Monthly Archives: February 2013

Gathering 20: Action and Consequence

In the Upajjhatthana Sutta, the Buddha recommended that everyone, “women and men, householders and renunciants”, set five truths in mind and take time each day to contemplate those:

  1. It is in the nature of beings to age, and I cannot expect to escape aging.
  2. It is natural, in the course of things, to experience injury and disease; I cannot expect to avoid injury and disease.
  3. All who live will die; I cannot expect to evade death.
  4. In time, I will lose and be separated from all that I cherish and hold dear; I cannot expect to prevent that loss.
  5. My actions have consequences; I am the owner of my actions, born of my actions, heir to my actions, related to the world through my actions; whatever I do, rightly or wrongly, I alone will reap the consequences; I cannot reject responsibility for my actions.

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Gathering 19: Appropriate Speech


I thought that our discussion of Correct Speech on Sunday evening was particularly fruitful, especially as we got into the positive aspects of Correct Speech – that it’s not only a matter of avoiding lies, hostile or divisive speech, and gossip, but also of finding the Correct words to describe the complex reality that we awaken to when we’re able to see through labels and clichès.

I’d like to continue that discussion this coming Sunday. I’d also like to review an aspect of Correct Speech that we mentioned briefly on Sunday but which deserves a second look; that is the matter of the circumstances in which a particular kind of speech is appropriate, and thereby correct. We looked at a passage in which the Buddha reviewed the conditions that determined whether particular words were Correct: whether those words are factually correct, whether they are truthful, whether they are connected with the goal (generally, the cultivation of the way in our lives; more particularly, the goals that underlie the particular situation under discussion), whether they are welcome, and whether they are encouraging.

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Gathering 18: Knowing Right from Wrong

We had an interesting discussion Sunday evening regarding how we determine that our intentions, our speech, our actions, etc. are “right”. That is, how do we know that we are still on the way that the Buddha’s teachings show us? How do we know that we are really cultivating the Superior Eightfold Path and not just kidding ourselves–rationalizing, or turning away from an unpleasant fact, or simply not paying attention?

A Buddhist nun meditating, from alicesoup Flickr stream

That question is essentially the subject of a short and illuminating discourse that the Buddha delivered to his stepmother Mahapajagotami, who was the first woman to join the Sangha. I’ve posted that discourse, the Gotami Sutta, along with an Afterword that’s rather longer and more discursive than the sutta itself but which might help us relate the teaching to the events in our lives today.

I’d like to discuss that on Sunday, continuing our discussion about knowing right from wrong. I’d also like to keep the focus, if possible, on the notion of Correct Intention, since the intentions we conceive lead directly to how we articulate those intentions in our speech and how we embody them in our actions and our livelihood.

Gathering 17: Paving Stones

In the Pabbatopama Sutta (links to text and audio in sidebar), King Pasenadi of Kosala stops by to visit the Buddha late one afternoon. This is unusual; most of the King’s visits are in the morning or early afternoon, after the Buddha has returned from his alms round and before he retires for the afternoon’s meditation. The Buddha asks the King what brings him here so late in the day, and the King explains that he is returning from inspecting the troops. With what I consider to be an ironic (and perhaps gently teasing) acknowledgment that his activities are not the sort of which the Buddha would approve, he goes on….

“I’ve been doing what we divinely anointed noble Kings typically do, intoxicated as we are with power, driven by lust, obsessed with control, ruling our world, always seeking to extend our realm.”

I imagine the Buddha listening to this with a slight smile; then, after respectful consideration of what Pasenadi had said, the Buddha asks him, “Great King, imagine that a trusted messenger would bring you news from the East; a great mountain is there, seven miles wide and seven miles high, and it’s moving. It’s moving this way, crushing everything in its path. And then a messenger from the West would bring the same news, and then messengers from the North and from the South. Great King, with such devastation coming your way, destroying all human lives, life as a human being so hard to attain, what would you do?”

The King’s response is considerably more humble, “Master, if such devastation were coming my way, destroying all human lives, life as a human being so hard to attain, all that anyone could do would be to follow the Dhamma: act ethically, act skillfully, increase merit.”

“I tell you, Great King,” the Buddha went on,”aging and death are advancing on you, and they are unstoppable. What now?”

“Master, as aging and death are advancing, unstoppable, what can I do but follow the Dhamma: act ethically, act skillfully, increase merit.

“Master, divinely anointed Noble Kings, intoxicated with power, driven by lust, obsessed with control, ruling their world, fight elephant battles to increase their realms. But elephant battles are useless against aging and death. Cavalry, infantry, chariots—all are useless against aging and death. There are clever men in my cabinet who know how to divide an enemy and subvert his authority, but such knowledge is useless against aging and death. There is gold in my treasury to bribe and corrupt an enemy, but such wealth is useless against aging and death. With aging and death advancing, there is nothing to be done but to follow the Dhamma: act ethically, act skillfully, increase merit.”

“Good answer, Great King,” replied the Buddha. “Good answer.”

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