JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 27 JANUARY 2006 B. E. 2549 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
NEW PUBLICATION - BY RUSSELL WEBB
Most Ven. Dr. Vajiragnana receives his O.B.E. from Her Majesty
the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 22nd February 2006
The Most Ven. Medagama Vajiragnana, Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain, Head of the London Buddhist Vihara, has been awarded the O.B.E .- Order of the British Empire – in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List 2006.
This prestigious award is for Most Ven. Vajiragnana’s tireless contribution to interfaith dialogue and co-operation between all of the many religious faiths now present in Britain. There can hardly be a single religious belief in the world today that is not to be found in the United Kingdom. London, with its multi-cultural diversity, has become a world leader in progressive interfaith movements. Religion has been accused of being the reason for most wars throughout the world, but it can now be seen that many situations have become calmer by promoting interfaith dialogue. This means trying to understand the beliefs of others, whilst acknowledging both the differences and similarities, and thereby build harmony.
Recognising that Interfaith dialogue is a major part of the Dhammaduta mission, soon after his arrival in Britain Nayake Vajiragnana became a founder member of the Interfaith Network U.K. which has become the leading organisation of its kind in Europe. Through the energy of this body each faith present in Britain has speedy contact with all others and hence even the current terrorism is appeased with understanding and dialogue.
When asked about his feelings on receiving the O.B.E. Nayake Vajiragnana, in his characteristically humble way, quietly explained that this honour should not be thought of as a prize to an individual, but as a fine tribute to the many hundreds of Buddhists, both monks and laity, who give their time freely to interfaith concerns.
The Director of Interfaith Network UK, the Vice-President of the Buddhist Society and Ven. Nayaka Thera
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
with Most Venerable Dr. H. Gunaratana Nayaka Thera
Q. I cannot stop thinking. I was on a retreat, maybe 18 months ago with Stephen Batchelor and I spoke about this difficulty. And he said that somebody said that a lot of Westerners have this problem because of conditioning, and so one can use the thoughts creatively. Is this possible?
A. Use the thoughts creatively? Sometimes they seem to increase… When you meditate, your thoughts increase, rather than decrease? O.K. You know, when we meditate, we become more aware of our thoughts. Not that we don’t have thoughts at any other time. At other times so many thoughts arise and thoughts are so many, but since we don’t pay attention we don’t know how many thoughts arise. When you try to calm the mind, be very clear and that is the time any tiny little thing can be noticed. For instance, sounds - very tiny little sounds we can hear when we meditate, because the senses become more sensitive when we meditate. Because the senses become sharp and clean. When they become sharp and clean, they become very, very sensitive. So is the mind.
Therefore when we meditate we notice more thoughts in our mind. Not that at other times we don’t have thoughts, at other times we don’t notice them. So we think therefore that during meditation we have more thoughts. Now that is not the problem, that is one part of the observation.
The Buddha’s solution for this is when a particular thought arises in the mind, we pay attention to the whole spectrum of thoughts, rather than trying to isolate the thought. We become aware of the fact that mind is full of thoughts. That is what the Buddha called, vikkittan cittan vikkittan cittan’ti pajânâti. Vikkittan means scattered mind. Scattered mind simply means that mind is all over the place. We become aware of it. Instead of trying to isolate one particular thought or get rid of all of them, we simply become aware of the fact that mind is full of thoughts.
So you deal with the whole spectrum of thoughts as one, realising that there are thoughts without trying to isolate one. Then the whole spectrum of thoughts slowly subsides, leaving certain very, very deeply impressed thoughts. All the little, little thoughts will slowly fade away. Major thoughts will stay in the mind. Then you keep paying attention to them, until you will be able to see few thoughts remaining in the mind. They may be thoughts of greed, thoughts of hatred, or thoughts of delusion.
These greed, hatred, delusion, and non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion are the six primary roots of wholesome and unwholesome thoughts. So when it comes to that level you can easily find out which thought is full of greed, which thought is full of hatred, which thought is full of confusion, which thought is without greed, which thought is with greed, which thought is without hatred, which thought is with hatred, which is with delusion, which is without delusion. Here we don’t try to use words again. In this case we don’t use words. Simply pay attention to the particular thoughts.
Therefore Buddha said, saragan cittan, saragan cittan’ti pajânâti. When a thought arises with greed, we become mindful that it is full of greed. If a thought arises without greed, we become mindful of the fact that this thought is without greed. Like that we bring the whole, large amount of thoughts into a few, and then see through them: which are full of greed, which are not and so forth, so we are not trying to make our meditation an opportunity to create thoughts, but we are trying to cleanse the mind to see how a large amount of thoughts always reduces into a few simple thoughts.
Q. Some meditation teachers prefer the seated position on the floor to sitting on a chair because they say the pains and aches and cramps are just components of kayanupassana meditation and you don’t get those cramps and pains when you are seated on a chair. I would like to get that clarified from you, sir.
A. In fact beginners find it difficult to sit on the floor. We try to encourage them to start the practice sitting in any posture, anywhere. But if somebody prefers sitting on the floor on a cushion, trying to maintain that posture, that is very good. The problem is that most of the time, most of the people are used to sitting on chairs, all their life, at home they sit on chairs, in the office they sit on chairs, and so forth, all their lives they sit on chairs, 365 days. The 366th day they want to sit on the floor. That comes once in four years. That’s not going to work. If somebody wants to sit on the floor, one must sit on the floor always, particularly at home it is very easy. It’s your home, you can sit on the floor. Of course, when you go to the office, everyone is sitting on chairs, you cannot sit on the floor because the computer’s height is here. When you sit on the floor you cannot reach your computer. So you have to sit at a high level in order to type. But whenever you have time each day try to sit on the floor. These muscles stretch and adjust to the particular posture. So if you sit on the floor to meditate all of a sudden without having any experience, if you sit on the floor on a cushion, you are bound to have pain.
Meditation should not be used to inflict pain, but if you sit to meditate and you have pain, you deal with that. The intention is not to create pain, deliberately, but to know the parts of the body, the sensations, meditation on feelings and so forth. When feeling arises, we become aware of it, but we do not try to create any particular feeling artificially or deliberately. Therefore I suggest first you may try meditation sitting on the floor.
Of course, if someone has physical defects, like a slipped disc, some kind of chronic illness in their back and their bone structure is such, for some people the genetic conditions are such that they cannot sit on the floor, but still they should not be deprived of the opportunity to practise meditation. So they can sit wherever they can sit, on a chair, on a stool, on a cushion, wherever. You know sometimes people lie down on the floor and meditate. We visited a meditation centre yesterday and I saw somebody lying down on the floor meditating.
However, when somebody is very healthy, strong, not too many physical defects, that person should try to sit on the floor for good reasons. I must say this with a lot of compassion and reservation because there are other people who cannot sit on the floor, literally they cannot sit. Still I encourage them to meditate. It doesn’t matter where they sit, but those who do not have any particular physical problems should try to sit on the floor. Because when you sit on the floor, you can sit in full lotus or half lotus. When you sit in the full lotus your knees touch the floor, you can keep your spinal chord very straight, in a perpendicular position and keep your chest completely open, keep your head up, put your hands down in your lap and you are really, literally locked in position, so the sitting meditation will become very smooth. During that sitting if you have pain, deal with that. First, you have to determine how long you are going to sit. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour and so forth, you have to determine that. Then sit in that position for that particular period of time that you have pre-determined. During that time, if you have pain, you have got to deal with that. Pain can increase to a very excruciating point, but if you stay focusing your mind on the pain, you will be with the pain. As it increases you will be with it. And when it reaches its climax, you realise it cannot go beyond that. When it reaches its climax perhaps your pre-determined time is also up. Beyond that you don’t want to sit, then you get up. If you sit without any predetermination to sit as long as you want to sit, and pain arises, also deal with that the same way.
But if you change your position after a little pain, then the new position after a while becomes again painful. Then you’ve got to change it again; then you’ve got to change again. So you keep shifting and changing your position again and again. In order to avoid that, in order to gain concentration, you’ve got to stay with the pain. When the pain reaches its climax, you see it stops, breaks up and slowly that particular pain disappears. But you’ve got to pay total mindful attention to the pain without trying to identify yourself with the pain, saying "Oh my leg is painful, my back is aching, my knees are aching" and so forth: my, I, me and so forth, that kind of self-identification should be avoided. Just try to isolate that particular sensation called pain and pay attention to it. When you do that, all you will see is that the pain is not something permanent. It is changing. It is vibrating. It’s like only changing molecules around the pain, and disappearing.
When your mind is engaged in those activities from the pain going through, you will be totally preoccupied with that. You will not be bothered and troubled with the pain. So you learn from pain. Only when you have an extremely unbearable state, you can slowly change the posture, get up and do walking meditation, but I strongly suggest to people, don’t create pain deliberately. Don’t inflict pain deliberately. This is not self-mortification practice. We have to have some common sense to accept a certain amount of pain and continue the practice. You know the Buddha himself had gone through all this excruciating pain, and out of that experience he spoke that we must be mindful of painful feeling as painful feeling, and that painful feeling can go to a certain level and then it subsides. Similarly, when you have pleasant sensation, you become mindful of it. All this should not be artificial or created.
Q. Sometimes it is very difficult to get close to a sensation because the image of, say, your nostrils in your mind. You have the image and you have the sensation. These seem like two different things. If you try to get rid of the image, you cannot. So it is difficult to get to the actual sensation of things because of the image of it in your mind.
A. You mean image of pain? No, the image of your body or, if you are looking at some emotion in your mind. Sometimes I have a problem because I see the words themselves, the letters of the words in my mind. So it is an image, rather than the actual thing, and you have to get rid of the image to get to the sensation.
I think that is what I was trying to explain earlier. We must learn to by-pass the image, because the image is not the pain, and image and pain are not identical. So we have two things, we must get rid of the image by ignoring it, bypassing it and paying attention to the pain itself.
For instance, when you are meditating you feel pain in your knee. Mind definitely goes to the pain in the knee. At that time you may also remember this is where the knee is, how the joint of the leg is with the knee and so forth. You remember; try not to pay attention to them, try to pay attention only to the feeling. This is what is called becoming mindful of the feeling in the feelings. There are various types of feelings going on, but we try to isolate that particular feeling at that particular moment. That means, one thing at a time. If we try to go back and forth between the feelings and the image, then this vacillation of the mind between these two will be a distraction, and you will not be able to deal with one of them properly before you deal with the other.
So my suggestion is: if you have an image, you bypass the image, if you want to deal with the pain. If you want to deal with the image, forget the pain, pay attention to the image. However, you will see one thing in both, that is one thing which is common to both. That is the image is impermanent, the sensation is impermanent. Since we can see this common characteristic in both, it doesn’t matter which one you pay attention to. You pay attention to the image, and then the image will disappear. When you pay attention to the feeling, the feeling will disappear - because none of them is permanent, they are all impermanent.
Q. A completely different question, which is to do with these days people keep asking you what is your identity? I was rather taken aback because if you live over here, I am originally from India, people say to me – what is your identity? I want to answer in a very complex way. People seem very interested, and a lot of the problems in the world seem to do with this question of identity.
A. We can answer these questions in a conventional sense. In a conventional sense, there is an identity. In a spiritual sense, there is no identity. That means there is no one, single, particular, static factor to identify ourselves with because everything is in a state of flux, moving, changing, one moment I am this, the next moment I am not like that. That is the real spiritual way of looking at it. But in a conventional sense, I am Bhante Gunaratana. You are Miss So-and-so. There is a designation, there is a name, there is a conventional way of recognising, but other than that, we are a continuous flow of actions, activities, emotions and therefore there is no one single permanent entity to identify with.
Q. Bhante, you said that we can observe thoughts and we can see them ultimately reducing to the six roots of greed, hatred, delusion, and non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion. I believe the Buddha said that at birth the mind is perfectly clear or pure. Can you please say where these defilements come from.
A. You know, the Buddha did not say that the mind is perfectly pure at birth. That may be a mistranslation of the word pabhassara midan bhikkhave cittan. Pabhassara means luminous, luminous does not mean pure. Luminosity does not mean purity. Something can be luminous, but can still be impure. In that particular statement, the Buddha said, "pabhassara midan cittan". That is the statement. Where the Buddha said, "Bhikkhus, this mind is luminous, but an uneducated ordinary person does not know that it is luminous and this luminous mind can become impure, defiled by adventitious defilements."
This uneducated ordinary person does not know that. Therefore for that person there is no cultivation of the mind, which means practising concentration meditation, there citta bhâvanâ means cultivating concentration meditation. So he said, this mind is luminous but it can become defiled by the adventitious defilements. If the mind is pure, it can never become impure. Since the mind has the potential of becoming impure, it becomes impure. Therefore the Buddha did not say the mind is pure, but he simply said it is luminous. Luminosity is an indication of purification. That means when it is luminous, it shows one day this luminosity can bring out purity. So the purification is also a possibility. Impurification is also a possibility. These two possibilities are still existing in the mind. If it is completely impure, and cannot be made pure, then it will not become luminous.
Therefore once a person knows this possibility of making it pure, then the person strives and works hard to reach that state of purity. Ordinary folk do not know that it can be purified and Buddha himself mentioned this in his discourses in the Anguttara Nikâya. He himself said when he was meditating, when he gained the sign of concentration, that is the luminous spark that arises. When he gained the sign of concentration, he entered the concentrated state. At that moment the luminous mind becomes bright, because it becomes clear when the mind is pure. When he came out of that state (before he attained enlightenment) the brightness became dim and still luminosity was there. So when he attained full enlightenment, luminosity made the mind perfectly pure and clear by removing these adventitious defilements. So that is a conditional state that he mentioned, not a pure totally unconditional state.
Actually, the whole purpose of practising meditation is to make the mind positive, to get rid of negative states. When the negative states arise, there are various things to do. First, this negative state itself is not a permanent state. It is a temporary thing. Once we know, this negative state itself is not something permanent, it changes. This moment negative, next moment positive. Today negative, in the morning negative, in the afternoon positive. You can see it from your own experience. This is something impermanent. When it disappears, try to remember the state where negativity is no longer there. That is what we have to cultivate and promote, develop.
Secondly, we have this wonderful Dhamma, the most precious Dhamma and we must have total faith in the Dhamma, and this Dhamma can rescue us, give us confidence, give us faith, give us hope and therefore this negativity is nothing compared with the benefit we gain from the practice of Dhamma.
Thirdly, whenever we have negative thoughts, depending on whether it is hatred or jealousy or so forth, we have to deal with that particular negative state thinking of the positive side of the Buddha, Buddha’s qualities. The next thing you must remember is that nobody on this earth is always positive, not always positive. There are ups and downs in life. This is what you call life’s vicissitudes, gaining, losing becoming famous, becoming not famous, blaming and praising. All these are the vicissitudes or ups and downs in life. So when we think about this, these are all aspects of Dhamma. When we think of Dhamma, we have to spend some time thinking. Negativity will slowly fade away, then straightaway start practising mindfulness meditation, metta meditation, meditation on loving friendliness, compassion and so forth.
Above all, when certain negative things arise, you try to forgive yourself and forgive others. After forgiving yourself and forgiving others, also try to cultivate the thought of gratitude because there must always be somebody, something, some where for us to be grateful. If there is no one, we can at least be very, very grateful to our parents. Our mothers, our fathers, brothers, sisters. We can find one thing or another in them to be grateful. So there are many, many opportunities for us to get rid of our negativity if we spend some time thinking of the Dhamma, the Buddha, and nature of life and the vicissitudes of life and so forth. This is not a big problem. The Buddha himself said nobody on earth is always blamed nobody on earth is always praised, praise and blame come and go. This is the nature of our life.
Bhante, I come from Burma. In Burma we devote a lot of our meditation practice, about half our meditation practice time is spent on devotion. Sometimes I remove my negativity with devotion to the Buddha. Sometimes I would say the round table goes seven times because of the practice of devotion, if I face a negativity in my mind. But then am I not replacing something else, an obsession, with a negative obsession. Sometimes it enhances it, sometimes not. Is it because of the physical situation? So it is one thing after another, and my meditation has gone.
I think you are doing wonderful things. You are serving among others and so forth. These are wonderful things, but at the same time you are meditating. When we sit there meditating it is very important to remember what do we do in meditation. When we say we meditate, you know, that is not particularly directing to you but in general, many people spend a lot of time on cushion, sitting, focussing the mind on the breath. For years we practise, but when it comes to their own mental state, they may not be very much different from some one who does not meditate. Why is that? Because the kind of meditation they do, or what they do in the name of meditation is not actually real meditation. They spend a lot of time focussing the mind on the breath. I must tell you honestly, simply focussing the mind on the breath is not a total, complete meditation. We use the breath to begin. Of course there is a technique in the Anapanasati Sutta, which is a very profound sutta, where the Buddha gave instructions to use the breath to meditate.
But at the same time two things are happening. One is the breath, what is happening with the breath. Since that meditation is a little difficult, profound, he has given other instructions like the Great Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and so forth. What we should do in the name of meditation is not just paying attention to the breath, but we must pay attention to what is happening in the mind. Especially, when a negative thought arises in that instant and replacing it with something else is a temporary measure, it’s like a BandAid. We must go to the root of the negativity. Going to the root of the negativity is not an emotional or devotional practice. It is an insight practice, mindfulness practice.
As I mentioned earlier, we always ask ourselves – why do I have these negative thoughts, negative emotions, why? If you ask this question honestly, you will come up with certain answers. One thing you may see is that you are selfish. We have to be honest. Secondly, because of your selfishness you want the whole world to revolve around you, to fulfil everything that you need.. They must do this for me. Why don’t they do this for me. I have done so much for them, so many years. Why now, it’s their turn. I am old. It is for them to do this for me and so forth, and everything goes around you. That’s what I call selfishness. You ask yourself. I am not saying that you are selfish. But we must honestly ask ourselves, why do I have this negative thought? The answer may be, I am selfish. Or, I am confused. Or, I am deluded, so I don’t see things properly, correctly, or my mind is not sharp enough to see reality, impermanence. I am not relaxed enough to accept the reality of life. Not that I am suggesting that you should blame yourself. This is not the culture of blaming. By honestly opening our heart and mind to see the problem the root of this particular state of mind, then we can come up with a solution from this. That is the vipassanâ meditation technique.
The devotional thing is not something I think is unwholesome, or negative, thinking of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and so forth is a wonderful thing, but they are all temporary measures. They will not deepen our insight. Only when we deepen ourselves in insight, can we see our own true nature, the state of mind and get to the root of the problem and get rid of it. That is what we do in meditation. Meditation is therefore a very realistic way of looking at our own mental and physical states, paying total mindful attention to various things to see: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness is the basic thrust of vipassanâ meditation.
But in addition to that there are various other things to do to get into that core practice. You know the entire Noble Eightfold Path is meditation, that is why the Buddha called it bhavetabha, that which is to be practised. Bhavetabha, cultivating, coming from the same root at bhâvanâ. So in this particular kind of bhâvanâ, in the Buddha’s sense the whole practice is dynamic practice, not very simply enquiring into the body and mind. Quietening the body and the mind is an essential component, but the real practice is deepening and sharpening the mind through the practice of the entire Noble Eightfold Path. Each and every one of them we have got to practise, starting with understanding, thinking and so forth. When we go round the Noble Eightfold Path in the way it is given with this deep understanding, there will be no room left in our mind for negativity.
THE STREAM(Anguttara Nikaya)
These four kinds of persons, O monks, are to be found in the world. What four? There person who goes with the stream; one who goes against the stream; one who stands firm; and one who has crossed over and gone to the far shore, a Brahmin who stands on dry land.
Of what nature is the person going with the stream? It is one who indulges his sensual desire and commits wrong deeds.
Of what nature is one who goes against the stream? It is one who does not indulge sensual desire and commits wrong deeds. He lives the holy life, through in painful struggle, with difficulty, sighting and in tears.
O what nature is one who stands firm? It is one who, with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters, is due to be reborn spontaneously (in a celestial realm) and there attain final Nibbana, without ever returning from that world.
Of what nature is one who has crossed over and gone to the far shore, a Brahmin who stands on dry land? It is one who, with the destruction of the taints, in this very life enters and dwells in the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, having realised it for himself by direct knowledge.
These, monks, are the four kinds of persons to be found in the world.
by Richard Jones
When we consider the Noble Eightfold Path, the fifth factor Right Livelihood seems to receive much less attention than some of the other factors. We hear a lot about right mindfulness, right view, and also right speech, but right livelihood seems to be given comparatively little attention.
This may be because in English, the word livelihood is often given a restricted meaning – the way in which we earn our living, what kind of job we do, but the Pali world ajiva means much more. It covers our entire way of life and includes all the activities in which we engage in order to sustain ourselves. So right livelihood requires us to examine every aspect of our lifestyle.
There is right livelihood for monks and right livelihood for laypeople. I want to start by reviewing briefly right livelihood for monks and then in greater detail consider right livelihood for laypeople.
The fact that the expression right livelihood applies to monks shows that it includes even those people who do not earn a living in the conventional sense of the word. Monks do not have jobs in the sense that lay people have jobs, but they too are expected to observe right livelihood. Purity of livelihood is essential for a monk, and even laypeople can follow these principles.
In the Maha Assapura Sutta the Buddha says that in order to have pure livelihood, a monk’s bodily, verbal and mental conduct should be "purified, clear and open, flawless and restrained." (parisuddha, uttana, vivata, acchiddava and samvuta. M.I.272) The monk should possess moral shame and moral dread (hiri and ottappa), which the Buddha described as world protectors. We can call them conscience and accountability. Disgust and shame. The first arises from self-respect, the second from respect for others. Due to hiri we refrain from doing something because our conscience will not allow it. Due to ottappa we refrain from doing something out of respect for what other people will think of us. In the Visuddhimagga (I.22), Buddhaghosa says these are the immediate cause of bodily, verbal and mental purity.
The Buddha mentioned five things as wrong livelihood for a monk. All these are done by a monk who wishes to attract gain, honour and renown: scheming, talking, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain. Scheming includes posing and composing one’s deportment. Talking means persuasion, flattery and ingratiating chatter. Hinting is to give a sign or an indication in order to get an offering. Belittling refers to abuse, reproach and back-biting. Pursuing gain with gain means bartering, giving a little in order to receive a lot. Buddhaghosa (Vsm. XIV,155) says that the causes for abstention from wrong livelihood are faith, conscience, shame (hiri & ottappa), and having fewness of wishes.
Practising right livelihood can have very beneficial results. The body of a Great Man (maha purisa) has 32 marks. 2 of these are said to be the result of practising right livelihood. They are even teeth and shining teeth.
Turning now to right livelihood for lay people, I want to consider five topics. I shall start by defining what is meant by right and wrong livelihood. Next I shall consider how this factor works in conjunction with other factors of the path. Thirdly, I shall say a few words about paid work, then environmental considerations and finally I shall talk about the Buddhist attitude to wealth in general.
Let me start with a definition. The Noble Eightfold Path is subdivided into three parts, i.e. morality, concentration and wisdom. The Buddha said very clearly that morality is the foundation of the whole spiritual path. The morality part consists of right speech, right action and right livelihood. Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earns one’s living and conducts one’s life in a righteous way.
There are five things which are specifically mentioned as wrong livelihood (miccha ajiva) and which should be avoided. They are: dealing in weapons, in human beings (for example, slave trade and prostitution), in living beings to be killed (meat production and butchery), in poisons (including drug dealing, but excluding medical drugs), and in intoxicants. If we think that the term right livelihood means nothing more than avoiding these five activities, then we may think that is all we have to worry about and we can move on to another factor. This may explain why right livelihood receives comparatively little attention. However, this is only a superficial understanding of samma ajiva. It has a broader meaning. It means avoiding any way of life which brings harm to others.
The Buddha mentioned several dishonest means of gaining wealth which fall under wrong livelihood: practising deceit, treachery, soothsaying, trickery, and usury. We can expand this to include not resorting to any kind of underhand dealing, including fraud, stealing, cheating, even working for a bad person and working only for money. It is not just the job we do which is important, but it is also the way in which we do the job. For example, a doctor which is a profession we respect may become corrupt and steal medicines from the NHS to sell them privately.
The definition of right livelihood is not restricted just to what we do to earn a living, but it covers all aspects of how we live our lives. Therefore, the practice of right livelihood cannot be taken in isolation from the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path. All aspects of the path are to be taken and practised together, they all support each other. In order to establish right livelihood, our views, intentions, speech and actions must also be pure.
"Neither for the sake of oneself, nor for the sake of another (does a wise person do any wrong); he should not desire son, wealth or kingdom (by wrong doing): by unjust means he should not seek his own success, Then (only) such a one is indeed virtuous, wise and righteous." (Dhp. v.84)
Right Livelihood and the Other Factors
In the Mahacattarisaka Sutta, the Buddha ties in right livelihood with other factors of the path. He says in order to understand what is right livelihood and what is wrong livelihood, we need right view (samma ditthi). Then we need right effort (samma vayama) in order to abandon wrong livelihood and practise right livelihood. In order to do this we need right mindfulness (samma sati). Furthermore, we cannot practise right livelihood unless we also practise right action (samma kammanta), avoiding killing, stealing and sexual misconduct, together with skillful speech (samma vaca). Any occupation which requires violation of right speech and right action is a wrong form of livelihood. So these other factors work together with Right Livelihood.
There are no specific recommendations as to which professions are advisable, but Buddhism generally emphasises virtues which are the opposite of killing and hating, i.e. compassion, mercy and nurturing life. Not only with respect to right livelihood, but our entire lives should be founded on the qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, generosity and pleasant speech. So in order to practise right livelihood, we need to remember our precepts. In particular, we should remember the precept of not to kill, not to steal and not to use false or harsh language. Although these are couched in negative terms, they all have their positive aspects. Not only should we refrain from killing, we should also nurture and protect all life. Not only should be we refrain from stealing, we should practise generosity. Not only should we refrain from unskillful speech, we should also try to speak pleasantly and truthfully.
Looking at Right Livelihood in its narrower sense of a paid job or occupation, the Sigalovada Sutta clearly says that there are mutual duties and responsibilities for both employer and employee.
In five ways should an employer minister to his employees:
i by assigning them work according to their ability,
ii by supplying them with food and wages,
iii by tending them in sickness,
iv by sharing with them any
delicacies, such a bonuses or gifts
v by granting them leave at times.
The servants and employees thus ministered to by their master show their compassion to him in five ways:
i they rise before him,
ii they go to sleep after him,
iii they take only what is given,
iv they perform their duties well,
v they uphold his good name and fame.
More generally, we can say that an employer should pay adequate wages and show consideration towards his employees, giving them duties which are within their capabilities, not imposing unreasonable workloads or sales targets. For their part, employees should fulfill their duties efficiently and conscientiously, not wasting their employer’s time or misusing his facilities – like using the office phone for personal calls.
Perhaps we should also question the morality of work which is meaningless, boring, or stultifying, which indicates a greater concern for the goods than for the people who produce them. When considering whether a job is skillful or not, there can be some complicated and difficult decisions to be made. For example, what should we do if we know that some of our co-workers are dishonest? What if the company deliberately overcharges its customers? What if the company has environmentally-harmful practices or makes environmentally-harmful products? These are personal decisions which we each have to make, but I think the guiding principle is that each of us should generate only wholesome intentions and strive to keep our own minds as pure as possible. It says in the Dhammapada:
The palm without wounds can hold poison safely; Just as without a wound, poison does not enter; so evil does not penetrate the innocent mind. (Dhp.124)
Even negative situations can be turned around and can be used as a tool for spiritual practice in two different ways. 1. It gives us an opportunity to utilise and develop our skills and faculties, especially mindfulness, patience and loving-kindness. 2. It allows us to work on our selfishness and ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task, being considerate towards our fellow workers. In this way we can try to take pride in our work and develop a sense of satisfaction.
I want to turn now to the wider question of livelihood in the sense of our entire way of life, and the effect is has on other people and the environment.
We should be considerate of the effect our actions will have on others. We should remember the instructions which the Buddha gave to his son Rahula in the Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta. "What is the purpose of a mirror? For the purpose of reflecting, Venerable Sir. So too, Rahula, an action with the body should be done after repeated reflection." He told him to reflect before, during and after performing any action of body, speech or mind on whether it will lead to his own affliction, the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. In particular we need to consider the motivation behind each action. Livelihood is wrong if it harms others, but also if it harms oneself.
The general principle of how we should live our lives is beautifully illustrated by a verse from the Dhammapada. "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." (v.49)
This emphasis on harmlessness comes to the very heart of how we should live our lives on a daily basis. Harmlessness involves a lifestyle which does not exploit either the environment or other people with whom we share this environment.
The question of how our way of living affects our environment is becoming increasingly serious and we all need to ask ourselves whether our lives are being lived in a way which does the least possible harm to the environment. I would like to give you two statistics. The World Resources Institute has calculated that each American, German, Japanese and Dutch person uses the weekly equivalent of 300 shopping bags of natural resources. Americans consume their average body weight (120 pounds) every day in materials extracted and processed from farms, mines, and forests (Ryan & During, 1997). I am not criticising these particular nationalities; it is just that they were mentioned in these statistics. I am sure that there are similar levels of consumption here in Britain. Yet all these materials are finite in quantity. They are not unlimited.
It is becoming increasing clear that our lifestyles are having an impact on the environment. There is the problem of global warming, resulting from the unrestrained burning of the fossil fuels. This is tied into our whole economic system which is based on the principle that we must be good consumers, responding to the endless appeals of the advertising industry which preys upon on our hopes, desires, fears and anxieties in order to persuade us to spend sometimes beyond our means to buy the latest, the biggest and the best.
The present trend towards maximisation of economic activities is short-sighted. Not only is this the wrong way to find happiness and fulfillment, it is also leading to the over-exploitation of the environment. The world’s fragile ecosystem is being jeopardised by man’s thoughtless pursuit of material pleasures and economic gain. We are now seeing the consequences of our environmental depredations and the consequences of global warming are beginning to show in irregular weather patterns and climatic disruptions.
By failing to recognise that the world’s resources are not unlimited, but finite, we pursue the goal of endless economic growth even though this is leading to depletion of the earth’s finite resources. We are like moths drawn inexorably towards the candle flame, victims of our own greed, attachment and ignorance.
We must therefore call into question the ethics of promoting a lifestyle of unbridled consumption, consumerism, producing and selling the largest quantity of goods without regard for whether there is a real need for them and without regard for the environment. Is this really right livelihood?
I would like to read you a quotation from E. F. Schumacher in his book Small Is Beautiful, "Non-renewable goods must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence, and while complete non-violence may not be attainable on this earth, there is nonetheless an ineluctable duty on man to aim at the ideal of non-violence in all he does." (Schumacher 1999, 43-44) Schumacher was an economist, he was not a Buddhist.
These are matters which affect each and every one of us, and each and every one of us has a part to play.
Whenever we recite the Karaniya Metta Sutta, we say appakicco ca sallahukavutti, which means contented and living simply. The Pali word appicchata means "having few wishes", to be content with a simple lifestyle, satisfying our needs, but not pandering to our greed. Do we recite these words automatically, or do we give careful thought to this? Can we truly say that we have few wishes?
To lead a life of having simple wants and few desires is beneficial in two senses. First, it benefits the environment by reducing the pressure on the world’s limited resources. Secondly, it also benefits us individually because we are striving to reduce the unskilful qualities of craving and attachment. We know from the second Noble Truth that craving and desire leads to suffering.
The question of how we respond to these matters is directly under our own control. This problem is not something which we can leave to someone else, or the government, to sort out. The Buddha teaches us, through the doctrine of kamma, that we must each accept responsibility for our actions. We must each examine our own lifestyles and question to what extent by following a path of wrong livelihood, we are individually contributing to global warming and destruction of the environment. The doctrine of loving kindness teaches us to love and respect all living creatures. If our way of life is contributing to the loss of their habitats and eventual extinction, that is hardly skillful practice of loving kindness.
I would like to suggest a few specific questions we might ask ourselves. I am not trying to dictate to you what you must do, merely to ask you please to think about your lifestyle and how much your own activities contribute to global warming:
1. Do we indulge in unnecessary consumption, utilising the world’s limited resources? There is huge scope for each of us to examine our levels of consumption.
2. Do we recycle as much of our rubbish as possible? For example, paper, packaging, and batteries.
3. Do we plant at least one tree every year?
4. Do we think about buying locally-produced food and other products, rather than items have been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach our shops? Of course free trade is vital to the world’s economy, but I think there is room for us to stop and think about the environmental consequences of lorries, ships and aeroplanes burning energy and causing pollution in order to sustain our livelihood. How many of these things could be sourced locally?
5. Does our livelihood make the least possible use of non-renewable resources? For example, do we waste energy by not switching off the lights? I am sorry to criticise, but often I see lights in this Vihara left on unnecessarily. Not only does this waste energy but it also increases the electricity bill! There is also a water shortage. How careful are we to minimise our consumption?
The Buddha said, "If one should throw away pot-scourings or the rinsings of cups into a pool or cesspit, even with the idea of feeding the creatures that live therein, I declare it would be a source of merit to him; to say nothing of his feeding beings that are human." (A.1.160)
Buddhism and Wealth
Lastly, I want to consider the Buddhist view of wealth. Despite all that I have said about right livelihood and simplicity of lifestyle, we should not think that the Buddha’s teachings reject the accumulation of personal wealth. Buddhism is not opposed to the accumulation of wealth - in fact, in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta, the Buddha says that poverty (daliddiya) is the cause of immorality and crimes such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred and cruelty. Poverty is not a virtue. Some of the most important early Buddhists were wealthy kings or wealthy merchants. Without their help, it is doubtful whether Buddhism would have spread as far as it did and as quickly as it did. One of the Buddha’s most prominent lay followers was the multi-millionaire Anathapindaka, who not only gave generously to the Sangha, but also had an excellent knowledge of the Dhamma and attained the state of stream entry (sotapanna).
There are, however, two points to bear in mind. First, the Buddha condemned the acquisition of wealth by unlawful means, and secondly, he condemned the selfish hoarding of it once it has been obtained. Wealth must be gained rightly. Then, we must take pleasure in sharing this wealth for the benefit of others. Wealth as such is neither praised nor blamed, it is the way it is acquired and the way it is used which are important. Right livelihood is determined not by the amount of material wealth it produces, but by the amount of well-being it generates. Therefore we need to establish a balance between material gains and spiritual development.
The Vyagghapajja Sutta gives 4 conditions conducive to one’s happiness and peace in this worldly existence. These are 1. Effort which should be persistent, energetic, efficient and skilful (utthana sampada); 2. Watchfulness in the protection of income righteously earned (arakkha sampada ); 3. Association with people of high moral standing (kalyanamittata); 4. Leading a balanced life (samajivikata).
Wealth can be like a poisonous snake if it is acquired illegally or if it inspires the mind to become lustful or greedy. But legally acquired wealth in the hands of a wise and generous person can bring many benefits to the world. Generosity is a quality greatly emphasised in Buddhism and the wealthy person has an obligation to share this wealth freely with his friends and relatives. Donations from wealthy people are a major source of funds to spread the Dhamma, to publish Dhamma literature, and to build and maintain temples. As with so much of the Buddha’s teachings, it is the intention which is paramount. If our intentions are good, we shall be able to use wealth to benefit others. If our intentions are not good, we shall be a negative influence in the world whether we are wealthy or poor.
Wealth gives us a material opportunity to practise the positive aspects of Buddhist morality in this world; through the thoughtful and generous use of wealth we can learn non-attachment, compassion, generosity, and clear thinking.
"....he who seeks after wealth lawfully, not arbitrarily, and in so doing makes himself happy and cheerful, and also shares his wealth with others and further does meritorious deeds therewith, and yet makes use of his wealth without greed and longing, without infatuation, and heedful of the danger or alive to his own salvation..... this one is best and chief, topmost, highest and supreme." (Anguttara Nikaya, Ch.X, 91)
To summarise, we can say that right livelihood embraces all aspects of how we live our lives. By developing and perfecting this factor as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, together with all the other factors, we shall benefit ourselves by purifying our minds of greed and hatred, and we shall benefit wider society by acting and speaking in a responsible, restrained and considerate manner. The root causes of our selfishness, greed and carelessness are the three qualities we know as lobha, dosa and moha. Greed, hatred and ignorance. Ultimately the Buddha’s path is leading to their elimination from our minds. The good news is that we can change. We can change our own lifestyles, which will have benefits for ourselves, our fellow beings and for the environment in which we live. As a practical path to follow, right livelihood is an excellent place to start.
(Talk delivered on Esala Celebration 2005 at the London Buddhist Vihara)
LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA - A Chronicle
by Russell Webb
This chronicle covers the years from inception in 1925 until 1985. Russell Webb was closely associated with the London Buddhist Vihara for about 25 years starting in 1960. From 1966 he was the Honorary Secretary of the British Mahabodhi Society. As such he was intimately involved in all of the important events during this period and he writes with first-hand knowledge of many of the personalities concerned. The account is well written, authoritative, and full of details which will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the development of the Vihara. (Copies are available from the bookstall.)
With heavy hearts and deep sorrow we announce the passing away of four very good friends of the Vihara. They regularly attended the Vihara and contributed to the Vihara and charities of the Vihara. They are missed by all of us.
MRS. SOMA RANATUNGA
Mrs. Ranatunga passed away suddenly after a brief illness. Her funeral was held at the Golders Green Crematorium on 17 July amongst a large gathering. She is survived by her four loving children, Aruna, Pandula, Kanchana and Ravindra.
MR. K. A. PERERA
Mr. Abhaya Perera passed away suddenly after a brief illness. His funeral was held at the Tooting Crematorium on 23 December amongst a large gathering. He is survived by his loving wife Swarna, and two children, Achira and Danu.
MR. NALIN PERERA
Mr. Nalin Perera passed away and his funeral service was held at Haycombe Crematorium on 5th October. He is survived by his loving wife and two daughters.
DR. TUDOR WICKRAMARACHCHI
The loving brother of Dr. Chandra Hettiarachchi passed away and his funeral was held at Bristol Crematorium on 10 November. He is surived by his loving wife Jeya and two datughers, Mirdu and Madhu.
May they all attain the bliss of Nibbana!
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Ven. Tawalama Bandula