Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 3 - Thursday - May 1, 2003
Rev. Kusala Bhikshu

REV. KUSALA: I'm going to start with a reading, actually two readings. The first one is called the "Parable of the Lute."

"Once the Blessed One lived near Rajagaha on Vulture Peak. At that time, while the venerable Sona lived alone and secluded in the Cool Forest, this thought occurred to him:

"Of those disciples of the Blessed One who are energetic, I am one. Yet, my mind has not found freedom." Now, the Blessed One, perceiving in his own mind the venerable Sona's thoughts, left Vulture Peak, and, as speedily as a strong man might stretch his bent arm or bend his stretched arm, he appeared in the Cool Forest before the venerable Sona. And he said to the venerable Sona: "Sona, did not this thought arise in your mind:

'Of those disciples of the Blessed One who are energetic, I am one. Yet, my mind has not found freedom.'"

" Yes, Lord."

" Tell me, Sona, in earlier days were you not skilled in playing stringed music on a lute?"

" Yes, Lord."

" And, tell me, Sona, when the strings of that lute were too taut, was then your lute tuneful and easily playable?"

" Certainly not, O Lord."

" And when the strings of your lute were too loose, was then your lute tuneful and easily playable?"

" Certainly not, O Lord."

" But when, Sona, the strings of your lute were neither too taut nor too loose, but adjusted to an even pitch, did your lute then have a wonderful sound and was it easily playable?"

"Certainly, O Lord."

" Similarly, Sona, if energy is applied too strongly, it will lead to restlessness, and if energy is too lax, it will lead to lassitude. Therefore, Sona, keep your energy in balance and balance the Spiritual Faculties and in this way focus your intention."

" Yes, O Lord," replied the venerable Sona in assent.

Afterward, the venerable Sona kept his energy balanced behind the Spiritual Faculties, and in this way focused his attention. And the venerable Sona, living alone and secluded, diligent, ardent and resolute, soon realized here and now, through his own direct knowledge, that unequaled goal of the holy life.

This Second reading sheds light on the true goal of the holy life. And what is the true goal of the holy life? According to the Maijhima Nikaya, No. 29, the true goal of the holy life is:

"Hence, the purpose of the holy life does not consist in acquiring alms, honor, or fame, nor in gaining morality, concentration, or the eye of knowledge. That unshakable deliverance of the heart: That, verily, is the object of the holy life. That is its essence. That is its goal."

JO: Say that again.

REV. KUSALA: The unshakable deliverance of the heart: That is the object of the holy life. That is its essence. That is its goal. Deliverance of the heart.

JO: That's a new phrase for me, deliverance of the heart.

REV. KUSALA: Today I thought I would speak about the five precepts.

___The five precepts are the foundation of Buddhist practice.___

The five precepts are the foundation of our Buddhist practice. Some of the five precepts are found in the Noble Eightfold Path under the category of personal discipline. In that category we find, right speech, right action and right livelihood.

If the launching pad is askew, the rocket takes off and misses the mark. The foundation is very important to the rest of the sturcture. The five precepts are the foundation of Buddhist practice.

What is right speech? The Buddha said there are four kinds of unskillful speech. They are false, malicious, harsh, and gossip or iddle chatter. Those four kinds of speech always increase suffering.

When I was a volunteer at a state prison for men, I realized these men already understood the importance of right speech. If they said the wrong thing at the wrong time, they could be killed. Talk about a great incentive to speak skillfully.

If they made you feel uncomfortable, they would say, "Excuse me." If they needed something, they would say, "Please." If you gave it to them, they would say, "Thank you." Skillful speech reduces suffering, and you don't need to be a great yogi to do it.

There are three kinds of action that always increase suffering: Killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The Buddha said killing causes much suffering, all creatures have a desire to live.

I was surprised that a cockroach might enjoy and cherish his life, but you try to kill one, and they'll run away. And those ants in your kitchen, they want to go on living as well.

It's a cruel joke, if you truly want to hold this precept, you are doomed to failure. Because everything we eat, was at one time alive. Killing is a part of living.

A vegetarian might say, "You know, I don't kill anything." I would say to him, "That's because you can't hear the screams of the broccoli."

We are all faced with the same dilemma, which is not should I kill, but what do I need to kill to stay alive. Vegetarians choose to kill the lowest life form they can, while meat eaters just aren't as picky. But let me say here, I am not aware of anyone achieving enlightenment because of what they ate. The Buddha ate meat, he ate what was offered.

Being a police chaplain puts me in an interesting place, especially with the first precept, not to kill. I have received e-mails from police officers asking, "It's sometimes necessary for me to use lethal force, from a Buddhist perspective what should I do?

I reply in this way, "Never kill out of hatred and anger. Only service and duty. The consequence of your actions will be greatly reduced if your intention is one of service and duty to the community."

___There is a zen story I'd like to share with you about a samurai warrior.___

There is a zen story I'd like to share with you about a samurai warrior.

There was a great battle, and a shogun was killed. It became the Zen samurai warrior's duty to revenge the death of the shogun, and it took him an entire year to find the culprit.

One morning at 4:00 am, he went to this small house in an outlying village. He knocked on the door and it swung open. There, standing in the doorway was the man he had been looking for an entire year. He could now revenge the death of his shogun and go home. He pulled his sword to slay the man, but just as quickly put it back in the sheath and left.

The reason was, as he pulled his sword he was filled with a great anger and hatred. He would have to come back another day to fulfill his duty in the proper way. He had made it personal.

Beside the problem of taking life, it is really hard to be born. In the Buddhist tradition, we feel that life begins when a sperm, an egg, and karmic energy come together in the womb. The karmic energy necessary for life is called gandhabba, in the early Buddhist language of Pali. In Buddhism karmic energy is what transmigrates from lifetime to lifetime, not the soul.

Think of being reborn as a human and the chances of that occuring, like this.

There is a giant ocean, and at the bottom of that giant ocean is a one-eyed turtle. Every hundred years this one-eyed turtle comes to the surface for a breath of air.

Floating in the great ocean is a wooden yoke, having fallen from the neck of an ox. The chances of that one-eyed turtle surfacing through the center of that wooden yoke, are the same chances we face being reborn as a human being.

Now, there are times when I might have to kill.

When I have to kill something like a bug, I try to be as conscious as I can. I don't just react. I think about the consequence's of my actions, and my accountability.

If there is any way not to kill -- Well for instance, if there is a spider in the corner of the zendo. I could go and fetch a jar and chase the spider down, and then take him outside. It may take five or ten minutes, but in those five or ten minutes I can reflect on the value of life, his life and mine.

Now, I know it's only a matter of time until that spider comes back, and I'll have to do it again. But that's okay, it's good practice and in the end, my practice benefits the spider and me.

When people ask me, "How I feel about war?

I share with them my sadness over the loss of life. Governments come and go. Nations are here today, and gone tomorrow. The lines drawn on this earth by politicians, have been redrawn many times. Ending the lives of humans, animals, and insects because of certain views or agendas is really stupid. It's very unskillful karma and it causes a lot of suffering.

___So, Killing is always a big deal, no matter what's being killed.___

So, Killing is always a big deal, no matter what's being killed, an ant or a human. Though human life turns out to have a bit more value, because a human can achieve nirvana, an ant can't, until it's been reborn as a man or woman.

Okay, on to something else. Stealing, what's wrong with stealing? We all own or at least think we do, and are attached to stuff.

In Sr. Meg's case, she uses stuff, but doesn't own it, because of her vow of poverty. Most folks think they own the stuff they use, and that's where the problem comes in. And some people have so much stuff, they rent storage lockers to store the excess.

MGC: It's a big business.

REV. KUSALA: Yes it is. Now, if somebody comes and takes the stuff you think you own, you're going to be really bummed out. A lot of the young people in juvenile hall are there because they didn't understand this concept, they took the stuff people thought they owned.

In order for us to live in community we need to respect each other's stuff, even if ownership is just an illusion. Okay, enough said on owning and stealing.

Now, we come to sexual misconduct. In Los Angeles where I come from, it's okay to do or be anything you want. When I was a young man growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. I could only do half the stuff they do today, and I felt guilty about that.

Today you can be, bisexual, homosexual, tri-sexual, trans-sexual, non-sexual, a-sexual, always sexual, etc. It's so confusing! The idea of finding the right combination, or your true sexual identity, is very seductive.

Buddhism says, ultimate satisfaction is never going to happen. The activity of sex will never ultimately satisfy your desire for sex.

Now, is that a bummer or what? I mean you can have sex a thousand times and want it a thousand one. When you seek satisfaction through sexual activity, your desire only gets stronger.

I'm thinking it's a lot like hunger, and to be honest with you I'm getting tired of being hungry.

I've been hungry every day of my life. I'm hungry in the morning, and I have breakfast. I'm hungry in the afternoon, and I have lunch. I'm hungry in the evening, I have dinner. Sometimes I'm hungry after dinner, and I'll have a snack.

I'm thinking if I could end my hunger forever, I'd have a lot of extra time and money. So tomorrow morning I'm going to get up real early, and I'm going to eat as much as I want, as often as I want. I'm going to be so full that I'll never want to eat again.

If I could somehow do that, it would only take a day of two to be hungry again. That is essentially how sexual desire works. It's the same deal.

What did the Buddha say specifically to lay people about sex? He said four things.

He said, do not have sex with people who are married. Do not have sex with people who are engaged. Do not have sex with people who are being supported by their parents -- children. And do not have sex with people against their will.

That's all he said. He didn't say anything else. I'm assuming he felt every community, every city, every state, every nation would initiate their own laws, their own way of moderating sexual activity.

He did say a lot to monks and nuns about not having sex... Let me say there is nothing wrong with sex. Sex is wonderful... It's the desire for sex that keeps getting in the way of our ultimate satisfaction.

Celibacy offers a monk or nun greater flexibility in how they live their life.

I don't look at not having sex as a penalty. I look at it as an opportunity. When I stopped having sexual relationships, I started to see myself in a totally different way. Not having sex became part of my inner exploration, part of my practice.

___Desire in not ended by not having sex, desire only ends in Nirvana.___

Now, does not having sex end suffering? No, it just means you suffer in a different way. Desire in not ended by not having sex, desire only ends with Nirvana.

Okay, now we come to right livelihood. The Buddha said there are certain kinds of livelihood that increase suffering, and certain kinds of livelihood that decrease suffering. For instance, it's not skillful to be a butcher, or sell drugs and alcohol. It's not skillful to sell human beings... slavery, or to make poison. Certain livelihoods aren't conducive to Buddhist practice because the create more suffering, not less.

One time I was teaching a meditation class, and I was talking about right livelihood. A woman in the class was a bartender, and she never came back after my little talk. I see now, I should have been more skillful. So, if you find yourself involved in a livelihood that seems to increase suffering, just don't quit your job. It's really hard to find work, and there may be people dependent on your pay check. Retrain yourself, and then seek other employment.

I was giving a talk at USC to a group of business majors. One of the guys came from a Buddhist family and asked if it was okay for a Buddhist to make a lot of money. I said, "Oh, yes, think how much more money you can give away."

There is one precept I haven't talked about yet, and I'm a bit hesitant because it's the hardest one for some folks. So, let me go over the five precepts, and then I'll talk about the fifth precept.

The first precept is, and it's said this way -- the wording is very important -- "I accept the training precept not to kill."

The second precept... I accept the training precept not to steal, not to take what is not given.

A story comes to mind about the second precept that was played out in real life for me at a Buddhist conference.

There was this monk, he was eating lunch and he had this beautiful red apple sitting on the table in front of him. One of the other monks -- not from his tradition -- was taken aback by how beautiful it was, and picked it up and said, "What beautiful apple, I bet you're going to enjoy eating this one," and he set it back on the table.

Now, the first monk who was going to eat the apple, couldn't touch it until it was reoffered to him. Because, as soon as that second monk touched the apple, ownership transfered to him. So, please, don't touch a monk's food.

Okay the five are... I accept the training precept not to kill. I accept the training precept not to steal. I accept the training precept not to indulge in sexual misconduct. I accept the training precept not to lie. I accept the training precept not to consume intoxicants.

The fifth precept... Not to consume intoxicants. Every day here in New Harmony, I see the chalice and I see wine in the chalice. I know it's symbolic of something else. But, it makes me think of my precepts.

A lot of people want to become Buddhists, but enjoy a beer or two once in awhile.

So, at the IBMC where I live, we changed the fifth precept for lay people to read... Not to consume intoxicants to the point of intoxication. That becomes their starting place.

Now let me say here, there anything wrong with wine or beer?

In fact, they have some medicinal qualities. The problem with consuming any alcoholic beverage is... Sooner or later it will steal your wisdom. If enough of your wisdom is stolen, you might break the other four precepts and not even know it.

How hard won is wisdom?

Buddhists sit quietly for hours at a time, go on long retreats, read Buddhist texts, listen to their teachers, and try to be mindful of everything they do. All it takes is a few beers, and it's all out the window. When you start to see how much time you've invested in your wisdom, not drinking makes perfect sense.

Eventually it becomes clear: Why, not killing, not stealing, not indulging in sexual misconduct, not lying, not consuming intoxicants is the path to freedom, and that leads to end of suffering.

Following the five precepts is a way to live in the world
___ and not cause more suffering.___

Following the five precepts is a way to live in the world and not cause more suffering.

SR. MEG: Kusala, the precepts are very important, and they lead us to that liberated heart. But I'm curious, how do you sustain the precepts? I know you're going to say meditation, so please tell us about Buddhist meditation.

REV. KUSALA: Meditation is the second category of the Eight-Fold Path. The three category's are; Personal Discipline, Mental Perfection, and Wisdom.

Okay Mental purification... There are three path factors in the second category of meditation: Right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Right effort in meditation doesn't have anything to do with the body. It's not about going to 24-hour fitness or Gold's gym. Right effort is to sit quietly and observe your thoughts as skillful or unskillful.

Skillful thoughts are thoughts of self limitation, generosity, compassion, and wisdom.

Unskillful thoughts are thoughts of lust, greed, hatred, and delusion.

There are four things you can do with these thoughts. You can abandon them, prevent them, develop them, or maintain them. You prevent or abandon the unskillful thoughts, and develop or maintain the skillful ones.

To share a personal example of how all this might work... I'm sitting in meditation, and in my mind... I find myself in a supermarket, but not standing in line this time.

I'm on the bakery aisle, and there in front of me is a stack of Entenmann's chocolate cakes. I say to myself, "I'd like to take two of those cakes with me, one for tonight and one for tomorrow." I see greed has arisen, because if it were generosity, I would take one for me and one for you.

I simply note whether the thought is skillful or unskillful, without any kind story attached to my discernment. I then let the thought go. That in a nutshell, is right effort in Buddhist meditation.

The Buddha practiced two forms of meditation.
___ One was taught to him. One he rediscovered.___

The Buddha practiced two forms of meditation. One was taught to him. One he rediscovered.

The reason I use the word rediscovered is because, according to the early Buddhist tradition of Theravada, there were many Buddhas before Siddhartha Gautama. He was one in a line of Buddhas, and we already know who the next Buddha will be. His name is Maitreya Buddha.

The Buddha was taught Samatha (tranquility) meditation, and rediscovered Vipassana (insight) meditation. These are the two forms of Buddhist meditation, Samatha and vipassana -- tranquility and insight.

Tranquility meditation was taught to the Buddha by the yogis of India. Tranquility meditation is what I consider to be the meditation of enlightenment. Insight meditation is the meditation of Nirvana.

I make a distinction between enlightenment and nirvana. This is a distinction that came to me after a lot of personal reflection and meditation. It helps me understand Buddhist meditation with more clarity. It's not something I found in a book, it came out of my practice.

I define enlightenment as the wisdom of emptiness, and Nirvana as the end of suffering.

I think, the Mahayana tradition focuses more on enlightenment and the wisdom of emptiness, in fact postponing their own Nirvana until all other sentient beings have achieved it.

The early school of Buddhism known as the Theravada seems to focus more on Nirvana, and uses insight meditation as its primary technology.

What is this Samatha meditation, and what are the characteristics?

There is something in tranquility (Samatha) meditation called the four jhanas, the four stages of tranquility.

The first jhana has five characteristics: Applied thought, sustained thought, happiness, bliss, and equanimity.

The second jhana has three characteristics: Bliss, happiness, and equanimity.

The third jhana has two characteristics: Happiness and equanimity.

The fourth jhana has one characteristic: Equanimity.

If you are doing Buddhist meditation and gaining anything, you're doing it wrong. The Buddhist path, is a path of renunciation. We are not doing it to gain generosity. We are doing it to get rid of greed. We are not doing it to gain compassion. We are doing it to get rid of anger and hatred. We are not doing it to gain wisdom. We are doing it to get rid of delusion and ignorance.

We already have as much generosity, compassion, and wisdom as we will ever need. The things that prevents us from attaining and realizing our innate perfection is greed, hatred, and delusion, the three poisons. Meditation is designed to get rid of the three poisons and wake us up to our perfection.

What a positive message this is. We are already okay; we just haven't realized yet.

Okay, the first jhana has applied thought, sustained thought, happiness, bliss, and equanimity. The mediator would sit on the floor quietly --

SR. MEG: Hold on a minute. What would be a word for jhana that I could translate?

REV. KUSALA: You could translate it as dhyana, which is Sanskrit. You could translate it as trance, which some of the earlier translators did, but I think that misinterprets it. You could translate it as a deep state of tranquility, as in the four stages of tranquility.



Back to the four stages of tranquility. The mediator is sitting quietly, legs crossed.

He or she brings their attention to the tip of the nose and holds it there, applied thought, sustained thought. Applying attention and holding it at the tip of the nose. Just feeling breath go in and out. As the focus deepens, bliss and rapture rise in the body, happiness in the mind, and the first trace of equanimity.

This happens in any concentrated state. You can get the same thing in a theater, watching an exciting movie. I must admit, though, meditation on breath is not as exciting as a good movie. It takes a lot more intention to stay with the breath.

With more effort and understanding, the mediator go's from the first jhana into the second jhana, having left applied thought and sustained thought behind. The mind simply rests on the object of meditation. There is a greater sense of bliss and rapture, a greater sense of happiness and equanimity.

But there is a problem with this bliss and rapture of the body. Bliss and rapture distort the way we perceive the world. The meditator might say, "Gosh, if I could get rid of this rapture and bliss, I could perceive the world in a much more realistic way."

Imagine a pond in a forest, and it's a moonlit night, you throw a rock in the pond and create waves. The waves distort the reflection of the moon. In the same way bliss and rapture distort the way we perceive the world.

With a deeper understanding and even more effort, the mediator slips into the third jhana, with it's two characteristics: Happiness and equanimity. There is no longer bliss and rapture in the body.

After coming out of the third jhana, the mediator reflects on happiness, the subtle happiness of mind. It now becomes apparent, that even happiness can distort the world.

The mediator thinks, if I could rid myself of happiness, I could see the world exactly the way it is; not through the colored glasses of judgment and preference, attachment and repulsion. So, with greater understanding and a renewed effort, the mediator goes into the third jhana and then slips into the fourth jhana. Now the only characteristic left is equanimity: Perfect balance in mind.

There is no joy. There is no sorrow, no bliss or rapture, and no pain. The mediator is centered, focused, and clear. Mediators will not suffer or feel pain as long as they are in the fourth jhana. They have reached a profound level of acceptance with the way things are.

But, once the meditator gets off the cushion, leaves the zendo, gets into his or her car and go's on the freeway... Anger, hatred, and delusion will rise again. It's the same old story. If only there was a way to permanently get rid of greed, hatred and delusion? To realize perfect balance of mind, and have equanimity all the time.

That was the dilemma the Buddha faced Twenty-five hundred years ago. The answer for him was to rediscover insight meditation, which solved the puzzle and ended his suffering forever.

There are four kinds of insight meditation: Mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of the mind, and mindfulness of mental objects.

I'm going to talk a little bit about the mindfulness of sensations or feelings.

The mediator is sitting on the floor again, cross- legged. But rather than going into deeper and deeper states of tranquility, he goes to a place called access concentration, which is a kind of momentary concentration. The mediator scanning his body from the tip of his toes to the top of his head, begins looking for sensations.

The Buddha said there are three kinds of sensations. Pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations, and neutral sensations, they occur in both body and mind.

The mediator might start at the toes and work his way up, with the goal of being aware of any sensation. When one is found, he might think to himself pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Then he would note what kind of sensation it was and let it go -- pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Let go, and find the next one.

He might do this for 20 minutes, up and down, looking for sensations, noting, naming, and letting go -- pleasant, unpleasant, neutral.

After all this awareness of sensations, he would then go into deep state of reflection on the three aspects of Buddhist wisdom.

Which are: Impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self.

The first thing he might think is, "Are all sensations impermanent? Did any of them last the length of my meditation? Did any of them change in intensity, or were they always the same?"

Upon reflection, he would find all sensations whether in mind or body were impermanent. They would arise because of conditions, exist, and in some cases pass away, only to trouble him again later. Arising and passing away, with no permanence to be found.

He might think to himself, is everything in the world impermanent? Does anything exist forever? Is everything created out of conditions? When conditions change do all things grow or decay.

___Impermanence is the first aspect of Buddhist wisdom.___

Impermanence is the first aspect of Buddhist wisdom.

The second aspect of Buddhist wisdom is unsatisfactoriness. Are all sensations unsatisfactory?

Now you might think, well, they weren't all unsatisfactory because some of them turned out to be pretty nice. I had these little blissful feelings, little energy flows. But then, when they ended, I was disappointed. Because of impermanence, every pleasant sensations became imperfect or unsatisfactory. The world is ultimately unsatisfactory, because all things change.

Now we come to the third aspect, 'Not Self.' Does any sensation have an essence or quality that exists independently? Does any sensation have an original unconditional substance?

Sensations seem to be conditional rather than unconditional. Sensations seem to be process, rather than an event.

There was a wonderful book published in the late '70s called "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." One of the dilemmas in the book, was to find quality. Where does the quality live in a object?

The main character in the book rode a Honda Super Hawk 400, and his buddy a BMW. His buddy always felt his BMW had more quality than the Honda.

I'm thinking, what would happen if both these guys went to a giant parking lot, and took their bikes apart into their 10,000 pieces.

Over here we have the Honda, over there we have the BMW. Now I'm thinking, we give each bike owner a magnifying glass, and we tell them, "Please, find the quality on your motorcycle. In what part does it reside?"

They would go to each part and look carefully for the essence of quality. Their conclusion might be, when all the pieces are put together to form an illusion of oneness, quality appears. When you take the one and make it many, the illusion of quality is lost in the parts.

If I were to look in my mind and body, where would I find my original essence? My soul.

The meditator seeing impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not self to be true, one day will be liberated from suffering... Because there is no 'One' to suffer, and no 'One' to cause suffering. The wisdom of Buddhism cuts through lust, greed, hatred, and delusion like a great sword, leaving behind, self limitation, generosity, compassion, and wisdom. The end of suffering, nirvana.

After the Buddha achieved nirvana through insight meditation, he never practiced it again. He had reached the end of the holy life, the perfection of the heart. There was no need for more insight. But, he continued to practice tranquility meditation until the end of his life.

Insight meditation ended his suffering. Tranquility meditation ended his pain. When he was sick or feeling discomfort from a bad back or just being old -- he died at the age of 80, you know-- he would simply go into deep states of jhana and neutralize the pain. When he did die, he died in the fourth jhana.

The two forms of Buddhist meditation are tranquility and insight. Some schools of Buddhism emphasize one, some the other, the Buddha did both.

___Suffering is optional. Pain isn't.___

REV. KUSALA: Suffering is optional. Pain isn't. Suffering happens when you don't want to have the pain.

JO: Pain is physical?

REV. KUSALA: Pain is both physical and emotional. Body and mind. But, suffering only happens in the mind. The body can't suffer.

SR. MEG: I've sat through many Buddhist teachings, this is the clearest I have ever heard on meditation practice.

Rev. Kusala: Thank you.



_Day 3_

Sister Meg  |  Rev. Kusala  |  Q & A