Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spiritual Materialism and the Sacraments of Consumerism:

Spiritual Materialism and the Sacraments of Consumerism:
A View from Thailand

By Phra Paisal Visalo

        The distinction between religious faith and consumerism is becoming increasingly vague these days. Although religious worship may involve physical objects such as Buddha images, living within a moral discipline to keep oneself grounded in Dhamma is required in every religion. Nowadays, religious faith has been altered to the degree that it means purchasing auspicious objects to worship. One's faith (saddha) is no longer measured by how one applies it, how one lives life, but by how many holy or sacred articles one possesses.
       Many Bangkok monasteries as well as those in the provinces have transformed into trading centers for such auspicious objects. In these temples, it's not just a few ordinary photographs, encased amulets, and yantra (lucky cloths) that are bought and sold, but an incredible diversity of products, like protective lockets to hang from your rear view mirror, fancy matted pictures, figurines, and signs with magic phrases (like "The House of Richness"). Before long there may be specially blessed watches and consecrated calculators for sale. No doubt there are willing buyers already; it's just a matter of who will start producing them.
       If we examine some religious rites which have developed recently, we can see clearly how infatuated people become with sacred objects. Some phenomenon, although they spring up quickly and last only a short while, nonetheless turn into big business overnight. In one instance, people developed a belief about the special powers of a certain kind of bamboo from one village in Thailand. More than 20 different kinds of sacred objects made from this bamboo were available within a few days of the "discovery" of its potency. Soon, hundreds of thousands of baht (Thai currency - 40baht/$1) were being generated each day in more than 200 shops that mushroomed in the once sleepy, peaceful little village.
       Consumerism rests on the principle that happiness and success come about through consuming or purchasing things, not through creating or realizing it by oneself. This belief causes people to see religion as merely another aspect of consuming, rather than something which should be applied and practiced. The result is that religion has become superstition, and a low form of superstition at that. (Higher forms of superstition, while they too rely on sacred objects as well as special vows made with the hope of receiving worldly happiness, at least retain some basic morality or moral practice.)
       There are many people "seeking" religion who are bothered by all the fuss surrounding auspicious objects but unfortunately they are still influenced by consumerism. Some go to temples seeking peace of mind, but in terms of their expectations, they are more like tourists at a resort: "If we have money to pay for the service, then tranquillity will just come on its own; we don't have to actually do anything!" When they realize that the "for peace to be possible one has to make efforts that" involve staying in a tiny, lonely sleeping hut with no running water or electricity in the middle of the forest, and a good long walk to get there as well, their determination fades quickly, and they turn tail, get back in their cars and go home.
       Another form of religious consumerism is the desire to rack up spiritual experiences, like seeing nimitta (signs, images), visiting heaven and hell realms, and going into deep meditative states of absorption. This is no different than tourists who visit all the famous national parks, but who are happy just to drive around and check out the view from behind the windshield and stay in air-conditioned hotels, rather than walking in the forest, pitching a tent and experiencing peace and quiet. Such people only want strange and new experiences; it never occurs to them to work away at the illusion of "self". They are interested in the "instant coffee" kind of religion where the results are quick and immediate. They won't commit themselves to a single long-term practice or stick with a single teacher, but hop around from this temple to that practice center, and often wind up being deceived by some charismatic phony, who promises quick liberation.
       A superficial comparison of this kind of person with those whose primary concern in life is money -- thinking always of profit, following stock prices during the week, going out shopping on the weekends -- indicates that these two groups are exactly the opposite. The first group is religious in a strict way; the second are materialists. But looking more deeply, we see that they both are composites of religion and consumerism, and it is difficult to separate the two. The first group professes their religion in a consumeristic way. The second is religious about their consumption; in fact they are so religious about it, that we can call it a new religion: The Religion of Consumerism.
       Broadly defined, a religion is a system of thought and beliefs which meet deep human needs, particularly that of security in our hearts. We can achieve security on one level through various means. Lots of possessions, money, our health, success at work, being honored or famous -- these are all primary factors (although not so long-lasting) for our security. Each religion has the initial function of providing hope or a promise to people that if they do good, make merit, give alms, trust in God, pray to or beseech him in the proper way, then they will have longevity, good standing, power, good health and prosperity. On a higher level, religions help provide meaning for people's lives, or at least help them know who they are, how to lead their lives and what direction to go. In another sense of the word, religions help people to get beyond their confusion and doubt. Those who have faith or trust in their religion are likely to have resolute strength and energy.
       Consumerism functions, up to a point, in the same way that religions do, starting with answering physical needs. People today are obsessed with accumulating wealth and property. And it's not just a matter of how much you have; what or what kind is equally important. There are loads of people who are willing to spend 100,000 baht on a Rolex watch, and invest millions in a Mercedes Benz. This is all because of their basic insecurity. For such people, ten leather handbags from the Banglampoo flea market do not provide the same security as a single one of the "real thing" made by Louis Vuitton.
        Similarly, people are even able to buy false certificates and degrees without feeling any thing is wrong, because the satisfaction that comes from being called "Doctor" outweighs any guilt. (But if their phoniness is exposed, well then it's another story.)
        Consumerism gives purpose to life as well. People who are completely submerged in it will have no hesitation or doubt because they are very focused -- focused on looking for things to consume. The newly graduated have no confusion; they know that they are working towards getting a car within two to four years. And the businessman has his sights set unwaveringly on the billion baht house. There are all kinds of things that obsess people, even to the point where they work so much that they sleep less than strict meditation monks. When it goes this far, we can rightly call it religion. What should we call this kind of strong faith, if not religion.
       There was a period when communism performed this function for many people, who treated the Party like God, committing their lives to it. So it was no surprise that when the ideals of communism were destroyed, they felt directionless and didn't know what to do with their lives. For many, the confusion was quickly alleviated by embracing consumerism. The energy and vitality they once gave to the party was now directed towards the stock market and figures in accounting books. Life took on meaning once again.
       We should understand that it is not desire alone that drives consumeristic behavior. People's beliefs or world view is a crucial factor. One reason that consumerism has power is due to the set of (seemingly rational) ideas, which say that happiness comes from consuming, and that the more one consumes, the more happiness there is. At the same time, this set of ideas holds that all problems have material solutions. The city has traffic problems? Just buy a computer to design a traffic system. You're putting on weight? Buy some diet pills. Your figure is starting to sag in places? Just get some plastic surgery. Want to be more popular and respected? A Benz is the thing you need. The sacred power of technology lies in more than just its ability to provide rational backing for materialism and consumerism, making them "scientific"; it also transforms technology itself into one of the components used in the rituals of consumerism.
        Apart from security in their minds, humans have a deeper need, and that is to transform into a "new person." The Religion of Consumerism has both rituals and practices which bring about this transformation. In the past, young Thai men who had passed through the monkhood would be known as kohn sook, literally "ripe people" (with connotations of being ready or seasoned). Some religions even try to build a new character, by giving the person a new appellation. But for deeper change, one must follow religious principles, for example, the practice of meditation.
       Consumerism goes far in answering this deeper need. A great, great number of people use consumerism as a way to build a new ego or become a new person by purchasing those products which support their self image. Taste is not the only thing which draws young people to buy soft drinks, but it is also the young consumer's desire to be one of the "New Generation" or to have personality like the pop star on the commercial. Ads these days do not try to sell the qualities of the products, but sell the qualities of the star or the model hired for the job. An image is being peddled to the consumer, an image that is obtainable by using that particular product.
        Just as the advertisements aren't really selling a product, the producers aren't really creating a product. They are creating a brand name, which interests consumers far more than the benefits and quality of the product. If there isn't some chic or elegant image associated with it, that brand will be worthless. For this reason some companies are able to reap ridiculous profits by selling the rights to attach their name to products when they have nothing whatsoever to do with their production. For example, the clothing company Pierre Cardin makes an incredible amount of money by selling the rights to use its name on over 800 different products, from perfume to sunglasses. And it is for reasons of image that Nike has announced publicly that it is not a "shoe company"; it is a "sport company." Shoes do not have the appeal to consumers that sports do. People don't just want a pair of shoes; they want to be an athlete like Michael Jordan. So people buy the brand of shoes which will link their sense of self with that of their favorite star. In terms of the effect in one's mind, the purchase of a pair of shoes is actually not so different from the purchase of an amulet of Luang Paw Goon. Luang Paw Goon is one of the more popular monks in Thailand these days, famous for his squatting position, a propensity for smoking, and superb fund-raising skills. Many believe that wealth, health and other worldly benefits are assured to those who don amulets with his image.
       So consumerism has more than just a material aspect; people's trust, beliefs and views play a very important role as well. When you consider consumerism in terms of the functions that it performs as well as the attitude and understanding of people who are under its influence, it is not so different from other religions. But in the final analysis, the Religion of Consumerism cannot truly answer the deeper needs of humanity. It will never make its followers feel completely satisfied. One who never feels like he has enough will never be able to quit striving and struggling, and will never be able to find real peace. Even worse, when one gives oneself over to the doctrine of consumerism, it is very difficult to realize the fact that it is peace which is the deepest aspiration and need for life. The desire for material things covers and obscures that deepest and finest wish, leaving one ignorant of life's real needs.
       The Religion of Consumerism provides only temporary fulfillment, giving meaning to life only in the short-term. No matter how much stuff you have, in the end it will all seem rather empty and meaningless, because fulfillment in life cannot arise when one is entangled with and overusing material things. Life's meaning is revealed not through building a new ego, but by delving deep until seeing that "self" is illusion. Consumerism offers no refuge for our lives, whereas even consuming religion itself cannot satisfy our deepest wish.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dear Comrades

Dear Comrades 
By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Comrades, there is no “us” to be found
but in a careless slip "us" comes to be.
Once awareness recovers, “us” disappears.
Ending this “us” business is good for all.

Dear Comrade, why not remove the "us"-ing
and, while you’re at it, the "them"-ing, too.
Living only with wisdom and kindness;
don't let "us" and "them" hang around. 

Look on the Good Side

They have their nasty aspects — who cares!
Choose only the good stuff that they have,
of benefit to the world and attractive.
As for the bad stuff, don't bother yourself.

To find someone who is good in all respects
Don't wander foolishly, friends, on the search,
Like a quest for the turtle's whiskers, dying for nothing.
So get used to looking on the good side — more value.


You shouldn't go reeking and puffing at flaws.
A moment's carelessness will bite hard, so put off
Making a mess and wasting time for nothing at all.
See everything in a good light, that's good enough. 


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Way to the happy life

Way to the happy life

Buddhism at a crossroads

Buddhism at a crossroads 
 By Phra Paisal Visalo

       The importance of Buddhism to Thai people cannot be overstated. That is one reason why hundreds of people, monks and nuns included, marched to Parliament House early last month to demand the setting up of a Ministry of Buddhism. Such a ministry would mean the state would provide a budget and personnel to address the problems threatening the country's main religion.But should we put the future of Buddhism in the hands of the government? I would argue that if we truly wish to restore and support Buddhism, we have to find ways to involve lay people _ communities _ in the process.

       History tells us something.
        In the past, Theravada Buddhism thrived here amid a balanced relationship with the government, Sangha and lay communities. The Sangha guided people in the path of dhamma and the government and people were responsible for supplying monks with necessities and for monitoring their practices. When the three elements worked well together, the religion flourished.
       Another history lesson: Buddhism's disappearance from India did not have to do with the invasion of Muslim armies, as many believe. Hinduism came under attack as well, but clearly survived. The reason behind the decline of Buddhism in India was excessive state patronage. This led monks to congregate at the then-prominent Buddhist university, Nalanda, and lose touch with lay communities. Over time, ordinary people came to believe that religious matters were the only concern of monks. When Nalanda was destroyed, Buddhism had no solid grounds left with which to continue.
       In Thailand, over the centuries, it is true that the monarchy played an important part in upholding the religion. Royal support, however, was limited to important monasteries in the capital and big cities. The majority of wats and monks survived by public support.The monarchy's ability to ensure that monks stayed within the bounds of the vinaya (correct discipline; Buddhist canon) was also limited, even when the monarchy had absolute power. During the reign of King Rama I, 128 monks were disrobed. That number increased to 500 in the reign of King Rama III. Even so, attempts to clean up the Sangha were limited to temples in the capital.
        The practice and discipline of monks who lived far from Bangkok was controlled by their local communities. It is undeniable that this sort of local social control is what helped Buddhism to survive until today.
       Buddhism began to decline when the three-pronged relationship lost balance. The downturn began about 100 years ago, when the Sangha was pulled towards the state and away from the community by the Sangha Act, (more widely known as the Ror Sor 121 bill). It was first implemented in 1903 and unified Buddhist administration under the Sangha Supreme Council.
       As religious affairs came under government control, communities had less say. The wat, which traditionally belonged to the community, was classified by law as an ``asset of the religion'' and came under state control. The villagers' voice was no longer a factor when it came to many issues, including questions about whether certain wats should be built or maintained. These issues were now up to the state.
       The state took control of promotions within the monk hierarchy. Although part of that power was later returned to the Sangha Supreme Council, the effect remained the same _ lay people were kept at a distance from monastic matters. Eventually, people paid less attention. The problem is that religious affairs have not been a priority for the state. That is one reason why we have seen so many serious problems with monks and monasteries and why there has been a call for the establishment of a Ministry of Buddhism.
         It is not fair, of course, to place all the blame on the state. We cannot dismiss the fact that lay people have turned their backs on the religion as well.
       Take the alarming deterioration in the quality of education for monks. Are ordinary Buddhists aware of this? Have they shown any interest in tackling the problem? While a massive percentage of donations go to construct ubosot, vihara or other temple buildings around the country, only a tiny amount is allocated to schools for monks and novices. The setting up of a new ministry might mean a bigger budget for the well-being of monks and the religion but it would definitely weaken the three-pronged relationship even further. If such a ministry was set up, lay people would become even more complacent about religious matters. The existing Department of Religious Affairs is not very large, but people still expect it to resolve every scandal involving monks. Lay people no longer think that it is their job to shore up the religion. This tendency would become more pronounced if the department was upgraded to a full-fledged ministry. The ministry would take over even more of the functions that used to be the responsibility of lay communities. These functions would in turn serve as more justification for expanding the ministry's budget and powers. Once you have an official body taking care of the organisation of temples, lay people have no room to contribute. It's even possible that people would stop making merit or supporting their local wat, because they'd figure the government was doing it. One can look at any rural society for evidence of the adverse impact of government intervention. Whenever state mechanisms and financing arrive, villagers quickly depend on them to solve all problems. They stop helping themselves and one another. Is there now any village where people are willing to use their own initiative to build a new road or repair a bridge? Most villages will only do so when they get money from the state or the Or Bor Tor (Tambon Administrative Organisation). Without financing, villagers won't work together on such issues, even if it's for the common good.
       There is no question that the idea for a Ministry of Buddhism was put forward in good faith. But we can't ignore the negative effects it would have on the duties of individual Buddhists. The central question is: what is causing the decline of Buddhism? Is it a lack of money? Patronage? Power? Or a lack of awareness among Buddhists? If money and power are the answer to problems, why do we still have a plethora of social ills? The Interior Ministry is equipped with wide powers and an enormous budget _ but it can't seem to cope with problems like drugs, crime and gambling.
       The key to solving problems in Buddhism is the active participation of civil society. Instead of raising a leviathan ministry, the government would do well to mobilise the public to take an active part in matters concerning the religion. One solution it should consider is the setting up of a decentralised system of committees for the administration of religious affairs at all levels, from the national down to tambons. These committees, which would have to be recognised by law, would be tasked with administering and supporting matters concerning the religion, including expanding spiritual knowledge, promoting Buddhist ethics and promoting education for monks. The committees would be sponsored by the government and paid for with local taxes. Members should be elected in the same manner as members were elected to the National Constitution Drafting Assembly.
       An assembly of Buddhists should also be established to monitor the work, policies and budgets of these administrative committees. Both organisations should contain monk and nun representatives. Both would provide forums for religious and lay people to exchange views about the religious situation both nationally and in their localities. Such forums could consider issues such as making sure that monks maintain discipline, deciding how to deal with those who stray off the rightful path, and screening men before they enter the monkhood.
        Reviving the role of lay people would help restore balance in the governing of the religion. It would be a longer process, but we really have no choice. State control might bring quicker results but in the long run would just exacerbate the problem. The proposal to establish both local administration committees and the assembly of concerned Buddhists does not dismiss the role of the state. Government must continue to play an active role in maintaining the well-being of Buddhism and monks, partly through the soon-to-be-established National Buddhism Bureau. That office would maintain a close working relationship at all levels with the local committees for the administration of religious affairs. It would serve as the government's agent in allocating budgets for the committees and assembly.To maintain the health of the religion, the government should be promoting the active participation of the public _ not taking over the public's job. That's why we shouldn't look to the proposed ministry as the answer to the restoration of Buddhism in national life.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Technology of Breathing In & Out

Technology of Breathing In & Out 

By Santikaro Bhikkhu


       With mind spinning “got to finish this,” worrying about that, irritated with something or another, hurrying to meet a deadline — yes, monks & nuns fall into this stuff, after all we are human, too — the bell for evening meditation rings. It’s a loud bell, loud enough to penetrate postmodern Samsâric mind. Struggling with the temptation to blow off the sitting, I manage to turn off the computer, finish the cup of tea, and get out the door. Fortunately, it’s a bit of a walk to the meditation hall. Blessed with the trees of a small forest on what was once a sandbar beneath the Gulf of Siam, the short walk to the open-air hall fosters a shift, slowing down a bit, even if I have to hurry to be on time.
        So ended many an evening work session during the later part of my fifteen years as a monk in Thailand. I’d often begin the meditation with walking, enjoying the soft crunch of the sand beneath bare feet and the gentle movements of arboreal friends next to the hall. Pacing back and forth rather quickly, at first, to contain the left over energy — though it revs up quick, it seldom goes away so fast — mind following the breath in and out, in and out … in … out … with frequent lapses back to the unfinished article, email debate, or monastic problem to solve. These lapses were easy, I learned, because the stirred-up breath didn’t foster quiet and stability, it perpetuated agitation. The breathing reflected and had been provoked by what had been going on in mind.
       Such breathing jarred body which perturbed mind which messed with breathing —a nasty circle of causality. Shallow, quick breath pushing the ch’i up and cerebral. Tight, stressed breath denying the relaxation and joy of a nice walk. Hot, irritated breath radiating throughout mind-body. Tired, sluggish breath weighing me down. Loopy breath making it easy to space out. Erratic breath from sleep deprivation and caffeine stimulation. Many times, many breaths. All mirroring what mind has been up to and caught up in. Unhealthy breath patterns built up by mind-body imbalance and reactivity. Distorted breath sustaining whatever imbalance, agitation, weariness, or stuckness. It goes on for years.
       Now living in America, I use the internet a lot and sometimes wish I had DSL or cable instead of pokey 56K. Yet, something about mindfulness has sunk in over the years of practice so that when a web page comes up slow or email downloads in trickles, I can take a few relaxing breaths. Slow connections become a slowing in order to connect body and mind through breath. When really slow, I can stretch or get off the chair for a shoulder stand. Maybe slow is beautiful. This paragraph came to mind while downloading a big upgrade and walking my breathing on a veranda overlooking Missouri hills and fields.
       Speed seems relative. Wanting something fast makes for slow. Reacting to slow, speeds up mind. To chat online with a friend on the other side of the globe through the slowest web connection is still a lot faster than pony express or clipper ship, let alone walking over there on foot.
       As a recent returnee to the land of the free, I continue to stumble upon and stagger past things that amaze. In airports, obese white folks line up for fast food while people of color serve from the other sides of counters. Layers of stunning amazement! Consumerism, foodism, racism, classism ... I feel sadness, disgust, anger. Not too strong, but enough to buzz around in the mind and tighten up body with breathing indignantly extra-strong. Still, mindfulness comes home to breathing and follows it in and down. Relaxing down into belly, lightening up the breathing; relaxing down into legs, regaining balance. Then, breathing up through the heart, softening and remembering that these folks munching on tacos and rubbery pizza are my pals in birth, aging, illness, and death. I can smile a bit, they aren’t my enemies, yet remain concerned by the blatant racial inequality and unhealthiness of what I see. Mindful, too, that I am not outside the mess looking in; I am participating in it, willingly when I drink Starbucks and unwillingly just by being alive in the globalization era. How to make that participation beneficial?
       In many Suttas, the Buddha taught ânâpânasati, a systematic training of heart and wisdom through mindfulness with breathing in and out. This comprehensive practice contains sixteen “lessons” that cover and perfect the four foundations of mindfulness. Usually, he started with “getting to know long (deep, healthy) breathing,” followed by “getting to know short (shallow, unhealthy) breathing.” Through experience, one learns  whether they are long or short, relaxed or tight, natural or unnatural. Then comes “experiencing all bodies,” that is, the relationship between the quality of the breathing and the quality of the body. These three preliminary steps culminate in “calming the body-conditioner,” which means cultivating naturally deep and subtle breathing that fosters inner peace, stability, and joy. From there, the feelings of satisfaction and joy arising from this practice are investigated and released. Then mind is explored and trained in various ways. Finally, the whole hog of breathing, body, feelings, and mind are revisited from the vipassa angles of impermanence, dukkha-ness, and not-self. If it’s real vipassanâ, profound letting go takes place and liberation occurs.
        Though simple, the early steps ought not to be taken for granted, after all, there isn’t any vipassanâ when the mind isn’t calm and clear. Fortunately, Ajarn Buddhadâsa, under whom I studied for a decade and continue to serve as translator, stressed the importance of long breathing and wasn’t namby-pamby about it. “Dhamma is Nature” was a central theme for him, but his understanding of “natural” didn’t follow our Western assumptions. Recognizing what is natural requires a fair bit of unlearning. Being a loyal student, I explored long breathing seriously for many years, unlearning as I went.
       Of course, there were times when clinging and obsessiveness forced the breath this way and that, including forcedly deep. That, however, wasn’t what the Buddha meant and I found ways to avoid that particular habit. So what breathing was “natural”? Were all the shallow, tight, tired, hot, erratic, stressed breaths “natural”? In the sense that everything is ultimately Dhamma, sure, they are natural. In the sense of healthy, useful, skilful — no way! Shifting from busy-minded breathing to gentle-walking breathing has taught me that they aren’t the kind of “natural” I need (like being bit by a rattlesnake isn’t the kind of natural I need). In fact, they were examples of the short breathing mentioned by the Buddha. 
       Off and on over the years, I’d stumbled upon genuine long breathing — deep, full, slow, relaxed, joyful. It usually happened when mind would drop some obsession or irritation to simply settle in and ride with the breathing. Yoga, massage, and soaks in the hot springs helped, too. Ajarn Buddhadâsa didn’t mind “controlling” the breathing if it brought healthy results, so I also found creative ways to foster — not force — long breathing and through it internally massage tightness and tension in chest, solar plexus, back, and abdomen. The easing and lightening could then spread throughout the body. Increasingly, these developed without conscious effort. However they might arrive, the results were delightful. Body more relaxed and light, whether walking or sitting. Mind much more settled and clear. Pleasant feelings. Happiness. Maybe that’s why the Buddha talked about these things specifically and not just the watered down “watch your breathing.” He even taught us to experience satisfaction and joy as we breathe in and out.
       So what does all this have to do with the “technology” of the title, except perhaps as an escape from or antidote to it? For a recent article on technology, I looked up the word in a favorite dictionary. The root meaning concerns art and craft. Who would have thought it? I’ve been lead to think it was only about computers, machines, fancy tools, and other complex products of our advanced scientific culture. Hi-tech ... what about low-tech? Or the natural technology of life?
       How wonderful! All that I’ve learned about the art of breathing mindfully — ânâpânasati — is also “technology.” I’m not so out-of-date after all. This practice is an art, a systematic craft, and a science of immense practical value. Healthy breathing reduces stress, calms, and relaxes. It replenishes energy and rejuvenates. It softens me physically and emotionally, fostering more openness and receptivity. It keeps me in the present where I feel more alive and happy. It teaches countless lessons about this body-mind, such as control without domination. It makes for more sensitivity and kindness. It heals and makes me into a healer. It supports intuition and wisdom. It is a path of freedom.
       Such artful breathing only happens through the training and development of mindfulness. To fully plumb the subtleties of the breathing, a refined awareness is needed. Not just counting ins and outs, the breathing artist-technician explores all kinds of breathing and how they interrelate with various conditions of body and mind. As the mutual conditioning becomes clearer, possibilities for deeper calmness, centeredness, silence, and concentration open up. This is not Wal-Mart stuff, nor will it show up in Espresso joints or on TV. It’s the realm of mind that has taken its inner life seriously cum playfully, softened up toughly, and jumped in carefully. Paying attention through deepening levels of refining awareness, the foundations of mindfulness grow into factors of awakening (as described in the Ânâpânasati Sutta).
       Mindful breathing while sitting, walking, and living life is central to how I cope with the challenges of our speedy, greedy postmodern world. Take our supposedly democratic political system. Social control through consumerism is more like it. Consumerism equals eating for eating’s sake, which tends to get out of control. That equals greed and greed is hunger for pleasure. America is a cornucopia of pleasures tastelessly marketed through malls, drive thrus, the Net. Pleasures that run all over Samsâra from simple delights like greasy pizza and sugar frosted flakes to tasty wraps to video games and Hollywood action to casual sex to imaginary sex to professional wrestling and politics to tourism to the latest hit novel to whatever music turns you on, yet all boiling down into coagulant nuggets of pride in possession and self-image through “I am my Lexus” or “I use an iMac,” thus rebirthing ME-ME-ME.
       How do we cope with the onslaught? Remembering breathing helps me. Breathing is something I genuinely need. It’s free and has no packaging to fill up landfills. I can enjoy it right now and won’t get emails to upgrade. My RAM was sufficient at birth to follow it in-down and up-out.  It connects me to inner strength that no electoral charades can disempower. When my appetite is stimulated, I can calm around the belly to see if that’s where the hunger is coming from or is it concocted by sensual reactivity? Again, slowing down, relaxing, softening, and centering give me space to ask the questions: Do I need this? Do I really want it? Who will it benefit? Awareness gets a toe-hold and wisdom gets a chance.  Can we discern between technology that feeds greed and technology that frees from greed?
        I wonder how many in our culture ask these questions. During my two decades in Thailand, I saw both speed and greed revved up and Buddhism downsized in many people’s lives. They went along with the flow pushed by the elites, governments, and global institutions. Here, having lived with speed and greed more intensely, and for much longer, I suspect many intuit the questions but are afraid to face them straight on. Good questions challenge too many assumptions about the good life and our purpose as Americans — all those familiar habits, desires, and identities. So how will we pop the question to ourselves and our culture?
       Learning how to breathe deeply, peacefully, wisely, and healthily is a good start. Cultivating the mindfulness, natural intelligence, and kindness needed to breathe this way takes us further. These open up frames of reference that show Samsâra in another light. May that light grow wisdom.
       Technology of mindful breathing not only has all these wonderful benefits, it is cheap and simple. Breathing and mindfulness can be applied anywhere. They’re free. This technology is fun and playful. Everybody can do it. That makes it “real tech” in my book, beyond mere hi- and low-tech.
       It wasn’t for nothing that the Buddha hung out in “the dwelling of ânâpânasati” and taught it in more depth than any other meditation practice.


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Thursday, November 24, 2011



A Dhammatalk by Ajahn Chah

       Do you know where it will end? Or will you just keep on studying like this? ...Or is there an end to it? ... That's okay but it's the external study, not the internal study. For the internal study you have to study these eyes, these ears, this nose, this tongue, this body and this mind. This is the real study. The study of books is just the external study, it's really hard to get it finished.
       When the eye sees form what sort of thing happens? When ear, nose and tongue experience sounds, smells and tastes, what takes place? When the body and mind come into contact with touches and mental states, what reactions take place ? Are there still greed, aversion and delusion there? Do we get lost in forms, sounds, smells, tastes, textures and moods? This is the internal study. It has a point of completion.
       If we study but don't practise we won't get any results. It's like a man who raises cows. In the morning he takes the cow out to pasture, in the evening he brings it back to its pen - but he never drinks the cow's milk. Study is alright, but don't let it be like this. You should raise the cow and drink its milk too. You must study and practise as well to get the best results.
       Here, I'll explain it further. It's like a man who raises chickens, but doesn't collect the eggs. All he gets is the chicken dung! This is what I tell the people who raise chickens back home. Watch out you don't become like that! This means we study the scriptures but we don't know how to let go of defilements, we don't know how to 'push' greed, aversion and delusion from our mind. Study without practice, without this 'giving up', brings no results. This is why I compare it to someone who raises chickens but doesn't collect the eggs, he just collects the dung. It's the same thing.
       Because of this, the Buddha wanted us to study the scriptures, and then to give up evil actions through body, speech and mind; to develop goodness in our deeds, speech and thoughts. The real worth of mankind will come to fruition through our deeds, speech and thoughts. If we only talk, without acting accordingly, it's not yet complete. Or if we do good deeds but the mind is still not good, this is still not complete. The Buddha taught to develop goodness in body, speech and mind; to develop fine deeds, fine speech and fine thoughts. This is the treasure of mankind. The study and the practice must both be good.
       The eightfold path of the Buddha, the path of practice, has eight factors. These eight factors are nothing other than this very body: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one tongue and one body. This is the path. And the mind is the one who follows the path. Therefore both the study and the practice exist in our body, speech and mind.
        Have you ever seen scriptures which teach about anything other than the body, the speech and the mind? The scriptures only teach about this, nothing else. Defilements are born right here. If you know them, they die right here. So you should understand that the practice and the study both exist right here. If we study just this much we can know everything. It's like our speech: to speak one word of truth is better than a lifetime of wrong speech. Do you understand? One who studies and doesn't practise is like a ladle in a soup pot. It's in the pot every day but it doesn't know the flavour of the soup. If you don't practice, even if you study till the day you die, you'll never know the taste of freedom! 
The best way from

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


โดย หลวงพ่อเทียน จิตฺตสุโภ 

           รรมะคือตัวเรานี่ เอง ทุกๆคนคือธรรมะ ไม่ว่าจะเป็นเพศชายหรือเพศหญิง คนไทย คนจีน หรือชาวตะวันตก ทั้งหมดคือธรรมะ การปฏิบัตินั้นอยู่ที่ตัวเรา และคำสอนของพระพุทธเจ้าสามารถนำเราไปสู่สภาพของการดับทุกข์อย่างแท้จริง มนุษย์ก็คือธรรมะ ธรรมะก็คือมนุษย์ เมื่อเรารู้ธรรมะเราก็เข้าใจว่าทุกๆสิ่งนั้นมิได้เป็นอย่างที่เราคิด ทุกๆสิ่งคือสมมติ (สิ่งที่ยอมรับตกลงกัน) นี่คือปัญญาที่เกิดขึ้นเพื่อที่จะประจักษ์แจ้งในคำสอนที่แท้จริงของพระ พุทธเจ้า ไม่ว่าพระพุทธเจ้าจะอุบัติขึ้นหรือไม่ก็ตาม พระธรรมนั้นมีอยู่ก่อนแล้ว เมื่อเราเห็นสิ่งนี้อย่างแท้จริง เราจะอยู่เหนือความเชื่อที่งมงายทั้งหลาย เพราะเรารู้ว่าธรรมะก็คือตัวเรา ตัวเราเท่านั้นที่จะนำชีวิตของเราเองมิใช่ใครอื่น นี้คือจุดเริ่มต้นของความสิ้นสุดแห่งทุกข์

           ทุกข์เปรียบเหมือนกับปลิงที่เกาะติดแน่นกับตัวเรา และดูดเลือดของเรา ถ้าเราพยายามดึงมันออก มันก็ยิ่งเกาะแน่นขึ้นและเราก็เจ็บปวดยิ่งขึ้น แต่ถ้าเราฉลาด เราเพียงแต่ใช้น้ำผสมกับใบยาและปูนกินหมาก และบีบน้ำที่ผสมแล้วลงบนตัวปลิง ปลิงมันกลัวแล้วมันจะหลุดของมันไปเอง ดังนั้นเราไม่ต้องไปแกะมันออกหรือไปดึงมัน เพื่อที่จะกำจัดมัน เช่นเดียวกับบุคคลที่ไม่รู้ พยายามจะหยุด โทสะ โมหะ โลภะ เขาเหล่านั้นพยายามต่อสู้และกดมันไว้ แต่สำหรับบุคคลผู้รู้เพียงมีสติเข้าไปดูจิตและเห็นความคิด
         เปรียบเหมือนการเปิดไฟฟ้า บุคคลที่ไม่รู้เรื่องเกี่ยวกับไฟฟ้า จะพยายามหมุนที่หลอดไฟ หลอดไฟจึงไม่ติด แทนที่จะไปแตะที่สวิตซ์ แต่สำหรับบุคคลผู้ซึ่งรู้เกี่ยวไฟฟ้า จะรู้จักวิธีใช้สวิตซ์ไฟและดวงไฟก็สว่างขึ้น โทสะ โมหะ โลภะ เปรียบเหมือนกับหลอดไฟฟ้า ความคิดเปรียบเหมือนกับสวิตซ์ ความคิดเป็นต้นเหตุของความผิดปกติเหล่านี้ ถ้าเราต้องการขจัดความยุ่งเหยิงผิดปกติเหล่านี้ ให้เรามาจัดการที่ความคิด เมื่อเรามีสติเฝ้าดูความคิดอยู่ โทสะ โมหะ โลภะ ไม่สามารถเกิดขึ้นได้ แท้จริงแล้วไม่มีโทสะ ไม่มีโมหะ ไม่มีโลภะ เราแตะสวิสซ์ไฟที่นี่เพื่อให้เกิดความสว่างที่นั่น เราเจริญสติที่นี่เพื่อยังความสิ้นสุดแห่งทุกข์ทั้งปวง

           จิตดั้งเดิมของเรานั้นสะอาด สว่าง สงบ สิ่งซึ่งมิได้สะอาด สว่าง สงบนั้น มิใช่จิตเรามันคือกิเลส (ยางเหนียว) เราพยายามที่จะเอาชนะกิเลสนี้ แต่แท้จริงแล้วกิเลสมิได้มีอยู่จริง แล้วเราจะไปชนะมันได้อย่างไร สิ่งที่เราต้องกระทำเพียงอย่างเดียวคือ เราเพียงแต่ดูจิตใจโดยชัดเจน เผชิญหน้ากับความคิดโดยแจ่มชัด เมื่อเราเห็นจิตใจอย่างชัดเจนโมหะก็จะไม่มีอยู่
           การเจริญสติ เมื่อเรามีความรู้สึกตัวอยู่ จะไม่มีความหลงเปรียบเหมือนการเทน้ำลงไปในถ้วยแก้ว ขณะที่เราเทน้ำลงไป น้ำจะเข้าไปแทนที่อากาศและเมื่อเราเทน้ำจนเต็มแก้ว อากาศทั้งหมดในถ้วยแก้วก็จะหายไป แต่ถ้าเราเทน้ำออกอากาศก็จะเข้าไปในถ้วยแก้วทันที ฉันใดก็ฉันนั้น เมื่อมีโมหะอยู่สติปัญญาก็ไม่สามารถเข้ามาได้ แต่เมื่อเราปฏิบัติเจริญสติ ทำความรู้สึกที่ตัวของเราเอง ความรู้สึกตัวนี้จะเข้ามาแทนที่โมหะ เมื่อมีสติอยู่โมหะก็ไม่สามารถจะเกิดขึ้นได้

           มรรคคือวิถีแห่งการปฏิบัติอันนำไปสู่ความสิ้นสุดแห่งทุกข์ วิถีแห่งการปฏิบัติคือการรู้สึกตัวเท่าทันความคิด ร่างกายของเราทำงานไปตามหน้าที่และความรับผิดชอบ แต่จิตใจของเราจะต้องดูความคิด ทุกข์เกิดขึ้น เพราะเราไม่เห็นมัน มันจึงชนะเรา และยังให้เราเป็นทาส

           การทำบุญและการรักษาศีล เปรียบประดุจดั่งข้าวเปลือกซึ่งไม่อาจกินได้ แต่ก็เป็นประโยชน์ เพราะเราจะใช้มันสำหรับการเพาะปลูกในปีถัดไป การทำตนเองให้สงบนั้นเปรียบดั่งเช่นข้าวสารที่ยังมิได้หุง และก็ยังคงกินไม่ได้ ความสงบนั้นมีสองอย่างด้วยกัน อย่างแรกคือความสงบแบบสมถะ (ความจดจ่ออยู่กับอารมณ์ใดอารมณ์หนึ่งหรือสงบแบบไม่รู้) อย่างที่สองคือความสงบแบบวิปัสสนา (ปัญญาณ เห็นแจ้งรู้จริงสัมผัสได้ ไม่ทุกข์) ในการกระทำสมถภาวนานั้น เธอจะต้องนั่งนิ่งๆหลับตาแล้วดูลมหายใจเข้าและลมหายใจออก เมื่อลมหายใจละเอียดอ่อนมากเข้าบางครั้งเธอจะไม่รู้สึกถึงลมหายใจนั้น และเธอรู้สึกสงบมาก แต่โทสะ โมหะ โลภะ ไม่สามารถถูกขจัดออกไปเพราะยังคงมีความไม่รู้อยู่ และเธอเองก็ไม่รู้สึกตัวของความคิดของเธอ แต่วิปัสสนาภาวนานั้นสามารถขจัดโทสะ โมหะ โลภะ และความสงบชนิดนี้สามารถมีในที่ทุกหนแห่งและในทุกเวลา ดังนั้นแล้วเราจึงไม่จำเป็นต้องนั่งปิดหูปิดตา ตาของเราสามารถดู หูของเราสามารถได้ยิน แต่เมื่อความคิดเกิดขึ้นเราเห็นมัน ( ตาเห็นสักแต่ว่าเห็น หูได้ยินสักแต่ว่าได้ยิน จิตไม่เข้าไปปรุงแต่งมัน เป็นต้น ) ความสงบแบบนี้เป็นศักยภาพที่ซ่อนอยู่ในตัวทุกคน

           ครั้งหนึ่งพระพุทธเจ้าเสด็จไปยังป่าแห่งหนึ่ง พร้อมด้วยภิกษุจำนวนหนึ่ง พระองค์ทรงหยิบใบไม้แห้งกำมือหนึ่งขึ้นมา แล้วตรัสถามแก่ภิกษุว่า “ใบไม้ทั้งหมดในป่าและในมือของเราตถาคต เมื่อเปรียบเทียบกันแล้วอย่างไหนจะมีมากกว่ากัน” ภิกษุทั้งหลายตอบว่า “ข้าแต่พระผู้มีพระภาคเจ้า ใบไม้ทั้งหมดในป่าย่อมมีมากกว่าใบไม้ที่อยู่ในมือของพระองค์อย่างเปรียบ เทียบกันมิได้พระเจ้าข้า” พระพุทธองค์จึงตรัสว่า “พระธรรมที่ตถาคตรู้นั้นมีมาก เปรียบเหมือนใบไม้ทั้งป่า แต่พระธรรมที่ตถาคตสอนแก่พวกเธอทั้งหลายนั้น เปรียบเหมือนใบไม้ในกำมือเดียว” โปรดเข้าใจความหมายนี้ให้ถูกต้อง พระพุทธเจ้าทรงสอนเฉพาะเรื่องทุกข์ และการดับไปของทุกข์เท่านั้น มิได้มีสิ่งอื่นใด การศึกษาตำรา การบริจาคทาน การรักษาศีล การปฏิบัติสมถภาวนา หรือวิปัสสนาภาวนา ควรจะนำมาที่จุดนี้ (การพ้นทุกข์) มิฉะนั้นแล้วก็เป็นสิ่งที่ไร้ค่า เมื่อเรามาถึงจุดนี้ กิจที่ต้องทำทั้งหมดก็เป็นอันสิ้นสุด

Love and Loving Kindness

    Love and Loving Kindness
     By KKhemananda

             Suffering is the dis-ease of living that nobody can deny.  Although sometimes, some periods when life seems to satisfy our demand, we feel happy but it is never permanent.  It changes, somehow from the great success, which gave much joy and happiness, slipping into great suffering when things change.  Moreover, happiness without self-awareness causes one to suffer.  When happiness fades away, all that is left is the desert of lonesome memory.  It is sad to think of the bygone days, which never return. 
            Love is, surely, wholesome, and hatred is ugly.  But if we did wrong with love, we may yearn for it till our last breath.  Hatred too may destroy your heart as love does.
            Everyone loves to love and to be the beloved, and everyone really needs love.  But why does love create fear, jealousy, anger, and finally despair?
            When one loves, one always hopes to see the love-seed grows to perfection as the big banyan tree grows bigger from its seed.  But what is wrong with our heart when love changes to hatred.  Why does love open a severe wound at our heart instead of remedy?
            In Thai terminology, there are no words calling lovers as ‘honey’ or ‘sweet heart’.  They have a literary meaning for that as ‘Yajai’.  ‘Ya’ means medicine, and ‘jai’ means heart.  So yajai means the remedy at heart.  The Thai Buddhists view things on the basis of suffering which is one of the 4 Noble Truths taught by the Buddha.  Love of the lovers, husband and wife, is the best remedy for the inner wound, and lonesomeness. Psychologically, while one is in sorrow or great difficulty, one needs remedy from his or her consort.  Buddhistically, one needs a ‘spiritual friend,’ a true friend, in order to be aware of what arises in one’s mind.  So to say, beside the person as our consort, the awareness is our best friend.  Awareness is the forerunner of understanding lonesomeness, sorrow, despair, and fear etc.  To understand this through seeing their very nature, of how it comes and goes, is the dawn of love.  Since love takes root in the soil of understanding oneself as the other.  And love always responses and cares for that.
            Ignorance itself is the great obstacle of love.  It grows into egoistic feeling and self-centeredness. Finally, it closes the door of one’s heart to prevent the other to share and breathe the open space of intimacy.  One may turn to be a dry-heart person, lack of inner space that sensitivity is stagnant and absent. 
            To love is to accept the others as if oneself, care not whether she/he is dark, white or brown skin, beyond nationality, class or caste.  To hate is to attach to separatism and grasps hallucination as real.  Hence, looking down and looking up high confuse oneself with comparison.  And always miss the noble and pure look into the essence of the heart of the other as if oneself. 
            Ultimately, all sentient beings share the same heart, as all plants share their roots, on the same planet Earth.
            Physically, all sentient beings share their foods from the same source – Nature.  The body of every sentient being is the component of natural elements. They are earth, water, heat, and wind.  It is wrong when one says, “This is my wind, my earth” and so on.  Or “This is an American fire” or “This is Chinese heat.”  Besides, the mind or consciousness is beyond grasping.  It is generalized and universal as the four elements.  Mind is a kind of knowing element.  No one can possess it as land or house. To say “This is my mind and I am a woman, so my mind is female” is a grave error.  Mind is beyond sexes. In general, we suppose to say so to succeed our affair in communication. 
            Life is universal and the so-called individuals share in that nature.  As the essence of life is the pure awareness or Bodhi, so to say, essentially we are one, sharing the same source of food from the mother Earth, sharing the same seed of Bodhi and are growing to be the Bodhi tree, in order to fulfill the forest of oneness.  We are ongoing the way of insight and mercy.  These two sides of one golden coin are our treasures that we have and use every while and everywhere we roam.
            If you ask me “how to use this coin?” My answer is “You must meditate in order to open the door of your heart.  Since insight and mercy are originated at heart.  Whenever one feels at heart, one feels whole.  The whole is united at heart that feels.  So to say, feeling of the whole is love.  Love is universal – as life is.
            But why war, hatred, revenge, and carnage?  How do we understand this fact and how do we take responsibility on that?
            I have no answer in mind, as you are, feeling sad and pity on those who are confused with thoughts and ideas.  This violence is always caused by the intellectuals who are confused.  It never arises in the simple mind.  It always caused by the value system and theoretical attachment.  It never arises from the innocent one who possesses no power.
            Is love power?  In fact, love needs power for care taking.  Beside pure awareness, patience is the power in need for love.  And only patience can prove what love means.  Thus, love is the maintenance of the feeling at heart, and love gradually mutates from weakness, childish, and emotional to inner strength, grown-up, and courage, till able to accept departing from the beloved and be free from all tragedies.  Patience is the loving power and it is always accompanied by humbleness.
            Love of the one who knows is to love without attachment, without being possessive or dominant.  These we know very well and we really need such love, but almost always we do not know how to detach and be freed properly.  Detachment for us means no love.  Thus, it creates a distance and dead space between others and us. 
            We really need a de-centralized meditation to penetrate through space.  A kind of meditation that makes us feel intimate with our self-nature, and gain insight into the undifferentiation, the fountainhead of universal love of the one who knows.
            We, average people, are also the seed of that knowing nature.  So we may love those who are nearby us, devoted to the whole with the same universal essence.
            For the Buddha, after he attained great enlightenment, he tended to not teach the world of that unspeakable Dharma.  He thought that the people are merely attached to egoism and grasping it permanently, and also they love to lead their lives in darkness.  It would be hard and waste his time to teach.  The scripture mentions that when he thought so, the Mara (demon) sent his most beautiful daughters to entice him and to try to married him. One of the most beautiful daughters is namely Arati.  It means the lack of love or love-less-ness one.  Thus, the obstacle of loving-kindness is love-less-ness itself.  Love-less-ness is truly the heart-less-ness.
            For the Buddha Dharma, it is the way of insight wisdom and compassion. It guided the Buddha to walk miles after miles for more than 45 years, helping the people to see the truth of life, in order to free themselves from bondage.
            The Buddha said: love gives birth to sorrow and fear.  Such love is a kind of attachment, and from the egoistic feeling that gives birth to fear of losing and sorrow.  In short, when one falls in love, one loses oneself to delusion and ignorance.  But he also said, “I have considered in all directions, and found nothing comparable to one’s love for self in Dharma.”
            Love of self-nature is the foundation of all kinds of love. They are: parent, husband, wife, friends, neighbors, sentient beings, mother Earth and so on.  Such love is not an art nor science.  It needs no dramatized emotion nor rational determinism.  A pure feeling of giving fearlessness, love is.  Never forced, though empowered, yet allow the young mind to naturally learn the lessons with deep sympathy, able to wait in equanimity for the change to come.
            Love is the best strategy to change the obstinate mind to recognize goodness of love itself.
            Though love is not art nor science, but always gives birth to great art of all wonders and great scientific discoveries.
            Loving-kindness always supports the world and holds human’s heart so that it will not fall into a hell of separatism, self-centeredness, and selfishness.
            For those who are always kind to all sentient beings, his or her mind is naturally soft and easy going with meditativeness and happiness.
            All prophets of all religions are the speakers of truth, and what they acted and preached most was love. Neither in the past, present, and the time to come, love is mentioned as a spiritual food along the path of mankind of all generations.
            And if we are not confused with theoretical discussion about the path and destiny, somehow, love is our own path as well as destiny.  We need freedom for loving-kindness.  Freedom without love is meaningless.
            If we really love ourselves, we also know that the other loves themselves too.  When one knows and feel at heart on that, his or her sense of living will naturally move from existence to co-existence along with attitude of helping each other than destroying or competing.  When one helps the others, one also lifts up oneself from stagnant feeling and narrowness. 
            So to say, giving or helping is the very gesture of love.  Neither chances, things, fearlessness, nor knowledge, giving is the hands of the heart that loves. And if there are the “eyes” of Insight Wisdom in the palms of giving, it is truly the best gift.  As we see in the palms of Avalokitesavara (or KuanYin) statue.  That is the personification of Prajna and Karuna (intuition and kindness).
            In both giving and receiving, we need the awareness in order to understand whether the actions may mislead and corrupt loving-kindness.  Hence, giving and receiving grow to fulfill the very meaning of self-less-ness and emptiness.
            Our heart that loves will sing a song of celebration when we find that all obstacles are actually the benefactors.  And enemies and strangers are merely our friends we just meet.
            I do not know what love is, but it is good to love and to be loved.  And if love and wisdom are of the same golden coin, I take the love side.  

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Spiritual Care for the Dying

Spiritual Care for the Dying
 By Phra Paisal Visalo

       Illness not only affects the body, but also the mind. Thus, when most people fall ill, they must contend not only with physical pain, but also mental pain. Especially in the case of patients who are close to dying, mental anguish is no less a cause of suffering than physical pain, and indeed it can even be the greater cause. This is because what these patients face right in front of them is death, along with separation and loss that is final. All this provokes feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation to surge up very intensely, in a way they have never experienced before.

       For this reason, patients need their spiritual well-being taken care of just as much as their physical well-being. Especially in the case of final-stage patients, whom doctors have determined to have no hope of recovery or improvement, taking care of spiritual well-being in fact becomes more important than physical well-being. Because even though the body is irrevocably breaking down, the mind still has the opportunity to improve. It can cease its agitation and reach a state of peace, even in the last moments of life. For even though the body and mind are closely related, when the body suffers, the mind does not necessarily have to suffer too. One can take care of one’s mind such that it does not suffer along with one’s body.

       In the time of the Buddha, there were many occasions wherein the Buddha and his disciples helped those who were sick and close to dying. The kind of help they gave directly focused on treating the suffering of the mind. In the Tipitaka, there are several stories of people on the verge of death who were told by the Buddha to contemplate their imminent death and the true nature of all conditioned things, whereupon they were able to realize high levels of attainment. Some were even fully enlightened. 

       From these stories, there are two major points to consider:

        1. Even though being ill and close to dying is a time of crisis and physical disintegration, at the same time it can also be an opportunity to liberate the mind or elevate one’s state of mind. Being ill and close to dying are thus not conditions that are negative in and of themselves. If one knows how to use them well, they can be of great benefit to one.
       2. The Buddha’s teachings on illness and dying can be classified into two main parts:
              1) Incline the mind to have faith in the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha) and confidence in the morality one has upheld or good deeds one has done in the past. In other words, incline the mind to recollect that which is good and wholesome.
              2) Let go of worries and all things, having seen with wisdom that there is nothing at all that one can hold on to. 

       These teachings of the Buddha provide an excellent model of how to give spiritual help to dying persons that can be applied to cases in the present day. This article will adopt the principles put forth by the Buddha and adapt them for use by doctors, nurses, family and friends in helping dying patients. Experiences from other real-life cases have also been drawn on to create the following guidelines.

       1. Extending Love and Sympathy
       Dying persons not only have to contend with physical pain but also fear, such as fear of dying, of abandonment, of dying alone, of what will come after death, or of pain. The fear may cause even more suffering than the physical pain. Love and moral support from family members and friends is very important during this time because it can reduce the fear and help them feel secure. One should remember that patients in their final stages are feeling very vulnerable. They need someone they feel they can rely on, someone who is ready to be there for them during times of crisis. If they have someone who can give them unconditional love, they will have the strength of spirit to deal with all the various forms of suffering that are converging on them at this time.

        Being patient, forbearing, sympathetic, gentle, and forgiving are ways to show your love. Physical pain and a vulnerable state of mind can make patients act out in ill-tempered and abrasive ways. We can help them by patiently bearing with these outbursts and not reacting in negative ways. Try to forgive them and sympathize with them. If we are peaceful and gentle it will help them calm down more quickly. Pointing out their negativity may be something we ought to do sometimes, but always in a gentle and loving way. Family and friends need to have mindfulness at all times, which helps us not to lose control of ourselves and keeps our hearts filled with kindness, love, and restraint.
       Even if you don’t know what to say to make them feel better, just physically touching them in a gentle way will enable them to feel your love. We may hold their hand or touch their arm and squeeze it gently, embrace them, or touch their forehead or abdomen with our hands, while sending them our good wishes. For those who have some experience practicing meditation, while touching the patient, bring your mind to rest in a peaceful state. Loving-kindness (metta) that emanates from a mind that is peaceful and concentrated will have an energy that the patient will be able to feel. 

       One way of extending loving-kindness that Tibetan Buddhists practice (called phowa) is done the following way. Invoke the divine being or spiritual presence that the dying patient (or you) has faith in, such as the Buddha, a Boddhisattva, or Guan-Yin (or God, Jesus, or the Virgin Mary for Christians, or the embodiment of whatever truth you believe in). Visualize the spiritual presence appearing above the patient’s head. Then imagine that the presence is sending out compassion and healing in a stream of radiant light that bathes the dying person’s entire body, purifying her whole being, until she dissolves into light and merges into the spiritual presence. While doing this practice, you may hold the patient’s hand or sit quietly by her bedside.
       2. Helping Patients Accept Impending Death
       If patients do not have long to live, letting them know will give them time to prepare themselves while they are still physically able to. But there are a great many patients who have no idea that they have a serious terminal illness and are now in their final stages. To let time pass while keeping them in the dark will leave patients with less time to prepare themselves. Still, telling them the bad news without preparing them psychologically in some way beforehand may cause their condition to worsen. In general, doctors play the important role in telling the news, especially after they have built up close relationships with patients and earned their trust. Nonetheless, patients’ acceptance of their impending death involves a process that takes a long time. In addition to love and trust, doctors, nurses, family and friends need to have patience and forbearance and be ready to listen to the patient’s thoughts and feelings. 

       Sometimes, however, it is up to the family to break the news. Many families tend to think that it is better to conceal the truth from the patient. But according to a survey done of patients, the majority responded that they would rather be told the truth than be kept in the dark. And even when relatives try to conceal it, ultimately the patient can discern the truth from the changed manner and behavior of family and friends, such as unsmiling faces, softer speaking voices, or greater effort made to please the patient. 

       Not all patients can accept the truth after they are told. But there could be several reasons for this besides the fear of death. They could have some unfinished business or other worries. Relatives ought to help them express their concerns. If they feel they have someone ready to listen to and understand them, they will feel safe to confide their inner thoughts. Posing appropriate questions can also help them identify what it is that is preventing them from accepting death or help them realize that death may not be so fearsome. What relatives can do is listen to them with an open, nonjudgmental, and sympathetic heart. They should focus more on asking questions rather than lecturing or sermonizing. 

       Helping patients lessen their worries about their children, grandchildren, spouse, or other loved ones may help them accept their death

       Patients may become angry at doctors, nurses, and family for telling them the bad news, or concealing the bad news from them for a long time. Be understanding of these angry outbursts. If the patient is able to get past their anger and denial of death, they will be more able to accept the reality of their situation. 

       When patients are told the bad news, they should at the same time be given moral support and reassurance that family, friends, doctors, and nurses will not abandon them, but will stay by their side and help them to the utmost of their abilities until the very end. Giving moral support during crisis points when a patient’s condition takes a turn for the worse is also very valuable. 

       One useful benefit of telling patients the truth in a timely way is that it enables them to decide in advance what level of medical intervention they would like to receive when they reach crisis point or fall unconscious, i.e. whether they would like doctors to prolong their lives as long as possible using all technological means available such as CPR, respirator, feeding tube, etc., or whether they would like doctors to refrain from using these measures and just maintain their condition and let them gradually pass away peacefully. Many times patients did not decide in advance because they did not know the real state of their condition. The result is that when they fall into a coma, relatives have no choice but to ask the doctors to utilize every possible measure to sustain the patient’s life. This often causes much suffering to the patient, with the only effect being to prolong the process of dying without helping to improve their quality of life at all, while wasting a lot of money in medical expenses. 

       3. Helping Patients Focus Their Minds on Goodness
       Thinking of goodness helps the mind become wholesome, peaceful, bright, less fearful, and better able to deal with pain.

       What the Buddha and his disciples often recommended to those on the verge of death was to recollect and have firm faith in the Triple Gem, i.e. the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Then, he had them establish themselves in morality (sila) as well as recollect the morality they had upheld in the past. The Triple Gem can be thought of as something virtuous or sacred that the patient worships and sila as his or her good deeds.

        There are many ways to help incline patients to recollect these things. For example, you can:
        - Place in the patient’s room a Buddha statue or other sacred object or pictures of respected spiritual teachers to serve as aids to recollection
        - Invite the patient to chant or pray together
        - Read dhamma books out loud to the patient
        - Play recordings of dhamma talks or chanting
        - Invite monks, especially ones the patient has a connection with, to visit the patient and provide counseling. This will help greatly in raising the patient’s spirits. 

       In applying these ideas, keep in mind patients’ cultural background and personal habits. For example, patients of Chinese background may respond best to pictures of Guan-Yin. If the patient is Christian or Muslim, one may use the appropriate symbols of these religions instead. 

       Another way to incline the patient’s mind towards goodness is by encouraging them to do good deeds such as offering requisites to monks and making charitable donations.
       It is also essential to encourage the patient to think of the good deeds they have done in the past. This does not necessarily have to mean religious activities only, but also such actions as raising one’s children to be good people, taking care of one’s parents in a loving way, being faithful to one’s spouse, being helpful to one’s friends, or being dedicated in teaching one’s students. All of these are good deeds that can make the patient feel happy, proud of themselves and confident that when they die they will go to a good place. 

       This pride in the good deeds they have done, and faith in the beneficial effect of such deeds, becomes very important for those close to dying for at this time it is becoming clear to them that they can’t take any of their material wealth with them when they die. It is only the merit they have accrued that they can take with them. 

       Everybody, no matter how rich or poor, or what mistakes they have made in the past, has to have done some good deeds worth recollecting, to greater or lesser extent. No matter how many terrible things they have done in the past, when they are close to dying, what we should do is help them to recollect their good deeds. If they are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, they may not be able to see any of their good deeds. But any good deeds, even small ones, will be valuable to them if remembered during this time of crisis. At the same time, patients who have been doing good deeds all along should not let any unwholesome deeds (of which there are very few) overshadow all the goodness they have done, making them feel badly about themselves. In some cases, family and friends may need to list out their past good deeds as a way of confirming and reiterating them, giving patients confidence in the life they have led. 

       4. Helping Patients Settle Unfinished Business
       One major cause of suffering that prevents people from dying peacefully is unfinished business. Such anxieties or other negative feelings need to be released as soon as possible. Otherwise it will cause the patient to suffer, feel heavy-hearted and push away death, and thus be unable to die peacefully, resulting in an unfortunate rebirth. Patients’ family and friends should be very concerned about these matters and be quick to act on them. Sometimes patients may not bring the matter up directly. Those who are around the patients should thus be very sensitive to it and ask them about it with genuine concern and kindness, not annoyance.

       - If they have remaining work or responsibilities or a will that has not been settled yet, find a way to help bring these matters to a conclusion.
        - If they wish to see someone for the last time, especially a loved one or someone they wish to ask forgiveness from, hurry and contact that person.
        - If they are nursing an angry grudge against someone or hurt feelings and grievances against a close intimate, advise them to forgive that person and let go of any anger.
        - If they are feeling nagging guilt over some wrong they had done, now is not the time to judge or criticise them. Instead, one should help them release their feelings of guilt. One can help them open up and feel secure enough to ask forgiveness from someone while at the same time guiding the other party to accept the apology and forgive the person.

       Asking for forgiveness is not easy to do. One way to make it easier for dying patients is to have them write down their apology and everything they wish to say to the other person. They can have someone deliver it to that person or choose to keep it to themselves. The important thing is that by doing this exercise they have begun to open their hearts. Even if no real communication has ensued with the other person, there has still been some release of those feelings of guilt. If at some point they feel more ready to talk to that person directly, they may decide to do so on another occasion.
       Oftentimes the person that dying patients seek forgiveness from is someone close, who is right there by their bedside, such as a spouse or a child. In this case, it is easier if such a person initiates the conversation by offering her/his forgiveness first and telling the patient s/he does not bear any ill-will towards them for their past mistakes. But in order to do this, the person must first let go of any pride or anger s/he may feel. By making the first move, the person opens the channel for dying patients to ask for forgiveness more easily. Feelings of guilt, as long as they are not released, can greatly disturb the dying and make them unable to die peacefully. But once they have been able to say sorry and ask for forgiveness, they are able to die without distress.

        In some cases, it is the child, relative, or friend of the dying patient who ought to ask for forgiveness. There is no other occasion where an apology is as important as it is at this point, but oftentimes children do not dare to open up to their parents even when they are about to die. Partly it could be because they may not be accustomed to talking to their parents openly. Partly it could be because they think their parents do not hold their misdeed against them or do not even know about it at all. This could be a serious and irreparable miscalculation. 

       Actually, asking for forgiveness does not have to be done only with specific persons, because we all have probably done others harm without intending to or realizing it. As such, to have peace of mind and to avoid any lingering hostility with anyone, family and friends should advise dying patients to say sorry and ask for forgiveness from anyone with whom they have had mutual hostility or from anyone whom they have ever offended or harmed.
       Likewise, the family and friends of dying patients ought to ask for forgiveness from them while they are still conscious and able to understand. This provides the opportunity for dying patients to say they grant their forgiveness. In the case where the dying person is a parent or elder relative, the children, grandchildren, and other family members may join together to hold a ceremony to ask forgiveness at the person’s bedside and select a representative to speak for the group, beginning by speaking of the dying person’s virtuous qualities and good things s/he had done for her/his descendants, and then asking for forgiveness for anything they have done that may have caused harm or offense. 

       5. Helping Patients Let Go of Everything
       A refusal to accept death and the reality of its imminence can be a great cause of suffering for people who are close to dying. And a reason for such refusal can be that they are still deeply attached to certain things and unable to be separated from them. This could be children or grandchildren, lovers, parents, work, or the entire world they are familiar with. A feeling of deep attachment can be experienced by people even if they do not have any lingering feelings of guilt in their hearts. Once attachment is felt, it leads to worry and fear of separation from that which they love. 

       Family and friends as well as doctors and nurses should help dying persons let go of their attachments as much as possible, such as by:
       - Reassuring them that their children and other descendants can take care of themselves
        - Reassuring them that their parents will be taken care of well.
        - Reminding them that all their material possessions are only theirs temporarily. When the time comes, they have to be given to others to take care of. 

       In giving spiritual guidance to the dying, the Buddha had advised that after helping them recollect and have faith in the Triple Gem and establishing them in goodness, the next step is to advise them to let go of all their concerns, such as their parents, children, spouses, material possessions and all other tangible and intangible things they are attached to. They are to let go even of any aspirations for rebirth in heavenly realms. All these things, if they are still attached to them, will hold their minds back and make them resist death and be agitated until the end. Thus, when death approaches, there is nothing better than to let go of everything, even the notion of self. 

      Of all attachments, there is none that is as deep and firmly-rooted as attachment to self. In some people’s view, death means the annihilation of self, which is something they cannot tolerate and find very hard to come to terms with. Because deep down, we humans need to feel our self continues on. The belief that heaven exists helps satisfy this deep-seated need because it makes us feel reassured that we will live on after death. But for people who don’t believe in heaven or rebirth, death becomes the most terrifying thing. 

       From the Buddhist point of view, there is actually no such thing as a self. It is something we have concocted ourselves out of ignorance. Those who have some grounding in Buddhism may understand this matter to some extent. But for those whose experience of Buddhism has been limited to rituals or basic forms of merit-making, it is probably not an easy matter to understand the concept of no-self (anatta). Nonetheless, in cases where family, friends, doctors, and nurses have an adequate understanding of this truth, they should advise dying patients to gradually let go of their attachment to self.
       Start with advising them to let go of the body, recognizing that we cannot control our bodies to be as we wish them to be. We have to accept their condition as they really are. One day, all our organs will have to deteriorate. 

       The next step is to let go of their feelings, to not identify with or attach to any feelings as being theirs. Doing this will help greatly to reduce their suffering and pain, because suffering tends to arise when one attaches to pain and identify with it as being ours. One holds that “I” am in pain instead of just seeing that the condition of pain has arisen.
      To be able to let go in this way requires considerable experience in training the mind. But it is not beyond the reach of ordinary people to do so. Especially if one starts training the mind when one first becomes ill. There have been many cases of people with serious   illnesses who have been able to deal with extreme pain without using any painkillers at all or only small doses. This is because they were able to let go of their identification with the pain as being theirs. It could be said that they used spiritual medicine to heal their minds.

        6. Creating a Peaceful Atmosphere
       For dying patients to be able to feel at peace and let go of all lingering concerns and attachments in a sustained manner, it is necessary for them to have the support of a peaceful atmosphere around them. If their room is swarming with people coming in and out, and filled with the sounds of people talking all the time or the sounds of the door opening and closing all day, it will naturally be difficult for them to maintain their mind in a wholesome and peaceful state. 

       With regard to patients’ spiritual well-being, the least that family, friends, doctors, and nurses can do is to help create a peaceful atmosphere for them. Avoid talk that disturbs the patient. Family members should refrain from arguing amongst themselves or crying. These things would only increase the anxiety and unease of the patient.

        If family and friends just try to keep their minds in a healthy state - not sad or depressed - this will already be a great help to dying patients. Because the states of mind of the people surrounding the dying patient can affect the atmosphere in the room and the person’s mind. The human mind is sensitive; it can sense the feelings of other people even if they don’t say anything out loud. People do not only have this sensitivity when they are normal and conscious. It is possible even for patients in comas to sense the mental energy of those around them. 

       In addition, family and friends can create a peaceful environment by encouraging dying patients to practice meditation together with them. One form of meditation is anapanasati, or mindfulness of breathing. When breathing in, mentally recite “Bud”. When breathing out, mentally recite “Dho”. Alternatively, with each out-breath, count 1, 2, 3….10 and then start again.
       If it is not easy for them to be mindful of the breath, they can focus their awareness on the rising and falling of the abdomen as they breathe in and out by placing both hands on top of the abdomen. On the in-breath, as the abdomen rises, mentally recite, “rising”. On the out-breath, as the abdomen falls, mentally recite, “falling”. 

        There have been reports of cancer patients who have dealt with physical pain using meditation. By keeping their minds focused on the breath or abdomen, they ended up needing to use very little pain medication. Moreover, their minds were clearer and more alert than patients who used a lot of painkillers.
         Encouraging dying patients to do chanting together with family and friends in a room that has been set up to create an aura of serenity and sanctity (as mentioned earlier, such as by placing a Buddha statue or other objects of veneration in the room) is another way to bring about a peaceful atmosphere around dying patients and incline their mind in a wholesome way. 

       Even playing soft instrumental music has a beneficial effect on a patient’s mental state.
       Even though a peaceful mind is important, from the Buddhist viewpoint it is wisdom that is considered the most important thing for a person close to dying (and indeed all humans, ill or otherwise). Wisdom means clear knowledge of the truths of life: impermanence (anicca), subjectivity to change (dukkha) and selflessness (anatta). These three truths about all things show us that there is not a single thing that we can cling to. We will find death fearsome if we are still clinging to some things. But once we fully understand that there is actually nothing we can cling to, death will no longer be fearsome. Once we realize that everything by nature must change, that there is nothing that is permanent, death will become something that is natural. And once we realize that we really do not have such a thing as a “self,” then there will be no “me” that dies. There will be no-one that dies. Dying itself becomes just a change of state from one form to another, according to causes and conditions. Wisdom, the knowledge and understanding of these truths, is what makes death no longer fearsome or loathsome, and enables one to meet death peacefully.

       When the Patient is in a Coma or Has Lost Normal Brain Functioning
        Many of these various ways of helping dying persons expounded on above can also be applied to those who are in comas or are unconscious. Even though such persons may not show any discernible signs of response, that does not mean they have lost all forms of awareness. There have been many cases of such patients who were able to hear or even see things happening around them. They were also able to feel the mental energy of people around them. There was one patient who reported that when she was in a coma, she was able to hear the doctors and nurses talking and the sound of chanting from recordings relatives played for her. There was another case where a person lost consciousness because his heart stopped beating. He was rushed to the hospital where the doctors revived him using electric shocks. Before attaching him to a respirator, one nurse took out his false teeth. In a short while, his condition improved. The following week, when he saw that nurse again, he was able to recognize her face immediately even though at the time that she removed his false teeth he was unconscious and on the brink of death. 

        Dr. Amara Milla told the story of one patient who had been in a serious accident. While she was lying unconscious in the ICU for a week, she felt like she was floating around. But at certain times she would feel there was a hand touching her body that was sending her energy. It would make her mind, which felt like it was adrift and about to be cut off at any moment, come together as one again. She would regain consciousness for a short time before drifting off once more. This happened everyday. Later, when she had recovered, she found out that there was a nurse who would come visit her every morning at the start of her shift. The nurse would hold her hand and send her loving-kindness (metta) to give her moral support. She would wish for the patient to have strength and regain consciousness. In the end, she did regain consciousness and recovered fully even though the doctors had predicted a very slim chance of recovery. This is another example of how even though someone may have lost consciousness, their mind is still able to feel and be aware of the energy of loving-kindness of those who are close by.
        For this reason, family and friends should not lose hope when their loved one falls into a coma or loses consciousness. There are still many things we can do for unconscious patients. To review, we can:
       - Read dhamma books to them.
        - Play recordings of dhamma teachings or chanting for them.
         - Encourage them to recollect the sacred things that they venerate and things that are wholesome, including their own good deeds in the past.
        - Say things to ease their anxiety about their children or other attachments.
       - Advise them to let go of everything.
        - Create a peaceful atmosphere around them.
        - Be careful of what you say and do at their bedside. One should not cry hysterically or argue or say anything that could trouble them.
       Remember this principle: whatever we feel we should do for people when they are still conscious, we should keep on doing the same thing when they are no longer conscious.

       7. Saying Goodbye
       For those who would like to say what is in their hearts to the dying person, such as saying sorry or goodbye, it is not too late to do so.
       There was once an old woman who was sitting by her husband’s bedside feeling deeply grieved because she had never told him how much she loved him. Now he was in a coma and about to die. She thought it was too late to do anything now. But the nurse encouraged her, telling her that he may still be able to hear her even though he showed no sign of reaction. So she asked to be left alone with him, and then told him that she loved him from the bottom of her heart and was so happy to have lived life together with him. After that, she bade him goodbye by saying, 
       “It will be very difficult for me to live without you. But I don’t want to see you suffer any longer. So if you would like to go now, please go. I give you permission to die.”
As soon as she finished speaking, her husband let out a long breath and passed away peacefully.

        As a person’s pulse weakens progressively and they approach the moment of death, if family and friends wish to say goodbye, they should first establish mindfulness, restrain their grief, then whisper their final words in the ear of the dying person. They should talk of the good feelings they have towards the person, give her/him praise and thanks for all the good s/he has done, ask for forgiveness for any wrongs committed, then guide the person’s mind to ever more wholesome states by advising her/him to let go of everything, drop all worries, recollect the Triple Gem or whatever s/he venerates. If the person has some grounding in Buddhist teachings, ask her/him to let go of the “self” and all conditioned things, incline the mind towards emptiness, and keep the mind focused on nibbana. Then, say goodbye.
         Even if one has said goodbye to someone when they were still conscious, it is still useful to saying goodbye again just before they die. The important thing to keep in mind is that being able to say goodbye and guide the dying person’s mind to a wholesome state can only be done well if the atmosphere surrounding the person is peaceful, and they are not disturbed by any attempts to perform invasive medical interventions. In most hospitals, if patients are in the ICU, and their pulse weakens to the point where they are close to dying, doctors and nurses will tend to do whatever it takes to keep them alive such as by   stimulating the heart with electric shocks (defibrillation) or using all other available forms of medical technology. The atmosphere around patients will be chaotic and it will be difficult for family and friends to say anything to them. The only exceptions are cases where patients and family members inform hospital personnel in advance of their wish that the patients be allowed to die peacefully, free of any medical interventions.
        For the most part, doctors and family members tend to think only about helping the patient in terms of their physical welfare, and neglect to think about their spiritual welfare. So they tend to support the use of all available forms of medical technology to prolong the patient’s life, even though when people are close to dying, what they actually need the most is spiritual help. Thus, if the patient’s condition worsens to the point where there is no hope of recovery, family members ought to give greater consideration to taking care of the patient’s state of mind, than of the body. This may mean asking others not to crowd around the patient and allowing her/him to die peacefully surrounded by close family and friends, who join together to create a wholesome and positive atmosphere that will help lead her/him to a good rebirth. In general, the place that is the most conducive to creating this kind of atmosphere tends to be the dying patient’s home. For this reason, many patients wish to die at home rather than in the hospital or in the ICU. If family and friends are ready to help meet the spiritual needs of dying patients, it is easier for patients to decide spending the last part of their life at home.
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