Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 2 - Wednesday - April 30, 2003
Rev. Kusala Bhikshu


REV. KUSALA: I'd like to start off this morning with a reading. It's from a book called, "Teaching's of the Buddha," by Jack Kornfield, and is a compilation of sayings, reflections, thoughts and ideas. This comes from a Buddhist text called the Samyutta Nikaya. It's entitled, "Soma and Mara."

"Once the nun, Soma, having returned from her alms round and after her meal entered the woods for a noonday rest. Plunging into the depths of the woods, she sat under a tree.

When the tempter, Mara, desirous of arousing fear, wavering and dread in Soma, and wishing to cause her to interrupt her concentrated meditation, went up to her and said, "The goal is hard to reach, even for sages. It cannot be won by a woman with whatsoever wisdom she may have.

Then Soma thought: Who is this, a human or nonhuman? Who is saying this? Surely it is Mara, who wants to interrupt my concentrated meditation.

Knowing that it was Mara, she said to him, "What does one's gender matter to one whose mind is well composed, in whom insight is functioning, and who comprehends the Dharma?"

Then Mara thought: The nun, Soma, knows who I am. Being sad and sorrowful, he vanished then and there."

I've chosen three topics for the morning session. The first is freedom, the second is ownership and nonattachment, and the third is forgiveness or acceptance.

___A few years ago I started looking into the idea of freedom.___

A few years ago I started looking into the idea of freedom. Am I really free? Do I have true freedom? Am I controlling my life, or is my life being controlled? What is ultimate freedom anyway?

I then reflected on freedom of choice. Do I have the freedom to choose? Or is my choice based on... Do I want the red one, or blue one? Do I have the choice, of "No Choice?"

I have come to understand through the practice of meditation and following the precepts, that the freedom of a monk is really based, on the choice of no choice. Sounds strange doesn't it. That true freedom can come out of having no choice? Like holding the 227 precepts of an early Buddhist monk. Somehow, those precepts become 227 chances to be free. One day wisdom and compassion will take all our choices away, and we'll be left with enlightened intention, speech, and action, not-self and no choice.

So, how do we find freedom in renunciation? What holds us in bondage? Is it the things we own, the things we want, or the things we need?

I found myself sitting in the Zendo (meditation hall) on a hard, cold floor, quietly, looking for "No Choice." About ten minutes into my sitting both knees really started to hurt. I envisioned myself sitting with gangrene, and because of that, an ambulance would soon come to the Zendo and take me to the hospital. The doctor would say in a soft and comforting voice, "We have to amputate your leg, because you were sitting in meditation too long."

Wow, what a story my mind was making. I suddenly became aware Mara, the great tempter, was sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear, trying to scare me. (Mara is not a devil, but a manifestation of desire and craving). So, I said to Mara, "I'm going to sit here anyway. I'm going to choose not to have the choice to move." Weird isn't it, to choose no choice, very Zen in a way.

After a half hour of sitting quietly, I stretched my legs and the blood came back. I was able to stand and walk. I didn't have to go the hospital. I started to see the choice of no choice, had allowed me to sit with much more discomfort than ever before. No choice in a way, let me transcend my discomfort with no dire consequences.

Could I choose not to be comfortable and simply suffer, even when friends, family, body, and mind told me not to? Sometimes my spiritual journey is all about not choosing comfort.

Freedom is never found in security
___ and seems to lie outside most of the comfort zones.___

Freedom is never found in security, and seems to lie outside most of the comfort zones.

I'd like to stop here and do a reading. This is something from the Dhammapada a famous Early Buddhist text. It's called, "Crossing the Stream."

"Few cross over the river. Most are stranded on this side. On the riverbank they run up and down. But the wise person, following the way, crosses over beyond the reach of death.

Free from desire,
Free from possessions,
Free from attachment and appetite,
Following the seven lights of awakening,
And rejoicing greatly in one's freedom,
In this world the wise person
Becomes oneself a light,
Pure, shining free."

Okay something about ownership and attachment. This is a tough one for me, because I like the stuff I have. I don't have much stuff, but that makes the stuff I have even more valuable to me.

Back in the 1980's I bought a brand new Opal Manta, $3700. What a wonderful car -- flag blue, four-on-the-floor, my first new car. I was so happy, I'd drive to work every day and glow in the luxury of my new car.

Then one day I left my apartment to go to work, and found somebody had broken into my brand new car. The passenger window was shattered and the radio was gone.

I was confused. I was angry. I went over to my car, and I yelled, "Car, who owns you? Who owns you, car? Don't I own you? Aren't I making the payments? Aren't you mine?" I listened carefully for a response, but my car said nothing back.

It was a big insight: I didn't own my car. I was simply using it until somebody wanted it more than I did.

I thought about myself. Do I own me? Can I prevent my body from getting old? Can I prevent it from getting sick? Can I prevent it from dying? What part of me do I really own? Can I ever really have a perfect hair day?

As a monk with a shaved head, it seems I can have a prefect hair day.

MC: I'd say it's perfect.

REV. KUSALA: The problem with ownership is... It's an illusion! There is no one to own the stuff, and no stuff to be owned.

The Illusion of ownership causes much suffering. A better way to go through life, is with an open hand. Sometimes people give me things out of kindness and generosity. But things change, and those things I think I own, will always be taken away.

Every time I close our hand and try to own the things I use, I suffer.

Can I just walk through life with an open hand, receiving and giving without ever closing my hand? I think I can, but it takes a lot of practice. That's what I call true renunciation, never closing your hand or your heart.

Okay a little shift here.. What about forgiveness? You know, in Buddhism we don't really have forgiveness, it's more like acceptance. There is no One in Buddhism to forgive us, and there is no One to be forgiven. It's sad sometimes, it feels good to be forgiven, you sort of get off the hook. But Karma has no ears to hear, and no eyes to see.

A short story... A few years ago Father Gill from the LA Archdiocese and I were at a Los Angeles Buddhist/Catholic dialogue. I said to Father Gill, "Father Gill" -- and let me say now, he is a much wiser man than I -- "Father Gill, I don't believe we have forgiveness in Buddhism."

I felt so proud, I had found something to challenge him with, and make a Buddhist point. I said, "You know, the forgiver is up here, and the forgiven is down there. In Buddhism we don't have forgiveness; we have acceptance. Acceptance is much better, because it's a more equal playing field. There is equanimity in acceptance. There is no greater or lesser in acceptance.

Gosh, I felt so good about the point I had just made.

Father Gill said in a kind and forgiving tone, "Reverend Kusala, that's an interesting idea, but don't you think forgiveness and acceptance can do the very same thing?" I said, "But, what do they do, Father Gill? What does forgiveness and acceptance really do?

Father Gill said, "Forgiveness and acceptance bring a relationship back into balance."

"Forgiveness brings a relationships back into balance," I said? "Yes, he said." "And acceptance does the same thing. It's all about balance."

Wow, I came to understand forgiveness and acceptance are pretty much the same, because of the balance they bring to the world. But now, is there a way practice acceptance?

Let me share a technique I use. I go to a busy grocery store, sometimes Von's, sometimes Ralph's, and I find the longest line. I may only have one or two items, but I stand there anyway, just waiting.

My first thoughts might might go something like this... This sure is a stupid thing to do, I could be doing a lot of other things right now. Then I get a little angry and a bit uncomfortable. That's when I start to practice 'patient endurance.' I'm enduring this line, my anger, and my discomfort because my goal is accept things without having to change them. Finally it's my turn to pay, and my practice is over.

I might go back the next day and find the longest line again, and keep doing it repeatedly until patient endurance finally turns into patience. Patience is the antidote to my anger.

___Patience is the antidote to anger.___

Now while I'm standing there being patient, I might even invite somebody to cut in front of me. It will make my practice that much better. After practicing for awhile... Like a week, a month, or even a year, patience finally turns into acceptance. With acceptance I can stand in the longest line, forever.

At that moment, the world and I are exactly the way we're supposed to be. Eventually my acceptance turns into equanimity, a kind of elevated spiritual acceptance. In equanimity I have perfect balance. Mind and heart have come together in the present moment where all things are interconnected and empty of value.

Thank you for listening.

SR. MEG: Well, speaking of patient endurance, do you want to stand up for a moment while I get set up?

REV. KUSALA: I brought my harmonica with me today, and while Sister Meg is getting set up I'd like to play a tune for you.

Back in the old days when more blues guys lived in the country than in the city, they would hear a train, a steam engine, and replicate it on their harmonica. It's said, you can't be a real blues harmonica player until you can play the train. This is my interpretation of the train. All aboard.

(Rev. Kusala plays some Blues on his harmonica.)



_Day 2_

Sister Meg | Rev. Kusala | Q & A