Monday, September 30, 2013

The Middle Way Life in a World of Polarity

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:

The Middle Way Life in a World of Polarity

By Santikaro 

We human beings have long acquired the habit of creating dichotomies and opposition, and our understandings of scriptural texts and traditions have not avoided this tendency. We frequently find polarity imposed as a device of convenience: tradition versus reform, meditator versus scholar, etc. Some Buddhist teachers may fall into such dichotomies. Ajahn Buddhadasa is one who does not.  For him, the middle way is about finding the right course between extremes.

Ajahn Buddhadasa grew up during a time of great change in Thai society, as aggressive western “civilization” and imperialism made deep inroads. This change brought about many benefits such as roads, schools, and advances in health care, but much destruction resulted as well. The forests of Thailand diminished from over 90% to just 10%, prostitution became rampant, and traditional modes of life have disappeared. Many in Thailand responded to the pressure to westernize by embracing and profiting from it. Others took the opposite approach, resisting and refusing what the West had to offer. Ajahn Buddhadasa sought the middle way between these opposing alternatives.
The organizing element in Ajahn Buddhadasa’s response to Western imperialism and modernization was the Dhamma. This may seem self-evident, but it wasn’t true of the political-economic elite or even the majority of Thai monks, especially the senior monks who were often much more interested in maintaining tradition and privilege than in living from Dhammic principles. One of Ajahn Buddhadasa’s most notable qualities was his ability to hold the Dhamma at the center—not a bookish, memorized Dhamma, but a living, creative expression of it. He and others, such as Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, represent some of the healthiest Asian responses to the tremendous economic, political, and military pressure emanating from the violent capitalist-driven ideology of the West.
Faced with the dichotomy of slavishly following or stubbornly refusing the progress of Westernization, Ajahn Buddhadasa felt that there were many things to learn from the West. Like the Dalai Lama, he was fascinated by science. When he was a young monk, he cherished the typewriter given to him by an early benefactor. He experimented with radios and early recording equipment, and was an excellent photographer. He read Freud and other psychologists, and philosophers like Hegel and Marx. He believed there was a way to use some Western developments constructively. Instead of blindly refusing them, he thought that one should learn how to adapt them - understanding them while being mindful of their potential dangers.
He thought that Asian peoples could learn from what those in the West were thinking and doing, without surrendering their own wisdom.  Many Thai students in Europe and in Western-style educational systems were being told by their European teachers that they came from an “inferior civilization.” There were some who believed what they were told. Fortunately, others did not. Ajahn Buddhadasa emerged as the main Thai voice pointing out that Europe had created nothing comparable to Buddhism, while acknowledging the economic and military advancement of the West. He presented the view that Asian Buddhism had an attitude much more fitting with science than Christianity, and a kind of wisdom largely missing in the West.
Ajahn Buddhadasa taught that in order to wisely absorb what is coming from the West, and to filter what is unhealthy, we need to stay grounded in an understanding of Buddha-Dhamma. This had a great influence on Thai society, especially among the progressive elite. Though the meaning is a bit different for those of us born in the West, the dilemma remains: we live in a culture that is very powerful and has some healthy, creative aspects, but also a tremendous amount of violence and destruction.  How are we going to sort through this? In which principles can we ground ourselves?
Another dichotomy occurs between conservative and radical. The Thai activist and scholar Sulak Sivaraksa coined the term “radical conservatism” to describe Ajahn Buddhadasa. In some ways Ajahn Buddhadasa was conservative. He thought that Southern Thai culture was healthy, balanced, and wise, and he wanted to help conserve it. He was also conservative, in certain respects, regarding Buddhism, believing that Buddhism needed to stay grounded in its past without being stuck there. 
At the same time he was radical.  Ajahn Buddhadasa honored the Buddhist tradition that had developed over 2500 years, but he also recognized that the many changes it had been through were not in keeping with its core. In trying to understand and preserve the tradition, he endeavored to find the original and essential aspects of Buddhism through carefully reading and studying the Pali suttas. He insisted on reviving core threads of Buddha-Dhamma—teachings such as suññata (emptiness) and tathata (thusness) —that were in danger of being obliterated by certain elements of traditional Theravada Buddhism. Although this could be considered a conservative activity, it seemed very radical to the  monastic hierarchy. Rather than end up on one side or the other of this conservative-progressive dichotomy, he was able to be progressively conservative and conservatively progressive, avoiding a common ideological lock-down.
Another key dichotomy he addressed is that of lay versus monastic. Senior monks discouraged him from teaching anatta (not-self) and paticcasamuppada (dependent co-origination) to lay people on grounds that it would “confuse them.” But in good conscience Ajahn Buddhadhasa could not stop. He argued that these dhammas are core to Buddhism, and all people who want to end suffering have a right to learn them. For him, ending suffering is not a monastic issue, or even a Buddhist issue, but a human issue. He took on the work of making the Dhamma available to anyone who might be interested, whether they were lay or ordained, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Sikh (and he had students from all of these traditions).
 Ajahn Buddhadasa also challenged the meditation versus daily-life practice dichotomy. The term ‘Dhamma practice’ is often used as a euphemism for meditation both in the West and in Asia . When people say ‘practice’ they are referring to the practice of sitting on a cushion or doing walking meditation, and sometimes specifically on retreat or in a formal setting. This has raised questions and created confusion about how to practice in daily-life, and how to respond to the demands, complexities, and needs of the world we live in.
Central to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s approach is the idea that “Dhamma is duty; duty is Dhamma.” Dhamma practice comes down to doing our duty, which inspires a further investigation into the nature of that duty. For some of us our duty is something dictated to us by our family. The government tells us about our patriotic duty. Capitalism tells us about our duty to consume to keep the economy strong. Ajahn Buddhadasa believed that duty must be discovered by and for ourselves. We should be mindful of messages from our family, government, culture, and economic system, but in the end it is our own responsibility to identify. Sometimes it’s about taking care of the body, sometimes it’s about one’s profession, and sometimes it’s about social action. Ultimately the core duty is to let go of self and to be free of suffering.

Finally, there is the spiritual versus worldly dichotomy. There are teachers of Theravada who believe in a clear duality between samsara and Nibbana, the worldly and transcendent. And there is much in the West that dichotomizes these as well, including leftist political traditions that want to abolish religion and be simply materialistic. There are others with the opposite bias: “Forget politics and forget social issues, all you have to do is practice, practice, practice and escape to Nibbana.
While Ajahn Buddhadasa didn’t believe that samsara (worldly) and Nibbana (transcendent) are one and the same, he did insist that Nibbana is found only in the midst of the world. For him the way to end suffering could only be found through suffering. He described Nibbana as “the coolest point in the furnace.” 
The Dhamma perspective that made all this bridging possible is an understanding, both intellectual and experiential, of idappaccayata—the universal natural law that all things happen because of causes and conditions. Nothing is static, absolute, or fixed. Seeing this, we avoid becoming trapped in ideology, positions, and dichotomies. Ajahn Buddhadasa believed that an approach which may have worked for a while may also finally reach its limit. The more we understand that everything depends on causes and conditions, that nothing is fixed, the easier it will be to navigate the intellectual and ideological dichotomies of our world, and to follow the middle way of non-suffering in this lifetime.
The best way from

Friday, September 13, 2013


                  JUST ONE TEACHING

 By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

You must know that the Buddha spoke of just one thing and nothing else: dukkha (pain, dissatisfaction) and the quenching of dukkha. The Buddha taught only the disease and the cure of the disease; he didn't talk about anything else. When people asked questions about other matters, the Buddha refused to waste his or their time with such things. 

Nowadays, we spend our time studying all kinds of other things. It's a pity how our curiosity is aroused by matters such as: After death, will I be born again? Where will I be reborn? How will it happen? Please don't waste your time on those things. Instead of reading lots of books, take what time you have to focus on dukkha and the complete, utter quenching of dukkha. This is the knowledge to store up, this is the studying to do. Don't bother studying anything else!

The Lord Buddha taught only dukkha and the total cessation of dukkha. He taught that we must study these two things within our bodies. You can only do this while the body is alive. Once the body dies, you don't have to concern yourselves with this problem any more. But now, while there's life, constantly, continuously, and inwardly study dukkha (spiritual disease) and the utter quenching of dukkha (the cure of the spiritual disease).

Throughout this world there is little interest in this matter of dukkha and its end. None of the world's schools pay any attention to it. In the universities, they don't teach or study it. The only thing taught in our schools and universities is cleverness, the storing up of many facts and the ability to perform mental tricks with them. Students graduate with cleverness and some way to make a living. This is what modern education means-- being clever and earning lots of money. Dukkha and the quenching of dukkha are totally ignored. We believe that all education in today's world is incomplete. It is imperfect because the most important subjects are forgotten; a general base of knowledge and the ability to earn a living are not enough. There is a third area of knowledge which the schools and universities don't teach: how to be a human being. Why do they ignore what it takes to be a proper human being, that is, a human being free of dukkha? Because a proper human being ought to have no spiritual disease, modern education will be incomplete and insufficient as long as it fails to cure spiritual disease.

 The best way from
  for more

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dhamma Medicine

Dhamma Medicine

By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu


The first thing we would like you to realize is that Buddhism, or Dhamma, is a medicine for curing disease. This is a strange and special medicine because it can be taken by anyone, regardless of religion, nationality, ethnic background, education, class, or language. Anyone may use this medicine, for Dhamma is like those modern drugs that cure physical ailments. Such drugs can be taken by people all over the world, no matter what their religion, race, sex, profession, or language. Although we come from different cultures, we can use the very same kind of medicine. Take aspirin, for example. No matter who and where we are, we can take a few aspirin to get rid of a headache. Dhamma is the same. It is the universal medicine.

We like to say that Dhamma is a medicine for disease or roga. I would like for us to use this Pali word "roga," because it has a clear and useful meaning. Although it's usually translated as "disease," roga literally means "that which pierces and stabs," thus causing pain. We don't really know where the English word "disease" comes from, so we prefer "roga." Its meaning is certain and appropriate: stabbing, piercing, skewering. Dhamma is something that can cure this stabbing and piercing of roga.

The roga with which we're most concerned is spiritual. We can call it "spiritual disease." Physical disease pierces the body; spiritual disease stabs the mind or spirit. Dhamma is the latter's remedy. If we have no spiritual disease, to come and study Dhamma is a complete waste of time. Hence, everyone must look closely in order to know both kinds of roga: physical disease, roga of the body, and spiritual disease, roga of the mind, heart, or spirit. Then, look within yourselves -- right now! -- is there any spiritual disease in you? Are you free from disease or merely enduring it?

We begin our study of Dhamma by getting to know our own roga. You must look and search within yourself until seeing and discovering how spiritual disease afflicts you. To do so, you must look inside! If you don't, you won't have a proper beginning to your study of Dhamma. Unless we understand the roga from which we suffer, we will only study Dhamma in a foolish, aimless way. Actually, most of you already have some knowledge about your spiritual disease, but for most that knowledge will be slight, scattered, or unclear.

Let's talk about the disease a bit more in order to clarify it. All of the problems which disturb the mind are problems which arise from aging, illness, and death. These are the first symptoms of the disease. Our minds are disturbed and pestered by problems that result from the fact that we all must grow old, fall sick, and die. These problems are the first thing to look at. Next, there are three general, miscellaneous problems: we get separated from the things we love, we experience things we dislike, and we have wishes which go unfulfilled. These are general problems leading to spiritual disease. Before anything else, each of you must know these problems or roga as you actually experience them within yourselves.

The best way from  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When the world is just a joke

When the world is just a joke

Phra Paisal Visalo (May, 2006) Translated into English by Surutchada Chullapram
Humankind possesses the power of creation. We have invented numerous innovations, but eventually our own creations return to ‘create’ us back by influencing our thoughts, behaviours and lifestyle.

We developed technology only to let it run our lives by dictating the way we live, our hobbies and our life goals – for example, when we aim to have our own car before the age of thirty. Technology even dictates the way we express our love and relationship with others. 

Similarly, we set up the value of gold (or diamond) so that eventually gold has become the standard which assesses our value in society. Imagine the way you might feel if you go to a fancy social event without any gold or diamond jewellery.

To take another example, languages are human’s invention. However, at the same time humans are also the invention of languages. Our views and feelings are much dictated by languages. We feel differently when we are called ‘sir’ as opposed to ‘tramp’. The power of language is not limited here as it also intricately, deeply but unnoticeably controls our thinking process and our opinion about life. 

Amongst those powerful words is the word ‘my’. We usually call things that we have ‘mine’. This word really makes us think that these objects are actually ours, in the sense that they are under our power and control; that we can direct them in any way we please; and that they will always be ‘ours’ forever and ever. Sadly, this is not the truth. Even more sadly, whatever we think is ‘mine’ actually ‘owns’ us. We, in fact, ‘belong’ to them and not the other way round.

When we buy a nice shiny new car; as soon as we think it is ‘ours’, we will fall under its control, in the sense that we will always be worried about it and taking care of it. We are so controlled by that new car that we can not stop being worried if it is parked somewhere unsafe. We would definitely be upset if the car is scratched, and even gone crazy if it is stolen. Have you started to see who controls who?

Therefore, anything which we think is ‘ours’ is in fact our boss, our controller and our owner. As soon as we think that the money we have is ours, we will then become its slave. We will do everything to protect it from, say, thieves, even if our lives are endangered. Apart from that, we are most likely to work very hard in order to make more money – not unlike a slave who spends his life filling his boss’s treasure chest. This urge to ‘make money’ is an uncanny addiction, so that many of us forget to use the money but focusing on making it. In a way, the money is using us. 

The power of ‘my’ extends beyond material possession to human relationship. If we start to think that another person is ours, we will suddenly fall under that person’s control. Our lives, happiness and unhappiness will depend on what the person does or says. Very often, people commit suicide just because this special someone acts in a cruel heartless way. All these start from our own thoughts, that this is my lover, my parent, or my child. 

A mother always complains because her son spends too much time on computer games. The son gets annoyed and decides not to speak to his mother, but to spend even more time in front of the computer screen. One day, the mother can not stand it any longer. She demands that he speak to her, otherwise she will kill herself. The boy’s silent response causes so deep disappointment in her heart that she actually commits suicide. 

In this case, the more the mother thinks that her son is ‘hers’, the more she falls into his power and the more she becomes unhappy, as a result of her own expectation. Her thought has destroyed herself, and perhaps others around her. 

Look carefully, there is nothing in the world which, upon becoming ‘ours’, will not assert control over us, even our own thoughts. We always think that our thoughts are ours, but in fact they are rather outside our control. There are many things which we want to forget, but they always come back to haunt us. Another example, when we hate someone, we can not stop thinking about that person, although that is something we do not want to think about at all. 

Thoughts are like beings. Once they come into existence they want to remain that way. This is why they try to make us think about them as often as possible, so that they do not disappear. The more we think, the stronger the thoughts become. Notice that when we are by ourselves, stream of thoughts flows continuously as they are tricking us to keep them alive. Apart from that, they also want us to protect and defend them against any opposition. This is why we argue with those who disagree with our opinions. Sometimes we even have to wage war, in order to defend our views, be it religious or political. The fact that we allow our thoughts to push us into killing must indicate that we are under its power. 

The strange thing about thoughts is that once we attach to them, they can push us into doing many things, even if these things yield adverse effects on us. To take another example, a man really adores his own back garden. He spends a lot of time on it, and tries to make it looks perfectly at all times. He does not allow anyone to walk on his grass on fear that the grass might be damaged. So, does the back garden belong to him, or does it, in fact, own him?

One day he discovers that there are moles underneath the garden, damaging his beloved object. He tries in various ways to get rid of the moles, but to no avail. Eventually, he decides to fill the moles’ holes with petrol and burn them all up. The moles die, as he wishes, but his garden is also totally destroyed.

When we want to triumph over someone or something, this thought will push us to the limits and tell us to do anything in order to win, regardless of what we might lose in the process. Isn’t it true that very often, things that we lose are those we love the most?

Why is it that once we think that something belongs to us, be it money, people, thought or fame, that thing takes control and we become theirs? The answer is our attachment to them. Once we are attached to something, we can not help but be affected by it emotionally. It can make us happy or sad. Maybe we should try to control it, make it subject to our will? However, how many things in the world that we can truly control? We can not even control our body in the sense that we can not stop the aging process, nor the illnesses inside it. Nor can we control our mind, we don’t even know what we will be thinking in the next minute, let alone calming it down (for example, when we are angry). Therefore, the more we try to control, the unhappier we may become. We might think that we gain some happiness from the control, but this is only momentarily. Then we are back to unhappiness again. 

The more we want, the more we lose. The more we think that we are the controllers, the more we become the slaves. But once we let it go, we will get it back. When we are free from attachment to everything in the world, it will come back to us and belong to us in such a way that does not cause any pain or unhappiness. This is the truth of the world. It may sound like a joke – the world is just joking on us.

The Best Way From