Benedict's Dharma 2

Day 5- Saturday - May 3, 2003
Rev. Kusala Bhikshu


REV. KUSALA: In my tradition Vietnamese Zen-- Please excuse this digression before I get into my planned presentation -- once a year we have something called ullambana. Ullambana is when we call the lost and confused spirits to our center. We have bamboo outside the front door, the rustling of the bamboo seems to catch the attention of the spirit world. We have two wooden clappers that we bang together. That catches their attention, too. We are asking the spirits to come to our zendo, and listen to the dharma, and be reborn either as a human being or in the heaven realm.

___I remember a story about the founder of IBMC... Thich Thien-An___

I remember a story about the founder of IBMC... Ven. Thich Thien-An was contacted by an apartment owner. He said, "I cannot rent this apartment because we've got some rascal spirits here, they won't leave the tenants alone. Can you come over and take them back to your Buddhist center?"

So, Ven. Thich Thien-An and two of his monks went to the apartment house, did some special rites and rituals, they chanted all the way back to the center, calling the spirits to follow. After that, the spirits were no longer in the apartment and the manager was able to rent again.

JO: He exorcised them.

REV. KUSALA: What better place for spirits to go than to a Zen center where they can hear the teachings of the Buddha, and finally have a good rebirth.

Okay, I want to talk about humility and leadership. It may not be obvious who or what our leader is, so I'd just like to just read a few paragraphs from this book, The Word of the Buddha.

In the Buddha's own words:

"But whatsoever there is a feeling, perception, mental formations or consciousness, all these phenomena he regards as impermanent, subject to pain, as infirm, as an ulcer, a thorn, as misery, a burden, an enemy, a disturbance, as empty and void of an ego; and turning away from these things, he directs his mind towards the abiding thus.

"This verily is the peace. This is the highest, namely the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nirvana. And in this state he reaches the cessation of passions.

"And his heart becomes free from sensual passion, free from the passion for existence, free from the passion of ignorance. 'Freed am I.' This knowledge arises in the liberated one, and he knows: Exhausted is rebirth, fulfilled the Holy Life; what was to be done, has been done; naught remains more for this world to do. Forever I am liberated. This is the last time that I am born. No new existence waits for me.

"This verily is the highest, holiest wisdom, to know that all suffering has passed away. This verily is the highest, holiest peace: Appeasement of greed, hatred and delusion.

"I am is a vain thought. I am not is a vain thought. I shall be is a vain thought. I shall not be is a vain thought. Vain thoughts are a sickness, an ulcer, a thorn. But after overcoming all vain thoughts, one is called 'a silent thinker.' And the thinker, the Silent One, does no more arise, no more pass away, no more tremble, no more desire. For there is nothing in him that should arise again. And as he arises no more, how should he grow old again? And as he grows old no more, how should he die again? And as he dies no more, how should he tremble? And as he trembles no more, how should he have desire?

"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.

"And those who formerly in the past were Holy and Enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones also have pointed out to their disciples this self-same goal, as has been pointed out by me to my disciples. And those who afterwards in the future will be Holy and Enlightened Ones, those Blessed Ones also will point out to their disciples this self-same goal, as has been pointed out by me to my disciples.

"However, disciples, it may be that after my passing away, you might think: 'Gone is the doctrine of our master. We have no Master more.' But thus you should not think, for the Law, the dharma, and the Discipline, the vinaya, which I have taught you, will after my death be your master. Let the dharma be your light. Let the dharma be your refuge. Do not look for any other refuge."

So said the Buddha.

One time Buddha was walking on a tour with a large group of monks, when he came to a town of the Kalamas called Kesaputta. The Kalamas of Kesaputta thought: It is very good indeed to see awakened ones such as these.

And so they went up to the Buddha and said, having seated themselves to one side, the Kalamas of Kesaputta, "There are, Buddha, sir, many different teachers that come to Kesaputta. They illustrate and illuminate their own doctrines. But the doctrines of others, they put down, revile, disparage and cripple. For us, sir, uncertainty arises and doubt arises concerning them. Who indeed of these venerable teachers speaks truly, and who speaks falsely?"

"It is indeed fitting, Kalamas, to be uncertain. It is indeed fitting to doubt. For in situations of uncertainty, doubts surely arise. You should decide, Kalamas, not by what you have heard, not by following convention, not by assuming it is so, not by relying on the texts, not because of reasoning, not because of logic, not by thinking about explanations, not by acquiescing to the views that you prefer, not because it appears likely, and certainly not out of respect for a teacher. When you would know, Kalamas, for yourselves that these things are unhealthy, these things when entered upon and undertaken incline towards harm and suffering, then, Kalamas, you should reject them."

So as Buddhists, who do we listen to, who is our leader, and where does our humility come from? As you recall awhile ago, I was speaking about how monasteries were put together, and certain groups of monks memorized certain talks or rules or Buddhist psychology. You would go to one monastery to hear this sutra and one monastery to hear that sutra. When all the monasteries came together, you had the entire teachings of the Buddha.

In days of old, monks, who wanted to learn the teachings of the Buddha, would have to go from monastery to monastery, because each monastery became a specialist in a part of the doctrine. But no one monastery had the entire teaching's of the Buddha until it finally was put to paper. It's a tradition that monks would stay in a monastery for a few months or even a few years, and then journey to the next one, and then to the next one. Sometimes they found a teacher, and sometimes they didn't. The teacher needed to accept you as a student, and you needed to accept the teacher.

But in the end, you had to leave both your teacher and the monastery, go off on your own, become a wandering monk. The world is filled with so much suffering. In the early days of Buddhism you were allowed to stay with other monks for only three months during the rains retreat. The other nine months, you were encouraged to wander from village to village, city to city, state to state, country to country.

The monasteries were set up with an abbess or abbot, they were the monastery administrators. Some monks and nuns really like doing that stuff, being in charge, most don't.

Some monks were the scholar monks, their job was to teach the younger monks about the teachings of the Buddha. Some monks would cook, those were the monks you wanted as your friend. Some monks would simply sweep, clean, and practice. Then you had the elite monks, the ones that only meditate. They were not to be distracted from their focus of meditation and liberation, they were left alone.

___In every monastery there are many things to do.___

In every monastery there are many things to do. No monastery can run by itself. Even where I live at the IBMC in Los Angeles. You know, the houses are all 100 years old. Nails literally fall out of the side of the building. We pick them up and pound them back in. Constant maintenance is necessary to keep any center running. We have animals, birds, fish, cats, dogs, yards to mow, gardens to weed. And we are always looking for ways to raise money to keep the place going.

Our abbess Ven. Karuna Dharma, is in charge of making sure we have enough money to run the center, she directs the religious training as well. She has been doing this now for many years now, she is good at what she does, and likes to do it. The rest of us are less concerned about how the center runs and more concerned about teaching, or study, or whatever.

Is she the ultimately authority? Well no , she does have realitive authority over the center. The abbot keeps a temple going, so monks and nuns can have a place to live and practice. He or she is in charge of the daily life at the temple, but is not be considered the ultimate authority in Buddhism. Even the Buddha can't be an ultimate authority, because according to the early Buddhist tradition, he's dead. The sangha, the monks and nuns that we practice with, and even our teachers walk beside us, not in front us.

So who is this ultimate teacher, this ultimate authority? As the Buddha himself said, turn to the dharma, to my teachings. Teachers help define the words of Buddha, but teachers are never the Buddha, they are the messenger. At any point in our journey, we have the option of agreeing or disagreeing with them.

It must drive the teachers nuts, huh? The students have the last word.

When we find a teacher -- I have had two in my 24 years of practice -- when we find our teacher, they become our spiritual friend. They uplift us when we're down, and they push us down when we are up. They encourage us to continually look within, to find that place of balance, that place of peace, that place of wisdom and compassion. They encourage us to practice meditation, and to study the texts. So, speaking as a Buddhist monk, I have three things that are really important to me: The Dharma, my teacher, and my practice of the precepts.

My teacher of sixteen years passed away a couple of years ago. I'll never be able to replace him. But I have the dharma and my monastic precepts. I have to say though, almost everyone in the world has become my teacher in some way. Some people teach me what to do. Some people teach me what not to do. Though I need to be clear about which is which. In paying respect to all my teachers, I often bow lower to the people that teach me what not to do.

___But where does my humility come from?___

But where does my humility come from? How can I be humble and play the blues harmonica?


Well, I've thought long and hard about this. At the IBMC where I live, I practice bowing a lot, and every time I bow, I see my ego. Every time I bow, I feel resistance, I feel pride. Very hard to get rid of pride, and I need to, I live in an economy of generosity. My well being depends on humility.

Where does my humility really come from? Well deep down inside, there is no one thing or event to be proud of; every time I try to find the thing that people are praising or blaming, I come up empty handed. There is really no me there, just a conditional process, caused by mind and body.

Most of all, I feel humble because I will get sick, old, and die just like everyone else. That no matter, what I do in this life, how much I practice, or how enlightened I might become, I will die. Some of my practice is just letting go, letting go of all the praise that might come my way and all the blame that is sure to follow.

___I think the ultimate authority in Buddhism is the Dharma, his teachings.___

The ultimate authority in Buddhism is the Dharma, the teaching's of the Buddha. Though abbots, scholar monks, cooks, and mediators all play an important role in the life of a monk.

Suffering is my constant companion in this world of samsara, I guess that's how it works, until I reach enlightenment. But out of suffering, sickness, old age, and death comes humilty and a connection with all the other human beings that walk this earth.

The Dharma is my refuge, the Buddha my teacher, and the sangha my friend. When all is said and done, after 24 years of practice, Self is becoming more like a tool and less like a master.

Be well and happy.

Thank you.



_Day 5_

Sister Meg  |  Rev. Kusala   | Q & A