The Eighth Class on the 31st of August, 1997
|(1) BHIKKHUNI/ THILASHIN|
|(2) ' IF A CHILD . . . . . !'|
This week we read the notes from last week and we talked about what monks do. Like earlier this morning we went to a family's new house to chant some Pali suttas for protection and blessing. Later on next month we will go to Johannesburg to give some talks in a university on Buddhism and then we might also be holding a four day meditation retreat in Botswana at the end of the month. Does anybody want to come and practice, "Dhamma In Botswana"?
We talked about the rules for koyins (novices) and how they can become monks. We found out that a koyin can be over 20, even 80 years old! We call him, "Koyin gyi".
Buddhist nuns used to be called Bhikkhuni. Really, the Buddha didn't want make a Bhikkhuni Sangha because he knew that it wouldn't last, he was right. Bhikkhunis had to follow more rules than the monks. These days in Burma there aren't any Bhikkhunis but there are plenty of nuns. They are called "Thilashin" which I think, simply means, "precept-woman".
They keep the same eight precepts as a meditator. If someone practises meditation in a meditation centre or monastery, then they must keep eight precepts; no killing, no stealing, no sex, no lying, no alcohol or drugs, no eating after midday, no entertainments, perfume or jewellery, and no using high and comfortable beds or seats. Some nuns keep ten precepts.
In Burma, the nuns shave their heads and usually were pink coloured robes with a sash over their left shoulder. In Thailand, the nuns wear white robes. Some of them in Burma, go for a kind of alms-round, collecting food, uncooked rice and money but not with monk's alms-bowls. They can live in some monasteries which have monks and nuns, like our monasteries in Yangon. These are usually meditation centres but there are other monasteries, only for monks and only for nuns.
In our monastery at Hmawbi, north of Yangon, we have a Swiss nun, who speaks Burmese very well. She looks after all the foreigners there and can translate yogis' meditation reports from four languages into Burmese for the Sayadaws.
We read the Jataka Tales from last week and I added a new one about the carpenter with the shiny bald head. It just so happened that I had a freshly shaven head, so everyone laughed. Anyway, there was a mosquito biting his head so he asked his son to get rid of it, his son hit the mosquito with an axe! A young girl in a nearby village, attempting to kill a fly, also killed her mother with a blow to the head with a rice pounder.
Moral;With friends like them, who needs enemies?
Two Ways of Beating a Drum
Once, a drummer and his son went to the city to play drums at a fair, they were busking, to see how much money they could get from the passers-by. They played very well and the people gave them lots of money. On the way home they had to pass through a dangerous forest with robbers in it. The father told the boy to play his drum to a marching beat, as if there was a big army coming along, then the robbers would not rob them. But the boy thought he should play loudly and non-stop, so he did. The robbers thought that the drumming sounded like a scared little dog and when they checked, they saw only the man and his son, so they beat them up and stole all their money.
Moral; Don't over do it! Stay on the middle way.
|7th of September, 1997|
THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS
Today, we learnt some important teachings of the Buddha. It first started with the story of the Buddha, in brief, up until he attained enlightenment. He knew that by going without food, water, clothes, shelter and by pushing himself to the edge of death, he still couldn't be free from Dukkha. He also knew that living in luxury in palaces couldn't free him so he realised there must be a middle way.
He found what we call, The Four Noble Truths. Then he went to tell his fellow yogis because he knew that they would understand the Dhamma that he had discovered.
When he found them, he told them this new way. This is a very famous sutta called, the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta. Which means, the Turning of the wheel of Dhamma. He called it a wheel because he knew that it would keep on going for a long time.
The First Noble Truth
To have a body and mind means you must also have Dukkha. If you had no body and no mind then you would have no Dukkha. Is it right? Dukkha means, suffering, pains and problems.
When we have to live with things or people that we don't like, that's Dukkha.
When we are apart from the things we like or love, that's Dukkha
When we can't get what we want, that's Dukkha.
When we lose the good things that we had, that's Dukkha.
This truth must be understood.
The Second Noble Truth
The cause of Dukkha is attachment. Because we always want three things; Sense pleasure, to be alive and to be free of everything.
We are attached to our senses. We want to see our parents, friends, food and beautiful things. We don't want to see scary, ugly or dirty things. We want to hear good music and birds, not noisy sounds like, traffic and dogs barking. Smelling flowers, perfumes and food is pleasant, we don't want to smell pooh or garbage. We like to feel warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot. We don't like to feel pain or itchiness in our body. We want to eat nice food, not burnt or stale food.
They are the five physical senses and there is one more .... the sense of mind. Our mind can make its own feelings. For example; when you dream, did you ever talk to someone and they talked back to you? Yes? But you're asleep, how can you hear them? They aren't even there! You're imagining it. In our mind, we can imagine anything. Sometimes when we try to meditate, we think about friends and family, past and future, it seems real but it's not. In our mind we can be angry, sad, lonely, afraid, that's dukkha. Sometimes, we might be happy but when it's gone, that's dukkha too. Pleasant or unpleasant, we are attached to our mind, so that is also dukkha.
We always want to live, we are afraid to die, that's dukkha. We want to disappear, vanish or hide away but we can't, that's dukkha. If your mind is not attached to pleasant nor unpleasant but just accepting life and everything as it is, then you can be free from dukkha. We should try to let go of greed, desire, and attachment.
This truth must be abandoned.
The Third Noble Truth
Nibbana, living with a free and pure mind, with no greed, hatred or delusion, no attachment. That is the end of suffering and after death is the end of the cycle of rebirth, samsara. No more lives, no more dukkha.
Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. Days and nights begin and end. Our lives begin and end. Dukkha has had its beginning, it too must have an end.
This truth must be experienced.
The Fourth Noble Truth
The way leading to Nibbana. That is, The Noble Eightfold Path. It's called this because it has eight parts, these parts are divided into three groups, they are;
panna (wisdom), sila (morality) and samadhi (concentration).
The group of wisdom has two parts-
1- right understanding
2- right thought
The group of morality has three parts-
3- right speech
4- right action
5- right livelihood
The group of concentration has three parts-
6- right effort
7- right mindfulness
8- right concentration
1) Right Understanding - At the very beginning of this path, a person must understand that it is good, otherwise they wouldn't follow it. For example, a mad person can't understand and can't follow. So if someone hears the Dhamma and they like it and follow it, that's right understanding.
2) Right Thought - Thinking about the goodness of the Dhamma, like sharing, morality and meditation and then doing it. Also thoughts of loving kindness and compassion.
3) Right Speech - Means speaking quietly, clearly and carefully. Abstaining from harmful speech.
4) Right Action - Keeping at least the five precepts, not causing harm or suffering to any living beings, doing good deeds and helping and caring whenever we can.
5) Right Livelihood - Our occupation or what we do in our life; doctor, housewife, student, monk etc.. Wrong livelihood would be making guns, killing animals and selling drugs etc.
6) Right Effort - Trying hard to follow these good things. Not being lazy.
7) Right Mindfulness - Remembering to follow the teaching of The Buddha, which is; Dana, Sila, Bhavana. Also, loving kindness and compassion.
8) Right Concentration - Being able to keep your mind on one thing at a time. That is what meditation teaches us. If you can concentrate, you will learn your lessons well, be good at sport and successful in your work. Without concentration, your mind wanders, that is how accidents happen. To concentrate we must have the right effort and mindfulness, then our concentration leads to wisdom. Wisdom leads to a pure mind and Nibbana
This truth must be practised.
In brief; there is dukkha in everyone, it's caused by attachment, if we follow The Noble Eightfold Path, it will lead to the purification of mind which destroys attachment, the cause of all our pains and problems. No attachment, the end of the cycle of rebirth. If there is no more rebirth - no more dukkha.
MAY YOU ALL FOLLOW THE EIGHTFOLD PATH AND ATTAIN TO NIBBANA!
|14th September, 1977|
"I'm a Theravada Buddhist of the Burmese Tradition"
|The Four Elements|
We started with some revision, firstly on The Four Noble Truths, including, The Noble Eightfold Path. Then I just asked general questions to see how much you all remember.
Then, I asked if anyone knew, What is Mahayana and Theravada?But nobody knew.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of Buddhism. They are, Mahayana which means, "greater vehicle" and Theravada which literally means, "elders-speech".
Sometimes, Mahayana Buddhists use the term Hinayana, ("lesser vehicle") for Theravada but it's not right. Mahayana is called "greater vehicle" because it appeals to more people, because they use stories about wise old men, the Bodhisatta and imaginary Buddhas. Theravada is the more strict practices of meditation, morality and The Four Noble Truths that the Buddha taught for beings to be free from suffering, now and later. Sometimes, Mahayana also includes these practices.
Simply speaking, we can call Mahayana, "Northern" Buddhism because it is found in China, Tibet, Korea and Japan. Theravada, may be referred to as "Southern" because it is found mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Each country has its own style because it has different traditions, culture and environment.
Buddhism is now growing as a modern religion in Europe, America, Canada, Australia and becoming popular again in India and parts of South East Asia. Even the Russians are following it!
So if anyone asks you what kind of Buddhist you are or what is Buddhism, you can tell them; "I'm a Theravada Buddhist of the Burmese Tradition". The Buddha was a man who purified his mind from greed, hatred and delusion (confusion), that is, Nibbana. He taught that the Noble Eightfold Path is the way to Nibbana and anyone can do it too. What is the Noble Eightfold Path?
THE FOUR ELEPHANTS
Story; When I was in Burma, I was speaking to a Burmese monk about Dhamma (his English wasn't great) and he said something about The Four Elephants. I thought, 'Oh good, he's going to tell me a Jataka story'. He continued...... but he was talking about Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. That's when I realised that he meant, The Four Elements!
All physical things are made up of the four primary material elements, they are; Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Earth doesn't only mean dirt, it means anything that is hard or soft, rough or smooth, heavy or light. The "earth" element in our body is bone, skin, nails, teeth, tongue, etc. Wind is not just moving air, but it means any movement or vibration. In our body, the rise and fall of the abdomen, breathing, heartbeat, eyeblinking, itchiness and any movement or vibration, is the wind element. Fire really means temperature. It includes, ice, cold, cool, warm, hot, burning, etc. So whenever we feel any of these in our body we can call it the "Fire" element. The last one is water but it's not just water, it means any liquid. It also means flowing, stickiness and wet. Our blood, sweat and tears are the water element.
A simplified version of
THE MANGALA SUTTA (Discourse on Blessings)
At one time, the Bhagava (exalted one, the Buddha) was staying at the Jetavana monastery of Anathapindika in Savatthi.
Then, soon after the middle watch of the night, a certain deva of great beauty approached the Bhagava, lighting up the entire Jetavana monastery.
Having come forward and paid respect to the Bhagava, he stood at a proper place and spoke to the Bhagava in verse:-
Many devas and humans, wanting the best in life, have thought about blessings, please tell us, What is the highest blessing?
Don't have fools for friends, have only wise friends and respect those who are worthy:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Live in a good place, having done good deeds, follow the right and middle way:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Studying well and working well with your hands, a good self-discipline with honest and polite speech:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Supporting both mother and father, partner and children with a blameless occupation:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Giving and sharing, good conduct, helping relatives and the community:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Not causing any harm, not taking alcohol and drugs and doing good deeds:-
This is of the highest blessing.
To have respect and to be modest, to be contented and grateful and to often listen to the wise teaching:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Be patient and open to advice, visit wise people and talk about the teaching:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Self-control and a pure life, understanding the Four Noble Truths and becoming enlightened:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Then the mind is not shaken by worldly things, free from sorrow, pure and secure:-
This is of the highest blessing.
Those who fulfill this will be strong and happy wherever they go:-
This is of the highest blessing.
|NAMA and RUPA|
NAMA and RUPA
We can say that this life is simply made up of two things, mind and matter. In Pali they are, nama which means, mind or mental processes and rupa which means, matter, material or physical processes, this includes our body. Another way we can say it is, internal and external.
Last week, we learnt that the material world, rupa, is made up of the four elements, everything around us, even our bodies. And those elements have special or specific characteristics called, sabhava lakkhana in Pali.
Like, Earth is, hard, soft, pressure, heavy, light, rough, smooth, texture.
Wind is, movement, motion, support, vibration.
Fire is, hot, burning, warm, cool, cold, ice, freezing.
Water is, flowing, sticky, wet, moist.
We can feel these things in our body at any time, so when we do vipassana meditation, we just observe them as they are, naturally. But we don't note, "earth, earth, earth" or "fire, fire, fire". We note the feeling, "hard, hard" or "hot, hot". All of these are natural, like the trees and birds, day and night. We are just little parts of the greater universe.
Parts and Particles
Everything is made up of parts and particles. For example; Have you ever looked very close up to the television or computer screen? Did you see lots of dots? Yes. All pictures and photos are made up of thousands or millions of little dots.
Have you ever seen the negative film from the camera? It has one frame after another. Movie film is the same but really long and they show it very fast, so fast that we can't see all the little frames, we just see the action, movement and the story. That's why they are called movies because they are made up of moving pictures. So when we see a movie, we sit there with our jaws dropped and our eyes popped watching the movie as if it was really happening to us, right here and now.
So a movie is made up of hundreds of thousands of picture frames and each frame is made up of hundreds of thousands of dots but if I said to you, "Hey, lets go and watch billions of little dots", you'd think I was mad!
Time also is made up of parts; a millennium is one thousand years or ten centuries. One century is one hundred years. One year is twelve months. One month is four weeks. One week is seven days. One day is twenty four hours. One hour is sixty minutes. One minute is sixty seconds. One second has tenths of a second, then there are milli-seconds and nano-seconds.
Another example is our body. We see it as a whole unit but really it's made up of different parts. And each part is made up of cells which are made up of molecules which are made up of atoms which are made up of electrons, neutrons and protons and these are even made up of quarks!
These days, scientists can see these little, tiny, microscopic things with very powerful microscopes but the Buddha knew about them 2500 years ago. How? Because his mind was clear. What part of the Noble Eightfold Path helped the Buddha to know about these things? Right Concentration. When our concentration is very strong, we can "see" or understand many things, not just with our eyes but with our other senses and our mind.
This week we learnt that all things, mind and matter / nama and rupa, have three common characteristics called, samannya lakkhana in Pali, they are, Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta.
Aniccameans, impermanence or change.
Dukkha means, suffering, both mental and physical.
Anatta means, not self, not personal.
So now we know that everything is made up of particles but these particles are not permanent or not lasting, they're changing. Everything is either growing or decaying, getting older. It's easy to see that plants and flowers grow up and die. Some trees are very old, even one or two thousand years but they will eventually die. Animals too have their life spans and must one day die but also non-animal things such as buildings must also crumble down and become ruined. Like the Pyramids, they are really old. When they were built they were very straight and neat but now, quite ruined. We always have to fix and re-paint our buildings and houses. Our cars get worn out and rusty, so we have to repair them or buy a new one.
We too are getting older every day, every hour, every minute, every second. When we are young we want to be teenagers, but then we want to be older so we can earn money, drive a car and go out at night. When that happens it's OK for a while but then we start to look old and we want to be young again, the older we get, the more we want to be young again. This process is Anicca, change or impermanence.
Because everything is changing and we can't stop it, that's Dukkha! You see we don't want to get old and wrinkled or fat and ugly. We want to stay young and strong but we have no choice. Except, to follow the Noble Eightfold Path and attain to Nibbana, then we've got no more desire to be beautiful or rich, no more aversion to being old or ugly, and no more confusion about life and who or what we are, but we understand ourselves, just as we are now. Human beings always want to change things, we're never satisfied with things as they are. But everything is already changing, so all we have to do is sit back and watch, that's called mindfulness.
We are not self. Huh? What does that mean?
Firstly, some examples. If I showed you the wheel of a car and said this is a car, you wouldn't believe me, would you? If I said that the seat was the car, you wouldn't believe me, would you? A car is made up of parts, and no one part is the car but only when all the parts are together, we call it a car. At the movies, one dot isn't the movie, neither is one picture but only when all the dots and all the pictures are together, we can call it a movie. If I cut off my finger and put it on the table and said
that is myself, you wouldn't believe me, would you? If I took out my eyeball and showed it to you and said that is myself, you wouldn't believe me, would you? So, no one part is myself but only when all the parts are together, we call it myself.
If the car is wrecked, we don't call it a car anymore. If the movie film is destroyed or cut into pieces, we don't call it a movie anymore. If a body is dead, we don't call it a person any more. So car, movie, person are just names for all the parts when they're together.
If we look at our mind, we see that it's made up of parts too. Anger comes and goes, we are not always angry. Happiness comes and goes, we are not always happy. I am not anger, I am not fear, I am not pain or love but if we put them altogether, we call them, mind. If we put the parts of the body with the parts of the mind, we can call it self but really they are all just changing parts, not just one thing but many things all together. Self is just a word to describe this. There is not one permanent self but there are many changing parts of mind and body.
|12th October, 1997|
|Dhamma is everywhere.|
Prince Siddhatta, Enlightenment, & Son Rahula
BE CAREFUL, THE DHAMMA IS EVERYWHERE!
Two weeks ago, we had Dhamma in Botswana so the "Maritzburgers" got a little holiday. Then the next week we had Saturday Dhamma but then we also had Sunday Dhamma for the "Jo'burgers" and then we even had Monday Night Dhamma too! There were no notes from last week, it was boring.
So this is our 13th class in 'Maritzburg, and we started by looking at the posters with pictures of the Buddha's life, given to us by the Myanmar Ambassador in Pretoria. They include theJataka stories from the past lives of the Buddha, his life as prince Siddhatta Gotama, before attaining to Nibbana and his life after Nibbana, teaching the Dhamma, far and wide until his death.
This story starts with the prince as a strong young man, who showed how clever he was at using all the weapons of war in a competition which he won. After that, many kings and rich people in the land offered their daughters to him for marriage, he chose his own beautiful cousin, Yasodhara.
The young prince and princess had everything they wanted, they lived in great luxury, in three different palaces, for the three different seasons. They had hundreds of young maids, musicians and servants to keep them happy. But as you know, one day Siddhatta went out of the palaces and he saw four different kinds of people, they were sick, old, dead and an ascetic (monk). When he came back to the palaces he was not interested in all the beautiful things anymore, he wanted to know about the reality of life, Siddhatta was only interested in becoming an ascetic. His family and especially his father, the king were worried because they wanted Siddhatta to become the greatest king ever so they tried to make him stay by having lots of beautiful girls sing and dance all around him but eventually they became tired and gave up. They fell asleep but the prince was wide awake, when he looked at them sleeping with their make-up smudged, hair messed up, mouths open, even snoring, he thought to himself, 'They're only beautiful when they're dancing, singing and smiling, now they're a mess ...... I'm out of here!'
He had made up his mind to leave the royal family and become a monk. That day his son had been born but he knew that if he went to see him and his wife, he might not leave, so he left without even saying goodbye. This must have been a very difficult thing for him to do but he wanted to free himself and everyone else from suffering, old age, sickness and death ....... he was gone!
ENLIGHTENMENT - NIBBANA
After six, hard, long years of learning, meditating, searching for the truth and even nearly dying from starvation, he sat under the Bodhi tree and said, "I will not move from this place until I have discovered the Truth" or something like that. That was the hardest time of all. That night he thought about everything, it was like an attack from the devil, in Buddhism we call it Mara, the evil one but it's only in your mind and anyone can win against Mara if they are strong enough. He won! His mind was clear, pure and calm, no greed, hatred or delusion, no defilements, he was free from Dukkha! At this time, he discovered the Four Noble Truths.
From that time on, he told everyone about the truth that he had found and many other people also became Arahants (attained to Nibbana) by practising his way of meditation, the Noble Eightfold Path and becoming pure in their minds and free from attachment and suffering.
GOING BACK HOME
Siddhatta's father, the king, had heard about him and he sent a messenger to bring him back to the Kingdom but the messenger liked the Buddha so much, that he became a monk. When that messenger didn't come back, the king sent another one but he too became a monk. This happened nine times and the tenth messenger also became a monk but he pleaded with the Buddha to return to his family, so he did.
The king and others greeted the Buddha warmly. The next day, the Buddha went for alms-round for his one meal as usual and when the king found out, he was very angry. He said to the Buddha that princes don't go for alms-round, the Buddha said he was right, princes don't go for alms-round but Buddhas do!
Soon, the Buddha's step brother, Nanda was getting married so they invited the Buddha to their new mansion to offer him food. After the meal the Buddha left without his alms-bowl, so Nanda followed him to give it back to him but the Buddha didn't stop. Nanda's new wife saw him following the Buddha, carrying his bowl and thought he was going to become a monk, she cried out for him to stop. Nanda kept thinking, "The Buddha will stop, the Buddha will stop" but he kept going. When they got out to the forest monastery, the Buddha finally stopped, turned around and said something like, "So you want to be a monk? " Nanda was too afraid to say no to a Buddha so he became a monk right away.
Ever since his wife, Yasodhara heard about what the Buddha was doing, she did the same. She loved him so much, that she cut off her hair, wore yellow robes, only ate one meal a day from one bowl and so-on. Yasodhara wanted their son, Rahula who was now seven years old to be the king when the old king died, so she asked him to go to the Buddha and ask him for his permission and all the family treasures too.
THE BUDDHA MEETS HIS SON RAHULA
When Rahula met the Buddha, he remarked that even his shadow was beautiful. After his meal, the Buddha left and young Rahula followed him asking for the king's treasure but the Buddha knew that being a king just leads to more Dukkha so he wanted to give his son the greatest treasure of them all, Nibbana. When they arrived at the monastery, they ordained him as a samanera ('koyin' in Burmese).
When the king found out that his grandson too had become a monk he was very sad and even angry. He went to the Buddha and asked him to promise one thing, that is, to never ordain anyone without the permission of their parents, the Buddha agreed and that is still a rule today.
His first lesson as a young monk, was just after he had washed the Buddha's feet. The Buddha took the water bowl as an example. When a monk doesn't lie, his life is pure like a full bowl of clean, fresh water. But if he tells lies, his monk's life is wasted, like this bowl of water after washing my feet. Then he tipped the water out and said, if a monk tells lies, his monk's life is gone, like the water. Then he turned the bowl upside down and said, if he lies, his monk's life is turned upside down, like this bowl. He put the bowl upright again and said, if a monk lies, his monk's life is empty, like this bowl. The Buddha said that a monk must never tell a lie, not even as a joke.
Another lesson was like this; What is a mirror for? To see yourself. Right. So just like a mirror you must always watch yourself. Before you do or say anything, you must ask yourself "Will this harm me? Will this harm another? Will this harm me and another?" While you are doing or saying anything, you must ask yourself, "Is this harming me? Is this harming another? Is this harming me and another?" After you do or say anything, you must ask yourself, "Did that harm me? Did that harm another? Did that harm me and another?" IF SO, YOU MUSTN'T DO IT ! In this way we must always check our speech, actions and thoughts, BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER.
Rahula purified his mind, became one of the Arahants and lived in peace.
This is a very good lesson for everyone and if everyone followed this in the world, we could all live in peace without fear.
|19th October, 1997|
IN THE BEGINNING
IN THE BEGINNING
The beginning of our class was about the beginning of time and the world. There are really long periods of time called aeons. The Buddha called it a kappa. To explain how long a kappa is, the Buddha gave this example. Imagine if there was a solid mountain, one mile high and one mile across in all directions. If a man wiped that mountain top with a handkerchief, would it wear away that mountain? "No" It would only take the dust off it. So, if a man, at the end of every one hundred years wiped the top of the mountain with a cloth, the mountain would wear away before the end of a kappa. Then he said, that there have been not 100 nor 1000 but hundreds of thousands of kappa. Is the world old? "Very old!"
In Buddhism, we say that there isn't a very beginning to the world or even if there was it happened so long ago that we could not really know for sure. We say that the world contracts, destroys itself and becomes dark and uninhabitable (cannot live) but from that time on, it expands, begins to become light again and beings can again live in the water and on the land.
Modern scientists say now that the world is extremely old and that all life developed out of the dark, from tiny little organisms and cells that became animals and animals developed into apes and apes developed into humans. They also think that the world will be destroyed either by man's foolishness or by natural disasters but that will also take a very long time, nobody knows how long.
How many planets are in space? "9." How many suns? "1." What is this all called? "A solar system." Right. Actually, now the astronomers say, there other solar systems. The Buddha also knew about the planets and stars. He said there is a minor world system which has 1000 solar systems, then there is a medium world system which has 1000 minor world systems and there is a major world system that has 1000 medium world systems. How many solar systems is that? 1000 million, 1 billion. Human beings think we are really clever because we've been to the moon and back but that's a bit like just going out the front gate of your house and coming back and saying, "I've seen the world!"
There are billions and trillions of beings in our yards, neighbourhoods, cities, countries and everywhere. Not just this little bunch of humans on this little planet Earth who think that we know everything. These days we have a lot more information about UFO's which makes us think that there are other beings living outside of our solar system, they can come and visit us whenever they want to and go back home again but we haven't even been to Mars and back yet.
The Buddha lived more than 2500 years ago, he didn't have clocks, or machines, microscopes, electricity, gadgets, calculators or computers but he knew about time, space, the past, the future, animals, humans, other beings, and the worlds they live in and so-on. How? Because his mind was clear and pure. He could know about things that ordinary men with greed, hatred and delusion, cannot know. Modern science now supports Buddhism and proves that the Buddha was right.
Another way that we can know that the Buddha was right, is if we practise the Noble Eightfold Path. Then we can find wisdom and happiness for ourselves. Not just because Buddha said so or because a famous Sayadaw said so or even because I said so but because you follow and practise for yourselves. Then you really know if it works or if it's true or not.
We can't know the beginning or end of time. We can't know the beginning or end of space or the world and we can't know the beginning or end of the lives of beings. So dont worry about it!
THE THIRTY ONE PLANES OF EXISTENCE
Here existence means, life or living. Planes means realms, levels or worlds, places. In Pali we use the word Loka, it's the best word, the English words are not exactly right.
Human beings like to put things in order so here is the order of the realms of all beings. We can even say that these are not so much places as they are mental states. For example, if your mind is evil then you will live in or go to a hell realm. If your mind is quite pure, then you will live in or go to a clean, beautiful and pure heaven realm.
Another thing that we should remember is that ALL of the beings living in these realms are impermanent, that means that they don't live forever. Some beings in the heavens can live for aeons but once you die in one realm, you must be reborn, either in the same realm or another, unless you have attained to Nibbana which means, that you don't have to suffer in or be reborn in any of these realms, you reach non-existence.
NIRAYA - HELL
On this scale we put hell at the very bottom and we often think that hell is inside a volcano or under the ground or the ocean but it doesn't have any one place. Besides there are 1000,000,000 solar systems so why does hell have to be under the ground on earth, it could be anywhere. And the heavens could be anywhere too, not just up in the clouds.
Once, when I was up in an aeroplane, about 10,000 metres in the air, amongst the clouds, I thought to myself, "we must be going through the deva loka" so I looked out the window but I didn't see any devas, only clouds.
Getting back to hell, Niraya is the worst place of all to live. There is no happiness (sukkha) at all, only dukkha. So if you do very evil things, like killing, then your mind is bad. When you die, if your mind is still bad, you will go to a bad place to join all the other bad beings, there you have to suffer for a long time, until your evil mind becomes more clear again, then you might be reborn in another realm.
TIRACCHANA - ANIMALS
The animal world is also not a pleasant place but often we think that it is. We look at birds flying in the sky and we say "Ah, so beautiful, they are free and can go anywhere they want to. "Flying is not as easy as it looks, imagine if I put a set of wings on you and said now run as fast as you can and take off, could you do it? "NO!" Also can you keep your arms out stretched for 5 or 10 minutes? Birds do it for hours sometimes days! Besides, why are they flying around up there anyway? They're not doing it for fun, they're working. They're searching for food or something to build their nest with, looking after their kids, and looking out for danger. Birds and animals are always afraid that someone or something is going to get them, so they live with fear and worry.
Animals lives are not great, they have no choice but to search for food, fight and kill to stay alive. We think that some animals are lucky, like house pets but are they happy? Maybe they would prefer to be out in the wild or catching their own food, we don't know. I met a Sri Lankan Buddhist man in Australia, he said that he wanted to be reborn as a lion, king of the jungle. I said that lions have to kill for their food and fight the other lions to continue to be the king, it's not an easy life.
No matter who or what you are, if you're the best or at the top of anything, someone always wants to be better than you. Jealousy makes beings angry and crazy, so they fight and kill.
PETA - HUNGRY GHOSTS
The next realm is peta, hungry ghosts. They say these beings have big, fat stomachs and tiny, little mouths. They are very greedy, always hungry and can never get enough to eat. So if people are greedy and don't practise dana, sharing, then they might become one of these. More dukkha! Sometimes people are afraid or have pity for the petas, so they try to help them by doing good deeds and sharing the merits for them, because they can't do good deeds for themselves.
I think that friendly ghosts live here too, the ones that have lost their way, so we can just do metta for them to help them along, there's no need to be afraid of them.
ASURA - DEMONS
Asura demons are powerful and warlike but it seems that they don't harm humans. Almost all beings can not go from one realm to another. Just think can you become an animal or just go and visit heaven or hell and come back again? "No" Neither can they, so don't be afraid, be friendly.
These four lower realms are unhappy or dukkha realms. There is no chance to be good or do good.
When we do metta bhavana, loving kindness meditation and we say, "May ALL beings be happy and peaceful healthy and strong", it includes ALL of these beings too.
MANUSSA - HUMAN BEINGS
The human world has a mixture of Dukkha and Sukkha but also, Uppekkha which means balanced or neutral. Humans can live very different lives, some might be born in a poor village or country, without food, clean water, clothes, money etc., it's like hell on earth, all dukkha. We are very lucky, we have good families, clothes, school, we're not rich, not poor and everything is OK. While some other people are reborn as a prince or princess and have the best of everything, very little dukkha and lots of sukkha, like heaven. Only in this realm, there is pleasant and unpleasant, happy and unhappy, good and bad, therefore, beings can only attain to Nibbana in the human realm.
DEVA LOKA - LOWER HEAVENS
Here, there is very little dukkha, it's mostly very pleasant. The beings here are not born as babies, they are already adults and they stay young until they die. In Christianity, when they talk about heaven, (only one), they are talking about this deva loka, that has beautiful golden mansions with gardens and even with angels playing lovely music. Some people have been so close to dying, that they have left their body and seen these heavens but meanwhile their body gets better and they have to come back to their body again, this is called a near death experience, it's not strange. A person might end up in these realms by doing a little bit of dana, sila and bhavana or by praying to God and being good.
BRAHMA LOKA - UPPER HEAVENS - GODS
In Buddhism, we don't say that there is just one God but we say that there are many gods, in many realms. Remember, that it is very rare that beings can go from one realm to another, in the same way, the gods don't rule over humans, they rule over the heavens. Most religions teach that there is one God who made everything and is the ruler of all. Some say, that once, a Brahma died and re-appeared in deva loka and the devas thought that he was God, so he said "Yes I am". Then one deva was reborn as a man, he practised meditation and could remember his past life as a deva so he told everyone, " I am a fallen angel, I've seen God in heaven, if we pray to him he will save us and we can all go back to heaven."
The beings in all of these heavens have very fine material bodies, they can go anywhere, even flying through the air. Really, it's not flying, they just think about where they want to be and they are already there, like in your mind or in a dream. If we want to go somewhere, we have to take this heavy body with us and we have to walk or run, take a car or an aeroplane, dukkha.
ARUPA LOKA - FORMLESS REALMS
These are the most pure of them all. Do you remember nama and rupa, mind and matter? Well this is arupa which means no-body, these beings have only mind, no body. If you have no body, then you have no physical dukkha. Do you remember the story of the monk who discovered No-thing? When he died, he probably went to one of these realms. Life here is very nice but it's extremely long and when you die you have to be reborn again, boring.
As human beings we have the choice of doing good or bad or nothing, then when you die you will be born in a good, bad or the same place. There are cycles of lives, from one life to the next, in Pali it's called, samsara. We just keep going round and round until we we become wise from meditation, then we can understand that there is no end to samsara and we may attain to Nibbana which is not boring because there is no mind, no mind, no dukkha!
|26th of October, 1997|
Question; "Can people remember their past life or lives?" Yeah, sure.
PAST LIVES - A TRUE STORY
A man and woman living in central Myanmar after the second world war, were stuck in a small town and couldn't get to Yangon, the capital city.
The man had a dream that his mother was very ill and that she wanted to see him and talk to him. She was in Yangon at the time and he had no way of knowing whether she was OK or not. Some time later he had a dream that she died and he remembered very well the clothes she was wearing in the dream. His wife had the same dream but the mother also said that she was coming to visit them. When they were in bed, they felt that there was a little child lying in between them.
When they finally got to Yangon, the family told them that his mother had died and then he told them about their dreams and the clothes she was wearing and they said that the dreams were true. The family had bought new clothes for her funeral, so they couldn't have known about them.
Then they had a baby boy but he was not very healthy, he had leukemia, and at that time, there was no cure for it, so he died at the age of five. Just before he died, he said, "I'll be back".
Then they had a little girl, when she was born, she had a little square birth-mark on her ankle. The parents said, that just before the little boy died, he had blood samples taken from his ankle and they used square tape to cover the spot. Also, the family's car driver loved the little boy very much and he wanted him to be reborn in the same family. So, he secretly put a mark on the boy's bottom after he died, when their new baby was born, he checked the same place and the mark was on the new baby. When she was old enough to speak, the little girl said that she was Daw U Shwe, her grandmother, and also the dead boy, her brother.
There are lots of cases of rebirth in the world. If people practise meditation very well, they can remember a few of their past lives. When the Buddha was about to attain Nibbana, he was able to remember many of his past lives, that's how we get the Jataka tales.
TWO QUICK JATAKA TALES
Once, the Buddha was born as a caravan leader. They came to the edge of a desert that was so hot during the day that even camels couldn't walk on it. So they travelled only at night but their guide fell asleep and they went around in a circle, by this time they were out of water. Everyone was upset and angry but the leader stayed calm. He saw some grass growing and told his men to dig for water, they came to rock and gave up but he said keep going, then they split the rock and found water.
Moral; Keep on trying until you reach the goal.
Two travelling salesmen each worked in half of the town, then swapped over. A little poor girl's grandmother wanted to swap an old sooty plate for a bracelet. The first salesman saw that the plate was solid gold but he wanted it cheap so he said, no deal.
Then the nice salesman came along and said, that all of his goods and money could not pay for the golden plate but the old lady swapped them anyway. He went on his way. The first one came back and tried to buy the plate for a few cents and they told him what happened. He was so angry that he left all his things behind to catch up to the other one but he was already half way across the river so he screamed and shouted, turned red, beat his chest, coughed up blood, had a heart attack and died!
Moral; Honesty is the best policy.
JATAKA TALES: DEER TAILS
Playing Hooky (bunking)
Once there lived a herd of deer, their leader was a very wise buck who used to teach the young fawns how to stay alive in the forest and how to see and escape from hunters and their traps.
One day the wise one's sister brought her young son to learn from him. At first he attended the lessons but then he was more interested in playing games and didn't take the classes seriously. He thought that he was clever and didn't need to know that stuff.
When the young fawns were too busy playing in the forest, they didn't see any danger and one of them got caught in a trap, the others were frightened and didn't know what to do so they ran back home, leaving their friend behind.
The sister came to check up on her son and asked her brother, the teacher, how he was learning. He said that her son did not come to classes anymore so he couldn't teach him. Later on, they heard the sad news about the fawn who was trapped, killed, skinned and cut up to feed the hunter's family.
Moral; You can't learn anything from the teacher, if you don't go to classes.
The Fawn Who Played Dead
Now there was a young fawn who did go to classes, he was always on time and he stayed until the very end, listening very carefully to the teacher. He learnt all of the tricks of staying alive in the forest and how to escape from hunters and their traps. One day, he got caught in a very clever trap. At first he cried out and the other fawns went back to the herd, then he remembered what he had learnt.
He decided to use the "play dead" trick on the hunter. First, he scratched the ground all around to make it look like he had tried hard to escape. Then he did pooh and wee to make it look like he was afraid and he licked his coat to make it look like sweat. Next, he laid down on his side, stiffened his body and put his legs out very straight. He filled his lungs with air and puffed out his belly. Finally, he put his head on one side, rolled his eyes back, let his tongue hang out and he breathed very slowly.
Lying very still, he looked so much like a dead fawn that the flies came around and the crows were waiting to eat his flesh. When the hunter came, he slapped the fawns puffed up belly and thought that he had been dead for a long time, so he decided to cut him up right away and carry the meat home. The hunter took away the trap and cleared an area to cut up the fawn. Then, realizing that he was free, the little fawn sprang to his feet and ran like the wind all the way back to the herd.
Moral; Well learned lessons, bring great results.
A BULL STORY: The Bull Called Delightful
Once, the Buddha was born as a big strong bull named, "Delightful", who had been very well looked after by a kind rich man. The bull wanted to repay the rich man for his kindness, so he said to make a bet with someone that he could pull 100 heavy bullock carts and he would do it.
The rich man went about saying that his bull could pull 100 heavy bullock carts, another man made a bet for 1000 gold coins that he couldn't do it.
They all came together and there were 100 heavy carts loaded with sand and rocks ready. They attached the first cart to Delightfuland the rich man jumped on top, then acting tough and showing off, he cracked a big whip and yelled, "Pull you dumb animal! I command you to pull you big dummy! The bull thought, I've never done anything bad to him, I'm doing this to help him but now he abuses me in front of everyone. The man screamed and shouted but Delightful didn't move an inch, they lost the bet.
When they got home the bull told the man why he didn't move and that if he spoke nicely to him and made a new bet for 2000 coins, they would surely win. The rich man agreed and set up the bet again. The rich man fed and bathed the bull and hung flowers around his neck.
When all was ready, the rich man touched Delightful's head with a flower and said, "My son, please be kind enough to pull these carts". Delightful pulled with all his might, and they won the bet.
Moral; Harsh words bring no reward. Kind words bring honor to all.
|23rd of November, 1997|
We haven't had any notes for a couple of weeks, one week was revision and last week only about eight or nine kids came so we just had a chat and a story.
This week, we talked about the little places of worship that we have in our houses. In Burmese we call it, "Paya zin" (Buddha Image) and the room is called the, "Paya kan" (Buddha room). Also there are shrines in monasteries, pagodas and temples. Pagodas and temples are really just big shrines or places of remembrance, respect and worship. Actually, Buddhists don't really worship or pray. We remember and keep in mind the teacher, the Buddha, the teaching, the Dhamma and the community of teachers, the Sangha.
In Buddhism, we don't call the shrine an altar because an altar is a place where sacrifices are made. Sacrifice usually means to give something up or to kill an animal to offer to God or gods. We don't kill animals but we do give and offer things for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. .
What do we usually find on our Buddhist shrines? Candles, food, water, flowers and "smelly sticks" (incense). Why do we do it? "For good luck!" "For Protection". Well, many people do it for these reasons but really, the Buddha can't give you good luck or protection because he died a long, long time ago. Actually, each of these things have a meaning, they are symbols.
A symbol is a picture or an object that makes you think of something else. For example;
Lights in Buddhism represent Wisdom. Just as a light displaces the dark, so does wisdom displace delusion and ignorance. Lights also remind us of the teaching of the Buddha. We can use candles, oil lamps, electric lights, sometimes even flashing coloured lights. I once saw lights inside plastic roses! Lights=Wisdom + The Dhamma. The Burmese people believe that if you put lights in front of the Buddha image, you will have beautiful eyes in this or the next life.
Flowers represent impermanence or change. You know what happens to flowers after they are cut, no matter how beautiful they are they will soon wilt and die, just like us! They also symbolise the Buddha because his looks speech and actions were beautiful. We can use fresh, dried or plastic flowers.
Flowers=Impermanence + The Buddha. The Burmese offer flowers to wish for beauty.
Incense represents Sila, morality and virtue. We say that it also represents the Sangha. I like to say that it's like Metta because just like the smoke from the incense fills the air with a sweet smell, then Metta fills our hearts and the world with loving kindness. Incense is sometimes called joss sticks. Sometimes people burn scented oil too.
Incense=Morality + The Sangha. The Burmese say that it's to make your body smell good.
These are the first three and the main things that we find on the shrine but there are a few other things too, such as;
Food represents health and strength of body and mind. If we want to be successful in life, then we must eat well and keep the body strong and healthy. Then we can practise the Buddha's teaching for the benefit of ourselves and all beings. Putting some of our best food in front of the Buddha image is also a sign that we are not greedy and are willing to share even our best food. We know that the Buddha image won't eat it, it's just to remind us that the Buddha's teaching is alive today and we should follow it even better than we do now! If the Buddha was alive wouldn't you give him something?
Water is a symbol of purity. Because we use water to wash things and make them clean, then we use water as a reminder to meditate and wash away the defilements of the mind and try to keep it pure and clear. Water also has a calming effect.
Medicine is sometimes put in front of the Buddha image to help a sick person.
Often people put money there and wish that they might become rich. Mostly, it's offered to pay for the monastery or pagoda. It is also a sign of non-greediness and selflessness.
Once, when I was in Burma I saw a girl's hair in a long pony tail cut off and thrown in front of the Buddha, I think she was about to become a nun.
LONG HAIR, STRONG FAITH
Sayadaw U Pannyananda told me a story about a poor girl who had beautiful long hair that went right down to her ankles. A nasty rich woman who had terrible hair wanted to buy the poor girl's hair but she said it was too valuable.
One day she saw some travelling monks on alms-round and she knew that they had little or no food, she wanted to offer something to them so she asked them to wait inside her poor little house. They meditated with strong concentration while she ran as fast as she could to sell her hair. The rich woman could see that she was desperate so she only gave her a small amount of money for her hair. Anyway, the girl spent all the money to buy the best food for the monks.
She was too embarrassed to show her head so she asked someone else to offer the food but the monks insisted that she offer it by herself. So she wore a scarf around her head but we shouldn't wear anything on our head when offering food to monks so they told her to remove it first.
She was very embarrassed, so she wished really hard that her hair was back to normal and then because her deed was so selfless and the monks meditation was very strong and their minds were so pure, that when she took off the scarf, all of her beautiful long hair was just as it was before.
Moral; With selflessness and purity you can do anything!
[ OTHER BUDDHIST SYMBOLS ]
The Wheel of Dhamma usually represents the Noble Eightfold Path because it has eight spokes. Sometimes the wheel will have 12 or 24 spokes.
The Buddha Image is to remind us to be calm and peaceful and to practise meditation.
The lotus flower or water lily (jar ban, in Burmese), is one of the most beautiful symbols in Buddhism. First it must come up through the dirty, muddy bottom of the pond, then stretch up through the water, and then rise to open above everything else in the pond. We say that life can be like the lotus flower. We live with many defilements but if we can practise sharing, morality and meditation, then we will attain Nibbana and become a pure, bright and beautiful person in this very life. Although the lotus is high above the water it is still a part of the pond community. The same with the Arahant, although he or she is pure they must still live out the rest of this life with all of the other people and help them to become pure too.
The shvastika is a very old religious symbol. It's not only found in Buddhism but in many other religions as well. Unfortunately, the Nazis turned it back to front and used it as their symbol which in some way means anti-religion.
Beads are also a multi-religious symbol. They are mostly used for counting, to calm the mind and develop concentration. Some people call them "worry beads" or "rosary beads", In Burmese they are called (Bidee sait) and there are usually 108 beads.
The Buddhist flag has five colours red, white, blue, yellow and a mixture of the others.
Symbols in Buddhism are not objects of worship, they are simply reminders of our teacher, The Buddha, his teaching, The Dhamma and the community of Buddhist monks, The Sangha. Try to remember the real meaning next time you light the candle or change the water.
MAY ALL OF YOUR NOBLE WISHES BE FULFILLED
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