This talk was given to a group of lay-people in the Kuala Lumpur area of Malaysia, it covers quite a lot of ground. As there were both new and experienced practitioners present it seemed appropriate to go over the basics first and then to try to describe a little of how spiritual practice builds as a truly profound and utterly transformative process upon these inter-related and mutually supportive foundations.
The Threefold Training in Dana, Sila and Bhavana (generosity, ethics, mental cultivation) is a far more sophisticated and revolutionary training than it can seem at first glance. When all of these factors of the Path are present, they both support and empower each other in a truly extraordinary way. When we commit to this training we are actually engaging a process that will both overhaul and then eventually completely purify the mind. This training in developing our outer behaviour to be more generous and virtuous also fosters an inner evolution of beautiful qualities, while simultaneously undermining and uprooting the negative ones. It is nothing less than awesome in its power and thoroughness, and it is truly amazing the way these three tenets support one another in inclining the minds of beings full speed ahead towards “The Other Shore.” Of course on the personal level this Path can only ever be as powerful as the level of commitment of those who aspire to walk it.
As well as talking in detail about Dana, Sila and Bhavana, I surprised myself in this talk by getting quite fierce towards the end, upon discovering that half of the room had not yet actually committed to a daily meditation practice. In trying to teach or encourage others it sometimes seems necessary or at least useful to employ a little bit of “tough love!” The talk ends on a lighter note however, as I tell a couple of stories illustrating the ways my own practice of generosity has manifested some encouraging results in this life. Sometimes we need some bitter medicine, and a little bit of sugar does help it go down!
I sincerely hope that something here is useful.
Having heard a lot of good Dhamma from my earlier Theravadan teachers in English, and then later having heard many excellent teachings in Thai - like all of us who have developed a deep appreciation for wisdom teachings, it is wonderful to occasionally hear engaging teachings from a fresh or different angle. When I was in Melbourne last year I had the very good fortune to be able to attend a one day teaching by His Holiness the Dalai Lama pertaining to the “Heart Sutra”, which is a central text in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions everywhere. In this talk I try to share a little of what His Holiness was explaining about this profound yet often miss-understood text. In my own studies, while becoming clearer about the differences between the various Buddhist traditions, at the same time I always enjoy noticing how similar these wisdom traditions are. After-all, the wisdom that sees things according to their fundamental characteristics shines above and beyond any tradition or lineage.
As well as relaying some of the content of the teachings I also share some of my observations of His Holiness as a conventional being and as a practitioner. Over the years I have had many opportunities to sit on the stage quite close to the Dalai Lama at various teaching events in several different countries. Observing how this well trained and well-practiced monk relates to others is perhaps even more of a teaching than the commentaries about the ancient texts themselves… well at least to me anyway!
May we all grow in wisdom and compassion and realise the lightness of heart that such growth unveils.
It was a cold winter night in Melbourne last year, I was staying at the Buddhist Society of Victoria for a week and feeling grateful to the Buddhists of Melbourne, I had accepted the invitation to give several talks during the week and a daylong meditation workshop on the weekend. Tuesday night was the beginners’ class, but when I walked into the hall I was a little surprised to see the smiling faces of so many old friends! It was touching to see how many people had come out to the centre despite the cold.
While taking a few moments considering what to say that might be helpful, one could palpably feel the layers of stress and anxiety in the air, and the fatigue that these mind states give rise to as well. No doubt many people had just come from work and had then been in the bustling traffic. The most appropriate thing to offer then it seemed would be a reminder to people of their extraordinary potential and relative good fortune, and to then point quite emphatically to that part of the mind that can mindfully know all mind states and emotions as merely “thoughts”… and … “feelings.” After this short talk we sat meditation together and by the end of the session the burden of the daily grind seemed considerably lighter.
Generating clear mindfulness is extremely helpful… in fact it is a true refuge.
Opening the heart to the ever-present ‘Positive Power’ of Buddhas
On this same occasion, after the meditation I thought it would be nice to tell an uplifting and humorous little story that seems to suggest that the Devas of the holy shrines in Bangkok are definitely responsive to prayers and requests. In our modern world where the news, the economy, relationships and politics consume so much of our attention, it is nice to be reminded of the lighter side of the conditioned realm, and hear things which are “faithy’ in tone rather than cynical, pessimistic or suspicious. Learning to ask for support at the right time and in the right manner is also an important aspect of deepening our practice. And just as we train in giving generously, we also need to know when it is time to ask for help and to learn how receive from others graciously.
May the enormous power of the accumulated merit of the Buddha support and guide us all along the Path.
The four Brahma-Viharas are divine attitudes or sublime states of mind which are both extremely wholesome and also a tremendous support along the path of developing wisdom and insight. Lord Buddha explained that these attitudes or states of mind can be developed to the point of being truly boundless. Those who cultivate these very wholesome meditations also experience much peace and joy in due course. Metta (Loving-Kindness) is the first of the Brahma Viharas. There are many ways and methods for developing metta. Because our habitual ways of perceiving the world ourselves and others tends to be somewhat contracted and conditioned by past limitations, it is very valuable to develop meditations which both relax the habitual contraction as well as expand the capacity of the heart, regular metta meditation does this.
In this meditation we start with the practice of “Lovingly Accepting” the current state of the body and mind as it is when we come to the meditation. Having established an attitude of loving acceptance we then move onto becoming aware of the very space within which our bodies exist and our thoughts and feelings arise and cease. So often this “empty space” is simply not noticed, yet becoming more aware of it immediately helps the mind to feel less cramped and limited. Returning to suffusing the mind and body with Loving-Kindness, we then slowly train in radiating this metta outwards in all directions. In training to recognise the vastness of empty space, as well as training in and affirming one’s own extraordinary capacity to cultivate and radiate metta, it becomes possible to generate a great deal of this pure form of love and eventually to radiate it outwards boundlessly.
May we all grow in Loving-Kindness… and be supported along the Path of developing profound liberating wisdom.
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