Perth – settling in

I’ve been back in Perth, Australia for over two weeks now. I’m living at my Mother’s house and seeing my siblings and their families often. The weather is fine and cool. It is great weather in fact.  Perth is so clean and tidy, all the infrastructure is so well maintained and so convenient… except that everything is so spread out and there seem to be few people.  Australians are fortunate to have such good living conditions.

I’ve applied for many jobs already and will continue to apply until I am employed again. My main job market is government service and university administration. My expertise is public policy analysis and project management. I’ll get something soon, I have good qualifications and experience.

I went to Murdoch University campus for the first time since 1992. There are many new buildings and modifications to older buildings.  I’ve also joined Murdoch University Alumni, thinking this is another network and such networks can be helpful.  Following their advice, I joined the Murdoch University Library as a Community Member with the usual $99 annual fee waived. I also got a “green zone” parking sticker for free. The annual fee is usually $137 for staff or $74 for students.  The friendly Alumni office staff also gave me an attractive  aluminum covered notepad with pen and a special tube of Alumni sunscreen lotion. I first went to Murdoch in 1979 which wasn’t long after it opened.  I was a full-time student there for six years. Now I’m considering options for doing a postgraduate diploma there next year in part-time mode. I’m not sure yet.

I don’t have a big network of friends in Perth because I lived most of the past 18 years in Canberra and traveled overseas. It is easy to make new friends though.  Australians tend to move a lot. I’m not sure if any studies have been done on how often people move house or even relocate to different towns and states but feel confident that Australians move more than other nationalities. I’m generalising of course.

Since I left Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka I done much meditation. I have spent a lot of time on my Mother’s computer surfing the Internet as well as writing job applications.  While I was in Asian meditation centres I was unable to keep up with news or do research by “following my nose”. Now I have time and opportunity…

I prepared a schedule in Google Calendar for an ideal way to manage my time and this includes sitting meditation for one hour in the morning (4:30 AM start) and one hour before sleeping. However, I confess that so far, I haven’t got into the routine. Sometimes, I follow my nose on the Internet and two or three hours pass in subjective minutes.

Even so I still chant every morning and evening and do a little loving-kindness and recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. I also read a little Dhamma each day and some days read a lot. During day when I drive the car, or walk somewhere, instead of letting the mind wander I often focus on the breath touching the upper lip. It feels good and centres me straight away. I note the good feeling and try to focus on the touch sensation.   I even do this kind of short meditation when waiting in queues or walking around shops.

Qualities of a Dhamma Teacher on the Path

Since I exited the eight week retreat at Section 5, Wat Mahadhatu, I’ve been spending a lot of time there in the afternoons and evenings helping Pi Yai teach meditation and answer questions about Buddhism. I regard teaching as a big responsibility.  I need to take great care. I am still learning so much myself. Even so, there is merit in teaching and helping people to understand the Dhamma. I try to keep the following five points in mind when teaching.

Anguttaaranikaaya AN 5.159   PTS: A iii 184
Udayi Sutta: About Udayin
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi, in Ghosita’s Park. Now at that time Ven. Udayin was sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma. Ven. Ananda saw Ven. Udayin sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma, and on seeing him went to the Blessed One. On arrival, he bowed down to the Blessed One and sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “Ven. Udayin, lord, is sitting surrounded by a large assembly of householders, teaching the Dhamma.”

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?
“[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’
“[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause and effect].’
“[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak out of compassion.’
“[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.’
“[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak without hurting myself or others.’

“It’s not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching.”

Ven. Thannisaro also noted: According to the Commentary, “hurting oneself” means exalting oneself. “Hurting others” means putting other people down.

As I mentioned above, I am still learning. So in addition to the above five qualities, I reflect on the limits of my knowledge and while wishing to help others, I try to know when to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question”.

Furthermore, the Blessed One often advised disciples not to study the Dhamma (teachings) for the purpose of winning debates. The right grasp of the Dhamma leads to liberation from suffering.

MN22.10  Alaagadopama Sutta: The Simile of the Snake
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

“Here, Bhikkhus some misguided men learn the Dhamma, discourses, stanzas, expositions, verses, explanations, sayings, birth stories, marvels, and answers to questions. But having learned the Dhamma they do not examine the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, not examining the meaning of those teachings with wisdom, they do not gain a reflective acceptance of them. Instead they learn the Dhamma only for criticising others and winning debates and do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the Dhamma. Those teachings being wrongly grasped by them conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time. Why is this? Because of the wrong grasp of those teachings.”

Then the Blessed One uses the simile of grasping a snake wrongly to show the danger arising from wrongly grasping the Dhamma. 

When teaching or discussing the Dhamma with others, particularly with people who seem to hold strong views, I try to take care not to become competitive and become obsessed with converting others to my view. This is difficult when we have confidence that we are on the right path and have some degree of “right view”.  Sometimes, during Dhamma discussions, others have asked questions in such a way that they reveal assumptions and gaps in my understanding. I then follow-up by further study and ask questions of my teachers.

I have always hesitated to teach the Dhamma. As an unenlightened being, I don’t fully understand.  I am confident I have some degree of understanding. Even so, I am concerned not to spread wrong understanding to others. By cultivating mindfulness and other wholesome/skilful states of mind, I may teach well.

Certainly, a good Dhamma teacher will have a lot of experience in meditation and have developed wholesome/skilful mental states such as samaadhi-concentration and pannaa-wisdom.  A purely theoretical knowledge of the Dhamma is insufficient to be a good Dhamma teacher. A good Dhamma teacher needs to have both theoretical knowledge and experience in meditation.

Dhammanusari-Dhamma follower
I bolded the phrase “reflective acceptance” in the quote above. A reflective acceptance of the Dhamma is vital for beginning the path of liberation from suffering. The Dhammanusari-Dhamma follower, is someone who has gained a reflective acceptance of the Dhamma. In addition the Dhammanusari has developed the five controlling faculties “to a sufficient degree”. The five controlling faculties (panc’indriya) are: saddha-confidence, viriya-effort, sati-mindfulness, samaadhi-concentration and panna-wisdom. The five controlling faculties are developed in meditation.

Note: I plan to write more about the distinctions between a Dhammanusari, Saddhanusari-faith follower and the four noble ones (ariyapuggala) who have already opened the Dhamma eye (Dhammacakkha) and understood the state that can be known (Nibbana).