one by one. Those who start to go down do not complain about the heat until they go down to a depth of 30 to 40 feet. After 40 to 50 feet, they feel a certain amount of heat. When they go further down to 70 or 80 feet and reach nearer to the burning charcoal, they experience the sensation of burning. In the same manner, young people do not experience suffering although the Buddha says life is suffering. But this is a good analogy to explain that as we gain more experience we see the truth about suffering more clearly.
Accept advice of the elderly
It is not necessary to have personal experience in certain things to understand whether they are good or bad. Here is an analogy for you to understand the situation. A shoal of fishes comes across an obstruction in the water with an unusually small opening. It is actually a trap laid by fisherman to catch the fish. Some fish want to go inside the fence and see what it is, but the more experienced fish advice them not to do that because it must be a dangerous trap. The young fish asks,”How do we know whether it is dangerous or not? We most go in and see, only then can we understand what it is.” So some of them go in and get caught in the trap.
We must be prepared to accept the advice given by wise men like The Buddha who know infinitely more than us. Of course, the Buddha himself has said that we must not accept his teaching blindly. At the same we have to listen to wise ones. This is simple because their experience is more advanced than our theoretical knowledge regarding our worldly lives.
Parents usually advise their sons and daughters to do certain things and not to do certain other things. By neglecting the advice given by the elders, young people do many things to their own way of thinking. Eventually when they get into trouble, they remember the elders or religious teacher and seek their help and sometimes ask to pray for them. Only then do they remember religion and seek some blessing and guidance. The main purpose of a religion is to help us to follow certain noble principles to avoid many of our human problems before they confront us.
Experience comes with age
We gain academic knowledge without personal experience. Armed with academic knowledge some young people thing they can solve all the world’s problems. Science can provide the material things to solve our problems, but it cannot help us to solve our spiritual problems. There is no substitute for wise people who have experienced the world. Think about this saying, “When I was 18, I thought what a fool my father was. Now that I was 28, I am surprised how much the old man has learned in 10 years!” It is not the father that has learned; rather it is you who have learned to see things in a mature way.
More than two thousands years ago the Buddha, Confucius, Lou Tze and many other religious teachers gave us wonderful advice. This advice can never become out –of-date being based on truth and it will remain fresh forever. It is impossible to overcome our human problems by ignoring the ancient wisdom. This wisdom is to develop human dignity, understanding, peace and happiness.
Let us consider our families. How many families are there who live with co-operation, unity, love and understanding? Here we think not only of our immediate families but also those who live around us. We can invite the whole world into our room through our T.V. but we are not willing to invite our next-door neighbours into our houses and talk to them kindly. We have no time to look at the faces of our own family members but we spend many hours to see the faces of unknown people on the television screen. Even within one family we have no time to look at each other with smiling faces although we live in the same house. How can there be unity and happiness in such families? The sad fact is that this unfriendly selfish behaviour more and more characterizes modern society today.
Some people completely ignore their family members after their marriage. That is not the civilized way for humans to live. It is a manifestation of the animal nature. We should maintain community lives by assisting each other and by giving moral support to that in need. Although animals do not assist each other very often to the extent that human beings do, they live together; sometimes they protect their group or their young from their enemies.
It seems that today we are not living as real human beings. We have gone very far from our natural ways of life. That is why we have to face so many problems. That is why we feel loneliness. It is true that we have to face problems throughout life. Some of them are natural problems and there is no way to escape from them. Some problems are man-made; some are mind-made, resulting from illusion and ignorance.
Mental imbalance
Mental Imbalance, which we regard as madness, is another big problem. By violating an ethical way of life, man disturbs his own peace and happiness and that of others. Then by allowing internal and external incidents into the mind more unsatisfactoriness, miseries, excitement, fear and insecurity are created.
Many people have to suffer from frustration and nervous breakdowns because they have not trained their minds to maintain contentment. They have developed only craving to enjoy their lives. To them development means development of craving for various kinds of pleasures. As a result, they also develop unhealthy competition, jealousy, enmity, hatred, and then start to fight and to kill each other. That is how they have turned the whole world into a battlefield. After that everyone cries for peace. People accuse god or the devil of putting them in misery. They then start to pray and worship. They do all kinds of things to escape from problems, which they really created themselves.
You can understand now who creates problems and who can overcome them. The Buddha says the world is within you. When you discipline yourself, the whole world is disciplined and peace is maintained. It is not necessary then to beg for peace. Good and bad, peace and violence, all exist because of the mind.
World cycle
The Buddha has advised us not to be bothered about the beginning of the world cycle since such speculation does not contribute to settle human problems. Still, many people want to know about the beginning and the end of the world. Some people have a very shallow concept of the world. They do not know what this world is really like. When the Buddha said there is neither a beginning or an end in the world systems, people could not understand what he meant. This was because their beliefs regarding the beginning and the end of the world contradicted the Buddha’s teaching on the matter. If you can examine the whole world and compare it with your life or body, you can understand that the same elements, energies and condition that exist in this so-called world are within yourself. The only difference is that you have a mind to think and comprehend the nature of existence. But the object that you have accepted as the world is composed of only elements and energies.
Mental energy
The extraordinary mental energy that human beings experience cannot be found anywhere else. However this mental energy is wild and free and it must be trained and controlled for us to benefit from it. Otherwise the human mind becomes the main cause for our own problems. When that mind is harnessed properly through intense training, then harmony, understanding and peace will prevail and we can perform great good deeds not only for ourselves, but others also. Let us take an example of a great waterfall. Imagine the great energy that is wasted as the water falls thousands of feet over a high cliff. But when man controls that energy and changes it to electricity, then people benefit from it, But remember, even when the mind is trained, whatever precaution we take to avoid the unsatisfactoriness of our lives, the universal law of impermanence changes everything in this world. This is the nature of existence. Existing things change and disintegrate according to worldly conditions. The combination of elements and energies and their existence together produce objects, which we can see, and touch, thus giving them an illusion of solidity and permanence. The cause of their change is friction of the elements and energies. When a visible object disintegrates through time it is the dissolution of the elements and energies which are compounded. The energy is not lost, but goes on into new forms and the process goes on and on, without end. This is a natural phenomenon and every component thing is constituted in this way.
There is no reason for us to regard this situation as a certain creation of a supernatural being or that it is the result of punishment for a primordial crime. Buddhists regards this as a natural phenomenon. But many others regard this situation as a problem because changes and impermanence disappoint this craving for permanence. The unsatisfactoriness of life begins when we realise that permanence in another life, in heaven or hell, is impossible.
Because the energies of our body are a part of them, cosmic forces also influence the elements and energies within our physical bodies. Some of our physical and mental problems are due to their influence. Some other unknown forces also disturb our lives which people regard as being caused by evil spirits. Fear, imagination suspicion superstition always feed on such beliefs to disturb the mind. When the mind is disturbed, we suffer from physical problems.
However, if our minds are well trained and developed through understanding, we can prevent many of these problems from occurring. This is why the Buddha has said, “Mind is the fore-runner of all good and evil states, mind made are they”. Actually, we suffer from problems because they are the results of our hallucinations. By following the Buddha’s advice we can eradicate fear and ignorance.
We are responsible
People do not use their education wisely when they come to superstitious religious practices. Try to get rid of this poor mentality by strengthening your mind and developing self-confidence. Then you can overcome many of your problems and in most cases, your imaginary problems will simply disappear.
Some religionists try to escape from reality by saying that there is god who is responsible for all the good things that happen to you and if anything goes wrong, then the devil is to be blamed for it. To the Buddhists there is no meaning in this kind of belief. Most of us simply do not try to understand why we are not happy and why we are not satisfied with our lives, and who is responsible for this situation. The Buddha teaches that we are ultimately responsible for every action of ours, which leads to contentment or unsatisfactoriness.
Besides all major problems for which we are responsible and which affect us directly we also create other racial, religious, cultural and economic problems, which divide mankind and create discrimination. Problems such as these indirectly contribute to our sense of discontentment.
Purpose of religion
The purpose of religion is to guide mankind, to develop unity and a harmonious life and to cultivate humane qualities. Today however, religion is being used to discriminate against other religions and to develop jealousy. Actually man is not using religion to maintain peace but to disturb and hate others. This hostile altitude and unhealthy religious competition has even created bloodshed in many parts of the world.
At the same time, while cherishing their own superstitious beliefs as part of their valuable culture or traditions, some religionists ridicules others’ cultures and traditions. In their beliefs and practices, which they introduce as the only true religion, they promote selfish ideas for material gain, political power and self-glorification.
Accumulation of wealth
Some people think that by accumulating more and more wealth, they can overcome their problems. So they try to become billionaires by working hard, but after becoming billionaires they have to face many more other unexpected problems-insecurity, unrest, enemies and difficulty in maintaining their wealth. This clearly shows that the accumulation of wealth is not the solution for human problems, Wealth can help to overcome certain problems but not all the worlds’ happiness can be gained through money. Money cannot eradicate natural problems.
Philosophers, great thinkers and rationalists have pointed out the nature of human weakness and how to overcome them. However, the common people regard them as mere theories and not as solutions to their problems. Sometimes the intellect actually creates more problems because it increases our egoistic opinions about ourselves.
Good conduct
Good conduct such as kindness, patience, tolerance, honesty and generosity also cannot stop certain problems because cunning people can take undue advantage of the good qualities of others. Therefore good qualities must be practised wisely.
Social welfare workers are trying to wipe out human problems. But their contribution also can only minimise certain problems. Some others try to settle human problems by distributing property and revenue of a country equally amongst the public in so-called socialist societies. It seems that their method is also not very effective to settle human problems, since selfishness, cunningness, laziness and many other shortcomings can upset the situation.
Overcoming problems
Modern scientific education has created more problems rather than promote peace, happiness and security. Government is trying to maintain peace and order by punishing those who disobey the law. But, all over the world, evil and immoral practices are spreading rapidly.
Ignorant people resort to charms, magic, supernatural powers and mantras to overcome their problems. But nobody knows just how far he or she can succeed through such beliefs.
Some use violent methods such as killing, destruction and creating disaster to gain what they need to settle their problems.
Some try to settle human problems by improving the people’s way of life through financial aid.
Religionists on the other hand try to settle these problems by illustrating the concept of a paradise to create temptation and frighten people by threatening them with hell-fire if they don’t behave themselves.
Whatever method people adopt to avoid their problems they experience more and more new problems, in their day-to-day lives. The reason for this situation is that they have not realised that the main cause of most of their problems is the untrained mind or selfishness.
When we study the life of primitive people we can see that they have to face relatively few problems. These problems are mostly related only to their need for survival. But in the so-called civilised societies of today many of our problems are due not to our desire to continue living but because we seek too much enjoyment. Many people believe that the purpose of their lives is only for sensual enjoyment.
The modern job-oriented education system produces students who are equipped with more academic knowledge which develop selfishness. It produces clever people without any moral development. Some people do not care what happens to others or to the world so long as they alone profit on a materialistic lever. Through cunningness and by adopting scientific methods to achieve their selfish desires they increase their own anxieties and those of their fellow beings.
Human beings are more selfish in their craving for pleasure than any other living being. They enjoy worldly lives and sensual pleasures with no thought for the welfare of others or for the survival of the species. Sensual people like to live long to experience pleasures. They develop craving towards the property that they have accumulated and do not want to die because they do not want to leave their properties when they depart. Other living beings have no such selfish ideas. They use their five senses only for their survival and lead a natural life without wilfully hurting others. It has been said that only man hoards more than he can eat. All other animals take only as much as they need from nature. What they do not need they leave alone for others to use. Today we even neglect our health but indulge in the senses to such an extent that we have become slaves to self-gratification.
Facing death
Human beings are the only beings on this earth who can understand that one day they have to face death. That is why they worry unnecessarily about it. Worrying about it will not make death go away, so why not accept it calmly? Shakespeare makes Julius Caesar says: –
“Of all the wonders that I yet have heard and seen.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear.
Seeing that death, a necessary end.
Will come when it will come”.
On the other hand, there are those who do not bother at all about the end of their lives or about what happens after that. However, the majority do worry about existing problems and also worry about the next life. All other living beings are free from that problem.
In conclusion, we have to realise that whatever method we adopt to overcome our problems, it is impossible to gain complete satisfaction in our lives until we train our mind and reduce selfishness and craving. The teachings of the Buddha give us a very clear exposition of how to understand the nature of human problems and how to overcome them.

remembering Sept 11, 2001


speaking of the faults of others

"I vow not to talk about the faults of others." In the Zen tradition, this is one of the bodhisattva vows. For fully ordained monastics the same principle is expressed in the payattika vow to abandon slander. It is also contained in the Buddha’s recommendation to all of us to avoid the ten destructive actions, the fifth of which is using our speech to create disharmony.
The Motivation
What an undertaking! I can’t speak for you, the reader, but I find this very difficult. I have an old habit of talking about the faults of others. In fact, it’s so habitual that sometimes I don’t realize I’ve done it until afterwards.
What lies behind this tendency to put others down? One of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargye, used to say, "You get together with a friend and talk about the faults of this person and the misdeeds of that one. Then you go on to discuss others’ mistakes and negative qualities. In the end, the two of you feel good because you’ve agreed you’re the two best people in the world."
When I look inside, I have to acknowledge he’s right. Fueled by insecurity, I mistakenly think that if others are wrong, bad, or fault-ridden, then in comparison I must be right, good, and capable. Does the strategy of putting others down to build up my own self-esteem work? Hardly.
Another situation in which we speak about others’ faults is when we’re angry with them. Here we may talk about their faults for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to win other people over to our side. "If I tell these other people about the argument Bob and I had and convince them that he is wrong and I’m right before Bob can tell them about the argument, then they’ll side with me." Underlying that is the thought, "If others think I’m right, then I must be." It’s a weak attempt to convince ourselves we’re okay when we haven’t spent the time honestly evaluating our own motivations and actions.
At other times, we may talk about others’ faults because we’re jealous of them. We want to be respected and appreciated as much as they are. In the back of our minds, there’s the thought, "If others see the bad qualities of the people I think are better than me, then instead of honoring and helping them, they’ll praise and assist me." Or we think, "If the boss thinks that person is unqualified, she’ll promote me instead." Does this strategy win others’ respect and appreciation? Hardly.
Some people "psychoanalyze" others, using their half-baked knowledge of pop-psychology to put someone down. Comments such as "he’s borderline" or "she’s paranoid" make it sound as if we have authoritative insight into someone’s internal workings, when in reality we disdain their faults because our ego was affronted. Casually psychoanalyzing others can be especially harmful, for it may unfairly cause a third party to be biased or suspicious.
The Results
What are the results of speaking of others’ faults? First, we become known as a busybody. Others won’t want to confide in us because they’re afraid we’ll tell others, adding our own judgments to make them look bad. I am cautious of people who chronically complain about others. I figure that if they speak that way about one person, they will probably speak that way about me, given the right conditions. In other words, I don’t trust people who continuously criticize others.
Second, we have to deal with the person whose mistakes we publicized when they find out what we said, which, by the time they hear it, has been amplified in intensity. That person may tell others our faults in order to retaliate, not an exceptionally mature action, but one in keeping with our own actions.
Third, some people get stirred up when they hear about others’ faults. For example, if one person at an office or factory talks behind the back of another, everyone in the work place may get angry and gang up on the person who has been criticized. This can set off backbiting throughout the workplace and cause factions to form. Is this conducive for a harmonious work environment? Hardly.
Fourth, are we happy when our mind picks faults in others? Hardly. When we focus on negativities or mistakes, our own mind isn’t very happy. Thoughts such as, "Sue has a hot temper. Joe bungled the job. Liz is incompetent. Sam is unreliable," aren’t conducive for our own mental happiness.
Fifth, by speaking badly of others, we create the cause for others to speak badly of us. This may occur in this life if the person we have criticized puts us down, or it may happen in future lives when we find ourselves unjustly blamed or scapegoated. When we are the recipients of others’ harsh speech, we need to recall that this is a result of our own actions: we created the cause; now the result comes. We put negativity in the universe and in our own mindstream; now it is coming back to us. There’s no sense being angry and blaming anyone else if we were the ones who created the principal cause of our problem.
Close Resemblances
There are a few situations in which seemingly speaking of others’ faults may be appropriate or necessary. Although these instances closely resemble criticizing others, they are not actually the same. What differentiates them? Our motivation. Speaking of others’ faults has an element of maliciousness in it and is always motivated by self-concern. Our ego wants to get something out of this; it wants to look good by making others look bad. On the other hand, appropriate discussion of others’ faults is done with concern and/or compassion; we want to clarify a situation, prevent harm, or offer help.
Let’s look at a few examples. When we are asked to write a reference for someone who is not qualified, we have to be truthful, speaking of the person’s talents as well as his weaknesses so that the prospective employer or landlord can determine if this person is able to do what is expected. Similarly, we may have to warn someone of another’s tendencies in order to avert a potential problem. In both these cases, our motivation is not to criticize the other, nor do we embellish her inadequacies. Rather, we try to give an unbiased description of what we see.
Sometimes we suspect that our negative view of a person is limited and biased, and we talk to a friend who does not know the other person but who can help us see other angles. This gives us a fresh, more constructive perspective and ideas about how to get along with the person. Our friend might also point out our buttons – our defenses and sensitive areas – that are exaggerating the other’s defects, so that we can work on them.
At other times, we may be confused by someone’s actions and consult a mutual friend in order to learn more about that person’s background, how she might be looking at the situation, or what we could reasonably expect from her. Or, we may be dealing with a person whom we suspect has some problems, and we consult an expert in the field to learn how to work with such a person. In both these instances, our motivation is to help the other and to resolve the difficulty.
In another case, a friend may unknowingly be involved in a harmful behavior or act in a way that puts others off. In order to protect him from the results of his own blindness, we may say something. Here we do so without a critical tone of voice or a judgmental attitude, but with compassion, in order to point out his fault or mistake so he can remedy it. However, in doing so, we must let go of our agenda that wants the other person to change. People must often learn from their own experience; we cannot control them. We can only be there for them.
The Underlying Attitude
In order to stop pointing out others’ faults, we have to work on our underlying mental habit of judging others. Even if don’t say anything to or about them, as long as we are mentally tearing someone down, it’s likely we’ll communicate that through giving someone a condescending look, ignoring him in a social situation, or rolling our eyes when his name is brought up in conversation.
The opposite of judging and criticizing others is regarding their good qualities and kindness. This is a matter of training our minds to look at what is positive in others rather than what doesn’t meet our approval. Such training makes the difference between our being happy, open, and loving or depressed, disconnected, and bitter.
We need to try to cultivate the habit of noticing what is beautiful, endearing, vulnerable, brave, struggling, hopeful, kind, and inspiring in others. If we pay attention to that, we won’t be focusing on their faults. Our joyful attitude and tolerant speech that result from this will enrich those around us and will nourish contentment, happiness and love within ourselves. The quality of our own lives thus depends on whether we find fault with our experience or see what is beautiful in it.
Seeing the faults of others is about missing opportunities to love. It’s also about not having the skills to properly nourish ourselves with heart-warming interpretations as opposed to feeding ourselves a mental diet of poison. When we are habituated with mentally picking out the faults of others, we tend to do this with ourselves as well. This can lead us to devalue our entire lives. What a tragedy it is when we overlook the preciousness and opportunity of our lives and our Buddha potential.
Thus we must lighten up, cut ourselves some slack, and accept ourselves as we are in this moment while we simultaneously try to become better human beings in the future. This doesn’t mean we ignore our mistakes, but that we are not so pejorative about them. We appreciate our own humanness; we have confidence in our potential and in the heart-warming qualities we have developed so far.
What are these qualities? Let’s keep things simple: they are our ability to listen, to smile, to forgive, to help out in small ways. Nowadays we have lost sight of what is really valuable on a personal level and instead tend to look to what publicly brings acclaim. We need to come back to appreciating ordinary beauty and stop our infatuation with the high-achieving, the polished, and the famous.
Everyone wants to be loved – to have his or her positive aspects noticed and acknowledged, to be cared for and treated with respect. Almost everyone is afraid of being judged, criticized, and rejected as unworthy. Cultivating the mental habit that sees our own and others’ beauty brings happiness to ourselves and others; it enables us to feel and to extend love. Leaving aside the mental habit that finds faults prevents suffering for ourselves and others. This should be the heart of our spiritual practice. For this reason, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "My religion is kindness."
We may still see our own and others’ imperfections, but our mind is gentler, more accepting and spacious. People don’t care so much if we see their faults, when they are confident that we care for them and appreciate what is admirable in them.
Speaking with Understanding and Compassion
The opposite of speaking of the faults of others is speaking with understanding and compassion. For those engaged in spiritual practice and for those who want to live harmoniously with others, this is essential. When we look at other’s good qualities, we feel happy that they exist. Acknowledging people’s good qualities to them and to others makes our own mind happy; it promotes harmony in the environment; and it gives people useful feedback.
Praising others should be part of our daily life and part of our Dharma practice. Imagine what our life would be like if we trained our minds to dwell on others’ talents and good attributes. We would feel much happier and so would they! We would get along better with others, and our families, work environments, and living situations would be much more harmonious. We place the seeds from such positive actions on our mindstream, creating the cause for harmonious relationships and success in our spiritual and temporal aims.
An interesting experiment is to try to say something nice to or about someone every day for a month. Try it. It makes us much more aware of what we say and why. It encourages us to change our perspective so that we notice others’ good qualities. Doing so also improves our relationships tremendously.
A few years ago, I gave this as a homework assignment at a Dharma class, encouraging people to try to praise even someone they didn’t like very much. The next week I asked the students how they did. One man said that the first day he had to make something up in order to speak positively to a fellow colleague. But after that, the man was so much nicer to him that it was easy to see his good qualities and speak about them!

1. Killing: taking the life of any being, including animals.
2. Stealing: taking what has not been given to you. This includes not paying fees or taxes that you owe, using supplies at your workplace for your own personal use without permission, and not returning things you have borrowed.
3. Unwise sexual behavior: adultery and carelessly using sexuality that harms others physically or emotionally.
4. Lying: deliberately deceiving others. How about white lies, or exaggerating the truth?
5. Divisive speech: causing others to be disharmonious or preventing them from reconciling. Do we use our speech to create harmony and bring people together to help each other?
6. Harsh words: insulting, abusing, ridiculing, teasing, or deliberately hurting another’s feelings. How often do we use speech to encourage people and help them generate positive qualities?
7. Idle talk: talking about unimportant topics for no particular purpose. How careful are we about what we speak about?
8. Coveting: desiring possessions that belong to others and planning how to obtain them. How much time do we spend planning to shop and get things? Wanting stuff? Craving recognition?
9. Maliciousness: planning to hurt others or to take revenge on them. Do we plan how to get even with someone that has hurt us? To let them know who is in charge?
10. Wrong views: Strongly holding to cynical views that deny the existence of important things, such as the possibility to develop all of our positive potential, the cause and effect relationship between actions and results, and spiritual truths.


The Sound Of Silence

Ajahn Sumedho
As you calm down, you can experience the sound of silence in the mind. You hear it as a kind of high frequency sound, a ringing sound that’s always there. It is just normally never noticed. Now when you begin to hear that sound of silence, it’s a sign of emptiness — of silence of the mind. It’s something you can always turn to. As you concentrate on it and turn to it, it can make you quite peaceful and blissful. Meditating on that, you have a way of letting the conditions of the mind cease without suppressing them with another condition. Otherwise you just end up putting one condition over another.
This process of putting one condition on top of another is what is meant by making ‘kamma’. For example, if you’re feeling angry, then you start thinking of something else to get away from the anger. You don’t like what is going on over here, so you look over there, you just run away. But if you have a way of turning from conditioned phenomena to the unconditioned, then there is no kind of kamma being made, and the conditioned habits can fade away and cease. It’s like a ‘safety hatch’ in the mind, the way out, so your kammic formations, "sankharas", have an exit, a way of flowing away instead of recreating themselves.
One problem with meditation is that many people find it boring. People get bored with emptiness. They want to fill up emptiness with something. So recognise that even when the mind is quite empty, the desires and habits are still there, and they will come and want to do something interesting. You have to be patient, willing to turn away from boredom and from the desire to do something interesting and be content with the emptiness of the sound of silence. And you have to be quite determined in turning towards it.
But when you begin to listen and understand the mind better, it’s a very realisable possibility for all of us. After many years of practice, gross kammic formations fade away, while the more subtle ones also start to fade away. The mind becomes increasingly more empty and clear. But it takes a lot of patience, endurance and willingness to keep practising under all conditions, and to let go even of one’s most treasured little habits.
One can believe that the sound of silence is something, or that it is an attainment. Yet it is not a matter of having attained anything, but of wisely reflecting on what you experience. The way to reflect is that anything that comes and goes; and the practice is one of knowing things as they are.
I’m not giving you any kind of identity — there is nothing to attach to. Some people want to know, when they hear that sound, ‘Is that stream-entry?’ or ‘Do we have a soul?’ We are so attached to the concepts. All we can know is that we want to know something, we want to have a label for our ‘self ‘. If there is a doubt about something, doubt arises and then there is desire for something. But the practice is one of letting go. We keep with what is, recognising conditions as conditions and the unconditioned as the unconditioned. It’s as simple as that.
Even religious aspiration is seen as a condition! It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aspire, but it just means that you should recognise aspiration in itself as being limited. And emptiness is not self either–attachment to the idea of emptiness is also attachment. That also is to be let go of ! The practice then becomes one of turning away from conditioned phenomena, not creating anything more around the existing conditions. So whatever arises in your consciousness–anger or greed or anything–you recognise it is there but you make nothing out of it. You can turn to the emptiness of the mind–to the sound of silence. This gives the conditions like anger a way out to cessation; you let it go away.
We have memories of what we have done in the past, don’t we? They come up in consciousness when the conditions are there for them to come. That is the resultant kamma of having done something in the past, having acted out of ignorance and having done things out of greed, hatred and delusion, and so forth…. When that kamma ripens in the present, one still has the impulses of greed, hatred and delusion that come up in the mind as the resultant kamma. Whenever we act on these ignorantly, when we aren’t mindful, then we create more kamma.
The two ways we can create kamma are with following it or trying to get rid of it. When we stop doing these, the cycles of kamma have an opportunity to cease. The resultant kamma that has arisen has a way out, an ‘escape hatch’ to cessation.

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September 2006
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