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Mindful Living - 8fold Path Part1 17apr16

posted Apr 23, 2016, 12:31 PM by Matthew Fisher

Rev. Matthew Fisher  -

Welcome everyone.  So good to be together today.   I’m happy to see you all this morning.  Young and old and in between - everyone is here.  There is a lot going on with Spring coming outside.  Quite wonderful.

This week we participated in the Nevada Prayer Breakfast which was a  wonderful time to share with brothers and sisters of other faith traditions.

The sangha council filed a table of Buddhists. Next year maybe we can have two tables of sangha members sharing the experience.  

We removed about 100lbs of weeds from the back alley!   Now when you park in the overflow area [that collection agency’s parking lot back there with yellow signs]  it looks quite nice.   Pulling weeds is a good meditation - or misogi in Japanese - a purification, one weed at a time. Letting go the weeds in our selves.

We are here today to talk about living a mindful life - a Buddhist life. This is often a puzzle for people.  When we look at the life of the Buddha, it was so very profound and any of us would likely not be able to live like that.

The Buddha taught that our craving and feeling of want is extinguished or “blown out” by living mindful of eight guidelines.   What we call living the eightfold path.  He taught about this in the reading today - his first Dharma talk after enlightenment - the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta - The Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion - Sutra.

Sometimes people read about the Eightfold Path and think - “Huh? I could never do that. It is so strict.”  Well, it is a disciplined life.  The Buddha never said in so many words “You should .  He said If you live by these guides your suffering will melt away - Joy will flow in.

A Buddhist life has a Questing quality.  We live moving toward something -  toward joy, toward wholeness. We are not responsible or capable of being a Buddha today.   And that is OK - you are OK just as you are.   This Questing feeling sets an intention - awakening in us the urge toward wholeness - what we call Bodhicitta.  This Buddhist life is lived in becoming.  It is a habit of living and takes time to develop foster and cultivate. It is the process of becoming more human.  An important aspect of this becoming is realizing that we can’t make it on our own.  

2600 yrs ago the Buddha identified four amazing truths. He wasn't the first to  discover these, but we know from him that they have been operative in our Universe from many kalpas into the past.   The Eightfold Path is one of these truths.

Lets look at these Four Noble Truths.   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 stresses is the cause of joy or  - most of the time - sorrow and suffering.

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

  1. To do this, we get in the habit of living as the Buddha recommended.  Like the Dharma Wheel here - 8 spokes - the Eightfold path.

The Fourth Noble Truths end with the Eightfold path. The Eight habits of the BUDDHIST LIFE are…

Right Understanding     Right Thought         Right Speech       Right Action

Right Livelihood      Right Effort       Right Mindfulness    Right Concentration

You notice that each of the eight begins with “RIGHT”.  Remember it does not really mean RIGHT - Like RIGHT and WRONG. That’s a very dualistic view and not a Buddhist view. The original word is samma, something like "best" or "appropriate" or "well-directed".  A  more subtle meaning.  Really closer to... juuust right.  The Buddha used the analogy of a harp string to explain..... What is just right when it comes to the strings of a harp?

Too loose - It makes no sound - This is living in laxness. A lazy undirected life has little purpose - no destination - no Bodhicitta. This is not a spiritual life.

Too Tight - The string may break.  When it’s too tight we live life in should world.  “You can't”  “Do this”  “Don't do that.” Rules and regulations pile up and compound and eventually we are wrapped so tight - that we break!  This is not discipline - it’s oppression.

Just Right  - The string gives a beautiful note of music.  As always let's understand the word RIGHT today as Juuuust Right!

The Buddha taught that we will benefit if we live mindful of these eight spokes of the wheel of life.   Mindfulness is living life present and aware of what we see before us in each moment. The alternative to this is delusion. The habit of seeing what we want to see all around us, or seeing what we fear all around us, all the time.  We live in aversion or attachment.  This is an unfortunate alternative, but very common way of living - my guess is that better than 90% of our time we live in one of these modes.   We seem to get in the habit of ignoring what is happening around us because much of it is not what we want.   It contains painful experiences - thoughts and emotions that we really don't want to spend our time on.   That is because of their difference between what we want to happen and what is happening.   The Buddha helps us soften the habit of wanting things to be different than they actually are.  
Through the eightfold path, we build a habit of letting go of strong aversions and strong attachments bit by bit, little by little.   This is a very easy path.  It is suited to regular people with regular lives.   No big requirements, no renunciation.   Only a radical acceptance of life and taking refuge in a universe larger than ourselves.  We can accept that we are not cut-out to be fantastic spiritual people.  Maybe we tend to jump to conclusions and get enraged at the slightest offence - ok there we are.   And we accept that the universe has immense and limitless compassion for us even so.   And immense and infinite wisdom if we only listen the silence.  Through mindfulness this is what we can see.  We are goof-balls in so many ways and the universe is friendly, wise, and compassionate.  We are goof-balls - Bonbunin is how Shinran says it in the Shoshinge we chanted - and Amida Buddha holds us, never to be let go.   It is the Eightfold Path that gets us to realize this.

The Eightfold Path is hard to share in this setting because there are eight spokes in the wheel.  People don't easily learn 8 things in a sitting.   But one at a time it can be easy and fun!

In effect these are eight ways of living that we need to make habit.   These are eight different aspects about ourselves that we need to monitor, practice, and probably change to help us rise to who we can be - spiritually.   The simple goal is to lead a moral life, based in compassion and wisdom.

When we learn the Eightfold Path it helps to use a memory trick - a mnemonic -  to help remember all eight….

Understanding   Thought   Speech   Action   Livelihood   Effort     Mindfulness     Concentration
Until                 Thoughts    Stop       Acting    Like        Excited    Monkeys        Confusion!

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 (sammā-ditthi) we see clearly the four nobel 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 just one tiny piece in a vastness beyond comprehension. The Nembutsu - here - is right understanding. Mindfulness of the Buddha.  Recognizing that I am taking refuge in the Buddha all the time.

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 of clarity of view.

This week a couple people asked me if Buddhism is a religion?  A question I get often enough.  Looking around...I have to say...if it isn't, it's doing a pretty good job of impersonating one.  Why is this an important question?  Really what they are asking  is…
“Do I need to buy into any blind dogmas or arbitrary beliefs to be part of Buddhism?”  
The most honest answer is “yes - you do’. You have to develop Juuust Right Understanding to build your world view on:  The Four Noble Truths, The law of Karma, the Non-Self nature of all things, and the Enlightenment of the Buddha are 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.

Please remember that Right Understanding also includes a kind of mental discipline to avoid some kinds of questions − questions that distract us , or are unanswerable, and questions that are really “academic” - meaning even if we answered them, they wouldn't bring joy. The Buddha wouldn’t answer those questions because they did not lead to joy.   So some mental discipline is needed here too.

How do we  get to juuust 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.

Remember our Mnemonic for the eightfold path…
Until   Thoughts   |  Stop   Acting    Like  |  Excited   Monkeys…  Confusion!
Understanding  Thought  Speech  Action  Livelihood  Effort  Mindfulness  Concentration

The second habit we cultivate is right thought -- juuuust  right thought.  Right thoughts have a pattern of letting go. Right thought puts our thoughts in a more self-less rather than self-ish cast.   Most of the time we are motivated by one kind of personal greed or another. When we foster thoughts of letting go we are - in fact - letting go of selfishness -  practicing more self-less behavior helps us toward a true view of life.  By curbing our thoughts that come from these thirsts for more stuff - we are making a habit of self-less-ness.   This brings the realization that everyone is in the same boat as us, they want happiness and to 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.

So much joy and all difficulties begin in thoughts.  All our actions of body and speech start with a thought.  When we affect thought, with so little energy, we can subtly direct all our actions in a more wholesome direction

Thoughts of good will and harm-less-ness - or Ahimsa we talked about in January.  Are juuuust Right Thoughts.  The just right thoughts on Compassion are the most accurate and truthful thoughts we entertain.

The Buddha taught that we are all interconnected, so discarding our selfish pursuits and working towards the greater good is in line with reality.   At first we don’t realize or appreciate what this letting go 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.  These prized possessions we cherish - our wounds and indignities done to us - these we carry inside us like little caustic treasures  - what Gollum called our “precious-es”.  Juuust Right Thought leaves these behind.  Cast them off and care deeply for others.

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 juuust Right Thought 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, for anger or ill will towards anyone, the Buddha prescribes the meditation of loving kindness….

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 back into.

A Juuust Right Thought exercise - Please close your eyes  [Bell]

Search your memory of a time an unfortunate or unkind thought arose.  What was its object. What were the circumstances. Acknowledge it as just a thought. Without judgement or recrimination.
Now remedy that thought by looking at the big picture.  Think better of it.  Realize the circumstances and replace it with a more wholesome thought.

Back to the Eightfold Path...
Until   Thoughts   |  Stop   Acting    Like  |  Excited   Monkeys…  Confusion!
Understanding  Thought  Speech  Action  Livelihood  Effort  Mindfulness  Concentration

The third habit that leads to the other shore is juuuust 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 many people happy simply by practicing juuuust right speech.  This does require some Just Right Thought.  All theses habits are interrelated.

I’ve got another fun mnemonic - this one is for Juuust Right Speech:
T - H - I - N - K  =  Think = Truthful - Helpful - Inspiring - Necessary and - Kind

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.   We refraining from all aggressive or irritated scolding.  This is a form of harming with words and can be avoided. Lastly, when we realize we are indulging in idle and empty gossip, we just stop. THINK before we speak.

Just Right Speech is when we communicate words of kindness and simple truth and avoid speaking about others when they are not present.   We also listen deeply to what others say in order to transform conflict into harmony.  It lives in telling our truth with care and awareness.   That was Juust Right Speach.

If you’d like to try another simple exercise - please stand up [as we are able]. Turn to a person near you.  Look into their eyes and say “Thank You” in gratitude for the Wisdom and Compassion of the Universe.   That is good.

The Eightfold path - remember our mnemonic…

Until   Thoughts   |  Stop   Acting    Like  |  Excited   Monkeys…  Confusion!
Understanding   Thought   Speech   Action   Livelihood   Effort     Mindfulness     Concentration

Next time we will talk about…
Right Action - we act and give in mindfulness - with an open heart and abstain from harming, from stealing, from misusing sexuality. This is juuust Right Action.

Right Livelihood - Mindful of our time at work - We avoid professions and jobs that defile or harm.
Right Effort - Following this Path takes effort.  It is against our Bonbu nature to do these things and think these ways.

Right Mindfulness - This is really being aware of the boundless force of life, love, compassion, and wisdom that pervades the ten quarters of the universe.    

And  Right Concentration - This means we practice deep hearing of the light.

Understanding   Thought   Speech   Action   Livelihood   Effort     Mindfulness     Concentration
Until                 Thoughts    Stop       Acting    Like        Excited    Monkeys        Confusion!

Conclusion - Living the Eightfold Path is rewarding and wonderful and we do it in dedication to all sentient beings.  The idea of the path is to create a wholesome habit of living.  It gives us spiritual wings.  And leads us to harmony with the Four Noble Truths...

  • Life can be stressful.

  • Stress comes from how we see things.

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

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

The Eightfold path brings Compassion and Wisdom in balance - it  is a middle way.   In the Buddha’s teachings, we see that compassion and wisdom are like the two wings of a bird.  If one wing is weak or broken, the bird can’t fly, the same is true with our spiritual practice.  Without balance, we don’t make progress.  Imbalance results in being either a compassionate fool or an unpleasant know-it-all.  The Buddha’s goal in life is the juuust right blending of both Compassion and Wisdom.  The we can spiritually fly.

These Right Habits are a way of changing our minds to see clearly - an expansive vision of all the worlds. This is living the nembutsu.  Mindful of the Buddha, we don’t do this by our own efforts alone. And so we take refuge in Amida Buddha.  Through Amida we experience our true nature  that is Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure.  Lets share our deepest wish for all beings to realize this truth. Please repeat 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