The Noble Eightfold Way is the multi-facetted, personalized training pathway that the Buddha, as coach and mentor, designed for us. The adage, ‘practice makes perfect’, aptly describes what we must do. The Buddha’s pathway to liberation from dukkha is not about worship or blind belief. It is not about miraculous transformations of character through prayer to an external power. It is simply about doing something meaningful with the life we have. It is about us taking responsibility for what we are and who we can become. We can’t change the past but we can affect the future.


When first we start to practice it is like beginning to swim against the stream and doing what is difficult. It means setting standards for ourselves that often don’t come naturally. Buddhist practice is about becoming a better person through our own endeavour. We strive to see and understand the world differently and think differently. We practice developing better speech and actions. We should adopt a lifestyle and livelihood that is conducive to practice. We need to put energy, effort, diligence and consistency into our practice and be serious about it. We strive to develop mindfulness and firm concentration through the regular practice of meditation and awareness of mind.


Out of perfect practice, perfect wisdom will arise. Wisdom will replace the ignorance that chains us to the wheel and conditions our primal craving for existence. The cycle of conditionality will be broken and there will be no more rebirth.

VINYANA GROUP PRACTICE

(Some words of guidance from Loom Por Sah)

When we speak of birth and death, assessing whether it is better to be die or better to be born, remember if there was only birth there would still be the punishment of life.  And just to have death is further torment as then there would be nothing more. So don’t be concerned with which is better.  Be satisfied with knowing that there is birth and so there must be death, and that there is death and so there must be birth. This is enough to know. This is the average (balance) that we seek. So practice to find the middle, not too much and not too little of anything.


Sometimes we think we have plenty of time to practice, if not in this lifetime then perhaps the next, or the one after, or the one yonder. Yes, it’s just like the old married who kept taking invitations to receive food at as many houses as he could. He kept putting off eating it wanting to collect more until it was past noon and he could eat none of it at all.


The practice of Dhamma must be done in the present not later on. Don’t keep putting it off. Do it now. It is just like old age. We never know when we actually get old. We say we are young when we are born.  We play like a child and don’t think we are getting old. And so on through life until eventually, we die. But if we were to just consider ourselves as being old when we are born then we are starting to touch the Dhamma. 


"What’s the point of our practice?  It’s not to bury ourselves.  It’s not to suppress ourselves.  We practice in order that wisdom may arise, to have the ability to know right from wrong and to act accordingly.  To progress to Truth is not such a difficult thing.  Simply be a person who does what is right.  Not persecuting yourself or others, not living in fantasies and fictions is a comfortable way to live.  Living a moral lifestyle is the way to calm our hearts.  We have anger but we have restraint.  We have desire but we have control.  Cool and calm, we are teaching the Dhamma to ourselves.  Refraining from bad thoughts, restraint in all activities, avoiding all paths that are not good, being mindful, patient and diligent, we are simply practicsng the Dhamma as one should.  This is the teaching of the Buddha, to follow the straight and narrow path, the cool and calm way, the road without malice or vengeance."  (Ajahn Loom Por Sah)


Practice is not just about moving forward but there is forward movement. At the same time it is not moving backwards either but there is regression. And finally, it is not stopping and standing still but sometimes it seems that way. So there is progress and regression and simply not getting anywhere at all. But really you can’t say that practice is any one of these. 

HOW CAN WE START A NEW WAY OF LIVING?

It is not so difficult to begin Buddhist practice. It is very difficult to complete it. There are no guarantees of success in this life as we are all at a different stage of development. But at least we will be heading in the right direction. We start by making small concessions in our daily life. We begin to give up things, small renunciations to set us off on the path of practice. We start taking a few little steps in the right direction and see where it leads.

Step 1 - The first step is to take up the five Sila or moral trainings and bring them into our lives. Only five little steps but a ‘giant leap for mankind’ perhaps if more of us could do it?

1.     Train ourselves not to deliberately take the life of living creatures.

2.     Train ourselves not to intentionally take what we are not entitled to.

3.     Train ourselves to exercise restraint and not excessively indulge our sexual urges.

4.     Train ourselves to speak in a better way that is less harmful to others.

5.     Train ourselves not to take any alcohol, other intoxicants, drugs, etc. that will cloud the mind, reduce clarity and lead to carelessness. (This does not include medicines which are part of the requisites for sustaining life.)

These are not commandments. They are trainings to be undertaken. If, on occasions, we are unable to keep to the program, then we accept responsibility, move on and start the training again.


Step 2 – Adopt a lifestyle that is conducive to practice. This may mean changing our career if it is not helpful. If we work in a hotel or abattoir etc. we may need to consider a career move.

We also may need to move our physical environment to one which is more peaceful than in the city where most of us reside. It is not impossible to practice in a city environment but it isn’t easy at the beginning stages.

We need to associate with people of similar minds to ourselves to find support and positive influence in our practice.


Step 3 – We should gather information and become knowledgeable about Dhamma. We can study and research the discourses of the Buddha and any other books about Buddhism so that we can develop our own intellectual understanding of Dhamma. But ultimately we have to realize it ourselves. No one else is going to do it for us. With internet it is not difficult to access material nowadays. The problem will be when to know we have enough and not let it distract us from our practice.


We will need help in the early stages so we should find a teacher. There have been many great teachers from the past whose teachings have been recorded and there are some skilled teachers in our era. We live in the age of instant information. The internet has made the world a smaller place. We can easily seek out talks and information about some of the great teachers of recent years and those of current repute. Each has a different approach to practice and we may be lucky enough to find one that suits our inclinations for practice more than the others.


Probably the most accomplished teacher of recent times was the famous Ven. Ajahn Chah. He was a Thai-Lao monk who rose to international prominence by establishing a regimen of practice particularly appealing to Western wayfarers. His inspiring demeanour, his personality and ability to teach people of all races has set him apart in this modern era, yet he spoke no English. He was one of the great examples of someone who has achieved the ultimate attainment via the Buddha’s path.


Since Loom Por Chah passed away in 1992 his life and accomplishments have become something of legend. His headquarters at Wat Pah Pong near Ubon Ratchatani has become a popular destination for Buddhist pilgrims. Many of his early Western disciples are now very senior teachers in their own right. There are over 300 branch monasteries in Thailand and another 20 in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand which promote practice in his style. There may be a Wat near you. All this is easily found by googling, ‘Ajahn Chah’.


Step 4 – We need to practice meditation on a daily basis or at least as regularly as our current lifestyle allows. We can start with a sitting session each morning. We can find a place that is suitable and convenient and start sitting for say, 15 minutes, build up to 30minutes and eventually to an hour or more as our legs and mind become better trained. There are many methods of meditation which will clear and concentrate the mind. 

There are many techniques used in meditation. It is important to experiment with various techniques and to settle on one which facilitates the way our practice is developing. But whatever concentration technique we use, we must practice mindfulness.

WHAT IS SATI AND HOW TO PRACTICE IT?

‘Friends, if one thing is developed and practised frequently it leads to great benefit, to stimulation of mind, security from toil, clear comprehension, vision and knowledge. It leads to happiness with a calmed mind, discursive thought subdued, and a mind filled with good thoughts. With ignorance becoming abandoned, unhelpful thoughts abating, delusion subsides, and wisdom arises. What is that one thing? It is sati. The Deathless is lost to those who lose mindfulness.’

Sati is the seventh facet of the Noble Way. The Pali word is most often translated as ‘mindfulness’. It can be described as having presence of mind,, clear recollection, circumspect awareness or attentiveness or simply being there in the moment. It has all these connotations. Sleep is its opposite mind state. 

Mindfulness has two aspects to it. There is mindfulness of the mind and all its phenomena. There is also mindfulness of our bodily actions and movements. The latter is called Sampajanna. We can develop mindfulness by undertaking specific practices aimed at this. We try to develop a state of mindfulness around everything we do, say and think. We try to be ever attentive to the arising of phenomena in our mind, its growth and its passing away. We need to be ever mindful of our moods.


The great Thai-Lao teacher, Loom Por Chah, had a very simple way of explaining this important component of Buddhist practice. He would say that when sati and sampajanna come together we enter a state of all pervading awareness of mind that he called ‘Poo Roo’ which in the Thai language means, ‘one who knows’. With Poo Roo there we are ever alert to the arising of things in the mind and we are mindfully engaged in whatever actions we are performing. We may be sitting, standing, walking, lying down. We may be working, sweeping, studying or driving a car. Poo Roo is there with us in every moment, ever alert to, ever vigilant of what is constantly arising and passing away.

In meditation, when our citta is filled with sati it becomes the observer of all the antics and tricks of the mind at play. It is like watching a play from the balcony seat. The whole world in our mind is a stage but we become the observer not the actor.    

The importance of the development of sati in our practice cannot be over-estimated. The Buddha went to great detail in the famous Four Foundations for Mindfulness discourse to emphasize and urge his followers to be diligent in this regard. To go into the detail of this significant talk would take up many pages. Following is a only a summation of that talk.

FOUR PLACES TO BASE MINDFULNESS

"This is the only way, friends, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Bases for Mindfulness." (D.N. 22)

Just as an army base is a place where they base soldiers on standby, similarly, the four satipatthana are places to base mindfulness. The Tathagata urged all path travellers to base their sati in four places:

°        Our body and our bodily feelings,

°        Our mind-heart and the phenomena that arise in mind.

We base our mindfulness in the body and bodily feelings, the body within the body.  We base our mindfulness in the mind and the things that arise in the mind, the mind within the mind. These are the four bases but how do we go about it? Worry not, for the Buddha was very precise and detailed many practices that we can undertake to achieve this mindfulness.


First Base is the body (kaya or rupa). To reach a thorough awareness of the human form as it really is in accordance with Dhamma we can start with the practise of anapanasati (mindfulness of the in and out breath). This is the starting point for all Buddhist meditation practice. This fundamental meditation calms the turbulent waters of the mind, prepares it for and makes it receptive to deeper investigations. A mind filled with Sati creates a meditative vantage point from which we can observe the comings and goings of the mind at that time. We have a balcony seat over the theatre stage from whence we can observe the whole performance.

We adopt one of the four meditation postures and focus our attention on the breath as we inhale and exhale. We note the arising, and peak of the in- breath and we observe the decline and ending of the out-breath. We then observe that our breath is re-born and the process starts again and continues throughout our life until we breathe our last breath. The whole nature of our existence can be observed in the rise and fall of our breathing. As mindfulness of the breath becomes stronger, discursive thought and other distractions weaken. We become an observer noting the comings and goings of mind phenomena. Poo Roo is now in charge.


Anapanasati is the most significant of mindfulness practices but should not be practised in isolation. We practice mindfulness in all the four postures (sitting, walking, standing and reclining). We practice mindfulness in all our movements and as we go about our daily activities. It helps us think more clearly at work and keeps us on task.


To gain a real understanding of the body and our attachment to it we can undertake some pretty heavy practices. In meditation the body can be broken up into its primary elements of earth, fire, wind, water and consciousness. We can use meditation techniques such as body scanning. We can peel back the skin and contemplate the component parts of the body. To further reduce our attachment for our body we can even go without washing for a few days and contemplate the filthiness of the body.

 For someone who is really caught up in their body there is the contemplation of decaying corpses practice. In this modern era access to a human corpse for this purpose is difficult, except on all the crime scene programs on television. We may need to be content with imagining the nine stages of decay that our body goes through after we die. As we observe or imagine the corpse we contemplate our own mortality and imagine it is our body lying there.

These practices may seem a little macabre but in our path of practice we must confront our primal fear of death and the decay of what we call ‘I’.  We need to understand and regard the human form as it really is.


Second base is sensation (vedana). Once the mind is calmed by the breathing practice we can direct and base our mindfulness at the five physical sense organs and their extended fields. We can contemplate the process by which sensation arises and passes away. The eye contacts an image and we become conscious of colour. Similarly the ear contacts a sound, the nose contacts an odour, the tongue contacts a flavour and when the skin surface contacts a texture.  But there is a sixth sense organ and commensurate sense field that we must come to understand, the mind and the phenomena that contact it.


Third base is the mind-heart (citta). After working through the physical vedana we can then focus mindfulness on the sixth sense, that of mind and the things that arise in the mind. In Buddhist teaching the mind is not centred in the brain but in the heart. This makes sense when we consider that the heart as an organ functions independently of the brain. A person’s brain can be clinically dead but their heart continues to beat. However, if the heart should stop beating then the brain cannot survive for long after.


Recent medical study has found that the heart may actually act as a second brain and carry out functions previously attributed to the brain. It has been found that the heart can send messages to the brain and direct it to respond. So the concept of the heart being the base for mind is not so far-fetched. It is reassuring when modern science can catch up with ancient wisdom and give it validity.


So we base our mindfulness in the mind-heart (citta). We establish sati there, distinguishing, identifying, contemplating citta in order to see it in accordance with the truth that it is simply mind. It is not a being, not a person, not a self, not ours nor theirs. Establish sati there clearly knowing, and aware when the mind has lust and greed (lobha), and when it does not have it. We are aware when the mind has anger and aversion (dosa) and when it does not have it. Be aware of the mind when it has delusion and fantasy (moha) and when it does not have it. We are aware of the mind when it is clouded, murky, and muddy and when it is clear, clean and lucid. We are aware of the mind when it is scattered and dispersed and when it is concentrated and focussed. We are aware of the mind however it may be at that moment.


Fourth base is mind objects or phenomena (dhamma).    The use of the word ‘dhamma’ in reference to mind phenomena can be confusing at first as we have become used to the more common usage of ‘Dhamma’, with a capital D, meaning the Buddha’s teaching or truth. When used with a small, ‘d’,  dhamma means simply ‘things’ or ‘phenomena’.

They are mind things which arise there in the mind. There are all sorts of dhammas arising in the mind ranging from thoughts, to memories, to instinctive reactions, to emotions and moods. They include ideas, so when an intuitive idea reveals the nature of existence in accordance with truth then it becomes Dhamma with a capital ‘D’. Dhamma, as teaching then, is a record of the intuitive realizations of truth as explained by the Buddha and recorded by his followers.


We need to base our mindfulness in the dhammas as they arise in the mind and observe their nature. We base our sati there, defining, identifying, contemplating mind dhammas (things) in order to see them in accordance with the truth: that they do not constitute a being, a person, or a self. They do not belong to us. They are not ours. They are not nor theirs. They are simply mind things.

In the Satipatthana Sutta the Tathagata emphasized they we should become aware of these particular dhammas:

The 5 obstacles (nivarana),  the 5 heaps of existence (khandha), the 12 sense doorways, the 6 internal and 6 external (ayatana), the 7 conditions for realization (bojjhanga) and, the 4 salient truths (ariyasacca). You can research the ones that haven’t already been explained here.


All dhammas should be examined in this way: What are they? How do they come to be there? Are they within me or not? See how they rise up, develop to maturity and then disappear. We ask, ‘How is it so?’ These are examples of how sati should be applied and the dhammas contemplated in a peaceful, meditative state in order to see these dhammas for ourselves in accordance with truth.


By realizing that these mind things are subject to impermanent life just the same as physical things, we can let them go on their way with wisdom. We don’t cling to them and try to keep them longer than we should. We let them go by the application wisdom. We understand them for what they are, simply things of the mind.


So the development of sati is fundamental to our practice and to a decent way of living. Even if we never achieve the ultimate goal, still sati is very useful in our daily lives. A lack of sati can be a killer. So many deaths are caused each year simply through a lack of mindfulness, a careless moment when a mistake is made and an accident occurs. How many deaths could be averted each year, how many arguments and fights could be avoided if we all had a little more mindfulness and understanding?


The thirteen dhutanga practices

1.     paṃsukūla (Abandoned Robes) — this is the austerity of using any cloth found on the road as material for making robes.

2.          tecīvarika (Three Robes) — this is the austerity of only using the three robes of a bhikkhu as garments.

3.        piṇḍapāta (Begged Food) — this is the austerity of eating only what one gains on almsround (pindacara), whether it be a little or a lot or even nothing at all. NB: bhikkhus do not beg per se, since they are not allowed under Monastic rules (Vinaya) to ask/beg for food. The bhikkhu observing this dhutanga declines invitations to take meals at the houses of Lay people.

4.      sapadānacārika (Regular Alms round) — this is the austerity where if a bhikkhu gains tasty food from a particular house on his almsround, then he avoids that house in future

5.          ekāsanika (One eating) — this is the austerity where the bhikkhu will eat only in one place and not eat a little in one spot and then eat more in another.

6.          pattapiṇḍika (Measured food) — this is the austerity of eating only a certain measure of food. The bhikkhu sees fault in indulging his appetite.

7.     khalupacchābhattika (No food after time) — this is the austerity of no longer accepting any extra food after having started to take the meal

8.        āraññika (Dwelling in a peaceful place) — this is the austerity where the bhikkhu does not dwell in a village or noisy temple. This is meant to help with meditation, as it is very hard to meditate in a noisy place.

9.          rukkhamūla (Dwelling under a tree) — this is the austerity of not dwelling under a roof.

10.     abbhokāsika (Dwelling in a dewy place) — this is the austerity of dwelling neither under a roof or a tree, but in the open

11.     susānika (Dwelling among the graves) — this is the austerity of living/dwelling in a cemetery. NB cemeteries in Ancient & modern India often have corpses left out in the open or only partially cremated. Also places where ghosts & malevolent spirits were known to inhabit...a frightening place.

12.   yathāsantatika (Any chanced upon place) — this is the austerity of at the end of a days walking/wandering to sleep wherever the bhikkhu happened to be so long as it was safe.

13.    nesajjika (Always sitting and not lying down) — this is the austerity of not sleeping stretched out. Usually the bhikkhu sleeps propped against a wall or even in the meditation posture.


The Attitude of Practice

°        When we speak of birth and death, assessing whether it is better to be die or better to be born, If there was only birth there would still be the punishment of life.  And just to have death is further torment as then there would be nothing more. So don’t be concerned with which is better.  Be satisfied with knowing that there is birth and so there must be death, and that there is death and so there must be birth. This is enough to know. This is the average (balance) that we seek. So practice to find the middle, not too much and not too little of anything. 

°       Sometimes we think we have plenty of time to practice, if not in this lifetime then perhaps the next, or the one after, or the one yonder. Yes, it’s just like the old married who kept taking invitations to receive food at as many houses as he could. He kept putting off eating it wanting to collect more until it was past noon and he could eat none of it at all! The practice of Dhamma must be done in the present not later on. Don’t keep putting it off. Do it now. It is just like old age. We never know when we actually get old. We say we are young when we are born.  We play like a child and don’t think we are getting old. And so on through life until eventually, we die. But if we were to just consider ourselves as being old when we are born then we are starting to touch the Dhamma.

°        The citta is like a little child. Poo Roo is like his parents. They reside in the same house. If the child wants to stand up and walk the parents have to show him how to use his feet. They must watch over and guide him all the time.  So it is with the mind. The mind receives all sorts of knowledge via the sense receptors. Its function is to perceive but there is, as well, another aspect of knowing that is superior to the citta and we call it Poo Roo. It has the capacity to teach and guide the childlike citta. It knows how the mind behaves. This Poo Roo is the Buddha in us

Poo Roo must look after the mind just as a parent would a child.  Wherever the mind wanders Poo Roo knows about it but it is not his way to compel the mind. He is there to supervise and advise and keep the child away from danger just like a parent. But if the parent were to desert the child the infant would be left in fear not knowing which way to turn. In our practice it is Poo Roo who must direct the infant mind

An untrained mind is like a child and as such he must be guided by the knowledge of one who is superior. In determining right from wrong , in not bringing suffering upon ourselves , in all things that we do we are guided by the Buddha’s knowledge, the Buddha in us. But knowing isn’t the same as forcing. Poo Roo knows but doesn’t compel. It is the mind that must learn to take the initiative. Just to know what is the right way is not to say that the mind will follow the right path. It will, nevertheless, make many mistakes but, having gone wrong, Poo Roo doesn’t desert the mind. He sticks with it always. Sitting, standing, walking or lying down Poo Roo is there to remind us.

 

This reminding is called sati. When we take heed of it we are beginning to grow up in the practice. Poo Roo is the one who trains the mind. Whenever we think wrongly, see things wrongly or arrive at wrong conclusions Poo Roo knows and he is saying, “Wrong view, wrong thought, wrong knowledge!”  so that the mind is not pulled down a wrong track. The mind no longer agrees to follow a wrong path and whatever damage was done is soon repaired. The mind is constantly developing. 

     Death is not a thing to fear nor is it something to be desired. 

To fear or to desire it means that we don’t see death for what it is. 

Death is yet another state of mind (sankhara), the final one for this life.


Twelve ways to deal with resentment (byabadha) as described by Ven. Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga.

1.          Practice mettabhavana. Project friendship and good will towards those who are the object of our resentment

2.          Reflect upon the "parable of the saw". In it the Buddha said that even if your enemy should remove your limbs with a saw still you should harbour no resentment towards that person. In another religion they say "turn the other cheek."

3.       Reflect upon the thought that "it is not with resentment that resentment is abated". By accommodating and cultivating feelings of resentment we serve the purpose of those who have offended us and we "do not win the battle hard to win."

4.          Seek out what is positive in a negative relationship. Focus on the good qualities of your detractor.

5.     Develop karuna, compassion for all beings, even our detractors, realizing that they too share in this life of dukkha.

6.          First observe and then reflect upon the damage we cause ourselves by harbouring such resentment.

7.          Reflect upon the truth that all beings are owners of their kamma and heirs to it.

8.     Reflect on the benefits of patience, forbearance and equanimity in the face of resentment directed at us. Consider the "who" that is feeling resentment. 

9.    Remember that it is likely that at some time or some other life all beings have been either mother, father, brother, sister or friend to one another in this long cycle of life.

10.    Reflect again on the benefits, the merit in projecting metta instead of holding on to resentment.

11.   If this isn't working then break your detractor into tiny pieces, into the elements and khandhas and considering which part you are exactly resentful of.

12.     If all this fails then give your detractor a gift, particularly of yourself, and catch them off guard. "through giving gifts do they unbend and condescend to kindly speech."

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