The Buddhist doctrine of karma

~By Samnak PJ Concepcion~

In Dedication to Samnak PJ Concepcion a very wise Korean monk

The Buddhist doctrine of karma presents some difficulties in understanding it. The doctrine is based on the historical Buddha’s insight on dependent origination or conditioned existence (Sanskrit: pratitya samutpada; Pali:paticca samupada) during the great awakening. The doctrine of dependent origination deals with the cause of the reality of suffering within samsara or the cycle of birth and death. The doctrines of karma and of dependent origination do not show life’s absolute origin that has proved unthinkable because all beings have an infinite nature. The term karma is derived from the Sanskrit root kr, which means to do and to act. Therefore, karma means literally a deed and an act. The Buddhist outlook defines karma as volition. An early scripture, theAnguttara Nikaya, quotes the Buddha as saying, “Volition, O monks, I declare to be karma. Having willed, a person acts through the body, speech, and mind – – Cetanaham bhikkave kamman vadami. Cetayitva kamman karoti kayena vaca manasa.”

 The will determines the act. The will directs the mind toward good, bad and neutral actions. The actions are good if they do not cause suffering to anyone and the actions are bad if they cause suffering to anyone (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 414.)

 In the realm of ethics, karma expresses action and reaction. The action becomes the cause that gives rise to the effect and the result, vipaka in Sanskrit. Therefore, karma is translated into English as causation or causality. 

 Using analogy, karma is likened to a seed that will produce the fruit, phallain Sanskrit. The fruit explains the seed. Within the seed, the fruit’s potential state has bloomed already. Both seed and fruit are interrelated. Further, the natural law of causation like gravitation does not have a lawgiver. The natural law of causation works within its own field without the influence of an outside force or an external ruling agency. Put another way, karma rejects the principle of first cause.

 Karma occurs within a state of continuous flux. Therefore, karma can not mean fate and fixed destiny. Change and human effort can influence the course of karma. Karma explains the arising and the passing away of the things in the world. “Whatever arises, all that cease.” The twelve laws of karma’s cause and effect relationship or their dependent origination is shown as follows,

1. Why does the reality of suffering, old age, sickness, and death exist?

2. They exist because human beings are born. (The reality of suffering… applies to all beings.

3. Birth takes place because of the will to live.

4. There’s a will to live because human beings cling to the world’s objects.

5. They cling to the world’s objects because they crave to enjoy them.

6. They crave to enjoy the world’s objects because of their sense experience.

7. They have sense experience because they have sensual and mental contact.

8. They have sensual and mental contact because they have six sense organs (In Buddhism, the mind forms the sixth sense.)

9. They have six sense organs because the physical and mental phenomena exist.

10. The physical and mental phenomena exist because of the human embryo’s initial consciousness.

11. Human beings have this initial consciousness because of the impressions of karma.

12. They have the impressions of karma because of ignorance.

Therefore, ignorance causes the reality of suffering within samsara, the continuous cycle of birth and death.


Samsara is based upon dependent origination. The doctrine is explained in the formula, “When A is, B arises. A arising, B arises. When A is not, B is not. A ceasing, B ceases” or in the formula’s equivalent proposition in Pali, “Imasmin sati idam hoti. Imassupada idam uppajjati. Imasmin asati idam na hoti. Imassa nirodha idam nirujjhati.”

 The twelve laws of karma comprise samsara, the continuous cycle of birth and death. They say that a person suffers and he dies whenever he goes around the cycle. The Buddhist doctrine of transmigration and the cycle of birth and death must be understood in this light: death means the end of a phase that gives birth to a new phase within the cycle. The dying phase or event like a flowing river passes on to new forms of being within the cycle. Death does not mean the stopping of the physical body’s functions and the ceasing of thought of the human being.


True Dharma Eye, Case 225

         The Capping Verse:

Is it the bowl that rolls around the pearl,
Or is it the pearl that rolls around the bowl?
Is it the weather that is cold,
Or is it the person that is cold?
Think neither cold nor heat.
At that moment,
Where is the self to be found?

The Commentary

Dongshan’s “go to the place where there is no cold or heat” is like flowers blooming on a withered tree in the midst of a frozen tundra. His “let the cold kill you, let the heat kill you” is the roaring furnace that consumes every phrase, idea, and thing in the universe. Even the Buddhas and sages cannot survive it. Nothing remains. We should understand clearly, however, that this “let the cold kill you” is not about cooling off. Cold is just cold, through and through. Also, “let the heat kill you” is not about facing the fire. Heat is just heat, through and through. Further, there is no relationship whatsoever between Dongshan’s heat and cold. Heat does not become cold. Cold does not become heat. The question really is, where do you find yourself?


~Dharma Discourse by John Daido Loori, Roshi~


The dawn of the twenty-first century is a critical time in human history. Both our species and planet are in jeopardy. On the one hand, we have the knowledge and capacity for power undreamed of only decades ago. On the other hand, millions of people starve, our ecosystem is threatened, natural resources are being plundered, family and marriage relationships deteriorate, governments and corporations wallow in corruption, and personal and national conflicts prevail as the most common way we define ourselves. One unique characteristic of all this pain, confusion, and sense of impending doom, is that for the first time in the history of the world all the major threats to humankind are created by humans. The most dreadful dangers are not the natural disasters of advancing glaciers, plagues, earthquakes, floods, famines, or catastrophic meteor strikes. All the serious threats stem from human behavior, that emerges out of our deeply ingrained individual and collective conditioning and resulting delusions. We have the means—technology, materials, skills, and money—to solve the problems that we face. We have the inherent wisdom and compassion. Working with these difficulties is what engaged Buddhism should be all about. But somehow our delusions dominate and color even our practice.

We tend to approach the ancient tradition of the Buddha-dharma with a sophisticated attitude and a supposition that somehow it can’t address the complexities of modern times. We feel it needs adjustment. Yet, there is no question that the Buddha-dharma always manifests in accord with the encountered circumstances, in accord with the moment. But the adaptations needed to allow it to manifest appropriately in each time and location have to come from the same place from which the Dharma originally arose—the enlightened mind.

The most significant problem with arbitrarily “adjusting” Buddhism to become more contemporary or American is that people involved in introducing the changes frequently misunderstand or dismiss the fundamental teachings. With the focus of Buddhism in the West on socially responsible practice, we somehow have forgotten about realized Dharma. There is much talk these days about engaged Buddhism, but we need to see that “engaged Buddhism” cannot manifest unless it is first realized. If Buddhism is not realized, it is not engaged Buddhism. There can be all sorts of engaged activity, but engagement in itself doesn’t make engaged Buddhism.

What does Buddhism have to offer that is unique? Infinitely much. If the Buddha-dharma has not been realized, our reaching out and helping, our involvement, our engaged activities are no different than the work of the Red Cross or Catholic Charities. There are thousands of wonderful people doing good work, good deeds that are desperately needed and commendable. But when we talk about engaged Buddhism, we are not talking about good work. We are talking about compassion.

Compassion is totally different from goodness. It contains goodness but it is not motivated by the same forces that motivate goodness. Compassion is the direct manifestation of wisdom, the clear understanding that there is absolutely no distinction between self and other, no separation. Compassion arises out of intimacy, not out of pity.

Sometimes it seems like the greatest benefactors of so-called “engaged Buddhism” are the people who are engaged, rather than the recipients of the good-will and deeds. Compassion doesn’t work that way. That was not what the Buddha meant by compassion. That is not what Avalokiteshvara or Samantabhadra Bodhisattva are about. That is not what the subtle, profound, and boundless heart of compassion is about. Compassion is not superficial. It is not about gain and loss, sublime feelings, or satisfaction. It runs deep and moves in unique ways. There is nothing like it in Western religious traditions. And it really has not yet fully arrived in this country.

The fact that Buddhism must be realized before it can become engaged does not mean that we “put off” taking care of all sentient beings. We don’t wait to save all sentient beings until we are enlightened. We do it now. But it needs to happen in the context of practice. If there is no practice, then we are just “doing good.” It is not yet engaged Buddhism. Until we crack through the ego shell and get to the ground of being, we have not yet walked in the footsteps of the ancestors who transmitted this incredible Dharma from generation to generation.

The third line of this koan says, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?” Cold or heat, life or death, fear or anger, pain or confusion, are extremes that bog us down, extremes we try to avoid. Based on and nurtured by a 2,500 year-old tradition, we establish a Monastery on this mountain. Despite the tensions and difficulties of the community and society that surround it, the Monastery attempts to preserve the Three Treasures—the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha—and tries to transmit the finest human values and deepest human wisdom. How can we use this wisdom? How can we take advantage of the opportunity to act compassionately in our world?

Dongshan answered, “When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When hot, let it be so hot that it kills you.” Often, when we take refuge in these profound teachings, we smash up against them head-on. Even though we have not yet understood the training, we are eager to impose our personal opinions on how it should be. Isn’t that incredible? With assured self-conceit, we employ the same ignorance and delusions that cause the suffering and the imminent destruction of our universe, to redesign this amazing practice that has survived for two millennia on every continent of this great planet.

The impulse to let go of our opinions and positions, the thought of examining and changing ourselves, never occurs to us. We want the universe to shift and accommodate us. If it won’t do that, we adjust the universe. We deal with heat by making air-conditioning. When it gets too cold, we turn up the furnace. Turning us upside down, Dongshan says that when it is cold, let it be so cold it kills you. When it is hot, let it be so hot that it kills you. When he talks about “killing,” he uses that word to mean “consume.” Let it be so hot that the heat consumes you. I remember a common saying from my days in the Navy. When somebody served you a drink, you would “kill it”—drink it straight down. Dongshan’s “killing” expresses a similar meaning, complete combustion. The cold and the heat stand for any condition we try to avoid, to run away from, to alter or control.

The footnotes I added are offered to help you better appreciate the exchange in the koan. The first line says, A monk asked Master Dongshan, “Cold and heat descend upon us. How can we avoid them?” The footnote says, Consider for a moment not trying to avoid it. What is that? What happens when you do not try to avoid it? What happens when fear comes and you remain still and centered? Avoiding it is delusion. Avoiding means you are trying to run away. How could you possibly do that? The fear has nothing to do with anything outside you. The fear is you. Wherever you go, the fear is there. There is no way to escape it. Not trying to avoid it, we tap into reality. Remaining still is the first step to doing something about it.

The second line says, Dongshan answered, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?” The footnote says, Dongshan freely entered the weeds with the monk. We should understand that “no cold or heat” is not a place. “No cold or heat” has to do with what you do with your mind.

The third line says, The monk continued, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?” The footnote adds, Seeing the hook, the monk freely impales himself on it. The fourth line says, Dongshan said, “When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When hot, let it be so hot that it kills you.” The footnote concludes, Beyond describing, utterly beyond describing.

Dongshan addresses how we can deal with barriers in our lives and practice. The most insidious and important barrier that always comes up is the notion of a self. It creates distinctions—the server and the served, the giver and the receiver, me and you, us and them. In the teachings of Dongshan the distinctions are all consumed. There are no gaps, no way to speak of this and that. That is why the commentary says, Dongshan’s “go to the place where there is no cold or heat” is like flowers blooming on a withered tree in the midst of a frozen tundra. Inconceivable! flowers blooming on a withered tree in a frozen tundra. What does that mean? What is such a reality? His “let the cold kill you, let the heat kill you” is the roaring furnace that consumes every phrase, idea, and thing in the universe. Even the Buddhas and sages cannot survive it. Nothing remains. What state of mind is this?

Dongshan and his successor Coashan are the creators of the Five Ranks which elucidate the relationship of all dualities. The Five Ranks explicitly speak of absolute and relative, but they are pertinent to any duality—good and bad, up and down, enlightenment and delusion, isolation and engagement.

Dongshan’s First Rank is “the absolute containing the relative.” This is the absolute basis of reality—vast darkness with nothing in front of you. It cannot be known and cannot be spoken of. Body and mind have fallen away. Even though it is absolute, it contains the relative. Absolute and relative are always inseparable.

The Second Rank is “the relative containing the absolute.” This is the recognition that the world of phenomenon arises within the world of the absolute. When we first come into training we stress realizing that absolute basis of reality, arriving at “no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind,” and experiencing the falling away of body and mind. But obviously that is not the whole point of practice. If it were, we would be producing a generation of zombies. Zen would have produced a generation of zombies thousands of years ago, and the Dharma would not have arrived in this country, because people with “no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; no color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomenon” don’t function and cannot communicate. They cannot walk, talk, or eat. There is more to Zen than that. Realization of the absolute basis of reality must inform all phenomenon, must be applicable to all of our life. We need to see the relationship between emptiness and form, absolute and relative, nirvana and samsara—the world of delusion, the world of cold and heat.

When Dongshan says, “Why don’t you go to the place where there is no cold or heat?” this instruction comes from the perspective of the Second Rank: the relative containing the absolute. That is the flower blooming on a withered tree in the midst of a frozen tundra. Frozen tundra is nothingness, obliteration with no distinctions. In the midst of this vast darkness stands a withered tree with not a sign of life or vitality, except for hundreds of flowers all over it. The absolute manifesting in the world of relative phenomenon, darkness within light.

Dongshan’s “When it is cold, let it be so cold that it kills you. When hot, let it be so hot that it kills you” is the First Rank. Absolute darkness, vast emptiness. There is a poem Dongshan wrote about the First Rank:

Early in the night,
Before the moon shines—
No wonder they meet
Without knowing each other.

There is no illumination. You cannot see, cannot distinguish any contours or differences. You do not recognize anything. The moon has not yet arisen, the image of the moon standing as a symbol for realization. The commentary adds, This is the roaring furnace that consumes every phrase, idea, and thing in the universe. Even the Buddhas and sages cannot survive it. Nothing remains. Of course to get here, you have to let the cold kill you; let the heat kill you. Be consumed by the cold; be consumed by the heat.

Master Dogen devoted a whole fascicle in the Japanese Shobogenzo to this experience of realization. The title of the chapter is “Spring and Fall,” and this koan is at its heart. Dogen comments:

We must clarify the monk’s question: “How can we avoid hot and cold?” We should examine closely the meaning of hot and cold. Hot is completely hot, cold is full of coldness, hot and cold are only themselves. Since they are only themselves, they arrive from the head and are actualized from the eye, that is from the root and from the essence of hot and cold. Above the head and within the eye is the place where there is no hot or cold. Dongshan said, “When it is cold, be completely cold, when it is hot, be completely hot.” This is to confront the essence of hot and cold. That is, when hot and cold arrive we must kill them, yet there is a place where they cannot be killed. Cold is completely cold, hot is completely hot.

The koan commentary says, We should understand clearly, however, that this “let the cold kill you” is not about cooling off. What the monk was trying to avoid cannot be avoided. When this koan was written down the buildings did not have air conditioning or central heating. When it was cold it was cold, and when it was hot it was hot. The notion of sustained avoidance is a relatively modern development. Technologically we are quite capable of avoidance, but we have not yet come up with technology for taking care of greed, anger, and ignorance. We have not come up with the technology for eradicating pain and suffering. In fact, our technology seems to be heading in the opposite direction, creating more pain and suffering, feeding into and perpetuating our tendencies to grasp or avoid.

There are some interesting reports about the new drug Viagra. Two years ago, prior to the appearance of this miracle drug, the number of impotent men was thought to be insignificant. Suddenly, with the arrival of Viagra, through calculations of how many men were using the drug, the estimates of male impotence sky-rocketed fiftyfold. People run around trying to solve their problems with a pill. We keep looking for that wonderful new happiness substance to get rid of our pain and fear, to help us not think about what we do not want to think about. Make us numb, preoccupied, distracted. Yet, after the effects of the pill wear off, we are back where we started, in pain and afraid. After you walk out of the air-conditioned car, you are in the heat. If the power fails, you have no heat. What do you do?

Dongshan says, Let the heat kill you. How do you do that? The same way you practice any barrier. The same way you engage the koan Mu. Let Mu kill you, or you kill Mu. Either way is OK; either way—the same result. It means to close the gap. There is no gap unless we create it. The hotter it gets, the bigger the gap grows. The more our legs hurt, the more we separate ourselves from the pain. The stronger the anger becomes, the greater the separation. When we encounter our barrier, the first impulse is to do a 180-degree turn and scurry in the opposite direction. When we do that, we stick to the barrier, because whatever the barrier, it just drags along behind us. When we turn around it is still there, in our face. It is not separate because it is us. How do we deal with it?

Many people think that the koan Mu is some kind of esoteric teaching. A monk asked Chao-chou, “Does a dog have Buddha-nature?” Chao-chou said “Mu!” or “No!”, when it is a basic fact that everything on the face of the earth has Buddha-nature. Why did he say “No”? Mu is really a teaching about intimacy. It shows us how not to be separate. It is about learning how to forget the self and realize the ten thousand things, the whole phenomenal universe. You cannot see Mu until you are Mu. You have to close the gap, and you cannot close the gap if you are holding on to something. Whatever we hold on to creates the idea that a self exists and is distinct from the barrier. Whatever the amount of self we hold on to, that is the degree to which we separate ourselves from the world. When students confront difficulties, I often direct them to be the barrier. They say, “I can’t be the barrier. I can’t do it.” If a person concludes that they can’t do something, then definitely they cannot. When I say to someone, “Be Mu,” and they say, “I’ll try,” I know they are not going to get very far. Forget trying. Just vow, “I’ll do it!” Then it is just a matter of time.

Mu is not a casual question. It is vital, and it is about now. It is about this life, the twenty-first century, and the generations of people who follow us. All the various barriers we confront keep us from realization. We do the barriers dance, trying to hop around them, avoid them, ignore them, wish them away. That just doesn’t work. We have to deal with them. Be the barrier. When you are the barrier, it fills the universe and there is nothing outside of it. When your whole body and mind is the breath, there is nothing other than breath. Your breath fills the universe. There is no way to step outside of it. There is no way to examine it, analyze it, judge it, measure it, or talk about it. That is intimacy. That is what Master Dogen means when he says, “Seeing form with the whole body and mind, hearing sounds with the whole body and mind, one understands them intimately.”

The commentary points out, We should understand clearly, however, that this “let the cold kill you,” is not about cooling off. Cold is just cold, through and through. The way we to need understand this is to be totally immersed in the cold. Also, “let the heat kill you” is not about facing the fire. It is not about facing the problem, the barrier, or Mu. It is about consuming it, swallowing it up so it becomes every cell in your body, every breath you breathe, every thought you think, every action you take. Still, it is heat through and through. That is all it is. There is nothing to compare it to. Do not juxtapose it against cold. Do not measure it in degrees of temperature. That is why the commentary says, There is no relationship whatsoever between Dongshan’s heat and cold. There is no relationship between these two, any more than there is a relationship between life and death. Life is a thing in and of itself. Death is a thing in and of itself. Life does not become death, nor does death succeed life. It is the same with cause and effect. Cause does not precede effect nor does effect follow cause. They are one.

There is no relationship whatsoever between Dongshan’s heat and cold. Heat does not become cold. Cold does not become heat. The question really is, where do you find yourself?That is the question that weaves itself through this entire koan. How do you understand the self? That is the question you confront when you practice Mu or deal with any koan. That is the question you need to penetrate when you manifest the great heart of compassion. Where do you find yourself? How much of what you are doing, are you doing because of the imperative of wisdom and compassion? You must do it because there is no alternative. Someone falls, you pick them up, and you don’t even know you are picking them up. Or do you act because it is the right thing to do, or you want to be a good person, or you want people to love you? Sooner or later, doing good that serves the ego is doomed to fail, because it is delusive. Giving that is self-serving fails. Receiving that is self-serving fails .

But there is giving, receiving, loving, helping, and nourishing that is not ego-based. It happens spontaneously, the way the flowers bloom or the rain falls. When the fruit is ready to fall from the tree, it falls. We can try to identify all the reasons it fell, but really it fell because it was ready to fall. It is the ripeness we need to appreciate. Until realized Buddhism is alive and well in the West, truly engaged Buddhism will not come to life. It will continue to be doing good. That’s OK, but let’s not mistake it for Buddhism. We need people doing good, but let’s not confuse it with compassion. Let’s not confuse it with the manifestation of the great heart of Avolakitishvara Bodhisattva.

The Capping Verse:

Is it the bowl that rolls around the pearl,
Or is it the pearl that rolls around the bowl?
Is it the weather that is cold,
Or is it the person that is cold?
Think neither cold nor heat.
At that moment,
Where is the self to be found?

The pearl is the absolute, the bowl is the relative. This is an image for the absolute within the relative, the relative within the absolute. Is it the weather that is cold, or is it the person that is cold? Think neither cold nor heat. At that moment, where is the self to be found? Think neither self nor other; at that very moment, where is Mu? Where is your true self?

Buddhism is growing very rapidly in this country. It is also being co-opted by the media, the press, and the advertising companies. Movie directors in Hollywood are creating images of Buddhism and informing the general public about the religion. In one of the episodes of Karate Kid, there are scenes that take place in a Zen monastery. I felt awful when I saw the movie because part of our karma is tied up with it. The producers, while building the sets for the movie, asked us for photos of the inside of our training center. They duplicated our zendo, then created a weird interpretation of Zen within their movie. Now, thousands of kids probably figure that is what Zen is. The public looks at these movies about Buddhism or reads “definitive” Time magazine articles and draws conclusions about Buddhism. There are hundreds of centers throughout the country and hundreds of teachers, but very little real Buddhism, in spite of all the publicity. Serious practitioners, people who are willing to put their lives on the line, to train in a vigorous and challenging way, and to plunge into the depths of their own psyches to realize their true nature, need to see what is going on. Buddhism is really in their hands. It is in your hands.

Serious practitioners are ultimately going to make the mark of Buddhism in this country. They are ultimately going to take care of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the environment. Zen is beyond doing good. It is about complete morality. It is about functioning ethics. The moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha are anchored deeply in wisdom and compassion. You cannot arrive at wisdom and compassion in any way other than by practicing. You cannot embody wisdom and compassion in any other way than by seeing your edges and practicing them ceaselessly. That is what counts. That is what is going to make our journey into the twenty-first century a vital and important one. Wisdom and compassion need to be realized. It is up to you. Please take care of it.

The Footnotes

1. Consider for a moment not trying to avoid it. What is that?

2. Dongshan freely entered the weeds with the monk.

3. Seeing the hook, the monk freely impales himself on it.

4. Beyond describing, utterly beyond describing.



Please Take a Look at the Entire “Human Rights and Film” Mini-Course at My Patheos Blog

Tom Hardy stars as international terrorist Bane in Christopher Nolan’s epic “The Dark Knight Rises.” Image via Warner Bros. Pictures.

As I previously mentioned, I’ve been hosting another social media mini-course on“Human Rights and Film” at my Facebook fan page. The course is over, but I’ve put all the material from it into a post for my Patheos blog Off the Cushion. Please take a look and let us know what you think!

Regular readers might remember that I’ve fiddled with social media mini-courses before: inspired by our friend and past interviewee Stephen Prothero, I did courses on “Religion and Film” and “Buddhism and Film” at Twitter. (Just click on the titles to view those courses in their entirety.)

The Virtue of Perseverance

Perseverance means to be assiduous in advancing ourselves to the positive direction that brings us the benefits, brightness, and joy. A Buddhist practitioner who practices the virtue of perseverance is the person who keeps moving on the long path of compassion and in the light of enlightenment shined by the sun. The virtue of perseverance is like a power of determination that could clear all obstacles and help us to reach to the goal of gaining self-benefits as well as bringing benefits to others. Lacking of this virtue would make us like water-ferns floating in the sea or the falling leaves follow the wind’s flow! 

The virtue of perseverance is needed in humans 

You are a student. One night, you have to work on a difficult homework. After reading the book five times, you still can’t remember it. Being discouraged, you stretch, then yawn! So, the “lazy spirit” already possessed you. At this moment, if you don’t use the rod of “perseverance” to expel it, you would close the book, then go to sleep. In the next morning, you would be scolded by your teacher and teased by your peers. Once you’re relented to the “lazy spirit,” there will be more times. This means that your life is ruined!

You’re a Buddhist. Today is Sunday. At 7 o’ clock, you’re supposed to attend the temple. But thinking of the time that you have to bow to the Buddha, stand seriously, and learn dharmas, you feel bored. Suddenly, Hy from next door appears to ask you to see a movie. He said that there’s a special new and funny movie that shows at 8 a.m. this morning. If you don’t know how to apply the virtue of perseverance at this moment, you would go with your friend to the movie. This means that you have been possessed and controlled by the spirit of “wildness.” This Sunday you goof off. Next Sunday, you would find an excuse to stay home. Thus, you gradually depart yourself from the light of morality and get closer to the shadow of depravation!

With the same behavior, an unexertive farmer could abandon his farming tasks, an unexertive worker could be fired by his/her boss, an unexertive industrialist could head to an unsuccessful career, and so forth…

The spirit of “Laziness” and the spirit of “Wildness” are the enemies of perseverance 

When the spirit of “laziness” possesses someone, that person will turn from good to bad, excellent to poor, gentle to harsh, bright to dull, etc…On the other hand, when perseverance possesses someone, it makes the person from immoral to moral, bad to good, etc… Thus, laziness and perseverance oppose each other like dark and light, or white and black. If perseverance exists, laziness vanishes. It’s the same in reverse. Thus, when the spirit of “laziness” possesses us, we should immediately use the rod of “perseverance” to discipline it. Once it sees the rod, it would run fast.

The spirit of “wildness” is even more dangerous. It drags people into the hole of indulgence, makes them run amuck in the forest of Five sensual pleasures, and finally, drowns them forever in the sea of suffering. On the other hand, perseverance is the hook that could pull people out of the hole of indulgence. It is like a compass that could lead people to the bright direction and out of the forest of Five sensual pleasures. It’s also a boat that could rescue people from the sea of suffering and bring them to the shore of liberation. Thus, because they oppose each other, wildness and perseverance would never meet. Anyone who welcomes the “saint of perseverance” would chase the “ghost of wildness” away. In reverse, it works the same way.

Why should we have perseverance? 

As humans, we want to land our boat at the human port and reach farther to the port of sagehood. However, it’s been swept by the strong waves of laziness and blown away by the wind of wildness. It floats quite close to the sea of immorality. If we are not exertive to row the boat to the right destiny, it will float forever. Until one day, the nails are loose and the woods are worn out, it drowns in the deep sea. Alas! What could be more painful than a life with no intention! We need to exert and exert forever! Every time we view Cuu Long river and see the boatmen rowing against the current, we have to remember the virtue of perseverance and vow to advance without resting.

Perseverance is a strength 

The road of morality isn’t always full with flowers and butterflies, but contains many abysses and traps. If people don’t have determination to strive forward, they could fall easily. For years that you have lived in the family, you have seen all types of obstacles in religious practices. However, if you are a true Buddhist, you should always practice the virtue of perseverance. Those obstacles should become less important to you. After ten years of searching for the Way, the Buddha still felt unsatisfied. So one day, under the Bodhi tree, he pointed at it and said, “By all means I vow to sit under this tree to search for enlightenment, even if this body is disintegrated.” Because of that virtue of perseverance (or determination), he was enlightened after 48 days. Each time the spirit of “laziness” or “wildness” entices you, you should follow the Buddha’s footstep by being determined to say “In practicing religion and morality, I would never back off even if I have to give up this body!” Such determination would make those spirits of “laziness” and “wildness” be real fear to run away. By practicing this virtue of perseverance each day, you will see nothing is difficult in life. You “get what you want and accomplish what you are determined to achieve.” You will have extraordinary power in your life. You won’t be weak, creepy, or doubtful like you used to be.

The effect of perseverance 

Normally, when there’s a departure, there is an arrival. Since perseverance means to accelerate toward the positive direction that leads to benefits and joy, its outcome should also be filled with goodness and joy. You are successful by being a diligent student. A workman could become a specialist if he’s diligent. The Buddhists with perseverance would have all virtues, blessing, and wisdom. In other words, all successes in the process of self-practicing and performing good deeds are determined by perseverance. Many sages and enlightened individuals are formed by the furnace of perseverance.

In summary, all Buddhists should by now realize that perseverance is the key of practicing compassion and becoming good men. Perseverance is a strength that would determine people’s life to progress on the path of glory with full scent of purification.

The Circle of Wonder

Dharma Discourse by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei

photo of Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, SenseiOur true nature is boundless and empty, but we don’t perceive ourselves this way. In this talk, Shugen Sensei looks at how attachment keeps us bound to our egos and how practice can help us let go, heal, and see through our habits, revealing the circle of wonder.

This talk draws on teachings of Hongzhi from Cultivating the Empty Field. It was given at ZCNYC on August 6, 2011.

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Buddhist Metta

By the Late Venerable Ashin Thittila

Metta is the world’s supreme need today, greater, indeed, than ever before. As you know, in the world now there is sufficient material and money and, as you see, we have very advanced intellects, very clever and brilliant authors, philosophers, psychologists, scientists and also religious people, ministers of law, morality, religion and so on. In spite of all these brilliant people, there is no real peace and happiness in the world. it shows that there is something lacking.

That is Metta. a Pali word which has been translated into English as ‘Love’. When you use the word ‘love’ you have different ideas in the interpretation of this word and you may mean many other things, because it is a word that has been loosely used and in some cases misused or abused. Therefore when you talk about love, people may have a different concept. So we use the Pali word ‘Metta’ to mean Loving-kindness – not the ordinary, sensual, emotional, sentimental kind of love. As you know, the word ‘Love’ has been defined in many ways in the English language, according to the ideas in the minds of different people professing different religions.

For instance, a recently published booklet entitled ‘Love’ has been given to me for my perusal and I would like to comment on it. I am not going to discuss any particular point in this book. I just want to show you how different from Metta a definition of ‘Love’ can be. The author of this book is a highly respected teacher of a certain theist faith. According to his definition of Metta, and he uses our Pali word. ‘Love is God. Love emanates itself in any of the creations of God. Man is foremost’.

I would like to read a little about ‘Love’ towards animals from this book.

‘Man requires vigour, strength or procreation to serve God …to protect him and others and to control the world successfully. In order to be strong and powerful man must eat nutritious food and for this reason God has instructed Man to kill and to eat …bullocks, camels. He is not permitted to kill wild animals . . otherwise he would himself become wild in course of time. By reason of the flesh of domestic animals being eaten by man, the goodness of these animals mingles with men’s souls and thus (sic) indirectly obtain Heaven. This amounts to a good turn done to them by men – an act of compassion shown by men to them. This is not cruelty in life’.

With due respect to the author I have read this passage out to you just for comparison. He equates Metta with ‘Love’, with his, to us, rather peculiar logic and way of looking at things.

What is the Buddhist idea of Metta? Metta has been translated by modern translators into English as ‘generous mindedness, loving-kindness, sending out thoughts of love towards others’, but in the words of the Buddha, Metta has a far wider significance – a much more extensive implication than this. It means a great deal more than loving-kindness, harmlessness (Ahimsa), sympathy. I would like to mention a point here. According to the Christian Bible ‘Goodwill’ is supposed to be very good. You remember the message of goodwill given by the angels when the child Christ was born. The angels, they say, gave a message of goodwill to the world, ‘Peace on earth to men of goodwill, etc.’. When you examine this message you realize that the angels gave peace on earth only to men of goodwill and not to all the people. That is the message. In Buddhism, Metta has been emphasized. It is much deeper than goodwill. Also harmlessness is a very, very good, grand principle but it is a negative aspect. This loving-kindness, according to the Buddha’s Teaching, has two aspects. One is negative, that is adosa (amity) as explained in the Abhidhamma: it is an explanation of Metta but it is negative, meaning ‘absence of hatred and hostility’. Though absence of hatred is a grand thing, it is not good enough unless its active aspect is emphasized – that is loving-kindness. Not to do evil is very good but it is only a negative aspect – to do good is the positive aspect. So also Metta has its positive aspect.

What is love? Love is also defined in the Oxford Dictionary. According to it, love means ‘warm affection, attachment, affectionate devotion etc.’. These are the synonymous terms for love. They all refer to sentimental, worldly love. Therefore, Metta has no full English equivalent because this Metta is much more than ordinary affection – warm affection. The Pali word Metta means literally – ‘friendliness’, also love without a desire to possess but with a desire to help, to sacrifice self-interest for the welfare and well-being of humanity. This love is without any selection or exclusion. If you select a few good friends and exclude unpleasant persons, then you have not got a good grasp of this Metta. Love is not merely brotherly feeling but a principle for us to practise. It is not merely benevolent thought but performing charitable deeds, active ministry for the good of one and all. A subject – not to be talked about but to be – to put it in your being – to suffuse it within ourselves. It is, then, a dynamic suffusing of every living being, excluding none whatsoever, with dynamic. creative thoughts of loving-kindness. If the thoughts are intense enough, right actions follow automatically.

People talk about ideas to counteract other ideologies. We Buddhists do not need any new ideologies, we have enough in the teachings of the Buddha. Out of the four Brahma Vihara – this Metta – which is one of them, is good enough to create anything noble, anything grand to make peace and happiness at home, in society and in the world.

Metta – pure loving-kindness – embraces all beings everywhere, either on earth or in the skies or Heaven. It also embraces all beings high or low, without measure because the poor people, lowly people, evil people, ignorant people are most in need of it. Because in them it has died out for lack of warmth or friendliness – this Metta becomes with them like a weak stream running in a desert. This Metta includes loving. unloving good and bad people.

You may ask. ‘Should we love foolish people – fools?’ It is a common question asked in foreign countries, Should we love snakes?’ European ladies also asked ‘Should we love mice?’ European ladies do not like mice. But we should not hate a person just as a doctor does not hate a patient but his duty is to quell to get rid of the disease the patient is suffering from, to take out anything that is wrong in that person, or we may say the disease that is afflicting the person. Therefore, it should include all beings without measure.

This Metta is entirely different from sensual lust which has passed as ‘love’ in the world today, which has also been admired and talked about as emotional love. This Metta is much higher – in fact it is the highest form of love. It is much higher than sentimental, sensual love.

In its outward appearance sentimental love seems to be very sweet but it is like fire – indeed far worse than fire. Once it is born it grows rapidly, flowers at one moment and then it scorches and burns the possessor in another moment leaving ugly wounds and scars. That is why in Burmese we say ‘Achitkyi, amyetkyi’. The more sentimental love you have, the more hate you have and the more suffering you have; because it is like fire which burns very easily. But Metta has a cooling effect like the soft touch of a gentle hand – soft but firm – without changing its sympathy. So it only creates a calm, pleasant atmosphere.

Sorrow for loved ones is not a sign of this love – Metta. Love is strength, because it is pure and gives strength. It is not weakness.

I would like to recite, not Pali but a translation of a passage from the Metta Sutta – a very valuable Sutta. You hear Sayadaws( Sayadaw: Burmese for Mahatheras. A Thera is a fully ordained Bhikkhu of 10 years’ standing. A Mahathera is a fully ordained Bhikkhu of 20 years’ standing ) recite this Sutta in Pali on almost every occasion.

This passage gives an example of what love is. This is not a perfect example, but for want of a better example the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother. He says in the Metta Sutta: ‘Just as a mother, even at the risk of her life loves and protects her child – the only child – so let a man cultivate this Universal Love – towards the whole universe; below, above, around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of opposing interest. Let him remain steadfastly in this state of mind, all the while from the time he awakes, whether he be standing, walking. sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world’.

This is the model held up by the Buddha to the world. This is the ideal of what man should be to man. This is the appeal to every heart. It is a service for all in the form of a mother’s love. Does a mother merely radiate her love in the bringing up of her child? Can any one express this deathless love of a mother for her child that she has within her heart? If you consider a mother’s love for her child you will find that it is boundless. Therefore it is called ‘Appamana’ in Pali. It has no limit.

The love of a mother who has only one child is the example chosen by the Buddha. Imagine a mother’s love; when a child is hungry she is watching carefully to feed it before it asks her for it. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. Thus in every way she helps her child. Therefore the Buddha asks us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do it even up to a certain extent, I think the world will be a different place – happier and more peaceful.

Though we talk much about love and repeat the formula ‘Sabbe satta avera hontu. avyapajjha hontu etc.’ (May all sentient beings be free from danger; may they be free from oppression. etc.) without this love how can it be effective? This passage is not merely to be recited. The Buddha does not ask us to learn any of his teachings for recitation only. They are in the nature of prescriptions. The doctor may diagnose, find the cause of your disease and will give you a prescription according to his findings. Will the disease be cured by merely reciting the formula backwards and forwards? You may have a recipe how to cook food, how to cook curry. You may recite it backwards and forwards but you will not have the result. So recitation is nothing practical. Theory is good but is not good enough, because it is not the end of a thing, it is only the beginning of it. So recitation of the Metta Sutta is good but the Buddha did not mean it to be merely recited. He exhorted us to follow his instructions in it so that we might realize Metta, the best state of heart in the world. Therefore my advice is, do not be satisfied with the mere recitation of the Sutta but strive to know its meaning with a view to practising it and ‘to become it’ – to make it suffuse your being. That is the point. Meditation does not mean merely to think about it, but to practise it in our daily life.

I would like you to do a very short meditation on Love. So as to make you familiar with meditation, I would like to show you a practical method which you can practise wherever you go.

Now, coming to the message of Love. We are asked to be loving towards all beings as a mother loves her only child. Therefore, Metta must go hand in hand with helpfulness, with willingness and a spirit of sacrifice for the welfare of other beings.

In the Digha Nikaya, it is said by the Buddha that almost every virtue such as unselfishness, loving sympathy and loving-kindness is included in this Metta. If you have real Metta you can be almost everything; you can radiate a noble, grand peace. It is this Metta that attempts to break away all barriers which separate beings one from the other.

Some people may doubt as to whether Love can be a basis of policy for settlement. Many people look upon this Love – Metta – as a feminine virtue. They say it is a soft feminine virtue. But true Love is a masculine dynamic power which breaks all the barriers and builds. Who has built the most lasting empires? Is it Alexander, Caesar or the Buddha? We often talk about the Roman Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire. Where are those empires now? Those empires lasted temporarily because they were based on hatred, pride and conceit. They were not based on love. Any policy used, which is not based on love, cannot last very long.

In this connection. I would like to use a simile. Life is like a big wheel in perpetual motion. This great wheel has numberless small wheels in it each of which has its own pattern. The great wheel and the smaller wheels – the great Universe and the individuals are so linked together that we depend one on another for service, for happiness, for development. Therefore, our duty is to bring out the goodness in each one of us – which is in harmony with the pattern of the world. For all the wheels to revolve in harmony. the highest good in each one of us should be produced. For instance, in a car, to make it in running order – to use it – every part should be in order. If we are going to create a happy family. happy house, everybody in the house, at least the majority, must be in good order. If we are to create a good harmony in ourselves, the majority must be in good order so that it will be in harmony with happiness and peace. It can be done here and now by the performance of daily, hourly duties with love, courtesy and honesty.

The ideal placed by the Buddha before us is mutual service – men being in need of each other – to help each other, bear each other’s burdens. We have three types of work as mentioned in the Nikaya – three modes of conduct for the Buddhist, In Pali we call it ‘Buddhattha Cariya, Natattha Cariya, Lokattha Cariya’ (striving for Buddhahood, working for the benefit of one’s relatives and friends, and working for the benefit of the whole world). Similarly, each one of us has three modes of conduct – ‘Atta-Cariya’ is striving for self-development so that one may attain happiness, self-culture and self-realization. The second mode of conduct – ‘Natattha Cariya’ is working for the benefit of one’s relatives and friends. The third mode for us to follow is ‘Lokattha Cariya’ to work for the benefit of the whole world without making any distinction as regards caste, colour or creed. The Buddha has asked us to practise these three types of conduct. Buddhism being a method of development – self-development, is an education of the heart. Therefore our task is to practise these principles laid down by the Buddha, to refine our own nature, to elevate ourselves on the scale of beings.

Modem education, as you know, is mainly education in the means to make money, how to arrange things and control them. Buddhism is an education of the heart. Therefore, if religion is taken only as an intellectual faith in the mind, it has no force. If religion is not followed by practice, we cannot produce any’ result. In the Dhammapada the Buddha said: ‘A beautiful word or thought which is not accompanied by corresponding acts is like a bright flower which bears no fruit. It would not produce any effect’.( Dhammapada – Pupphavaggo. verse 51) Therefore, it is action, and not speculation; it is practice, not theory that matters. According to the Dhammapada, ‘Will’ if it is not followed by corresponding action, does not count. Therefore, practice of the noble principles is the essence of Buddhism.

In this connection I also want to say that this Metta – Universal Love – is generally taken to exist in connection with other people, but in reality love for self comes first. It is not a selfish love, but love for self- pure love – comes first. When we meditate on love, we meditate on love of self first. (Aham avero homi . . . etc.) (May I be free from harm). By having pure love, Metta, as we defined it, for self; selfish tendencies, hatred, anger will be diminished. Therefore, unless we ourselves possess Metta within, we cannot share, we cannot radiate, we cannot send this Metta to others. Supposing you have no money how can you send even a few small coins? So meditation on love is to be started within ourselves. You may say that we love ourselves, If you can say that you love yourselves, can you harm yourselves by having angry thoughts within yourselves? If you love a person will you do harm to him? No. To love the self means to be free from selfishness, hatred anger, etc. Therefore, to clear ourselves from these undesirable feelings we must love ourselves. According to Buddhism self-love comes first. Buddhism always is a method of dealing with ourselves. Therefore, it is self-help. By helping ourselves we can help others effectively. We talk about externals, meaning by this the duty to help others; but as pointed out by the Buddha, if a person cannot help himself well, he cannot help others well. (‘One should first establish oneself an what is proper; then only he should advise another; such a wise man will not be reproached‘. – Dhammapada. Verse158.) Also in the Dhammapada, (Dhammapada 42) it is said no enemy can harm one so much as one’s own thoughts of craving – thoughts of hatred, thoughts of jealousy and so on. If one cannot find happiness in himself, he cannot find happiness anywhere else. It is also said that people who cannot control themselves cannot find happiness. In social service, the so-called social workers are not happy in the performance of their duties unless they are calm themselves. If they are not calm in themselves, they cannot produce calm in others. We must, therefore be properly trained not only’ in outside organization but in our inner culture. In the case of many so-called social workers, the real thing they are doing is telling others what to do like dictators. And they say that, ‘We do our best but others are not willing to accept our help’. Everybody is in need of help if the help is properly given in the way they like to be assisted but not in the ways others want to help them. So a true social worker should be a person who has true love for himself first filled with a love which is nothing but pure, unselfish love. Then he can confer a double blessing; that is, he, having pure, true love, enjoys himself while helping others, at the same time making others happy.

You remember the Jataka stories where the Bodhisatta, the Buddha-to-be, is always trying to strengthen himself by helping others – so that other people will be happy, so that he will be stronger to give greater help.

Again, if a person cannot be right with himself, he cannot be right with others. He should be like an engineer who first perfects himself in his trade and then only produces perfect work because he has perfected his training first. A doctor without the required qualifications may try to help patients but he may do harm instead. Therefore, a leader of any kind, social, political, religious, if he has no mental culture. may be leading his followers in a wrong direction.

We are so used to seeing external raining that we forget inner training, the training of ourselves. We like to train other people and forget to train ourselves. We tend to take it for granted that we are always right and others are in the wrong. It seems to be a characteristic of people that they blame others; even when they are late, they blame others – because of wife, because of friends or somebody else, etc. I do not mean to say that we should blame only ourselves. There is a saying of Confucius – a very wise, useful saying: ‘An uncultured person blames others, a semi-cultured person blames himself, and a fully cultured person blames neither’. The problem is, ‘What is wrong and not who is wrong’. According to the Buddhist method, training oneself comes first. Individual perfection must be first, so that the organic whole may be perfect. The state of the outer world is a reflection of our inner selves.

To conclude I would like to ask you to meditate a few minutes on love, so that our thoughts, actions and words may be filled with love. From trained minds, come right thoughts, right actions and right words.

In true meditation, first you fill yourself with love mentally, ‘May I be well and happy’. After a while you extend it to all others, saying mentally, ‘May all beings of the Universe be well and happy’. Mean it and feel it. Also try to see that the world is filled with your love, with a great desire that they may be happy, a desire such as a mother has for her only child.

If you send out these thoughts of Metta before you go to sleep. I am positive that you will have extraordinarily peaceful sleep. If you can maintain these thoughts of Metta, you will have a serene, peaceful, successful life and you will be loved because you are loving. The world is like a great mirror and if you look at the mirror with a smiling face you will see your own smiling beautiful face. If you look at it with a long face, as the English say, you will invariably see your own ugly face. There is also an expression in the form of greeting. ‘Well friend, how does the world treat you?’ The usual answer is, ‘Well. I am all right’. Your answer should be. ‘Well, the world treats me as I treat the world’.

If you treat the world properly, kindly, the world will treat you kindly. We should not expect other persons to treat us kindly first, but we should start by ourselves treating them kindly.