Benedict's Dharma 2
3 - Thursday - May 1, 2003
Rev. Kusala Bhikshu
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?"
" 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.
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.
Today I thought I would speak about the five precepts.
five precepts are the foundation of Buddhist practice.___
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
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."
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."
is a zen story I'd like to share with you about a samurai warrior.___
is a zen story I'd like to share with you about a samurai warrior.
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.
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.
of being reborn as a human and the chances of that occuring, like
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.
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.
Killing is always a big deal, no matter what's being killed.___
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
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.
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
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.
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
What did the Buddha say specifically to lay people about sex? 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
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.
in not ended by not having sex, desire only ends in Nirvana.___
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,
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.
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.
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?
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.
the five precepts is a way to live in the world
___ and not cause more suffering.___
the five precepts is a way to live in the world and not cause more
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.
Meditation is the second category of the Eight-Fold Path. The three
category's are; Personal Discipline, Mental Perfection, and Wisdom.
Mental purification... There are three path factors in the second
category of meditation: Right effort, right mindfulness, and right
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.
thoughts are thoughts of self limitation, generosity, compassion,
Unskillful thoughts are thoughts of lust, greed, hatred, and delusion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
SR. MEG: J-A-N-A?
REV. KUSALA: J-H-A-N-A.
Back to the four stages of tranquility. The mediator is sitting quietly,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
is the first aspect of Buddhist wisdom.___
is the first aspect of Buddhist wisdom.
aspect of Buddhist wisdom is unsatisfactoriness. Are all sensations
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
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.
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
is optional. Pain isn't.___
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.
MEG: I've sat through many Buddhist teachings, this
is the clearest I have ever heard on meditation practice.
Rev. Kusala: Thank you.