Learn to Practise Buddhism

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Learn to Practise Buddhism – Part 1

I saw on TV recently part of the final concert of a very famous 1960’s pop star named Cat Stevens who at the height of his fame and success walked away from his music and everything he had achieved to begin a new life as a Muslim. At his final farewell concert the last thing he said before he walked offstage was along the lines of this.

“We have only got this life. So we had better do something exceptional with it. I hope you can find such a path”.

We will give a short overview of what it is that Buddhism offers us that could justify us making the considerable effort to learn and practice this religion as against any another religion or as against not practicing anything particular at all in our life.

There are many ways of explaining Buddhism. We would like to present you with the notion that:

Buddhism is a set of knowledges which enable a person to take control of creating their own happiness and wellbeing.

The teachings of Buddhism are based upon the way nature works, the way our minds work naturally. They arise from the Buddha’s perfectly clear observation and insight into the mind and into the processes of life.

The Buddha simply saw things perfectly clearly. That was the quality of his attainment as a Buddha. His vast incomparable Buddha mind had this attainment which was the essence of what formed into the religion Buddhism.

There were 52 religions in Buddha’s time. Why did he start another one?

The Buddha saw with perfect vision what no one else at his time could see. What none of the 52 religions at that time or since offered humanity. He saw the true nature of the mind – the nature of feelings, the nature of the different types of consciousness we can experience, the nature of thoughts, memory, self images, the natural laws upon which our minds function and the most deceptive of all things – the self.

And in recognising the nature of mind he also discovered a particular state of mind, a sublime jewel, unseen by us in the noise of our mental phenomena, a unique and liberating state which has no mental pain whatsoever. It is named Nirvana in Sanskrit, or Nibbana from the Pali language used in the Buddha’s time.

It is a natural state of mind which is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. The Buddha having discovered the existence of Nibbana for himself, then for the next 45 years of his life taught countless others the path or practice through which Nibbana could be known each for himself or herself.

In our times we have learned through science that horizons of what we can see are ever expanding. Back through millions of light years in time, through quantum physics we can see into the infinitesimally small dimensions of reality’s building blocks, yet all these impressive visions are in the world outside of ourselves.

Our inside world really we don’t see much at all. We see further and further outwardly, not far at all inwardly. Why is that?

Our mind is all we have got to deal with the events and processes in our life. Buddhism says it is possible to understand our own mind and it is the most important thing we need to understand and develop. The quality of our experience of life is most determined by the quality of our own mind.

Many persons in Australia who are not socially isolated, are well educated and have affluent lifestyles frequently experience many forms of unhappiness. These include worry, stress, anxiety, insecurity, sadness, anger, frustration and depression.

Australia has one of the world’s highest rates of suicide, particularly among our youth, yet our biggest cities are regarded as being amongst the top 20 cities in the world to reside in. Our material standards of living are among the worlds best. Our mental culture appears by this criteria to be one of the world’s lowest.

Buddhism gives us the mind tools and methods to be able to see our own mind with increasing clarity and understanding. This is the Buddhist approach to developing and maintaining a healthy mind.

This is what the Buddha did. After his many years of training and practice he learned how to look into his own mind with perfect clarity and insight and he understood it.

Whilst we may read about Buddhism it is not enough for us to have an intellectual understanding or even respectful appreciation of what the Buddha found out. Just like looking at food on the table will not cure you of hunger, merely appreciating Buddhism will not make you happy.

Buddhist teachings are instructions and methods to be used to cultivate, develop and improve our life situation.

So Buddhism is a do-it-yourself religion. During our course at the DRCCC we will focus our attention on how we can build our own happiness through “Learning to Practice Buddhism”.

To make this process effective immediately we recommend that you identify a couple of key ideas from each night of the course to take away with you and apply during the next week. This is called “active listening” when you listen to find something definite you can use.

Sometime during each teaching when you recognise the usefulness of a practice decide straight away “I’ll try this out this week”. It’s called use it or lose it.

Our Teacher John Hughes used to say if we find out something new, and can recognise its usefulness we must put it into practice straight away. At the time we discover something new our mind has the best understanding of why we need to change our habit and adopt the new behaviour.

The next day our sense of urgency to change becomes weaker, the day after less again. We are creatures of habit, our habit energy sometimes is difficult to overcome, our best opportunity to make a change, the best conditions to make a change is generally as soon as you understand clearly the need to change. Be bold, decide quickly to change once you can see the need to change – take no prisoners as they say.

Now to get started we will listen to a recorded Dhamma or Buddhist Teaching given by a Buddhist monk Ajarn Brahm who lives in Perth, Australia.

Audio Transcription of Ajarn Brahm

“Now, we’re back when I was a young monk, in the monasteries of Thailand. This was in the jungle a long way from civilisation. It was tough, it was hard and even, though I was from a privileged background in Cambridge, in England. Now I had to work really hard.

On this particular occasion, we were building the main hall in Ajahn Chah, my teacher’s Monastery. Now I know that this is a new hall here and it’s always built on a high place, because that’s our tradition to build things on high places, so we had to build a hill out of earth. It was a monk made hill!

Fortunately I wasn’t there at that time, I visited afterwards and when I visited there was a lot of earth left over so Ajahn Chah called all the monks together, maybe 60 or 70 monks and he said “move that earth”. We only had one meal of the day and it was very, very poor. But nevertheless from about nine-thirty, maybe ten o’ clock, all day, to about ten o’ clock in the evening, we’d shovel earth, put it in wheelbarrows and move that wheelbarrow of earth down to the place where Ajahn Chah wanted.

We took three hard days of labour, sweating, aching, being bitten by misquotes, but I had faith. I thought this was good karma, so I kept pushing those wheelbarrows, but I must admit when it was all over after three days I was very happy. I thought wow we’ve finished it, tomorrow I can have a rest. I can meditate.

That evening Ajahn Chah thanked us all and announced the following day, now that the work was done, he was visiting one of his other Monasteries. The following morning after breakfast, the monk in charge, this deputy monk, he brought all the monk’s together and said I’ve been thinking “I don’t think that’s the right place for that earth, lets move it ’round the corner”.

Now that was testing my faith. But I thought no, I respect that monk too, I am a Buddhist, I will let go, I will push those wheelbarrows…for another three days of hard work toiling under the hot conditions of a Thai jungle. Working so hard, enduring all those mosquito bites, after another three days we’d finished. Now I was really happy, really relieved, we’d moved it and they were happy. But that night, Ajahn Chah came back, and yes you guessed what happened, he got all the monks together and he said “what did you put it there for? I told you to put it over here, move it!

Another three days of pushing wheelbarrows was in front of me. “I didn’t become a monk to push wheelbarrows! I didn’t put on the yellow robes to be exploited like this! We monks should form a union! We should stand up for our rights! Because the senior monks, they didn’t push wheelbarrows, they were just telling us what to do and so I got very upset, I got very angry. In fact I started swearing in English so the Thai’s couldn’t understand. But they did understand, they could see my facial expressions. One monk came up to me and gave me a teaching, which helped me for so many years.

He came up and told me this. He said “pushing the wheelbarrow is easy, thinking about it is the hard part. Pushing the wheelbarrow is easy, thinking about it is the hard part”. How true that was, as soon as I stopped complaining, as soon as I stopped thinking about it and just pushed that wheelbarrow, that wheelbarrow was lighter and there was no suffering anymore.

It was the thinking, which caused me the suffering. Why me? This is unfair! Can’t those monks decide what they’re going to do? Why did I join a disorganised religion? So once I stopped complaining it was easy to do, I pushed those wheelbarrows and it was no problem.

I learnt a lesson. I learnt that whatever you do in life thinking about it is the hard part, doing it is easy. Whether it’s giving a talk in public, whether it’s going for an exam, whatever test you have in life, stop thinking about it so much! Just do it. And the talk this evening is sponsored by Nike! You just do it.

Now, how much in your life do you think too much? Thinking too much is a great cause of suffering. There are so many things you have to do in life so stop complaining!”

So Ajarn says in his talk “Thinking too much is a great cause of suffering” Can you relate to that in your life?

So Buddhism is like this. We analyse something we do as a habit and decide whether this thing we are doing is really good for us or not. If it is beneficial we should do more of it or learn to do it better. If it is not good for us we need to find out how to reduce it or produce something else which is better.

So we generally agree too much thinking is a great cause of our suffering. We may worry and have regret about things we have done in the past, we worry and stress about things we are doing in the present (like Ajarn with the wheelbarrow) and worry and fear about things yet to come. But how do we stop it?

Ajarn Brahm said at the end of the talk “There are so many things we do in life, stop complaining”.

Stop complaining???

Now look at what your own mind is saying when you hear the instruction “Stop complaining”.

“Stop complaining – what will I have to talk about?”

There is a teaching given by our Teacher John D. Hughes some years ago which you may like to try this week as a step towards reducing your stress and worry. You adopt the position of the following statement: “My life is going extremely well”.

You say this to yourself many times a day. “My life is going extremely well”.

Usually our minds pick up every little thing that is not going perfectly for us. We seem to let our attention focus on disagreeable things. We tend to complain about this, and whinge a bit about that. There may be 100 things going fine, but still our mind gets caught up in the little things which maybe only last five minutes. For example, someone cuts us off when we are driving, we burnt the toast, it’s raining when we want it to be sunny, it’s sunny when we wanted rain, or someone says something unkind to us. We need to get used to being happy when things are just going along normally, imperfectly. Normally the world is imperfect; that is “normal” if you like.

We don’t need some special event or great thing to happen to us before we think we can be happy. Some people in the world haven’t got enough food to eat today, some are in war zones, and some are in hospital with life threatening illnesses. Why should we be complaining about the guy that cuts us off in traffic. “My life is going extremely well”.

Even when things do go “wrong”, our minds tend to exaggerate the problem making it seem much bigger than it really is. The logic system of anger tends to blow things way out of proportion or over reacts to events. We come out with emotional global statements like: “You are always criticising me!” We would all agree it is not likely one person could actually criticize another person 24 hours a day.

Get things back in proportion by saying “My life is going extremely well”. Ok, something went wrong – life’s like that, it’s always going to be like that. Cut off the worrying mind, the frustrated mind, the annoyed mind – all of them are unpleasant to experience anyway. Just say, “My life is going extremely well”.

Finally there is another meaning. From a Buddhist point of view we are in a wonderful life. Above all, we have a life where we can learn how to overcome suffering forever, which is the purpose of Buddhist teachings. We have a healthy human body, which is the best birth of all to practice Buddhism, we have sufficient leisure time and the teachings we need are in our world, available to us now. There is a clear path of practice and there is nothing to stop us from achieving the goal if we are determined enough to do it. So the real view is:

“My life is going extremely well”.

This can be your homework for the coming week! Make your “normal” life happier.

May you be well and happy, may all beings be well and happy.