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Dharma Talk: Finding Life's Balance - Spring Equinox

posted Mar 21, 2016, 11:35 AM by Matthew Fisher

...Intergenerational Reading for 20mar16 Dharma talk....

Three Little Pigs - middle way
Rev. Matthew 20mar16

Once upon a time, far far away, in India there were three little pigs. Their names were  Tandita, Devadatta,  and Gotama.  They enjoyed dancing and singing and living outdoors together, but sometimes it was rainy or too sunny and they wished that they had a house.  

Tandita built a house of straw. It was easy to bundle up the straw and he finished his house in only half a day. It looked a lot like a pile of straw, but Tandita didn't care. He was done so quickly he spent the rest of the day singing and dancing - he was a little lazy.

Gotama - the second pig - built his house with wood. He built the house at a steady pace and sang while he worked. He spent a whole week building the little house. He built the house so that it could easily be repaired. It was a handsome house that would last a long time if it was cared for.   When he was done he danced and sang with Tandita - it was his favorite.

Devadatta was very worried about everything.  What if a monsoon storm came?  What if a flood came?  What if a big bad wolf came to their neighborhood?  “I will make my house the best of all the piggies’ houses” - It will be perfect in every way.

Devadatta worked very hard for two weeks and built his house with bricks.  He would sing his favorite Simon and Garfunkel song - “I am a Rock - I am an Iiiiiiiland”.   The materials were costly and he was so worried about his house being strong that he didn't eat or rest.  Eventually they were all finished building their houses. The piggies sang and danced - it was their favorite.

Interestingly, a big bad wolf named Mara saw the three little pigs dancing and singing and thought, “What a juicy tender meal they will make!” He chased after the three pigs and they ran and hid in their houses.

The big bad wolf went to the house of straw and thought that if he huffed and puffed he could blow the house down. Mara is a pretty special wolf, in fact he is a demon of sorts so he could summon the power of a hurricane to blow the house down.  Naturally - He huffed and puffed and down came the straw house. Just a flattened pile of straw was left, but Tandita had run away.  Saying “run away, run a away, run away….”

The frightened little pig ran past Gotama’s wood house to Devatatta’s brick house. But the big door was locked, so he ran to Gotama’s house where he was welcomed.   Mara - The big bad wolf followed to the brick house. And he huffed and puffed blew a great wind! But the bricks could withstand the wind.  Mara got a little angry and thought about the brick house.

What is a brick house like?  It is Heavy, Solid. Rigid!  So Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the brick house broke to pieces and when Mara searched the pile of bricks, he did not find piggies Devadatta or Tandita. They had run away.  Saying “run away, run away, run away…” They ran to Gotama’s house where they were welcomed.

Then Mara, the big bad wolf, went to Gotama’s house. He huffed and puffed but the wind blew through the wood house’s boards and the few boards that did come loose Gotama quickly replaced.  Gotama taught Tandita and Devadatta to do the same. Mara the wolf tried again, but eventually ran out of breath. Gotama could fix the house as fast as it got damaged.   It took good mindfulness and awareness of the present moment, but with Devadatta and Tandita’s help he could keep up.

Mara got a little angry and thought about what had worked on the brick house. Earthquake!  Mara the wolf summoned an earthquake to roll through the neighborhood again. The very ground rolled up and down like a big wave, the pile of straw flew up in the air and the pile of brick rubble rumbled a bit.  But the Wood house flexed and swayed as the ground moved and it didn't fall down.   I think it was because Gotama used screws and not nails to build his house [that is a running argument Rev. Matthew used to have with his dad - nails - screws - nails - screws ] - anyway -   Gotama fixed the boards that came lose and the house was ok, just as it was.

He kept trying for hours but the house was very strong and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried and tried and eventually - as is the way with Mara, be became bored with tormenting the piggies and moved on to someone else who needed tormenting.

Through all of this Tandita realized that being lazy was not good. And Devadatta realized that being too rigid and worried all the time was not good. They saw the Gotama’s house was safe because it was able to change, it could flex and move when needed and it was easy to fix up if anything did break. The other two piggies both built wooden houses and they all lived happily ever after.


Dharma Talk: Finding Life's Balance - Spring Equinox
20mar16  Rev. Matthew

*** Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu - Namandabutsu ***

Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone to Reno Buddhist Center on this morning - New visitors and old friends you are all very welcome here.

We celebrate the Equinox today.  A very special day when the Daylight and Nighttime are equal.  This has always been an important time of year for Buddhists. Nature shows us a peaceful balance today.  In the story the piggies examined the two existential extremes of indulgence and perfectionism, but real life lives in between.  Are we like one of these piggies sometimes?  Which one?  Sometimes we are guided to the middle way by seeing the extremes.

Three Little Pigs and the Middle way was a Buddhist adaptation of a story we all know.   We shared it with the children to encourage them to see life as an ongoing series of challenges that we can handle. Sometimes we will get bumps and bruises, but we can handle life.  

In the story the Piggies are building houses.   Constructing an abode. The space we live within.  The Buddha talked about this house building process when he was enlightened...

"Seeking but not finding the house builder,

I hurried through the round of many births:

Painful is birth over and over

O house builder, you have been seen;

You shall not build the house again.

Your rafters have been broken up,

Your ridgepole is demolished too.

My mind has now attained the unformed - I see reality as it is - Nibbâna

And reached the end of every sort of thirst."

Is this house what we construct around us? - our life - do we really construct that?  The causes and conditions that lead to our life are so many, that we can hardly take any credit or authorship for our life. Really what we construct is our way of looking at the world. Our refuge. The protective but permeable bubble we live within everyday.

Who is the house builder the Buddha is speaking to?  The self?  Mara?

When the house builder is seen - it disappears.  Ignorance? The Self. Clining, thirsting, and wanting.   They all swirl around ignorance.  With seeing. With Deep Hearing ignorance melts away.   That is what the Buddha’s enlightenment is all about.

Our friends the piggies build their houses as shelters against the cold and the hot.   We all need refuges at times.  A balance between activity and contemplation is important.

What about the piggies?
We all know the first piggy - Tandita is pretty laid back.  Actually his name means lazy in Pali language.   He finds the minimal amount of work he can get away with and goes right back to his favorite - singing and dancing -  after that.   We have all been this little piggy.   At times -we’ll for me - most times we put in that minimal effort and then move on.  It is strange but we think because we are so “busy” all the time, we think that everything else will fall apart of we devote an appropriate time and effort to our present moment, this activity, or this relationship.   It is quite the opposite.

Tandita’s little house is barely a shelter.  It falls apart so easily.  It lacks a foundation.  It lacks structure. It lacks the discipline of a life well lived.  It looks a lot like a haystack.

The Buddha described three kinds of laziness.
First, there is the kind of laziness that tandita shows: we don't want to do anything, and we'd rather stay in bed than get up and go with the sun.
Second, there is the laziness of thinking we are unworthy or unable, “they have more ability than me”, “other people are kind and generous but I don’t have enough to be generous”. This thinking often has the phrase “I can't” in it.   Lazy thinking doesn't really see life, it just labels and moves on - "I'm just an angry person;" "I've never been able to do things in my life" ; “I'm bound to fail." This laziness is one of Mara’s snares.

The third kind [of Lazy] Buddha describes is being busy with worldly things. How can being busy be a kind of laziness?  We can just overfill fill our time by keeping so super busy. Constantly having many tasks on a list can even make us feel virtuous. But usually it's just an escape.  When feelings and thoughts come up, we are too busy now - we’ll get to it later. We can’t be troubled with  being face-to-face with who we are.  If we fill the cup to the brim there is no room for Right Action, Right Contemplation, there is just the “I’m too busy escape”.

We are all regular people with regular lives.  Our days are very busy, our days can be frantic, it feels like we never have any space to sit for even a minute and just be. That escape is an easy way out. Because if we did take the time and make the effort we would be confronted with real life work.  As Gotama the piggy did - mindfully fixing the boards in his house as they change and needed attention.  Right now.

And the Piggy Devadatta is too strict. Too worried. He’s wound very tight.  He worries and worries.  And his house is very rigid. In his fear he constructs a life that can not accommodate change.   Brick and mortar can’t adapt.  A view of life that is too rigid is destined for trouble.


The Piggy Devadatta is full of fears and they drive him to build the brick house.   Ultimately we can see that fear of death is what drives his actions.   This at the expense of life. Building a rigid view seems safest, but it really shows a lack of faith in life.  It is vulnerable to change and lacks flexibility.
When we build a refuge to live within we are at risk when we don't allow for change. Changfulness is the nature of the universe. The downfall of all perfectionists is delusion.  This attitude comes from clinging to the self. The “I-Me-Me-My” experience we talked about last time.  We think that by perfecting the self - by  purifying or honing or training - we will be OK, happy, and joyful.  The Buddha tried that and it almost killed him.  It makes for a very tense and difficult life.

In the sutras Devadatta was a real person - Gotama's cousin. He was often second guessing the Buddha and always pushing for more.   When the Buddha allowed the monks to stay in huts for the rain retreat Devadatta thought that was too easy.  As the Buddha got older Devadatta suggested that he should be the Buddha’s successor.  He would do away with the robes, and begging, and the Dharma halls. The students would live in the forest eating insects.   This is very similar to the extreme asceticism that the Buddha rejected before his enlightenment.  He knew it didn't work. It does not allow us to openly examine life and hear deeply the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe.

Gotama piggy’s wooden house is an example of the middle way.  It is Juuuust right?   It is strong but flexible. The wind can blow through its boards. The roof keeps the rain off. The earthquake shakes it but it moves and gives as the earth wave passes. The wind blows a piece off here or there, but it is easy to repair and return to juuust right in the moment.  It is not perfect but it is juuuust right.  As we follow the Middle Way along the Eightfold Path we are not seeking perfection and we are not seeking escape. We are present in life’s ups and downs. We are able to hear deeply the wisdom and compassion of the universe. We can sit with the silence and simply be grateful - Naturalness is there for us.  We can let go the struggle and striving, the guilt and doubt melt away.   We can be happy in our little house with our little piggy friends.

In the story, the middle way is the way of the wooden house. That’s different than we usually think.  Usually we think the big solid massive unyielding thing is the best.  In a vast ever changing universe, this is a pure delusion.  An externalization of the desire expressed in Devadatta’s favorite song - I am a rock.   The fallacy of strength.

He sings... A winter's day

In a deep and dark December;

I am alone,

Gazing from my window to the streets below

On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I've built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don't talk of love,

But I've heard the words before;

It's sleeping in my memory.

I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;

And an island never cries.

In that song, he desires to avoid pain and brokenheartedness so he builds a fortress. He doesn't want to be hurt, so he shuts out his friends, he'll be isolated in a fortress - a prisoner. Maybe it sounds determined to build a strong house, really sounds like he’s walling himself in.  This isolates him from real life. He is only fooling himself into thinking he can.  It is a just brick delusion of self.

The last two lines express this; he's not a rock, he's a piggy that can be living life.  Life is a bumpy road and it supposed to be. That is natural. It is Ok.  

The "island never cries" line brings home the feeling.  As he sings this, he is really crying out for love.  A rock doesn't feel anything.  An Island can’t be connected.  We do feel, we are connected to everything.  The vast love and compassion and wisdom of the universe is here for us. We are part of it.  And so we live in the middle between indulgence and escape.

We celebrate the Middle Way of the Spring Equinox today - a juuust right balance between daylight and darkness occurs on this day - it is natural.  For Buddhists in particular, this is a significant happening. Dr. Matsunaga would say that it can reminds us of the natural balance of life. We can try to maintain that sense of equanimity every day.

In our Japan this day is the holiday we call Ohigan - which translates as The Other   In the  Ala-gadu-pama Sutra the Buddha describes the Dharma as raft - when grasped correctly we cross from this shore [the eastern shore of our Saha world] to the Other Shore the western shore of clarity and understanding and acceptance and gratitude and compassion. The metaphor of the Other Shore is common in Buddhism  - meaning the non-dual state of seeing reality as it is - wonders and warts and all.

The Other Shore is reached by making a new habit of living. Not one of selfish isolation, not a fortress, but an open and giving habit of life.  This is  done by active application of our energy.  By following what we call the six Paramitas.  In Sanskrit ‘paramita’ literally means ‘having reached the other shore.’ It also can mean ‘transcendence,’ or ‘clarity of vision.’  Practicing the paramitas is to practice in accord with selflessness and non-attachment, for the dual benefit of self and others.  

What are these six paramitas that I speak of?

Generosity   Dana Paramita

Ethics    Sila Paramita

Patience   Kshanti Paramita

Joyous Effort Virya Paramita

Concentration Dhyana Paramita

Wisdom   Prajna Paramita

So let’s consider these the six Paramitas with our minds on the activity of the three pigs...

Dāna pāramitā: generosity or selfless giving.  This is the first Paramita, we give what is helpful and good and give without “I-me-me-my” in the mixture.  We talked a lot about this last time.  

Remember there are many ways to be generous: (1) giving material things to support the Dharma (2) giving loving protection, and (3) giving loving understanding.  Participating in the Men’s Group or Women’s group  is a good example. True generosity is giving whatever we possibly can with pure motivation and enthusiasm like when Gotama welcomed the other piggies into his house.   

Śīla pāramitā, the 2nd way to the other shore, is virtue, morality, discipline, good conduct.  We refrain from negative actions. We habituate what is positive, and and we help others.  Gotama the piggy build the wood house and shows the others its strength - Modeling and practicing virtue and aiding others in their development is what Sila Paramita is all about.

Kshanti  pāramitā : is the 3rd way to the other shore - Patience, tolerance, forbearance. Living life with acceptance, endurance [sometimes], and gratitude always.  Two aspects of Kshanti I would mention -

The first, the patience of not being offended when someone hurts us. We patiently understand that the action did not come out of the blue - it’s the result of causes and conditions (karma) created in the past – causes and conditions we all contribute to.  Of course, this is easier said than done!

And, patience in having confidence in the supreme qualities of the Three Treasures.  Confidence arises through taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and develops through practicing the teachings that we receive.  Buddhism takes time and patience.    Kshanti is a very difficult practice for all of us.

Vīrya pāramitā : The fourth paramita is joyful endeavour Good effort, exertion, and perseverance toward understanding and supporting the Dharma.  The Piggy Gotama had this as he built his wooden house. We earnestly feel that we are beginning anew with every tiny step toward understanding and acceptance.

Dhyāna pāramitā : 5th paramita. One-pointed concentration, contemplation or meditation.  Meditation and deep contemplation can be practiced in many forms: a long, peaceful walk in nature, gardening, chanting and sitting in stillness either alone or with the combined positive energies of others at Golden Light Meditation on Wednesdays. Piggy Gotama focused as he built his wooden house.


Prajñā pāramitā : the 6th paramita.  Wisdom or insight.  Piggy Gotama wisely built his house from wood - to make it easy to repair and flexible in the face of life. Studying the Dharma with curiosity, asking questions, reading Buddhist texts, attending Dharma talks and book discussion group or talking with sangha members are wonderful ways to gain wisdom and insight into reality as it really is.  Ultimately wisdom is seeing clearly.

These are ways for finding the middle way. Being mindful of the Paramitas and naturally practicing them in our daily life is the Buddhist way.   We are so blessed to have been born as human beings in this life.  As humans, we have the ability to Give, behave well, have Patience, expend Joyous Effort, Concentrate deeply, and gain Wisdom.  We will reach the Other Shore. Please remember and practice these six paramitas.

The Noble life is life is a life lived with our struggles not an escape from them.  A joyful life not in spite of difficulty but because of the challenges we face and surmount and endure.   The Middle way is to live life fully, with its struggles and joys - Not too lax, not too constricted.  Remember our piggy friends. And occasionally ask, “Which piggy am I today?”   It is a choice we can make with wisdom.

Our sincere wish for all sentient beings in the universe on this Equinox day. [Just say after me]....

May all beings be happy;
May all beings free from harm:
May all beings receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart

--- Namandabu - namandabu - Namandabu ---