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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Forest Dhamma Masters

The Eternal Present Moment

The Eternal Present Moment
Where change is no longer conditioning. Conditioning only exists when Space-Time exists.

But what knows this?

Reflections on Magga Puja

An excerpt from a letter dated around 21/Feb/06.

I have never gone into this very deeply, but something like two thousand five hundred Arahants spontaneously came to the Buddha on the full moon of February. I can only think that this being the coldest full moon of the year, and thus the most unconducive to any kind of unnecessary activity, the Arahants wanted to demonstrate the correct attitude of a Dhamma practitioner to such reluctant negativity, for the benefit of all sentient beings, for all time to come. The Lord Buddha, in his infinite wisdom and boundless compassion, complied with a sermon uniquely befitting such an auspicious occasion. The Ovaaddha Patimokha, in only three lines, encapsulates the entire Buddha Dhamma with just these few words:

Do only Good
Avoid all Evil
Purify the Heart

This was the only recorded time that the Arahants came together in quite this way.

Reflections On Kamma

An excerpt from a letter dated around 21/Feb/06.

Firstly, I have to say that I'm no scholar, so quoting references is a rather weak point. But, as I understand it, a teaching historical Buddha has perfected the ten perfections prior to his last life so as to be capable of rediscovering the Dhamma, which would have died out by that time. It is hard enough to realise the Dhamma when it is clearly taught, but to find it anew must take a very special kind of person.

My reading is somewhat restricted due mainly to dyslexia, but have had some good luck in recommendations. First there was "The Word of the Buddha", Nyanatiloka; then "The Life of the Buddha", Nyanamoli; both in the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Then various books by Nyanaponika all of which are in the BPS (which he founded), most notably "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" and "The Power of Mindfulness"; but the best reference is SomaThera's translation of the Satipathana Sutta, commentaries & subcomys, (the format of which seems to have become a standard for this kind of work), I think it is called "The Way of Mindfulness" and is always reprinted in the same bright orange cover, again by BPS. Then the last BPS editor, Bhikkhu Bodhi, did some very fine works. All these, and more, can be found in the UK Wisdom web site: it is very sympathetic to the Theravada school. All these books give excellent reference details for all the passages that they quote from the Pali Cannon, which is, more or less, the extent of my knowledge. I must not forget Nyanamoli's translation of the Visudimagga, his non tech foot notes make fascinating reading, again BPS. What I like about Nyanamoli is his experimental approach: in the introduction to his "Guide" (Pali Text Society) he talks about the contextual function of language as against the more commonly held view of grammatical structure. In the reading of Pali, (or for that matter any other spiritual (or even artistic) tradition), this makes quite a lot of sense to me, though for technology and legality, the grammatical structure is probably more appropriate. Then I must not forget the many editions of the Dhamma Paada, especially Narada's several treatments. Lastly, but by no means leastly, Dr Henepola Gunaratana's "Mindfulness in Plain English" is frequently highly recommended. I have only seen exerts from this and they are most impressive.

For myself, I just take scriptural materials at face value and check them out in my own mindfulness practice. Anything of relevance I just quote off the top of my head and assume that my co-respondent will decided for himself on the validity of any point that I'm making. Mine is an essentially practical approach and as such am happy to have found the Forrest Tradition, which seems to reflect this attitude to a very high degree of skill and attainment. A good resource is our very own <http://www.luangta.com> if you have good Thai, or else:-
<http://www.forestdhammabooks.com>
Alternatively, <http://www.accesstoinsight.org/forest>
gives a good sample of first generation disciples of Ajaan Mun.

Having said all that, it may be useful, at this point, to consider some actual reflection on Kamma. Whole books are filled on this topic alone. It is most fruitful, bringing in the whole gamut of Pali Buddhism, from naive Cosmology to the eternal present moment that is mindfulness.

As you have probably gathered, this is an essentially practical approach and not too orthodox: though I like to feel that it is in fact consistent with "the party line", just a different way of looking at it. The Ajaan Mun lineage (at least, if not the whole of Forest traditions in general) put a lot of emphasis on the pure state of the Citta - the one who knows - far more so than what seems to be the case in scholastic Pali (where the emphasis is with stressing the third characteristic of 'no-self'). It seems to take the dryness out of Pali Buddhism and give it a certain spiritual nourishment: at Wat Pa Baan Taad we seem to get some keen interest from quite a few Mahayanists.

There is no contradiction here, and understanding this non-paradox is quite useful, if not pivotal, for many (interested) people: it all comes down to context.

There is no Self in the five Kundas. But something knows this! What is it that knows? The Citta never dies and was never born. There is always this knowing, it is merely a matter of realising it. Everything in Sa.msaara is in a constant state of flux: but what knows this? This knowing is the one constant element, it just doesn't realise it. Eventually it will realise that it has never been anything else.

However, it cannot know itself directly. The analogy is a camera being incapable of ever photographing itself. My own right eyeball has never directly seen my left eyeball, never mind it's own physical self. But the Citta can know itself indirectly, the most important aspect of this being that it is not anywhere to be found in the five Khandhas, nor can be said to own them in any way at all. It merely identifies with them, and in a bewildering number of ways: never for a moment suspecting that it is in fact doing this: nor that it needn't. This gives rise to the basic paranoia of annihilation: the flip side of which is the craving for sentient existence (meditators very soon developing a craving for fine material and non material existence).

We can now talk about Kamma in the context of accumulating tendencies. A problem arises in the life of a sentient being and he finds a solution that solves it very efficiently. So much so that he is tempted to use this solution the next time the problem arises. But things being as they are, nothing ever comes around again in exactly the same way, but the solution still works just as well, maybe for slightly different reasons. So the being is tempted to use this solution more often for wider variations of the problem, so much so that this solution begins to become a reflex response to this class of problem. And so a habit is born, over years becoming a compulsion until it is quite obsessive even if not as successful as it was initially. This could be a thought or attitude dealing with an unhappy state of mind. So we have a conditioning, accumulating tendency. It is so subtle that in the Forest Tradition mere thinking is understood as Kamma formations. These formations becoming Kilesas or mental functions with a will of their own, that for the practitioner become powerful hindrances to progress towards enlightenment, since this will result in their annihilation.

The approach of the Forest tradition is to simply realise that all this is just a manner of speaking, and that it is the Citta that is unknowingly doing everything (though serially, just one thing at a time (consistent with an ever changing 'now')): and that mindfulness is the practice that will bring it all down to a knowing of the nature of the (flux that is the) present moment, just as it is. If nothing else, this skilful Kamma (coming from a Citta that is still deluded) will result in skilful Kilesas in the future: which will still (be annihilated, or) have to be abandoned along with all the unskilful ones (depending on which way one looks at it).

Rebirth and past lives is just an extension of this concept. In its simplest form, rebirth is exactly the same as any two successive thought moments during a normal life. Just as a conditioned moment of consciousness passes away, so the next moment of consciousness arises conditioned by the previous one. At the time of death, at the dissolution of the body, the last moment of consciousness of that body conditions the next moment of consciousness, initiating an existence suitable (or corresponding) to it. A popular misconception is of a Citta floating around the Cosmos in search of some suitable landing strip, which is just more Space-Time assumption.

So, how long has this been going on for? Well, long enough for every single one of us to have had every conceivable kind of existence, (each one) for an incalculable number of life times. Looking at ones previous life or few doesn't even scratch the surface, though the strongest conditioning does seem to come from these in many cases.

For a comprehensive study of case histories I don't think you can beat Dr Ian Stevenson's work, and to a lesser extent the late Francis Story ("The Case for Rebirth") with whom he collaborated for a while (in Sri Lanka). I came across a smaller book entitled "The Children that Time Forgot" dealing with British cases, can't remember the two authors names, but the format was very similar.

The bottom line is that preoccupation with rebirth is very much an activity of Delusion, i.e. Space-Time. The power of the Sword of Wisdom will only ever be found in a close study of one's basic underlying assumptions. Time is a wrong interpretation (with respect to the 4NT) of changing moments of consciousness, and enables the jump to a conclusion of the existence of (movement and hence) space. These things are useful (in the world) but non the less pure convention: unspoken and unquestioned. The only reality that will liberate anyone from Dukkha is the correct assumptions (wrt 4NT) about the eternal ever-changing present moment, which (initially) requires a conscious effort, but (non the less) is known and questioned. Past lives illuminate the Dhamma (dependent origination), but non the less are a red herring to earnest practice (the practitioner must decide for himself how useful or otherwise this contemplation is, (I myself once went through a phase of Mt (Su)Maru reflection and found it enormously useful (though more wrt interconnectedness (e.g. telepathy, coincidence, divination, I_Ching etc.)))).

A Self Gratifying Process

A self gratifying process that has no Knowing.
Motivated by ignorance.
Born and dies, susceptible to Dukkha.

But what knows?

Generosity

Generosity
A respect for the Basic Human Rights of the recipient, their freedom to develop to their maximum potential.
Without this respect there is no Generosity in the transaction.
Thus the reason why Generosity is the first of the Ten Perfections in the development of the Bodhistatta path.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What is Dukkha?

What is Dukkha?
When the Citta goes three dimensional.

Just looking at this brings it back to the eternal now. Eventually, it realises it's never been anywhere else.

The Basic Paranoia

The Basic Paranoia
Due to not realising it's own true nature the Citta, in Space_Time mode, is under a constant fundamental terror of imminent annihilation.

The logical consequences of this are a reciprocal craving-for-existence, and on the back of this a further extenuation: of craving for sensory input. This expresses itself as sensual desire: on both sides of the coin - attraction and aversion.

So what then is Dukkha? When the Citta goes three-dimensional, one just needs to look at this in order to bring it back to the eternal-now. It will have an awkward, unsatisfactoryness; a solidity brought on by the Citta's attempts to sustain something that does not in fact exist of itself: just looking for the assumptions behind this attempt will expose it to a clearer view, and it's evanescent characteristics.

All of which is above and behind the usual understanding of dissatisfaction - from full blown suffering to the subtlest anguish and boredom.

Eventually, the Citta will realise that the refuge, from this proliferation of perfect logical assumption, is in fact in the paradoxical eternal-present-moment: and finally, that it's never ever been anywhere else.

Think about it

Think about it

The reciprocal of nothing is infinity.
The reciprocal of infinity is nothing.

But what knows this?

Boredom

Boredom
An assumption that what ever is currently manifesting in the Citta is fully known to it, in that it holds no further surprises. But if one knows this object so well, how-come one can't do anything with it.

And what is it that knows this?

Where does Time come from?

Where does Time come from? Sequences of memory trigger an assumption of Time. Cause driven change is the spring board for the intuitive 'jump to the conclusion' of Sequence. The knowing of this, with sufficient clarity, is all that is required for a return to mindfulness in the present moment. Just don't hang on to it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Same questions, different answers.

Same questions, different answers.

Back in the '70's, a group of Western teachers, mostly from IMS, compiled a list of ten questions that they intended to put to several pre-selected Oriental teachers of note. They fully expected to get different answers to each question, and at the end of their tour collated the data and published the results. The title of the book was something like "Living Mediation Masters" and the editor may have been Jack Kornfeld. As soon as I get the details right, I'll confirm or amend this accordingly.

The point of this piece being, that each practitioner finds his own path, and consequently comes to teach a different - his own - view of the 'Dhamma'.

It is quite traditional for individual students to then search for the teacher who's Dhamma is most in accord with their own Kammic predisposition, having first served an initial training - apprenticeship - period of five years with their local teacher.

Space and Time

Space and Time
Instead of looking at Change in a timeless - an eternal - present moment, delusion assumes Time and views the consequences of that: Space.

For Space to exist, Time is required, if the result is to have freedom of movement. Space is meaningless as a frozen snap-shot, and only Time will allow travel across a distance.

However, if the correct assumptions are made, ceaseless but conditioned change in an eternal, timeless, present moment, the consequences are quite different: the resulting experience is quite different.

It is within this environment that the Citta gets to realise its own true nature and all notions of Space, Time, Eternal, Present or Snap-shots loose any meaning. Just that knowing of things, just as they are, is all that remains.

But where does Time come from? Sequences of memory trigger an assumption of Time. Change is the spring board for the intuitive 'jump to the conclusion' of Sequence. The knowing of this, with sufficient clarity, is all that is required for a return to mindfulness in the present moment. Just don't hang on to it.

Delusion

Time is a false assumption, a wrong conclusion, jumped to as a result of sequential memory. With time as a basis, distance becomes possible, being at one point at one moment and at an other in another moment: thus space becomes possible. However, the Citta only knows a changing present moment, void of any identity, clearly comprehending.

Subjectivity = arising factors

Subjectivity = arising factors
objectivity = dissolution factors
When these two conditionally interact, we have both arising and dissolution factors.
All of which may be internal, external or both internal and external.
One just needs to be clear of which at any given moment.

Objectivity = arising factors
subjectivity = dissolution factors
When these two conditionally interact, we have both arising and dissolution factors.
All of which may be internal, external or both internal and external.
Whilst clarity is present, one just needs to know.

Maths

Maths

Freedom from delusion of false, i.e. unspoken, unquestioned assumptions. Freedom in known assumptions, clearly understanding that they are just ways of speaking, useful for establishing a context for perceptions, so as to eventually see the paradox in that context when using its own logic.

Thus, the path to the Citta realising it's own true nature: through realising both the limitations and usefulness in conventional thought: and thereby the letting go of it.

But what knows this?