BUDDHIST STUDIES

Learning Opportunities at the Wat

Monks are Teachers

Let your visits to the temple become opportunities to learn from the monks.

Meditation Practice

An essential element in the path to enlightenment is careful, guided, consceintious meditation, leading to inner calm, release from stress, and a fuller and more complete understanding of the Dhamma.

At Wat Sacramento, we are currently evaluating the possibility of conducting Meditation classes on Sundays. If you are interested in participating, please contact the president of the lay person committee.

In the mean time, it is a good idea to at least begin to meditate. There is much written on the subject; some good, some not so good, and maybe even some bad. A recommended resource on the web is this collection of forty Dhamma talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Ajahn Geoff) and his Meditator's Tools Study Guide.

Breath Meditation

The Steps of Breath Meditation — Forty Dhamma Talks

Begin with this linked article from the middle then go to the top of the page and read them all!

A Meditator's Tools

A Meditators Tools – A Study Guide on the Ten Recollections by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Ajahn Geoff has also compiled a study guide on the Ten Recollections. Worth careful reading, then revisiting as your meditation progresses, and able to inspire to greater effort and diligence.

Many themes here will become familiar over time but they always add more strength to the foundation you will build and develop upon in your meditation.

Hopefully, these articles will guide and motivate more to commit to this important, critical aspect of the practice. A broader collection of online links to meditation will sprout here soon.

The Healing Power of the Precepts

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The Buddha was like a doctor, treating the spiritual ills of the human race. The path of practice he taught was like a course of therapy for suffering hearts and minds. This way of understanding the Buddha and his teachings dates back to the earliest texts, and yet is also very current. Buddhist meditation practice is often advertised as a form of healing, and quite a few psychotherapists now recommend that their patients try meditation as part of their treatment.

After several years of teaching and practicing meditation as therapy, however, many of us have found that meditation on its own is not enough. In my own experience, I have found that Western meditators tend to be afflicted more with a certain grimness and lack of self-esteem than any Asians I have ever taught. Their psyches are so wounded by modern civilization that they lack the resilience and persistence needed before concentration and insight practices can be genuinely therapeutic. Other teachers have noted this problem as well and, as a result, many of them have decided that the Buddhist path is insufficient for our particular needs. To make up for this insufficiency they have experimented with ways of supplementing meditation practice, combining it with such things as myth, poetry, psychotherapy, social activism, sweat lodges, mourning rituals, and even drumming. The problem, though, may not be that there is anything lacking in the Buddhist path, but that we simply haven't been following the Buddha's full course of therapy.

The Buddha's path consisted not only of mindfulness, concentration, and insight practices, but also of virtue, beginning with the five precepts. In fact, the precepts constitute the first step in the path. There is a tendency in the West to dismiss the five precepts as Sunday-school rules bound to old cultural norms that no longer apply to our modern society, but this misses the role that the Buddha intended for them: They are part of a course of therapy for wounded minds. In particular, they are aimed at curing two ailments that underlie low self-esteem: regret and denial.

When our actions don't measure up to certain standards of behavior, we either (1) regret the actions or (2) engage in one of two kinds of denial, either (a) denying that our actions did in fact happen or (b) denying that the standards of measurement are really valid. These reactions are like wounds in the mind. Regret is an open wound, tender to the touch, while denial is like hardened, twisted scar tissue around a tender spot. When the mind is wounded in these ways, it can't settle down comfortably in the present, for it finds itself resting on raw, exposed flesh or calcified knots. Even when it's forced to stay in the present, it's there only in a tensed, contorted and partial way, and so the insights it gains tend to be contorted and partial as well. Only if the mind is free of wounds and scars can it be expected to settle down comfortably and freely in the present, and to give rise to undistorted discernment.

This is where the five precepts come in: They are designed to heal these wounds and scars. Healthy self-esteem comes from living up to a set of standards that are practical, clear-cut, humane, and worthy of respect; the five precepts are formulated in such a way that they provide just such a set of standards.

Practical: The standards set by the precepts are simple — no intentional killing, stealing, having illicit sex, lying, or taking intoxicants. It's entirely possible to live in line with these standards. Not always easy or convenient, but always possible. I have seen efforts to translate the precepts into standards that sound more lofty or noble — taking the second precept, for example, to mean no abuse of the planet's resources — but even the people who reformulate the precepts in this way admit that it is impossible to live up to them. Anyone who has dealt with psychologically damaged people knows that very often the damage comes from having been presented with impossible standards to live by. If you can give people standards that take a little effort and mindfulness, but are possible to meet, their self-esteem soars dramatically as they discover that they are actually capable of meeting those standards. They can then face more demanding tasks with confidence.

Clear-cut: The precepts are formulated with no ifs, ands, or buts. This means that they give very clear guidance, with no room for waffling or less-than-honest rationalizations. An action either fits in with the precepts or it doesn't. Again, standards of this sort are very healthy to live by. Anyone who has raised children has found that, although they may complain about hard and fast rules, they actually feel more secure with them than with rules that are vague and always open to negotiation. Clear-cut rules don't allow for unspoken agendas to come sneaking in the back door of the mind. If, for example, the precept against killing allowed you to kill living beings when their presence is inconvenient, that would place your convenience on a higher level than your compassion for life. Convenience would become your unspoken standard — and as we all know, unspoken standards provide huge tracts of fertile ground for hypocrisy and denial to grow. If, however, you stick by the standards of the precepts, then as the Buddha says, you are providing unlimited safety for the lives of all. There are no conditions under which you would take the lives of any living beings, no matter how inconvenient they might be. In terms of the other precepts, you are providing unlimited safety for their possessions and sexuality, and unlimited truthfulness and mindfulness in your communication with them. When you find that you can trust yourself in matters like these, you gain an undeniably healthy sense of self-respect.

Humane: The precepts are humane both to the person who observes them and to the people affected by his or her actions. If you observe them, you are aligning yourself with the doctrine of karma, which teaches that the most important powers shaping your experience of the world are the intentional thoughts, words, and deeds you choose in the present moment. This means that you are not insignificant. Every time you take a choice — at home, at work, at play — you are exercising your power in the on-going fashioning of the world. At the same time, this principle allows you to measure yourself in terms that are entirely under your control: your intentional actions in the present moment. In other words, they don't force you to measure yourself in terms of your looks, strength, brains, financial prowess, or any other criteria that depend less on your present karma than they do on karma from the past. Also, they don't play on feelings of guilt or force you to bemoan your past lapses. Instead, they focus your attention on the ever-present possibility of living up to your standards in the here and now. If you are living with people who observe the precepts, you find that your dealings with them are not a cause for mistrust or fear. They regard your desire for happiness as akin to theirs. Their worth as individuals does not depend on situations in which there have to be winners and losers. When they talk about developing loving-kindness and mindfulness in their meditation, you see it reflected in their actions. In this way the precepts foster not only healthy individuals, but also a healthy society — a society in which the self-respect and mutual respect are not at odds.

Worthy of respect: When you adopt a set of standards, it is important to know whose standards they are and to see where those standards come from, for in effect you are joining their group, looking for their approval, and accepting their criteria for right and wrong. In this case, you couldn't ask for a better group to join: the Buddha and his noble disciples. The five precepts are called "standards appealing to the noble ones." From what the texts tell us of the noble ones, they are not people who accept standards simply on the basis of popularity. They have put their lives on the line to see what leads to true happiness, and have seen for themselves, for example, that all lying is pathological, and that any sex outside of a stable, committed relationship is unsafe at any speed. Other people may not respect you for living by the five precepts, but noble ones do, and their respect is worth more than that of anyone else in the world.

Now, many people find it cold comfort to join such an abstract group, especially when they have not yet met any noble ones in person. It's hard to be good-hearted and generous when the society immediately around you openly laughs at those qualities and values such things as sexual prowess or predatory business skills instead. This is where Buddhist communities can come in. It would be very useful if Buddhist groups would openly part ways with the prevailing amoral tenor of our culture and let it be known in a kindly way that they value goodheartedness and restraint among their members. In doing so, they would provide a healthy environment for the full-scale adoption of the Buddha's course of therapy: the practice of concentration and discernment in a life of virtuous action. Where we have such environments, we find that meditation needs no myth or make-believe to support it, because it is based on the reality of a well-lived life. You can look at the standards by which you live, and then breathe in and out comfortably — not as a flower or a mountain, but as a full-fledged, responsible human being. For that's what you are.

 "The Healing Power of the Precepts", by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 8 March 2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/precepts.html. Retrieved on 27 May 2013.

The Buddha's path consisted not only of mindfulness, concentration, and insight practices, but also of virtue, beginning with the five precepts. In fact, the precepts constitute the first step in the path.

Theravada

Theravada – The Way of Liberation provides a quick study on our particular branch or path. From there, the entire book, The Issue at Hand by Gil Fronsdal covers even more ground in easy to read and informative chapters and touches on the important aspects of Buddhism for those on this path.

Dhamma Lecture

From the short dialogs spoken each day as food is offered to the monks, to the more substantial presentations at special occasions at the temple, it is always considered beneficial to listen to and receive the Dhamma.

Observation of Buddhist and Thai Special Occasions

There are seven auspicious days in the Buddhist calendar that are observed at Wat Sacramento. Additionally, a number of Thai cultural events are observer at the temple throughout the year. Please check our Calendar page for upcoming events of all types at Wat Sacramento.

Chanting

Depending on the occasion, there are many types of chants you might hear both at the temple, and in the homes of devout Buddhist. Some, such as Requesting the Five or Eight Precepts, involve both the monastic community and the lay community. The lay person asks three times to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and receive the Precepts, after which the monk will lead them through each part, step by step.

While just hearing and participating in chanting can be beneficial, it is always better to know and be committed in your heart to what these chants are teaching. Chanting does not exist to entertain. It exists to pass on the Buddha's teachings - the meaning should be taken to heart and acted upon. As few of us are fluent in Pali, the language of Buddhist chants and suttas, it is helpful to know the meaning of these chants in English. A very good source, with Pali matched to a pronunciation guide and the English meaning, is the Chanting Guide published by the Dhammayut Order in the United States of America. Printed copies of this Chanting Guide are available at the temple. The Guide is also available on the internet at Access to Insight, [Go to A Chanting Guide on the Access to Insight website]. By listening to actual chanting, and participating along with others, we soon develop a better understanding of this worthy path.

 

Members of the lay community have revived a tradition practiced in other temples close to ours.

In early June they began, sometimes in groups of only two or three, chanting several parts of the traditional morning chant of the Therevada tradition as the monastic community ate their daily meal.

Later in the day, the monks would return to the hall and guide lay members in various evening chantings in both Pali and Thai.

This afternoon chanting is followed by sitting meditation which itself begins with a teaching from the senior monk.

Practicing these chants both brings your mind into a more direct contact with the Buddha's words and also prepares you for meditation.

These sessions usually happen on Sundays and are open to anyone who would like a chance to learn and practice these original chants.

Venerable Maha Bua

"Just as if there were a pool of water in a mountain glen — clear, limpid, and unsullied — where a man with good eyes standing on the bank could see shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also shoals of fish swimming about and resting, and it would occur to him, 'This pool of water is clear, limpid, and unsullied. Here are these shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also these shoals of fish swimming about and resting;' so too, the monk discerns as it actually is, that 'This is stress... This is the origin of stress... This is the stopping of stress... This is the way leading to the stopping of stress... These are mental effluents... This is the origin of mental effluents... This is the stopping of mental effluents... This is the way leading to the stopping of mental effluents.' His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the effluent of sensuality, released from the effluent of becoming, released from the effluent of unawareness. With release, there is the knowledge, 'Released.' He discerns that, 'Birth is no more, the holy life is fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'

"This, great king, is a reward of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime. And as for another visible reward of the contemplative life, higher and more sublime than this, there is none."

— Samaññaphala Sutta, Digha Nikaya

Devine Equanimity

For one who clings, motion exists; but for one who clings not, there is no motion. Where no motion is, there is stillness. Where stillness is, there is no craving. Where no craving is, there is neither coming nor going. Where no coming nor going is, there is neither arising nor passing away. Where neither arising nor passing away is, there is neither this world nor a world beyond, nor a state between. This, verily, is the end of suffering.

Udana 8:3

 

The Failings of the World

Gain/loss,
  status/disgrace,
  censure/praise,
  pleasure/pain:
these conditions among human beings are
  inconstant,
  impermanent,
  subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
  Desirable things
    don't charm the mind,
  undesirable ones
    bring no resistance.

His welcoming & rebelling
  are scattered,
  gone to their end,
  do not exist.

Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state, he
  discerns rightly,
  has gone, beyond becoming,
  to the Further Shore.

 Lokavipatti Sutta: The Failings of the World" ( Anguttara Nikaya 8.6), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 4 July 2010

 

About Being Careful ~ From a Dhammatalk by Ajahn Chah

... Give up evil and develop merit - give up the negative and develop what is positive. Developing merit, remain above merit. Remain above merit and demerit, above good and evil. Keep on practicing with a mind that is giving up, letting go and getting free. It's the same no matter what you are doing: if you do it with a mind of letting go, then it is a cause for realizing Nibbāna. Free of desire, free of defilement, free of craving, then it all merges with the path, meaning Noble Truth, meaning saccadhamma. It is the four Noble Truths, having the wisdom that knows tanhā, which is the source of dukkha. Kāmatanhā, bhavatanhā, vibhavatanhā (sensual desire, desire for becoming, desire not to be): these are the origination, the source. If you go there, if you are wishing for anything or wanting to be anything, you are nourishing dukkha, bringing dukkha into existence, because this is what gives birth to dukkha. These are the causes. If we create the causes of dukkha, then dukkha will come about. The cause is vibhavatanhā: this restless, anxious craving. One becomes a slave to desire and creates all sorts of kamma and wrongdoing because of it, and thus suffering is born. Simply speaking, dukkha is the child of desire. Desire is the parent of dukkha. When there are parents, dukkha can be born. When there are no parents, dukkha cannot come about - there will be no offspring. ...

The entire article is available at: About Being Careful – A Dhammatalk by Ajahn Chah

 

As a bee without harming the flower, its colour or scent, flies away, collecting only the honey, even so should the sage wander in the village.

Dhammapada 4:6

Articles


All the defilements arise together at the mind. Focus right at the mind. Whichever defilement arises first, that's the one to abandon first.
  Luang Pu - Phra Ajaan Dune Atulo

Every day we have before us five simple precepts to follow and yet, just those five may seem to us to be very difficult.

On other days, maybe an Uposatha day, we elect to observe eight, at least until the next day's sunrise.

Finally, maybe after committed effort and preparation, we choose to ordain and accept the challenge of 227 precepts, surely enough to ensure perfection.

But even with five precepts as our guide, combined with a commitment to effort, we can develop virtue, concentration, and discernment to overcome the formulations and hindrances that block the path.

Proper and diligent practice is much more fruitful than simply carrying the baggage of 227 precepts - we must know and we must act in order to be liberated.

Do not try to become anything.
Do not make yourself into anything.
Do not be a meditator.
Do not become enlightened.
When you sit, let it be.
When you walk, let it be.
Grasp at nothing.
Resist nothing.

Thus, bhikkhus, I have taught you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned. Whatever should be done, bhikkhus, by a compassionate teacher out of compassion for his disicples, desiring their welfare, that I have done for you. These are the feet of trees, bhikkhus, these are empty huts. Meditate, bhikkhus, do not be negligent, lest you regret it later. this is our instruction to you.

  Samyutta Nikaya 43.1 (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation)

 

Anicca (impermanence)

Yataṃ care yataṃ tiṭṭhe, yataṃ acche yataṃ saye
yataṃ samiñjaye bhikkhu, yatamenaṃ pasāraye
uddhaṃ tiriyaṃ apācīnaṃ, yāvatā jagato gati,
samavekkhitā ca dhammānaṃ, khandhānaṃ udayabbayaṃ.

Whether the monk walks or stands or sits or lies,
whether he bends or stretches, above, across, backwards,
whatever his course in the world,
he observes the arising and passing away of the aggregates.

Aṅguttara-nikāya

 

Even though the mind is intangible, it has influence over the body & all things in the world. It is capable of bringing everything in the world under its control. Still, it isn't so vicious or savage as to lack all sense of good & evil. When a person of good intentions trains the mind to enter correctly into the path of the Buddha's teachings, it will be tractable & quick to learn, developing the wisdom to bring the body, which may be behaving without any principles, back into line. In addition, it can cleanse itself to be bright & clean, free from defilements, able to realize by itself truths that are subtle & profound, bringing dazzling light into this world so dark with blindness.

This is because the true substance of the mind has been, from the very beginning, something bright & clear. But because of the preoccupations that have seeped into it and clouded it, the brightness of the mind has been temporarily darkened, making the world dark as well. If the mind were originally dark, there probably wouldn't be anyone able to cleanse it to the point where it could give rise to the light of discernment at all.

So whether the world is to be dark or bright, whether it is to experience well-being or suffering, depends on the mind of each individual. We as individuals should thus first train our own minds well, and then train the minds of others. The world will then be free from turmoil.

Phra Ajān Thate Desaraṅsī
from "A Chanting Guide", by The Dhammayut Order in the United States of America. Access to Insight, July 25, 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/dhammayut/chanting.html.