Gone in an Instant


Sometimes, if one is very, very lucky after losing his or her anger, there comes a moment of horror when the person realizes what they have done, realizes what might have happened.

Some time ago, I was told about such a moment by a person who is one of the lucky ones. In a moment of uncontrolled fury, without thinking, he picked up the person he was angry with and threw the person through a store window. Seeing the person lying on the ground, with pieces of the shattered glass all around, he thought that he had killed the unmoving man. The anger drained away in an instant as the horror of what he had just done washed over him. 

You can possibly imagine some of his relief when he realized the man was alive. He told me that at that moment of realization all his anger drained out of him, forever.

He was very lucky.

If we are fortunate, the realization of what our anger can do to others will, at some time, meet us head on and we will be able to let all the anger go in an instant. For most of us however, the realization isn’t as clear. Most of us have to work very hard at controlling the anger.


Rebirth? No-rebirth?

In two of my classes this week, questions have arisen over the necessity of believing in rebirth to benefit from the Buddhism.

In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha was asked several questions by people who had been visited by various religious teachers. Each of them said that their doctrines were correct, and those of the others were wrong. From the response of the Buddha, we see that the underlying issues concerning the Kalamas were the reality of rebirth and the karmic retributions for good and evil deeds.

A section of the sutta, or sutra in Sanskrit, gives four assurances, two of which address rebirth. Essentially, the Buddha said that if there is rebirth, the noble student who has a pure mind that is free from greed and hostility, and who pervades the universe with loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity, will encounter two possibilities. If rebirth exists, this person who no longer experiences craving or hatred will enjoy the results from his goodness in a future life. If there is no rebirth, this person will still get to enjoy the immediate results from no longer being pulled first one way and than another by insatiable cravings or from feeling the bitter residue of hatred. Either way, the person receives good retributions. 

Rebirth can help us to understand why there are times when bad things happen to good people. And conversely, why bad people sometimes seem to be immune from suffering the consequences of their actions. But even if we are not yet convinced of the existence of rebirth, we can still practice the teachingswe can still feel the joy from doing what we know in our hearts to be right.    


Transformation Takes Time

956849-644374-thumbnail.jpgChanging our habitual ways of doing thing takes time. But in a a society that wants instant gratification, this is a tough concept to accept. We don't like to wait. We don't have the time to be patient. We have a lot to do, and we expect quick results.

But effecting lasting change takes time. Do not have expectations of achieving a lot quickly in your practice. In fact, do not have any expectations at all. Start from where you are, and learn gradually how to put the teachings into practice by starting with the things that are easier to change.

As you begin to improve in little ways, you will gain the confidence and experience to know how to change in more meaningful ways. This changing and improving of yourself will take time. Understanding this, give yourself the time you need.


Better Than Uncontrolled

Better it is to live one day
wise and meditative
than to live a hundred years
foolish and uncontrolled. 

Better it is to live one day
strenuous and resolute
than to live a hundred years
sluggish and dissipated. 

The Dhammapada
translated by Venerable Buddharakkhita 


Is Buddhism a Religion?



This question comes up periodically. I also discuss it periodically, but then something is said somewhere by someone and the question comes up again. For some, it's not an issue. But for those who have a religion, viewing Buddhism as one can become problematic. How can you learn to practice another religion when you already have one that is working for you? Others who do not have a religion may have made the conscious decision not to have one. Why should they accept one now ?

So how does Buddhism fit into such a picture? Is it or isn't it a religion?

Once, the Buddha was asked if he was a god. The Buddha replied that, no, he was not a god. Then was he an angel? No. A spirit? No. Then what was he? The Buddha replied that he was awake. So by his own assertion, the Buddha was not a god. He was a man who had awakened to universal truths—to the Dharma.

What about our meditating on a Buddha's name? Isn't that a religious practice? No, it is meditative concentration. In Pure Land practice, we chant "Amituofo," the name of a Buddha, to focus our thoughts on him, to become one with him. Whatever we are focusing on, we are.

For example, I could chant "peace," or "compassion," or "unconditional love." I wouldn't be worshiping peace or compassion, I'd be meditating on them—focusing my thoughts on them to quiet my mind and to develop these qualities. Whatever I think, I will become.

By focusing on the name of a Buddha, in this case on the name of the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life, I am focusing on perfect peace, compassion, unconditional love, and all the other perfect virtues of a Buddha. I am not worshiping these virtues, rather, I am trying to perfect them in myself by having them in my mind. 

So our practice is not the worship of the Buddha or his name. We practice to awaken to the truth.