SAMADHI

JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
THE FIRST AND THE FOREMOST BUDDHIST VIHARA OF THE WESTERN WORLD
ESTABLISHED IN 1926 BY THE ANAGARIKA DHARMAPALA

 

ISSUE No. 22                                                    MAY 2003                                     B. E. 2547                             ISSN 1368-1516

  INSIDE THIS ISSUE


HAVING GOOD FRIENDS

by Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana,
Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain, Head of the London Buddhist Vihara

To be born as a human being is a rare and precious event. Of the 31 different planes of existence recognised by Buddhists, but it is to the human plane that the Buddha has attached the greatest importance. It is in the human plane that we can develop the highest qualities, such as wisdom and compassion, and eventually attain the supreme goal of Nibbana. But alongside this immense potential for good, there is equal potential for harm. Man has the possibility to develop greed, hatred and ignorance to such a degree that he can cause unlimited suffering to other beings.

Unusually among living beings, man has the ability to lie and deceive; he can think one thing, say another and do a third. This makes him a difficult creature to understand. Most animals behave predictably and one can come to understand their habits; they do not lie, cheat or defraud. If they do attack, there is usually an understandable reason - in self-defence or to obtain food. Man is different; in him aggression can arise for many, complicated reasons. He is not only potentially dangerous, but also hard to understand.

The minds of some men are filled with evil thoughts, they spend their entire lives planning the destruction of other people. The disaster which happened in New York on September 11th is a good example. It was done with no particular motive apart from bringing pain and suffering to many thousands of innocent people. It was pure wickedness coming from the minds of inhuman creatures in human form. They derived some satisfaction from this act and continue to do so.

It is man who has produced the most sophisticated and dangerous weapons, and he is even now planning the production of yet more lethal devices to kill his fellow men. Today simple matters like travelling from one place to another have become tiresome and even frightening experiences. Because of the threat of terrorism, travellers have to pass through endless security checks, have their luggage X-rayed and sniffed by dogs, and be subjected to the indignity of personal body searches. This is all because of the fear which some men generate in the minds of their fellows.

We must realise that the qualities which make us human are love, kindness, compassion, friendship and altruism, but we must also recognise that humans are characterised by/distinguished by/capable of hatred, enmity, hypocrisy, envy, cunning and treachery. Of course these qualities are not always evident, they may be hidden, lying dormant in the mind, awaiting an opportunity to erupt. They can be activated by contact with an evil-minded man, who can exert a bad influence, so we need to be very careful with the kind of company we keep. It is in the nature of people with poisonous minds that they try to corrupt the minds of their associates. There are cases of good people who have been induced to do bad things through the influence of their companions. Angulimala is a case in point. He was an innocent young man with noble qualities. His original name was Ahimsaka (ahimsa means non-violence). But his mind was manipulated by the wicked minds of his teacher and fellow students, and so he became a notorious robber and murderer. Later, he met the Buddha who was able to re-awaken wholesome qualities in his mind and eventually Angulimala became an Arahant.

This underlines the importance of keeping the right kind of company and developing the right kind of friendships. We do need friends. We are social beings. We depend on others in so many different ways. We live together with other people and we need to get along with them, happily and peacefully. We enjoy the company of good friends, we want to know that we are loved and valued by other people. There is nothing that cannot be achieved with the help of a good friend. So we have to understand each other, but the problem is to find suitable people to be our friends, and to know how to trust them as good friends.

In the Vyagghapajja Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya) the Buddha was speaking to Dighajanu about the four conditions which are conducive to one’s happiness and peace in this worldly existence. He said these are (a) utthana sampada - persistent, energetic, efficient, skilful effort; (b) arakkha sampada - watchfulness in the protection of income righteously earned; (c) kalyana mittata - having good friends, who are learned, virtuous, liberal, faithful, intelligent, and help him along the path from evil; (d) samajivikata - a balanced livelihood, living within one’s means. He then defines good friendship, "Herein, Vyagghapajja, in whatsoever village or market town a householder dwells, he associates, converses, engages in discussions with householders or householders’ sons, whether young and highly-cultured or old and highly-cultured, full of faith (saddha), full of virtue (sila), full of charity (caga), full of wisdom (panna). He acts in accordance with the faith of the faithful, with the virtue of the virtuous, with the charity of the charitable, with the wisdom of the wise. This is called good friendship."

In the Sigalovada Sutta (Digha Nikaya) the Buddha speaks about the relationship between friends and how to distinguish between a good friend and a bad friend. First, he mentions four foes who appear in the guise of friends:

(1) He who appropriates a friend’s possessions, giving little and asking much, doing his duties out of fear, and associating only for his own advantage.

(2) He who renders lip service, making friendly profession regarding the past and the future, gaining favour by empty words, making empty excuses when his help is needed. (3) He who flatters, approving his friend’s evil deeds, praising him in his presence and speaking ill of him in his absence.

(4) He who brings ruin, a companion when his friend becomes intoxicated, wanders the streets late at night, goes to theatrical shows and gambles.

Then the Buddha describes four kinds of people who should be understood as warm-hearted friends:

(1) He who is a helpmate, who guards the heedless, protects their wealth, is a refuge in time of danger, and helps to meet commitments by providing double what is needed.

(2) He who is the same in happiness and sorrow, revealing his secrets to his friend, but concealing the friend’s secrets, he does not forsake him in misfortune and will even sacrifice his life for him.

(3) He who gives good counsel, restraining his friend from doing evil, encouraging him to do good, informing him of what is unknown to him and pointing out the path to heaven.

(4) He who sympathises, by not rejoicing in his friend’s misfortune but rejoicing in his prosperity, restraining others from speaking ill of his friend and praising those who speak well of him.

The Buddha continues his talk to Sigala by saying that one should look after one’s friends by liberality, by courteous speech, by being helpful, by being impartial, and by sincerity. In return his friends will show their compassion by protecting him and his property when he is heedless, by becoming a refuge when he is in danger, by not forsaking him in his troubles, and by showing consideration for his family.

One cannot understand another merely by a casual glance or a casual meeting. In the Samyutta Nikaya (Part I, Sutta 3), the Buddha says to King Pasenadi that one’s virtue is to be understood only through living together; one’s honesty is to be understood only by dealing with someone; one’s fortitude is to be understood only in adversities; and one’s wisdom is to be understood only by discussion. In each case this understanding is only to be achieved after a considerable period of time, by close observation, and by a wise person.

Those who remain the same both in happiness and sorrow are considered as good friends. There are some who associate closely when things are going successfully, but gradually start to abandon their friend when things go wrong. In many cases people feel happy to make friends with those who are wealthy, educated, and holding high positions and honourable titles in society. And there are some people who change their attitude when they meet people with wealth, power, honour and success. A kalyana mitta maintains an honourable lifestyle which is free from unskilful and dishonest dealings. He always tried to follow the harmless path of right livelihood. He does not think that he is always right and others are wrong. His life is free from prejudice which disturbs good human relationships and violate the fundamental principles of a just society.

The Pali expression Kalyana-mitta is translated as Noble or Good Friend. In the strict sense of the word this applies to a senior monk who is the friend and guide to his pupil, looking after his welfare, supervising his spiritual progress and giving him encouragement. In particular it can be applied to a meditation teacher, but it can also be applied in a wider sense, meaning a best, noble or beautiful friend. The word mitta comes from metta - which is the special quality developed by the training our minds in - metta bhavana, meditation on loving-kindness. This is not just ordinary friendship or feeling between two people, but it is developed to a further degree. This is much stronger than ordinary love; it is not love in order to possess. It is the unselfish wish for the happiness and welfare of all living beings without exception. There are no boundaries of any sort to the radiation of this feeling. It is unconditional love, which recognises no boundaries or limits. It is the basis for all true friendships.

Ven. Ananda was once thinking to himself that the practice of monastic life depended half on good friends and half on his own effort, so he said to the Buddha, "This is half of the holy life, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship." The Buddha replied, "Not so, Ananda. Not so, Ananda. This is the entire holy life, Ananda, that is, good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship."

The Buddha said that he himself was a kalyana mitta to all beings. "By relying upon me as a good friend, Ananda, beings subject to birth are freed from birth; beings subject to ageing are freed from ageing; beings subject to illness are freed from illness; beings subject to death are freed from death; beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure and despair are freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure and despair. By this method, Ananda, it may be understood how the entire holy life is good friendship, good companionship, good comradeship. (Samyutta Nikaya, Part I, Sutta 3)

The true friend is also one who helps us along the spiritual path. When dealing with the hindrances (sense desire, illwill, sloth & torpor, restlessness & worry, and doubt), in each case one of the main supports is stated as having a kalyana mitta with whom one can discuss the hindrance and from whose example one can draw inspiration.

The attributes of a kalyana mitta are:-

Loveable, reverent and adorable

A counsellor, a patient listener

A speaker of deep discourses, and oneWho would not lead to a useless end.

Piyo ca garubhaniyo
Vatta ca vacanakkamo
Gambhiram ca katham katta
No catthane niyojaye.

These are a few, simple guidelines for us all to follow. They are not difficult to understand. Let us make a firm determination to apply them in our daily lives, trying to develop loving feelings towards everyone we meet.


Similes of the Raft and the Snakecatcher

by Venenrabla Dr. Henepola Gunaratana,
Bhavana Society, West Virginia, USA

What is the use of a raft? It is used for crossing over a vast expanse of water which is difficult otherwise to cross over. The close scrutiny of the application of this simile used by the Buddha in the Snake-simile (Alagaddupama) Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya elucidates how skillfully he chose it to illustrate precisely what people, who don’t fully comprehend the meaning of religions, have been doing throughout the history of religion. In this simile the Buddha pointed out that if a man who, after crossing over the vast expanse of water by a raft, were to determine to carry the raft over his shoulders, thinking by doing so he would show his gratitude to the raft for helping him to save his life, he would be foolish.

The simile of a snake-catcher used by the Buddha in the aforementioned Sutta is also equally indispensable in illustrating the danger of the wrong grasp of a religion. If a man who does not know how to catch a poisonous snake were to hold the snake either by his body or by his tail he may get bitten by the snake and consequently suffer severe injury or death. The message in these two similes once realized fully would facilitate better understanding of the tension stemming from the increase in violence and crime in the name of religion in modern society.

The wrong grasp of religion can lead man to justify his greed, hatred and foolishness. His distorted views, distorted perception and distorted consciousness force him to grasp a religion wrongly and undermine its very foundation, causing more pain and suffering — as does the wrong grasp of the snake.

A wrong grasp of religion can always be a passageway to defeat the very purpose of religion and encourage people to commit atrocities in the name of one’s faith. People sometimes not only cling to religions but naively obey any man or woman who, being a persuasive speaker, may promote and justify violence and unethical practices in the name of religion. By supporting such a person with their time, skill or wealth, they only increase his or her greed and hatred and ignorance. Blinded by religious beliefs they may even try over-zealously to protect their religions not only by inculcating hatred and fear in many of their gullible followers’ minds, but also by advocating even murder in the name of their beliefs.

If a man simply clings to the raft after using it to cross over the ocean, instead of leaving it on the shore for someone else to use, he will not do the wise thing either. He rather makes the raft a heavy burden on his shoulder. The raft is made out of reeds, sticks, branches and foliage. They are bound by a rope or bark of a tree. Similarly this body is made up of form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness which are bound together by ignorance and desire to make the body-mind complex. Just as this man clings to the raft made up of reeds, sticks, branches and foliage, we may cling to the body and mind made up of form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness bound by craving and ignorance. The man clinging to the raft which helped him to cross over the vast expanse of water may continue to carry the burden of the very same raft. Similarly by clinging to our mind-body complex and our religious beliefs we continue to carry their burden. He remains bound to his raft and we to the mind-body. He is on the shore and we are in Samsara. This body and mind, together with the feelings, perception and mental formations, exist not for clinging to but only for gaining knowledge and insight necessary for attaining liberation from Samsara. "Monks," said the Buddha, "you should let go even (good) teaching, how much more false ones". Good teaching benefits us only if we use it, just like the raft. No teaching, however good it is, can help us if we simply cling to it. Clinging even to good teaching can cause pain and suffering. Just imagine how much more painful it could be when we cling to bad things! The man who uses a raft to cross over the body of water has to be wise. Similarly one who uses this body-mind complex to cross over the ocean of Samsara has to be wise. Therefore he will not cling to this body-mind complex at all. If he does he cannot attain enlightenment.

Clinging to beliefs without practice can also easily make people religious fanatics who seek refuge in violence to resolve problems, for they are totally ignorant of what their religion teaches them. People who are unaware of the message of their religion may live in constant fear of criticism of their religion and wish to protect it by destroying people who have different beliefs. The fear of criticism arises in the mind ill-directed by the ambivalent belief system which cannot vouch for security and actuality. The Buddha said: "Your ill-directed mind can do you more harm than all your enemies in the world together can do". Similarly, he said: "A well-directed mind can do you more good than all your parents, friends and relatives together can do for you". The real conqueror is not the one who conquers thousands upon thousands of people in a battlefield but one who conquers himself.

Although Buddha never even implied causing harm to anybody, there are some even among the Buddhists who believe that they should protect their country, killing as many as they think necessary in order to protect Buddhism, the religion of peace, harmony, compassion and loving-kindness. Killing or even the thought of killing any living being, let alone human beings, is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the most compassionate and loving Buddha, who said: "He is called virtuous and wise who, wishing success, does not commit crimes for the sake of oneself, for the sake of one’s own children, for the sake of others, for the sake of wealth, or even for the sake of the country." Buddha’s teaching stands above all notions of countries, cultures, languages, ethnic affiliations and everything else, for he taught only the truth which is permanent, eternal and bound by nothing in the world.

When you embark on the raft you should check it very carefully to verify whether it is secure and properly put together, lest you may drown by using a defective raft. Similarly you should very carefully learn and critically examine any religion before accepting or rejecting it. Patient listening to someone criticising the Buddha, Dhamma or the community of Sangha, is highly recommended in the teaching of the Buddha.

"If for that others revile, abuse, scold and insult the Perfect One (Buddha), on that account, O monks, the Perfect One will not feel annoyance, nor dejection, nor displeasure in His heart. And if for that others respect, revere, honour and venerate the Perfect One, on that account the Perfect One will not feel delight, nor joy, nor elation in His heart. If for that other respect, revere, honour and venerate the Perfect One, He will think: 'It is towards this (mind-body aggregate) which was formerly fully comprehended, that they perform such acts'.

Therefore, O monks, if you, too, are reviled, abused, scolded and insulted by others, you should on that account not entertain annoyance, nor dejection, nor displeasure in your hearts. And if others respect, revere, honour and venerate you, on that account you should not entertain delight nor joy nor elation in your hearts. If others respect, revere, honour and venerate you, you should think: 'It is towards this (mind-body aggregate) which was formerly comprehended, that they perform such acts'."

Analytical investigation and critical knowledge of Dhamma are essential factors of enlightenment in Buddhism. For if you know for sure that what you practise is true you should not be alarmed by criticism. You rather should be glad to welcome critical investigation of it so you can look at what you practise from a different perspective. If you know gold as gold, for instance, you would without any hesitation let any well-trained goldsmith test it by cutting, burning, rubbing and hammering it, for you are certain that he will not determine your gold to be copper. Only if you give him a gilded piece of lead saying that it is gold you would have reason to fear his test.

The Buddha advised us not to be alarmed by criticism, but listen to criticism very carefully and mindfully without getting upset about what we hear and measure it by the text. After thorough investigation, we certainly find no fault in the Buddha, Dhamma or Sangha. However, we will find out that the criticism has come from anger, prejudice, frustration, fear, neuroses, paranoia, etc. Then, of course, instead of getting angry with the person who has all these problems, we should try to help him with loving-kindness. He deserves our loving-kindness and compassion rather than our hate. No hate is ever going to solve any problem in the world and it never did, for hate is never appeased by hatred in this world, but by love alone.

In the teaching of the Buddha, one finds no room for resolving any problem through violent means. A Buddhist who is full of greed, hatred and delusion and unmindful of the Buddha’s real message, exercising his total freedom of choice and responsibility guaranteed in Buddhism, may kill someone, but he can never quote any Buddhist text to justify and support his killing.

We are supposed to use the Buddha Dhamma without clinging to it, but only to cross this cycle of birth and death—Samsara. He advised us to use his teaching like a raft which is used only to cross a body of water not to cling to it. It is the passionate clinging to what we believe, rather than understanding how we should use it to guide our daily life in the right direction, that arouses our deeply-rooted hatred which may force us to solve our problems through violent means. It is the passionate clinging to things that creates all kinds of problems.

 


The Cultivation of Divine Sentiments
(BRAHMA VIHARA BHAVANA)

by Dr. P. Vajiragnana Mahathera

Brahma-Vihara Bhavana, the cultivation of the four divine sentiments, namely, Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha, has come to occupy a central position in Buddhist life and forms an essential preliminary in the field of mental training in Buddhism. From the ethical point of view these principles constitute the moral foundation of man and are indispensable to his happiness and peace.

The term Brahma-Vihara is variously rendered as "Brahma-abodes", "Diving States", "Supreme Conditions", "Sublime Modes of Living". The word Brahma in this connection is to be understood to mean Sublime, Excellent, or Highest, in the sense of faultless, clean and pure. It also implies the meaning of "Brahma", Supreme Being, in the Brahma world. The Brahmas live with these pure thoughts: so the aspirant associated with them lives like a Brahma. Hence they are called Brahma-Vihara or Highest modes of living.

In the Buddhist system the Brahma-Viharas together with higher meditation tend to Nirvana as the ultimate goal: but if they are not developed to that height, the immediate result is the attainment of the Brahma-world. So we read in reference to Metta, "If he realize no higher state (Arahantship) he is reborn in the Brahma-world". (A.V.342) Hence the name Brahma-Vihara. All the four qualities of Brahma-Vihara arise in an immeasurable field of emotion which embraces the whole wide world, they are therefore called "Appamanna", "The Immeasurables". They are also "Immeasurable" in the sense they include within their fold beings of all sorts and conditions, and therefore know no limit. Even if the meditation be directed towards a single being, the aspirant should develop them without setting any limit in quality or quantity. Taking this infinitude as the principal aspect of these mental states, the Abhidhamma calls them "Appamanna".

1. Metta

Metta literally means "friendliness" and signifies the state of a friend. It means fraternal affection, unbounded love, or friendly emotion, free from lustful attachment. It has the characteristic of beneficence, or the promotion of good-will. Functioning for the good of others is its essence or property. Its manifestation of effect is the filling of the heart with love, and the removal of hatred. The linking of others with oneself in affection is its proximate cause. The suppression of ill-will is its consummation. Selfish love or lust is its failure, or opposing state.

When Metta is translated as "Love", it should always be understood to mean friendliness", for love in its ordinary sense is equivalent to the Pali word "Pema" or "raga" which mean passion, or sensuous attachment, and is inimical to Metta. Psychologically Metta is the positive expression of the negative state, "Avyapada", the absence of ill-will. It corresponds to the first of the three constituent parts of "Right Intention", the second principle of the Noble Eightfold Path. It is in this connection that Metta leads to the entire cessation of hatred, or the pugnacious tendency of lower mind. For it is the antidote to anger, 'Dosa', or enmity which cannot otherwise be expelled. Metta becomes one of the ten principles of the Bodhisatta ideal for the attainment of the Buddha knowledge.

2. Karuna

Karuna, rendered by "Pity", or "Compassion," means the emotion of the heart conducive to the removal of the pain or suffering of others. It is the kindness extended to others, furthering their happiness, preventing them from affliction. Its characteristic is the alleviation of pain and misery of fellow beings, or the bearing of pain oneself for the sake of their happiness. Anguish at the sight of others' suffering is its essence. Its manifestation is peace and harmless thought. Refraining from injury is its expression. The sight of the helplessness of those who suffer is its proximate cause. Elimination of cruelty is its consummation: its failure is distraction, or the production of sorrow. Karuna corresponds to "the sentiment of non-injury" as a constituent part of Right Intention, and is one of the great qualities and attainments of the Buddha.

3. Mudita:

Translated as "Sympathy", "Sympathetic Joy", or "Gladness", Mudita implies rejoicing at others' happiness or prosperity. Gladness is its characteristic: absence of envy is its essence. Its manifestation is the destruction of dislike; the sight of the prosperous condition of other beings is its proximate cause. Its consummation is the suppression envy and jealously is its failure.

4. Upekkha:

Upekkha, usually rendered by "Equanimity", or "even-mindedness", means a balanced state of mind, through which one is able to contemplate with disinterestedness by assuming a central position, by focussing the mind between the two extremes of attachment and indifference. It has the characteristic of impartiality and the realisation of the quality of beings is its essence or function.

The suppression both of aversion and attachment is its expression or manifestation. Its proximate cause is perception of the heritage of kamma, "as beings are bound to the law of kamma and by its influence they become happy or unhappy". The elimination both of aversion and partiality its consummation: its failure is profane and unintelligent indifference. Upekkha is also found as a constituent part of the ten perfections, and of the seven principles of enlightenment. But here it is distinguished as Brahma-Vihara Upekkha, and it occurs in this actual form in the fourth and fifth Jhanic ecstasy.

He who practises any of these four Brahma-Viharas will experience the happiness born of insight and will secure a happy existence. The purpose of these four meditations is to eliminate ill-will, cruelty, envy and lust respectively.

The practice of the four Brahma-Viharas may be divided into stages: the duty of moral responsibility towards fellow beings is the beginning, the purgation of the mind from the hindrances is the middle, and the manifestation of these qualities in thought, word and deed is the end.

Unlike the other forms of meditation this fourfold exercise in each case consists of the continual expansion of the particular sentiments involved, from the individual to the community, or from a single being to the many, and then from one quarter of the world to the other, and so gradually to the whole world and all that exists in it. So this form of meditation expands the field of its influence until the aspirant, becoming one with the whole universe, passes beyond all individual limitation.

In regard to the actual practice the aspirant should first begin with Metta or friendliness and cherish the thought of good-will for the welfare of others, and should express its characteristic by doing good. Then thinking what he has seen or heard of the suffering of others, he should practise kindness by alleviating their suffering.

For its true characteristic is not the mere thought of kindness, but the removal of others' unhappiness. Next, having thus desired happiness for others and having removed their suffering, he should practise sympathy rejoicing at their prosperity. Lastly, he should practice these good thoughts in a state of even-mindedness or equanimity, the characteristic of which is to be equally balanced without partiality.

While the Buddhist system of meditation is essentially the way of self-enlightenment, followed for the attainment of self-perfection, the practice of the four principles of Brahma-Vihara is the expression of higher sentiments of man towards his fellow beings. Of these Metta, boundless love or friendliness, emphasizes the positive nature of the self-sacrifice and devoted service of the aspirant, which is not confined to any one part or portion of existence, but is extended over the whole Universe to include all beings, from the highest to the lowest, and from the greatest to the most minute form of life. Metta, as exemplified in the Buddha and expounded by Him, is not merely a spontaneous exhibition of emotion, but a sustained and positive mental attitude of service, good-will and friendship, which should be manifest in deed, word and thought.

The exercise of Metta tends to the cultivation of the sentiment of good-will rather than meditation itself. In the field of meditation it is introduced as indispensable for the purification of mind from anger and malice. Metta expresses the mental attitude of a good man in relation to his society as well as his fellow beings in the external world. Furthermore it is the outlook of the man who neither tortures himself nor inflicts injury upon others, but "lives satisfied, tranquil, and cool, enjoying the happiness of serenity, being himself a Brahma."

From the practice of Metta, as set forth in Buddhism, the following blessings are to be gained:

"Happy he sleeps; happy he awakes; he dreams no bad dreams; he is dear to men; dear to non-human beings. Devas guard him; fire, poison, or sword come not near him, easily his mind becomes calm; his complexion becomes serene; he passes away with his mind free from anxiety and confusion if he realises no further attainment, he goes to the world of Brahma."

The meditation upon Metta contains the following lines which summarise the whole method as set forth in the Buddhist Scriptures:

"Seeing all beings wishing to be happy as one-self, let him practice love to all beings as follows:

May I always be happy, free from ill,
So be my friend, indifferent ones and enemies.
May the beings of this country always be happy, 
So be those of foreign lands and of other worlds. 
Countless beings and living things over all the world.

All persons, all creatures, and all that have come to exist, 
And all those of male and female kind, 
All worthy and unworthy ones, 
All in the ten directions, including gods, men and unhappy ones, 
May they all be happy, be free from ills."


FACTS OF LIFE

by Narada Maha Thera

PRAISE AND BLAME

Praise and blame are two more worldly conditions that affect mankind. It is natural to be elated when praised and to be depressed when blamed. Amidst praise and blame, the Buddha says, the wise exhibit neither elation nor depression. Like a solid rock that is not shaken by the wind they stand unmoved.

Praise, if worthy, is pleasing to the ears. If unworthy, as in the case of flattery, though pleasing, it is deceptive. But they are all sounds which will produce no effect if they do not reach our ears.

From a worldly standpoint, a word of praise goes a long way. By praising a little, a favour can easily be obtained. One word of merited praise is sufficient to attract an audience before one speaks. If, at the outset, a speaker praises the audience, he will have an attentive ear. If he criticises the audience at the outset, the response will not be satisfactory.

The cultured do not resort to flattery; nor do they wish to be flattered by others. The praiseworthy they praise without being envious. The blameworthy they blame not contemptuously but out of compassion with the object of reforming them.

Many who knew the Buddha intimately extolled his virtues in their own way. One Upali, a millionaire, a new convert, praised the Buddha enumerating a hundred virtues extempore. Nine sterling virtues of the Buddha that were current in his time are still being recited by his followers today while looking at his image. They are a subject of meditation for the devout. These well-merited virtues are still a great inspiration to his followers.

How about blame?

The Buddha says: "They who speak much are blamed. They who speak little are blamed. They who are silent are also blamed. In this world there is none who is not blamed!"

Blame seems to be a universal legacy of mankind.

The majority of people in the world, remarks the Buddha, are ill-disciplined. Just as an elephant in the battle field endures all arrows shot at him, even so, the Buddha suffers all insults.

The deluded and the wicked are prone to seek only the ugliness in others but not the good and beautiful.

None, with the single exception of a Buddha, is perfectly good. Nobody is totally bad either. There is evil in the best of us. There is good in the worst of us.

"He who silences himself like a cracked gong when attacked, insulted and abused, him, I say," the Buddha exhorts, "is in the presence of Nibbana although he has not yet attained Nibbana."

One may work with the best of motives, but the outside world very often misconstrues him and will impute motives never even dreamt by him.

One may serve and help others to the best of one's ability sometimes by incurring debt or selling one's articles or property to save a friend in trouble; but later, the deluded world is so constituted that those very persons whom one has helped will find fault with him, blackmail him, blemish his good character and will rejoice in his downfall.

In the Jataka stories, it is stated that Guttila the musician taught everything he knew to his pupil without a closed fist, but ungrateful man that he was, he unsuccessfully tried to compete with his teacher and ruin him. One occasion, the Buddha was invited by a brahmin for alms to his house. As invited, the Buddha visited his house. Instead of entertaining him he poured out a torrent of abuse with the filthiest words.

The Buddha politely inquired, "Do visitors come to your house, good Brahmin?" "Yes," he replied. "What do you do when they come?" "Oh, we prepare a sumptuous feast." "If they fail to turn up?" "Why we gladly partake of it." "Well, good brahmin, you have invited me for alms and you have entertained me with abuse. I accept nothing. Please take it back."

The Buddha did not retaliate. "Retaliate not," the Buddha exhorts. "Hatreds do not cease through hatreds but through love alone they cease," is a noble utterance of the Buddha.

There was no religious teacher so highly praised as the Buddha and so severely criticised, reviled and blamed as the Buddha. Such is the fate of great men.

The Buddha was accused of murdering a woman, assisted by his disciples. Non-Buddhists severely criticised the Buddha and his disciples to such an extent that the Venerable Ananda appealed to the Buddha to leave for another village.

"How, Ananda, if those villagers also abuse us?" "Well then, Lord, we will proceed to another village." "Then, Ananda, the whole of India will have no place for us. Be patient. These abuses will automatically cease."

Magandiya, a lady of the harem, had a grudge against the Buddha for speaking ill of her attractive figure when her father, through ignorance, wished to give her in marriage to the Buddha. She hired drunkards to insult the Buddha in public. With perfect equanimity, the Buddha endured the insults.

Insults are the common lot of humanity. The more you work and the greater you become, the more are you subject to insult and humiliation.

Jesus Christ was insulted, humiliated and crucified.

Socrates was insulted by his own wife. Whenever he went out to help others his intolerant wife used to scold him. One day as she was unwell, she failed to perform her usual unruly task. Socrates left home on that day with a sad face. His friends inquired why he was sad. He replied that his wife did not scold him on that day as she was unwell.

"Well, you ought to be happy for not getting that unwelcoming scolding," remarked his friends.

"Oh no! When she scolds me, I get an opportunity to practise patience. Today I missed that opportunity. That is the reason why I am sad," answered the philosopher. These are memorable lessons for us all.

When insulted, we should think we are given an opportunity to practise patience. Instead of being offended, we should be grateful to our adversaries.


Beam of energy

Mrs. Kamala Perera

Every life is a beam of energy
Fuelled by the individual's karmic force
But it goes on rebirth after rebirth
Because we are ignorant of the cause

In life we gather sins and merits
These are the fuel of the karmic force
The great Gautama Buddha
Exposed in his doctrine
Riddance of anger greed and ignorance
Can redeem us all
Until then we are hooked to
The wheel of Samsara
Ever wandering while suffering
In countless rebirths

One thinks of his or her emancipation
On realization of life's suffering
Otherwise we carry on with ignorance
Blinded by worldly things

 


BOOK REVIEW

Nirvana, The Highest Happiness - by Susunaga Weeraperuma

 

by Richard Jones

This book is a collection of 18 essays, of which 6 have already been published in the periodical The Mountain Path. It is a very readable assemblage which covers a wide variety of subjects, ranging from The Personality of the Buddha to The Power of Paritta Chanting and What is Nirvana?

Each topic is dealt with throughly and the author clearly knows his original sources well, although there are perhaps a few remarks which are open to question. For example, the statement "Nirvana comes into being without a cause" correctly states that Nirvana is unconditioned, but to say it "comes into being" is a little misleading. In his essay on Karma, the author makes no mention of vipaka (effect). He gives an example of a schoolboy giving away his lunch to a penniless beggar and who cultivates an attitude of indifference towards his deed, not seeking thanks or recognition. The author rightly describes this action as "karmaless", but does not go on to draw out its implications for attaining enlightenment.

In his essay on meat-eating, Dr. Weeraperuma’s opinions are clearly stated, although perhaps not universally accepted. He argues that all meat-eaters are in fact killers by proxy and therefore this practice should be abandoned. He cites Mahayana texts in support of his views, in particular the Lankavatara Sutra, and the Sanskrit version of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra in which the Buddha declares, "I instruct the disciples that from today onwards they should stop the eating of meat."

He is on less controversial grounds when he writes about "Who Is a Sincere Friend?" and "Our Debt of Gratitude to Our Parents". His style is clear and straightforward and this book can be ready by anyone who is interested in a wide-ranging variety of subjects connected with Buddhism.

More details of this book are available on the net: www.vedamsbooks.com/no3247.htm

 


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Ven. Tawalama Bandula
2003