Thursday, July 31, 2008

Karma and its Fruit

By Nyanaponika Thera

Most writings on the doctrine of karma emphasize the strict lawfulness governing karmic action, ensuring a close correspondence between our deeds and their fruits. While this emphasis is perfectly in place, there is another side to the working of karma — a side rarely noted, but highly important. This is the modifiability of karma, the fact that the lawfulness which governs karma does not operate with mechanical rigidity but allows for a considerably wide range of modifications in the ripening of the fruit.
If karmic action were always to bear fruits of invariably the same magnitude, and if modification or annulment of karma-result were excluded, liberation from the Samsaric cycle of suffering would be impossible; for an inexhaustible past would ever throw up new obstructive results of unwholesome karma.

Like any physical event, the mental process constituting a karmic action never exists in isolation but in a field, and thus its efficacy in producing a result depends not only on its own potential, but also upon the variable factors of its field, which can modify it in numerous ways. We see, for example, that a particular karma, either good or bad, may sometimes have its result strengthened by supportive karma, weakened by counteractive karma, or even annulled by destructive karma. The occurrence of the result can also be delayed if the conjunction of outer circumstances required for its ripening is not complete; and that delay may again give a chance for counteractive or destructive karma to operate.

It is, however, not only these extraneous conditions which can cause modification. The ripening also reflects the karma's "internal field" or internal conditions — that is, the total qualitative structure of the mind from which the action issues. To one rich in moral or spiritual qualities, a single offense may not entail the weighty results that the same offence will have for one who is poor in such protective virtues. Also, analogously to human law, a first offender's punishment will be milder than that of a re-convicted criminal.

Of this type of modified reaction the Buddha speaks in the continuation of the discourse quoted above:

"Now take the case when a minor bad deed has been committed by a certain person and it takes that person to hell. But if the same minor offense is committed by another person, its result might be experienced during this lifetime and not even the least (residue of a reaction) will appear (in the future), to say nothing of a major (reaction).

"Now what is the kind of person whom a minor offense takes to hell? It is one who has not cultivated (restraint of) the body, not cultivated virtue and thought, nor developed any wisdom; one is narrow-minded, of low character and even for trifling things suffers. It is such a person whom even a minor offense may take to hell.

"And what is the person by whom the result of the same small offense will be experienced in one's lifetime, without the least (future residue)? One who has cultivated (restraint of) the body, who has cultivated virtue and thought and who has developed wisdom; one is not limited by (vices), is a great character and lives unbounded (by evil). It is such a person who experiences the result of the same small offense during this lifetime, without the least future residue.

"Now suppose one throws a lump of salt into a small cup of water. What do you think: would that small quantity of water become salty and undrinkable by that lump of salt?" — "It would, Lord." — "And why so?" — "The water in the cup is so little that a lump of salt can make it salty and undrinkable." — "But, monastics, suppose that lump of salt is thrown into the Ganges river. Would it make the Ganges salty and undrinkable?" — "Certainly not, Lord." — "And why not?" — "Lord, great is the mass of water in the Ganges. It will not become salty and undrinkable by a lump of salt."

It is an individual's accumulation of good or bad karma and also one's dominating character traits, good or bad, which affect the karmic result. They determine the greater or lesser weight of the result and may even spell the difference between it occurring at all.

But even this does not exhaust the existing possibilities of modifications in the weight of karmic reaction. A glance into the life histories of people we know may well show us a person of good and blameless character, living in secure circumstances; yet a single mistake, perhaps even a minor one, suffices to ruin one's entire life — one's reputation, career, and happiness — and it may also lead to a serious deterioration of one's character. This seemingly disproportionate crisis might have been due to a chain-reaction of aggravating circumstances beyond one's control, to be ascribed to a powerful counteractive karma of one's past. But the chain of bad results may have been precipitated by the person's own action — decisively triggered by one's initial mistake and reinforced by subsequent carelessness, indecision or wrong decisions, which, of course, are unskillful karma in themselves. This is a case when even a predominantly good character cannot prevent the ripening of bad karma or soften the full force of the results. The good qualities and deeds of that person will certainly not remain ineffective; but their future outcome might well be weakened by any presently arisen negative character changes or actions, which might form a bad counteractive karma.

Consider too the converse situation: A person deserving to be called a thoroughly bad character, may, on a rare occasion, act on an impulse of generosity and kindness. This action may turn out to have unexpectedly wide and favorable repercussions on one's life. It might bring about a decisive improvement in one's external circumstances, soften one's character, and even initiate a thorough "change of heart."
How complex, indeed, are situations in human life, even when they appear deceptively simple! This is so because the situations and their outcome mirror the still greater complexity of the mind, their inexhaustible source. The Buddha himself has said: "The mind's complexity surpasses even the countless varieties of the animal kingdom." (SN 22.100) For any single individual, the mind is a stream of ever-changing mental processes driven by the currents and cross-currents of karma accumulated in countless past existences. But this complexity, already great, is increased still very much more by the fact that each individual life-stream is interwoven with many other individual life-streams through the interaction of their respective karmas. So intricate is the net of karmic conditioning that the Buddha declared karma-result to be one of the four "unthinkables" (acinteyya) and warned against creating it as a subject of speculation. But though the detailed workings of karma escape our intellection, the practically important message is clear: the fact that karmic results are modifiable frees us from the bane of determinism and its ethical corollary, fatalism, and keeps the road to liberation constantly open before us.

The potential "openness" of a given situation, however, also has a negative side, the element of risk and danger a wrong response to the situation might open a downward path. It is our own response which removes the ambiguity of the situation, for better or worse. This reveals the karma doctrine of the Buddha as a teaching of moral and spiritual responsibility for oneself and others. It is truly a "human teaching" because it corresponds to and reflects a human's wide range of choices, a range much wider than that of an animal. Any individual's moral choice may be severely limited by the varying load of greed, hatred and delusion and their results which one carries around; yet every time one stops to make a decision or a choice, one has the opportunity to rise above all the menacing complexities and pressures of one's unfathomable karmic past. Indeed, in one short moment one can transcend eons of karmic bondage. It is through right mindfulness that one can firmly grasp that fleeting moment, and it is mindfulness again that enables one to use it for making wise choices.
Originally published in The Vision of the Dhamma (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1994).
Copyright © 1994 Nyanaponika Thera

Karma Quiz

Nyanaponika Thera (Questions based on "Karma and its Fruit")

QUESTIONS (Section I.)
  1. Which relationship is emphasized and which rarely noted in most works on karma?
  2. What metaphor best describes the result of karma (action)?
  3. Why is it possible to be liberated from the cycle of suffering?
  4. What two things determine the result of any karmic action?
  5. What effects can a particular type of established karma have on the result of an action?
  6. Since karmic results are not instant, what can happen during the delay?
  7. Where does karma issue?
  1. How will the virtues of an individual affect the results of his/her karma (actions)?
  2. Differentiate between the effects of karma on one without virtue and one with.
  3. According to the Buddha’s example, a cup of water or the Ganges river = _______ while a lump of salt = _______.
  4. According to the Buddha, what two things affect the karmic result?
  1. What can a single mistake cause even to a person with blameless character?
  2. Why such a seemingly disproportionate crisis?
  3. An initial mistake can be reinforced by ______ and in this case _______________ .
  4. Do all of these ideas work in reverse?
  5. What do these complex situations mirror?
  6. How is the complexity of the mind increased?
  7. What keeps the road to liberation constantly open?
  1. What is the negative side to the potential “openness” of a given situation?
  2. What can one use to grasp a moment in which to make a wise choice?
  3. While not directly discussed in essay, Will a human be able to rise from suffering with a clouded mind, and what types of things cloud it?

Fascinating Full Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is seen in Jiuquan, in China's western Gansu province Friday Aug. 1, 2008. Millions of Chinese along the ancient Silk Road gathered Friday to gaze at a total solar eclipse, an event traditionally fraught with superstitious meaning coming one week before the start of the Beijing Olympics (AP Photo).

Totality: solar eclipse, which the Chinese word for is "Rishi" meaning "eaten sun," can be seen above the Jiayuguan Fort on the Great Wall of China in the town of Jiayuguan, Gansu Province August 1, 2008 (David Gray/Reuters).

Solar Eclipse Friday to Fascinate Millions
Robert Roy Britt ( July 31, 2008

A total eclipse of the sun Friday should fascinate millions of lucky skywatchers in Greenland, Siberia, Mongolia and China, but be available to everyone through NASA, in partnership with the Exploratorium and the University of California, Berkeley, which will transmit live images on NASA TV.

If the weather cooperates, people along a narrow path who venture out and look up will see stars during the day as the sun is gradually devoured and ultimately blotted out by the moon. Unlike ancient times, when eclipses were viewed as bad omens in many cultures, fewer people should be expecting doom this time around. Still, myths persist, especially in remote regions, so it's likely there will be some banging on pots and other creative tactics employed to drive the "evil spirits" away.

Map showing path of solar eclipse which will cross China one week before the start of the Olympic Games (AFP/Graphic).

Billions of people along the path, including most of Europe and Asia, have a chance to see an interesting but much less foreboding partial eclipse. The northern half of Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces will be graced with a partial eclipse at sunrise.

Myth and mystery Solar eclipses occur when the moon moves in front of the sun. This can happen only at the time of a new moon, when the moon is between Earth and the sun. When the three objects align perfectly an eclipse occurs. Before there was a scientific explanation for eclipses, myth and mystery was pervasive. Many cultures thought a demon [asura] or dragon [naga] was devouring the sun.

Partial solar eclipse is seen next to the Independence monument in Almaty August 1, 2008 (REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov, KAZAKHSTAN).

In ancient China, "any unusual phenomenon involving celestial bodies was noted for potential omens, either good or bad, that might befall the current Emperor," according to Sten Odenwald of the department of physics at Catholic University. An eclipse occurred in 2134 B.C., but was not predicted by Hsi and Ho, who were believed to have been two astrologers who served the Emperor Chung K'ang.

"By some accounts, the two astrologers were negligent in their duties and did not foretell the event for the Emperor," Odenwald writes in a historical article published by NASA. "They were summarily beheaded for their negligence of duty." The ancient Chinese banged pots and drums to shoo the frightful sun-eating character away, according to the Exploratorium Science Center in San Francisco. In India, people would immerse themselves in water to help the sun fight the dragon [naga-raja]. Even nowadays many myths persist. In Egypt, as one example, children are often kept indoors with windows covered or shades drawn during an eclipse.

Hindu devotees take a holy dip in the river Yamuna during a partial solar eclipse in the northern Indian city of Mathura August 1, 2008 (REUTERS/K. K.Arora, INDIA).

Prior to a total solar eclipse in 2006, one Indian paper advised pregnant women not to go outside during the eclipse to avoid having a blind baby or one with a cleft lip. Food cooked before the eclipse was to be thrown out afterward because it would be impure and those who are holding a knife or ax during the eclipse would cut themselves, the Hindustan Times added.

In Togo, authorities prior to the 2006 solar eclipse called on villagers to stay home. "Please, do not go out and keep your children indoors on solar eclipse day,'' Togo's minister for health said in a message broadcast on state television.

A woman looks at the moon partly covering the sun, during a partial solar eclipse, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, Aug. 1, 2008 (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Risk of eye injury
Eclipses can indeed be dangerous. Despite myths and rumors, a total solar eclipse is safe to watch during the darkness of totality, when no rays of the sun are passing to your eyes. The corona, or atmosphere of the sun, is often partly visible when the moon blocks out the main disk of the sun. Viewing the corona during totality also is safe.

However, looking directly at the sun, even during a partial eclipse, will damage your eyes unless you wear proper eye protection. It is extremely dangerous to eyesight to look directly at an eclipse at any stage expect during totality.

Glasses designed specifically for eclipse viewing are recommended, or a handful of indirect viewing methods can be used: With masking tape, cover all but a 1/2-inch square of a small mirror. Project the sun onto a shaded wall. Or with a pencil, poke a small hole in a piece of paper. Let sunlight fall trough the hole onto a second sheet of white paper about a foot below.

Webcast planned
For those not fortunate enough to be in the eclipse's narrow path, a live webcast is planned. The coverage, originating in China and reliant on good weather, runs from 6 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. ET. The period of total eclipse, or totality, will occur from 7:08 a.m. to 7:10 a.m. ET.

Meditative power: "With one's hand one touches and strokes even the...moon, so mighty and powerful" (Samannaphala Sutra) (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky).

Human Potential: like Buddha Boy

Does the Human Body Have Limits?
By Leonardo Vintini (Epoch Times, 7/24-30/08)

RECORD BREAKER: Magician David Blaine broke the world's record for breath-holding earlier this year, but have others far surpassed this feat?

Holding the breath for nearly 20 minutes, or staying awake for 11 days might seem like supernatural records, but what are a human being's actual limits?

Food, water, sleep, and breath are the basic pillars of sustenance for any human life. While other organisms may survive a prolonged absence of these essentials, the survival of humans without these four indispensable factors is, according to science, not possible.

But how long can a human really go without one of these life-sustaining essentials? What is the breaking point? It seems that whenever one tries to find an absolute rule, an exception is soon found.

Exemplary fasting, meditating asceticism

Bigu: Life Without Food
While many observe a period of fasting—either for health or religious reasons—this brief break from food usually does not last long. Some go without eating for a few days or a week and report that the occasional practice can actually promote a healthy vigor, provided that they return to eating again. Others, to mark a political protest, might engage in a hunger strike—abstaining from food to bring attention to an issue.

But as humans near the month mark without food, the body enters starvation mode. As prolonged fasts near two months or more, and the body feeds off itself for substance, death soon results. Lack of water can be fatal to humans in an even shorter period.

Nonetheless, there are ancient records suggesting that humans might have the ability to go without food or water for far longer than we might imagine. According to ancient Chinese cultivation methods, when a monk decided to meditate in a remote mountain or cave, sooner or later he would confront a problem—what to do about food. Living in a cave away from the rest of civilization, he had little to sustain him on his path to enlightenment.

According to oral tradition, in order to resolve the situation of sustenance, monks practiced Bigu (literally translated as "without grain'). Detached from the human world, the monk would miraculously abandon the biological necessity for food and water, although he could continue his practice for decades—a veritable impossibility according to modern biological understandings.

But beyond what the records say of eminent monks who have stayed in meditation for nine or more years, and which modern science may not acknowledge, does there exist any evidence indicating that the human body may possess the capacity to escape the burden of finding sustenance? Beginning in 1926 (a case negated by scientists), a woman named Teresa Neumann managed to go 35 years without eating until her death.

The "Buddha Boy" Nepal's Ram Bahadur Bomjon

More recently, investigators report that in 2005 a young Nepalese Buddhist, Ram Bahadur Bomjon [the famous "Buddha Boy"], sustained his meditation in the shade of a fig tree for more than eight months without consuming food or liquid of any kind. A fence separated the hundreds of followers who stopped to pray and admire the miraculous human. Even the Discovery Channel filmed him day and night for four days to prove the veracity of the case.

Sleep Deprivation
But what can we say about sleep? Is there anyone who has managed to bypass the restorative "escape from consciousness" that all people require once every 24 hours? Some animal species, such as fish or ostriches, possess the capacity to sleep with only one hemisphere of the brain, leaving the other half alert to watch for predators. Later they swap, putting the other half to rest. In this way, they complete their daily sleep cycle.
Humans [are said by some to] lack such a capability. Usually, one "all nighter" can lead to increased stress and a noticeably slower reaction time; two nights without slumber only increases these effects. But what is the "official" limit of sleep deprivation? During the past century, many have attempted to endure several sleep-free evenings. Enduring hallucinations and short-term memory loss, 17-year-old Randy Gardner managed to stay awake for 11 days in 1963. And although Guinness no longer observes sleep deprivation records, others have strived to break Gardner's feat.

Yet these slumber-free stretches don't compare to 66-year-old Vietnamese farmer Ngoc Thai. Stricken with a fever in 1973, Thai has not been able to return to sleep in the last 35 years, but not for a lack of trying. Medications, folk remedies, and alcohol don't seem to break his sleepless existence. Is Ngoc Thai a medical impossibility? How can the human brain survive without sleep for more than a week?

Every Breath We Take
While organisms such as anaerobic bacteria thrive just fine in an oxygen-deprived environment, humans fare less well. Most people have tried to hold their breath under water—after just a few minutes, the need for air takes over and we are forced to emerge for precious oxygen. Earlier this year, magician David Blaine astounded audiences when he broke the world record for holding one's breath, enduring over 17 oxygen-deprived minutes. But has he reached the human limit?

Some records show that Indian yogis have stayed buried in the earth or immersed in water for several days, defying scientific understandings of molecular oxygenation.

Humans are naturally curious about the body's limits, and individuals who test them inspire awe and wonder. But when examples break far beyond the realm of the possible, the results become difficult to comprehend. [There's also a Western history of monastic asceticism].

When someone appears to sever their dependence of these vital life-giving factors—beyond the well-trained parlor trick—we are forced to examine what might instead sustain the body.

Lankavatara Sutra: Mahayana Scripture

Traditional text with explanatory notes by WQ editors
See unmodified text by Suzuki and Goddard

There are many Mahayana "discourses" that were not literally-historically uttered by the Buddha but rather were synthesized by teachers into a dialogue involving him, fitted to the cultures they were being taught in, expounding ideas and teachings of the Mahayana school. This is one such discourse, fictional perhaps, but aimed at a higher truth, explaining how one is to succeed in the Path of the Bodhisattva Ideal. (See many more such texts at PurifyMind).

Lankavatara Sutra (

Mahamati asked the Blessed One: "Pray tell us, Blessed One, what is the fruition that comes with self-realization of Noble Wisdom?"

The Blessed One replied: "First, there will come a clearing insight into the meaning and significance of things, and following that will come an unfolding insight into the significance of the spiritual ideals (paramitas, "ways to cross," listed below) by reason of which the bodhisattvas (beings bent on becoming buddhas to save others) will be able to enter more deeply into the abode of "imagelessness" (animitta, signless, state of concentration transcending the use of a meditative counterpart sign) and be able to experience the higher samadhis (states of utmost singlemindedness yielding superlative bliss, the dhyanas, Ch'ans, Seons, Samtens, Zens), gradually to pass through the higher stages of bodhisattvahood.

"After experiencing the 'turning about' in the deepest seat of consciousness, they will experience other samadhis even up to the highest, the vajra-vimbopama, which belongs to the Tathagatas (fully enlightened buddhas) and their transformations.

"They will be able to enter into the realm of consciousness that lies beyond the consciousness of the mind-system, even the consciousness of Tathagatahood.

"They will become endowed with all the powers, psychic faculties, self-mastery, loving compassion, skillful-means, and ability to enter into other Buddha Lands.

"Before they attained self-realization of Noble Wisdom, they had been influenced by the self-interests of egoism. But after they attain self-realization, they will find themselves reacting spontaneously to the impulses of a great and compassionate heart endowed with skillful and boundless means and sincerely and wholly devoted to the emancipation of all beings."
Mahamati said: "Blessed One, tell us about the sustaining power of the Tathagatas by which the bodhisattvas are aided to attain self-realization of Noble Wisdom."

The Blessed One replied: "There are two kinds of sustaining power, which issue from the Tathagatas and are at the service of the bodhisattvas, sustained by which the bodhisattvas should prostrate themselves before them and show their appreciation by asking questions.

"The first kind of sustaining power is the Bodhisattva's own adoration and faith in the Buddhas by reason of which the Buddhas are able to manifest themselves and render their aid and to ordain them with their own hands.

"The second kind of sustaining power is the power radiating from the Tathagatas that enables the bodhisattvas to attain and to pass through the various samadhis and samapattis (attainments) without becoming intoxicated by their bliss.

"Being sustained by the power of the Buddhas, the bodhisattva even at the first stage will be able to attain the [dhyana (jhana), meditative-absorption] known as the "Light of Mahayana." In that samadhi, bodhisattvas will become conscious of the presence of the Tathagatas coming from all their different abodes in the ten directions to impart to the bodhisattvas their sustaining power in various ways.

"As the bodhisattva Vajra-garbha was sustained in his samadhis, and as many other bodhisattvas of like degree and virtue have been sustained, so all earnest disciples and masters and bodhisattvas may experience this sustaining power of the Buddhas in their samadhis and samapattis.

"The disciple's faith and the Tathagata's merit are two aspects of the same sustaining power and by it alone are the bodhisattvas enabled to become one with the company of the Buddhas.

"Whatever samadhis, psychic faculties, or teachings are realized by the bodhisattvas, they are made possible only by the sustaining power of the Buddhas. If it were otherwise, the ignorant and the simpleminded might attain the same fruition.

"Wherever the Tathagatas enter with their sustaining power, there will be music. Not only music produced by human lips and played by human hands on various instruments, there will be music among the grasses and shrubs and trees, and in mountains and towns and palaces and hovels.

"Much more will there be music in the hearts of those endowed with sentiency. The deaf, dumb, and blind will be cured of their deficiencies and will rejoice in their emancipation. Such is the extraordinary virtue of the sustaining power imparted by the Tathagatas.

"By the bestowal of this sustaining power, the bodhisattvas are enabled to avoid the evils of passion, hatred, and enslaving karma. They are enabled to transcend the dhyana [jhana] of the beginners and to advance beyond the experience and truth already attained. They are enabled to demonstrate the Ten Perfections (paramitas) and, finally, to attain the stage of Tathagatahood.
"Mahamati, if it were not for this sustaining power, they would relapse into the ways and thoughts of the contentious philosophers, easygoing disciples, and the evil-minded, and would thus fall short of the highest attainment. For these reasons, earnest disciples and sincere Bodhisattvas are sustained by the power of all the Tathagatas."

Prajnaparamita, the "perfection of prajna (wisdom)"
The Ten Perfections (paramitas)
  1. generosity
  2. self-discipline
  3. patience
  4. diligence
  5. concentration
  6. wisdom
  7. skillful-means
  8. aspiration
  9. spiritual power
  10. knowledge

Buddhist Business + Wall Street Woes

Right Livelihood: to refrain from five kinds of business, namely, trade in: 1) weapons, 2) poisons, 3) humans, 4) animals, and 4) intoxicants. Instead one follows the business advice found in the:

Trader looks at monitor on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange. Wall Street is hesitating, data is coming next week to provide clearer picture of US economy: in recovery mode or downward spiral (AFP/Getty/Chris Hondros).

Wall Street woes boost therapists' business
By Elinor Comlay (7/31/08)

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street is reeling from losses, and bankers are fearful of losing bonuses at best and jobs at worst. But while New York braces for the economic fallout, one group is benefiting -- psychotherapists.

Bankers suffering from anxiety or depression and looking for pills or deep therapy are making beelines for the couch. And for some it has gotten so bad they want to quit the money game forever. "I had a guy say to me, 'I want your job," said psychologist and career coach Marilyn Puder-York.

While it is difficult to quantify demand, five therapists who serve the banking community all said in interviews their business from Wall Street is up in recent months. Alden Cass, a psychologist and trading coach in New York who works extensively with Wall Street traders, estimated that his clients have increased by about 25% since March, when JPMorgan Chase & Co agreed to buy Bear Stearns and the stock market tumbled.

Several psychologists said that the events in March led to a spike in referrals, as Wall Street professionals saw just how quickly their job security could be taken away. "Traders are more stressed, more uncomfortable, more fearful about how the year's going to turn out, and less confident than they have been in years," said Ari Kiev, psychiatrist and founder of the Social Psychiatry Research Institute.

Kiev has been working with traders for 15 years and said this is the most stressful year for his clients he has experienced. Typical are the traders facing losses who double their positions in last-chance bids to recoup gains -- only to face more than double the losses they had previously. They abandon a trading strategy and become governed by their emotions, Kiev said.

"Once they are in a hole, psychologically, they start panicking," said Kiev, who notes that these traders start to doubt their ability. "They think, 'Maybe I was only successful because I was lucky."'

This hasn't been a normal downturn on Wall Street. The year-long credit crisis has been traumatic for some bankers who have had their bank accounts, their career prospects and their self-esteem damaged....

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world...

Buddhism and Business
By Jon Nagelmakers (NewsVine)

It seems that Buddhism is making its way into business, with monks helping run the show. When one thinks of Buddhist monks, the images of meditation, tranquility, and nature seem to come to mind first and foremost. But now the teachers of Buddhism are starting to come back in a big way with technology.

Take the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai, a temple which has been around for 120 years and now, thanks to recent pushes into the business world, owns a restaurant, a four-star hotel, a food factory, and a seven-story office building. The Jade Buddha has grown to the extent that it is putting a group of its monks through courses at the Shanghai International Studies University for the study of foreign languages, and another group is just starting at Jiaotong's business school to, of course, get their MBAs.

The Jade Buddha is not the only temple that has made good use of the recent surge in interest in Buddhism and the Orient. The Shaolin Temple in Henan province owns both a martial arts school and a company that produces vegetarian snacks and Zen tea, Shaolin Development. Shaolin also has been promoting its reputation as a birth place of the martial arts by holding international events.

Ajahn Brahm: Ways and Means into Jhana

Ajahn Brahm Dharma talk
WQ-edited transcription

Tam sukham annatra kamehi annatra akusalehi dhammehi na bhayitabbam (M.I 247, M.II 454). This is a brief saying by the Buddha. It states that happiness which is other, or apart from, sensuality [pleasure that is secluded from unwholesome states (dharmas)] is not to be feared.

And, indeed, I want to use this opportunity this evening to, instead of giving a general talk, to give a specific talk on the process of meditation leading up to meditative-absorptions (jhanas).

I want to give this talk now because it is the right time in the retreat. After just over a fortnight, much of the external activity has disappeared, and mind and body should be settling down. The mind should be inclining towards these quiet and peaceful states.

Now I want to give a talk on how one deals with the mind to lead it into these deep states of peace and bliss, these very useful states.

Many of you who've heard my talks on this subject before will hear much which is repeated. But then again because these talks are not planned, there will be other pieces of information which you have not heard before which will help. And anything that helps settle the mind to let go of the Five Hindrances, to let go of the world of the senses, and gain these uttari-manussa-dhamma, these "superior human states" worthy of the noble ones (aryas), will be useful.

I was talking in my last discourse about the need for sense-restraint. And it goes without saying in this discourse that sense-restraint gives one the groundwork, the foundation, for taking this mind into a fuller restraint of the senses. A fuller letting go of many, many things where the mind used to dwell. It is going to another place in the mind, a place of great peace and bliss, a very profound place which gives you great insights into the nature of the mind.

What the mind is capable of and how it feels to be in these states, why these states are such, and how they come about -- these are the questions. It gives one great insight into a world, a world which you cannot know unless you have been there, because these worlds, these samadhi states are so strange compared to the external world that they are very difficult to describe. Those who have not been there find it very difficult to believe that such states can even exist.

One has to start from the very beginning. Having practiced some sense-restraint, there comes a time when one sits down on one's cushion, still, and starts training the mind. That initial training of the mind should begin with what the Buddha called the iddhi-padas. The iddhi-padas are the Four Roads or Bases of Success, or the Four Bases of Power.

These are what empowers you to actually succeed in this process of meditation. As you all know these iddhi-padas are the arousing of a desire for a goal and the maintaining of the desire for that goal: the chanda-samadhi [desire or resolve to reach concentration]. This is a prerequisite of gaining any success in this meditation.

If you fail to set yourself a goal, you will not arouse that desire, that movement of mind to achieve the goal. And there will be no results. You do not get to one-pointedness of mind by allowing the mind to wander. It will never get close. It needs to be directed, to be pointed. And that direction, that singlepointedness of mind, has to be done through a very clear resolution.

The most important thing about this iddhi-pada is that this resolution has to be maintained throughout the course of the meditation. If you make that resolution and you maintain it then you have got a hope for success. If you make that resolution and after one or two minutes you forget what you are supposed to be doing, what you are aiming for, then it is very easy to turn a corner and go backwards or sideways and waste a lot of time.

These are very profound states, and they need that degree of effort. Not immense effort, but constant effort. So take your goal, and keep it in mind. Read more


Mahayana Buddhism

Colorful Mahayana symbolism
- (text edited for clarity)

Nagarjuna image from Madhyamaka

The Mahayana ("Great vehicle"), or Northern branch, is one of the two major divisions of Buddhism. The other is Theravada ("Teaching of the Elders"), which is also referred to derogatorily as Hinayana, "Small vehicle."

Mahayana Buddhism is based on sophisticated metaphysical speculations regarding the nature of Reality (shunyata), or Enlightenment (sambodhi, prajna), and of the Buddha (Trikaya).

Soteriologically, the main idea is of not escaping into a quiescent nirvana. Rather, once having achieved enlightenment, one returns as a Bodhisattva to the world for the sake of other beings.

Mayahana, therefore, emphasizes that the duty of enlightenment is to work compassionately to relieve the suffering of others (upaya or "skillful means") and argues that all sentient creatures will ultimately achieve Buddhahood.

Mahayana Buddhism spread northeast from India into China (1st century A.D.), and from there into Tibet and Korea, and from Korea into Japan.

By convention, Mahayana is divided into two philosophical schools, both of which had a strong influence on the various Mahayana Buddhist sects, but also the Advaita Vedanta of Gaudapada and Shankara as well.

The first is the anti-metaphysical Madhyamika or Dialectic school, which emphasizes the negation of all possible phenomenal reality through a kind of logical reducto-ad-absurdum in order to arrive at the ineffable absolute or Void (shunyata) that is the only Reality.

The second Mahayanist school is the Vijnanavada or "Consciousness-[only] doctrine" which uses the experience of meditation in order to prove that all reality is ultimately Consciousness (hence the alternative names of Yogachara, "Yoga doctrine," and Chittamatra, "mind-only").

Unlike the Madhyamikas, they developed a number of metaphysical and occult conceptions, including an emanationist ontology quite similar to that of Samkhya, though psychologically rather than cosmologically oriented.

Buddhist advertisements Bodhidharma or Buddhist graffiti? The temples around Seoul hang posters. They advertise temple events and other programs. This is an older poster, on a signpost with plenty of other adverts under it.

The Bodhisattva Ideal
At the heart of Mahayana Buddhism is the noble "Bodhisattva Ideal":
However innumerable sentient beings are,
I vow to save them. However inexhaustible the defilements are,
I vow to extinguish them. However immeasurable the dharmas are,
I vow to master them. However incomparable enlightenment is,
I vow to attain it.
The Bodhisattva Vow (in Andrew Harvey's The Essential Mystics, Harper: San Francisco, 1996, p.75)

A bodhisattva is a being who searches for the attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. This conception, central to Mahayana school, developed from the original idea of one who defers the "ultimate goal" of nirvana (extinction) in order to return to the world of suffering again and again for the sake of sentient beings.

Master Shantideva (695-743 AD) was a great proponent of the Bodhisattva Ideal and the Middle Way of Buddhism [Buddhist Artwork - mirror (Australia)]

The Bodhisattva and Reincarnation
By Evgueni Tortchinov

Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which is also a Mahayana school, two types of reincarnation must be differentiated: the usual one (the interpretation of which has the doctrine of Karma as its foundation), an interpretation of which does not differ much from that of the Theravadins, and the doctrine of Sprul-sku (read tool-koo, Sanskrit: nirmanakaya, "a magically produced body, or magically transformed body). This is the ability of the bodhisattvas and other "saints" (arya pudgala) to create by the force of mind special "artificial" bodies to reveal themselves to the Samsaric world by their will for the benefit of other living beings.

Thus, the Dalai-lama is [are] a sprul-sku of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the Panchen-lama a sprul-sku of the Buddha Amitabha, Bogdo-gegen (of Mongolia) a sprul-sku of the saint Taranatha, and so on. Only such special incarnations can be realized on the levels of mind, speech, and body.

Moreover each bodhisattva, by his/her supernatural powers, can produce unlimited numbers of such "magical bodies" to be incarnated in several persons. (Such as was seen in the collision in Bertolucci's movie "Little Buddha"). In common parlance such incarnations are called "incarnated lamas," or even "living buddhas."

But ordinary beings move through the Wheel of Cyclic Existence [Samsara] by the force of their karma, which holds together their "santana," the individualized continuity of psycho-physical experience.


Eighth Wonder of the World

Maitreya Project's old plan; below, new conception (

Significance of the Maitreya Project By Seven Jaini

Creating the "eighth wonder of the world" in Kushinagar, India (ancient Kusinara, where the Buddha chose -- contrary to the protests of his contemporaries) to pass into final nirvana. Shakyamuni Buddha chose this site quite purposely because, as he explained, in ancient times, this had been the center of a famed and prosperous kingdom and one known to previous buddhas.

20. "'Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nirvana in which no element of clinging remains!' This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.

21. "These, Ananda, are the four places that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. And truly there will come to these places, Ananda, pious bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, reflecting: 'Here the Tathagata was born! Here the Tathagata became fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment! Here the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dhamma! Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nibbana in which no element of clinging remains!'

22. "And whoever, Ananda, should die on such a pilgrimage with his heart established in faith, at the breaking up of the body, after death, will be reborn in a realm of heavenly happiness."

Ananda, on discerning what the Buddha was intending to do in Kusinara, cried:

Ananda's Grief
32. Then the Venerable Ananda went into the vihara [monastic residence] and leaned against the doorpost and wept: "I am still but a learner [i.e., unenlightened], and still have to strive for my own perfection. But, alas, my Master, who was so compassionate towards me, is about to pass away!"

33. And the Blessed One spoke to the monastics, saying: "Bhikkhus, where is Ananda?" "The Venerable Ananda, Lord, has gone into the vihara and there stands leaning against the door post and weeping: 'I am still but a learner, and still have to strive for my own perfection. But, alas, my Master, who was so compassionate towards me, is about to pass away!'"

34. Then the Blessed One asked a certain recluse to bring the Venerable Ananda...And the Venerable Ananda went to the Blessed One, bowed down to him, and sat down on one side.

35. Then the Blessed One spoke to the Venerable Ananda, saying: "Enough, Ananda! Do not grieve, do not lament! For have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? Of that which is born, come into being, compounded, and subject to decay, how can one say: 'May it not come to dissolution!'? There can be no such state of things. Now for a long time, Ananda, you have served the Tathagata with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought, graciously, pleasantly, with a whole heart and beyond measure. Great good have you gathered, Ananda! Now you should put forth energy, and soon you too will be free from the taints" [i.e., enlightened].

Ananda then protested that Kusinara was not sufficiently famous for such a great thing to happen there:

The Past Glory of Kusinara
41. When this had been said, the Venerable Ananda spoke to the Blessed One, saying: "Let it not be, Lord, that the Blessed One should pass away in this mean place, this uncivilized township in the midst of the jungle, a mere outpost of the province. There are great cities, Lord, such as Campa, Rajagaha, Savatthi, Saketa, Kosambi, and Benares — let the Blessed One have his final passing away in one of those. For in those cities dwell many wealthy nobles and brahmins and householders who are devotees of the Tathagata [Buddha], and they will render due honor to the remains of the Tathagata."

42. "Do not say that, Ananda! Do not say: 'This mean place, this uncivilized township in the midst of the jungle, a mere outpost of the province.' In times long past, Ananda, there was a king by the name of Maha Sudassana, who was a universal monarch, a king of righteousness, a conqueror of the four quarters of the earth, whose realm was established in security, and who was endowed with the seven jewels. And that King Maha Sudassana, Ananda, had his royal residence here at Kusinara, which was then called Kusavati, and it extended twelve yojanas [84 miles] from east to west, and seven [49 miles] from north to south.

43. "And mighty, Ananda, was Kusavati, the capital, prosperous and well populated, much frequented by people, and abundantly provided with food. Just as the royal residence of the deities, Alakamanda, is mighty, prosperous, and well populated, much frequented by deities and abundantly provided with food, so was the royal capital of Kusavati.

44. "Kusavati, Ananda, resounded unceasingly day and night with ten sounds — the trumpeting of elephants, the neighing of horses, the rattling of chariots, the beating of drums and tabours, music and song, cheers, the clapping of hands, and cries of 'Eat, drink, and be merry!'

IMAGES: Kushinagar (India) and the Buddha's final passing away into nirvana (; Ananda weeping below (

This is the site chosen by the Tibetan Maitreya Project. Maitreya ("friend" Pali, Metteyya) is the "buddha to come." The historical Buddha mentioned that the next fully-enlightened one was already residing in the Tusita deva world awaiting rebirth on earth to strive toward full enlightenment and re-establish the true Dharma for the benefit of devas and humans.

This has sometimes become a basis for laxity, as some Buddhists mistakenly await a messianic figure -- perennially claimed to have already arrived in the form of a self-aggrandizing person. This claim is mistaken because in the distant past, humans lived far longer. So too in the distant future, by slow increments, they will live far longer lives than they do now. (The time between buddhas is better measured in geologic than historical terms). Imagine a time when the average human lifespan is 200 or 1,000 or 10, 000 or 20,000 years. That will happen much sooner than the arrival of the Maitreya the historical Buddha was talking about. The Buddha gave a clear indication of WHEN Maitreya would be arriving by saying:

"And in that time of the people with an eighty-thousand-year lifespan, there will arise in the world a Blessed Lord, an arahant fully enlightened Buddha named Metteyya, endowed with wisdom and conduct, a Well-farer, Knower of the worlds, incomparable Trainer of [persons] to be tamed, Teacher of [devas] and humans, enlightened and blessed, just as I am now."
— DN26 The Long Discourses of the Buddha (formerly Thus Have I Heard), Maurice Walshe (trans.), Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1987, p. 403f.

Until such time as Maitreya arrives to again turn the Wheel of the Dharma, which will have by then completely disappeared, a wonderfully tall statue of him will sit facing Nepal and Tibet in Kushinagar, India. The Maitreya Project and the Relics Tour are committed to funding a structure so massive that it will be the "eighth wonder of the world."

Relic Tour in Hollywood

By Seven Jaini for Wisdom Quarterly

The Maitreya Project's Relic Tour came through Hollywood midsummer. (See full schedule for North America and Europe).
The event, sponsored by Golden Bridge Yoga, included Relic Blessings, relic blessed waters, constant meditation, respectful circumambulation, bell singing (for musicians), and baby Buddha bathing. Relics on display belonged to Shakyamui Buddha, Kassapa Buddha, a few Great Disciples, and the funerary remains of a famous Tibetan lamas. The Buddhist Channel covered the San Jose tour stop earlier this month.

Sample of Shakyamuni's relics (Maitreya Project)

One psychic meditator ("Ron") explains that "relics are condensed consciousness" capable of appearing, disappearing, multiplying, growing, deterioration, and intensification right off the charts of an Integrity Scale.

Gurmukh (center with turban), Golden Bridge owner, in line for blessing (Seven Jaini)

Relic Blessing -- with enshrined objects placed on head -- in progress (Seven Jaini)

Free Storehouse: "BuddhaSasana"

A Buddhist Page by Binh Anson

An excellent free Dharma resource and repository exists on the Web. It houses many free to view, free to download books, articles, essays, and more. Thanks to the efforts of Binh Anson Ph.D., it is possible to navigate through many instructive teachings of the "Buddha's Dispensation" available in English and Vietnamese.
"Every evil never doing
and in wholesomeness increasing
and one's heart well-purifying:
this is the Buddha's Sasana"
(Dhp. 183)
Find it here

Unknown Pain Facts: Dukkha

Pain The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) Committee for Taxonomy defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage...pain is always subjective. Each individual learns the application of the word through experiences related to injury in early life" (Merskey, 1994).
Pain forces an estimated 36 million U.S. residents to miss work every year and results in roughly 70 million doctor visits. Studies find that exercise is in many cases one of the best remedies for chronic pain.
5 Painful Facts You Need to Know
By Robert Roy Britt (LiveScience, July 25, 2008)

First off, let's set the record straight: Pain is normal. About 75 million U.S. residents endure chronic or recurrent pain. Migraines plague 25 million of us. One in six suffer arthritis.

The global pain industry peddles more than $50 billion in drugs a year. Yet for chronic pain sufferers, over-the-counter pills are typically little help, while morphine and other narcotics can be addictive sedatives.

An overview study published last month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine looked at multiple studies of pain and found "researchers don't yet know how to determine which [treatment] is best for individual patients." From studies of drugs to surgeries and alternative medicines, "We have found that there are huge gaps in our knowledge base," said Dr. Matthew J. Bair, assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

So what is pain and why do so many suffer so long?
Pain is felt when electrical signals are sent from nerve endings to your brain, which in turn can release painkillers called endorphins and generate reactions that range from instant and physical to long-term and emotional. Beyond that, scientific understanding gets painfully fuzzy. Here's what's known:

1. Scientist don't understand pain
When you're in pain, you know it. But if scientists could fully grasp how pain works and why, they might be able to help you more. The American Academy of Pain Medicine defines pain as "an unpleasant sensation and emotional response to that sensation." Some pain is the result of an obvious injury. Other times, it is caused by damaged nerves that are not so easy to pinpoint. "Pain is complex and defies our ability to establish a clear definition," says Kathryn Weiner, director of the American Academy of Pain Management. "Pain is far more than neural transmission and sensory transduction. Pain is a complex mixture of emotions, culture, experience, spirit and sensation."

2. Chronic pain shrinks brains
If you have chronic pain, you know how demoralizing and debilitating it can be, physically and mentally. It can prevent you from doing things and make you irritable for reasons nobody else understands. But that's only half the story. People with chronic backaches have brains as much as 11 percent smaller than those of non-sufferers, scientists reported in 2004. They don't know why. "It is possible it's just the stress of having to live with the condition," said study leader A. Vania Apkarian of Northwestern University. "The neurons become overactive or tired of the activity."

3. Migraines and sex go together
It may not eliminate the phrase "Not tonight, honey ..." but a 2006 study found that migraine sufferers had levels of sexual desire 20 percent higher than those suffering from tension headaches. The finding suggests sexual desire and migraines might be influenced by the same brain chemical, and getting a better handle on the link could lead to better treatments, at least for the pain portion of the equation.

4. Women feel more pain
Any man who has watched a woman having a baby without using drugs would swear that women can tolerate anything. But the truth is, guys, it hurts more than you can imagine. Women have more nerve receptors than men. As an example, women have 34 nerve fibers per square centimeter of facial skin, while men average just 17. And in a 2005 study, women were found to report more pain throughout their lifetimes and, compared to men, they feel pain in more areas of their body and for longer durations.

5. Some animals don't feel our pain
Animal research could offer clues to eventually relieve human suffering. Take the naked mole rat, a hairless and nearly blind subterranean creature. A study this year found it feels neither the pain of acid nor the sting of chili peppers. If researchers can figure out why, they might be on the road to new sorts of painkilling therapies for humans. In 2006, scientists found a pathway for the transmission of chronic pain in rats that they hope will translate into better understanding of human chronic pain. Lobsters feel no pain, even when boiled, scientists said in a 2005 report that is just one more salvo in a long-running debate.

Video-link. Kishore took part in a meditation/anxiety study in February. The study focused on emotion processing and anxiety and how these might change with mindfulness-based stress reduction or cognitive-behavioral therapy (i.e., how meditation affects anxiety). The process was similar to the one shown in this video (courtesy Science Friday)
What you can do
Meanwhile, exercise is a useful remedy for many types of chronic pain. In an Italian study detailed in the May issue of the journal Cephalalgia, office workers did relaxation and posture exercises every two to three hours. Over an eight-month period, they kept diaries, which were then compared to those of a control group that did not change habits. In the end, the group that exercised reported that headaches and neck and shoulder pain decreased by more than 40 per cent, and their use of painkillers was cut in half.

"Physical activity is actually a natural pain reliever for most people suffering from arthritis," concludes another study published in the Arthritis Care and Research journal in April. "Even minor lifestyle changes like taking a 10-minute walk three times a day can reduce the impact of arthritis on a person's daily activities and help to prevent developing more painful arthritis," said Dr. Patience White, chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation. "Physical activity can actually reduce pain naturally and decrease dependence on pain medications."
A Buddhist Point of View
Dukkha (the range of pain) definition: dukkhatā (abstract noun from dukkha): "the state of suffering," painfulness, unpleasantness, the unsatisfactoriness of existence. "There are three kinds of suffering:
  • (1) suffering as pain (dukkha-dukkhatā),
  • (2) the suffering inherent in the formations (saṅkhāra-dukkhatā),
  • (3) the suffering in change (vipariṇāma-dukkhatā)" (S. XLV, 165; D. 33).

(1) is the bodily or mental feeling of pain as actual]y felt.

(2) refers to the oppressive nature of all formations of existence (i.e., all conditioned phenomena), due to their continual arising and passing away; this includes also experiences associated with neutral feeling.

(3) refers to bodily and mental pleasant feelings, "because they are the cause for the arising of pain when they change" (Path of Purification XIV, 34f).

Nirvana: (verb) the end of all suffering; lit. "to blow out," "extinction" [of suffering] (nir + √vā, to cease blowing, to become extinguished); according to the commentaries, "freedom from desire (nir + vana). Nirvana constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations...the ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth, old age, disease, and death, from all suffering and misery.

Abhidharma (Buddhist Psychology)
"Feeling" is one of the five basic supports for the continued existence of a being. Through watching various aspects of it, a relationship can be seen between the sense pentad and the Factors of Absorption (jhananga). Through the analysis of this relationship, it can be seen how watching "feeling" may lead to the development of one's being and understanding.

The basis of being
Two parallel processes -- nama (mentality) and rupa (materiality) support each other continuously in existence. When an active regenerative energy from an action is carried over as vinnana (consciousness) and contacts a material group ready for support, rebirth occurs. This can be the rebirth of a human being, a deva, a habit, a process, or a conscious experience.

The material process manifests four qualities that interrelate in all forms:
  • solidity or mass which has hardness or softness
  • cohesion which holds together through flowing
  • warmth which allows change through maturing
  • air which gives support to structure through distending
Matter under these four aspects is combined with life energy when the matter is related to life processes such as that forming the six sense bases (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind).

Matter also forms objects for the first five sense bases. The sixth base can have matter as well as derived material qualities (masculinity, femininity, verbal, and bodily expression, etc.), and non-material objects such as concepts, mental states, and nirvana as its object.

The contact between one of these sense bases and an appropriate object produces a sense consciousness and leads to the arising of the nama aspect of being.

Nama (mentality), like rupa (materiality), is the coexistence of four qualities. In the case of nama, these are
  • vedana (feeling)
  • sanna (cognition)
  • sankhara (mental formations)
  • vinnana (conscious awareness)

These four occur as the first set of factors with all forms of consciousness that arise.

Vedana is feeling, the initial "taste" or essence of an aspect of the object. All contacts, sensory or cognizable (mental), feed vedana. The quality of the food depends on the degree of agreeableness of the object and on the state of the receptive base at the moment of contact.

Sanna resolves, cognizes, and discerns. It perceives the nature of the object without reacting to it. It is an impression of the awareness of an object so that the object may be re-cognized when necessary.

Sankhara is the collection of the coefficients of consciousness that give consciousness activity. Cetana, or intention, [is a characteristic] sankhara, which is like active thought, since it coordinates factors that are present at the time. Purpose, or intention, in relation to the object then arises. It feeds the mind and gives impetus for the wish to have, to know, or to think, that is, the determination to continue being.

Vinnana is that aspect of conscious experience that is actively "minding." It watches and categorizes with vitality, thus feeding the dependence on categories already formed. It is that which carries forward "categorized volition" to condition the subsequent state of being.

This should be distinguished from citta [mind/heart], another aspect of conscious experience, which is based on the heart. Here an emotional and intuitive reviewing and understanding of the object occurs. This is the result of an examination of the object which is wider and so intensifies the knowledge of it.

Contacts allow objects to be experienced from these existing four aspects of nama. Together with contact this group is sometimes termed the sense pentad, which occurs in all spheres of life, providing an apparently "continuous" basis for conscious experiences....Analysis of feeling
  • Read more (essay: sense function and the absorptions)
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