Category: Dhamma

How to be Mindful

How to be Mindful

You may have heard that you should be mindful all the time, whether you are at home or in the office, or on the bus or in your car or in somebody else’s car, etc. You may interpret this advice to mean that you should keep your mind focused all the time on your breath. While driving, if you simply read more

Dhamma for the Dying

Dhamma for the Dying

This is another great article from Dr. Wong Yin Onn:
When someone is dying in a Buddhist home, monks and laypeople come to comfort them by chanting verses for them, and sharing the Dhamma. 

It is hoped that
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Ethics: Why keep the precepts?

Ethics: Why keep the precepts?

The very IMPORTANT aspect of Buddhist Precepts is that it offers ethics without a divine imperative, this radically differs from the usual spiritual/secular dichotomy.

What is Ethically wrong is also religiously Wrong, eg It is wrong to KILL and even Killing to make an offering is also Wrong! There is NO sacrificial lamb or worse, a Human Being being killed for YOU!

We must clearly understand that the Precepts are NOT divine commandments BUT Training rules [sikkhapadam] that we voluntarily undertake to keep to our best abilty [samadiyami].

First Precept: not to kill living beings.
The negative phrasing of the precepts is noteworthy but the First Precept also lends itself to a positive reading, the development of Metta-Karuna [Loving Kindness], the positive aspect which encourages love, compassion and kindness to all living beings.
Buddhism teaches the interdependence of all living things, there must not be callous disregard for animal life or human beings.

The First Precept offer insights onto modern medical codes of Ethics. For instance, it prohibits assisted suicide or even encouragement of suicide, though they do not condone prolonging life at all costs.

Second Precept: not to steal. 
“I take upon myself the precept of abstention from taking that which is not given.”
If someone does not give us something, it is not ours to take. Without permission, taking is stealing. However Buddhism absolves one who takes something without knowing that it belongs to another .

The positive counterpart to the Second Precept is the Buddhist virtue of generosity [Dana]. To give is a greatly meritorious act.

Third Precept: 
This precept should be read in its original language: Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

The word kama refers to any form of sensual pleasure but with an emphasis on sexual pleasure, and a literal translation of the precept would be “I take the rule of training ( veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami) not to go the wrong way/ misconduct (micchacara) for sexual pleasure (kamesu)”.

For adolescents and other unmarried Buddhists, the precept advocates the virtue of contentment in sexual abstinence—not safe sex behavior;
for spouses, the precept calls for marital fidelity. The sexual health of everyone is thus guarded.

Although most Buddhists are not celibates, we recognize celibate monasticism as the ideal lifestyle for the attainment of Enlightenment, in which monks and nuns renounce all sexual conduct as an impediment on this path.

The positive result of keeping this Precept is obvious; for the Laypeople it assures every individual of mutual respect for the body and the instituition of marriage, and for the Monastics, of the most appropriate conditions for the path of letting go of attachments, sex being a fundamental craving [kamatanha], attachment [kama upadana] and latent defilement [kamasava].

Fourth Precept: not to tell falsehoods. 
Buddhists understand the negative consequences of lying, and this precept also covers gossip and other forms of unproductive and hurtful speech.

This precept calls Buddhists to a love of truth and clarity in thought and expression.

Fifth Precept: 
“I take upon myself the precept of abstention from taking any intoxicating drinks that give rise to carelessness/mindlessness.”

The prohibition has been extended to all intoxicants, including modern addictive drugs. The Fifth Precept is primary because of its potential comprehensiveness: break it, and the resulting mindlessness easily leads to transgression of the other four. In positive terms, the precept points up the virtue of a unclouded, disciplined, and wise mind.

Buddhism does NOT have the notion of an almighty, creator God who is the source of human ethics. There is no prologue to the precepts as there is to commandments eg: “I am the LORD your God” so do this OR….!

As Buddhists, we must understand WHY we want to keep the Precepts and do it VOLUNTARILY rather than being dictated to by an external force threatening fire and birmstone to those who disobey or lapse. The aim of the Buddha Dhamma is to enable us to evolve to be BETTER and Wiser people, to do that the change must come from WITHIN and with Insight. We keep the Precepts because we want to, not because we are ordered to.

The Buddha taught three criteria for making moral judgments.

The first is to act towards others the way we would like them to act towards us.

Eg In the Samyutta Nikaya he uses this principle to advise against adultery. He says: “What sort of Dhamma practice leads to great good for oneself?… A noble disciple should reflect like this: ‘If someone were to have sexual intercourse with my spouse I would not like it. Likewise, if I were to have sexual intercourse with another’s spouse they would not like that. For what is unpleasant to me must be unpleasant to another, and how could I burden someone with that?’ As a result of such reflection one abstains from wrong sexual desire, encourages others to abstain from it, and speaks in praise of such abstinence.”

In the Bahitika Sutta, Ananda is asked how to distinguish between praiseworthy and blameworthy behaviour.

He answers that any behaviour which causes harm to oneself and others could be called blameworthy while any behaviour that causes no harm (and which helps) oneself and others could be called praiseworthy.

Behaviour can be considered good or bad according to the consequences or effects it has and whether or not it helps us to attain our ultimate goal of Nibbana.

When asked how after his death it would be possible to know what was and was not his authentic teaching, the Buddha replied: “The doctrines of which you can say: ‘These doctrines lead to letting go, giving up, stilling, calming, higher knowledge, awakening and to Nibbana’ – you can be certain that they are Dhamma, they are discipline, they are the words of the Teacher.”

This utilitarian attitude to ethics is highlighted by the fact that the Buddha uses the term kusala to mean ‘skillful’ or ‘appropriate’ or its opposite, akusala, when evaluating behaviour.

The other thing that is important in evaluating behaviour is intention (cetana). If a deed is motivated by good (based upon generosity, love and understanding) intentions it can be considered skillful.

Evaluating ethical behaviour in Buddhism requires more than obediently following commandments, it requires that we develop a sympathy with others, that we be aware of our thoughts, speech and actions, and that we be clear about our goals and aspirations.

A Little Bit More Mindful

A Little Bit More Mindful

Teacher : So…have you been practicing as I have taught?

Student : Yes, sir. Apart from my timed sittings, I have also been trying to be aware of the times when I feel happy, sad or angry.

Teacher : And have you been successful?

Student : Not really. There are times when it takes me days before I realized that I am feelinghappy or sad. But there were also times when I was able to catch it almost immediately.

Teacher : When mindfulness is strong, you will be able to notice the change in your moods quickly. When mindfulness is weak, you may not even realize that you are being made a fool by your emotions.

Student : What is mindfulness?

Teacher : The very instance that your mind becomes aware about a change in its state (eg. from happy to sad), that is the moment you have mindfulness. The moment that you “know” is when you are mindful.

Student : So, it is the moment when I know that my mind has drifted from my breath to a thought. Or the moment when I know I am feeling happy or sad. Correct?

Teacher : Yes. That is correct.

Student : I have another question. Sometimes when I try to sit in meditation, I get a lot of aches and pains, especially in my legs and my back. When that happens, I find it hard to concentrate.

Teacher : When there are aches, is the mind calm or agitated?

Student : Oh…It is agitated, for sure!

Teacher : If it is agitated, is there suffering?

Student : There is suffering.

Teacher : If that is the case, then you should make the effort to observe the mind when it is in a state of agitation and be aware that “this is suffering”.

Student : Okay. But, sir, just being aware about the pains does not solve my aches. In fact, it seems to be getting worse because I’m so fixated by it.

Teacher : Being aware is always the first step. Now, tell me what will ease your suffering.

Student : A change in position, sir.

Teacher : Then, on knowing that a change in position will relieve suffering, you should mindfully change positions.

Student : Ahhh…

Teacher : Now that you have shifted, is there still pain?

Student : No, sir. The change in positions has eased the pain.

Teacher : When there is no pain, is the mind calm or agitated?

Student : It is calm.

Teacher : When it is calm, is there suffering or not?

Student : There is no suffering.

Teacher : Very good. You have just experienced suffering and the release from suffering.

Student : Does that mean every time my leg aches, I can shift positions?

Teacher : Only after you make yourself aware of it.

Student : Okay.

Teacher : Most times, we are not aware of when we are scratching to relieve an itch, or shifting our sitting positions to relieve an ache. In fact, many are not even aware about their in and out breaths. Meditation aims to make you more aware of your own body. When you are eating, know that you are eating, when you are breathing, know that you are breathing. When you can understand your own mind, you can understand your environment.


Try to observe your breaths to see if you fall asleep on your in-breath or out-breath.

Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Right and Wrong

Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Right and Wrong

An article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

“These two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are fools.

“These two are wise. Which two? The one who sees his/her transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his/her transgression. These two are wise.”

— AN 2.21

“It’s a cause of growth in the Dhamma and Vinaya of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future.”

— DN 2

The Buddha succeeded in establishing a religion that has been a genuine force for peace and harmony, not only because of the high value he placed on these qualities but also because of the precise instructions he gave on how to achieve them through forgiveness and reconciliation. Central to these instructions is his insight that forgiveness is one thing, reconciliation is something else.

The Pali word for forgiveness – khama – also means “the earth.” A mind like the earth is non-reactive and unperturbed. When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge. You don’t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep us ensnarled in an ugly samsaric wrestling match. This is a gift you can give us both, totally on your own, without my having to know or understand what you’ve done.

Reconciliation — patisaraniya-kamma — means a return to amicability, and that requires more than forgiveness. It requires the reestablishing of trust. If I deny responsibility for my actions, or maintain that I did no wrong, there’s no way we can be reconciled. Similarly, if I insist that your feelings don’t matter, or that you have no right to hold me to your standards of right and wrong, you won’t trust me not to hurt you again. To regain your trust, I have to show my respect for you and for our mutual standards of what is and is not acceptable behavior; to admit that I hurt you and that I was wrong to do so; and to promise to exercise restraint in the future. At the same time, you have to inspire my trust, too, in the respectful way you conduct the process of reconciliation. Only then can our friendship regain a solid footing.

Thus there are right and wrong ways of attempting reconciliation: those that skillfully meet these requirements for reestablishing trust, and those that don’t. To encourage right reconciliation among his followers, the Buddha formulated detailed methods for achieving it, along with a culture of values that encourages putting those methods to use.

The methods are contained in the Pali Vinaya’s instructions for how monks should confess their offenses to one another, how they should seek reconciliation with lay people they have wronged, how they should settle protracted disputes, and how a full split in the Sangha should be healed. Although directed to monks, these instructions embody principles that apply to anyone seeking reconciliation of differences, whether personal or political.

The first step in every case is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. When a monk confesses an offense, such as having insulted another monk, he first admits to having said the insult. Then he agrees that the insult really was an offense. Finally, he promises to restrain himself from repeating the offense in the future. A monk seeking reconciliation with a lay person follows a similar pattern, with another monk, on friendly terms with the lay person, acting as mediator. If a dispute has broken the Sangha into factions that have both behaved in unseemly ways, then when the factions seek reconciliation they are advised first to clear the air in a procedure called “covering over with grass.” Both sides make a blanket confession of wrongdoing and a promise not to dig up each other’s minor offenses. This frees them to focus on the major wrongdoings, if any, that caused or exacerbated the dispute.

To heal a full split in the Sangha, the two sides are instructed first to inquire into the root intentions on both sides that led to the split, for if those intentions were irredeemably malicious or dishonest, reconciliation is impossible. If the group tries to patch things up without getting to the root of the split, nothing has really been healed. Only when the root intentions have been shown to be reconcilable and the differences resolved can the Sangha perform the brief ceremony that reestablishes harmony.

Pervading these instructions is the realization that genuine reconciliation cannot be based simply on the desire for harmony. It requires a mutual understanding of what actions served to create disharmony, and a promise to try to avoid those actions in the future. This in turn requires a clearly articulated agreement about — and commitment to — mutual standards of right and wrong. Even if the parties to a reconciliation agree to disagree, their agreement needs to distinguish between right and wrong ways of handling their differences.

Yet right and wrong have gotten a bad rap in Western Buddhist circles, largely because of the ways in which we have seen right and wrong abused in our own culture — as when one person tries to impose arbitrary standards or mean-spirited punishments on others, or hypocritically demands that others obey standards that he himself does not.

To avoid these abuses, some people have recommended living by a non-dual vision that transcends attachment to right and wrong. This vision, however, is open to abuse as well. In communities where it is espoused, irresponsible members can use the rhetoric of non-duality and non-attachment to excuse genuinely harmful behavior; their victims are left adrift, with no commonly accepted standards on which to base their appeals for redress. Even the act of forgiveness is suspect in such a context, for what right do the victims have to judge actions as requiring forgiveness or not? All too often, the victims are the ones held at fault for imposing their standards on others and not being able to rise above dualistic views.

This means that right and wrong have not really been transcended in such a community. They’ve simply been realigned: If you can claim a non-dual perspective, you’re in the right no matter what you’ve done. If you complain about another person’s behavior, you’re in the wrong. And because this realignment is not openly acknowledged as such, it creates an atmosphere of hypocrisy in which genuine reconciliation is impossible.

So the solution lies not in abandoning right and wrong, but in learning how to use them wisely. Thus the Buddha backed up his methods for reconciliation with a culture of values whereby right and wrong become aids rather than hindrances to reconciliation. To prevent those in the right from abusing their position, he counseled that they reflect on themselves before they accuse another of wrongdoing. The checklist of questions he recommended boils down to this: “Am I free from unreconciled offenses of my own? Am I motivated by kindness, rather than vengeance? Am I really clear on our mutual standards?” Only if they can answer “yes” to these questions should they bring up the issue. Furthermore, the Buddha recommended that they determine to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness. Their motivation should be compassion, solicitude for the welfare of all parties involved, and the desire to see the wrong-doer rehabilitated, together with an overriding desire to hold to fair principles of right and wrong.

To encourage a wrongdoer to see reconciliation as a winning rather than a losing proposition, the Buddha praised the honest acceptance of blame as an honorable rather than a shameful act: not just a means, but the means for progress in spiritual practice. As he told his son, Rahula, the ability to recognize one’s mistakes and admit them to others is the essential factor in achieving purity in thought, word, and deed [MN 61]. Or as he said in the Dhammapada, people who recognize their own mistakes and change their ways “illumine the world like the moon when freed from a cloud” [Dhp 173].

In addition to providing these incentives for honestly admitting misbehavior, the Buddha blocked the paths to denial. Modern sociologists have identified five basic strategies that people use to avoid accepting blame when they’ve caused harm, and it’s noteworthy that the Pali teaching on moral responsibility serves to undercut all five. The strategies are: to deny responsibility, to deny that harm was actually done, to deny the worth of the victim, to attack the accuser, and to claim that they were acting in the service of a higher cause. The Pali responses to these strategies are: (1) We are always responsible for our conscious choices. (2) We should always put ourselves in the other person’s place. (3) All beings are worthy of respect. (4) We should regard those who point out our faults as if they were pointing out treasure. (Monks, in fact, are required not to show disrespect to people who criticize them, even if they don’t plan to abide by the criticism.) (5) There are no — repeat, no — higher purposes that excuse breaking the basic precepts of ethical behavior.

In setting out these standards, the Buddha created a context of values that encourages both parties entering into a reconciliation to employ right speech and to engage in the honest, responsible self-reflection basic to all Dhamma practice. In this way, standards of right and wrong behavior, instead of being oppressive or petty, engender deep and long-lasting trust. In addition to creating the external harmony conducive to Dhamma practice, the process of reconciliation thus also becomes an opportunity for inner growth.

The Buddha admitted that not all disputes can be reconciled. There are times when one or both parties are unwilling to exercise the honesty and restraint that true reconciliation requires. Even then, though, forgiveness is still an option. This is why the distinction between reconciliation and forgiveness is so important. It encourages us not to settle for mere forgiveness when the genuine healing of right reconciliation is possible; and it allows us to be generous with our forgiveness even when it is not.