Brief Review: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

 

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Captivated by an intriguing Buddhism Now review published last week http://buddhismnow.com/2015/05/21/the-princeton-dictionary-of-buddhism/#more-10775 detailing the new Dictionary of Buddhism, by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (2014, Princeton University Press, 1304 pages), I ordered the volume. I went to Amazon where I found it for nearly $20 less than the suggested retail price. I decided to order the hardback volume. I found it waiting for me today when I returned to the city after the long Memorial Day weekend.

It is a large, heavy volume and the print is small. Beyond its impressive physical characteristics, the book is an exhaustive, comprehensive reference volume that explains historical, regional, linguistic, and other distinctions among the terminologies of various types of Buddhist practice and their meanings. It includes a timeline, maps and diagrams. There are cross references to words in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai in the entries themselves, plus a lengthy appendix devoted to each language. Then there are the pages devoted to the enumeration so prominent in Buddhism: e.g., the Four Noble Truths, The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Eightfold Path, etc., and this “List of Lists” is vast indeed.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path

As a Buddhist who began by practicing alone and only later joined a sangha, I spent a very pleasurable and educational afternoon going from item to item as more words and phrases arose that I wanted to define or better understand. Thus far I am particularly impressed with the “List of Lists,” and explanations of the subtle differences among Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai terminologies.

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

 

Here are a few of the points I’ve taken from it just today:

  • The Mala (string of rosary-like beads, usually 108 beads for reciting the mantra) is held in the right hand. I was holding mine in both. It takes some dexterity to advance from one bead to the next with one hand. Another aid to keeping focused while sitting.
  • The Heart Sutra is one of the most widely recited of all the sutras.
    The mantra of the Heart Sutra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha, speaks to transcending both worldly limitations and sensual desires and as well as arriving at the sublime, free from rebirth. Repeating it is thought to enable those who recite it and those who hear it to transcend samsara, the cycle if birth, death and rebirth.
  • Buddhism spread from Himalayan India into all of Asia over a period over just a few centuries.
  • The word Dao was mistranslated as Tao by an English scholar.
  • Self-immolation is an ancient and continuing form of denial of the earthly self as well as a powerful form of protest, perhaps the most famous being that in 1963 of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. His heart remained after his body was reduced by fire to bone and ash, and the relic has been preserved. If you wish to see it, a video of his immolation can be seen online. A yoga teacher once urged me to view it. I did so and found it powerfully moving, albeit disturbing. David Halberstam’s eyewitness account is riveting: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm.

That is what I am able to retain well enough to share it with you. I have rarely enjoyed a newly acquired book as much.

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The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

 

We are so very fortunate that on September 11, 2014, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, called Thay (“teacher”) by his followers, presented a brand new English translation of the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Heart Sutra, one which he said corrects an error in translation made approximately 2,000 years ago. Recently I wrote a piece here about the Heart Sutra, and I now happily share this version with you. Thay calls this, based on the original texts, “The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.” If you go to the Plum Village website you will find the details and more information. Here is the retranslation:

Thay’s retranslation of the New Heart Sutra, in English, September 11th, 2014

The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.

“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.

“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.

The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.

The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.
Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.

“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.

“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

 

The mantra Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi, Svaha, means, as said in my previous post, “Om, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Completely Beyond, Awake, So Be It.”

If you would like to listen to a chanting of the mantra, here is a version by Deva Premal and the Gyuto monks of Tibet.  Deva Premal begins chanting in a lilting voice, later accompanying the rumbling voices of the monks. The Tibetan monks here chant in a deep, bass throat singing characteristic of much Tibetan chanting, repeating the mantra 108 times:

 

 

 Shakyamuni Buddha

Namaste

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Gazing at Peace and Truth

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 We gaze at the face of the Buddha, one who has shown countless beings who have gone before us the way of peace and truth, of right living, of non-harming (ahimsa), of mindfulness, of dwelling in the moment, of experiencing life open and aware (mindfulness). We see calm and beauty in his face, and we remember why we seek it, for peace in our hearts and for peace in the world we inhabit. We seek to live honorably, fairly, humanely, responsibly and rightly, and embodying loving kindness (Metta).

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What do we bring today to honor this enlightened being who has spoken wisdom, passed down to us through the ages, offering tools by which to bring an end to suffering in ourselves and in others? If we follow the Dharma, we bring the intention to align our lives, every moment of every day, with the Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps we succeed only momentarily, but as we continue to practice with the intentions of Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, we will have more such right moments. Even more perhaps than the peace right living brings to us is the peace it can bring to all with whom we come in contact in our lives. The ripples spread ever outward, and the healing influence and positive effects are endless.

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The path awaits.

Namaste

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My Obsession

 

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Asked what occupies my head a great deal of the time , I have to admit it isn’t the dharma or my commitment to my vegan lifestyle, as much as I wish it were. No, it’s more often my physical being and what’s wrong with it. It’s health concerns and the aging process and weighing more vs. looking youthful, slim and enviable. Yes, thank goodness for my practice which gets me onto the meditation cushion two or three times a day, and I do contemplate the Buddha and the Noble Eightfold Path, and I practice Metta (loving kindness meditation) sincerely. But preparing for a vacation, I have been trying on colorful new clothing, as well as the summer things I’ve packed away since last fall, and feeling lumpy and uncomfortable trying to wear the size number I can accept. The reality is that I don’t look good in that number anymore. Acceptance of reality is optional, but denial and delusion are not okay with me.

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So what I have been obsessing over of late is how to look my best in two weeks despite midsection weight creep. Happily, having finished a session of meditation, I believe I know now how to handle this. The numbers, whether on the scale, on a tape measure, or on the tag of a garment, have no meaning other than to compare oneself to one’s former self, to one’s fellows, or to one’s ideal. I aspire daily in my Metta practice, “May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.”  And also, “May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in myself.” So the delusion that I must be thin–approximating an ideal, in order to be acceptable and worthy of my own understanding and love, once I see, can be shed. This is a sexist ideal, an ageist ideal, a socially promoted ideal, and for today I let it go.

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What also informed me were experiments where children were shown dolls or cards with images of children of varying complexion from pale to very dark. Whenever shown a pair where one child was light and another dark and asked which child or doll was smarter, nicer, more honest, etc., the child, regardless of his or her race, nearly always chose the lighter-complexioned one.

This got me thinking; if I were shown images of women, thin, slightly overweight and very overweight, and if asked who was smarter, nicer, richer, or more honest, I would probably select the thinner one. How sad. But knowledge is power, and as we learn to know ourselves, we become freed from prejudice, self-denigration, low self-esteem and delusion. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. And may we all learn to look at all our fellow beings with the eyes of understanding and love. May it be so.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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Where is My Energy Directed?

Image courtesy of Randall T. Monk, www.TimelyGuidance.com

Image courtesy of Randall T. Monk, http://www.TimelyGuidance.com

Each day when I have come into awareness of myself and the path I desire to walk in following the principles set forth by the Buddha and reinforced many-fold by those who follow his teachings, I set the intention for that day. This is rarely as formal as it sounds, and that dawning into awareness for me may not arise until that first or second session of sitting in meditation, if at all.

Today I direct my energy toward Right Speech. Why this when there are seven other aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path? For me, today, as I aspire to be free from anger, afflictions, fear and anxiety, I recognize that my speech can spark anger in others. Then the passing back and forth of increasingly charged words can bring the anger into me.

I read today Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom from his book Anger, excerpted in a 2001 issue of Shambhala Sun:

When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior. (Loosening the Knots of Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, November 2001.)

As I read this passage, I thought of how others sometimes respond to my speech with anger. I can then surmise that these words, meant benignly, or so I like to believe when I utter them, are perceived as unkind or insulting. I am not responsible for issues on another person’s side of the equation that may color the tone of my speech to their ears. But when the response indicates a knot of anger has been formed, I must consider my role in forming it.

When we cast words about freely, much as a gardener broadcasts grass seeds across the ground, some neutral or benign words will fail to root in the other and others will root easily. Some of those that root will fall on the soil of assuming positive intent, and some will fall on the soil of painful expectations. When my neutral or benign words land on the soil of painful expectations, they are then, to that person, painful and knots form. The words spoken in harshness, be they retort, ridicule, blame, critical judgment or rage, are quite likely to form knots of anger in even those who usually assume positive intent, because the words do not resemble positive intent in any way.

While I cannot control how another receives my words, I have a responsibility, in aspiring to Right Speech, to choose them very carefully. Casting words about freely is rather careless. Hence, one of the directives of Right Speech is not speaking empty or useless words. For depth in this important matter, I refer the reader to the words of the Buddha as cited in Access to Insight:

Speak only the speech that neither torments self nor does harm to others. That speech is truly well spoken. Speak only endearing speech, speech that is welcomed. Speech when it brings no evil to others is pleasant.

— Sn 3.3

(“Right Speech: samma vaca“, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013,http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-vaca/index.html .)

So after reading through this comprehensive essay on samma vaca I see that I best avoid raising inflammatory topics, pointing out another’s flaws, speaking of “lowly subjects” such as the evil human beings do, and attempt to stay on the “ten topics of proper conversation,” listed in the same Access to Insight treatise:

“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, on contentment, on seclusion, on non-entanglement, on arousing persistence, on virtue, on concentration, on discernment, on release, and on the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.”

— AN 10.69

So today, aspiring to Right Speech, I, who talk constantly and have since a very tender age, as my parents always said, must exercise awareness as I open my mouth to speak, to ask myself if these words need to be spoken, if they are kind, if they will do no harm. If I ask myself if the words I intend to speak may cause me to afflict myself or afflict another, and the answer is in the affirmative, I ought not utter them. If as I am speaking I ask myself these things, and the answer is in the affirmative, I ought to stop speaking them. And if I ask myself, after having spoken, whether these words bring affliction on myself or another, I must admit to it and determine to do better going forward.

This is a huge challenge! Avoiding frivolous and potentially harmful speech means somehow intercepting my thoughts, that are usually so easily verbalized before they are spoken, to examine them with care.

And today this is my practice.

Right Speech, courtesy of Buddha e lo Sciamano http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.com/2012/05/eightfold-path-right-speech-part1.html

Image courtesy of Buddha e lo Sciamano

Namaste

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Coping with Discomfort on the Fly

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When we decide that anger, and aggravation, irritation, frustration and similar states of inner discomfort, are no longer welcome in us, what happens when they arise?

What do we do, and how do we handle those feelings? First of all, these feelings are normal human states and happen to everyone. What matters most is how we react or respond to them.

As we can read in depth in The Noble Eightfold Path covered by American Buddhist Bhikkhu Bodhi, we can gravitate to one of two extremes wherein we tend to cope with those feelings: 1) giving in to them and allowing them full expression, and 2) repressing them and escaping their immediate influence. The first may feel great in the moment but creates unease, tension and dissatisfaction within us, the nervous system arousal we experience can be very addictive, and usually this behavior exacerbates or causes problems for us with others. Repressing the emotion only momentarily frees us from the interpersonal inflammation so that we can stay peaceful on the surface and in a state of denial that we are angry at all. The bolus of anger, hot and dangerous, sinks deeper into the psyche to cause damage down below our conscious awareness. When anger is submerged it creates vague distress, depression, anxiety, and apprehension, and these can lead us to self-medicate with addictive behaviors such as substance abuse, compulsive overeating, spending, and other efforts to relieve the anger we don’t even know we have.

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Walking the Noble Eightfold Path, also called the Middle Way by the Buddha, puts us at neither extreme but in the middle where we neither express the an ger nor repress it but face it and learn about it and let it go. In Metta meditation we aspire to learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving and delusion in ourselves. We learn to look at what inflames anger within us and see how we can better deal with it. We stop trying to run to or from that anger but sit with it. We let it teach us about ourselves. We welcome it as our teacher but we do not let it control our thoughts or drive our actions.

Recently we attended a community gathering. My husband went to secure our seats while I went to the refreshment area for a cup of tea. Someone I see rarely spotted me and gave me a happy greeting and big hug. But as I moved toward the hot water urn, she said something insulting about my husband, insinuating that if he wasn’t with me she’d be glad. I didn’t engage in that conversation, probably laughed nervously as I moved away. But I didn’t feel very good about it. I was trying to repress the anger. A few moments later I heard this same person tell my husband she had hoped he wouldn’t be at the gathering. He became angry and made a retort that I also tried not to experience. We sat and listened to the lecture, but I was very troubled by the anger I had tried to ignore in myself and by the anger my husband seemed to be feeling as he muttered about the exchange under his breath.

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This is how I dealt with this. I focused on my breathing, using the gatha “Breathing in I am calm, breathing out I smile.”  After a minute or two I had indeed calmed. I then wished the nine Metta aspirations of my daily practice for myself, then for my husband, and lastly for the individual who had provoked our discomfort. I was able to identify fear and anxiety in myself, and I explored my desire not to be in the middle between angry people  and my own indirect avoidance of the conflict without addressing it honestly. I knew this sudden attack had angered my husband, and I felt terrible for him. I also remembered that this person had a history of mental illness with frequent episodes of unwelcome hostility and impulsive blurting, and I wished for her to be free of that affliction. The lecture was a lengthy one, allowing me to get in about 20 minutes of sincere Metta before the gathering broke up. I chatted with others I hadn’t seen in a while, and the troublesome individual hung nearby. I attempted to pass to leave when she walked in front of me to hug me again. I stepped back slightly, and without anger or confrontation in my voice or in my heart, I simply said, “You insulted my husband.” The response was surprising. She stood staring at me for quite a while, silent. Then she said, “I live to insult husbands,” and moved away laughing as we left. I wish her healing, and I hope she can be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit. When we experience these blessed attributes, we do not attempt to hurt others with our words or our actions.

I am so grateful for my meditation practice and for the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from whom I have learned so much.

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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The Noble Eightfold Path

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The Noble Eightfold Path:

The Way to the End of Suffering

The body of teachings of the Buddha, called the dharma (or dhamma in Pali), contains eight areas of aspiration toward our enlightenment, areas to be aligned with the principles of loving kindness, non-harming, self-discipline, mindful contemplative practices, and other important aspects of the teachings. This collection of teachings is referred to as The Noble Eightfold Path, and it guides seekers of enlightenment toward appropriate adjustments in their thoughts, intentions and actions. It tells us things we ought not to do, and it tells us things we ought to do. I recently posted a preview to this post on The Noble Eightfold Path with this:

Noble-8-Fold-Path

Here is very different but informative treatment of the Noble Eightfold Path in a lovely illustration:

imageWhen we understand the “right” aspects of each of these areas of human life, assuming we are of like mind in our pursuits and goals, with practice and determination in time (and it could take many lifetimes), we can correct the deviations we have. And we all have them. We may chance, if we are most fortunate, to cross paths with a bodhisattva, or enlightened being, in our lifetimes, but very, very few of us will qualify for that title right now. So for all intents and purposes, let us assume there are areas in all of us where we would do well to align ourselves more fully to the dharma.

To best give clear and accurate information, I refer the reader to an excellent essay on The Noble Eightfold Path by Bhikkhu Bodhi that does the topic more justice than I can hope to do. We consider those things we think, feel and do that are out of alignment with the dharma, and we make a sincere effort to change them. Here are my thoughts on the aspects of The Noble Eightfold Path, put forward imperfectly but as I understand them today:

  • Right view: How do I see things? Is my view distorted by anger, craving, delusion, or afflictions of some kind? Can I see the good in all beings?
  • Right intentions: What is my motivation? Do I seek the approval of others more than I seek to do the right thing? Am I acting out of greed, anger, or laziness? Do I sincerely aspire for all beings to be peaceful, happy and light in body and spirit, or do I hope ill to befall an enemy or hope I will receive favor because of adversity happening to someone else?
  • Right mindfulness: Am I present-centered, in the now, aware of myself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Am I meditating mindfully? Or do I zone out or habitually disconnect my mind from my life?
  • Right concentration: Do I meditate faithfully? When I focus am I able to give my task or experience my full attention? Or do I become easily distracted and abandon my worthy efforts too soon?
  • Right effort: Am I putting all that I can into that which I undertake? Or do I hold back selfishly for no good reason? My effort may need to be spread among my various responsibilities and aspirations, but am I putting in the right effort where it is needed?
  • Right speech: Do I choose my words carefully, wasting none, and avoiding frivolous criticisms? Am I able to say what I mean and mean what I say, and carefully consider my intentions before I speak? Do I offer wisdom or do I prattle on mindlessly? If I know I have no wisdom to give do I keep silent?
  • Right action: Am I acting with kindness in all my decisions, judging none and living wisely? Do I find that I sometimes blunder into trouble by not being mindful in my actions? Can I keep myself acting out of respect for all beings, including respect for myself?
  • Right livelihood: Am I pursuing an honorable profession or line of work?  Am I of service to others? Does what I do cause harm to any being? Do I exploit any being in my occupation?

My intention in choosing to write today about The Noble Eightfold Path is to share the beauty of the Buddha’s clear and simple teachings. It is my hope that I have been able to manifest sufficient right speech in selecting my words, truthfully to the best of my ability, and use the effort to bring the dharma near enough for others to want to learn much more about it than I am able to impart. I am certain, that whatever else any of us seeks, most of us seek the end of suffering, at least our own.

Namaste

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