What We Do Does Matter
28 June 2020 - from Rev. Matthew Fisher
[The daily sutra reading is posted at the end of this section]
Wow! I am still feeling the buzz of the very successful Moon Rabbit Cafe last weekend. It was so great to see friends gather [at a distance] on the lawns at RBC. What we do does matter! Juuust Right action - like coming to the cafe - is important.
Coming together as we do today is re-vitalizing. It re-invigorates our life experience. This sangha gathering is a 2,600 year old tradition… that you are part of. You have made the time, and come to our service here or joined us by streaming. We will need to gather in this Two-fold way, for a while. That is a juust right thing to do.
We are glad when new people find us, find the Dharma. The path of your spiritual life has led you here. Online or in person is great. Please know, you are always welcome at Reno Buddhist Center.
The Eightfold Path has been our focus for some weeks. This is the road map for a wholesome life the Buddha taught. He called it a Middle Way. What are the eight parts of the path?
A Juuust Right Life of…
Understanding Thought Speech
Action Livelihood Effort
Mindfulness and a good measure of Quietude
In ancient times, they used examples from music to describe the moral quality of people and their actions. Discordant or poorly-tuned musical instruments were metaphors for evil; harmony and well-tuned instruments, metaphors for goodness and virtue. The Pali word sama - "just right" - describes a tuned instrument - on-pitch. It is juuust right.
There is a famous sutra where the Buddha reminds Ven. Sona - who has been over do it with walking meditation - that a guitar sounds appealing only if the strings are not too tight or too loose, but tuned "juuust right". This resonates as the Buddha's teaching of the Middle Way. When we follow the Buddha we want to Drop out of conventional materialistic thinking, Tune-in with the world around us and Turn-On to the Wise Compassionate Universe around us. [Smile] We are not really as separate as the ego tells us. We can tune-in to our connection. We can harmonize with the world around us. The true spiritual seeker is skillfully in-tune with what is proper and good and wholesome.
Some weeks ago, in the Magga Vibhanga Sutra, we heard Shariputtra describe Juust Right action...
"And what is right action? Preserving life, taking only what is given and abstaining from indulging our sensuality: This is called right action.”
We can easily see how the basic form of Just Right Action is a simple moral imperative. In the 19th century it was translated as, “Don’t kill, don't steal, don’t commit adultery”. For Victorians, these were clearly unwholesome actions - if you don't do them that is virtue. There was some projection going on there about the adultery thing. They were made into commandments by the translator. Universalist thinkers used these as proof that all religions believe the same thing. While an overlap of core values is clear, profound differences are present, if we examine what Buddhists mean by virtue - balance, harmony, or being in-tune.
Samyak Karmanta - Just Right Action is Just Right Karma. “Karma” means action. It does not mean fate or justice or recompense. Our Karma is action - of body speech or mind. To have spiritual benefit our karma must be intentional. Intentional actions contain habit energy. If we repeat unwholesome actions we will experience the fruit of that karma. We will get in the habit of unwholesome, destructive, divisive actions, we will not grow spiritually. If we cultivate actions that are compassionate, kind, creative, unifying, and peace promoting we will get to a point where such actions are second nature. They will come easily and freely.
The seeds of habit that actions plant have three possible fruits. The fruit that arises right now, like receiving a smile when you hold a door for someone.
The fruit that arises later in life, like a teacher seeing the life of a difficult student flower many years later.
And... the fruit that arises “after that”, in a subsequent life.
These are profound moral guidelines from Shariputra. “Do not take life”. That doesn't just mean don’t kill. That is the start. Preserve life. Cultivate compassion. Recognize what has the consequence of causing death of any sentient or non-sentient creature and don’t do that. Our actions impact the environment around us. We can take care.
And…”Do not take what is not given”. Only take what is given. Certainly stealing is not a good action. And it includes all forms of exploitation and subtle stealing. We can see that. But this goes a bit further. It kind of constraints asking for things. Take only what is given freely. It mandates patience and acceptance. Try it in small ways in your life and see how it changes your view of the world. It is a gentle view.
And…”Do not overindulge in sensuality”. In moderation sensual acts are part of a whole life. The pleasant sensation of biting into a crisp apple is good, but gluttony harms you and the world. Positive sensations associated with our actions are what makes us do them. But over doing it is the problem the Buddha was getting at here. This can apply to anything that engages our senses. Food, sure. Shoes [example]. Sexuality is a positive part of intimate relationships. We all know, as the Victorians pointed out, sexuality that goes beyond the bounds of relationship with a dear partner is likely to be destructive to you and others. It is to be avoided.
What the Buddha asks us to do under the Mango Tree is much more powerful than listing what not to do. He sat with his seven year old son, now a novice student and gave a simple touch-stone for reflecting on any action, to see if it is worth doing or better not.
This is a touching sutra because of the tender age of Rahula and the scene under the tree with his dad after being apart for seven years. The commentaries say that Rahula repeatedly asked Yasodhara, his mother, Gotama’s ex-wife, to join the Sangha. She acquiesced, but she too must have felt it was the best course for their son. No mother parts with a seven year old son unless she thinks it will benefit him. Now in the role of teacher, Gotama seeks Rahula out. He finds the boy, and sits down under the tree, unbidden. And gives his teaching without a question or a big audience. Just a boy and his dad under a tree, sharing wisdom that will serve him well. Very sweet!
There are many examples of a Juust Right action here, people give Dana at the temple. Giving donations of money or your time. Yesterday people gave by painting, by weeding, by cleaning, byteaching yoga, and by writing a check and dropping it in the box. Simple giving was the first practice the Buddha recommended to change how we look at the world. When we can give without expectation of personal reward, we grow a little bit inside. Giving a donation is the start. You part with the I-me-me-mine in that moment. Put a twenty in the Dana box there on the wall. It is not for you. It benefits people you don't even know. It is selfless giving.
Apply the touch-stone the Buddha gave Rahula. Making a regular donation of $50-$100. People set these up so that they automatically make the donation, even if you are away somewhere else.
We can reflect on this. In the three time frames. Is this action likely to have positive results? Yes. When you are doing it can you feel the constructive nature of what you are doing? Yes. And in the future will this action of giving to the temple have positive results? Yes - even after you are gone. Sustaining the spiritual community will continue to act as an amplifier and benefit many people, even those yet unborn.
Just Right Actions are those that Preserve Life, Generously and freely give, and those that show restraint of our boundless wanting. Use the mirror of your mind to reflect on what you do. This is how we train ourselves. Today like all days, our human world needs your good actions - that is juust right Action. Reflection is the key. Think about what you do and get in the habit of wholesome actions.
To close we offer the Metta prayer…
[Just repeat after me, wherever you are]...
May you be happy;
May you be free from harm;
May you receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill your heart...
Reading 28 June 2020
The Ambalatika Rahulovada Sutra
Talking with Rahula under the Mango Tree
Thus I have heard, on one occasion the Buddha was staying at the Bamboo Grove monastery, in the Squirrels' Feeding Ground, in Rajagaha.
At that time Ven. Rahula, his son, was still a novice student, just seven years old. He was staying near a place called Mango Stones, because of the pits of the fruit that paved the space under the spreading tree. Late one afternoon, the Buddha went there. Ven. Rahula saw him coming and set out a seat and water. The Buddha sat down and washed his feet. After bowing to the teacher, Rahula sat to one side.
The Buddha left a little bit of water in the ladle and said, "Rahula, do you see this bit of water in the ladle?" "Yes, sir."
"That's how little of a spiritual seeker there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie. Just a few drops."
He tossed it away. “Do you see how this left-over water is easily tossed aside?" "Yes, sir."
"The bit of true seeker left in one shamelessly telling lies is tossed away just like that."
Looking at the empty ladle, the Buddha said, "Now it is empty and hollow” "Yes, sir."
"One who lies is empty and hollow like this.”
“Train yourself thus, 'I will not tell a deliberate lie, even in jest.'
“Rahula, What is a mirror for?"
"For reflection, sir."
"In the same way, we make our actions of body, speech, and mind with careful reflection.”
"Whenever you want to do something, reflect on it: 'Will this hurt me or others? Will it be an unwholesome action, with painful consequences?' If you know it will lead to affliction and pain, then do not do it. But if, by reflecting you know it is a wholesome action with pleasant consequences, and positive results, then do it.
"While you are making an action, reflect on it: 'Is what I am doing — leading to injury, and pain?' If it is, end it.”
But if you know it is wholesome...continue with it.
And..."After you have taken an action. We again reflect on it: ''Does what I did lead to injury, and pain?' If it does, then you confess it, reveal it, lay it open to your Teacher or to a Dharma friend. Having owned up to it...you will exercise restraint in the future.”
But if, on reflection you see that it led to pleasant, wholesome results, then stay refreshed and joyful of mind, practice these skillful mental qualities day and night.”
"All the spiritual seekers of the past, present, and future who purify their actions of bodily, speech, and mind, do it by reflecting deeply. In just this way, Rahula, say to yourself: 'I will purify my actions of body speech, and mind by unceasing reflection.' Thus we train ourselves."
That is what the Buddha said to Rahula under the mango tree surrounded by pungent stones of the fruit. Gratified, Ven. Rahula delighted in the Buddha's kind attention and wise words.
[bow and a long pause…]
We will now have a few minutes of meditation - accompanied by music.
[bow at altar]
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