2020-02-03: Introduction to Buddhism Part 3: The Path
10:49PM Jun 21, 2020
The one and preserve those of you who are new. And the beginning of the year, I started a 10 part series that's called the introduction to Buddhism. And I do that here when Monday nights when I'm here. And today, I'm here. And so this will be the third talk in the series. And I could say just as a more background introduction, for those of you who might be new to this, is that to call it introduction to Buddhism is actually a strange thing to say. Because there are many forms of Buddhism. And no one really should be in the position of representing all of Buddhism. But this is a little bit of people who are Dharma teachers have a little bit of religious license to make you know, to say something Like, shorthand, Introduction to Buddhism, and what we mean is its introduction to to the Buddhism of my tradition, our tradition locally. And so you're getting a particular take on Buddhism for me, as opposed to this is the pristine, perfect Buddhism that has been taught down through the ages. Because there is no such thing. There's only that which people have found useful, and they try to teach and try to pass on. And as we pass it on, it's to the spirit with the attitude that you'll try it on and find out what works for you. And the whole spirit of trial and error is a hugely important part of discovering what Buddhism is for oneself, to learn some teachings and learn some practices, and then try it on and experiment with it and find out what way It applies in your life or how it's useful in your life or how it supports you in your life. However, at the same time, the Buddhism is called a path. And in the, in our ancient Buddhist language it's maga. Some of you are familiar with, you know modern Indian languages. No, it is a Marga. And there was a religion or is it a religion called Ananda Marga is a great name because it means path of joy, the joy path, the So, Buddhism is a maga path. And so it's a path that goes to someplace. And that place is the guide for how we experiment the trial and error we do. If you if you want this as the goal of your practice, then Buddhist practice is used for that purpose. You can have but actually there can be many goals of Buddhist practice. And so sometimes it's good to be clear Why you're practicing Buddhism, why you're interested in it. So you can explore, experiment, do the trial and error and find out how the teachings and practices work for you, given the goal, the purpose that you have. So there's plenty of people who come to Buddhism these days, because they want stress reduction, and which is a great thing. And and that's a particular goal. And so then how is it these teachings work for that? Some people are coming to live a happier life, a better life, a life of greater integrity. So how does that work out? What are the teachings and practices support that some people are looking to calm their minds in some very deep way? so highly teaching support that bring some kind of peace and some people are looking for enlightenment? Because Buddhism is famous for enlightenment? And some people are looking for it and don't have a clue what it is. But does it but they know they don't they know they want it. You know, it's the ultimate made us the greatest that will make you, you know, certainly the most popular person on your block, you know, so it'll be great, lots of friends and, you know, all kinds of success in life, if you could just get enlightened, you know, so keep so it doesn't really matter what it is it just it's a great thing. But it also helps to know what it is. And there are again, there are different ideas of what enlightenment is in Buddhism. And so you go around and see you know, if you have some, what speaks to you, what inspires you or what fits you and sometimes people come to Buddhism and they're not, they're very inspired by the goal. And some that they hear, like the idea of Nirvana or enlightenment awakening, and they hear particular expression what that means and that inspires them. That's what I want. Sometimes, people encounter the practice and they just love the practice
the way it's perceived. And they don't really care that much. They don't think so much about where it goes. But they're just inspired by the practice, for example, some people find the mindfulness dedication is to be honest. And some people have a tremendous kind of inspiration in their lives to be honest and live an honest life. And mindfulness is a practice of honesty, of self honesty. Every moment that we're mindful is a moment of recognizing actually what's happening, and being honest about it to her to oneself. And so you know, where that goes, people may not be so clear, but they would say that's what they want to live a life of integrity with that kind of honesty and have that available. Some people are inspired by the notion of compassion. Buddhism offers a practice to try to in life that are supposed to meet compassion and be of service to the world and and awakening doesn't really have that much inspiration for them, but they do have a life. of compassionate care, with the kind of ethos of what Buddhism is the kind of values of Buddhism, that maybe are less supernatural than some of the religions they grew up with, and they don't care for so much anymore. So this So, in a sense, you can personalize it, and how far you can go we still call it Buddhism is an open question. But it's okay. Because there's no one who's going no one has the authority to tell you what it is. Though there's lots of people who will judge you if you say, you know, you know, this is what Buddhism is, you teach it this way. There's people who say no, that's not that you're, you're too much that too much this you're not doing the right thing. There's a right one. You know, you you teach too much about rebirth, you don't teach enough about rebirth. You teach about you know, your your teaching is way too secular. You know, you just secular humanistic values and Really, there's great spiritual values we have to include. And without that, you know, it can't be. Yes, you're teaching meditation but you're not teaching enough ethics. Yes, you're teaching ethics but you're not teaching enough meditation. And it goes on and on. And, and because one reason because I guess it's a religion. I don't know if you've noticed, but there's religions bicker a lot. At least some of the ones that are more public, and Buddhists or no, you know, are not free from that either. And if you go back to the ancient teachings of the Buddha, he has, he has some teachings that are I find quite radical. And I find it quite inspiring some of these teachings, and one of them is don't bicker about all the different views. It's not about having us it's not about having opinions and In the most ancient teaching, it's not about having opinions. It's not about holding on to ethics making ethic ethics ultimate. It's not about having religious practices and making the practices ultimate. It's not about some great cosmic experience of consciousness and wonderful opening and special state of consciousness. And all the things that people many times people associate Buddhism with. It's not what it's about really. They're part of it may be and they have their place some of these things like ethics. But it's a very simple goal, kind of what I talked about two weeks ago, it's not to cling, don't cling to anything. And then you might ask, Well, why shouldn't I cling, isn't that useful? And the reason not to cling is that clinging is suffering. clinging is painful and so Sometimes it's not as painful immediately. And sometimes people cling unconsciously unknowingly to things for decades. And then something happens, it's torn away from them that thing they cling to, and it's devastating. And then they start, they see that they're really holding on to this through depending on it. And it didn't serve them in the end. And so one of the ways of seeing the goal of Buddhism, and this is what inspires me a lot is the end of suffering, the end of clinging that brings suffering. And so then the question is, if that's the goal, what's the means to that? How do you live? What are the teachings? What are the practices that lead to that? And so there's, we experiment, we learn them and we apply them for ourselves. It's not my job to tell you what you should do, or what Buddhism you know exactly really is. I used to have to get in the ballpark well enough. that
inspire you're just well enough. That you try to try some of these things out, and then find what works for you. And, you know and what, you know how, what, what's best. And that way it's not exhausting being a teacher. Because teachers are supposed to get teach everyone, the pristine, perfect practice and pristine, perfect Buddhism, exactly the right view and philosophy and this is what it is get everyone to agree on that. That's exhausting. But if you allow me just to be close enough, that, that it's something that works for you, that's meaningful to you for you, gives you a new perspective supports you in some way and that you can apply and use in your life. Then, then, you know, I think hopefully we've done the job. That's not okay. So Buddhism is a, it's called a path. So what a path means is that it's a, it's a practices that lead you somewhere that take you somewhere some of you walk the metaphor of a path is something that you bring your whole body into you walk on a path. So it's something you engage in with all of yourself. It's not meant to be Krishna. But it's not supposed to be not meant to be a hobby. It's not meant to be something you do just, you know, on Sunday or something. But it's something that you engage your whole life with all of you. That's what the offering is his idea. And for some people, the idea of the end of suffering, and the idea of understanding what that potential is about, can evoke a tremendous amount of compassion. As we encounter the suffering of the world around us. Then we understand something about suffering, the cause of it, how to address it, how to meet it, how to respond to it in ways that hopefully, not only help us not suffer more, would help us to suffer less, and do the same for other people support other people not to suffer. So it's called a path and And so there are classically in Buddhism, two distinct paths that are taught by the much of the tradition. One is a path for the people who just want to live a happier life, either in this lifetime, or in future lifetimes. And, and so it's it's advice, of living a good life for the purposes of going to the good place. And then the, the and then there's the other path, which is the path of awakening. And that the path of awakening is, or the path of liberation or freedom from suffering is a higher cause for a higher level of commitment. It's a it's meant to be for people who really, you know, really want to put all themselves in here and somehow be transformed in the process. For the people who are want the path of liberation, there are three major trainings in that path. And so one of the ways Buddhism is referred to as as a, as a as a path, it's also called a training as, and Buddhism is a training because we're training ourselves in some way. And, and there are three major categories of trainings. There is ethics, there is mental development, and there is wisdom. And these are whole set of things that we engage in. If you want to be involved in the path of liberation, you do all three. If you want to do the path of worldly happiness, then the primary emphasis is on ethics. What's happened here in the West in the art Not just in the West, but in modern Asia in the last hundred years as well is that a lot of lay people have also started to learn meditation. And when people many people who do meditation are not really so interested in awakening, so the insight or the wisdom, but they're using meditation to live a healthier, happier life. And the great example of this is what's nowadays called secular Buddhism here in the West, where people can go to a local hospital, they can go to all kinds of clinics, they can go to spas, they can go to a library, they can go many places in corporations, and they have teach classes in mindfulness.
We have someone here at IMC, who currently is teaching a class in mindfulness at we were invited to go teach students at a local college and so it's nice, it's Just it's kind of like, and I asked, Why do you want to sound like my MC to come and teach that your college students. And I was told, because there's an epidemic of suicides on national colleges. And we have to bring kind of wellness to the students and mindfulness. They're kind of like the students, they sort of coming to the college already being introduced to mindfulness meditation, they want more of it, or they want to be taught taught more. So you know, it's not there for awakening, they're there for a happier, healthier kind of life. So that's kind of exciting to bring these together. But classically, the people who want a happier life or living an ethical life and what's nice little bit nice is these two paths, the path of awakening and the path of healthy happy life, share the same first training or training and ethics. The So for lay people, the path for awakening, as is classically taught in Buddhism, is to be ethical. And primarily through adhering to five sets of precepts. not killing, not stealing, not engaging in sexual misconduct, not lying, and not making yourself crazy with drugs and alcohol that don't get intoxicated. And, and those five are kind of considered fundamental trainings for lay people. And the interesting word, they're so called trainings. So they're not called commandments. It's all or nothing, that you break them. You're like, you know, you go to hell or something. It's, these are trainings that you are training to grow into to really learn how to live that way. It's a process of trial and error reflection, thinking deeply about your life, trying to do your best. And you're trying not to do those things. And so example would be, it's not uncommon for someone to come to me and they're trying to live an ethical life. And in this kind of environment, there's people living, you know, in some ways in pretty ethical life. And so they come to me and they're asking about the first precept not to kill. They're not in danger of killing people. But they're, they feel like they need to fumigate or put poison on their homes because of the end. So the cockroaches or the termites or something, and what do I think about that? And, and what I think about that is, I'm so happy that they're asking. I'm so delighted that someone is concerned about the welfare of these little critters, and they're reluctant to kill them. They feel some kind of moral concern that they come to me and ask me, What do you think of this? So that's one of the things I say. And it doesn't answer their question. But I. But I generally don't want to answer their question. I don't want to be in a position of arbitrating what they should or shouldn't do, what's right and what's wrong. But I will encourage them to go look for all the alternatives to killing. I say that a lot of times people are quite quick to go for the violent way. The social cost, supposedly the easy way, and, and to be done with it. But to really, to be lifted ethical life is to a minimum would be to really reflect deeply about what we're doing and look for alternatives and how to how to accomplish where we think we need to do without causing harm. So many years ago when a person came to me and said she was thinking of getting a gun to protect yourselves, and what did I think Didn't say then that was happy that she was thinking that way. But I did say, I didn't want to answer her question, but yes or no. Or did I think was it right or something, but I did want to encourage her to consider the alternatives. And as a lot of alternatives that might actually make you safer. But it takes time and effort to get trained and to get wise and, you know, it's not like you just and you know, but you know, without you know, the idea gun is quick, you don't have to get trained the same way. So, so these five precepts are the core ethical guidelines for lay people interested in just living a healthier, happier life
and attends to put together the conditions that over time, the better better circumstances come our way. They tend to create a good life that way. The other primary practice for laypeople For living a happy life is generosity. There's something about the chemistry that met the alchemy of generosity and how that we let relate to other people and how we relate to ourselves that really begin to change dramatically. Our relationships that we live in, to be generous to the people we live with, in our community, in our communities, and our families and our places of work, but to make generosity, kind of like a primary vehicle, primary bridge to the world around us, changes like we're up we have around us, people relate to us differently. We relate to other people differently. generosity gives us a deeper connection to people. We see them in different ways. We don't see them just on the surface, we don't see them just as instruments for our own welfare. And it really creates a healthy in relationship to the world around us. That will come back and support us and support the kind of happiness That is reliable and good. That is much more helpful than winning the California Lottery for the sake of happiness. Do you know that they've done studies on people who are in luck, Big, Big Lottery jackpot and lottery, and they studied them a year after they win, and they're less happy than they were before they won. So you still want to win. Many people will say yes. And big me win the lottery and be unhappy. Where do I pay for that? So, generosity. As a path, ethics is a path. The other path The path of freedom from suffering is to traditionally in Buddhism, the path for monastics because back in the old days and especially time of the Buddha, there were not any IMC is down the road. You know, you can go you know, drive down time to IMC, to local community center and get teachings and meditate Even just you know, a few decades ago, people would travel a long way to get Buddhist teachings. The you know, just not my direct teachers but my, the grand the grant teachers, grandparents in mind and the Dharma. They would travel to the jungles for weeks to get that back in northern Thailand back in the forests of Northern Burma. There's this great meditation Master, great meditation teacher that people have heard about. And so there was no app audio Dharma app. There was no bookstore to get the books, there was no radio, you know, in order to get that through a teacher, you have to walk there. And people have been weeks sometimes to find a teacher just sit there and learn from and teach. And so and then there was no support for that then the people Most professions back then people's work. Most people, they didn't have vacation time to go on a meditation retreat. There were no meditation centers where you can go and just go and do a retreat. And so the idea of, of having spiritual practice for for really deep spiritual engagement available was kind of, for the most part unavailable for centuries and centuries, unless you became a monastic and some people's drive for freedom liberation was so strong that they had to do that they had to they were to renounce the world and engage his full time wholeheartedly in the practice. And some people suffer a tremendous amount those days. They're the horrific challenges some people have been been through. Sometimes ordinary life doesn't make any sense anymore, but to do something really, really serious and deep, like engaging and in deep, full time prefer spiritual life is what's healing or what's liberating and what's really the only thing that makes sense. There are other people whose personalities are contemplative in some deep way. And I've known people who are struggling to if I may use this analogy, this metaphor, struggling
to come out of the closet as contemplatives nobody wants no one in their family members want them to be a contemplative meaning don't want them to, you know, live a quiet, meditative life contemplation of study and parents want them to go off to college or want them to, I've had people tell me literally, I'm supposed to be a doctor. You know, my, all my family, all my siblings are doctors. You know, they want me to do that or you know, We're supposed to post the following my family's footsteps to take over the family business, but I just want to go off and study and practice and meditate. And so some people, it's just their personality to the ours, there are contemplative, and I've seen people finally step into that role. And you see that they kind of blossom. It's like, Oh, that's who they are. Wow. You know, and you just kind of like they inhabit that in such a beautiful way. And so the people who want to go, you know, much further than just having a happier life. Then there's those three trainings. There's a training and ethics and training and Mental Cultivation, and training and wisdom. The background for this kind of training is one of the fundamental orientations or understanding understandings perspectives that would have had on human life. And that is, it begins with the idea, that of change, that there's a radical. Our life is characterized by impermanence. Most Indian religions, the time of the Buddha, like the Buddha really emphasized how impermanent this this world is. And in Greece we had, I think was Heraclitus, who said, You can't step in the same river twice because of everything's changing all the time. And a lot of people understand that. And for many people, that's a important insight to have. What the Buddha's contribution to seeing the changing nature of this human life of ours is that the change the impermanent way things change and morph over time is not random. change occurs, that based on the conditions that influence that come to bear On the situation. So if it gets cold, and there's a lot of humidity, those are the conditions for rain. Those conditions come together. But if it's hot and not so humid and probably won't have rain, if you have so as as this climate changes because of climate change, those are conditions that we're having now different kinds of weather all over the world. And so what are the conditions that contributed to that? There's some argument these days about what's the underlying human role in the creating those conditions. But we certainly see that humans have created lots of conditions in recent decades and centuries, that influence all kinds of things in the world. Human Health is phenomenally affected by the conditions that how humans live their lives. The smog in cities around the world that people are getting asthma and worse, is phenomenal. And it's clear that it's humanly cause smog. The it goes on and on the litany of things. So the conditions that we create, shape how things change in the future. And that happens in our hearts as well for our minds. So if you kill, steal, engage in sexual misconduct lie and maybe drink alcohol. Just if you do at all. That creates a very different set of conditions influencing how your life is going to unfold. Then if you do the opposite. Chances are if you break all the five precepts, you're going to end up being miserable. probably end up in jail or worse. If you do the opposite, that's a very different set of conditions, that's going to create a very different direction in which your life is going to go. So, the Buddhist teaching about impermanence is that we have a role in influencing how impermanence changes how things change over time, by the conditions we put into this system.
And so if what we want is to become free of suffering, we have to create the conditions that will allow that to happen. So if you want to become free of suffering, and you just spend, you know, all your time you know, I don't know what reading romance novels are watching pornography, or spending your time at the casinos or running No, just all kinds of things. That's not going to be the conditions that allows you to look deeply into your heart deeply into your mind and begin putting the conditions in place that begin to shape. change your mind, in such a way that your mind can be transformed and useful way. So this is called the second training is called Mental Cultivation. We're developing our mind. And so we're developing a mind to be mindful, to be able to do be in the present moment. So we're not always being pulled away being distracted by our thoughts or preoccupations or concerns. And that's something we can train our mind to do. It takes practice, but practice and practice over and over again, and the mind will change mind is plastic. You can cultivate your mind to develop to have a greater concentration and concentration really helps a lot to stay calm. balanced, and to be able to see more and more clearly, concentration practice kind of like clearing the windshield from dirt so you can really see well. So the mindfulness can be strong. But if the windshield is dirty, you can't see so well. And so we cultivate concentration. It's possible to cultivate equanimity, to cultivate a capacity to be nonreactive and or non reactive mind puts in place very different conditions than a reactive one. And so different things happen that different things can unfold because of that nonreactive mind. We cultivate loving kindness and, and compassion, we cultivate a healthy feelings of goodwill of generosity for the people around us. And that creates a very different inner landscape than one that is motivated by greed or I just want to acquire more for myself or I don't care about Other people. And so we cultivate these things, initially, and people might think that's too much, I can't do that, or just seems like too high of a mountain to climb, to change myself. And it's too hard or, you know, but actually, it's not that hard. It's remarkable how much the mind the heart can grow, develop and get stronger through regular practice. And, and but you have to do it, you know, regularly ongoingly again and again. And I'll give you my favorite analogy for how, you know, just doing Small changes can be really big over time. And that is I learned it from a yoga teacher. And that is that a long time ago. There's something called the triangle pose, where you kind of leaned over to one side and try to get one hand flat on that. Round. And but as you can lean over and you can't get your hand on the ground, the instructions was to back then, is to get some telephone books. And those of you who don't remember telephone books, the paper and the individual sheets of paper and telephone book probably was not possible to have them thinner. They were rather thin as paper you could just you know, see in ordinary life and, and so you get until you know, so you get a stack of these telephone books every many you need so you can get your hand to flat against some surface lean over. Every day. You tear out one page. one page that's so thin is inconsequential, seemingly. But you do it every day. And eventually, all the pages will be gone and you'll have your hand down on the floor. That's training. So yes, the some of the teachings about concentration makes it seem so lofty and distant from my mind. The idea of Be mindful and be in the present seems so distant and far away given how distracted My mind is. But in fact, we can be trained. If we do, it's low enough, we can't we do it slowly. And maybe you don't if you meditate every day.
Maybe you won't see the distance you've traveled because it's so thin just like those 10, paper, paper or the telephone book. But over time, you will change and so to do so to cultivate it, and what's it what's, what's very important about this teaching, Buddha's teaching in the conditionality is it takes we're not the cause of our spiritual change, we're not the cause for how we really change. We're just putting the conditions in place and allowing this natural process process of growth and develop to happen. It's kind of like I should tell my kids, one of the ways I bothered my kids, I would tell them, please stop growing. I like you just the way you are. Stop. And you know, there were little kids, right? It's tough. And usually they'd laugh at me because they knew it was impossible. And they took it as a kind of a expression expression of love. You can't you know, if these kids are eating, they're going to keep growing right? You can't stop. Turns out that we don't keep stop developing and growing. When we turn 1718 2020 whenever it whenever it is, when you know you're an adult. The natural movement towards growth, to maturation can continue until you're 100 If we create the conditions for that natural growth to happen, most people get so preoccupied and caught up with life and adult life that they actually appeal, put a stop to that natural maturation that's there. And the practice of mindfulness of concentration of kindness are some ways of helping us get out of the way. Taking the distractions, the greed, hate and delusion, the fears we live under, and getting them out of the way to allow this natural growth to continue happening. It really feels that way. So it's a beautiful thing. Because it's, it takes it out of me myself in mind. It's almost like not you who's growing. It's just its nature. It's the natural nature of the mind, the heart to grow in these beautiful ways. And it's one I think one of the really beautiful Adventures of human life is to do these kinds of Mental Cultivation practices. That helps us to encounter and experience the supernatural wonder of the inner growth, the maturation, the movement that can be there. It doesn't have to be dramatic. But in small ways we get changed and developing over time, if we put the conditions in, and one of the conditions is to put in the effort, one of the conditions is to be willing to be willing to be changed. Without that willingness, we've all changed probably. And then the third training and wisdom and wisdom is to have insight, deep understanding of our minds, Howard works, about clinging, the nature of attachment and the nature of freedom. The some of the probably, the best kind of insights you can have in Buddhism is to really understand the nature of free Wow, that's you know, to really feel and know firsthand something about the nature of how the mind becomes free. And and then have that as a reference point for how you're living your life, to have that like a Northstar a guide, or that's how you can be free. And then you go through your life. And you see all the ways you have a choice or all the ways you get caught. And you know, there's another way and because you have already have a kind of embodied experience of freedom, that you really can see the difference now, between being caught and not being caught. And then you can kind of navigate with that, and maybe lean going the direction of freedom of how not to be caught. And if you lean in that direction, that's a condition for the growth of freedom. If instead, you list you lean in the direction of your clinging, it's too much work to be free. It's easier to cling on. That's a condition for reinforcing the habit of clinging. So beginning to have these insights, very practical insights gives us much greater choice, and gives us a clear, clear sense of what the purpose is we're doing this for, because now we really know it for ourselves,
it becomes more and more of a personal experience this path, it remains the path The path we walk and engage in and move in developing, but more and more as we do it, it becomes our own path. And they say in Buddhism, that as you keep doing it, at some point, you become the path and then nice. And, and so one teacher said that, when you really understand Buddhism, Buddhism becomes you somehow the joining over two. So, in terms of this introduction to Buddho series I wanted to convey to you the few points today. One is that this is a very personal path that we explore and develop for ourselves. And we use ourselves as the canvas. We use this for ourselves as the material that we're experimenting with. And we have to have some sense of what the goal is that we have. And then we're trying to make it match the, you know, experiment or practice in a way that supports our goal. If you mostly want to have a happy life, then by all means, be ethical, and be generous. If you want to do a bit more, be kind, if you want to do a little bit more meditate. But if you want a path of liberation, if you want to kind of if you're interested in the full potential of this path, then you need to do more than ethics and generosity, then it's really a work of Mental Cultivation. And it's a path Meaning that it's an unfolding. It's a journey, it's a growth. It's not a sudden, all or nothing kind of thing, hit the Enlightenment button and you'll be happier after, you know, why should I do all this hard work like I just taken LSD or psilocybin. Or maybe there's an app. And we can do you know, much more efficient than meditation. The idea is to walk a path that includes all of who we are. Not a quick fix, and, and become transformed in the process. And classically, that's to be transformed, to become a totally free person. person who knows firsthand what it means to be liberated or free. Which is synonymous in the classic Buddhist language, with being with experiencing a profound level of peace, a peace where we feel completely at home, in our hearts completely at home and alive without any suffering without any feeling of oppression or risk or, or limitation. But really we just feel and no fear, feel free. So a path of practice, we walk a path. And next week I come. I'll talk about one version of this path. That's a very famous version of it, called the Eightfold Path. That's the foundation of a classic Buddhist teachings. So, thank you