Q&A Excerpt : Relationships, Attachment, and Suffering

“As long as I have relationships will I always suffer?” – Short answer? Yes, BUT….

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Email Response: Insight from the Suttas In Turbulent Times.

If people wish to affect change in their world they can’t do it angry in an echo chamber, that is like trying to find your way through a maze in thick fog while drunk.

I received an email from a friend asking for the following and decided to share the response in case it may be of benefit:

In the spirit of these turbulent times for the nation regarding misunderstanding and political animosity, I’m looking for a sutta that might offer some insight on understanding; also on compassion. If any come to mind, I’d appreciate it much.

To start off, a pair from the Samyutta Nikaya:

“On one occasion, while dwelling at Sāvatthı̄, the Blessed One said this: “Bhikkhus, this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning. A first point is not discerned of beings roaming and wandering on hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving. Whenever you see anyone in misfortune, in misery, you can conclude: ‘We too have experienced the same thing in this long course.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this saṃsāra without discoverable beginning…. It is enough to be liberated from them.” 

12 (2) Happy At Sāvatthı̄. “Bhikkhus, this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning…. Whenever you see anyone happy and fortunate, [187] you can conclude: ‘We too have experienced the same thing in this long course.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning…. It is enough to be liberated from them.””

This is important to keep in mind for our practice. Every single living being that exists, offer your goodwill, your friendship, your feelings of camaraderie, for all fellow beings who share existence with you. ALL of US, come into existence, live for a time, then pass away. All of us who have physical forms are children of the stars, ie we are made up of material that came from the heart of a dying star. I’m not talking about a sort of “universal mind” or “universal oneness”, the Buddha never taught that, but a camaraderie born of sibling-ship, of being in the same boat(samsara) as it were. No matter who it is, they are a fellow being who deserves at the very least our equanimity and compassion, if not goodwill.

Understanding, goodwill, and compassion are important in these times, and especially being able to back out of our limited views to try to see a bigger picture. We often get so caught up in situations that it’s hard to see clearly, that requires taking a step back and being willing to see all sides, the grander picture. When you try to understand a persons perspective, perceptions, and motives, you see the humanity in them and that breaks the tendency to create “us vs them”, which begins the dehumanizing process and makes it easier for hate to arise.

I think the now popular term “echo chamber” is important. If people wish to affect change in their world they can’t do it angry in an echo chamber, that is like trying to find your way through a maze in thick fog while drunk.

From the Anguttara Nikaya:

42 (2) The Good Person “Bhikkhus, when a good person is born in a family, it is for the good, welfare, and happiness of many people. It is for the good, welfare, and happiness of (1) his mother and father, (2) his wife and children, (3) his slaves, workers, and servants, (4) his friends and companions, and (5) ascetics and brahmins. Just as a great rain cloud, nurturing all the crops, appears for the good, welfare, and happiness of many people, so too, [47] when a good person is born in a family, it is for the good, welfare, and happiness of many people.

The Importance of being a good person, and never forgetting the impact that has on the world around you. It is important not to let the times and what is going on in the world around you change you into a person you wouldn’t like. Even if someone feels they must do something, it is always best to remain solid in the firm foundation of your principles and perform any action with clarity, mindfulness, and goodwill. When this is done you are following the Buddha’s advice:

“Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred.” – Dhammapada verse 15

“Having abandoned ill will and hatred, he dwells with a benevolent mind, sympathetic for the welfare of all living beings; he purifies his mind from ill will and hatred.” – DN 2

It also helps to always remember this:

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By goodwill alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.” – Dhammapada verse 5

Buddhas words of metta:

Sabbe sattā averā hontu , abyāpajjā hontu, anīghā hontu,sukhī attānaṃ pariharantū

“May all beings be friendly & peaceful, may they be free of mental suffering, many they be free of physical suffering, may they look after themselves with ease.”

Then of course the Kakacupama sutta, simile of the Saw, which begins with a Monk who has been spending too much time with other monastics so that if someone criticizes those other monastics, he “would become angry and displeased and would make a case of it”

http://www.yellowrobe.com/component/content/article/120-majjhima-nikaya/353-mn-21-kakacpama-sutta-the-simile-of-the-saw.html

In these situations The Buddha advises us to train to be like the Great Earth:

“Suppose that a man were to come along carrying a hoe & a basket, saying, ‘I will make this great earth be without earth.’ He would dig here & there, scatter soil here & there, spit here & there, urinate here & there, saying, ‘Be without earth. Be without earth.’ Now, what do you think — would he make this great earth be without earth?”

“No, lord. Why is that? Because this great earth is deep & enormous. It can’t easily be made to be without earth. The man would reap only a share of weariness & disappointment.”

“In the same way, monks, there are these five aspects of speech by which others may address you: timely or untimely, true or false, affectionate or harsh, beneficial or unbeneficial, with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. Others may address you in a timely way or an untimely way. They may address you with what is true or what is false. They may address you in an affectionate way or a harsh way. They may address you in a beneficial way or an unbeneficial way. They may address you with a mind of good-will or with inner hate. In any event, you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic to that person’s welfare, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading him with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with him, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will equal to the great earth — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

The Buddha  at the end of the sutta speaks about what mind state we should abide in if you are being sawed into pieces, let alone verbal and physical abuse. This does not mean that if someone is doing something bad to you that you can’t defend yourself or that you should be a push over, but as stated before, any action you must take should be done with clarity and mindfulness, because then you will know the best possible course of action, as opposed to just going with the flow of emotional response, acting instead of reacting.

“Monks,even if bandits were to carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.

 

To go along with the theme of this email so far, I always love this short poem:

“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham:

“He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!”

When someone shuts you out, you can fight and rail against the circle, try to besiege it like a medieval castle , or you can draw a larger circle that takes them in, it’s your choice, and it’s important to remember that you always have a choice.

Back to the Suttas: Buddhas practicle advice on dealing with aversion(annoyance, anger, hatred) towards a person when it arises.

https://suttacentral.net/en/an5.161

Aṅguttara Nikāya 5. Book of the Fives : Subduing Hatred

“There are these five ways of subduing hatred by which, when hatred arises in a monk, he should wipe it out completely. Which five?

“When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should develop good will for that individual. Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued.

“When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should develop compassion for that individual. Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued.

“When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should develop equanimity toward that individual. Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued.

“When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should pay him no mind & pay him no attention. Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued.

“When one gives birth to hatred for an individual, one should direct one’s thoughts to the fact of his being the product of his actions: ‘This venerable one is the doer of his actions, heir to his actions, born of his actions, related by his actions, and has his actions as his arbitrator. Whatever action he does, for good or for evil, to that will he fall heir.’ Thus the hatred for that individual should be subdued.

“These are five ways of subduing hatred by which, when hatred arises in a monk, he should wipe it out completely.”

About a year and a half ago I thought up the term “Metta Insurgency”. It came to my mind for a few reasons: The first being that to stand by principles of non-violence and goodwill in a world of greed, hatred, and delusion, is going against the stream. It is an insurgency(an act of revolt, or uprising). To me a Metta Insurgency is about the most radical insurgency that can ever exist.

To make metta your vehicle, to make sure all of your actions are influenced by it, is the greatest gift to yourself and the world around you. It is a hard route, because it’s much easier to just give into the anger and feel ,as the Buddha said its “it’s honeyed crest and poisoned root”.  Going against the stream is never easy, but it’s always worth it.

The Buddha encourages us to use our right effort to perform meritorious deeds from a place of goodwill. We should strive to perform acts of generosity. This generosity can be mental, physical and verbal. It is a giving of yourself in some way to others and is the very basis of the practice. Helping others with your money, time, and/or effort, IS metta in action and is a skillful act that leads to your benefit and the benefit of others for a long time to come.

We can speak in ways that unite, in ways that benefit others, in ways that bring happiness and trust, speaking with a calm, peaceful and trustworthy manner. Your words can be a vehicle for good, if you put in the effort to make it so. This is our metta in action.

We can perform various acts of kindness, compassion, and good will, from as small as simple things like holding the door for others to as grand as we can imagine. This is our metta in action.

The Buddha said patience is the best meditation. Oh what benefit we give to the world when we practice patience. Patience is metta in action.

I think that’s about all I have for now my friend. Continue to practice well and see you soon.

Westerners And Rebirth

A response to those on the fence about Buddhism due to aspects like Kamma and Rebirth.

***I wrote this last year but I think it still holds up quite well and is accurate. Of all the many hang ups that I’ve seen westerners have over the years regarding Buddhism, it’s Rebirth. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen ” I really like Buddhism but I can’t get into this rebirth and kamma thing”.  This is my typical response when I speak to people having trouble.***

Westerners who are exploring Buddhism always have questions regarding “rebirth”, and I’ve been asked by people before if I believe that we move on to further existences when we die.

It is hard for me to give a quick and dirty answer to a complicated question like this, but if I’m forced then the best answer I can give right now is “almost”.

And you know what makes that so awesome? is that it’s perfectly ok. Where else could you be a clergymen/monastic and openly be able to say “ I don’t know”. The Buddha never forced us to believe anything, he called us to come and see for ourselves, to put the teachings into practice in order to gain insight through examining our experience.

In the Pubbakotthaka Sutta, the Buddha gives a discourse and then asks his right hand man, Sariputta, if he believes what the Buddha just said. Sariputta says that he does not have to believe, because he knows it for himself. In the Kesaputtiya sutta, in which the famous Kalamas are exhorted, the Buddha advises us to not just believe something because a book or a teacher says something, or your intellect reasons something out, but to question and explore and see for yourself through your own experience, does this lead to my benefit and the benefit of others, or to my harm and the harm of others.

As for my personal views on repeated existence, I’ll start out by saying that as far back as I could remember thinking about these deep questions, I’ve always been agnostic. Growing up Catholic you are of course taught to believe In God and the like, but I can’t say I ever truly believed, nor have I disbelieved. My scientifically bent mind and my agnostic mind come together to say I cannot prove nor disprove the existence of a God or rebirth, so until such time as my experience tells me otherwise, I’ll remain agnostic, ie I’ll “shelve it”.

There are some indications of a preference for repeated existence in me growing up. from an early age I remember often thinking about what great historical figures I was in a former life and how I’d like to be reborn again in the future to be a starship captain, since I won’t be alive long enough haha. I always thought an eternal heaven sounded boring, and the possibilities of all kinds of various lives more exciting. I remember as a teen watching that movie “What dreams may come” and thought it was cool that there could be a heaven but also you can go back and be born again.

OH I was such a happy go lucky idealistic child haha. These days however my view matches the Buddha’s with regard to living again and again. I’ve had enough of that thank you! I have no desire to be reborn and have to go through it all again anymore.

I do like the concept though of viewing it as a journey of self improvement. You don’t just have one life to get it right, but you have all the chances you need to break the cycle, making yourself better second by second, day by day, year by year, life by life, until you awaken into a radiant being of unlimited wisdom, goodwill, and compassion, breaking free of the cycle and gaining ultimate freedom.

I also look at nature itself. Everything in nature is cyclical, from the smallest scale to the largest, even the stars themselves are born and die, seeding new stars. Now those who propose the multiverse suggest the possibility of universes themselves being born and dying out creating new big bangs etc. Nothing in existence is static, nothing is everlasting, everything is always changing, in Flux. This is exactly what the Buddha taught 2600 years ago.

In the previously mentioned Kesaputtiya Sutta, where the Buddha is speaking to the Kalamas, who are confused about various teachings, including whether there is rebirth and whether there is fruit of action(ie Kamma). The Buddha gives four assurances:

“This noble disciple, Kālāmas, whose mind is in this way without enmity, without ill will, undefiled, and pure, has won four assurances in this very life.

“The first assurance he has won is this: ‘If there is another world, and if there is the fruit and result of good and bad deeds, it is possible that with the breakup of the body, after death, I will be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.’

“The second assurance he has won is this: ‘If there is no other world, and there is no fruit and result of good and bad deeds, still right here, in this very life, I maintain myself in happiness, without enmity and ill will, free of trouble.

“The third assurance he has won is this: ‘Suppose evil comes to one who does evil. Then, when I have no evil intentions toward anyone, how can suffering afflict me, since I do no evil deed?’

“The fourth assurance he has won is this: ‘Suppose evil does not come to one who does evil. Then right here I see myself purified in both respects.’

“This noble disciple, Kālāmas, whose mind is in this way without enmity, without ill will, undefiled, and pure, has won these four assurances in this very life.”

I highlighted the second assurance specifically. When I first read this section I had already been a practitioner for a good five years and listened to dozens upon dozens of dhamma talks, with never hearing this section discussed, but to a westerner such as myself it was like a light bulb coming on. Here was the Buddha saying that even if there is nothing after death, this path of practice brings immense benefits right here in this very life.

And I’d say he was correct.

Following the Buddha’s path has so far in my experience shown the Buddha to know what he is talking about. Every step along the path so far he has been right, so I think to myself, well if the Buddha has been right about all of this… why not the rest? I believe this can also be anyone’s experience as well when following the path honestly and sincerely.

This his is how I am able to say I “almost” believe. I’m probably at about 90% believe, 10% doubt, good enough odds that if I were a betting man I’d put my money on it. The Buddha did say however that knowledge of past lives is something you gain on the path as you get close to awakening, so it is something verifiable , just not yet, so I remain open minded and “shelve it”. It really does not make a huge difference in my daily practice, but it does inform my practice and put it in the right framework.

So in summation my advice for those who are interested in Buddhist practice but repeated existence is a hang up, is to not worry about it too much, keep an open mind and shelve it, ie put it away for later. You don’t need to believe to begin the practice, you just have to want to begin to look inward. This practice will make you question much more then do I go to heaven or be reborn, you will question all of your most deeply held views, including the view you are a self to begin with.

Until that time you can practice for more peace, happiness, and contentment in your life, which is how I myself started, you never know where the practice may lead you.

May your practice blossom my friends.