Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lesson 6 - Pureland Amituofo

Today's lesson is on the Pure Land school of Mahayana. The Pure Land school of Mahayana Buddhism is widely practiced in Asia. It is starting to form in the west, it's roots extend all the way to ancient India.

We generally think in terms of only one Buddha: Sakyamuni, who lived about 2500 years ago. But, since any sentient being can become enlightened and innumerable numers have, there are innumerable Buddhas. Sakyamuni Buddha, after his enlightenment, explained that he saw not only his past lifetimes but that he also saw how the future would unfold.

Sakyamuni saw people in our time having more afflictionns, worries and wandering thoughts. He knew that to end one's problems and attain lasting happiness many people would need the help of another Buddha: Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life.

Sakyamuni told us that Amitabha Buddha has created an ideal enviroment in which we can learn from and practice with the wisest of beings. It is a land of peace, equality, and joy where we can listen to the teachings of Bodhisattvas and Amitabha himself. Knowing how suitable this land would be for us, Sakyamuni taught and explained the Pure Land Practice.

The simplest way to practice Pure Land is by chanting "Amituofo." When we chant, the sound of Amituofo arises in our minds. As one keeps chanting and the mind focuses and embraces the sound of "Amituofo", errant thoughts are replaced with pure thoughts. After Amitfuofo has been in our mind continuosly for a long time and we improve on our thoughts and actions, our true nature, which is the same as that of the Buddhas, will gradually be uncovered.

If we vow to be reborn in the Pure Land and believe in the teachings of the Buddhas, we will progress on our path to forever have a Buddha's mind and heart of wisdom and compassion. Doing so we will be able to wisely be of benefit to all beings who wish our help. Ultimately, our belief, vow, and practice of chanting and leading a moral life will enable us to reach the perfect enlightenment of Buddhahood. And daily, we will continue to benefit as our minds become calmer, and our practice helps us to become more sincere and kind.

What about those who have not made such a vow or do not wish to make one? For those who simply wish to find some peace and serenity amid life's everday concerns, chanting along with or just listening to the chanting can help one to become calmer and more peacfeul. For every moment of peace is a moment of contentment and happiness.

If you would like to chant "Amituofo" please see the link below for downloadable audio from the Amitabha Society

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lesson 5 - The Path that Leads to the End of Suffering : The Noble Eight Fold Path

The Path that Leads to the End of Suffering : The Noble Eight Fold Path

No other religion or philosophy reveals so clearly the Path of Virtue, leading to deliverence. It is called the Noble Eight Fold Path because it is actually one path but is subdivided into eight sections. It is the buddhist code of mental and physical conduct which leads to the end of suffering, sorrow and despair; to the Perfect Peace, Nibbana.


The eight sections of the Path are not intented to be cultivated in the order they are given and the perfection of one stage is not required before another is begun. They must be regarded as a complete whole, requiring progress in all the sections. We practice and develop as we are able and progress in any section will lead to success in others. In its entirety, the Eightfold Path, leads to the cultured mind, for only when it is brought under control are we able to conquer greed, ill-will and delusion.

RIGHT UNDERSTANDING: Right understanding is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right understanding is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right understanding is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right understanding is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right understanding yields right thoughts and right actions.

RIGHT THOUGHTS: are those free from lust, greed and desire; those free from hatred or ill-will; those free from crulety , unkindness or revenge. In the last analysis, it is thoughts which promote our deeds and if the thinking is promoted to a higher level our deeds and actions will automatically respond. Thinking is the action of the mind and can cause bad karma just as much as physical deeds.

RIGHT SPEECH: is the control of the tongue by right thought. Withholding oneself from untruthful, deceitful or harsh speech and from gossip or idle talk. In it's positive aspect it means to speak kindly and with tenderness to others; to be modest in referring to oneself and abstain from self-exaltation.

RIGHT ACTION: is not to take the life of any living creature; not to indulge in impproper sex relations; not to steal the property of another. In its fullest sense, it means to preform deeds which do not cause suffering to oneself and others.

RIGHT LIVELIHOOD: is to avoid occupations, hobbies or trades which cause or lead to suffering for other beings. This would include those which do not permit the practice of right action. A disciple of the Buddha should not obtain his or her living by deceit, trickery or usury. He or she should avoid the trade in arms and death dealing weapons, flesh, intoxicating drinks and drugs or of living beings. Our guiding principle is to work for happiness and welfare of mankind and not for its sorrow.

RIGHT EFFORT: is the endeavor we make to live a moral and blameless life. The four Right Efforts are classified as follows:
The effort to avoid evil not yet exsisting
The effort to overcome evil which already exists
The effort to develop good not yet existing
The effort to preserve the good already developed

RIGHT MINDFULNESS: is to be constantly vigilant over our thoughts, speech and actions. It is easier for us to do wrong when we are careless and thoughtless. We must cultivate an alertness of mind, which in controlling our conduct, will establish harmony and not discord. The early part of development of this mindfulness, will require a slowing down of our thinking, speech and actions. This gives us more time to consider the right or wrong of what we are going to say or do. In a short time the mind becomes trained to this positive thinking and saying or doing the right thing becomes automatic.

RIGHT CONCENTRATION: (or meditation) of all the gems of the Buddha's Teaching, this is the one of greatest brillance. Meditation is fairly new to the West but it has been known for thousands of years in the East. Already, however, there are many who have discovered its worth and the wonderful bliss of contentment it gives. It is unsurpassed as the means of obtaining the peace of mind which the wise are seeking to supplant the chaotic existence of modern living. It is not only the key to mind training but also the means by which we bring the mind under control. It opens the gate to insight and understanding of the Four Noble Truths, Anicca (impermanance), Dukka (suffering) and Anatta (obsence of a seperate soul) and leads to the unsurpassed vision of REALITY and TRUTH. Skillfull concentration and meditation are synonyms in Buddhist Philosophy. Meditation is not as some believe, sitting quietly and letting the mind wander with the hope that some superior or hitherto unrevealed wisdom, will drift in. Buddhist meditation is the exact opposite. After we learned to sit still and relaxed for a reasonable period we endeavour to develop "one-pointedness of mind". This means, training it to concentrate on one subject only, without jumping from idea to idea to idea, like a monkey jumping from tree to tree.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lesson 4 - The Four Immesurables

We have talked about Bodhichitta - compassion being totally dedicated to relieving another's suffering. That suffering could be a physical illness, the death of a loved one, or the first grey hair you see in the mirror. Or it could simply be the recognition that no matter what you do, you can't hold on to happiness. The truth is, whatever you believe is essential to your happiness - a relationship, a possession, a job - won't last forever, or your feelings about it will change. We know intellectually that everything is always changing - friends turn away, your new car gets a scratch, your birthday comes around quicker every year - but still we try desperately and fearfully to hold on. Because we do, we suffer. The Buddha and other enlightened beings (when I say this prayer I think of White Tara) understand this and feel great compassion for us. A compassion and love that is totally selfless. Think for a moment of what the world would be like if everyone's love was selfless. It's a lovely picture. It's the way the enlightened beings behave and a wise kind of loving we can all aspire to emulate. Here is a beautiful prayer called The Four Immeasurables that many Buddhist recite each day. It expresses the wish that each of us experiences the immeasurable love and compassion that the enlightened beings feel.

May all beings have happiness
May they be free from suffering
May they find the joy that has never known suffering
May they be free from attachment and hatred

Lesson 3 - Taking Refuge in the Triple Jewels

Refuge in the Triple Jewels

It is not a necessity to take "formal" refuge to practice Buddhism, although I would not discourage it. Most Buddhist take refuge daily as a part of their practice. When you sit down to meditate visualize the enlightened beings sitting in front of you and "take refuge" in the Three Jewels: the Buddha (a note of explanation here the word "Buddha" means "enlightened being" which includes the future Buddha you will become), the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) and the Sangha (the community of Buddhist practitioners). Taking refuge is a doorway to becoming a Buddhist, you can think of your refuge practice as acknowledging your desire to avoid what is negative, cultivate what is positive, and watch your mind.

Actual Refuge Practice

Sit for meditation with back straight and with a compassionate focus
Visualize Buddha (or other enlightened being) sitting in front of you
Take refuge by saying this simple prayer three times

"Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practicing giving and the other perfections,
may I become enlightened to benefit all sentient beings."

Say this prayer three times in the morning and three times in the evening each day.

When you recite the Triple Jewel prayer you will take refuge in the spiritual development that grows in you.

Lesson 2 - The Four Noble Truths

Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths along with the Eight Fold Practice form what is the foundation of Buddhist thought. The Four Noble truths are a core Buddhist belief on which all other beliefs stem. It was said that this was the first discourse given by Gautama Buddha after his realized experience of enlightenment. Therefore it is where we will start our practice.

First Noble Truth: The Nature of Dukkha: This is the noble truth of "dukkha" (remember Dukka or Dukkha means suffering): Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, sickness is dukkha, death is dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; to get what one does not want is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.

Second Noble Truth: The Origin of Dukkha (Samudaya): This is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha: It is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

Third Noble Truth: The Cessation of Dukkha (Nirodha): This is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, and non-reliance on it.

Fourth Noble Truth: The Way Leading to the Cessation of Dukkha (Magga): This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: It is this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

(Teacher note - all information is relayed in terms of the Mahayana/Theraveda tradition as Vajrayana teachings are not allowed until student has taken empowerment initiation. The lay practitioner may practice all Mahayana lessons taught here)

Lesson 1 - Why Practice Buddhism

Before we get into the fundamental studies of Buddhism we first might want to take a look at why we are studying Buddhism. This will also give us an opportunity to introduce various terms and define those terms, as they will become part of our general language when talking about Buddhism. One motivation for studying Buddhism might be to escape our cyclical existence in Samsara. Saṃsāra, the Sanskrit and Pāli term for "continuous movement" or "continuous flowing" refers in Buddhism to the concept of a cycle of birth (jāti) and consequent decay and death (jarāmaraṇa), in which all beings in the universe participate and which can only be escaped through enlightenment. Saṃsāra is associated with suffering (dukka in Sanskrit) and is generally considered the antithesis of nirvāṇa or nibbāna. Samsara is our existence of suffering in this world; we will go into the 6 realms of existence in upcoming lessons. Or we might wish to study Buddhism to create bodichitta. Bodichitta is not an easy concept to explain in a sentence but it may be thought of as loving kindness, working for the goal of others. It is one thing to work to eliminate your own personal sufferings but a much higher goal to work to also eliminate the sufferings of others. Many Buddhist make a vow when doing daily practice to "dedicate the merit of their practice to all sentient beings" this is Bodhicitta. Lastly we might wish to practice Buddhism to experience more truly our lives, to recognize the ebbs and flows and be content which each. Buddhism teaches neither to be attached to happiness nor to sorrow but to live in the moment experiencing fully each moment for what it truly is - impermanence. This concept frees oneself to be all they can be and experience more fully life without holding on with a clenched fist of desire and attachment. So now we have some good reason to practice. Let our practice begin!

A little about your teacher

My name is Priyanka Lian Hua (given Buddhist name)Kristi is my english name given to me prior to my buddhist name change. I grew up in a buddhist family so buddhism has always been a part of my life. At age 13 I took formal refuge vows in the mahayana tradition and received lineage transmission. I continued my studies in New York where I attended Chuang Yen Monastery for regular practice. At age 27 I received Vajrayana initiation empowerment (Vajrayana is a Sanskrit word that is a conjunction of vajra which may be translated as diamond, thunder or indestructible and yana or vehicle). Since that time I have trained under several Vajra masters and instructed via web courses students in the preliminary practices of Buddhism. I look forward to sharing with you the wonders of Buddhism.