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Living in Mindfulness - The Eight Fold Path pt1 28may17

posted Jun 12, 2017, 9:43 AM by Matthew Fisher

spoken by Rev. Matthew Fisher


Good morning and welcome to Reno Buddhist center….

The wonderful life of the temple is sustained by your participation and support. This place is here because generous people like yourselves contribute in so many ways. Because of that generosity we can welcome newcomers and old friends. Because of that generosity, we can be of service when people come to the doors of the temple. Sometimes visitors are troubled and need a kind listening ear, sometimes visitors are new in town and looking for a Buddhist temple to call home. Thank you all so much for making it possible for us to receive them all.


If you are new to us - Welcome - please feel free to participate and ask questions. That is why we are here.  To share the teachings of the Buddha. There have been many Buddhas. The Buddha of our historical age is Sakyamuni Buddha, who lived and taught 2600 years ago.  Today we are considering the Buddha’s first Dharma talk given at the deer park in Isipatana -“Dharma Chakra Pravar tana Sutra”. Setting the Wheel of Dharma in Motion” sutra.


In the sutra the Buddha identified four amazing truths about the life of sentient beings. He wasn't the first to  discover these, but we know from him that these truths have been operative in our Universe from many kalpas into the past.   When Sakyamuni Buddha reached  enlightenment under the bodhi tree he saw clearly these Truths…

  1. Life is often difficult and stress filled - but it can be joyful.

  2. How we handle the energies that arise in response to stress is the cause of joy or  - most of the time - sorrow and suffering.

  3. When we are mindful and respond to the world in a realistic way - the stress melts away - and Joy flows in.

  4. To do this, we get in the habit of living as the Buddha recommended.  Following the Eightfold path.


The Fourth Noble Truths end with the Eightfold path.  Theses Eight habits of the BUDDHIST LIFE are…Right Understanding     Right Thought    Right Speech   Right Action   Right Livelihood     Right Effort       Right Mindfulness    Right Concentration


Lets pause here for a moment... Many of you have heard dharma talks about the Eightfold path before. And some of those experiences may not have been satisfying.  All the different Right this and Right that sounds awfully close to a bunch of “Shoulds”.   You might have the feeling - “oh boy, here we go again with the impossible Eightfold Path”.  Or “I tried it last time and it was hard - I didn’t do it”.


This brings me to recognize that sometimes our Dharma Practice is Stressful.  That sounds strange at first though, because isn't the Dharma what rescues us from the stress and strain of life?  
But it does happen and it makes sense. Until we are enlightened we actually are in the habit of making everything into stress.  Go to Disneyland and  what happens stress-out about getting a FastPass for the SpaceMountain ride. Go to lake Tahoe and worry about a sunburn.
Get a new car and worry over the first scratch?   We do this.  It would be funny if it wasn't so painful.

This is what the sutra is about - The Buddha’s basic insight was that we do this. We make life which is inherently wonderful, joyful, and fulfilling, into a source of stress.   Really the stress comes from the problem that we fundamentally do not understanding what our life is. What the life of a sentient being really is.  We think we are self contained, but we are not.  We think we are unchanging, but we are not. We think there is an us and a them, but there is not.


When we are confused like this, we experience stress and strain from everything we do.  It is like this with challenges that come up along Eightfold Path.  The Buddha’s word for the often unsatisfying nature of life as “Dukkha.” His First Noble Truth describes life in the world of phenomena is Dukkha.  Dukkha can be translated as stressful, unsatisfactory, disappointing, disillusioning...suffering.  To compound the difficulty of our experience we tend to cling to our misunderstanding of our self.  Our craving and wanting becomes clinging, the un-satisfaction becomes our focus and we get preoccupied with finding satisfaction - where satisfaction cannot be found. All of our culture has been built around satisfying our want.  This is the difficult place we find ourselves.  Wanting things to be other than they are.


Sometimes that is the reason people come to the temple for the first time. Maybe a response to some unsatisfactory part of life. Maybe a difficult event like a death or other loss. Sometimes a subtle feeling that life might be more pleasant on The Path.  We start to learn and develop an understanding - really the beginning of Right View.  As soon as we set out though, the mind returns to its old wanting tricks.  We have to be diligent. Learning about the Dharma really shouldn’t create more stress in your life.   But truth be told, it usually does - for a time. We somehow can maneuver every event in our life into a stressor - given the chance.  Stress happens whenever we don't want something to happen but it does. And whenever something we don't want what does happen - again this stress arises. If we have aversion or attraction Dhukka arises. When I get an ice cream - I am briefly joyful, then the melting starts...and I don't want it to melt and I get a little shot of dhukka.  Every experience includes this process.


In the same way stress arises in our Dharma practice, we can always trace it back to wanting the practice to be different than it is.  For example - If I come to chanting for the first time and the sounds are difficult or the chant too complicated - I feel a little stress. Often we generate harsh judgements of ourself  “you can't do it - you’re not good enough”. We hear that - the voice of Mara - in our head. And this is exactly what the Buddha was talking about in the sutra.  Being a Buddhist does not mean these thoughts stop happening, it means we begin to see openly and with mindfulness that this is going on.   We cultivate the ability to see the nature of our own mind.


When this happens, the teachings of the Buddha provide a sense of direction and clarity. They offer a path to understanding an unsatisfying experience and a clue to living in sustained joy. When we pursue The Dharma it’s not a way to change our experience of the phenomenal world - really it's a way of acceptance. Accepting the reality of life as life occurs - without big reactive swings. Mindfulness is holding in mind the true nature of experience in this world of phenomenon. The Buddha described life as having three defining characteristics:

Anicca – Impermanence
Dukkha – Stress, dissatisfaction, disappointment, dis-illusion
Anatta – non-self  - there is no permanent self experiencing anicca and dukkha.

The Dharma helps us see that we artificially personalize life’s experience. When something pleasant or unpleasant happens - we say it happened “to me” and we feel it should be different than what happened. This leads to more and more monkey mind chatter and generates the unfounded stories the buddha called - delusional mind states that we bonbunin experience most of the time. The practice of awakening through mindfulness of The Four Noble Truths is a practice of deeper and deeper insight into the true nature of self. Only by experiencing this world with an open mind - a mind of equanimity - a non-reacting mind - is the Buddha’s awakening is realized. Following the Eightfold Path helps us get in the habit of open mindedness.  Dharma practice can be stressful - but the intention of living a life mindful of the Buddha is to accept the impermanence of everything and live in gratitude. The best path forward - what the Buddha taught - is to abide in mindfulness. How do we get in the habit of doing that? We follow the Eightfold Path...


I listed the limbs of the path before -

Right Understanding     Right Thought         Right Speech       Right Action

Right Livelihood      Right Effort       Right Mindfulness    Right Concentration


We can look at the first three limbs of the path today -

The first of the eight is ‘right understanding’.  Anything you do is more effective if you start with a clear view.   That is why we start with Right Understanding. It is the foundation. In Right Understanding we see clearly the four noble truths...

  1. Life can be stressful.

  2. Stress comes from how we see things.

  3. Stress is gone when see the world as it truly is.

  4. This habit of living a Joyful Life has Eight aspects.


Right Understanding is an understanding of karma, and knowing that all our actions of Body, Speech, and Mind have results. This is an immutable law of nature.  Some actions bring us to the Dharma, some actions lead away.

Right Understanding is also understanding non-self - how we are not self-existent objects, but rather we are really events in the flow of everything.   We are interdependently co-arising with the entire universe.

We trust in the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe. And we see our place as one tiny piece in a vastness beyond comprehension. The Nenbutsu - here - is right understanding. Mindfulness of the Buddha.  Recognizing that I am taking refuge in the Buddha all the time.  I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.


Right Understanding is having these wise beliefs.  Beliefs that reduce suffering, and avoid increasing stresses in life.  These beliefs  are the foundations of our understanding of the Dharma.  A clear view. You have to develop Right Understanding and then you can build a World-View on it:  The Four Noble Truths, The law of Karma, the Non-Self nature of all things, and the Enlightenment of the Buddha are the logical premises of Buddhist life.  They make sense, but do require deep and abiding faith.  Confident Faith that builds as we learn more and experience the Buddha's way.


How do we get to this Right Understanding?   Through experience, and mindfulness, and some study of the Dharma.  Reading and participation at the temple’s classes and seminars from time to time builds Right Understanding.  Most of all asking questions fosters Right Understanding.


The second habit we cultivate on The Path is right thought - thoughts have a pattern of letting go. This is thinking in a more self-less rather than self-ish way.   Most of the time we are motivated by one kind of personal greed or another - that wanting we talked about earlier. Wanting things to be other than they are.  When we foster thoughts of letting go we are - in fact - letting go of our selfishness -  practicing more self-less behavior helps us toward a true view of life.  By curbing our thoughts that come from the thirsts for more stuff - we are making a habit of selfing - less.   If we put $5-10 dollar in the donation box at the temple - instead of that Super-Atomic-Double-Unicorn-Frappuccino, we are positively affected by that generosity. We are making the self less alone.


With these thoughts - we can realize that everyone is in the same boat as us, they want happiness and avoid pain - we can live in a way that helps us all get there.  Instead of trying to secure happiness of just one being, this precious separate self of mine, we can think about a greater good.  The Buddha taught that we are all interconnected, so discarding selfish pursuits and working toward everyone’s happiness is in line with reality.   At first we don’t realize or appreciate what this kind of thinking means -  living a life more focused toward peace and letting go, mostly means giving up our greed, our anger, our jealousy, and other harmful thoughts and emotions.  


Happiness comes through finding that true light within and without. Our true nature is Eternal, Joyous, Selfless, and Pure.    Having this Right Thought of letting go means we slowly loosen the grasp of our craving and attachment to external things. We can start to find the peace and happiness that lies within -- the great Ocean of mind -- we can hear the light that is all around us.


Cultivating Right Thoughts of goodwill and Non-harm is quite easy.  When  unwholesome thoughts arise we can simply let them go. They are only thoughts. Actions are much more difficult to undo. Thoughts of anger affect us all at times. As an anidote for anger or ill will, the Buddha prescribed the meditation on loving kindness. [As we end every service.] If you are feeling really angry with someone say in your mind ….

May you be happy;

 May you be free from harm:

          May you receive boundless compassion;

                      And may peace and harmony fill your heart

This helps us eradicate the habit of ill will or anger.  We are not angry beings - our true nature, is “Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure” - we are beings of love, compassion, and peace, wishing others happiness.  It is this state of being that the Buddha wants us to tap into.


The third piece of the eightfold path is Right Speech.  If we choose our words carefully, we can make other people happy. To use words mindfully, with loving kindness, is a practice of generosity. We can make people happy simply by practicing just right speech.  This does require some Right Thought to precede it.  All the parts of the eightfold path are interrelated. In the Abhya Sutra, The Buddha gave us his framework for what is and is not worth saying.
I’ll read the whole section of the sutra....

"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.


"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true,  but unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable to others, he does not say them.


"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing and disagreeable to others, he awaits the proper time for saying them.


"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.


"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.


"In the case of words that the Buddha knows to be factual, true, beneficial, , endearing and agreeable to others, he awaits the proper time  for saying them.
Why is that? Because the Buddha has sympathy for living beings."

  • Abhaya Sutta


This is a clear and complete framework.  The Buddha taught us to be more care full in what we say. If we think before we speak, many difficult situations will not arise. So much trouble and stress in life comes from things we or others say. Above all avoid lying, and any false speech.  Avoid any kind of divisive words that separate or divide people from each other.   Harming with words can be avoided. Lastly, when we realize we are indulging in idle and empty gossip, we just stop. Think before we speak.

    Lets practice these three parts of the Eightfold path together.  We can do an exercise. Simply…  Stand as you are able - Turn to each person near you -  take their hand - look into their eyes and say “Thank you“.  OK please be seated.
That feels good because you are following the Eightfold path. Founded in a realistic view of an interconnected world, it is a generous and grateful thought expressed in clear speech. “Thank you”.   When we express any gratitude we express our faith in Amida Buddha. The Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe that is our refuge.  

    This is the first of two parts talking about the Eightfold path and our daily dharma practice.  A clear view is Right Understanding that we base everything on.   Right Thought is generous and grateful thinking - putting others before self.   Right Speech is care filled speech. And quite frankly, less is more in this aspect.  Next time we will consider  Right Action,   Right Livelihood,   Right Effort,      Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.

To finish we can share the Metta prayer…  [say after me]

May you be happy;

     May you be free from harm:

             May you receive boundless compassion;

                    And may peace and harmony fill your heart

- Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu  Namu Amida Butsu -

Dharma Chakra Pravar tanna Sutra    Reading - 28may17  

“Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion” Sutra

[Please bow our your way to the lectern]

Thus I have heard, on one occasion the Buddha - the Blessed One - was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five monks:


There are two extremes we should avoid.On the one side, the constant following after pleasurable things.  And, on the other side, the constant following after punishment.   There is a middle path that avoids these two extremes; a path that brings restfulness of mind, supreme wisdom, joy, full enlightenment, Nirvana.

What then is this middle path?   It is the Noble Eightfold Path; it is this:

right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.


This is the first noble truth - we are not joyful.

Birth, decay, sickness and death is not joyful.   Contact with the pleasant is not joyful, separation from the unpleasant is not joyful, unsatisfied longing is not joyful. This is the first noble truth - we are not joyful.


And this is the Second noble truth of why we are not joyful.

The longing causes us to not be joyful. We thirst after individuality, enjoyment, gratification - now here - now there - it is the wanting for the gratification of desire, the longing for outward existence, the thirst for present existence. This is the Second noble truth of why we are not joyful.


And this is the noble truth about becoming joyful:  It is letting go that same wanting; the putting away of, the getting rid of,the blowing out of, the being free from, letting go this longing.
This is the noble truth about becoming joyful.

And this is the Fourth noble truth - the path that leads to joy.

It is the Noble Eightfold Path;  right Understanding, right Thought, right speech, right Action, right Livelihood, right Effort, right Concentration, right Mindfulness.


I wasn’t taught this; within me arose this light. The first noble truth - we are not joyful.  The Second noble truth of why we are not joyful. The Third Noble truth about becoming joyful.   The Fourth noble truth - the path that leads to joy.   Within me arose this understanding of These  Four  Noble  Truths.


I realized that I should rid myself of the cause of my suffering and become joyful.   As soon as my knowledge and insight became quite clear about each of these four noble truths, then I became certain that I had gained full insight; this knowledge and insight have arisen within me; the freedom of my heart is unshakeable; this is the end of birth and death for me.


Thus the Buddha spoke. In the company of the five seekers, rejoicing, praised the Buddha’s words.  And when the teaching was done, Kondanya had deep insight of truth, spotless and stainless, that whatever has a beginning in that also lies the necessity of having an end.   And when wheel of the Dharma was set forward by the Buddha, the bright ones of the universe cried out and said:“ the supreme wheel of the Dharma has been set forward by the Buddha - the wheel that can never be turned back.

Thus, in an instant, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the cry went up. The great system of myriad worlds shook and trembled and was violently moved, and a bright, measureless light appeared in the world, stronger even than the power of the gods.


[Long Pause]    
We will now have a few minutes of meditation…. accompanied by music….   [Bow to altar and be seated]