Purification for the Sake of What?

Majjhima Nikaya MN24.15. Rathavinita Sutta: The Relay Chariots (รถวินีตสูตร)

“So too, friend,
(1) purification of virtue is for the sake of reaching purification of mind;
(2) purification of mind is for the sake of reaching purification of view;
(3) purification of view is for the sake of reaching purification by overcoming doubt;
(4) purification by overcoming doubt is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path;
(5) purification of what is the path and what is not the path is for the sake of reaching purification by knowledge and vision of the way;
(6) purification by knowledge and vision is for the sake of reaching final Nibbaana without clinging.

It is for the sake of final Nibbaana without clinging that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One.”

Benefit of the Holy Life

Majjhima Nikaya MN29.6. Mahaasaaropama Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Simile of the Heartwood (มหาสาโรปมสูตร)

“Bhikkhus, here some clansman goes forth out of faith from the home life to homelessness, considering: ‘I am a victim of birth, ageing, and death, of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair; I am a victim of suffering, a prey to suffering. Surely an ending of this whole mass of suffering can be known.’ When he has gone forth thus, he acquires gain, honour, and renown, and his intention is not fulfilled… When he is diligent, he achieves the attainment of virtue, but his intention is not fulfilled…When he is diligent, he achieves the attainment of concentration, but his intention is not fulfilled…When he is diligent, he achieves knowledge and vision, but his intention is not fulfilled. He does not, on account of it, laud himself and disparage others. He does not become intoxicated with that knowledge and vision, he does not grow negligent and fall into negligence. Being diligent, he attains perpetual liberation. And it is impossible for that bhikkhu to fall away from that perpetual deliverance…

7. “So this holy life, bhikkhus, does not have gain, honour, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of virtue for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakeable deliverance of mind that is the goal of this holy life, its heartwood, and its end.

That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

Last Day in the Office

Today was my last day at work. I had a pending holiday that could not be converted to cash so I had to “use it or lose it”. Tomorrow, my last day in Perth will be a holiday for me. I shall use the day to do a few small chores, eat dinner at my sister’s house and then depart.

On the way to the office this morning, I bought a large lemon cream sponge cake from Miss Maud‘s. This was a popular choice for our morning tea. Yesterday, my branch and a few others went out to have a farewell lunch. They gave me a lovely going away card and a gift of $75 cash. Everyone has been very thoughtful and kind. They said lots of sweet words and wished me success in “whatever it is you think your doing.” There were comments like: “it sounds like torture more than a holiday” and “you can still change your mind and stay.” Perhaps understandably, I have been walking around with a big grin on my face most of this week.

Having spent most of my working career in Canberra working for the Australian Government on national social policies and programs, I enjoyed learning about state government processes, industrial infrastructure policy and Western Australia. I shall carry fond memories of many good people I met during the past five months.

Formless Attainments

Majjhima Nikaya MN26. Ariyapariyesanaa Sutta: The Noble Search (ปาสราสิสูตร)
(also known as the Paasaraasi Sutta: The Heap of Snares – the Thai translation has this second title)

The Lord Buddha gives the bhikkhus gives a summary of his search for enlightenment. The sutta covers the then Bodhisatta’s training period with two eminent teachers. Aa.laara Kaalaama and Uddaka Raamaputta.

MN26.15 states that “Aa.laara Kaalaama has faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom…” the five controlling faculties indriya and five powers bala.
MN26.16 states that “(Uddaka) Raama(putta) has faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom…” the five controlling faculties indriya and five powers bala.

Aa.laara Kaalaama (AK) and Uddaka Raamaputta (UR) both died before Lord Buddha rolled the Wheel of the Dhamma and started the current dispensation. AK and UR both attained formless attainments (jhaana) under the Brahmin system (? or itinerant yogi – mendicant system) before Lord Buddha taught it. AK reached base of nothingness which is the third formless attainment and UR reached the base of neither perception-nor-non-perception which is the fourth formless attainment. Both teachers had large followings. I’m not sure if the followers appointed new leaders after they each passed away? (MN26.15-16) “I soon quickly learned that Dhamma. As far as mere lip-reciting and rehearsal of his teaching went, I could speak with knowledge and assurance, and I claimed, ‘I know and see’–and there were others who did likewise.”

The teachings of AK and UR must have been similar with each other, perhaps based on some common Brahmin roots. Their teaching probably contained some worship of Brahma deity and or a belief in an eternal soul-like identity which persists life after life until union with the Brahma diety. Buddhists consider this as wrong view that would prevent AK and UR from seeing the three general characteristics and Nibbaana. I have not found any reference to the former followers of AK and UR later joining the Buddhist Sangha.

Perth to Yangon

My plans are clearer now though by no means certain.

Postponed Trip to India
I am following good advice from friends and family not to go to India before the retreat in Myanmar.
The disadvantages and inconveniences:
1. I would be travelling there alone on the first trip and this is inherently stressful. It may be better for at least the beginning of the first trip to travel in a small group with an experienced person or guide.
2. The weather is particularly hot in late March-April after the moderate temperatures of December-February.
3. My original plan to travel to the main sites in one or two weeks was to cramped with lots of activities in a short period. It would be better to have more time to meditate, read discourses on location and see the less often visited sites.
So now I will probably go to India either in October-November 2009 or from late December 2009 to February 2010 with the later period more likely. I’ve done a lot of research on the India trip that I’ve filed away on the portable media player. I can read the maps and notes stored there. I got an Indian tourist visa but now will not use it before it expires. I will have to apply for another Indian tourist visa at a later time.

Between Perth and Yangon
My last day at work is Thursday, 19 March. I shall take my bags to work and go to the Perth International Airport from there. I will fly overnight and arrive in Singapore around 3AM, Friday, 20 March. I may find a cheap place to rest for a few hours. I want to buy some white meditation shirts and other small items at Mustafa’s. I will also go to a clinic to have the JE vaccination and the annual flu vaccination. I was hoping to visit one or two monks in the afternoon. Neither has replied my e-mail yet. Now that may be delayed for another visit to Singapore while something more urgent has appeared. I just found out that a friend’s parents are very unwell and so maybe I will visit them in the afternoon.

I fly from Singapore to Bangkok between 6PM and 7:30PM. I plan to take a combination of taxi and train to Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, and check in to a guest house before midnight on Friday, 20 March. I will check out from there around Tuesday, 24 March and fly to Yangon.
In Ayutthaya I can relax a bit, tour the ruins, visit the museum and just get used to being in Asia before commencing the retreat in Burma.

Retreat
I have a six month meditation visa for Myanmar (Burma). One needs a meditation centre to be a sponsor in order to get a six month or three month (or whatever length) meditation visa. Saddhammaransi Meditation Centre is my sponsor for this trip.

Ven. Sayadaw U Kundala has been very sick during the past few years but has recently made a good recovery. A friend who was in Yangon a few weeks ago reported that Sayadaw is up and about meeting visitors and is likely able to talk with me. This is great news for me. I am fortunate indeed.

Hopefully, I have learned from mistakes I made on a six week retreat in Yangon two years ago. This time, I have at least six months for the retreat – ten times longer or more.
1. Don’t write a daily journal; and 2. Don’t talk to anyone unless absolutely necessary. These activities involve discursive mental practices which are inherently conceptual and far from observing ultimate realities. Writing and talking are to be avoided as much as possible on Buddhist meditation retreats. Whether samatha or vipassana, the same rule applies.
3. Maintain continuous mindfulness and careful or appropriate attention at all times (sati-sampaja~n~na and yoniso-manasikaara). This is about continuity of mindfulness on the right objects. Try to maintain mindfulness of presently arising and passing phenomena at all times, even when bathing, eating, walking to the interview, sweeping the hall and so forth.
4. Purchase small necessary items at the beginning of the retreat so I don’t need to go to the office and make requests. Being experienced, I know what I need now.
5. Don’t look at other meditators or people at the meditation centre. They have a duty to observe phenomena arising and passing over there. I have a duty to observe phenomena arising and passing over here.
6. Do only basic chores necessary for daily life. Avoid repairing toilets when there are still two other toilets in working order. Despite this being a good deed, the benefit does not compare (is not one sixteenth part) of the benefit of meditation. All the planning, shopping for parts and solving of small problems involved in such repairs is very distracting for beginner meditators in the middle of a retreat. This reminds me of the old story of “cleaning the oven before writing the next thesis chapter.”

Cargo
I have been anxious about taking the Suttapitaka books on this trip. When planning this trip earlier, I was not sure if I would return to Australia or not. I may meditate most of the time from April to November (or even longer) without any breaks for study or travel (except maybe short distances within Burma to other meditation centres). In that case, I may not need Suttapitaka books. Having them nearby, I may be tempted to read them or refer to them while on retreat. I’ve become quite attached to them during the past two years. They are my dearest possessions. I shall contemplate the parable of the raft and see if I can let them go for a while.

Australia in December?
I may return for 3 weeks from late November to mid December 2009 to attend my children’s school graduations. One will graduate year 12 and another may (or may not…) graduate year 10. It will mean a lot to them if I can attend. It would cost a lot in airfares though. I checked fares and could not find any discount fares for that period yet. They may be advertised later. Or maybe with the global recession, the cost of flying will increase as the airlines shut down more flights.

First Jhaana – the Path to Englightenment

The first sutta extract below is a story told by Lord Buddha about a time when he was a 7 year old prince (a bodhisatta) attending a brahmin style royal ploughing ceremony performed by his father, King Suddhodana. He was left alone briefly while most people were engrossed in the spectacle.

Majjhima Nikaya MN36.31 Mahaasaccaka Sutta: The Greater Discourse to Saccaka (มหาสัจจกสูตร)

“I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhaana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?’ Then, following on that memory, came the realisation: ‘That is indeed the path to enlightenment.’

32. “I thought: ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’ I thought: ‘I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’

Majjhima Nikaya MN138. Uddesavibhanga Sutta: The Exposition of a Summary (อุทเทสวิภังคสูตร)

3. “Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should examine things in such a way that while he is examining them, his consciousness is not distracted and scattered externally nor stuck internally, and by not clinging he does not become agitated. If his consciousness is not distracted and scattered externally nor stuck internally, and if by not clinging he does not become agitated, then for him these is no origination of suffering–of birth, ageing, and death in the future.”

11. [spoken by Ven. Mahaa Kaccaana] “And how friends, is consciousness called ‘not distracted and scattered externally? Here, when a bhikkhu has seen a form with the eye, if his consciousness does not follow after the sign of form, is not tied and shackled by gratification in the sign of form, then his consciousness is called ‘not distracted and scattered externally…’

12. “And how, friends, is the mind called ‘stuck internally’? Here, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhaana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. If his consciousness follows after the rapture and pleasure born of seclusion, is tied and shackled by gratification in the rapture and pleasure born of seclusion, then his mind is called ‘stuck internally.’

13. “Again, with the stilling of applied and sustained thought, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the second jhaana, which has self-confidence and singleness of mind without applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of concentration. If his consciousness follows after the rapture and pleasure born of concentration…then his mind is called ‘stuck internally.’

Passages 14 and 15 similarly cover the third and fourth jhaana. Passages 16-19 cover ‘not stuck internally.’ The way to not be stuck internally is when “if his consciousness does not follow after the rapture and pleasure…” I take this as meaning not hankering after the pleasure and gratification of jhaana.

Middle Way

The following discourse is addressed to ascetics who have dedicated their lives to the practice leading to liberation. Lord Buddha uses forthright language to encourage monks and nuns to put aside thoughts and behaviours associated with lay lives. Even so, non-ascetics, lay people, even married couples have successfully practiced restraint of the senses for short or long periods for training purposes. Lord Buddha encouraged all Buddhists to practice restraint of the senses and dedicated periods of intense practice.

The restraint of the senses and simplifying ones life even for short periods is enormously beneficial. These days many people are busy indulging their senses with music, colourful and enticing images, fragrant odours, and so on. They would consider restraint as a waste of time. Very few people now would go to the other extreme of self-mortification.

In terms of spiritual practice, that is behaviour directed at making progress in a spiritual sense, it is rare to find people who would advocate either extremes of hedonism or self-mortification. Usually present day hedonists are keen to enjoy themselves without consideration of spiritual life. There are some so-called new-age people who mix and match a range of beliefs and practices (such as various types of yoga, Sufism, tantra, Zen, voodoo, witchcraft, magic, Egyptian religion, UFOs, anamism, druidism, shamanism, crystals, tarot, reiki, psychodelic substances … ) to suit their moods and personal preferences without deep understanding or proper regard for the contexts and traditions they graze from.

These practices are based on a superficial understanding and wrong view. Lord Buddha outlined a wide range of common wrong views in the first discourse in the Dighanikaaya, the Brahmajaala Sutta.

Lord Buddha encourages us to avoid extemes of indulgance in sensual pleasure and self-mortification in order to take the Middle Way – the Eight-fold Noble Path. I’ll write more about that later.

Majjhima Nikaya MN.139. Ara.navibhanga Sutta: The Exposition of Non-Conflict (อรณวิภังคสูตร)

4. “‘One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, course, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?
“The pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires –low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of the enjoyment of one whose pleasure is linked to sensual desires–low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way.

“The pursuit of self-mortification painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state beset by suffering, vexation, despair and fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from the pursuit of self-mortification–painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial–is a state without suffering, vexation, despair, and fever, and it is the right way.

“So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial.’

5. “‘The Middle Way discovered by the Tathaagata avoids both these extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbaana.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘The Middle Way discovered by the Tathaagata avoids both these extremes…to Nibbaana.’

14. “Therefore, bhikkhus, you should train yourselves thus: ‘We shall know the state with conflict and we shall know the state without conflict, and knowing these, we shall enter upon the way without conflict…’