The Mind’s Ideal

In this Uposatha reflection, Tahn Pamutto discusses how getting a vision of the reason we practice and what we would like to develop can serve as a foundation for the work we actually do in cultivating the eightfold path. He also discusses the list of four known as the iddhipāda, which are factors we can bring to our efforts to improve our chance of success.

Family Group: Developing Paramī

One of the joys of being stably in one spot as well as amidst a community of buddhist practitioners is the ability to have programs suitable for participants of all ages.  In Shelburne we had the first of our planned weekly family gathering today.  The theme was ‘Developing Paramī’.  We had the chance to contemplate what qualities we think are important for our own happiness and how we might practice them so they get stronger.

The whole topic of Paramī, or Perfections, is derived from the story of the bodhisatta’s quest to become a Buddha.  Just setting the intention for something is not enough – we have to consider what is needed for success and do the work.

We got to have a little fun acting the scene out too.  Have you ever heard the story?

FAMILY GROUP:  THE STORY OF SUMEDHA

NARRATOR: This is something that happened long, long ago, on a planet that was a lot like earth. On that earth in the country of India there was a great city so large and old that everybody thought the city would last forever, so they called it Amaravāti, the Deathless City.

At the edge of this great city there were some patches of forest. This is where meditators and holy people liked to live. One of these meditators was a man named Sumedha. He lived on his own in a little hut in the woods. Every day Sumedha would sit and meditate in the forest, developing his mental power. He had lots of special abilities like the ability to see and hear things far, far away, and the ability to move things with his mind. He was pretty sure he could do anything he wanted to if he put his mind to it.

One day Sumedha was disturbed from his meditation by a lot of people working on the path down the hill from his hut. He went down the hill to chase them away, but when he got there he was surprised by what he found. The people were smiling and happy, and working very diligently to clean the path. They were sweeping and clearing branches and filling in all the potholes with dirt. Some were even chanting while they worked. Sumedha went up to one of them and asked:

SUMEDHA: “What are you doing? Why is everyone cleaning this old path? And why are you all so happy?”

VILLAGER: “Oh great Holy Man, we are happy because this good news has spread: A Buddha named Dīpankara has arisen in the world! He left a rich family to go off and purify his mind, and has attained full enlightenment. He is kind and wise and holy. He teaches all who want to be taught the Dhamma of how to realize enlightenment for themselves in this very life. And – today he is traveling along this very road with a great big sangha of his monks and nuns. We are very honored to have him bless our neighborhood.”

SUMEDHA: “That sounds nice. I want to be a Buddha!”

VILLAGER: “Good sir, I hope you are successful in that! But you should know that it takes a lot of work to be a Buddha. It takes many, many lifetimes of practice to purify ones mind and heart to that great level, so that one can be of benefit to everyone.”

NARRATOR: When Sumedha heard this he looked at the people around him and suddenly he understood why they were so happy. Work! It had been a long time since he had had to work at anything, because his psychic powers were so strong. And he had never worked for anyone but himself. But these people were happily working out of respect and kindness for the coming Buddha.

So Sumedha asked if he could help prepare the path. A villager gave him a broom and he started sweeping. He picked up heavy branches and tossed them out of the way. There were even some acorns which hurt when they were walked on, so he picked them up one by one so no one would hurt their feet.

Even after all this work though, there was one thing that didn’t get done. A big pothole was in the middle of the path and it was filled with muddy water. Anyone who walked through it would get all muddy and dirty. Just then Sumedha saw the Buddha Dīpankara coming down the road, with a long line of monks and nuns walking single file behind him. The Buddha was dressed in bright golden robes and looked so peaceful and bright, it was like he was glowing. He walked very mindfully.

Sumedha didn’t have any time to think or use his psychic powers. He just lay down in the puddle so that the coming Buddha could walk over his back. When Dīpankara Buddha approached he understood what Sumedha was doing, so he walked across the puddle using Sumedha as a bridge!

When the Buddha walked over him, Sumedha had this thought:

SUMEDHA: Now that I see the Buddha I understand what it means to be enlightened. His mind is totally bright and pure of all mean thoughts. If I studied under this Buddha, I bet I could reach that same enlightenment – in one night if I really tried. But I would rather be a Buddha just like him, and make people everywhere happy and teach the dhamma! I will be a bridge so other people can reach the far shore of enlightenment!

NARRATOR: At that time the Buddha Dīpankara knew what Sumedha was thinking, and saw that he was able to work very hard at what he wanted.

DĪPANKARA: This holy man just decided to become a Buddha! And he will be successful. Many lifetimes from now he will be a Buddha named Gotama, and he will teach the Dhamma. He will help many people cross to the far shore.

NARRATOR: When this was said everyone around became very happy. All the villagers and even all the spirit beings like devas celebrated, because a Buddha arising is a very good thing.

All the rest of the sangha walked over Sumedha like a bridge. While he was lying there, Sumedha saw that he had a lot of work to do. He was actually not the nicest person! He was very self-centered, and he could be mean sometimes. He also held on very tightly to the things he loved.

When he thought about this, his mind became a little brighter. He realized that he was being Honest with himself, and Honesty was a good quality. So from that moment he decided he would work hard to always tell the truth, no matter what happened.

With Sacca, or Honesty, as his first quality, Sumedha then thought of a list of ‘Paramī’, or Perfections, that he would have to master in order to be a Buddha. A Paramī is a quality of a pure heart that good people have. There are a few different lists, but in the Theravādā tradition, there are Ten Paramī.

What are three qualities you think are the most important?

Now pick one and come up with a way you would practice this to get better at it.

Here is the list of Ten Paramī. Do any match the ones you picked?

Sacca – Honesty
Dānā – Generosity
Sīla – Virtue
Nekkhamā – Letting Go
Adhiṭṭhana – Determination
Viriya – Energy
Mettā – Goodwill
Karuna – Compassion
Upekkha – Equanimity
Pañña – Wisdom

Talk: Developing Faith in the Triple Gem

In this Uposatha reflection, Tahn Pamutto reflects on the ‘Homage to the Triple Gem’, a sort set of verses that are among the most commonly chanted pāli phrases in theravāda buddhism. These phrases are known as the epithets of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and are a great reflection on what it means to grow in confidence and joy as we practice.

Uposatha Talk: Spiritual Growth

For the Uposatha Tahn Pamutto is joined by Tan Santi at Vihara Parivara Dhamma Acala for a joint dhamma reflection on the subject of Spiritual Growth. The ability to change, to discern what is for our benefit and detriment, and to develop powerful and wholesome responses to life’s challenges is essential to the ‘Why?’ of Buddhist practice.

Talk: Taṇha – Craving for Existence

We had a lot of friends join for the Uposatha program last night. Marking the occasion, Tahn Pamutto offered a reflection on one of the central aspects of the Buddha’s definition of what causes stress in our lives: Taṇha, or Thirst. Starting at the reality of our lives and the tangible experience of loss, he tracks it back through the steps of Dependent Origination to the place where it arises, namely, the craving and identification with experiences that are pleasant, painful, and neutral.

Mettā Week

The recordings of the mettā weeklong working retreat can be found on the ‘Innovative Dhamma’ YouTube channel.  Each session is an hour long, including an opening homage, 45 minute meditation, and a reflection.

Please note – the first one or two recordings may have occasional glitches due to technical difficulties.  It was resolved after that.

Talk: Seeing Views

On the Uposatha, Tahn Pamutto discusses attachment to views, what that looks like and how we might try to chart a course through the world without relying on them. While Taṇha or Craving gets a lot of press in the Buddha’s teachings, it’s actually the outflow of Views, or Diṭṭhāsava, that was the major stumbling block in the lives of early Buddhists. Seeing our viewpoints and expectations as impermanent is the gateway that everyone must pass through to chart a course for true freedom.

How? First it’s important to recognize what suffering views are!

Keeping the Fire Lit

“Oh, the one who first taught you

the Buddha’s dhamma and his ways –

like brahmins keep a sacred fire lit

Ever give them thanks and praise!”

Dhammapada v.392

Winter is both here and not quite here yet. Evening temperatures dip below freezing and the first snow of the season threatens with every storm, but as yet the days are still warm. Managing heat inside the small space of the mobile temple during these shifts has become something of an art form. As anyone who has used a wood stove in such a space knows, getting the right heat is a constant balancing act: too much wood and the fire makes it a sauna; too little wood and the fire dies out.

Mastering constant heat is about coming to an understanding … it’s not about the fire. It’s about the embers, the glowing coals after a burn that keep the stove warm and ready. If the embers go out the stove has to be lit again from scratch, but if they are properly tended and nursed along restarting the fire is as easy as tossing on more fuel.

This is very much like our dhamma practice. There are times when we are on fire. We sit, we study, we go on retreats and burn with enthusiasm. But at other times, and sometimes as a consequence of overheating through our fervor, the fire goes out and we enter a period of drifting. We will struggle to sit and despite our best intentions we’ll neglect our practice. Days, weeks, months go by. When we finally do get back on track is almost like starting things from scratch.

As we go along, a wisdom arises: it’s not so much about the periods of intensity or periods of drifting as it is about nurturing the glowing coals of Faith and Wisdom through our day to day life. If we keep in contact with these – our reasons for practice, with the teaching, and with a community of dhamma friends – then whenever there is time and fuel our practice will light up again.

This is even more the case here in America, with many people practicing dhamma but living very separate and individual lives. The country is not one but a multitude of frontiers, with many practitioners dozens or even hundreds of miles from a temple or retreat center of their lineage. There might be a sitting or study group nearby, but these often meet too infrequently to keep us active by themselves.

We find here that we have to be diligent to stay the path. Continuity of practice is often more the case of nurturing daily expression – maintaining an altar, supporting a dhamma community, sitting, reading, chanting. Some little daily effort or reminder to keep the embers alive goes further than a few big exertions.

One of the best ways to stay the course, and know what we need to nurture, is to keep in touch with what inspired us to begin spiritual practice in the first place. Chances are we didn’t find that inspiration from reading a paperback or hearing about a temple somewhere or meeting someone who goes on meditation retreat every now and then. Even if that has become the content of our spiritual lives, it’s not where we started. If we look back to where we first developed our faith we will probably see a moment of intense personal growth, or a mind-altering teaching, or a meeting with a deeply devoted and inspiring practitioner.

We don’t keep the embers of Faith and Wisdom glowing through being content and coasting along. We have to look back to what originally lit a fire in our hearts and got us believing we could change for the better. This will be different from person to person, but what will be the same is that whenever a person keeps in touch with the things that inspired them, they will not lose their way. There will still be ups and downs, but the fire will no longer go out. Exertion won’t be a merciless sweat and tending to life’s other chores won’t leave one feeling cold.

So if you find yourself drifting, take a moment and ask yourself. Where did you start? What keeps you warm? When you figure it out, then keep it going in your life. Let it be its own art form.

Talk: Path of Peace

In this Uposatha evening reflection, Tahn Pamutto draws from a Dhammapada reference to the path of practice as a ‘Path of Peace’. Though we begin by charting a course to particular goals and discriminating between different philosophies and types of practice, it is ultimately less about our destination than about the path we take to get there. Tahn Pamutto goes on to speak about the Five Faculties: five character traits the spiritual practitioner builds and employs which are the deciding factor in whether we make quick progress or slow. These faculties are not just the tools of the journey but are also a way of describing what we become through our efforts.

Daylong Retreat

We have just finished our daylong retreat, “Recollection of Death”.  The recordings are available on the ‘Innovative Dhamma’ YouTube channel.  We appreciate the great turnout and participation both online and in-person!

Upavana Foundation info@upavana.org

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