One key characteristic of Dhamma is ‘sanditthiko’. Translations of the term include, ‘directly visible’, ‘knowable’, ‘verifiable’ and ‘apparent here and now’. The Buddha illustrated its meaning with a statement: under the influence of defilement we think, speak and act in ways that lead to our own affliction and the affliction of others. With the abandonment of defilement we do not think, speak and act in such ways.
The path of Dhamma is rarely a smooth one, even for the great masters. Ajahn Chah once told his students that the difference between him and them was not in the number of severity of the obstacles he had to overcome, but in the strength of his determination to overcome them.
Buddhist meditation practices are not intended to be relaxation techniques. Relaxation is one of the first welcome results of meditation, but is by no means its final goal. This may seem an obvious point, but its also one frequently forgotten. Inexperienced meditators find it hard to resist indulging in the pleasant feeling of relaxation as a reward for their efforts in overcoming distraction. By doing so their mindfulness weakens, their mind become dull, and their meditation session is derailed.
The Buddha gave great emphasis to the practice of ‘indriya samvara’, which is translated into English as ‘sense restraint’. Personally, I am not so fond of this rendering. To me, ‘restraint’ sounds too forceful; it sounds too much like the action of a charioteer straining at the reins of impetuous horses. I prefer to translate the Pāli word ‘samvara’ as ‘governance’, and in my work with children I use ‘taking care’.
People often feel that they must make a choice between telling the truth and thereby hurting someone’s feelings or else telling a ‘white’ lie to spare their feelings. But it is a false dilemma. There are other choices available if we are willing to look. We can care for the truth in many different ways.
Vedanā, usually translated as ‘feeling’ refers to the tone of experience – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In the absence of mindfulness and wisdom, feeling provides the condition for the arising of craving (taṇhā). This craving is the cause of mental suffering. Awareness of vedanā as merely vedanā, not me or mine, prevents the arising of craving and of dukkha.
It has been observed that over the past two hundred years, as the number of pirates in the world has steadily declined, average global temperatures have steadily increased. Could the answer to the growing climate crisis be as simple as sponsoring more pirates? Probably not.
The nature of water is such that it can be dyed or dirtied, be heated or cooled, and it can flow swiftly or stagnate. But whatever is added to water or whatever transformations it is subjected to, water always remains simply water.
Two monks arriving at a river ford noticed a beautiful young woman sitting under a tree, crying. She told them that she was frightened and lost and didn’t dare to cross the swift-flowing river by herself. The younger of the monks felt sorry for the woman. He decided that although it would be an offense against the monastic discipline, compassion should come first, and he would carry the woman across the river.
In the practice of mettā meditation, it is best to start with yourself, before radiating mettā to others. A lot of the difficulty people find in feeling mettā for themselves may be avoided by choosing words that have particular meaning to them. There is no need to keep to the traditional formula. Personally, for example, I find the phrase, ‘May I be happy’ unhelpfully vague, and never use it. The best phrases are those which express our highest aspirations.