Eight – Right View – Cause and Effect

“Bhikkhus, beings are the owners of their kamma, the heirs of their kamma; they have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; whatever kamma they do, good or bad, they are its heirs.”
– From AN 10.216 (https://suttacentral.net/en/an10.216)
“Volition is kamma, I say. For having willed, you act by body, speech or mind. (Ajahn Brahm’s translation)
“And what is the cause of kamma? Contact (PJ: between the physical object, the physical sense organ, and the organ’s consciousness) is the cause of kamma.
….
“And what is the result of kamma? The result of kamma, I say, is three-fold: [to be experienced] in this very life, or in the next life, or in some subsequent life. This is called the result of kamma. (Ajahn Brahm’s translation)
“And what is the cessation of kamma? From the cessation of contact is the cessation of kamma; and just this noble eightfold path—right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right samādhi—is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.
– From section 5, AN6.63 (https://suttacentral.net/en/an6.63)
“Suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into a small amount of water in a cup. What do you think? Would the water in the cup become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”
“Yes, lord. Why is that? There being only a small amount of water in the cup, it would become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink.”
“Now suppose that a man were to drop a salt crystal into the River Ganges. What do you think? Would the water in the River Ganges become salty because of the salt crystal, and unfit to drink?”
“No, lord. Why is that? There being a great mass of water in the River Ganges, it would not become salty because of the salt crystal or unfit to drink.”
“In the same way, there is the case where a trifling evil deed done by one individual [the first] takes him to hell; and there is the case where the very same sort of trifling deed done by the other individual is experienced in the here & now, and for the most part barely appears for a moment.”
– From AN3.100 (https://suttacentral.net/en/an3.100)
———
“Kamma” is the Pali word for “action”, and is the cause of an effect. So basically, the concept of karma is about cause-and-effect: if you don’t put the causes in place, you won’t get the effects you want.

Like, no physical exercise leads to no physical fitness.
Improper nutrition leads to low physical well-being.
Overeating and bad hormonal balance leads to obesity….
You probably get the idea.

The most important points to highlight about the excerpts above are:

1. We own our kamma, and thus our fruit. This also means that YOU are responsible for your own happiness or misery: nobody else is! It might seem pretty extreme, but the flip side is extremely powering: you CAN do something about your unhappiness.
Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t mean that you can control or influence everything in your life. But what you can influence is how you react with your motivations and intentions, and subsequently your actions by body, speech and mind. That is possible, because you own your kamma. And kamma is largely a mental attribute.

2. Your motivations and intentions are kamma. Actions done with the wrong motivation will yield wrong results. This is especially important to remember when we cover the module on Right Motivation and Intention. But it’s also important to ask the question before we act: what are our REAL motivations and intentions?
Another subtle point here is that your mental motivations and intentions ARE kamma. If you subtly wish someone to die, that’s pretty bad kamma (albeit it will be worse to act on it). A large part of your motivation stems from your perception of the situation: how could you see things differently?

3. Kamma leads to results. This means that you can actually DO something. Kamma is NOT destiny, but about your intentions and actions right NOW. If kamma has no results, then there’s no point to do anything. But kamma does lead to result, hence, there is a point to do something which leads to a good result.

4.The result of kamma isn’t always obvious, as the results can take place across a very long timeline: immediate results, results later in this life, and results after this life (if you believe in that). Consequently, thoughts like “oh, I did this, but it was pointless: there was no benefit” or “how come bad people get away with doing bad things?” are often not accurate, because these perspectives are not fully informed by a full view of how the kamma comes to fruit.

This also means that our main job is not to worry about the results, but to put the kamma in place. And so, we should focus on sowing good kamma wherever we can. This is especially important since one never knows when previous bad kamma will come to fruit, so you’d better start expanding your cup (like the salt crystal sutta)! Let the results take care of themselves after you’ve done your job (of taking good actions).

It should also be noted here that, there is nothing in the suttas about “burning off bad kamma”: in fact, the Buddha makes the point that you can only dilute bad kamma (as in the Salt Crystal sutta), but bad kamma isn’t something you “burn off” with any self-torture.

5. The Eightfold Path leads to the cessation of kamma. This doesn’t mean that you can’t act after you’re enlightened, but more that it leads to the cessation of generating new kamma resulting in rebirth.

Discussion questions
1. What are the three types of kammic results?
2. What unhappy situations are you facing where you blame others for your unhappiness? Discuss with someone how could you see this differently: what can you do differently to reclaim your happiness? What is within your influence and what is outside your influence?
3. Discuss with someone about a time when you did something with the best of intentions, but the result didn’t work as expected. What were your underlying motivations? How could you see the situation differently, e.g. from the eyes of the other person?

Daily Practices
1. Take the Five Precepts, and stick to them. If it helps you stick to it by a Five Precepts ritual, you can take the Precepts online via this link: https://bswa.org/practices/taking-five-precepts-online/
2. “Beyond keeping the 5 precepts, one should actively try to do good.” – Ajahn Brahmali. Do one good deed a day for someone else.
3. Keep a diary or logbook of the good acts you have done.

Guided meditation practice via audio-recording
1. Do a loving kindness guided meditation. A good example (about 30 mins, but fully guided): https://youtu.be/7Jb72-QgXOc

Eight – How the Course is Structured

img_8168A key difference of this course is the sequencing of the Eightfold Path. This course starts with a few universal elements of Right View, but then focus on the intermediate modules, before looping back to Right View.

The universal elements of Right View are:
– An overview of the Eightfold Path
– Cause and Effect
– Happiness, its causes, its hindrances, and how to remove its hindrances

The following other aspects of Right View will only be covered at the last stage of the course:
– 5 khandhas (aggregates, which make up the self)
– 3 aspects (of suffering, impermanence, non-self)
– Dependent origination & dependent cessation

The rationale is simple: many people trip up on the intellectual aspects of Right View, especially on self, dependent origination and dependent cessation. They end up having an analysis-paralysis, and end up doing nothing.

But in reality, the Eightfold Path isn’t a single linear trajectory from Right View to Right Stillness/Concentration, but it should be seen as a virtuous cycle. One starts with Right View, but it is most important to actually do the other parts of the Eightfold Path. Acting on the rest of the Path (I.e. Right Motivation, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Mindfulness and Right Stillness/Concentration) then actually increases one’s understanding of Right View.

In other words, it is more important to actually walk the Path, than to debate on the subtleties of the starting point.

Since the course is structured entirely along the lines of the Eightfold Path, each factor on the Eightfold Path will contain its own module(s). Each module contains the following:
1. A relevant sutta extract. I have taken these from SuttaCentral (using Ajahn Sujato’s translations or Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations where applicable), Ajahn Brahm’s latest version of “Word of the Buddha”, Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations of suttas, or Venerable Analayo’s translations of the Agamas.
2. An explanation of key concepts in plain English.
3. Guiding questions to spur thinking about how the concept applies to your life
4. Daily Practices for the week
5. Guided meditation practice
It is important to actually implement the practices. However, at any point, you are free to choose what you’d like to do or not do: there’s nothing mandatory here.

Also, it’s not to say that you’ll become fully enlightened after doing all the exercises: there is no money-back guarantee (also because there is no money! Heh.)

Eight – Online Course Introduction

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There are these two extremes that should be avoided. The pursuit of happiness through the five senses, which is low(hīna), vulgar, the way of worldlings, ignoble, unbeneficial; and the pursuit of practices that fatigue the body and mind, which is painful, ignoble, unbeneficial.

Without going to either of these extremes, the Buddha has awakened to the Middle Way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to wisdom, which leads to peace, to direct understanding, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

It is this Noble Eightfold Path; right view, right motivation, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavour, right mindfulness, and right stillness.

This is that middle way awakened to by the Buddha, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to wisdom, which leads to peace, to direct understanding, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.

SN56.11, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, with an amendment of “stillness” in place of “concentration” for the word “samadhi”

This course is called “Eight”, because it is solely focused on the Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha Siddhartha Gotama. It is targeted at people who want to be happier, peaceful, contented and mindful, but who are turned off by all the mumbo-jumbo, rituals and traditions, and who are also super confused by all the different sources.

Unlike most other courses which focus on telling you what is Buddhism, this course is focused on applying the core teachings (the Eight-fold Path, which includes the Four Noble Truths) to everyday life. These core teachings provide tools for any individual of any faith or background to be a happier, more peaceful and more contented person.

The aim of Eight is simply to create more peace, happiness, contentment and kindness in this world, one mind and one moment at a time
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Why is there the need for Eight?
First, in this seeming dark age of wanton terrorism, fake news, political and economic disruption, people around the world desperately need peace between their ears, and love and kindness in their hearts. I believe that these tools would allow people around the world to get some degree of peace, stillness and love and kindness.

But often, what’s stopping people from trying to understand the tools is the label of “Buddhism”: the label is associated with “religion”, “faith”, “belief”, etc., which stops people from trying to explore the tools behind the label.

Which is too bad, as people are missing out on time-tested gems of wisdom which bring true happiness. While aspects of Buddhism have been secularized (for example, in the mindfulness movement), unfortunately I think that the mindfulness movement has also stripped out some of the most powerful and useful concepts in Buddhism, such as the overwhelming focus on kindness, as well as the importance of ethics. So it is important to present the core teachings beyond mindfulness, to include other parts of the Eightfold Path.

There is also a “fake news” problem in Buddhism, almost to the point that there is an “alternative Buddhism” (what I call “fake Dharma”). These teachings have nothing to do with what the Buddha Gotama taught (from the best scholarship that we know):

  • An example is the concept of “crazy wisdom” (i.e. basically anything is permissible): a concept introduced to the West by a German Indologist who borrowed from a Tibetan Buddhist teacher. While the root comes from a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, the concept does not exist in any of the early Buddhist texts at all.
  • Another example of the fake Dharma problem are the many memes and fake quotes that are falsely attributed to the Buddha. For examples of the many fake quotes, check out the website fakebuddhaquotes.com
  • Yet another example of fake Dharma is the persistent fake belief that the Buddha taught “samatha” (calming) vs “vipassana” (insight) meditation. This division of “samatha” vs “vipassana” is a concept that only arose after the Buddha passed away: in fact, both the Pali and Chinese versions of this sutta confirm that Ananda quoted the Buddha as only praising the four jhanas as praiseworthy meditation. The reality is that insight arises as a result of progress on the Eightfold Path: it is NOT a “type” of meditation taught by the Buddha.

To address the need of people and this fake Dharma problem, my intention is to increase awareness of what the Buddha actually taught, without the bells and whistles from traditional Buddhism. Just the core teachings, and to jointly explore their applications in day-to-day living.

No faith required. No beliefs. No rites. No rituals. Not even chanting.

But skepticism and an openness to experiment for yourself is required.

Ultimately, my aim isn’t to convert anyone at all, but to give you the tools to feel more peaceful, more still, more loving, and more kind. And perhaps that will result in one less quarrel, one less fight, one less broken relationship, and possibly one less terrorist in the world.

I have provided references to the texts and online resources; please refer to the direct sources to check out for yourself as best as you can. I have endeavoured to quote the most accurate translations of the Buddha’s words to my knowledge. I would also like to thank Ajahn Brahm for his encouragement of this project, and Ajahn Brahmali for his generous support. If there are any errors, they are mine and mine alone.

Also, since this is an experiment and this is the very first cut, I would greatly appreciate any feedback/comments. Specifically, how did you feel the course came across, and how would you improve it? And why? My sincerest thanks in advance. 🙂

Wishing every one of us happiness and freedom from suffering.

Mantras for meditation 

I recently went for a meditation retreat, and rediscovered the effectiveness of mantras.

A mantra is basically a phrase or combination of sounds, which one repeats mentally. It’s very useful for walking or breath meditation, and is especially useful when one is mentally distracted, say, due to emotional turmoil or the usual daily frazzledness. I understand that Transcendental Meditation focuses on using the mantra “Om”, and some Tibetan traditions use “Om Mani Padme Hum”. But personally, I find that such mantras don’t really work for me, because I don’t really speak Sanskrit.

For me, what works are short phrases in English with a clear meaning which help still the mind. A few that seem to work for me are below:

  1. “Let. Go.”
  2. “Good. Enough.”
  3. “I will die. That’s for sure.” (This is taken from my teacher Ajahn Brahm)

You can try and experiment to find what works for you. Notice that each mantra has two halves: this is intentional, so that one can synchronize the first half of the mantra with the in-breath, and the second part with the out-breath. Or you could synchronize the first half with the left foot when walking, and the second half with the right foot.

Let….go…..let….go….

One might feel a bit silly at the start, but as it progresses, it is interesting how the mantra actually serves as an instruction to the mind, and plants the seeds for eventual stillness. Possibly because it’s even true.

I will die…. That’s for sure… I will die…. That’s for sure….”

When the mind gets to a level of stillness, feel free to let the mantra go and just focus on the meditation object. A good indicator is that you feel that there are too many things going on, and that you are getting distracted between the mantra and the meditation object: then gently just shift your attention to the meditation object.

Good…..enough…… Good ….. Enough…..

And no matter what you’re experiencing at that point in time, it’s good enough. Enjoy! 🙂

The Age of Distraction

I’m attending a corporate training course for managers for these two weeks. One interesting fact that I learned was about just how distracted we really are these days.

A lecturer (for our communications module) shared with us that, when she first came to Singapore ten years ago, she was informed by a colleague at the National Institute of Education that the average college student’s attention span was a mere 20 minutes. Now, it’s apparently as short as 5 minutes.

When I heard that, my mind was blown: that’s a drop of 75%!

I’m sure this is possibly not helped by all the extra distractions, especially now that we’re in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, and other apps demanding our time. From my personal experience during the course, when the lecture gets boring, suddenly my emails become interesting. And I switch my attention to that. Before switching my attention back to the lecture again. And that’s not counting for the times when my Whatsapp notifications got my interest.Don’t we all do this? Yes: we switch our attentions from our Whatsapps to our wives, from our memos to our colleagues.

The cost of all this switching, though, is that our minds are increasingly “trained” to have shorter attention spans, and this is impeding our ability to focus and get deep work (a new concept I’m reading about from Cal Newport’s book) done. The Stanford psychologist Clifford Nass spoke about it here.

And let’s be honest: our corporate cultures aren’t helping. Most companies and knowledge workers these days have an unspoken expectation that (a) knowledge workers should be constantly connected via Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp etc., and (b) that they should quickly respond. The end result, though, is a churn of never-ending emails and messages, which often impede rather than enhance quality work. So it was with some interest that I read about Leslie Perlow’s research with BCG, about how forcing BCG consultants to disconnect seemed to have a beneficial impact on their work.

I’ve two thoughts from my readings thus far (still finishing Newport’s book):

  1. In the wider context of the Age of Distraction, it’s even more important to be able to consistently unplug (from all the noise) and to train one’s attention to be in the present. The ability to meditate thus could become an even more important skill in this day and age.
  2. It takes some time for the mind to settle into any task (hence, the major cost of multitasking is that some of the “residue” from the previous task interferes with your current task; Newport’s book reports that it takes around 10 mins to settle into a new task). I think this applies to meditation, and it means that one should ideally train to be able to sit for at least 10 mins (in order to experience one’s mind settling on the meditation object).

I’ll update further after I’ve finished the book.

Focused

Focus!

Seeing Things in a Different Way

Quite recently at work, there was an interesting incident that, to my mind, betrays how desire and emotions bend our perception.

  • A colleague went up to our senior management with a proposal.
  • Our senior management gave a whole bunch of comments and input, requested for the colleague to make changes to their plan, AND requested for my colleague to return with the revised plans.
  • My teammates who sat in that meeting were quite amazed when, after the meeting, our colleague commented, “OK now that we have gotten senior management endorsement, we can proceed with the plan.” My teammates took a bit of time to convince them that it WASN’T senior management endorsement, and that they needed to rework the plan.

I admit that I laughed out loud when I heard the story. But after that, when I paused to think about it, who hasn’t been guilty of exactly the same thing i.e. hearing what you want to hear? Who hasn’t read more into a sentence or email than it merited, or heard more into a bosses’ criticism/praise than it originally meant?

Our emotions are the lens which distort how we see the world. That’s why it’s so important to first get still and calm before making any decision. And that’s why certain spiritual traditions focus so much on meditation and prayer, in order to see things as they truly are rather than what we want them to be. As my teacher once pointed out, people who are angry are often searching for an excuse to justify their anger. They are hearing for provocations, rather than truly listening.

As work becomes increasingly white-collar, it’s ever more important to be able to double-check our perceptions, and to validate our perceptions by asking questions (of ourselves, via reflecting and meditation) and polling people. This is especially the case as we work our way up the hierarchies, because the higher you go, the less you get to hear what really happens but more you hear what people want you to hear. Also, the higher you go, the more damaging your wrong perceptions can be. 

So I’ll leave you with a question: which recent conversation you’ve had, could you possibly have heard what you wanted to hear (or seen what you wanted to see) instead of what truly happened?

Resistance 

I’m currently reading “The War of Art”, which is about the challenges of overcoming one’s internal challenges i.e. Resistance. 


This was the paragraph that caught my eye, as something completely representative of most people’s attitude towards meditation: 

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalise. We don’t tell ourselves “I’m never going to write my symphony”. Instead we say “I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Substitute “write” for meditate!  
Also, 

Rule of thumb: the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. 

Word.