2020-02-14-Buddhist Practice and Strength
7:06PM Feb 14, 2021
So I want to share with you some of my reflections from this weekend. And maybe you'll permit me not to give a Dharma talk, but maybe a Dharma chat, since maybe they're not so well formulated. But the topic is an important one, and one that is, I think, seldom talked about. And maybe even, there's some reluctance to teach it here in the United States. Because that, that the topic is, is easily something that is off putting for people or can come across as something which is maybe even dangerous. And that is the topic of strength. That developing inner strength and inner power even through this practice of ours, that that is part of what we're doing here in this practice. And I think men met much of the way that the insight meditation practice is taught in the modern West. Maybe that's implicit, but it's explicitly more language of acceptance, more language, or just being with your experience, not trying to fix your experience. The idea of personal agency that you have some control some power, some in your practice, is not really, really get emphasized. And I think that sometimes, maybe it's a shortcoming, that we don't do that. And that really developing, becoming strong people, is actually one of the benefits of developing and practice becoming a strong person to develop a strong inner core or capacity of various kinds. And it's important, because certainly, we wanted to have enough strength, to not succumb to our defilements not succumb to greed, hate and delusion, and not to come to an unwholesome unhealthy fear. And one of the things that people are, can be afraid of, is they can be afraid of themselves. And, and so it certainly be afraid of things out in the world, but they can be afraid of themselves, afraid of what they're going to say what they're going to do, what they're going to think, and what they're going to feel. And so there's a kind of an avoidance of really connecting here, because of this self fear, that that can exist now, but that and that self fear, then also, what it does, it can easily dampened personal strength. And in fact, some people are afraid of their strength, they're afraid that if they are strong, that they will harm someone, that they will cause trouble for other people, that people will be uncomfortable, that somehow they'll be seen as conceited, or seen as being somehow assertive too much, in a way that's maybe considered unacceptable in the scenes the situation we're in. And, and, and then also, sometimes it's that fear of one's own strength can be related to a fear, an idea that we don't really have a full right to exist, or we're not really a worthy enough to be strong, that somehow we're diminished, we're less than others or we should really what what you know, we should really kind of keep small, stay small, or stay unnoticed or stay in the back row and somehow diminish ourselves. Because to not diminish ourselves. Sometimes it is socially disruptive for the scene that we're in. And sometimes in some families and even some cultures, that there's a preference for somehow not being a little bit self effacing, a little bit, not assertive. And, and certainly that can be quite valuable in times of quite healthy, inappropriate, but
it can lend itself for support go along with a tendency for people to be afraid of their own strength are reluctant to embody it or engage it or not to realize or appreciate that can be developed and, and grow. as some people are kind of looking for something that's going to fix them some insight, some experience something that's going to be their savior from there. difficulties they have. And so they're kind of a little bit looking outside of themselves for solution. And, and one of the things about strength is strength in practice develops, there's something that grows from the inside out, that is a little bit has the effect of not solving problems not providing an answer, per se. But we grow in such a way that like the snake that grows, the skin gets shed, the old skin get shed. And there's something about cultivating, developing a strong inner strength or a sense of power, or powers or strengths, maybe in the plural, that makes us grow, and old things his gets shed, they fall fall off us, rather than needing to be solved. So to spend too much time trying to solve problems, sometimes is a dead end, solve are in your turmoils and challenges. Sometimes it's actually more useful to develop a strength. So for example, a strength in mindfulness a strength and concentration is strengthen ethics, integrity, the strength in in patience, and strength in telling the truth and being truthful to oneself or maybe to others, as really a strength of presence really, too. And sometimes that can be done physically. In fact, so much of what can be developed in practice, develops stronger and develops more More, more effectively. If there's a kind of embodied association or body connection, to actually doing this embodied mindfulness embodied presence embody truth. So, clearly, the Buddha wanted people to be strong. And, and Buddhist practice develops inner strength. And, as I said, ideally, we become stronger than our defilements. So we don't cause problems in the world of problems for ourselves. And some of the language that Buddho used in his teachings are language words that I associate with strength, the words like ardency, practice an ardent way to the word, it's often translated as effort, which kind of add the word effort is fine word, but it's kind of a neutral, neutral word, just effort doesn't carry any strength in it. When the word that often translate his effort is viriya. And viriya, probably more appropriately should be translated as something like courageous effort. That the word Veera that viriya is part of a is a word for hero, I've been told that in modern India, it's the word for a soldier. And so, heroic effort, I think, is sometimes the way it's translated in maybe in Tibetan Buddhism, where they use the word hero that in related terms, so, they do have courageous effort, and, and then also the word power itself. And that is used and and as people develop in freedom in Buddhism, greater freedom, including a freedom from conceit, they are frequently depicted as being coming powerful language and symbolism of mature practitioners is often with, represented by images of power. So for example, there's a delightful suta where someone who develops some degree of freedom, initial degree of freedom. Together with a seven, seven powers of awakened seven factors of awakening is described as be having a great self, a large self. And it's a little bit surprising to hear this language or self used in such a definitive way, a great self, a large self, and that great self and large self is represented or is. The analogy for it is a kind of a great mythic being that develops, it grows in the great Himalayan mountains, that kind of a river spirit or river serpent.
And, and so it's called a Naga and in this case, Naga means many things, but one of the things these river spirit serpents and that a person who a person develops some initial taste of freedom becomes one of these great Nagas with her law, a great self and a large self. expansive self is one translation. The One of the also delightful expressions of the power, the strength that a practitioner can have, is in what's called the lion's roar. It was something that the people that time of the Buddha, the Buddha did this and other people did it as well. They would declare their full awakening when someone came and told the Buddha that they had. And now that they were fully awakened, there was referred to their lion's roar. And I don't know if you've ever been close to a lion that roared. But I have. Fortunately for me, at the zoo, maybe not fortunately for the lion. But I was probably only standing only four or five feet away from the lion. And with bars between us, and the roar, that it directed in my direction, was one that commanded a tremendous amount of respect. It had felt that I had a primordial feeling that the whole bowels of the earth were kind of roaring at me and, and I thought the only respectful The only proper thing to do with that war was to walk away. So the lion's roar, not that we're supposed to walk away from enlightened enlightened people, but it's a it's a expression that conveys great confidence and great strength. So so one of the things that are called powers in Buddhism, and here we see that the powers are not meant to be powers that we have on other people, but rather, inner capacities that we have. The five powers are the five faculties when they're strong. And these are faith or confidence to have a confident power of confidence, of faith. The power of this courageous effort to that the courageous effort has now become something real strength that we carry with us. Power of mindfulness, the pirate power of Samadhi usually translate his concentration and the power of wisdom, when a great power to have wisdom be wise, in a way that has real strength that we carry with us. And others, a place where we seek is associated with powers what's called the four resolves. And the polywood is Adi Tana, which is a means could almost more literally tried to get translated in English as taking a stand. The etymology of the word, and, but usually is resolves. And, and so what we have resolved for is what there's a power, there's a strength behind are some doing it. And, and so these are inter also interesting list. Again, it's not power over others. So it's the first one resolve is not neglecting wisdom. The second one is, is preserving, protecting the truth. The third is cultivating the capacity to let go, to relinquish. And the fourth is to train in peace, trained, peacefully trained to become more peaceful, to so to develop a strength of being peaceful, sometimes we don't associate I think power and peacefulness together, it's almost like peacefulness is, is an alternative to being powerful and the power the resolve of being peaceful. So living in a confident committed and dignified fashion is some of the associations with this developing this power this capacity to be and so there's not an self if there's not a there's there's doesn't look from the outside like some developed practitioner is self effacing, at least not in how they carry and hold themselves. But it is in terms of not having any conceit or arrogance, letting go of being self centered, at the same time as being strongly centered and no egotistical center, but a strong centered in our lives, vital experience of being here and present.
One of the ways we might understand this, is to live in a manner where there's no need to apologize for ourselves. I think there's a strong tendency in the United States for some people to constantly want to say they're sorry to apologize to, to kind of diminish themselves for asserting themselves or being even being and I think that we live in a way that we don't have to apologize that regularly Of course, not regularly, not as a policy not as a second nature thing to always feel sorry or apologize. And the way to do that in Buddhism is to live what the Buddha called a blameless life. Life that would blame lessness that that's meant to bring a certain kind of joy, the strength of a blameless life. And this is to live a life that adheres to the precepts. To not harm people not intentionally be involved in causing hurt or harm through killing and stealing and sexual misconduct and lying and, and using intoxicants. And to really have confidence that one is living this way. To the end, we end up living life, we don't apologize for ourselves to be blameless. And I don't think it's second nature for many of the people here in this country. But it's, but if you can live that way, then you're encouraged to feel the joy of that the joy and the power of a blameless life and unapologetic life. In the dhammapada, there's wonderful descriptions of, of strong people, that they don't use the word strong, but I think we can substitute it reasonably enough. And there's a whole chapter called the Brahman, the Brahmins were kind of the the priests of the brahmanical religion, they're also a hereditary role. So there are families that were brahmanical families, and they thought thought of themselves as being the top class in society, and the dominant class and often they were at a lot of authority sometimes and owned a lot of land, a lot of wealth. And they're responsible for the religious rituals of their brahmanical religion. And there was often a kind of, not just in Buddhism, but in other areas of India as well. And kind of jockeying for position or, you know, about who was it really should be dominant or kind of critique of the dominance of the Brahmins and the Buddha. He did this by redefining what it means to be a Brahmin. And he defined a Brahmin as someone who has some degree of spiritual awakening. And so, so here are some examples of these ways in which he says this, this is a verse from the dhammapada, who has no clinging, who has nothing I call the Brahman. So at first no clinging, having nothing. That doesn't really seem like a situation of power or strength, or, you know, important class of people in society or someone someone to revere something who has no clinging, who has nothing I call the Brahman. Whoever is most excellent bull, a hero, a great sage, a conquer, free of craving, cleansed, awakened, I call a Brahman. So here now, that's the all these are all synonyms for the same person all kind of describing the same kind of person. Here they're talking about excellence, a bowl, which is a powerful animal, in the hero, which has strength to it, and conquer. Now, this can be quite off putting for many people in the west to have these kind of masculine seeming words or concepts associated with it. But but there is clearly a show associated with non clinging freedom from craving, inner cleanliness. It's not an assertiveness or a dominance, the idea of conquering, being a conquer is really becoming conquer of one's own defilements one's own inner attachments and clinging. One conquers oneself in a sense, not others.
So we get this clear example and other verses Dharma Pato that this power strength of a practitioner is not meant to be over other people, it's really over themselves. In these verses, having given up violence towards beings both timid and strong, whoever neither kills or causes others to kill, I call a Brahman. I call I say, is strong. Whoever is not adversarial among those who are peaceful among those who are violent, not clinging among those who cling, I call a Brahman. Whoever let's passion, hostility, conceit, and their policy fall away, like a mustard seed from the tip of an all I call a Brahman who speaks What is true, informative and not harsh, who gives offenses offense to no one I call a Brahman. So, for me in these, these verses, all this emphasis on non harming is presented in a way that prevents a real strength of people, there's a dedication and commitment, this definitively, this is what a person is this idea of a blameless life that doesn't cause harm and any kind of way to do that with strength and be able to stand up and in a dignified, spirited, dignified, confident way to carry oneself in the world with confidence. To know one sells well enough to know all the forces of fear, self belittlement, self fear, the ways that we self criticize ourselves or in and kind of become less than who we are, and to learn to shed those to learn to not have them, diminish us, us. So that our native strength, we don't, we're not as thought assertive strength, it's not like puffing ourselves up in some arrogant macho way. But rather than native strength of who we are, can be there in a simple, natural, full way. It's not, we don't, we don't diminish it, we don't apologize for it, we don't, you know, hide it, or hide from it, that somehow we're allowed to be strong, we're allowed to be present, fully embodied. And here in a clear, definitive way, we are worthy of that. In fact, one of the meaning for our heart, someone who's fully awakened, literally means a worthy one. And I kind of like to translate that to interpret that mean, the worthy of really being present to being here and alive and full. So that one of the goals of Buddhist practice is to become fearless. And, and part of that is to stop undermining ourselves through fear. And the fear that I wanted to emphasize today in this chat is self fear. And how we are afraid of ourselves and therefore diminish ourselves and, and, and kind of undermine our strength. So to do this, it helps to take stock of our fear or how we're afraid of ourselves, including our fear of being strong. This then allows us to address these fears, and develop growing confidence and our capacity to live intentionally without harming anyone, including ourselves. So I hope that these ideas that I've presented here, are meaningful enough for you For you to reflect and consider a little bit how it is that it was appropriate, what appropriate way, can you step up, and, and allow for yourself to have a native power, native strength of someone who metaphorically stands their ground. speaks speaks freely, and confidently what they feel like they have to say, can talk honestly, can doesn't diminish themselves, but just as they're allowed to be present and fully there and have a voice and show up. And and that, that is I think one of the great
benefits from doing mindfulness practice, the mindfulness practice that helps us to let go of any force within us, that diminishes us that undermines our native natural strength that's here. And in doing so, we might end up looking like strong people in the eyes of others. But in our in our own inner sense, we want to won't necessarily feel that we are now strong, the inner senses feeling now we're free. And, but to be free from the outside will look as if we're become strong. So I hope that you will think about this and reflect on it. And hopefully, there's something of what I said today that will be useful for you and I would love to meet each of you in your strength. So thank you all very much.