http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 11, 2003


In This Issue: Special Issue - Suffering in Buddhism

1. To Comprehend Suffering ...by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
2. Suffering and Buddhism
...Paul Ingram
3. Suffering and the Buddhist Tradition
...Venerable Guo Yuan Fa Shi
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery
5. Book/CD/Movie Review: Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times


1. To Comprehend Suffering ...by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu Copyright 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Survey your body. Survey your mind. You've been practicing meditation continuously, so even if your mind isn't yet quiet, even though it hasn't reached a level of concentration as solid as you'd like it to be, meditation is still a skillful activity in terms of developing conviction, developing persistence. At the very least it will give results on the sensory level, making you an intelligent person, at the same time developing the perfections of your character on into the future. So try not to get discouraged. Don't let yourself think that you haven't seen any results from your meditation. When you come right down to it, what do you want from your meditation? You meditate to make the mind quiet, and the mind becomes quiet from letting go. That's what the meditation is: letting go. If you meditate in order to "get" something, that's craving, the cause of suffering. Meditation isn't an affair of craving. The Dhamma is already here, so all we have to do is study it so that we'll know the truth. The truth isn't something new. It's something that's been here from time immemorial.

All the Buddhas of the past have awakened to this very same Dhamma, this very same truth. Even though the cosmos has changed from one aeon to another, the Dhamma hasn't changed along with the cosmos. No matter which aeon a particular Buddha was born in, he awakened to the same old truth. He taught the same old truth. The same Dhamma, the same truth, is always right here all the time. It's simply that we don't recognize it. We haven't studied it down to its elemental properties. All I ask is that you be intent on studying it. The truth is always the truth. It's always present.

The truth the Buddha taught starts with the principle that stress-and-suffering is a truth. Do you have any stress and suffering? Examine yourself carefully. Is there any stress and suffering within you? Or is there none at all? As long as there's suffering within you, the truth of the noble truths taught by the Buddha is still there. When you're mindful to keep your eye on the suffering appearing within you, you're studying the truth in line with what it actually is.

But in addition to pointing out the truth of suffering, the Buddha also taught the path to the end of suffering. This, too, is a truth. The Buddha has guaranteed that when we develop it in full measure, we'll gain release from stress and suffering. It's not the case that suffering is the only truth, that we have to lie buried in stress and suffering. The Buddha found a way out of suffering, like an intelligent doctor who not only understands diseases but also knows a miraculous medicine to cure them.

This is why the truth of the path is so important, for many, many people who have put it into practice have gotten results. The truth of the path is something we put into practice to gain release from suffering -- as we chanted just now:

Ye dukkham nappajanati,
Those who don't discern suffering,

Atho dukkhassa sambhavam
Suffering's cause ...

Ta?ca maggam na janati
Who don't understand the path,

The way to the stilling of suffering ...

Te ve jati-jarupaga
They'll return to birth and aging again.

If we don't comprehend suffering and the way to the end of suffering, we'll have to experience birth, aging, and death, which are the causes not only of suffering but also of the craving leading to more suffering.

We should take joy in the fact that we have all the noble truths we need. We have suffering, and the path to the end of suffering doesn't lie far away. When we look into the texts, we find that the Buddha and his noble disciples didn't practice anything far away. They purified the actions of their bodies and minds. They did this by knowing their own bodies and minds in line with what they actually were. When we don't know our own bodies and minds as they actually are, that's a cause of suffering. When we practice knowing our own bodies, our own minds, as they actually are, that's the path to release from suffering. Aside from this, there's no path at all.

We already have a body. We already have a mind -- this knowing property. So we take this knowing property and put it to use by studying the body in line with its three characteristics: aniccata, inconstancy; dukkhata, stressfulness; and anattata, not-selfnessness. Inconstancy and stressfulness lie on the side of suffering and its cause. We have to study things that are inconstant in order to see who they are, who's responsible for them, who really owns them. This issue of inconstancy is really important. Rupam aniccam: form is inconstant. Who owns the form? Rupam dukkham: form is stressful. Who's on the receiving end of the stress? Stress is something that has to depend on causes and conditions in order to arise. It doesn't come on its own. Just like sound: we have to depend on contact in order to hear it. If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any sound. In the same way, stress depends on contact. If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any stress. If stress and suffering were able to burn us all on their own, the Buddha would never have been able to gain release from them. There would be no way for us to practice, for no matter what, suffering would keep on burning us all on its own. But the fact of the matter is that when we practice, we can gain relief from suffering, because suffering isn't built into the mind, it's not built into this knowing property. It has to depend on contact through the sense media in order for it to arise.

This is why sages study the truth. As when we chant:

Ayam kho me kayo,
This body of mine,

Uddham padatala
From the soles of the feet on up,

Adho kesamatthaka
From the crown of the head on down,

Surrounded by skin.

Within this body we have all five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness. Form is the coarsest of the aggregates, for we can touch it with our hand and see it with our eyes. As for feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness, they're mental phenomena. Even though we can't touch them with the body, we can still know them and experience them. For instance, we constantly have feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain. Perception: we remember things and label them. Thought-fabrication creates thoughts, and consciousness notices things. We all notice things, label them, fabricate thoughts about them, and experience pleasure and pain because of them.

The primary issue is the form of the body. The Buddha taught us to study it in order to know the noble truths in both form and mental phenomena. When he taught that birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering, he was referring to the birth, aging, and death right here at the form where the five aggregates meet -- this form we already have. And yet most of us don't like to reflect on the truth of these things. We think that birth is pleasurable. We get pleasure and stress all confused. It's because we don't realize the truth of these things that we don't search for a way out. The Buddha, however, knew this truth, which was why he practiced contemplating it. He tested to see if birth is pleasurable by noticing if the mind could stay quiet with birth: "Are there any pains? Anything disturbing the mind? And what's paining and disturbing the mind aside from the birth, the arising of things?" It's because of the birth of the body that we have to keep finding food for it, requisites to keep it going. Greed, anger, and delusion arise because of birth. And once there's birth, there's aging, deterioration, wearing down, wearing down all the time. Whatever we get runs out, runs out every day, wears down every day.

The Buddha awakened to the truth that birth isn't pleasurable at all. The only pleasure is when, if we get hungry, we eat enough to make the hunger go away for a little while. But soon we get hungry again. When we get hot out in the sun, we take cover in the shade to cool down a bit, but then we start feeling hot again. When we get tired, we rest. But then if we lie down for a long time, we start feeling stiff. If we walk for a long time, we get weary. When this is the way things are, the mind can't find any peace or rest. It gets disturbed and gives rise to defilement because of birth. And that's not the end of it. Once birth takes place, it's followed by aging and deterioration. No matter how much you look after the body, it won't stay with you. In the end, it all falls apart. And once it dies, there's no one who can stay in charge of it. If we come to our senses only at that point, and realize only when it's already dead that it has to die, it's too late to do anything about it.

But if we gain conviction in these truths now in the present before death comes, we won't be complacent about our youth or life. If we can be mindful at all times that death is inevitable, that -- even though we may be as strong as a bull elephant -- a disease could come along at any time and oppress us to the point where we can't even sit up, can't do anything to help ourselves: when we realize this, we're said not to be complacent in our health. Then we can act in ways truly benefiting ourselves, providing us with the refuge we'll need when we can no longer take refuge in our youth, health, or life. Wherever you look in the body you see it wearing down. Wherever you look you see diseases. Wherever you look you see things that are unclean. Nothing at all in the body is really strong or lasting. When you see this clearly, you'll no longer be fooled into clinging to it. You can analyze the body into its parts and see that they're all inconstant, stressful, and not-self. When you develop clear insight into not-self, you'll be able to shake free of stress and inconstancy. That's because inconstancy is a not-self affair; stress is a not-self affair. They're not our affairs. So do we hope to gain by letting ourselves struggle and get defiled over them?

This is why the noble ones, when they see these truths, call them the dangers in the cycles of samsara. You have to understand what's meant by the term, "cycle." There's the cycle of defilement, the cycle of action, and the cycle of the results of action. The cycle of defilement is the ignorance that makes the mind stupid and defiled. These defilements are the cause of stress, suffering, and danger. Then there's the cycle of action. Any actions we do under the influence of defilement keep us spinning in the cycle, acting sometimes in skillful ways, sometimes in unskillful ones. Even skillful actions can lead to delusion, you know. When we experience good sights, sounds, status, or wealth as a result of our skillful actions, we can turn unskillful, careless, and complacent, because we get deluded into investing our sense of self in those things. When they start changing against our desires, we grow frustrated and start acting in evil ways. When they leave us, we act in unskillful ways. This causes the cycle of action in terms of both our physical and verbal acts. When we act in ways that are unskillful, this causes the cycle of results to be painful. When we experience this pain and suffering, the mind becomes defiled. Our vision gets obscured because the suffering overcomes us. This gives rise to anger as well as to greed for the things we want, and this starts the cycle of defilement again.

For this reason, if we can comprehend suffering as part of this cycle, we can block the cycle of defilement that would give rise to new cycles of action and results. So let's study the truth of suffering so that we can cut these cycles through discernment in the form of right view, which is a factor of the noble path. Let's foster and strengthen the path by knowing the suffering in birth, aging, illness, and death. When we comprehend suffering for what it actually is, we don't have to worry about the cause of suffering, for how can it arise when we see the drawbacks of its results? Once true knowledge has arisen, how can ignorance arise? It's as when we're in the darkness. If we try to run around tearing down the darkness, it can't be torn down. If we try to run around snatching away the darkness, it can't be snatched away. The darkness can't be dispersed by us. It has to be dispersed by light. When we light a fire, the darkness disappears on its own. The same with ignorance: it can't be dispersed through our thinking. It has to be dispersed through clear-seeing discernment. Once we give rise to discernment, the cause of suffering disappears on its own, without our having to get involved with it.

So try to give rise to clear-seeing discernment in full measure, and you'll gain release from suffering without a doubt. Be really intent.

That's enough for now. Keep on meditating.

2. Suffering and Buddhism ...Paul Ingram


While Howell touches on possible integrations of genetic science, suffering, and aspects of Christian Womanist, process, and liberationist theologies, Dr. Paul O. Ingram of Pacific Lutheran University presents the Buddhist tradition’s treatment of the problem of suffering. “Reflection about how Buddhist tradition has conceived the ‘problem of evil’” as it relates to science, suffering, and genetics is problematic, Ingram says. “Buddhists have been exploring the relationship between the Buddhist doctrines of interdependence and impermanence with contemporary physics and biological evolutionary paradigms for at least fifty years. Yet Buddhists have not, to my knowledge, explicitly connected analysis of the experience of suffering with the science of genetics.” And, secondly, Ingram says, “the ‘problem of evil’ is not a Buddhist problem.” Rather, Ingram says, the question of “how one can account for the existence of evil and suffering” rises from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic characterization of God as good, just, loving, and all-powerful.

“Buddhism indeed focuses on the suffering undergone by all sentient beings - not just human beings,” Ingram says, but “evil in a world created by a just, good and loving, all-powerful deity, as well as the problem of undeserved suffering of the righteous and the ‘undeserved prosperity’ of the unrighteous have never been structural elements in Buddhist explanations for the nature and cause of universal suffering.”

To understand Buddhist treatment of suffering, one must be acquainted with four “interdependent aspects of the Buddhist world view - apart from which there is no Buddhism” - the doctrines of impermanence, non-self, and interdependent co-origination, and the Law of Karma. “The first three doctrines characterize the structural character of all things and events at every moment of space time,” Ingram notes, “while the Law of Karma points to how human beings cause suffering both to themselves and other sentient beings. These elements of the Buddhist world view are so interdependent that each involves the other - like spokes of a wheel - so that each one needs to be understood in light of the other three.”

The doctrine of impermanence and the Law of Karma.

“The Buddha taught that all existence is duhkah, usually translated as ‘suffering’ in Western languages,” Ingram says. “But more than simple suffering is involved in this teaching . . . all existence involves suffering, or better, ‘unsatisfactoriness,’ because all existence is characterized by change and impermanence. Literally, everything and event at every moment of space-time - past, present, and future - has existed, now exists, or will exist as processes of change and becoming, because all things and events are processes of change and becoming. Consequently, life as such is duhkha, ‘unsatisfactory’ ‘suffering,’ physically, mentally, morally.” When “we become aware that our own lives mirror the universality of impermanence, that change and becoming are ingredient in all things, that there is no permanence anywhere; when we experience our own mortality and feel the resulting anxiety about our lack of permanence, we have an understanding of what the Buddha was driving at in the first noble truth.”

“Seeing permanence of any kind forces us to live out of accord with reality, ‘the way things really are,’” Ingram says. And as “Buddhists understand the Law of Karma, living out of accord with reality causes suffering in the numerous forms suffering can take individually and collectively.”

The doctrines of non-self and interdependent co-origination.

“If there exist only process and becoming, but no permanent ‘things’ that process and ‘become,’ who or what experiences ‘suffering?’” Ingram asks. “Or put another way, if there is no ‘soul,’ who suffers?”

“Hinduism, some forms of classical Greek philosophy, and traditional Christian teaching,” Ingram says, suggest “the existence of a permanent soul-entity remaining self-identical through time to explain continuity, “the paradoxical experience that we are the same person through the changing moments of our lives even as we experience that we are not the same person through the moments of our lives.” Buddhism, however, “rejects any and all notions of permanence, including the notion of unchanging self or soul entities,” Ingram says. “We are not permanent souls or selves; we are impermanent non-selves.”

“Non-self,” however, does not mean “non-existence.” Rather, Ingram says, “we either exist or non-exist as a continuing series of interdependently causal relationships.” According to the doctrine of interdependent co-origination, “things, events, and us become in interdependent relation with everything in this universe at every moment of space time . . . we are as impermanent as the systems of relationships that constitute us.” Stated differently, Ingram says, “we are not permanent soul entities that have interdependent relationships and experiences. We are those relationships and experiences as we undergo them. We are not soul-entities that suffer, we are our suffering” as we experience suffering.

Nirvana, enlightenment, and awakened compassion. 

Through meditation the Buddhist experiences “nirvana,” “awakening,” “enlightenment,” or “wisdom” - an “apprehension of the universal interdependence and interrelatedness of all sentient beings as these processes coalesce in our own lives. This wisdom “Generates ‘compassion’ or karuna - experiencing the suffering of all sentient beings - not just human beings - as our own suffering, which is exactly what it is in an interdependent universe.” For the Buddhist, Ingram says, “no one is free from suffering unless all sentient beings are free from suffering.” Thus, “energized by awakened compassion, the awakened ones . . . are moved to work in the world to relieve all beings from suffering.”

The Buddhist way of addressing suffering - “social engagement,” or “social activism,” as it is more familiarly called by American Christians - is grounded in the practice of non-violence and the practice of meditation. Because “individual greed, hatred, and delusion are central problems from which all need deliverance,” Ingram says, quoting Thich Nhat Hahn, “‘social work entails inner work.’” And it is meditation, that practice in which Buddhist social engagement is grounded, that opens us “to the experience of interdependence [of] all things and events” and “engenders compassionate action.”

“However,” Ingram writes, “while Buddhist have always been socially engaged with the forces that engender suffering, focus on ‘systemic’ suffering has not generally been a central point of Buddhist thought and practice until its contemporary dialogue” with Christian liberation theology’s emphasis on “issues of structural suffering” - institutionalized causes of economic, gender, social, political, and environmental oppressions, as well as racism and war. Systemic suffering, Ingram says, the “suffering all persons experience but which bears little, if any, relation to personal choice or an individual’s clinging to permanence in an impermanent universe,” is “the primary form ‘the problem of suffering’ seems to be assuming in contemporary Buddhist theory and practice.”

Two particular issues - and “problems” for the Buddhist treatment of suffering - are human rights and violent social activism. “[T]hrough Buddhist eyes, the Western struggle for human rights seems to be a disguised form of clinging to permanent existence as in an impermanent universe,” Ingram says. “From this perspective the struggle for human rights can only engender more suffering for all sentient beings. “Nevertheless, according to Ingram, “Buddhists realize the importance of human rights issues as issues of suffering," and thus "Buddhist debate on the nature of human rights still continues.”

“Related to the issues of human rights is non-violent resistance against economic and political oppression,” Ingram adds. “Since the heart of Buddhist social engagement is the practice of non-violence that grows out of the sense that all things and events are interdependent, Buddhists are in principle opposed to any form of violent social activism in the struggle for justice and release from communal suffering. The general Buddhist principle at work here,” Ingram says, “is that violence only creates more violence in an interdependent universe. For this reason, until recent times, Buddhists have not been led to be socially active in struggle against unjust political systems, institutionalized forms of economic exploitation, and other forms of international violence. That is, classical Buddhist teaching and practice has tended to focus on individual suffering, but has not focused attention on how suffering becomes institutionalized in social systems.”

However, in “confronting systemic suffering,” Ingram says, “Buddhists are now facing this question: in a universe in which life must eat life to survive, is non-violence always the most ethical response to systemic suffering?” Or are there times in which the practice of non-violence “might itself engender more systemic suffering?”

Monotheistic theology faces “the problem of evil” and the related “problem of suffering” - the task of defending the Christian, Judaic, or Islamic good, just, all-powerful and loving god against accusations of unjust suffering and evil in the world. Buddhist teaching, however, grounded in the classical Buddhist doctrines of impermanence, non-self, interdependent co-origination and the Law of Karma, faces a different challenge. Buddhist teaching explains the presence of suffering as a result of individuals attempting to cling to permanence in a fleeting universe. The difficulty for Buddhism, however, lies in how to address, from a worldview grounded in non-violence, the suffering that results from oppression institutionalized in social systems.

According to Ingram, “the issue of suffering is not approached anywhere in Buddhist thought as a ‘problem of evil,’ since, given the non-theistic character [of] the Buddhist world view, the problem of theodicy cannot even occur. Furthermore, Buddhist reflection on unmerited systemic suffering has occurred only within the last thirty years, mostly inspired by Buddhist dialogue with Christianity.” Ingram concludes, “All that can be said for certain in this regard is that Buddhist thought and practice on this issue [are] still in process.”

3. Suffering and the Buddhist Tradition ...Venerable Guo Yuan Fa Shi


Venerable Guo Yuan Fa Shi is a monk in the Chan Buddhist tradition. He received ordination in Taiwan under the guidance of Master Sheng-yen and has also studied in Thailand. In 1999, he was appointed Abbot of the Chan Meditation Center and the Dharma Drum Retreat Center, located in the southern Catskill Mountains area. The Dharma Drum Center teaches meditation techniques with the goal of achieving for practitioners “peace and harmony of the body, the mind, the family, and career.”

Today I’m going to speak about suffering. Although it is not a topic many people would like to face, nevertheless, suffering is universal through both space and time. The Buddha realized this on his spiritual journey and that’s why he taught us the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are noble because they are timeless, universal and essential for the resolution of suffering. The First Noble Truth investigates what is suffering. From the perspective of cause and effect, the First Noble Truth is an effect. The Second Noble Truth on the other hand investigates the causes of suffering or why we suffer, and therefore, is the cause of the First Noble Truth.

What exactly is suffering? Suffering can be described as a feeling of dissatisfaction or a state of dis-ease. Suffering can come from the body as well as from the mind and more often it comes from both. We suffer physically when we feel hunger, cold, tiredness and exhaustion. We suffer mentally when we feel hatred, anger, sadness and fear. We have all suffered from physical hunger and this suffering is quite similar for all people. However this cannot be said for mental suffering. We have a saying in Chinese, which states: “Although husband and wife sleep in the same bed, they have different dreams.” You and I may be watching the same movie, playing the same game or even eating at the same dinner table, but it is rare that we will have the same feelings doing these things.

Suffering in our daily lives is usually a combination of both physical and mental suffering. Physical suffering can affect the mind and mental suffering can affect the body. For example when the body feels hunger or thirst, this physical suffering affects the way we think and feel and causes mental suffering. The mind becomes agitated and vexations arise. Vexations feed upon vexations, giving rise sometimes to extreme actions, which can even destroy a person. For example a person who is hungry and has no income may become desperate enough mentally to even commit a crime such as murder or robbery. Or a person could be worried about his or her illness to the point that the mental vexations worsen the physical disease or suffering that person is already experiencing. Or even a simple thing such as anger, hatred or jealousy when constantly or frequently experienced can give rise to future physical ailments.

Physical suffering is relatively easy to cure. However the related mental suffering is much more difficult to cure. That is because each person comes from different backgrounds in life, has different scopes of knowledge, different attitudes, determination, will power, etc. The way out for all of these problems is to learn and practice Buddhism. 

But before we discuss how Buddhism resolves the perennial problem of suffering, we must understand suffering at a deeper level. We can basically categorize human suffering into three categories: material suffering, suffering of the body and mind or physical and mental suffering, and suffering coming from human relationships.

Material suffering is the suffering that arises when we are dissatisfied with what we have or we perceive that we need more and we are unable to fulfill this need. We feel material suffering when we do not have enough food, clothing or a place to dwell or when transportation facilities are inadequate. Sometimes it is the perception that there is not enough food, clothing, etc. In both cases, when we are unable to get these necessities, we experience the suffering of wanting.

We have already discussed briefly the suffering of the body and mind. As human beings and sentient beings however, we will all suffer the major sufferings of birth, old age, illness and death. And even though most people do not think or have feelings about these events before it occurs, we will all have to face these eventseventually.

And lastly, there is suffering that comes from human relationships. As human beings, we are unable to live outside human society. Therefore we develop all kinds of relationships—some good, some bad, some shallow and some profound.  The level of dissatisfaction or suffering that arises from these relationships will differ. However we will all feel sadness and suffering when we depart from a loved one, whether it be our dear parents, children, spouses, siblings or friends.  The dying person will feel the suffering of departing from those who remain alive and the surviving persons will feel the suffering of the loss of their dear ones.

Suffering coming from human relationships need not only arise from death. It can also come from being with someone we dislike or even hate. We don’t want to meet someone or even be with that person but we must do it. We should not let perceptions such as dislike or hatred affect our mental state as it will give rise to an unending cycle of vexations feeding upon one another. This can affect our mental and physical health as well as affect the people and environment around us.

Human beings from time immemorial have grasped with these problems and have tried to eliminate these problems through study, medicine, education, religion and technology. The human response so far has been to eliminate or minimize threats from our natural environment and attempts at solving part of the problems arising from human relationships. Just as it is easier to alleviate physical suffering when compared to mental suffering, it is also relatively easier to minimize threats from our natural environment when compared to solving problems arising from human relationships.

The challenges of minimizing threats from our natural environment is relatively easy because it depends on principles which when realized, can be applied; and therefore we can control and make use of our environment. But the same cannot be said for human or social relationships. Different people will have varying attitudes, understanding and relationships. But even this is not that difficult to deal with.

The most difficult of all human sufferings is mental suffering. On the surface it seems that mental suffering is the most amendable and the easiest to resolve. However in actuality, mental suffering is much more complex. After all how many of us actually know who we truly are? How many of us can say with absolute certainty what is going on within our minds? Those things are not easy to know. One of the members of the Meditation Center had a son. He constantly complained about his parents spending time at the meditation center. His parents later asked him to sit down and write down all the thoughts he had. The son was surprised and shocked by what he wrote down. He later agreed with his parents that he had to go to temple to meditate.

And if we don’t truly know what is really going on in our minds, how is it possible to truly control ourselves, much less control or affect other people or alleviate their mental suffering. That’s why people who try to better themselves and fail often say, “I can’t help it.” That’s why it is so important that we understand ourselves. And that is what Buddhism teaches. Namely, Buddhism shows us the way and tells us how we can enlighten ourselves; how we can change ourselves and cut off vexations and be liberated. Buddhism shows us how to be our own masters, how to eliminate suffering by transforming ourselves no matter the situation and even in adverse environmental situations.

The Third Noble Truth states that all of the above mentioned problems of suffering can be resolved. That is suffering can end. The Fourth Noble Truth states how we can end suffering or the methodology of ending suffering. Thus the Fourth Noble Truth is the cause of the Third Noble Truth and the Third Noble Truth is the effect of the application of the Fourth Noble Truth.

Let’s now discuss how suffering can be ended. We should all know the law of cause and effect. Namely things are the way they are because of a prior action or cause. In Buddhism we do not only talk about this life but also the causal seeds we planted in our previous lives since time immemorial. These seeds will eventually ripen either in this life or the next. That is why people should learn how to face and accept whatever situation they are in, even those situations when one is suffering greatly.

We should also realize the reality of causes and condition. Certain causes and conditions are necessary in order for certain causal seeds to sprout. Causes and conditions can be likened to the water, fertilizer and sunlight necessary for causal seeds to sprout. Without the causes and condition of this hospital, the audience here, the coordinator Dr. Alan Astrow and Professor Keenan, my speech to you today would not be possible. Likewise the end of this dialogue will be the causes and condition for cleaning up this conference room, namely this room cannot be cleaned until this conference has ended.

When it comes to facing death for a sick person, he or she must realize that death is inevitable and therefore they should accept the eventuality of it. All things are temporary. And therefore this body too is temporary. In this way, the sick person facing death can minimize the mental suffering that comes from wanting to live on and can concentrate on the reality of living this very moment. On the other hand if the sick person is in pain, the realization that all things are temporary allows him or her to know that eventually this pain too will end. That is, the sick person can begin to deal with the reality of his or her situation. It is also important for the sick person to realize that the end of this life does not mean the end of this world or even of his life since Buddhists believe that depending upon one’s karma, one is bound to be reborn in the next life. 

We should also cultivate compassion by understanding our own conflicts, by developing inner peace, by having empathy for others’ shortcomings, by forgiving others’ mistakes and by being concerned with the suffering of others. We develop these qualities through the practice of formal meditation, mindfulness in our every thought and action, chanting and prostrations. The goal of these practices is to develop Wisdom and Compassion so we can handle all things with this in mind and to treat others with kindness and compassion.

And lastly, we must learn how to let things go. We should realize that what is possible is possible and nothing more. We should not have unrealistic expectations or hopes. As long as one has tried one’s best, that should be satisfactory. We do not need to worry about gaining or losing something or being better or inferior to someone or whether we are a success or failure. As long as we can honestly say we have tried our best to live realistically, we should be completely satisfied. And even if we haven’t tried our best in the past, the realization that we can change the course of our lives through our everyday thoughts and actions, should urge us to take charge of our lives and to make the remainder of our lives the best that it can possibly be.

4. Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery


16201 Tomki Road, Redwood Valley, CA 95470

Tel: 1-707-485-1630 - Fax: 1-707-485-7948 - E-mail: sangha@abhayagiri.org

How we came to be

Abhayagiri Monastery is the first monastery in the United States to be established by followers of Ajahn Chah, a respected Buddhist Master of the ancient Thai forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

The origin of the Monastery can be traced to visits to Northern California in the early 1980's by Ajahn Sumedho, Ajahn Chah's senior Western disciple. Over the next ten years, he developed a devoted following of students. In 1988, they formed the Sanghapala Foundation, with the mission of creating a branch monastery of Ajahn Chah's lineage. In 1990, Ajahn Amaro accompanied Ajahn Sumedho to California and thereafter became the central teacher for the California students.

Efforts to establish the California Monastery moved slowly until 1995. As Ven. Master Hsüan Hua, abbot of the City of 10,000 Buddhas, located in Ukiah, California, approached his death, he instructed his disciples to deed over to Ajahn Chah's disciples 120 acres of forest, in Redwood Valley, 15 miles north of the City of 10,000 Buddhas.  On several occasions, Master Hua had made a point of stating that it had been the dream of his life "to bring the Northern and Southern traditions of Buddhism back together again." His offering was one of open-hearted ecumenical friendship. It enabled the communities to be physically close and to relate in an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony.

In choosing a name for the Monastery it seemed appropriate to reflect on the kindness of this offering and the spirit in which it was intended. It also felt important to use a name in the Pali language -- to confirm the sense of allegiance to the Theravada tradition. The name that was finally settled upon "Abhayagiri" means "Fearless Mountain". The original Abhayagiri Monastery was in ancient Sri Lanka, at Anuradhapura.  That monastery was most notable for welcoming practitioners and teachers from many different Buddhist traditions.  They lived there amicably alongside one another, distinct in their particular practices but not separate as communities. During the fourth century Abhayagiri housed 5,000 monks.



Abhayagiri Monastery is a center of teaching and practice for people in monastic or lay life. Its heart is a community of monks (bhikkhus), novices (samaneras), and postulants (anagarikas) pursuing a life of meditative reflection. Frequently monastics from other branches of this global community come and stay for periods of time.  Those wishing to join the Sangha initially make a commitment as an anagarika for one year, during which time they can train in the monastic life and consider a longer commitment. After another year as a samanera, those who decide to continue with the training may be accepted into the Sangha. Shorter, temporary ordinations as an anagarika are also possible.

The Sangha lives according to the Vinaya, a code of monastic discipline established by the Buddha. In accordance with this discipline, the monastics are alms-mendicants, living lives of celibacy and frugality. Above all, this training is a means of living reflectively and a guide to keeping one's needs to a minimum: a set of robes, an alms bowl, one meal a day, medicine when ill, and a sheltered place for meditation and rest.

The Vinaya creates a firm bond between the Sangha and the general public. One reason for this is that without the daily offering of alms food, and the long-term support of ordinary people, the Sangha cannot survive. Obviously, the necessary support will only be forthcoming if the Sangha provides an example that is worthy of support. This relationship creates a framework within which generosity, compassion and mutual encouragement can grow.

Dependence upon others encourages monastics to live in faith and be content with a humble standard of living. For those who support the Sangha, this opportunity to give provides occasions for generosity and a joyful and direct participation in the spiritual life. In return the Sangha offers people spiritual guidance by verbal teachings and by its living presence.

Venerable Ajahn Pasanno and Venerable Ajahn Amaro guide the Monastery as co-abbots.

5. Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times


From Publishers Weekly

In 2002, dozens of Buddhist and Christian teachers of spirituality from around the globe gathered at the Abbey of Gethsemani (Thomas Merton's former monastery) for an interfaith dialogue to share perspectives that each faith has to offer in engaging, learning from and transforming human suffering. Though neither the Dalai Lama nor Pope John Paul II attended the conference, each contributed a brief written statement on the nature of suffering. These statements and amplifications from Buddhist and Christian attendees begin the book by clarifying each faith's perspective on the character of suffering. Subsequent chapters explore various types of suffering-including distress over personal feelings of unworthiness and alienation; being trapped in attachment to material goods in a consumer culture; violence and anger; and the challenges of aging, sickness and death-and suggestions for coping with such suffering. In the spirit of "a listening heart," and with a clear focus on what the two traditions have in common, the brief dialogues-culled from conference transcripts and edited to often a page long or less-engage one another respectfully and sometimes playfully, and are presented in a logical and enlightening way. With dialogues coming from some 49 contributors, the book fails to develop any sustained arguments or pragmatic solutions. Still, the nature of dialogue is exploration, and the book achieves its strategic goal of being a "healing source of guidance" for those trying "to build a more peaceful and united humankind."

Book takes interfaith tack on suffering ...By Bob Scott, Journal and Courier


Purdue professor Donald Mitchell hopes people will use his new book to cope with life's difficulties. Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times is a collection of letters and reflections from 44 religious and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, Thomas Keating and Pope John Paul II.

"This book is not a cure, but it will help people understand some of the processes to transform suffering into something that is meaningful, something that has value," he said.

The noted religious leaders, including women, explore many topics including the meaning of suffering, facing old age and death, and emotional healing.

He said the pope is an example of someone who is coping with health problems that come with old age.

"Pope John Paul II is giving great witness to people with disabilities and the elderly that they can lead a dignified life," he said of the ailing pontiff.

A Roman Catholic convert, Mitchell studied Buddhism academically and has a keen interest in interfaith dialogues. In April 2002, he helped the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue organize the second Gethsemani Encounter in Kentucky. Buddhist and Christian monks, nuns and lay people gathered to discuss contemporary problems.

Mitchell, who teaches comparative philosophy, said he used the book's reflections last summer when his mother was dying.

"Part of the book's dialogue has to do with death and helping people face it," he said. "I spent three months at home with my mom who was in hospice.

"The book was extremely helpful. Mother had advanced lung disease, but she had a T-shirt that said she didn't smoke. Those days with her were days of great blessing."

Mitchell said he has already received feedback about the book, which was released in August. A young woman who battled a lot of physical pain contacted him after reading the book.

"She was asking the broader questions of the meaning of pain and 'Why me?' " he said. "We met for lunch. It wasn't like she said, 'I found this book and all my problems are solved.'

"She found inspiration and encouragement. The book challenged her way of thinking about things. She said it gave her possibilities for the future."

Mitchell said that the most difficult challenge faced by him and co-editor the Rev. James Wiseman, a Benedictine monk, was arranging the chapters.

"The placement of the reflections was even more difficult than selecting them," Mitchell said. "We wanted to create a flow so people could move from one chapter to another."

He said readers could use the 270-page book and its brief reflections as they would a reference, looking up parts most helpful to them.

Sister Mary Margaret Funk, executive director of MID, agreed. She lives in Our Lady of Grace monastery in Beech Grove, an Indianapolis suburb.

She praised Mitchell for condensing more than 2,000 pages of text accumulated from the weeklong Gethsemani Encounter last year at the Gethsemani Abby.

"Now busy people can get the jewels, the nuggets in the book," she said. "People can learn how to live in a contemplative way through hard times. This book shares the fruit of the dialogue."

Mitchell also contributed several reflections, including one on overcoming violence. He writes about a meeting with the Dalai Lama in the late 1980s. During their conversation, they discussed youth activities. Here is an excerpt from that encounter:

"He (Dalai Lama) asked whether we were teaching doctrines or values. When I answered that the emphasis was on living one's faith in daily life with focus on love and unity, he added, 'This is very, very important because in the future, children are going to do violent and terrible things.'

"I listened to him give some examples of the kinds of violent acts that children would commit, including murder. To tell the truth, at that time I could not believe what he was saying. Then years later came Columbine."

Mitchell said that Chiara Lubich and her Focolare Movement has had the greatest influence on his spiritual life.

"A person can develop a spiritual life that builds on fellowship with other religions," he said.

Mitchell said he also is focusing on more dialogues with Muslims. He will attend an interfaith Tolerance Day discussion Nov. 17 in Bloomington that is sponsored by Muslims.

He also occasionally visits Indianapolis Muslims for fellowship and discussions.

"Once a week in Indy, black Muslims meet with white Catholics at Shapiro's, a Jewish deli," he said. "It is a nice organization where you meet, eat and leave. There is no agenda."

On the Net

Monastic Interreligious Dialogue: http://www.monasticdialog.com


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