...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... November 11, 2003
This Issue: Special Issue - Suffering
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
5. Book/CD/Movie Review: Transforming
Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times
To Comprehend Suffering ...by Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco Translated
from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu Copyright 2002 Thanissaro
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
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
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.
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
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:
who don't discern suffering,
maggam na janati
don't understand the path,
way to the stilling of suffering ...
return to birth and aging again.
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.
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.
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.
is why sages study the truth. As when we chant:
kho me kayo,
This body of mine,
the soles of the feet on up,
the crown of the head on down,
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
try to give rise to clear-seeing discernment in full measure,
and you'll gain release from suffering without a doubt. Be really
enough for now. Keep on meditating.
Suffering and Buddhism ...Paul Ingram
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.
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.”
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.”
doctrine of impermanence and the Law of Karma.
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.”
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.”
doctrines of non-self and interdependent co-origination.
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?”
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.”
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.
enlightenment, and awakened compassion.
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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
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?”
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.
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.”
Suffering and the Buddhist Tradition ...Venerable Guo Yuan
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery
Tomki Road, Redwood Valley, CA 95470
1-707-485-1630 - Fax: 1-707-485-7948 - E-mail: email@example.com
we came to be
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.
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.
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.
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.
HEART OF THE COMMUNITY AT 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.
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.
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
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.
Ajahn Pasanno and Venerable Ajahn Amaro guide the Monastery
Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled
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."
takes interfaith tack on suffering ...By Bob Scott, Journal
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
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.
noted religious leaders, including women, explore many topics
including the meaning of suffering, facing old age and death,
and emotional healing.
said the pope is an example of someone who is coping with health
problems that come with old age.
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.
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
who teaches comparative philosophy, said he used the book's
reflections last summer when his mother was dying.
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.
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."
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.
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.'
found inspiration and encouragement. The book challenged her
way of thinking about things. She said it gave her possibilities
for the future."
said that the most difficult challenge faced by him and co-editor
the Rev. James Wiseman, a Benedictine monk, was arranging 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."
said readers could use the 270-page book and its brief reflections
as they would a reference, looking up parts most helpful to
Mary Margaret Funk, executive director of MID, agreed. She lives
in Our Lady of Grace monastery in Beech Grove, an Indianapolis
praised Mitchell for condensing more than 2,000 pages of text
accumulated from the weeklong Gethsemani Encounter last year
at the Gethsemani Abby.
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."
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:
(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.'
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."
said that Chiara Lubich and her Focolare Movement has had the
greatest influence on his spiritual life.
person can develop a spiritual life that builds on fellowship
with other religions," he said.
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.
also occasionally visits Indianapolis Muslims for fellowship
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."
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