The outside of people is no clue to what is inside, by Trevor Leggett

White BlossomSceptics say that in meditation you’re simply sitting there and basically you’re dreaming, or falling asleep sometimes, and no more can come out of the meditation than you began with. This is put by Mephistopheles very powerfully in Goethe’s Faust. Faust sits in meditation and Mephistopheles comes up and he says, ‘You know, there you are; you’re like a sort of frog, blowing yourself up bigger and bigger and bigger, and at the end of it you’re just a frog and you’ll have to come down again, won’t you? Nothing new can come from the meditation. Maybe you’re not doing that much harm to anybody, but that’s about all that can be said.’ Continue reading

Liberation Here and Now, by Ayya Khema

DaffodilWhen we hear or read the word ‘liberation’ (nibbana), we often get the idea that it is unattainable, otherworldly, reachable only by spiritual giants, and that it has very little to do with us. We do not have to look at it that way. Let us consider the three kinds of liberation—’signless’, ‘wishless’, and ‘voidness’ liberation. Signless liberation is attained by completely penetrating impermanence (anicca), wishless liberation by completely penetrating unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and voidness liberation by penetrating coreless substance (anatta).

We’re all familiar with impermanence, but what is signless liberation? Suppose we are attached to or highly appreciative of a person, a situation, a belonging. Can we let go of clinging to it? We can try to let go of anything at all, no matter how small. We direct our attention to the fact that all we examine is totally fleeting. We fathom that truth in everything, in all living beings, and, having seen it, we let go of our belief in the solidity of things. We thereby let go of our attachment. If we can do that with anything or anyone, even for a moment, we have won a moment of signless liberation—a moment of direct knowledge that nothing has any intrinsic value, that it’s all a passing show. Having had that experience, even for one moment, gives us an inkling of what the Buddha meant when he spoke about freedom. Freedom is often misunderstood as the ability to do anything we want. We have probably tried that already and found that it doesn’t work. Even if we were to follow only our desires, we would soon be satiated and then feel unfulfilled. Continue reading

Life in a Korean Monastery, Jisu Sunim

Jisu Sunim holding up a rubbing of Bodhidharma which has just been presented to him by Shi Yanzi. Photo © Gerda ChapuisKorean food is very hot and spicy compared to the British diet which is rather sweet. We always have chilli sauce with our food. We have pickles made with Chinese leaves, cucumber, spinach, and so on, and everything is mixed with at least a little amount of chilli. So Korean dishes are very hot and spicy.

I think that what we eat is what we are. Because we eat hot and spicy food our lifestyle seems to be rather hot and spicy compared to yours in the west. Zen monastic life is hot and spicy. The Zen retreat that I shall be holding in a few weeks’ time, for example, has been advertised by Dick and Diana as a rather ‘tough regime’. But when I refer to Zen retreats in a western country, I usually call them ‘sugar Zen’ because they are adjusted to accommodate westerners. Even so, it still seems to be too much for people on this side of the world, so maybe I need to put a bit more sugar in this second retreat that I will be doing. Continue reading

Universal Original Purity, by Ajahn Sumedho

Standing Buddhas Cambodia Photo: © Janet NovakThe Buddha approached the spiritual path through the noble truths. These are based on the existential reality of suffering. This is where many people in the West misunderstand Buddhism. They compare it to other religions and come out with statements about it being a negative approach, and that Buddhists don’t believe in God. There is this idea that it’s some kind of atheist religious form. But if you contemplate the Buddha’s teaching, the important thing to realise is that it’s a teaching of awakening rather than of grasping any kind of metaphysical position.

The first noble truth, suffering (dukkha), brings us back to a very banal and ordinary human experience. The suffering of not getting what we want is common to all of us. We all experience suffering from being separated from what we like and love, and having to be with what we don’t like. So we can all relate to it, rich or poor. We all have to experience old age, sickness and death, grief and sorrow, lamentation, despair, doubt—these are common to every human experience. There is nothing particularly unusual about this suffering; it’s ordinary. But it is to be understood. And in order to understand it, you have to accept it. Continue reading

Clinging to Self, by Bhikkhu PA Payutto

Standing Buddha, Sri lanka Photo: © Hazel WaghornA certain Mr Porng went to visit the abbot of a nearby monastery, and he asked, ‘Luang Por [Reverend Father], the Buddha taught that everything is not-self and is without an owner—there is no one who commits karma and no one who receives its results. If that is the case, then I can go out and hit somebody over the head or even kill them, or do anything I like, because there is no one committing karma and no one receiving its results.’

No sooner had Mr Porng finished speaking than the abbot swung his walking stick down like a flash. Mr Porng could hardly get his arm up fast enough to ward off the blow. Even so, the stick struck solidly in the middle of his arm, giving it a good bruise. Clutching his sore arm, Mr Porng said, ‘Luang Por! Why did you do that?’ His voice trembled with the anger that was welling up inside him. Continue reading

The Middle Way, by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Buddha in wall The bright mind is balanced and the defiled mind is imbalanced. When defilements (kilesa) come in, they take over. Then things are no longer in balance. And when the mind is out of balance, sometimes it goes off to the left, sometimes to the right, sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, or there is too much, or too little. This is what happens with defilements—the natural, pure balance of the mind is interfered with. This shows the importance of getting away from the influence of the defilements in order to live in the balanced Middle Way.

When the instincts are out of control, they become selfish, and this gives rise to all the defilements. The out-of-control instincts pull the mind off the Middle Way into the dead-end of the kilesa (the mental defilements). This is very important to know.

We often call these things the defilements, but we can see that they are just instincts which are out of control. Seeing this gives us an insight into how to bring them under control so that they no longer become defilements. This is something to be very interested in in order to get back on the path, to return to the balanced, right state of mind. To make it easier to understand, we can look at certain pairs of things which take us off the Middle Way. Continue reading


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