Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"The scent of good does go against the wind"

No flower's scent goes against the wind ..... but the scent of the good does go against the wind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

" The True Weapons of Mass Destruction" - Greed, Hatred and Delusion

'The Right View"

I was very disturbed to hear this story from a patient I saw last week at the clinic who presented with a hand infection. She was bitten a few days ago by another woman. This has apparently happened after a verbal argument between the two women. I was shocked to see this but I thought to myself .... this is a good example of human hatred at its best! Buddha said greed, hatred and delusion are the roots of all the unwholesome deeds in this world. I like to call these the "true weapons of mass destruction." People fight at home, at school or at work because of greed, hatred and delusion. People design chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction because of greed, hatred and delusion. Terrorist attacks on nations and war among countries happens because of greed, hatred and delusion. Whatever the unwholesome or so called "evil deeds" big or small that happen in this world can fit into three baskets of greed, hatred and delusion.

Buddha said when one understands the unwholesome, the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome, and the root of the wholesome, in that way he is one of "Right View." "The Right View" is the first step in the noble eightfold pathway leading to ultimate happiness. The Buddha said arriving at the "Right View" is something like seeing the brightness in the sky when the sun is about to rise (see the above picture). When the sun is fully shining you have already arrived at the perfect wisdom, called Nirvana. To achieve this one has to follow The Noble Eightfold Path, the pathway that leads to ultimate happiness.

Now we know that greed, hatred and delusion are the root of unwholesome deeds. What are the unwholesome deeds?

1. Killing living beings is unwholesome

2. Taking what is not given is unwholesome

3. Misconduct in sensual pleasures is unwholesome

4. False speech is unwholesome

5. Malicious speech is unwholesome

6. Harsh speech is unwholesome

7. Gossip is unwholesome

8. Covetousness is unwholesome

9. Ill will is unwholesome

10. Wrong view is unwholesome.

So the question is can we completely get rid of greed, hatred and delusion in our lives? Non -greed can be achieved by the practice of non-attachment (letting go). This may sound simple and you may say "it is no big deal , I can do it!" In real life you may find it is very difficult to do this when it is really the time "to let go." The deep cravings and attachments embedded in us may be very subtle, hard to see, yet they may be very strong. The practice of Vipassana meditation (see below) will help overcome these attachments and to help "let go" with ease.

Now how can we get rid of hatred? The antidote for anger and hatred is loving kindness. The loving kindness practice should start towards yourself first. This is the most important and the one that people often forget the most. This may be one reason why we find more and more depression in this world today. Once you start loving and appreciating yourself then you gradually spread loving kindness to your family, neighbours, ....and so on, and finally to the entire universe. I have discussed the practice of loving kindness and its benefits in a previous post (see below). The more you practice loving kindness the faster the anger or hatred will leave your heart. Buddha gave a beautiful simile about this. He said, "in some people anger is like a 'line drawn in the water'. It vanishes instantly as soon it appears. In others it is like a 'line drawn in the sand.' With time it will slowly fade away. In the third group it is like a 'line drawn on a rock.' It may take a lot of effort and time to get rid of anger. The first person has a lot of loving kindness in his heart whereas the last person needs to practice more loving kindness."

Finally, getting rid of delusion is the most difficult task. First of all it is a very difficult concept to understand. I will try to explain this clearly as possible in my own interpretation during this post. Delusion is also sometimes referred as "ignorance." This really means that we are really unaware of the true nature of our existence. To understand this you need to contemplate on how The Four Noble Truths work. Once we understand what is unhappiness and its cause,the craving, we have to find out how we can get rid of this craving. To do this we have to contemplate on how our six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue,body and mind) work together with the external sense objects (object, sound, smell, taste, touch, mental object) and how and where this craving arise. Then you can contemplate on impermanence, suffering, and non-self of these six senses and their external sense objects. If this process is practiced diligently with mindfulness, it will help to get rid of the craving that arises in them as we realize it is fruitless to suffer because of an impermanent nature that is anyway not in your control (non-self)). This will help us step outside of this constant struggle with desire and aversion. You can merely look at them as they are with equanimity and let them go. This is the practice of Vipassana meditation. This will be discussed later in detail in a future post. Some concepts like, sensory restrains, impermanence, suffering and non-self have been addressed already in some of my previous posts (see below).

Therefore one must understand, although it is difficult, it is not impossible to fully get rid of greed, hatred and delusion, if you walk the path laid down by the Buddha (The Noble Eightfold Path). He has done all the hard work for us, we just have to see it and walk on the path. Buddha very cleverly showed us how to travel this path with great precision. It is like a "do it yourself" project. Nobody can do it for you, not even Buddha. You have to travel this path alone by yourself and it will finally lead you to the ultimate happiness in this very life.

Related suttas:

Sammaditthi Sutta, Magga-vibhanga Sutta, Saleyyaka Sutta, Mula Sutta

Sammaditthi Sutta

Avijja Pahana Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya IV)

Avijja Sutta- On Ignorance (Samyutta Nikaya XLV.1)

Avijja Sutta- On Ignorance (Samyutta Nikaya XXXV.80)

Pahana Sutta -On Giving Up

Related posts:

What is the matter with my grass? (Post on Loving Kindness)

Who will drink this medicine? (Post on The Four Noble Truths)

Why is this dog asking for more ? (Post on Sensory Restrains)

"Stop worrying about your body so are just renting it anyway" (Post on Anatta or Non-self)

Life is just like a "Morning Glory"- Mindfulness about life (Post on Impermanence)

Mindfulness About Life- "A Lesson From The Garden" (Post on Impermanence)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What is the matter with my grass?

Last week, I was cleaning my flower bed in my garden to plant tulip bulbs. To my surprise I found a small brown patch of dead grass in my front lawn. I was very upset at the beginning as I always like to keep my grass nice and green. When I examined closely I found lots of weeds growing in this brown patch of grass. In contrast, there were no weeds in the rest of the lawn which was very green and healthy (see the photo above). Then I thought to myself.... is this trying to teach me something? Then I began to contemplate...... If I kept my mind full of positive thoughts, for example loving kindness and compassion, it would be like the green grass of the majority of my lawn. No weeds would grow. However if my mind was filled with negative thoughts, it would be like the patch of dead grass. "Weeds" of the mind such as anger and hatred, would soon grow and will hurt me or even destroy me. Loving kindness is the antidote for anger (see the previous post below). The Buddha always encouraged us to practice loving kindness.
Buddha said;

"The one who practice loving kindness can expect eleven benefits":

1. One sleeps easily.

2. Wakes easily.

3. Dreams no evil dreams.

4. One is dear to human beings.

5. Dear to non-human beings.

6. The devas (gods of higher realms) protect one.

7. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one.

8. One's mind gains concentration quickly.

9. One's complexion is bright.

10. One dies unconfused.

11. If penetrating no higher -- is headed for the Brahma worlds ( kind of higher god realms).

- Metta Sutta

Related suttas:

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Words are fruitful when well carried out"

Like a beautiful flower full of color but without
fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of
one who does not practice them.

Just like a blossom, bright colored & full of scent: well-spoken words are fruitful when well carried out.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why is this dog asking for more ?

I have a English cocker spaniel named Lance. Lance loves eggs, mango, banana and papaya. As a puppy we have trained him not to beg for food. After some time we made a mistake by giving him small treats off the table when we were having meals. Now he has the habit of begging for small treats when we are eating. In the past few weeks I was determined not to give any food off the table but when he looks at me with those large beautiful brown eyes I just melt and give in.

This morning I was having eggs for breakfast. Lance as usual lost interest in his dog food and was begging for a piece of egg. Today, I somehow was determined not to give anything. He kept begging and begging..... and to my surprise when I finished eating he quietly got up and went away to his own food.

Then I thought for a moment.... well, our senses can act like an "untrained dog." The six senses (see the previous post below) keep asking for more and more of your favorite things. It may be reasonable to fulfill your bodies "needs" but not everything that the body "wants." I think it is fair to treat yourself once in a while but if you overindulge in "sensory foods" there may not be an end to the demands of our senses. Just like an untrained dog they will not leave you alone.

So how do we train our senses? The Buddha called this method "the sensory restrains"(Chappana Sutta -The Six Animals). First you may have to develop good moral values and live a simple life style. You may have already seen some Buddhist monks who lead such simple lifestyles. Some have only two pairs of robes, one bowl and a simple hut to sleep in. They may eat only one or two meals a day. This may be difficult for us as lay people, but we can try living a simple life enjoying whatever we have and not clinging and craving for more. In other words being content and happy with what ever we have. If you want to develop further sensory restrains you can start practicing mindfulness meditation.

The practice of Vipassana meditation will lead you to deeply understand this six fold senses. This will finally lead you to develop wisdom with complete sense restrains. It is important to realize that this training of sense restrain comes through deep understanding of the six senses and equanimity rather than aversion. This training will not only make you fully aware of how these six sense bases work together but also completely eliminates the craving which arises in them. This is called "Nirvana," the complete freedom from suffering, which can be achieved in this very life. This craving is the primary factor responsible to keep us in this repeated cycles of birth, old age, sickness and death called the " Samsara." If you want to learn more of how these six sense bases work together," there is a good description of this in Salayatana-vibhanga Sutta.

Sutta on sensory restrains:
Related posts

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Life is like a dew drop on a blade of grass"

Buddha said "life is like a dew drop on a blade of grass"seen in the morning. When the sun shines the dew drop disappears. Buddha repeatedly encouraged us to contemplate in the impermanence of life.
See other related posts:

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Stop worrying about your body so are just renting it anyway"

Is this body really in your control? Do you own this body? How do you let go of obsessions about your body? In this post I will attempt to answer some of these questions. Today we live in a society in which we are heavily obsessed with our bodies. I see so many people in my medical practice who are not happy about their bodies. Mostly people are too concerned about their physical appearance. They think either they are too fat or too thin. Some people go to the extent of even getting plastic surgery to look better. These body image issues especially trouble the younger generation. Other people are very worried about their health. This is somewhat reasonable in some settings. There are a small number of people who go to extremes of worrying about their physical heath. Some people are so worried about their illness they can even make it worse just by worrying too much. Do we really have control over these issues? Let us examine how these things work.

I try to tell my patients it is important to look after your body, but you have to always remind yourself it does not belong to you. You are only just "renting" it for the time being. Perhaps you may not agree with this or you may even think this is a little bit too "drastic". Suppose you had to rent a car for some time, you will have to take care of it while you use it. You will have to pump gas, change the oil, wash it and check the air pressure in the tire and so on. Applying the same principal when you have a body, you have to look after it the best way you can. But you have to always remember that you don't own it. There is a very deep concept in Buddhism called "Anatta" or "non-self." This is one of the very important teachings of the Buddha and he explained this in his second disclosure after his enlightenment, called Anatta-lakkhana Sutta. In this, he says "it is not only your body, you have absolutely no ownership of your feelings, perception, thinking (mental formations), and your consciousness." These were called the five aggregates. Although it is very difficult to understand these concepts, when one realises the true nature of these fully within oneself, that person is said to be fully enlightened. In Buddha's own words, "holy life fulfilled, the task done"

For the purpose of this post we will only focus on the body. I will try to explain this concept simply as possible. The Buddha said "if you own this body you should be able to keep it the way you want." You should be able to say "may my body be this way or may my body not be this way." In other words if you have ownership of the body, you should be able to give orders to it. You should be able to say, "hey body listen to me !.... I don't want you to get old, sick or die!" However, we all know that it is impossible to do that. This is because the body is arisen as a result of certain conditions coming together. There are three basic features of conditioned things. You can see its birth (origin), change while it exists and fading away(disappearance). Our bodies are no different as we can see birth, ageing and death. When you buy a new car it usually runs well until the warranty runs out (unless you get a "lemon"). So does your body when you are young you are usually healthy. When your car gets old and gives trouble, you may have to go to the mechanic often. Using the same principle, when you get older you may have frequent visits to the doctor. In the case of your car, eventually you have to throw it away and get a new one. Similarly your body will have to be discarded when you die. If you are reborn as a human you may get a new body and this process starts all over again. Interestingly, the final goal in Buddhist practice is not to get a new body again! Then you don't have to go through this endless cycles of old age, sickness and death which causes suffering. This is called Nirvana, putting an end to the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death and then rebirth, the opposite of what we call the Samsara.

Now what can you do to not get attached to this body so much? If you meditate regularly the answer is simple. It is the practice of mindfulness meditation of the body, as described in Satipattana sutta. If you do not meditate you can start thinking of your body as a "rental. " This may somewhat free your mind from your body. This may help you not worry so much when you are sick. This will also help you not to be too obsessed with your body image as well. We all know that there is a close connection between the body and the mind. For a moment think your body as the "car" and your mind as the "driver." You have to look after both very well. If you don't take care of your car like doing a regular service and oil change, it may breakdown or even crash. The same way if the driver is not well trained, it does not matter how well you looked after your car, it may crash due to bad driving. This is a metaphor I always use in my practice to emphasise the importance of looking after both body and the mind. Ultimately what is most important is to have a good balance between the two.

As we discussed before the body and the mind are very closely connected and can influence each other. There is a lot of research done in this area to investigate how the mind can influence the body. The same way the body can influence the mind. When you are in pain you mind is not very clear and you can easily get irritated or even angry, and depressed. These days there is a lot of emphasis on body wellness. In fact we are sometimes a little too obsessed with looking after our bodies. We jog, go to the gym every day and so on. These are all good things but the only problem is we do very little to look after our mind. It is important that we have to exercise our minds as well. This exercise is different form the body exercise. You exercise the body by "running" whereas the mind you exercise by "stopping." This is where Buddhist practice of mindful meditation comes in. Recent research has shown meditation can even increase the thickness of your brain's grey matter. Meditation not only trains you to do things mindfully it also leads to wisdom and happiness. So it is a "two for one" deal. Research has also shown that mindfulness meditation can improve your immune system as well as general well being (read previous posts listed below).

So try to look after your body the best way you can, but don't ever forget to look after your mind. Remember you can have a perfect car, but if you have a bad driver, it is of no use. You know clearly sooner or later what would happen...CRASH!. It is difficult to always remember that you are just "renting" this body. You may want to contemplate on this as often as you can. This will hopefully help you to better understand your body and mind and will make you more content and happy in this very life.

Related Links:

Anatta lakkhana Sutta

How can mindfulness help?

Practice of mindfulness four bases of mindfulness

Do like to be happiest man on earth?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Stop Bugging Me! Buddhist Wisdom on Anger Management

Do you get annoyed or angry with people at work, home or on the road while driving? Yesterday I came across a woman driving a van with one hand and talking to somebody on a cell phone with the other hand at a four way stop sign. She reached the stop sign after me. I had already stopped at the sign but she drove right through, without even batting an eyelid. I did get annoyed with her for a moment. Then again I thought to myself, "is there a better way I can deal with this kind of situation without getting angry or annoyed?" I am sure we have all had similar experiences being annoyed at people some time in our lives. It may be your boss or co-worker at the office. It may be your husband, wife or even your teenage son or daughter.

How do we best deal with these situations?

As a physician I see at least 2-3 people a week who are in acute anxiety states or depression due to some work or a family crisis situation related to anger. I think these days people are pushed to their limits. The problem is when it happens, most people do not know how to deal with it. It is not the problem itself but how we approach the problem that makes us different in coping with situations like this.

Are there any methods of overcoming this annoyance or anger? In this post I will explore some Buddhist wisdom on how to overcome the feeling of annoyance or anger with other people. The focus in Buddhist teachings is not on the other person. The focus is on yourself. We have no control over the other person. We have some control over our minds. How can we we achieve this? To help us understand this better I will discuss a very interesting disclosure of Buddha called the Aghatapativinaya Sutta .

Buddha said there are five ways of removing annoyance when it arises in you:

1. "Loving-kindness can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed: this is how annoyance with him can be removed'.

2. "Compassion can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed'.

3. "Onlooking equanimity can be maintained in being towards a person with whom you are annoyed; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed'.

4. "The forgetting and ignoring of a person with whom you are annoyed can be practiced; this too is how annoyance with him can be removed'.

5. "Ownership of deeds in a person with whom you are annoyed can be concentrated upon thus: 'This good person is owner of his deeds, heir to his deeds, his deeds are the womb from which he is born, his deeds are his kin for whom he is responsible, his deeds are his refuge, he is heir to his deeds, be they good or bad.' This too is how annoyance with him can be

You might think this is crazy! How can you develop loving kindness or compassion toward a person who is annoying us? The obvious reaction when we are annoyed at another person is to develop anger or hatred towards him. But anger hurts us, not the other person. Buddha said:

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned".

If you think about this you realize that this is true. You will suffer mentally and physically when you are angry or annoyed at somebody else. You cannot think clearly, your heart rate and blood pressure rises, you may even start to shake. You may also not be able to sleep well at night. The practice of loving kindness (will be discussed in a future posting) or compassion, is the antidote this.

Buddha said:

"The one who practices loving-kindness sleeps and wakes in comfort and has no bad dreams; he is dear to both humans and creatures; no danger harms him. His mind can be quickly concentrated, his expression is happy and serene. He dies without any confusion of mind. Loving-kindness protects him."

Before I discuss how to practice loving kindness and compassion in these situations, I would like to share a small story with you. One day just after office hours, a father and a young son got on the subway. The farther was very quiet, but his son was very loud and annoying. He was running up and down in the train compartment and was making a lot of noise. The people were tolerant for a while, but this kid was very "hyper." He went on non-stop annoying people who were trying to get some rest after a long day at work. It seemed like this child was not going to stop his "hyperactive behaviour." Finally, one person got so tired and went up to the father and said "can you discipline your child! He is very annoying and is disturbing all the people in the train! That person seemed to be very angry at the father. The farther quietly turned toward this person and said "my wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer a week ago. The doctor's said that she has one week to live....and she just died today and we are just going home from the hospital...... This is my sons reaction to the news." The people in the subway went "numb" after hearing this. This story gives us a very good message. We often judge people to quickly and incorrectly.

Now supposing your boss gets angry or upset with you, you have to ask yourself these questions. Is it possible that your boss is angry because his wife or a child is sick at home? Did he have an argument with his wife or his teenage daughter that morning? May be he just did not have a good nights sleep and is having a bad day at work. This may be his way of coping with his stresses in life. At the beginning of this post I told you about a driver who did not stop at a four way stop sign. Maybe she just received a call from the doctor and she was just rushing to the hospital to see her sick mother. If you can think like this you can practice loving kindness or compassion towards this person who is upsetting you. In reality the actual problem with these people who annoy us will be something else, but as long as we learn to look beyond that we have already solved most of the problem. If you think like this you will have less chance of getting annoyed at this person. You are doing yourself a favour too. You are not hurting yourself because there is less anger building up within you. Try this next time when somebody is angry at you and see for yourself the benefits that you can achieve.

Now how do we practice equanimity towards a person you are annoyed at? This is not so easy if you have not practiced mindfulness meditation (will be discussed in the future). You may want to first practice loving kindness and compassion first. If it does not work, try to practice equanimity (look neutrally) at this person. This is how it works. When a person speaks to us we first pick up information from our external senses. We then process the information and if it is agreeable we get a pleasant feeling. If it is disagreeable we get an unpleasant feeling and may get annoyed at the person. It is also possible for us reject both these pleasant and unpleasant feelings and practice equanimity. Equanimity will help us to overcome this annoyance in us. This will take a lot of meditation practice.

The next method of overcoming an annoyance is by forgetting of ignoring the person. You can do this in two ways, physically or mentally. You can physically remove yourself from the situation. This will be the easier method. You can walk way from the situation till the person "cools down". This is sometimes called "positive withdrawal." This means you remove yourself from the situation for your own benefit. On the other hand mental withdrawal is little more difficult. Unless we have practiced enough vipassana meditation your mind is going to bring back to all the thoughts and memories again and again. These thoughts going to be "food for the mind." (mental food will be discussed in a different posting). We keep feeding on this "mental food" until we get very angry and depressed. You may try to replace these thoughts at the beginning itself with pleasant thought previously experienced by you. Otherwise before we know our mind will be full of anger and ill will and we will be suffering from it. Now how can you replace unpleasant thought with a pleasant thought? This is how Buddha explained this :

"When you are thinking about an object, it sometimes occurs that evil, unwholesome thoughts connected with hate and delusion come to your mind. The way to get rid of them is to concentrate on another object that is wholesome and good. Just like a skilled carpenter knocks out a course peg with a fine one, so the evil thoughts will disappear. With their departure , the mind will be calm, unified, and concentrated once more"

The final method is the one I like the most. Here you give the ownership back to the person who is bugging you. There is a classic story in the Buddhist literature which relates to this. I would like to share this with you before I discuss the next section.

The Buddha was invited by a Brahman to have a meal in his house. But when he arrived, the Brahman greeted him strangely, with a torrent of abuse. Politely Buddha asked, "Do you have visitors come to your home, good Brahman? "Yes," replied the Brahman. "What preparations do you make for them?"asked the Buddha. "We get ready a great feast," said the Brahman. "What happens if they don't arrive?" asked the Buddha. "Then we gladly eat it ourselves," said the Brahman. "Well, Brahman, you've invited me for a meal and you have entertained me with hard words. I want nothing from your preparation. So please take it back and eat it yourselves," said the Buddha.

So next time somebody speaks harsh words at you just think it is his own "food." You did not cook the "food." He cooked it and dished it out for you to eat. You have the option of eating and getting sick (angry and depressed) or refusing to eat it. If you are mindful enough you will simply refuse to eat the "food." Think that he is the owner of his own "food." He will have to eat it!

These are the methods of getting rid of annoyance or anger when it arises in you according to Buddhist wisdom. You should try them out yourself next time it happens. You may not be successful the first time but if you make diligent efforts sooner or later you are going make it. Try it out. It works!

Related Sutta:

Medical Research