2020-04-24: Kalyāṇa (5 of 5) The Beauty of Practice + Q&A
10:11PM May 14, 2020
This is the last talk in the series on kalyāṇa - beauty or beautiful. If the word kalyāṇa is translated as beauty or beautiful, then we see that the Buddha's teachings are filled with references to beauty. It creates a very different flavor or orientation for understanding the teachings of the Buddha, than if kalyāṇa is translated as 'good.' It evokes something that's more holistic in us. Good tends to evoke ideas of ethics, morality, something vague, some idea of should, obligation. But ideas of beauty and beautiful can perhaps awaken, not so much should and obligation, and not so much ethics and morality, automatically or only. But rather something that's holistic, some connection to aesthetics, for sure, to our emotions, to a wider range of sensibilities, sensitivity that we have. The kind of range of abilities to be aware, to be sensitive, that really is tapped into and awakened through mindfulness. Perhaps by referring more often to beauty is easier for awareness, mindfulness, to touch into or awaken or be part of this field of beauty, harmony, peacefulness, goodness, and virtue that can be within us.
We talked the first day about just the fact that the Buddha does talk about beauty. He's talked about the Dharma being good, being beautiful in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. I think he's talking here about the path of practice, the deepening, the maturing in the Buddha Dharma. It begins by discovering something. For this week is discovering this potential, this capacity for beauty.
We encounter people who are beautiful friends - kalyāṇa mitta. Beautiful friends are those who support us in the practice and point us to the practice. To spend time with kalyāṇa mittas. To spend time with people who know this kind of beauty. There's one quote the Buddha says: "You should recollect, you should remember beautiful friends in the following way. It is truly my gain, my good gain, that I have beautiful friends who care for me, who desire my good, who advise me and instruct me."
Another place where he talks about kalyāṇa mittas, he says, "What is beautiful friendship? There is the case where lay people, in whatever town or village they may dwell, spend time with householders or householders' offspring, young or old, who are advanced in virtue, abounding in faith, abounding in virtue, abounding in generosity, abounding in wisdom. They talk to them, engaging them in discussions." So here, it's lay people, people of the world, not even monastics. What makes a person a beautiful friend is that they're abundant in virtue, faith, generosity, and wisdom. Beautiful qualities that we all have the capacity to cultivate and develop, and we can be inspired by other people that have those qualities.
Here we get a sense of what the Buddha puts value in. These are what's important in the world, much more so than material success, athletic success, wealth or knowledge even, knowing the Dharma a lot. But these beautiful qualities of mind, heart - that's what makes a kalyāṇa mitta.
Kalyāṇa mitta support people in engaging in a practice. One of the things that kalyāṇa mitta support people to do is to establish them on the Eightfold Path. This Eightfold Path, the core formulation of the Buddhist practice, is at times called "kalyāṇa lakkha" - a beautiful practice. These beautiful practices.
So this idea over and over again of a reference point as beauty. It might get kind of tiring to hear this word over and over again. Where do we look? How do we feel? How do we address it? How do we engage in it? How are we in harmony with it? What flavor of involvement with these things does it call upon from us? If the reference point is beauty and beautiful, what is that? I think it calls on something, awakens something very precious, very different orientation.
I talked about kalyāṇa mitta, that the Buddha talked about. Sometimes he talked about good karma, with using the word kalyāṇa. Beautiful karma has a very different feeling than good karma, doing beautiful karma. But we can even be a little more nuanced with this. That is that the word 'kamma,' the Pali word for karma, literally means action. In the teachings of the Buddha, sometimes it really just means action, without necessarily any reference point to the idea of karma theory, karma principles. So you get a very different feeling, if you just simply call it good action, acting in beauty, a beautiful action. For example, non-greed, non-hate, non-delusion are the cause and condition for the occurrence of beautiful action. This has a lot to do with the goal of Buddhist practice, which is to come to a place where there's no greed, no hatred, and no delusion. The absence of greed, the absence of hatred, and absence of delusion is the source for living in the world with beautiful action, beautiful karma.
Becoming established in the beauty of the Dharma, through practice, through the Eightfold Path, and then becoming skilled in the beauty of meditation - meditation being in samādhi, beautiful samādhi, the last step of the Eightfold Path. The fact that samādhi is associated with beauty is fascinating. That this deep inner capacity for unification, settledness, focus, concentration is moving towards what's beautiful, maybe evokes a very different motivation to concentrate, than it would be for the purpose of concentration, and we bear down or focus. The very act of getting concentrated should have some kind of harmony and beauty in it as well.
Sometimes the fourth jhana is called sobhana. Sobhana is a different word meaning beauty. That's some of the most beautiful, worldly experiences a person can have, a mind which is settled, peaceful and focused. A lot of that beauty is not so much that we're creating it and making it, but rather, it's the beauty of absence. Just like if you look into a beautiful body of water, a body of water that's clear, pure and no mud - just really clear. We often will refer to that as beautiful water. Or the skies with absence of smog and looking out across the land and seeing the mountains in the distance, there's a beauty there - a beauty of absence, of being clean, of being clear. Sometimes things that are really clean have a sense of beauty in them, clean being the absence of dirt.
The mind also, as it becomes cleaner and cleaner, more and more absence of agitation, absence of preoccupations and concerns, and absence of greed, hate and delusion becomes beautiful, maybe not so much because it's inherently beautiful, but rather beautiful because the clarity and the absence of these things is so beautiful and nice.
Finally, as the mind settles, as we quiet the mind and free the mind from its agitation, preoccupations, attachments, its greed, hatred, and delusions, even its fears, anxieties - then part of what becomes clear, settled or open, like water or the skies without smog, is awareness itself, the capacity to know or to observe. The Buddha talks about there being a beautiful observer, a beautiful witnessing that we have within. One of the quotes where he talks about this, he does tie it to our ethics. There's a poem, and the poem has to do with how, when no matter what we do and act on, both body, mind, and thought, we can't really hide from things that are done badly, things that are ill. "There exists no hiding place for those who have done ill."
So if we've acted from greed, hate and delusion or intentionally harmed people, have broken the precepts, you can't really hide from having done that. The reason for that, the Buddha says, is because, "You, yourself, will know what is true and what is false. You, yourself, will know what you have done and whether it's ill or beautiful." You and he uses the word friend, "You, dear friend, neglect yourself in neglecting the beautiful witnessing within. You, yourself, neglect yourself in neglecting the beautiful witnessing within." This capacity to know and be aware is a beautiful quality. When it's there, then we'll do the moral accounting, the moral housecleaning that is really necessary for this clearing out and discovering more and more of this beauty we have.
Discovering the beautiful witnessing within, that's what we're discovering through mindfulness practice, the capacity to see beautifully and observe beautifully. The awareness itself becomes beautiful when it's not agitated and preoccupied and limited in some ways.
Then we come to this wonderful, fantastic thing, that is that the beautiful witnessing can witness that which is beautiful - the beautiful breathing, the beautiful sense of clarity and relaxation, openness in the body, the beautiful qualities of the mind, the mind's capacity for all kinds of goodness, the mind's capacity for freedom, the mind's capacity for the absence of greed, hate and delusion. This meeting of the beautiful witness, the beauty within and the beauty without, what a fantastic meeting that is. Beauty meets beauty.
When there's the most beautiful meeting of beauty and beauty, of awareness, the beautiful awareness, and the beauty that's within, something completely revolutionary can happen. Then we can discover the greatest beauty that is possible for a human being - the radical absence of greed, hate and delusion, the cessation of attachments, of agitation. The tradition says it's not a worldly experience, like the fourth jhana is a highest worldly beauty. But the radical cessation of greed, hate and delusion, that then also becomes the preeminent source within us. As the Buddha said, "This is the source, the cause and condition for beautiful actions, for the occurrence of beautiful actions." This idea that how we live our lives is important, how we live our lives in this world. And to live in the world for the good of all, through coming from, acting from, action that's based on whatever degree we have of absence of attachment, greed, hatred, delusion.
That's the purpose of this whole teachings about the beauty of the Dharma. The Dharma is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful in the end. At the end, it's most beautiful. May you take whatever beauty that you know of, whatever place of harmony, goodness, virtue, unity, wholeness that you tap into - that you really recognize what's really good about that, really beautiful about that. Let it be the source from which you live your life.
May you practice in beauty. May you serve this world in beauty. Thank you.
Sometimes on these Fridays I've tried to take some questions. I have a little bit of time if some of you would like to try to enter some questions. For those of you who can stay for a little bit longer, you're welcome if you wanted to try to type something in. I'll try to do them in order, but it's a little bit hard if they come up really fast. So I'll do my best if you want, if you have something.
It's such a delight to see the thanks, the names and the bows, like namaste, as they come up. It's very nice. Every single one.
"Is there a connection between viññāna and papañca?" Well, viññāna the spelling is different than I know it. But viññāna means consciousness. It's a good question. I don't really know if I have the answer for that. But papañca is the proliferation of the mind, is thinking a lot or objectifying the world a lot. Me here and you there. You need consciousness to do that. You need to have the ability to distinguish between self and other. So I guess one requires the other. But what's interesting in the Dharma, because yesterday I talked about the beautiful mind, is that consciousness is not necessarily seen as a great, wonderful thing. Or viññāna is not that great, wonderful thing in Buddhism. So it's a little bit hard for us to translate viññāna as consciousness, because the tendency in English is to see consciousness as a neutral, natural, inherent thing of who we are. Then to see that the Buddha sees that as a problem. That we're looking at the cessation and the ending of consciousness. That doesn't make any sense in the way we talk in English. So I think there's a problem with translating viññāna as consciousness. But citta is never problematic. Citta is not caught up in. When the mind, when the citta is free, there are no problems in the mind.
"Are you continuing these morning meditations next week?" Oh yes, next week. Yes, they'll continue next week. Next week I thought about talking about the Buddha's teachings on care - anukampā. It turns out that very surprisingly and inspiringly karuṇā or compassion does not have the central role in the teachings of the Buddha as people have often assumed that's there. But there's something else that's very comparable and holds the same place, which I think for me is actually more inspiring than how inspired I am by compassion. It's a wonderful thing - this is anukampā, this care, which is more fundamental. It's not well known this idea. So I think I'll talk about that for the next week, for the next five days. The plan is to keep doing this indefinitely. I guess, these mornings, I'm enjoying them, and I hope that you enjoy them.
"Is the mind that observes the same as the mind that thinks, or are they separate?" I don't think that we can separate very sharply the thinking mind from the observing mind. There's no absolute separation there. But it is possible for the thinking mind to get quieter and quieter and less abstract and less busy, and less stories about things. This quieting of the mind so that thinking gets simpler and simpler. There's still cognition. Some people might call the very simple rudimentary cognition of a mind that seems to mostly just observe or is aware as having no thoughts. Other people say as long as there's cognition, that's a kind of thought as well. I'm more in that camp. So that the idea of there's pure observation without any kind of thoughts at all. This is a philosophical question. I don't want to argue it, but I kind of assume that there's always some rudimentary cognition, thinking, even the most simplest and purest forms of observation. But who knows?
"What is emptiness?" Emptiness is the absence of something. Human beings do a tremendous amount of projecting. We project our ideas, concepts, memories, associations onto reality. Some of those are definitely having to do with our life story, our biography, what's happened to us. Some of it is deeper than that and has to do with the fundamental projections of things like permanence, projections of self, projection of a certain kind of happiness in things and expectations from things. When these projections stop and we're no longer projecting self and permanence onto our experience, that's when there's a possibility for the mind to relax and let go in a very deep way. So this relaxing with insight into emptiness is one of the conditions for awakening.
"Do you have advice on whether to change the leg you have furtherest forward when sitting regularly?" I do have advice, but I don't follow my own advice. So I don't know if I should say it. On principle, I think probably a good yoga teacher will say that you should regularly change which leg is in front if you're sitting cross-legged, just so that the very subtle ways in which the body stretches differently depending on which legs in front. So you stretch evenly in both ways. I do that too, but I do it maybe once every 10 or 15 years I change which leg is in the front. So I'm not really following my own advice. I think that one of the reasons I don't do it so often is that there's a settling into the posture that happens, familiarity with it, an ease with it that supports meditation. So my advice to switch the legs, then I'm a little bit off-kilter for a little while until I get used to it and settle into it. Maybe I'm a little bit lazy or maybe a little bit just go along with what I have. I only change it if I feel there's a need, like I injured my knee. I'm not very satisfied with my answer, but hopefully, you can find your way with that.
"When caught in an angry thought about someone else, what is the best practice to focus on that is beautiful?" I think that we should focus, at least for the purpose of mindfulness practice, which sometimes the anger is strong, you need to do something different. There's two general ideas. One is that if you're able to have mindfulness which is stronger than the anger, then the mindfulness practice is to turn and look at the anger. But anger usually has an object, something we're angry about. The mindfulness practices is to turn the attention around 180 degrees and look at what it's like to be angry. The reason you're angry is not so important for the purposes of mindfulness. It's important for other reasons. But those reasons, you're better able to look at them after you've gotten settled and calm and there's no longer any anger. So turn around 180 degrees, look at the anger, and then try to look at the anger without any anger, without any attachments or pushing away, embarrassment or shame. Just almost like you're allowed the anger to be there in awareness. That's where the beauty is, in how you're equanimous about being angry and how you look at it. If you can't do something like that, then sometimes in order to settle the mind so you can have some wisdom and not be so angry, it might be useful to go find something outside that's beautiful. Go out in nature. Read some Dharma quote or poetry that really is beautiful and inspires you. Go find a friend who you think is nice to be with, that's settling for you. Listen to a Dharma talk that's inspiring for you. Do something that distracts you, that changes your mood, changes how you are. But don't do that to escape the anger. Do that to simply quiet the mind so you're no longer angry and then go back and reflect about what happened. Then think deeply about the causes and conditions for the anger, what happened, and also what needs to be done. Does anything need to change and be done in the world?
I think I'll stop. I'm feeling like it's enough. I'm sorry for the people who asked questions and didn't ask. I love it that people ask questions. I appreciate everyone. I'll look at them all when I sit down later. I want to thank you very, very much for this. I look forward to continuing this next week and sitting with you. We'll look at this other aspect of what's beautiful: our capacity to care. Thank you very much.