The Buddhist Hour Radio Broadcast Archives

 

Buddhist Hour
Script No. 425
Broadcast live on 3MDR 97.1 FM
11.00 pm to 12 midnight.
On Friday 28 April 2006 CE 2549 Buddhist Era


This script is entitled:
"Applying the Buddha's Teachings to Everyday Life"
Part 3 - Right Thought

 

Glossary

understanding - to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; to comprehend.

thought - the product of mental activity; that which one thinks.

resolution - formal determination, or expression of opinion, of a deliberative assembly or other body of persons.

aspiration - lofty or ambitious desire

Tipitaka - literally "the Three Baskets"; the Buddha's teachings have been categorised into three sections, 1) sutras - discourses, 2) vinaya - precepts and rules for monastic discipline, 3) abhidharma - commentarial literature on the Buddha's teachings.

benevolent - desiring to do good for others.

 

"Applying the Buddha's Teachings to Everyday Life"

Part 3 - Right Thought

Welcome to part three of our series "Applying the Buddha's Teachings to Everyday Life."  Tonightís focus is on Right Thought (samma sankappa), which is the second training in the Noble Eightfold Path.

On last weeks program we discussed Right Understanding.  The Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda wrote in his book 'What Buddhists Believe':

"When a person has Right Understanding, the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhist training, he or she develops Right Thought as well.  This factor is sometimes known as "Right Resolutions", "Right Aspirations" and "Right Ideas".  It refers to the mental state that eliminates wrong ideas or notions and promotes the other moral factors to be directed to Nibbana.  This factor serves the double purpose of eliminating unwholesome thoughts and developing pure thought.  Right thought is important because it is one's thoughts that either purifies or defiles a person.

There are three aspects to Right Thought.  First, a person should maintain an attitude of detachment from worldly pleasures rather than being selfishly attached to them.  He (or she) should be selfless in (ones) thoughts and think of the welfare of others.  Second, he (or she) should maintain loving-kindness, goodwill and benevolence in his mind, which is opposed to hatred, ill will or aversion.  Third, (a person) should act with thoughts of harmlessness or compassion to all beings, which is opposed to cruelty and lack of compassion for others.  As a person progresses along the spiritual path, his (or her) thoughts will become increasingly benevolent, harmless, selfless, and filled with love and compassion.

Right Understanding and Right Thought, which are Wisdom factors, will lead to good, moral conduct."

In another of his great works entitled 'The Buddha's Ancient Path' Venerable Piyadassi writes:

"Thoughts are all important; for a person's words and acts have thoughts as their source...The good or ill results of our words and actions depend solely on our thoughts, on the way we think."

To be able to produce Right Thought depends firstly on understanding the difference between unwholesome and wholesome minds.  If a mind is unwholesome it is incapable of generating Right Thought.

From the Dhammapada, an anthology of four hundred and twenty one verses, the Buddha says:

"Mind precedes all mental states.  Mind is their chief: they are all mind-wrought.  If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of an ox.

Mind precedes all mental states.  Mind is their chief: they are all mind-wrought.  If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow."

From The Buddha's Ancient Path Piyadassi Thera commented:

"From these words it becomes clear that the beauty or the ugliness of our words and deeds depend on our thoughts which are real.  Thoughts travel swifter than anything we can conceive of and they roam whither so ever the list.  Their influence on the external world and us is tremendous.  Each and every ugly, vicious and morally repulsive thought pollutes the human heart and may cause untold harm.  Wrong words and deeds are expressions of a wrong condition of mind.  But if man concentrates on Right Thoughts with Right Understanding the good results that mind can produce are immense."

"So," he asks, "what then is right thought?"

"It is thoughts of renunciation, of good will and of not harming, or compassion.  Their opposites are: thoughts of sense desire, of ill-will and of harm."

Unwholesome minds are those that are rooted in one or more of the three main defilements of the mind, that is, hate, greed and ignorance.  The thoughts and actions that come from unwholesome minds are stained by the defilements and the kamma produced by these actions is not conducive to the well-being and happiness of oneself or others.

The unwholesome minds are really the cause of all our problems because a mind with ignorance cannot see things clearly and cannot understand how to be free from suffering.  A greedy mind generates the craving that causes attachment and the thirst of sensual desire.  The hateful minds generate aversion to things and people, causing us to break the precepts and make negative kamma.

Buddhist practice is to reduce the unwholesome minds that have arisen and reduce the unwholesome minds yet to arise, to increase the wholesome minds that have arisen and increase the wholesome minds yet to arise.

The wholesome minds are developed because they are antidotes to the unwholesome minds.  Loving kindness, for example, is an antidote to hatred, as generosity is an antidote to greed.  Confidence is the antidote to doubt.  The antidotes can be described as medicine for the mind and the defilements as mental poisons.

So it is important to learn to recognise the true nature of our mental states; to be able to recognise unwholesome minds when they arise, and which type of unwholesome mind it is.  If we can see the type of unwholesome mind then we have the power to reduce and eventually remove it by applying its correct antidote.

The difficulty arises because our mental states are habitual, and unless we have trained our mind, we'll use which ever mind happens to come to us; without discerning whether it is good for us or not.  We may accept the minds that come as inevitable or normal, or maybe think basically our minds are OK, but we occasionally have ones which are a bit off.

Buddhism tells us that if we developed our minds to the level of sustained wholesomeness we would mostly experience combinations of wisdom, peace, friendliness, compassion, love, patience, gratitude, happiness, and mindfulness.  We would only experience unwholesome minds like anger, regret, doubt, worry, fear, jealousy or pride occasionally and they would not be very powerful nor last for long periods of time.

Most Buddhist texts will explain that this is usually not an easy task because we have had our habits for a long time.  Some of our unwholesome minds are strong and will take much determination and effort to subdue and eventually extinguish them entirely.

A common unwholesome mind is anger.  Many things can happen in a day that make us angry; someone may cut in front of us while we're driving, we may get criticised for something we didn't do.  We may get held up so we are late for an appointment.  Our angry response comes automatically into our mind and we may think that is fine, however, what is really going on?  Is the anger a pleasant feeling for us, or is it unpleasant?  Are we happier because of our anger?  Does it make us get to work on time?  Does it help us deal with these events that are themselves unpleasant?

Intellectually we may recognise that anger compounds the problems, makes them worse, causes us feel bad about something that may have stopped happening ten minutes earlier.

So how do we get beyond just believing intellectually that anger is not good for us and not good for others?  We need to apply Right Understanding and then Right Thought to change our response for the better.

Firstly, through Right Understanding we can recognise the unsatisfactory nature of life.  Life is unreliable, a mix of things we like and things we don't like.  That is the nature of life.  If something unpleasant happens it doesn't really mean that something went wrong.  Life is just like that; so why expect it to be abnormal - to do everything we want when we want it?

The more we expect life to do what we want the more we'll become frustrated, angry and disappointed.  We need to practice letting go, accepting that life is unsatisfactory without becoming stressed.  The natural way of life is inconsistency and unreliability.  This is what is known as the first of the Four Noble Truths the Buddha taught, life is unsatisfactory.  The word used to describe this characteristic of existence is called dukkha in Pali.

Buddha taught that life is unsatisfactory on all levels.  Even what may seem to be the best condition such as being born in a high heaven as a god or deva is unsatisfactory as one day it too will finish.  When the good kamma which sustains that birth is exhausted the god or deva will die and then take rebirth.  This is an aspect of the unsatisfactory nature of existence or dukkha.

Right Understanding tells us that what we are experiencing every day, every minute, comes from our own side, comes from causes we made ourselves in the past.  From this perspective the world is running perfectly well the way it is because it runs on cause and effect.  The causes made in the past are what run the world.  Past causes run the world that we directly experience every moment.

If we don't want to experience people upsetting us then we should determine to cultivate kind and considerate behaviour to others from now on.  If we don't like people being angry with us then we should ourselves give up reacting to others with anger.  Stop giving out to the world what you would dislike experiencing yourself.

Use the unpleasant event that would normally make you angry to reflect and determine that you will train yourself to never behave like this to others.  You give up making this type of negative kamma as a result of feeling how unpleasant it is when others to it to you.

Right Understanding tells us that whatever it is that we are experiencing is impermanent.  This is called anicca in Pali.  Like dukkha, anicca is also a characteristic of existence.  Events change; pleasant comes, pleasant goes, unpleasant comes, unpleasant goes.  The thing that is upsetting us will often stop within a few seconds or a few hours - so why get upset?  It's going to stop by itself anyway - so develop the attitude of patience.  Patience is to be happy to accept change, to let things change without holding a fixed view that things should happen the way we want or expect.  Patience is to let things be different to our preference without getting bugged by that.

Right Understanding recognises that anger is unwholesome and we should restrain our mind from following out the thought of anger or resentment that may start to arise when we encounter something unpleasant.  Mindfulness enables us to see that an event happening to us is starting to bring up some aversion in our mind.  Right Understanding allows us to recognise the need to avoid this aversion or anger that is starting to arise now by using Right Thought as the antidote.

If we have good mindfulness we will see the first moments of the unwholesome mind as it starts to enter our consciousness.

If the unwholesome is anger, Right Thought is thought which produces the antidote to getting angry which is loving kindness.  First as our protection against anger, but secondly to create new good causes with the other person.

Loving kindness towards the other person is the medicine to stop anger developing.  We wish the other person(s) to be well and happy.  We wish the other person to be free of suffering, to be free of hate or enmity.  Like a Mother wishes her own children to be happy we cultivate the wish that the other person be happy and free from their own unwholesome minds.  We think 'that person is only doing this because of my past actions so how silly to resent them now.'  Think, 'May I never make the causes to see this situation again.  I wish this person to be well and happy.  When I meet this person again in the future may we be friends.  May they be well and happy.'

The Buddha exhorted that we should return love for anger.  If someone displays anger towards us, "Hatred can never be overcome by hatred.  Only by love alone can it be appeased. This is eternal law" he said.  "Conquer the angry person by love", he said.

Loving kindness is an important practice in Buddhism.  It is used to reduce minds of hate, aversion and enmity and promote minds that are kind to others, minds that act for the benefit of others.  There is an important Buddhist meditation designed to increase a persons' loving kindness until it becomes consistent and powerful.  It is called metta meditation. It works by developing the wish that all beings be well and happy.  This practice extends our feeling of kindness further than just our friends or family, that we build a mind with love to all beings.

With loving kindness we recognise when others need help.  We are willing to act to build friendship and goodwill with the people we know and people we have just met.

The Buddha stated there are eleven kammic benefits that come to the practitioner of loving-kindness.  Some of these are: he or she sleeps easily; wakes up fresh; dreams no bad dreams; is dear to human beings, is dear to non-human beings; deities or devas protect him or her; he gains concentration easily; his or her features are serene, he or she dies unconfused, if he has not attained enlightenment he or she will be reborn in a heaven realm after death.

Venerable Piyadassi Mahathera adds;

"Right Thought includes these thoughts of goodwill and also of compassion or non-harm to other living beings.  Therefore the intention to keep the five precepts of not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery, not lying and not taking intoxicants which cloud the mind are Right Thought.  Thoughts of good will and compassion are to be cultivated and extended towards all living beings irrespective of race, caste, clan, sex or creed.  They must embrace all that breathe, with no compromising limitations.  The radiation of such ennobling thoughts is not possible for one who is egocentric and selfish."

Right Thought extends beyond how to deal with anger or resentment arising.  This was just an example chosen to illustrate how Right Thought uses volition to turn our mind away from our habitual responses toward wholesome responses.  Right Thought is thought that directs us to maintain wholesome minds and good actions at all times.  Even when our life is going well, which is only our good kamma from the past.  We should continue to prompt wholesome minds and make good kamma rather than be defeated by pleasant feeling arising or success, happiness or well being occurring.

Right Thought is to maintain wholesome minds in all circumstances, to make good kamma whether in adversity or prosperity.

Another aspect of Right Thought is that it includes thoughts that lead to dispassion about the world.  If we remember that craving is the root cause of attachment and suffering, then it's easier to see that thought which curbs craving will lead us away from attachment and suffering.

This is the second of the Four Noble Truths the Buddha taught.

Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda writes:

"People crave for pleasant experiences, crave for material things, crave for eternal life and when disappointed, crave for eternal death.  They are not only attached to sensual pleasures, wealth and power, but also to ideas, views, opinions, concepts and beliefs.  And craving is linked to ignorance, that is, not seeing things as they really are, or failing to understand the reality of experience and life.  Under the delusion of self and not realising anatta (not self), a person clings to things that are impermanent, changeable, and perishable.  The failure to satisfy one's desires through these things causes disappointments and suffering." (Dhammananda 1999) 2.

To reduce craving a person should maintain an attitude of detachment from worldly pleasures rather than being selfishly attached to them.

"Renunciation has the characteristic of departing from sense pleasures ...; itís function is to verify the unsatisfactoriness they involve; its manifestation is the withdrawal from them; a sense of spiritual urgency is its proximate cause."

The sense pleasures do not provide more than momentary satisfaction.  If we want more satisfaction then we have to have more sense pleasures to experience.  The pleasant feelings we may get in this process are fleeting.  If our craving for sensual pleasure is not fulfilled we experience distractedness, restlessness, boredom, disappointment, and so on; and this will not lead us to a mind with peace or contentment.

If we understand the unsatisfactoriness of sense pleasures we recognise we need to train our mind to let go.  Our habit is to crave, grab, and hold on to things.  We need to let go of all these things.  But this habit is causing our unhappiness because we are holding onto things that have the nature of anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (unsatisfactoriness).

Let go of anger, let go of sadness, let go of regret, let go of enjoyment, let go of feelings.  Learn to not prolong them when they arise in our minds.

During the meditations we can observe how our mind runs after sense objects, thoughts and feelings that appear from moment to moment.  The process of gently bringing the mind back to observe the breath is the start of training the mind to not grab at these sense and mental objects.

Over time, once the mind has developed greater one pointedness on the breath, it has also developed greater renunciation.

Venerable Master Hsing Yun writes:

"In every endeavour, the ultimate aim of people in the world is joy.  In seeking joy, there are basically two major categories.  One is sensual desire and the other is Dharma joy.  Generally speaking, there are five kinds of sensual desires: wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep.  Let's take a look at each of these.

Wealth - We all want to have money and wealth, and indeed, they can bring happiness.  However, wealth can also bring suffering and mis-fortune, and in some cases, people even die because of wealth.  Also, acquiring or using wealth in an unwholesome manner can cause a lot of harm,

Sex - The love between a man and a woman is naturally desirable.  But, within the river of love, there are multiple waves of suffering.  For example, unrequited sex often leads to endless vexations.  The resulting tsunami in the sea of lust can often be overwhelming.

Fame - Everyone loves fame or a good reputation.  But, slander often follows when one becomes famous.  Besides, the higher we climb, the harder we fall.  Sometimes we may even be consumed by fame and become its victim, which brings us a lot of trouble and suffering.

Food - The amount and variety of food available fills the stomach easily.  But, when we overeat, our system finds it hard to take.  As the saying goes, 'Sickness often enters through the mouth.'  Besides, a lot of unwholesome kamma results from killing for food.

Sleep - Sleeping is certainly an enjoyment.  But, oversleeping leads to listlessness.  Those who sleep all the time are sometimes derided as being good for nothing, which makes it hard to develop a career.

As we can see, worldly sensual desires are really half pleasure and half suffering.  While enjoyable for a moment, sensual pleasures tend to taint us.  They are also short-lived and uncertain.  So, the sensual desires that we pursue with great effort and strife are actually contaminated by poisons harmful to our health.

The ancients always say that we should restrain ourselves from indulging in sensual pleasures.  The Buddha did not tell people to practice complete asceticism, but that our cravings should be modified.  In the ocean of desire, we need the right guidance.  Therefore, we should pursue the pleasures of benevolence, which brings people Dharma joy.

Dharma joy is joy of the spirit, and joy of the truth.  For instance, practicing benevolence brings us joy.  Right View and Right Thought also bring us Dharma joy.  Studying, being understanding and knowledgeable, and listening to the Dharma will also bring us Dharma joy.  The inherent serenity, peace, and harmony we gain from practicing sitting meditation are beyond comparison with any sensual pleasures.  The ease and joy gained from the dedication and humility we experience in cultivation and the exchange of thoughts and experiences with the insightful are also above and beyond that of sensual desires.  In being generous and in making affinity with others we can find much more Dharma joy in life.

Therefore, we should not indulge in sensual desires; we should strive to live in Dharma joy.  Wise {listeners}, as you traverse the gates of joy, which kind of joy do you wish to have?"

May you come to Right Thought everyday.

May you develop wholesome and pure thoughts that lead you to Nibbana.

May you be well and happy.

May all beings be well and happy.

This script was prepared and edited by Julian Bamford, Anita Carter, Frank Carter, and Alec Sloman.

References

1. Carter, A. Carter, F. Sloman A. 2005 "Applying the Buddha's Teachings to Everyday Life". Tuesday Night Teachings Class #3, 6 December 2005; Published by the Buddhist Discussion Centre (Upwey) Ltd, 33 Brooking Street, Upwey, Victoria 3158.

2. Dhammananda, Venerable K Sri. 1999 What Buddhists Believe. Yayasan Belia Buddhist Malaysia. Initiated by The Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia. Paulau Pinang, Malaysia.

3. Venerable Piyadassi Thera. 1979. The Buddha's Ancient Path. Published by the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy Sri Lanka 1979.

4. Buddharakkhita, Venerable Sri Acharya. Dhammapada - A Practical Guide to Right Living. Published by Suki Hotu Dhamma Publications. Selangor Darul Ehsan. Malaysia

5. Venerable Piyadassi Thera. 1991. The Spectrum of Buddhism. Published by the Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, 11th Floor, 55, Hang Chow S.Rd. Sec 1, Taipei, Taiwan R.O.C.

6. Venerable Master Hsing Yun. 2003. A Life of Pluses and Minuses. Between Ignorance and Enlightenment Vol IV. Published by Buddha's Light Publishing, 3456 South Glenmark Drive, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745.

Word count: 3,458



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