Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

The Dhamma is internally consistent and truthful. It is amazingly complete and flawless.  It is possible to take almost any aspect of the Dhamma and see relations with most other aspects of the Dhamma.
Some people misunderstand precepts and think that more is better. Thus someone practicing ten precepts might be considered more virtuous than an eight preceptor and even more superior than a five preceptor. According to this incorrect understanding, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be inherently more virtuous than lay people because they are obliged to practice over 200 or over 300 rules respectively.  Think about it though: are bhikkhunis more virtuous than bhikkhus because they have more rules?  The first five bhikkhus (pancasaavakaa) and maybe even the first few hundred thousand bhikkhus did not have any rules. Vinaaya rules were created over time to guide worldling-putthujana monastics. Many of these lacked mindfulness and may have been motivated to join the Sangha for because the Buddhasangha was popular, well supported by lay benefactors and rapidly growing in size and influence.  So the number of precepts or rules is not a measure of virtue. 

Virtue-siila, concentration-samaadhi and wisdom-pa~n~naa are all related and integrated parts of the eightfold noble path.   Virtue and other aspects of the path are qualities rather than quantities.  Greater virtue necessarily implies deeper concentration and profounder wisdom. The three go together simultaneously developed and improved as qualities. 

We need to focus on the practice and the results, the cause and effect of actions – kamma.  Wholesome/skilful – kusala actions such as observing Uposatha precepts will lead to pleasant results and visa-versa.   The precepts are guides to daily life that help us reduce the chances of unwholesome/unskilful akusala actions that lead to harmful results.   Monastics who are supposed to be free from the usual distractions of sensuality, earning a living and supporting families are able to use the observance of so many rules to develop deep concentration – samaadhi and with that concentration are able to gain insight into the Dhamma and find liberation from suffering.  Lay people can do this as well. The principles are the same though the lifestyle may be different.    

First five precepts. By not taking life, we are compassionate and loving toward all beings that fear death and prefer to live. We also give the gift of life. By not taking what is not given, we reduce the fear that other beings have for losing their belongings.  We also give material things to others. By refraining from sexual misconduct or indeed any sexual conduct, we reduce opportunities for our minds and the minds of our lovers to be flooded with extreme emotions which reduce mindfulness and create conditions for suffering.  We also give social harmony to our communities.  By refraining from lies, abusive speech other wrong speech acts, we avoid harming other’s reputations, we avoid inflaming their anger and confusing them with ignorance.  By refraining from intoxicating drinks and other substances, we keep our minds relatively clear and sharp so we can remember the Dhamma and act wisely in all situations.   Intoxicated people are more likely to break the other precepts due to their degraded senses. 

The perpetrators and victims of acts of violence, theft, molestation, slander and so on are at least temporarily mentally disturbed and restless. Without a perspective of the Dhamma and some degree of Right View (sammaadi.t.thi) the victims may seek revenge and due to their confusion, harm others.  By doing so, they perpetuate the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Only by love is hate quenched. Only by renunciation is lust abated. Only by wisdom is ignorance destroyed.  

Other beings will feel less fear in our presence due to our practice of virtue-siila.  This wholesome behaviour will immediately increase environmental peace and safety.  Our good example may inspire others to practice .  Imagine how peaceful our lives would be if we did not have to worry about murder, theft, molestation of self and family, verbal abuse and so forth. Thus with quieter and safer environmental conditions, people will be better able to see clearly what is happening in mind and body. There will naturally be more opportunities for developing the higher mind and possibly achieving a breakthrough in the Dhamma

The last three Uposatha precepts. Most lay people temporarily observe the last three Uposatha precepts either on meditation retreats or on Uposatha days.  Not observing these last three precepts doesn’t obviously lead to harm for ourselves and others so why observe them?  We observe the other three precepts in order to simplify our lives and avoid indulgence in sensual pleasure.  Sensual pleasure is the practice of the lay person in daily life, not the practice of a someone intensifying their progress on the eightfold noble path.  In itself, sensual pleasure is not wrong so don’t get all guilty about having fun.  However, sensual pleasure is distracting, reduces concentration and reduces the opportunities for wisdom to arise.  In other words sensual pleasures slow you down your progress on the spiritual path.  The suttas have many references to sensual pleasures being inherently disappointing and unsatisfactory with only the most fleeting sense of gratification.  Thus by observing the eight Uposatha precepts we can create more conditions for environmental peace and concentration (samaadhi). 

The last three precepts are like an upgrade on the first five. The reduced indulgence in sensuality will help us to maintain a clear peaceful mind in which samaadhi and the other controlling faculties (panc’indriya) can develop.   The difference between an enlightened being and an ordinary worldling is the development of the controlling faculties.

The benefits arising from observing the last three Uposatha precepts is highly dependent on successfully observing the first five precepts. The first five precepts are the basic foundation and the last three are the more advanced practice with more profound results.   

Upgrading Uposatha.  
Some Buddhists may not have convenient living conditions to formally observe Uposatha precepts in all respects. For example, they may feel obliged to wear cosmetics and jewellery to work and may have to eat an evening meal with non-Buddhist family.  Perhaps a non-Buddhist lover may seduce us or demand services on Uposatha day.

Some Buddhists may observe Uposatha precepts regularly but feel they are not making much progress or struggle to see how it is beneficial.  It is inconvenient and maybe they feel dissatisfied.  So how do we upgrade or revive our spiritual life in these two sets of circumstances?   

I suggest below a few ways to give some focus to your observance of Uposatha whether you can practice eight precepts or not. This should give you some ideas which you can adapt for your particular lifestyle and background.

Loving-kindness/friendliness – mettaa and compassion – karunaa. It is helpful to deliberately observe five precepts and Uposatha precepts with mettaa and karunaa in mind. Restraining ourselves from harming others is loving and compassionate. We wish other beings were happy and well. We wish other beings were free from harm and suffering.  It would be odd to attempt mettaa and karunaa practice while not keeping at least the first five precepts because in breaking any of these precepts, we would be directly harming others or intoxicating the mind so that it is unable to concentrate. Beware the near-enemies of mettaa and karunaa.  Beginners in the practice or those who are intoxicated may confuse mettaa with lust or karunaa with pity. 
Observing the five precepts or the Uposatha precepts is practicing love and compassion towards ourselves because we don’t create unwholesome/unskilful kamma that will result in our suffering.  Lord Buddha said that sincerely observing the five precepts will result in a heavenly rebirth, how much more beneficial would be the results of observing Uposatha precepts.  Note that aiming for a heavenly rebirth would be a ‘wrong aim’.  It is better to aim for liberation from the cycle of rebirths altogether.

Sympathetic joy – muditaa. When we go onto Facebook or attend the temple, we may come to know about other Buddhists who practice the five precepts or the eight Uposatha precepts. We can deliberately practice muditaa for these fellow Buddhists, recollecting that they are excellent, practicing in the good way, the true way, the straight way and the proper way.  By recollecting that these fellow Buddhists will be happier and will benefit greatly from this practice we also share in their merits. We say “saadhu, saadhu, saadhu…” congratulations, well done!  Beware the near enemy of muditaa is pride in the achievements of others. Pride in the achievements of others includes attachment.  Muditaa is similar to mettaa and karunaa because it has no aspect of attachment.

Equanimity – upekkhaa. In daily life we will meet many people who do not consciously practice the Uposatha precepts or any precepts. As a result these people wander about in ignorance and suffering. It is not easy for anyone to lead another person to follow the right path. There may be small chances here and there to influence others. Usually, we wait until others ask questions. So we practice equanimity for the sufferings of others.  Remembering that everyone will get the results of their actions. Note that equanimity is not the same as indifference which is allied with ignorance. Equanimity is allied with wisdom and insight.  Equanimity is an underlying component in the other three divine abodes and present in all wholesome mental states. 
It is possible to develop mental aborptions – jhaana with any of the four divine abodes above though traditionally mettaa, karunaa and muditaa can be used for 1st-3rd jhaana while upekkhaa can be used only for 4th jhaana. This is a technical topic for another post. You can read more in the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga and other meditation manuals. However, there is a lot of benefit from just reflecting on the four divine abodes during the day. As we refrain from taking life, or stealing etc. we can say to our selves “may all beings be happy and well, may all beings be free from harm and suffering…” I find this useful on the bus crowded with noisy people when commuting to work.  When I find a cockroach or spider in the home I capture it and recite “may all beings be happy and well….” as I gently take the insect outside. 
It is also useful to just recite “may all beings be happy and well” at free times during the day. It is relaxing and wholesome. This practice helps keep unwholesome objects from taking over.  
Dhamma study. Choose one Dhamma topic, read a bit, write some brief notes and then reflect on it throughout the day. For example, read about the one of the seven sets in the 37 seven aids to enlightenment – Bodhipakkhiyadhamma. Maybe start with the seven factors for enlightenment – Bojjhanga. Try to remember the Paali words for the factors and memorise the correct sequence of factors. On another day, read about what the commentaries say for ways to cultivate and improve the seven enlightenment factors.  On another day read some more suttas that might refer to the seven factors and may refer to some of the benefits (such as improving health and length of life) in recollecting the seven factors.

As you contemplate the Dhamma in this way you will be practicing dhammanusati which is one of the six recollections recommended by the Blessed One for purifying the mind.  This works because the mind is focussed on a wholesome/skilful object and not distracted with lust, anger or delusion. 


Siilanusati – recollection of virtue.  As someone who is keeping precepts you may be feel confident enough to reflect on your accumulating virtue.  If you have been able to keep five precepts and eight precepts then you have good grounds for reflecting on the merits of your practice. Without necessarily getting  big-headed about it, you objectively realise that this practice is beneficial, it is purifying, creating conditions for happiness and leading you to more wholesome mental states.  Someone who is able to keep precepts is also someone who has enough mindfulness and Right View to control impulsive cravings and has learned to live peacefully to some extent. This is the foundation of training for higher mental development.  On occasions when there are breaks in the precepts (hopefully minor) then one immediately determines to sincerely refrain from breaking the precepts again. It is possible to recover a mind free from remorse, a mind settled and peaceful once again.  Do not underestimate the power of keeping precepts even for a short time such as one minute.  If one is sincere, there are great benefits here and now including greater self-esteem, courage and confidence.

Caaganusati – recollection of generosity. In being generous, by giving and sharing, you have been reducing attachment and clinging.  This wholesome conduct will benefit others and oneself and lead to more wholesome states. This is faultless behaviour. 


32 parts of the body. For those of us who are living a celibate life, I recommend memorising the 32 parts of the body in forward and reverse order as outlined in the Visuddhimagga.  I found this practice is very effective in temporarily overcoming lustful states of mind.  Remembering this famous list is a useful way to concentrate the mind and give it temporary relief from worry and strife. Note there are intensive ways of practicing the 32 parts of the body which can lead to first mental absorption – jhaana though that need not be the goal of the practice.  There are many benefits without necessarily attaining jhaana. Again I refer keen readers to the various meditation manuals for more details.  
Devanusati.  On Uposatha day and other days deliberately recollect that the devas attained their fortunate rebirth and powers on account of previously virtuous conduct such as practising the five precepts and the eight Uposatha precepts. Now you and other sincere Buddhists are practicing in this same way and likely to attain a fortunate rebirth in a heavenly realm. As you practice in this way, you may sometimes  recite “may the devas be happy and well…”.  Remember that many devas are Buddhists and have attained various paths and fruits in the Buddha’s dispensation.  You may recollect these noble devas as part of the ariyasangha
In times when you feel afraid that someone maybe going to hurt you, recollect the devas and maybe you can overcome your fears. But don’t just rely on the devas to protect you. Use common sense and find safety.  Note that overcoming fears in this way is possible with other wholesome objects such as recollecting any or all of the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
Death – maranaanusati. On Uposatha day and other days, deliberately recollect the certain fact that you will die and so will all the people you know. Recollecting death is a way to put our lives in perspective and determine what is really important.  In Australian culture, recollecting death is considered a negative and gloomy occupation. Actually it is a wholesome and sensible activity.  Some people may find it difficult at first to overcome previous preconceptions and biases. If you persevere you may develop some equanimity and a completely different set of priorities will emerge. I found that recollecting the inevitable nature of death gave me a greater sense of spiritual urgency – sa.mvega. This really motivates and intensifies the practice.  You may find it much easier to practice the five precepts and eight Uposatha precepts after you have deepened your maranaanutsati.
Summary. By simplifying our lives and deepening our practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods outlined above we will definitely be upgrading our Uposatha observance.   The basic peace in life created by the first five precepts can be deepened by the 8 Uposatha precepts. This results in greater peace and concentration – samaadhi. The deliberate practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods is further deepening of the practice that will bring enormous benefits to ourselves and all others in the environment.
May you dear reader feel inspired to go deeper into the Dhamma. May you be free from harm and suffering.
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Six principles of cordiality and a seven-point test for stream-entry

I paraphrased this sutta using Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Nanamoli’s English translation.

Six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
1.  Maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
2.  Maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
3.  Maintain mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
4. Use things in common with virtuous companions in the holy life, without making reservations, sharing any gains which accord with the Dhamma and that has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dhamma, including (for monastics) the contents of one’s bowl [one is generous-caaga, not stingy or miserly].
5. Possess in common with virtuous companions those virtues (siila) that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended and conducive to concentration [five precepts are the basic precepts].
6. Possess in common with companions the view that is noble and liberating and leads one who practices in accord with it to the complete destruction of suffering [sammaaditthi right view].
Of these… the chief, the most cohesive, the most unifying, is (6) the view that is noble and liberating…  And how does one know whether this view is held?
Seven-point test for stream-entry-sotapanna
1.  Ask yourself:  Is my mind obsessed with sensual lust, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, [five hindrances] speculation about this world and the other world [life after death or annihilation etc.], taken to quarrelling and brawling and deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers. Obsessed in this way one’s mind is not well disposed for awakening to truths.
If there are no such obsessions, this is the first knowledge that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people. [Sotapanna and sakadagaami people occasionally experience sensual lust, ill-will and so forth. However, they are less bothered by these hindrances and can easily concentrate their minds if they wish to. Anaagaamii have destroyed lust and ill-will and have very highly developed samaadhi-concentration. Arahats have destroyed all the aasava-taints and are not disturbed by these hindrances at any time. Some puthujjana-worldlings who have not attained any stage of awakening, but have skill in attaining deep concentration states such as the four jhaana-mental absorptions and the four formless bases may rarely be bothered by these hindrances.  However, most puthujjana who have never trained their minds or studied the Buddha Dhamma are obsessed in this way.]
2. Ask yourself: when I pursue, develop and cultivate this view (that is noble and liberating), do I obtain internal serenity, do I obtain stillness? – If yes then this is the second knowledge… [this refers to the ability to calm the mind through samatha meditation. For those sotapanna who have not attained jhaana-absorption, they are still able to obtain internal serenity by practicing the six recollections such as Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Siila, Caaga and Deva. They can also practice recollection of peace and use other meditation objects to obtain internal serenity with relative ease. ].
3. Ask yourself: is there any other recluse or teacher outside (the Buddha’s dispensation) possessed of a view such as I possess? If no, then this is the third knowledge… [this means that one believes that right view is only possible within the Buddha’s dispensation and one doesn’t believe that anyone outside Buddhism can attain a stage of awakening such as stream entry-sotapanna].
4. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) characteristic of a person with right view?  Such a person immediately confesses any offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down. Just as a baby at once draws back when he puts his hand or his foot on a live coal…  If yes this is the fourth knowledge … [This refers to moral shame and fear of wrong doing – hiri and ottappa.]
5. Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) characteristic of a person with right view? Although such a person may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has regard for training in the higher virtue, higher mind and higher wisdom.  Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes, watches her calf. If yes this is the fifth knowledge… (heedfulness – apamaada) [A sotapanna may sometimes neglect training but not for long. Because they wish to help fellow monastics or fellow lay Buddhists, or even non-Buddhists, they usually find contentment and satisfaction in the training. Heedfulness is closely related to mindfulness and other skilful qualities that sotapanna have in abundance].
6. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) strength of a person with right  view? When the Dhamma and Discipline (Dhamma-vinaaya) proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all one’s mind, hears the Dhamma with eagerness.  If yes, this is the sixth knowledge… [in this way one would suppress the nivaarana-hindrances to samaadhi-concentration and one’s mind would be pliable, bright and in the best possible state for understanding the Dhamma].
7.  Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) strength of a person with right view?  When the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. If yes, this is the seventh knowledge… [this is not something that a sotapanna would have to consciously cultivate – it would be natural and automatic].
A noble disciple possessed of these seven factors is well on the way toward the realisation of the fruit of stream entry [this is someone who possesses the path of stream entry – sotapanna magga]. A noble disciple who possesses these seven factors, possesses the fruit of stream entry [sotapanna phala].  

In the relatively well-known eightfold classification of noble ones (ariyapuggala) there are two pairs of four and eight individuals. Two sotapanna, two sakadagaamii, two anaagaamii and two arahata. In each pair, the inferior one is on the path (magga) while the superior one has attained the fruit (phala).  Here is a list of eight ariyapuggala in descending order of superiority:

Arahata phala
Arahata magga
Anaagaamii phala
Anaagaamii magga
Sakadagaamii phala
Sakadagaami magga
Sotapanna phala

Sotapanna magga
The sotapanna phala person is not equivalent to a sakadagaamii magga person. Though they both have already attained sotapanna phala, the sakadagaamii magga person is superior because they are on the path to the higher attainment whereas the sotapanna phala person is for the time being stable and not making significant efforts to reach a higher state. This principle applies to other stages in the table above until finally the arahata phala person has no more work to do since they are fully awakened. 

The exegetical Paali Commentaries to the Abhidhamma Pitaka prepared by Ven. Buddhaghosa (about 1500 years ago) and the tradition of later abhidhammika scholars divert from the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka (basket of discourses). 

In the Introduction to the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Philosophical Psychology of Buddhism, Abhidhammaattha Sangaha, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
… a few of the Abhidhamma conceptions that are characteristic of the Commentaries but either unknown or recessive in the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself. One is the detailed account of the cognitive process (cittaviithi).  While this conception seems to be tacitly recognised in the canonical books [of the abhidhamma pitaka], it now comes to be drawn out for use as an explanatory tool in its own right. The functions of the cittas come to be designated by way of their functions. The term khana, “moment,” replaces the canonical samaya “occasion,” as the basic unit for delimiting the occurrence of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomenon. The division of a moment into three sub-moments–arising, presence, and dissolution–also seems to be new to the Commentaries…

In relation to awakening, proponents of the Commentary theory of cognitive process claim that during awakening there is a single very brief moment of sotapanna magga citta immediately followed by a similarly very brief moment of sotapanna phala citta with no other citta (moment of cognitive process) in between magga and phala. However, this theory is not supported by the suttas. There are many suttas where noble ones who are path attainers (magga) are walking around without yet having attained the fruit (phala). We should always prefer the suttas to later teachings elaborated in exegetical literature.

In later blogs I intend to write some short articles on the less well-known sevenfold classification of ariyapuggala and on the first stage of awakening – sotapanna magga based on reading suttas. 

Wat Pa Nanachat – International Forest Monastery

I came to Ubon Ratchathani for a short visit to the International Forest Monastery (Wat Pa Nanachat). Despite 27 years visiting Thailand this is the first time I’ve been to this famous monastery. I am glad to have finally made it.  

The community at the monastery is preparing for an important meeting of senior monks (Thera) from the international network of forest monasteries (in the tradition of Ajahn Chah). This meeting is due to begin next week. I met briefly with the “Guest Monk” – who has the duty of anwering queries from temporary visitors such as myself. Ven. Nyaniko Bhikkhu told me he ordained at Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood, California, United States seven years ago.

This trip helped to straighten out some misconceptions I previously held about Wat Pa Nanachat/International Forest Monastery and the international network.

I had previously assumed that the views of Ajahn Brahm from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia and Ven. Sujato from Santi Forest Monastery, New South Wales, were representative of the entire forest monastery network.  When living in Australia, I did not wish to visit either of these Australian monasteries due to controversial views expressed by Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sujato. This was despite living close to both monasteries at various times during the past 15 years. Ven. Nyaniko told me that both Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sugato have chosen to leave the network for the time being. I did not pursue the details of this break nor ask questions about what may be the cause etc. I found out belatedly after returning to Bangkok. It seems that Ajahn Brahm and Ven. Sugato may have hurt the network as a whole. Maybe one day they may both reconsider their views, apologise and return to the network.

I felt relieved to hear that the forest monastery tradition is open to many different Buddhist meditation practices including Mahasi method vipassana.

I also apologised to Ven. Nyaniko for previously considering Ajahn Chah monks to be overly obsessed with vinaya (monk’s disciplinary rules) and the outward appearance of monastic life with insufficient focus on meditation and spiritual attainment.   I realised many years ago that this was incorrect and was glad to be able to apologise face to face with Ven. Nyaniko as a representative of the Ajahn Chah lineage. Another reason for relief.

Wat Pa Nanachat has a very peaceful atmosphere and seems to be a delightful place to ordain and live the monastic life. I visited on Tuesday morning and spoke with Ven. Nyaniko and again on Wednesday morning to donate flowers, fruit and soy milk. It was Uposotha day on Wednesday so I undertook 8 precepts and listened to a wonderful Dhamma talk in Thai by Ajahn Jayasaro, who appears in many excellent videos you may download from Dhammatube. The talk was about the four divine abodes:

  • Metta – loving-kindness
  • Karuna – compassion
  • Mudita – sympathetic joy
  • Upekkha – equanimity

The talk focused mainly on Metta and Upekkha. I was previously familiar with the four divine abodes and enjoyed listening to Ajahn Jayasaro deliver the talk in fluent Thai. He spoke Thai and delivered the Dhamma talk more competently than most Thai monks I’ve heard. I prefer a structure, cause and effect, small amount of repetition and some illustrative similes. Ajahn Jayasaro delivered all these very well.  [In response to a request from one of the students I met at Wat Mahadhatu last week, I plan to write a blog article on the four divine abodes soon.]

On Monday evening, I left Bangkok on an overnight train and arrived in Ubon Ratchathani on Tuesday morning (yesterday).  I began writing this at an Internet cafe in Ubon near the Warin Markets.  The returning train departed Ubon around 18:30 Wednesday evening and arrived in Bangkok around 06:00 Thursday morning. I paid for second class air con. sleeper, lower bunk. It is fairly comfortable though if the bed was another 10cm longer it would be a better fit. I stayed last night at the Pathumrat Hotel. I booked it via Agoda and got a big discount. The room was very comfortable and way above my usual standard of accomodation. I had air con. TV, ensuite, a fridge and so on.

At the Ubon train station just before boarding, I met Brian Johnson, a fellow Dhamma tourist, who had just finished a 2 or 3 week (not sure of the length of time) period living at Wat Pa Nanachat. I didn’t notice him when I was there. He is a few months older than me and we boarded the train and swapped stories about our Dhamma experiences. It was one of those rare moments when I felt as though I’d met a long lost brother. We talked fast and four hours passed quickly before a train official said it was time to sleep and go to our separate carriages. I hope to meet Brian again one day or at least to have e-mail contact from time to time. Brian has a website with useful information about the teachings of Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw. I encourage readers to check it out. www.paauk.org I promised Brian I would post an article about Dhammanusari and Saddhanusari before I fly to India on 3 December.

Love and Attachment

In a worldly way, it is normal and praiseworthy that people are attached to family and friends. We are expected to display emotions that imply deep attachment and concern for our loved ones. In a Buddhist way, we try to remove attachment to all things including family and friends because any attachment is unsatisfactory and leads to suffering. For example, when the loved ones get sick, die, have set backs or when they are blamed or otherwise suffer we also suffer due to our attachment to them. When strangers suffer we may not suffer as much.

Sentimental attachment in human relations is often regarded as an essential characteristic of being human (as in “it is only human to …”). Buddhists believe that it is possible to transcend ordinary human nature and ordinary conceptual realities. It is possible to develop the mind and remove attachment to everything. This does not equate to becoming a heartless android. Buddhists aspire to regard (with love, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity) all beings equally whatever their kinship, physical appearance, cultural and demographic features.

The path doesn’t necessarily mean you need to leave a householder’s life and become a nun or monk. It does mean that we can make choices, decisions and intentions (cetanaa – intentions are kamma) for actions, speech and thought that tend toward simplicity nekkhama, good-will metta and non-harm ahimsa and non-attachment. This is possible as a lay person and I believe it has been achieved many times by countless lay people.

In daily life we usually have affection, love and good-will for our family and friends and the opposite for troublesome people. We may try developing good-will metta bhavana for both groups but this effort will be mixed with our attachment to views, lust and hatred. Preferences and dullness interfere with skilful mental development bhavanaa.

Beginners may not have mental powers and skills (concentration samaadhi etc.) to be very effective in these circumstances. So instead of using family, friends and enemies as objects for metta bhavana, we may do it for directions or for all beings.

Emotionally neutral objects are less likely to cloud our minds and weaken our mental faculties. Our aim in mental development bhavanaa is to develop powerful mental faculties, so removing unskilful akulsala states from mind is very important. Skilful minds can more easily deal with objects that might provoke like and dislike preferences or dullness.

Beginners should initially avoid developing good-will metta bhavanaa directed specifically at family friends and enemies until skilful enough to practice with harmony and balance. Good-will metta needs the balance of some equanimity upekkhaa to be skilful. Skilful good-will does not discriminate between friends and foes, lovers, ex-lovers and rivals, strangers and comrades, loathsome and cute, human and non-human life. Skilful good-will applies to all beings.

There is a danger in directing good-will only to those we love or admire. Lust and attachment can be the “near-enemy” of good-will. Lust and attachment are corruptions of good-will. Due to a lack of discernment a beginner may confuse lust or attachment for good-will. Lust and attachment is harmful and leads to suffering whereas skilful good-will is harmless and leads to liberation, if not already attained.