Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Middle Way Session 2: Wisdom, Compassion, and Self-experience

Yesterday, we attended the second session of the Meditation & Dharma Talk and Discussion organized by the Middle Way Buddhist Association . Originally, the session frequency has been decided at bimonthly intervals. But today’s session, coming as it is just one week after the first one held last Saturday, is an ad hoc change to accommodate the planned one-month trip of Bhante Dhammawansha to Asia this month. Also, the organizers have decided to reduce the frequency to a monthly one, it being the second Saturday of each month. So the next session is scheduled on April 14. Do mark your calendar accordingly.

During the pre-meditation address, Bhante stressed the needs:
  • to keep a happy mind and a happy face by thinking universal loving kind thoughts;
  • to sit in a comfortable, relaxed posture, even on a chair if necessary;
  • to close the eyes gently so that we cannot see the world but ourselves;
  • to be mindful but do not get distracted by external sound/noise. Just be familiar with the sound/noise but do not react to it.
On my part, I heard the following but did not react to the hearing:

- cars speeding by (the venue is just next to a road);
- faint ringing of a cell phone (perhaps it was kept in a handbag);
- footsteps;
- chairs creaking;
- sitting pillows being squashed by bodies changing positions;
- Bhante’s soft droning voice;
- my own occasional deep breathing.

I find that it helps me to be mindful but not distracted by assigning a number to any sound that my audio nerves pick up, much like counting my own breaths.

In the ensuing dharma talk and discussion conducted by Bhante for English speaking attendees (Brother Shieh was unable to be present this time and so I gravitated to the English class), Bhante answered an inquiry from an attendee as to whether Buddha is a God by way of a story:

One day, Buddha was accosted by a passer-by who was drawn to him by Buddha’s radiance, his robe, and his overall demeanor portraying him as a sage.

“Will you be God?”
“No,” Buddha answered.

“Will you be a dead person?”
“No,” Buddha replied.

“Will you be a dancer?” [prompted perhaps by the robe that Buddha was wearing.]
“No,” Buddha responded.

“Will you be a human being?”
“No, but I’m a supernatural human being.” Buddha stated and explained using the analogy of a lotus flower that blooms amidst the muddy water of a lotus pond.

The lotus flower does not carry any odor of the muddy environment, i.e., it is unattached to the mud. In that sense, the mud is the mundane world and we sentient beings are anything but the lotus flower, until we discover our Buddha nature. So while Buddha is a human being, the fact that he has attained enlightenment elevated him to the “superman” status. He has understood reality and he has tamed his internal enemies.

We are by nature lazy beings, and keep on postponing the surfacing of our Buddha nature because of worldly enjoyment. We are supposed to be attracted to Buddha, as naturally as iron is to magnet. But by clinging to attachments and being consumed by greed, hatred, and delusion, we are covered by rust.

A more accurate analogy is perhaps our Buddha nature is like gems under the earth strata. These strata are like defilements, covering the gem like an impenetrable cloak over our intrinsic Buddha nature. So by embracing and practicing Dharma (Buddha’s teaching, truth, law, and reality), we are making efforts to let our Buddha nature to come to the fore. In other words, Buddha is the greatest physician for diseases that afflict our mind, and no medicine is similar to Dharma.

Bhante also elaborated on the uniqueness of Buddhism, Buddha, and his teaching as summarized below:
  • Buddha never discovered anything new; he rediscovered ancient paths.
  • Nobody granted Buddha buddhahood; he did it without any external agency.
  • The core values of Buddhism are wisdom, compassion, and self-experience. So Buddhist followers and practitioners are encouraged to think freely and decide for themselves.
  • Buddhist monks are teachers, and not preachers as it is not the aim of Buddhism to convert anyone.
  • The core teaching of Buddhism is enshrined in the Four Noble Truths (the word "Noble" signifying that the four truths are immutable and eternal). And they are:
  1. Life is suffering/misery/distress (the last two are more common terms suggested by Bhante so that westerners may find it easier to relate to. Another connotation of duhkha, the original word in Sanskrit, is unrest).
  2. Causes of suffering/misery/distress.
  3. Cessation of suffering/misery/distress.
  4. Path leading to cessation (“The Middle Way,” Bhante hastened to add.)
  • “If you want to see me, see my teaching.” ---- Buddha
Bhante then brought to our attention several quotes from a western scientist and a western philosopher. The scientist is no other than Albert Einstein, the acknowledged genius whose greatest legacy is the General Theory of Relativity, Einstein’s own popular translation of the physics that shaped our “truths” of space and time.

I googled Einstein and Buddhism and located the relevant quotations here (where this picture is taken from as well) as reproduced below:

Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be
expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual; and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.
---- Albert Einstein

If there is any religion that would cope
with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
---- Albert Einstein

And the philosopher is Arthur Schopenhauer, a fellow countryman of Einstein who lived more than a century earlier:

If I were to take the results of my philosophy as
the standard of truth, I would have to consider
Buddhism the finest of all religion.
---- Arthur Schopenhauer

Bhante also referred to H. G. Wells who is perhaps better known for his fiction works, several of which have been adapted into movies, the latest one being the remake of the War of the Worlds directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning (2005). But he was also an imaginative social thinker whose non-fiction works include A Short History of the World (1922). According to, this work is “Wells’s tribute to “the needs of the busy general reader who wishes to refresh and repair his faded or fragmentary conceptions of the great adventure of mankind.”

Two chapters from the book are The Life of Gautama Buddha (Chapter 28) and King Asoka (Chapter 29). The latter was characterized by Wells in the following words:

"In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'Their Highnesses', 'Their majesties' and 'Their Exalted Majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief movement and disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star even today."

As his parting words for the second session, Bhante admonished:

Do not get attached, but do your duty, instead of clamoring for rights.”

The image below shows the rapt attention on everyone's face during the post-session interaction while partaking of the vegetarian lunch. See you all on April 14.

No comments: