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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Dharma Police

There is a post over at my friend Kyle's new blog about the precepts. I posted a comment, which I wanted to turn into a post of my own here about the subject because it is one that interests me a lot. I firmly believe that one can still drink a beer now and then and still be a very good, kind and serious Buddhist. As well as still take the precepts seriously. I aspire to lose weight but I still eat a cookie now and then. Does that mean all my efforts to eat healthy the rest of the time a waste and insincere? Of course not. Not everyone is able to commit to the precepts completely. So is it fair to say people who don't steal, kill, misuse sex or lie but do drink or smoke a cigar or even a joint from time to time aren't serious Buddhist practitioners??? They may not be eligible for monk hood but how many of us can say that anyway?

If someone isn't ready to give up alcohol completely then leave them be. Wouldn't it be better to encourage their Buddhist practice in other ways where the are making progress? Rather than say it's black and white and since you still drink or smoke you're not a sincere Buddhist? To do so isn't realistic, compassionate and in fact it's hypocritical. How about not eating meat? I keep all the precepts quite well except for the occasional drink, cigar or joint. Yet someone else might keep them all except still eat meat, which in my view isn't in keeping with the first precept of not killing. However, I would never call someone who does eat meat an "insincere" or "bad Buddhist." I have no moral ground to stand on to make such an accusation nor do many in the Buddhist community.

Personally, I dislike eating meat, however, I don't jump into someone else's underwear to chastise them for eating meat. It's none of my business and I know I don't like people being the "Dharma Police" with me. So if we're going to play Dharma Police then pray tell me, which of the two people is a "better Buddhist?" The non-meat eater of the non-intoxicant taker? Neither. We all have struggles with at least one of the precepts. Except maybe the Dalai Lama but even many monks I'm sure can't keep them all. We need to remember that none of us are living how we should because if we were we won't be here in samsara right now. I do think the precepts are good and helpful but they are not commandments except perhaps for monks. Rather they are recommendations on how best to live so that we reduce suffering as much as possible.

The foundation of the fifth precept is about intoxication and not everyone who has a beer or two after work get intoxicated. Not everyone drinks to the point of acting like a fool and in a headless manner. Yes, it's true that it has that potential but there is such a thing as moderation and the majority of people who drink, smoke a cigar or joint do so responsibly. The other issue at hand here is that not everyone's body is the same. Some people can't ingest these substances without doing it to excess, however, many can handle them without acting stupidly. For example, I am able to drink or smoke a joint without going crazy. However, I know that caffeine is one substance that I can't ingest much because the caffeine can increase my bouts of mania or actually trigger one to where I get anxious to the point of real suffering.

So, I stay away from caffeine for the most part but do I condemn the thousands of monks and millions of practitioners who drink tea or coffee? Of course not--It's not my business nor do I believe responsible use of such substances is always bad or a hindrance to our practice. Caffeine is very much an intoxicant and addictive if misused yet traditionally Buddhists not only don't add it to the intoxicant list; It's encouraged to stay alert and awake for meditation. Drugs are drugs so if we're going to condemn people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana then we need to say the same for caffeine drinkers. If you have a problem with a substance then don't ingest it and get help if you need it. However, not everyone who ingests these things is doing them irresponsibly or dangerously.

And what about people who over-eat, which is damaging their body to the point of risking heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, which can all be deadly. Food can be an intoxicant because chocolate for example is stimulant with all the sugar in it. Excessive sugar intake can cause diabetes, which is another serious and harmful disease, which like heart disease, etc. causes people a lot of suffering. Yet who amongst us would frown upon obese people from attentinding sangha or trying to practice the Dharma to the best of their abilities? Wouldn't it be better to see people find relief in the Dharma even if it's not total relief than compeltely alienate them by comdeming them and calling them insincere, irresponsible or immoral Buddhists???

It's not realistic or our place to say people don't take the precepts seriously if they can't keep all of them 100% of the time but have a weakness with one or two of them. Even if you think it's a "sin" I would remind you of what Jesus said to the crowd quick to stone a woman who, "sinned" "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." If we are following them as best we can but still falling short like most of us then how can we not be sincere Buddhists? Who can say that they honestly keep them all at every moment of every day? None of us. I'm not encouraging killing by any means but even murderers aren't turned away from the Dharma while they serve their sentence for their crime. There are prison sanghas who embrace these folks. Yet who would call their interest in the Dharma "insincere?" Who wants to cast the first stone? I bet we could look into your life and find some stuff that you're not proud of or that would be objectionable to someone.

If you're not keeping each one of those precepts all the time then you don't have a leg to stand on when being so harsh toward others. Why not spend our time bolstering each other's practice and finding where we can come together and inspire each other rather than going around and keeping track of who's "sincere" and who isn't based on how they live their life? If the precepts were to be followed by the letter of the law then they'd be commandments. We all have to be careful not to think we're squeaky clean when it comes to our behavior. Even IF you keep all the precepts all the time I can assure you that you're doing something else that isn't "Buddha-like." Or will do something like that at some point between now and when you die. If you were doing everything, "right" then you'd be enlightened on the edge of never being reborn. I doubt many of us are in THAT boat. At least those who might not be perfect in your eyes have found the Dharma in the first place, which while they might realize enlightenment in this life at least they are trying their best to better themselves.

We all do what we can and it's not our job to question the sincerity of others unless we're enlightened like Buddha. At the same time I think it's admirable that many keep the alcohol and intoxicant precept. Just don't get too holier-than-thou about it all or I might rescind my admiration. Ha!! The reason that I think that the precepts are recommendations is in part because Buddha knew that not everyone could keep them but he didn't want to turn people away from his teachings that would bring them relief from suffering regardless. Perhaps keeping the precepts 100% and 100% of the time is the ideal and something we should all aspire to. However, moderation is a key in Buddhism too. Buddhism doesn't require us to be perfect nor does it say the asceticism of completely giving up worldly pleasures is skillful either. Buddha taught moderation and those of us who do still enjoy some worldly pleasures should at least get some credit for doing it in moderation rather than condemned as "faux Buddhists" or whatever else nonsense might be said about us. Let's just try and be more kind and compassionate toward each other. We're all doing our best.

~Peace to all beings~

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Adam said...

Wonderful post James. I said pretty much the same thing over on my blog, but you've said it much better here. I think the main thing to look at is where your real source of suffering is coming from. For me, it sure as hell isn't the occasional beer. I have much bigger koi to fry in my life...

They call him James Ure said...


Thanks friend. I'll be over to read your post. I couldn't agree more to look at the real source of your suffering. I missed that aspect a bit so thanks for bringing it up.

True, for some people their suffering IS alcohol, pot or tobacco. Others don't have a problem with it. But have a problem with risky sex or over-eating. Still others are addicted to working or have problems with raging anger.

Adam said...

Absolutely. I wonder if there are any Buddhist-run 12 step type programs out there...?

Shinzen Nelson said...

I agree...good post. My Zen teacher taught us as well, that not all intoxicants are related to booze or drugs. It can be sex, tv, anger, or anything that puts you into a 'trance'.

My teacher, even though fairly orthodox and strict, would often go out to the front porch of the Zen Center after sesshin, sit in a chair, put his feet up and crack a tall cold one and then say, "damn, I'm glad that's over."

Personally, I don't give a damn if I am good Buddhist...I just want to be a good Buddha.

Jamie G. said...

Personally, I don't give a damn if I am good Buddhist...I just want to be a good Buddha.

Best line.

Kyle said...

James, wow, thank you very much. You writing this means a lot to me. I read your comments over at Adam's blog and I understand what you mean. People have their reasons coming to Buddhism.

And I agree with Jamie, most excellent line!

"Personally, I don't give a damn if I am good Buddhist...I just want to be a good Buddha."

Shinzen Nelson said...

Thanks. It's part of my 12-step recovery process..."I am Shinzen and I am a Buddhist".

The first step is acknowledging the problem.

Hands palm to palm.

Nathan said...

Good post. I'd argue that if people view the precepts entirely in a literal way, they're missing the mark. They weave in and out of each other, and sometimes in order to uphold one, another is (on the literal level) "broken." They're really calling us to see the complexity of each moment, and to act from a deeper place (our buddha-nature). It's important to aspire to uphold the precepts, but how that upholding looks or appears in the actual moment by moment world isn't going to be the same in each of those moments.

They call him James Ure said...


Yes, great line indeed. I think moderation is the key to the fifth precept if you can't keep it like a monk. Part of the reason that we're all lay practitioners and not monks is that we can't give up something that invariably has a connection to the precepts.

Hearing about your teacher cracking a beer and expressing his honest exhaustion is refreshing to hear about. What a cool teacher.


You're welcome. I think it's better to be compassionate toward those with whom we might disagree on doctrinal points than to "Throw the baby out with the bathwater" in one's Buddhist practice as we say in America.

It means don't sacrifice the greater good because of something we might disagree with. In this example it means don't condemn a practitioner because one aspect of their practice might not mirror yours of what you perceive to me "essential."


You are such a great addition to the blog conversation here. I really enjoy your insights and comments.


Well said. I completely agree. The precepts are there to guide us on how to better our mindfulness and practice toward relieving suffering.

And yes, while ingesting intoxicants can have the potential for causing great suffering it isn't always an obstacle to mindfulness and cause of suffering.

So given that truth; How can such a precept or any of them be seen so literally as commandments? Besides, that would go against everything Buddha taught on not forcing people into what someone might think is, "the only way to practice Buddhism." There are 84,000 paths to enlightenment after all.

"As the Great Physician, he prescribed 84,000 antidotes for the 84,000 afflictions of living beings. All contribute to putting an end to our ignorance."

Not all sick people need the same medications. A treatment plan while similar perhaps to others with the same illness isn't always going to require the same treatment and recovery plan.

Shinzen Nelson said...

Thanks everyone...I have truly enjoyed this conversation...I can hardly wait for the next one!
In Gassho...

L.B. said...

Others have said it, but I'll say it again. Excellent post, sir. We all have that little distraction, be it food, anger, or the ones already mentioned. I'm sure Gautama had his share as well. Take care.

Reymiland said...

Buddhism is like a book on mathematics. It is there to train the mind, but not to make us all Einsteins.

We cannot be like the Buddha.

Only the Buddha was like the Buddha.

We can only be ourselves with the teachings of the Buddha.

Three glasses filled with water are different glasses, but are all filled with water.
Is the water different in each?


Kayla said...

I was at a retreat, fretting about my love of chicken and occasional glass of wine when a seasoned Buddhist said to me "My struggle is always with right speech" I started thinking about the less visable aspects of my practice, the stuff nobody knows to call me on but myself....the roots. The wine? Just a small shoot that broke through the surface:)

Shinzen Nelson said...

Wow...such great comments I have to jump back in.

Maybe the precepts are some form of upaya designed to make us struggle...creating that 'great doubt' leading us back to ourselves?

Just a thought.

Horus said...

There is nothing wrong with eating or consuming/doing anything which is not harmful - alcohol can be used as medicine too in certain cases.. but then what is important in Buddhism is to detach oneself from the Kilesas ("cravings/desires/addictions") - the Kilesas, when contemplated will be recognized as the cause of rebirth according to paticasamuphata (wheel of cause and effect, and becoming) - Unfortunately here is where we must get into the term "black and white" which you mentioned;
What purpose does Buddhism serve?
For many, Buddhism serves the purpos to become a better person, or to acheive more happiness in life, or to understand life more. - this in fact is not the ultimate true purpose, but having said that - people who practise precepts and a little samatha meditation will obtain benefits and more happiness in life, as well as avoind rebirth in an undesirable form of existence. But if we take it to the real purpose of what the Dhamma teaches, it is that we are lost in illusion due to avicca (false knowledge) which causes us to be forever reborn into undesirable forms of existence. He who has understood the dhamma willn no longer wish to remain in such existences, and will recognize that life is unsatisfactory and suffeing in essence.

Horus said...

Most people including those who call themselves "Buddhist" are still locked in the desire to exist in the framework of consciousness which is controlled by the perception of the world and existence under the influence of Rupa and Nama (form and name) and do not really wish to leave for a different form of awareness beyond all becoming. - this will result in thinking that enjoying things in life has nothing wrong to it. This is avicca (false knowledge), and is seen to be acceptable because the suffering and effects of paticcasamuphata have not been glimpsed. Paticcasamuphata is perhaps ther most difficult of all the concepts in Buddhist thought to grasp, which is normal considering that until the Buddha percieved this truth as a result of remembering over 500 lifetimes and rewinding back and forth through them all until he attained the realisation of what it is that causes us to be caught in the wheel of becoming, birth, sickness old age and eventually rebirth and start all over again. before Buddha realised this there was no Human on earth who had grasped this point. He sat for three weeks after his enlightenment wondering whether to teach the dhamma or not, due to the fact that what he had grasped was so subtle that he was unsure if there would be anyone able to understand it. The brahmas in 7th heaven saw his thoughts and sent a host of devas to convince him to teach the dhamma for compassionate reasons..- in the end he decided to teach for perhaps even only one or two beings might be able to realise it that was to be considered a victory. My point is that if you see paticcasamuphata you would be able to look deep inside and see that its not the odd beer that is a problem; the "problem" is that the kilesas - the desire and craving which says "ooh i fancy a beer" is precisely the catalyst which makes us be caught in rebirth - for we wander from one self satiating thought and action to the next endlessly following our noses in the search for pleasures which can never be permanent and thus will bring separation and sufferiing in lesser or greater amounts depending on the amount of attachment and craving involved.
Being a ":good Buddhist" is one thing - this will keep you safe from falling into undesirable realms and minimum be reborn as a human and not a hungry ghost or asura or hell being.. or animal. But ultimately the true goal and point of Buddhism is to anihillate all desires and understand and see the nature of all things, and the process of becoming and causes of suffering.
The precepts are to protect us until we can reach that stage. The realisations wont come with just precepts though one needs Vipassana and samatha and jhana to attain liberation. Most Buddhists dont aim for liberation. Such a goal comes only after having attained certain knowledge and experience in meditation and mindfulness.
The precepts are like the cot for a baby... stops the person from falling off the edge and ending up hurting himself.

Horus said...


They call him James Ure said...


I like the analogies and the mathematics one in particular. Well said.


I think most of us understand the principles of craving and desire but I still believe that one can have a beer without "craving it" or being "addicted to it."

I believe that the middle-path for laity is in part talking of moderation. Because if we were supposed to totally live without worldly pleasures then wouldn't Buddha and his first disciples make the precepts commandments for everyone?

It took even Buddha eons upon eons to realize enlightenment. So I think it's safe to say that not many if any of us are going to be reborn as Buddha's in the next life.

A marathon isn't won all in one big step but bit by bit. That is how many of us view Buddhism. It's not easy work but we are determined to make this journey even if we have to crawl at times.

I take my practice very seriously but I'm not going to make a commitment to follow each precept word for word if I'm not ready to do so. That would be force and forcing others or ourselves to do things doesn't work very effectively. It just creates more suffering/anger.

Do you want to create more suffering by forcing someone not to drink something that you might consider to cause suffering? What would be the point in doing that? Replacing one form of suffering with another but since force and control were used to stop that behavior it would risk those individuals leaving Buddhism altogether.

This brings up a question that I've always had in regard to Theravada Buddhism that you seem to allude to practicing. If in Theravada; enlightenment is only for monks since the laity can't fully extinguish their way of life then what's the point in having a laity at all in that tradition?

And then so aren't we most practitioners are laity? Why do we focus so much on the sex and intoxicants precepts so much? Yes they have the potential to cause problems if used without moderation and irresponsibly.

However, if we're going to classify suffering I would put the consequences of anger before having responsible sex and use of intoxicants.

Abusive speech is a form of anger, which are both apart of the precept advising against incorrect speech has caused much more suffering in my life than sex or intoxicants. So not everyone has the same difficulties with the exact same precept(s).

That is why I spoke of how we all have a weakness or two with certain precepts. I'm sure you have them too despite what feels like a self-righteous tone in your comments.

Kyle said...

PS James, Congrats on getting published over at Shambala Sun. Glad its them, my favorite of the big three.

Shinzen Nelson said...

Yes, congrats James. What is the title? It's exciting to get published. (not to toot my own horn..which I guess I am...Tuttle Publishing is releasing my book in April on Martial/Healing Arts...)

This has been a great post!

Horus said...

wonderful comments!
It took even Buddha eons upon eons to realize enlightenment.
yes this is the truth
A marathon isn't won all in one big step but bit by bit.
this is also such an astute truth
as to whether Buddhism is only for monks.. no of course not
why do we have a laity
"in my personal opinion" (this is the prefix i didnt add in my previous comments and is one reason why they seem self righteous to you), the laity is there for both the preservation of the Buddhasasana in order for those "hardcore" practitioners to go for it in full, and also for the rest of us crawlers to be able to refind it in every lifetime and continue our developments.
Yes having a beer to stop ones heart from finding the practise too difficult and thus getting negative results in ones practise is the middle way too, you are right.
I agree with all of your points made.
Now, lastly to the fact that my writings seemed self righteous;
I am so happy you made this observation, as i deliberately wrote in this way as an experiment to see if others feel the same thing that i do when talking dhamma with Westerners and in comparison with Thais.
I speak read and write Thai and ave found great frustrations often when discussing dhamma with the Thai people. Reason being that with westerners the responses are always stated to be opinionated, whereas with 90 percernt of my experience with Thais the only response you get is a corrective and one sided statement of dharmic facts, which leaves a resonance of a feeling that the person speaking always is teaching you, but will never listen or consider your contributions to the conversation.
Thais are lucky to get the dhamma taught since early age and know a lot of scriptures,m teachings, suttas and facts about it.. but somehow many of them just seem to be repeating it with a cocky air without even being able to listen to or accept sommething from others, especialy westerners.. you never get a "yes that is true
from them as a response, rather a "it is like this or like that" as a corrective response.
I thus used the same method of response in my comments to see if others would find this typically
"Thai" way of dhamma conversation conceited or not.
Thank you for confirming my belief that it is not only me who does not get a good feeling from such an air of stating how things are instead of offering one's opinion
I apologize for any bad impressions made. I am trule overjoyed to have something confirmed by your comment
Thank you

阿牛 said...

The question is not so much whether someone is a sincere or "good" Buddhist or not. The question is whether imbibing alcohol or other intoxicants is skillful or not.

Clearly, one can still be an otherwise committed Buddhist but have a drink in social situations from time to time. One could even have a substance abuse problem. That does not make the action skillful, but neither does it condemn the practitioner to the labels of "bad" or "insincere." Most any practice is better than no practice.

The Buddha's instruction in the precept is rather unambiguous. We reap the karmic consequences of drinking or drug use, whether or not we have taken the precept; but it is better to only take the precept only when one is committed to keeping it.

Horus said...

i think that the taking of precepts is not only for when you know you will be able to keep it.. if that was the case then non one should take them hardly. It is about attempting to make them and repeatedly taking them after having broken a precept.. with repetition one will imporve in one's diligence.

They call him James Ure said...

Thanks Kyle. I'm a fan of the Sun as well.


Booze and drugs and dharma: What’s your stance? Yeah being published is a great honor and fun. It's a nice recognition of all my hard work here over the last 5 years. I'd love to review your book when it comes out. I'm working on hopefully 2 books of my own. One of haiku and another on about Buddhism and Mental health.


Yeah I don't understand the rigidity often seen in Theravada Buddhism but if it works for some then that's great. I think we all are sincere and work hard toward realization of liberation from samsara. I'm coming to believe that It's all relative to one's karma.

Asian Character Name and Horus:

You're right about skillfulness being more important than whether the act itself makes someone an insincere Buddhist or not. Some people just aren't ready for formally taking the precept vows.

That said I do think it's great training and practice to try and keep as many as possible. However, moderation is also a key because even a commitment to the precepts can become fanatical, which is another attachment. It can easily become an attachment to a deluded feeling of specialness and superiority.

Buddhist Journalist said...


Mark Foote said...

Hey, all,

thought I'd toss in a few things from my readings that were touched on in these comments.

First, the Buddha ate meat; he ate what he was offered, as long as it wasn't killed specifically for him. His cousin, who eventually tried to assasinate him, wanted the order to be strictly vegetarian.

Second, in the paranirvana sutta, or the book of the great decease, the Buddha tells his followers that they can dispense with the hundreds of rules and just follow the three principal ones. Unfortunately, his followers were unable to say for sure which three the Buddha referred to.

Third, the division of Buddhism into Hinayana and Mahayana took place over a disagreement about whether an arahant could have a wet dream (for this I rely on A.K. Warder's "Indian Buddhism", pg 216).

Lastly, there's a story of a guy who fell off the wagon, ceased to be a monk, and started drinking again somewhere in the sutta volumes (I'm not going to look for the reference today); the Buddha caused considerable uproar in the order when in reply to a question from Ananda after the man's decease, he declared the man to belong to one of the seven stages of an individual on their way to the final dissolution of their karma.

I think the challenge of our modern age is to find a way to communicate about what it is to be human or sentient, and what is the life of purity that makes an end of suffering.

yours truly, Mark Foote

They call him James Ure said...

Mark Foote:

I hope I didn't come across as saying that all Buddhists should be vegetarian. I'd encourage it if asked about it but it's not my place to say people are wrong or whatever if they don't follow such a diet. I simply was giving an example of how I personally don't eat meat but I do drink alcohol and smoke a joint now and then. Someone else may not ingest those things ever but eat meat.

If we both gave into our ego-minds we'd be saying each other isn't a Buddhist!! So, in reality given that we're all not following the precepts all the time; how can anyone of us say that we are in a better situation than any other?

I was raising the vegetarian issue to show that despite that belief of mine I don't condemn people who DO choose to eat meat. Unlike many in Buddhism who condemn those who enjoy a glass of wine now and then. Or a toke from a joint. Despite the precepts not being commandments except for monks.

These are personal choices and it's good that the Buddha didn't command them. Much in the Buddhist path as we know is about personal experience. So yeah, absolutely you can be a Buddhist and still eat meat. It's a personal choice. Just like other issues like drinking, etc.

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Mark Foote said...

Hi, Admincrazy,

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Mark Foote said...

Hey, Horus,

That was interesting, about the Thai friends you have speaking so matter-of-factly about the dharma. I have tried both styles of writing myself, and my experience has been that most folks want a statement of fact, not an opinion, if they are reading more than a few lines- regardless of whether it's actually opinion. As I understand it (there he goes again!), the trick is to know the thing that I write or speak about both from a personal point of view and from a scriptural point of view. Write to myself a lot and cite all the references in my material, so I can return to them later. If you can lay your hands on copies of the Pali Sutta volumes, they are a remarkable read, even if you skim through some of the repetitions; my personal take is that the four truths only apply when suffering exists, just like the Euclidean theorems in geometry only apply in
Euclidean space (and there are two other geometries that are equally consistent, based on alternate statements of the parallel postulate). The idea for me is that life is what it is, and if there is suffering, then the four truths apply about the nature of that suffering, its origin, cessation, and the path leading to cessation. And any intelligent person can realize the truth of what the Gautamid taught, but he really wasn't a social genius, just a compassionate teacher of the truths about suffering. I personally disagree with his view of the nature of society, and from the Pali Sutta sermon volumes I conclude that he was not always the best teacher, especially when his teachings indirectly resulted in the suicide of scores of monks daily, as related in the Samyutta Nikaya volume 5 in the section on the intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths.

His original invocation to the five ascetics who were the first members of the order was, "come, live the life of purity to make an end of suffering"- something like that. I think it's not possible to live the life of purity without a clear sense of the truths of suffering, and unless we witness our own suffering as such, we have no clear path. The witness of suffering is a personal thing; I'm not so sure that strict abstinence is inescapable for an arahant, as most of the teachers I have met and admired were married and drank occasionally (Zen teachers, they were). What can I say.
yers truly

Horus said...

Interesting and daring remarks Mark - some of them quite valid. As to whether Lord Buddha's teachings caused monks to commit suicide, or if it was their own failure to understand the teachings is of course a matter of viewpoint. Its kind of like recieving a bowl of piping hot soup and burning your tongue and then saying "now look what you have made me do!" in fact no one made you do it; you drank it yourself without checking if it was cool enough to drink.
As to the four noble truths being both true and not true depending on what mindspace or experiencial state you are in (like being fed up with life and experiencing suffering, or being happy and enjoying life).. it is true. Truth is relative, and that life is suffering (or actually "unsatisfactory", as the word Dhukkha indicates unsatisfactoriness more than suffering), is only seen through eyes that have encountered dissatisfaction with life. However, no matter how much you enjoy life and fail to see life as suffering, in the long run, at latest when you lose your youth, health and begin to arrive at the moment of death, then is when the 4 noble truths become apparetn and unavoidable. It is possible not to see these truths, but to say they are onl;y true in a certain state ofmind is only partially true. The experience of unsatisfactoriness will always prevail in the end, and it is this fact which proves the 4 noble truths as expounded by the Lord Buddha to be ultimately true for all sentient beings, whether you see and accept them or not. The day your girlfriend leaves you, your mother dies, you lose your money, or are told you have cancer and one year to live is when the 4 noble truths start moving in on your space.

The reason that the Bhikkhus who commited suicide did so, was that they were practising Asubha Bhavana (seeing the unwholesome and undesirable factors of the self and the body), an in their total ignorance and absence of balance and wisdom, they forgot that Asubha is only one of various ways of looking at things.. You can find both beaty and ugliness in the same object depending on what you lean towards in your viewpoint.
Both and neither are true. In the End all of these ways of looking at things are sangkhara/samskara - conditioned thought forms/concocted thoughts - this means that you can look at a member of the opposite sex and see beauty and sexiness, or you can also see a bag of guts and shit and blood and brains - which is true.. well, as i was a Bhikkhu many monks who fought against physical attraction to women in order to not suffer thinking about thinkgs that were against their vows and precepts, they would tell me how all things are asubha when it comes to the body.. i would respond that to see the body as beautiful is an illusion, yes, but that the viewpoint of Asubha is no more true than that of beauty - rather simply a tool to decondition oneself from the attraction one feels towards the opposite sex. But once one has attained the deconditioning, then one should also decondition oneself from seeing it as dirty and undesirable and disgusting. Because in the end it is neither of those things, rather simply a group of atoms and space forming living matter with a consciousness controlling it (actually not even that). Faeces is seen as disgusting to us, but in fact it is food to microbes (and dogs) and seen as delicious. Its all a matter of conditioning.
The Monks who committed suicide failed to see that they were not seeing reality with their way of percieving their own bodies as disgusting (simply in order to free themselves from attraction to the physical body), rather that all perspectives are simply reflections in a mirror and only used as tools for interacting with the world. the conditioned thoughts we have are not real they are sangkhara within the 5 khandas.

Horus said...

The Buddha cannot be held to blame for their suicides. If you give a gun to someone to protect themself with and they put it to their heads and shoot it after you have already explained that it is not for such purposes, then you cannot be held responsible. The only mistake the Buddha made was that he never mad a rule until an even occured to create a need for it. This is why it was not forbidden to have sex as a Bhikkhu until Sutinna slept with his ex wife on his parent's request. This is why the rule wasnt refined to include animals and masturbation until more stupid Bhikkhus went on to think "oh it says "no sex with a woman" "having sex with a monkey isnt breaking the rule" (yes a monkey.. this really happened).
The fault is not Buddha's and also not the Bhikkhus' either.. fault is a conditioned concept. We cannot talk about fault, but we can talk about causes.. the causes of these inauspicious events was ignorance (avicca). The Buddha tried to offer us the cure for avicca.. he cannot be blamed for our failure to understand and follow the instructions.

Mark Foote said...

Hi, Horus,

Well, I have to examine the Gautamid's words critically, take what I find to be true in my own experience, and leave the rest. If I don't examine the results of his teaching in his students and the peculiarities of his social vision critically, I find it difficult to examine the core of his teaching from a new perspective.

I agree that the conditioned thoughts we have are part of the skandas, and that the activities including volitive perception and sensation cease in one of the non-material states. If the activity of perception and sensation ceases, then where is suffering? Particularly because suffering is identically the five skandas, groups of grasping, and with the cessation of perception and sensation ignorance ceases. Yet the practitioner is very much alive. And this, per the Gautamid, is a form of happiness, in spite of that being an apparent contradiction of the development and fulfillment of equanimity which constitutes the final part of the sevenfold factors of enlightenment.

My own experience is more directly related to the cessation of volition in the activity of the body, and to the recognition of the witness of my attachment, aversion, and ignorance and how that feels, physically and mentally. I don't dwell on it, but I have a practice, that is conditioned on the experience of a happiness of well-being that draws me forward; to practice out of fear of hell is also valuable, in the Gautamid's teachings, but I have not found it useful, myself. Probably the way I was raised. I guess I should be open to the parts of the teaching that I can't find a place for, but I'm not as sure as you that the Gautamid was harmless to all his students. I will blame the guide if the climbers fall off the mountain, particularly if the guide knew the dangers of the mountain; I understand that their deaths may have resulted in the teaching on "intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths", the description of the Gautamid's own practice before and after enlightenment, and I am grateful for their sacrifice. I bow to them equally.


Marco said...

This is a very interesting post. Would love to read your posts.

Marco @ Arkansas Tech university

Mark Foote said...


thank you for your interest; I have a website, The Mudra of Zen, and I have a blog Zazen Notes. The blog is mostly my remarks on Tao Bums and other sites, which I hope serve to flesh out the material on the webpage. Please feel free to add a comment there if you like, or to email me directly (my email is on the website, and in my profile here).

yers, Mark

Horus said...

thats why when you climb a mountain these days you must first sign a disclaimer saying you acceptsole responsibility for anything which may happen to you.. Maybe the Buddha should have made people sign a disclaimer too?

I would like to know Mark, if you fell off your bycicle, would you blame your dad for teaching you to ride it? or for buying you one in the forst place?
Does this mean you would always blame someone else for everything that goes wrong with you in life? simply because all things which we know we must first learn from somewhere else? - If you choke on your food and die is it the fault of the person who gave it to you? or is it the fault of God for giving you a throat? or is it the fault of the person who taught you how to breathe, for not teaching you how to breathe when eating? or is it the fault of the fish for having bones?

No i do not agree that you must blame the guide and teacher if you encounter any slip ups. Everyone is responsible for themselves. And the generosity of the teacher for sharing does not imply any responsibility towards those who come to learn. Accidents happen and that is precisely what they are - accidents. We can only "blame" ourselves when we are incapable of understanding a Dhamma and interpret it wrongly it is not due to the teacher, rather to our state of advancement and level of Panna which influences whether we attain right understanding and practise.
I believe you are still in wrong thought.

Mark Foote said...

Hey, Horus,

I hear you, and I don't blame the guides for the guys that fell off the Himalayas in that snowstorm- true. However, I think the guy that did the sweatlodge (in Arizona?) and had people die as a result of his instructions will probably be sued in civil court, and he will end up owing a lot of money to the relatives. Why is that- I guess you'd say that it depends on the degree of risk that people thought they were taking when the signed up. The guys on the Himalayas assumed a lot of risk, the folks at the sweat lodge didn't think there was any. I'd be willing to wager the parents of those monks in India didn't expect their children to die enmasse following the instructions of the Gautamid. The Gautamid went on retreat for three weeks, and evidently the person who was bringing him his food didn't warn him that the monks were committing suicide. Nevertheless, I have to wonder how often he advised the meditation on the unlovely after that?- certainly he spoke instead about the "intent concentration on in-breaths and out-breaths", and spoke of it as a thing perfect in itself (quite apart from any attainment), when he discovered the tragedy.

Melinda said...

po ppo po

Melinda said...


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