Desire And Ignorance Are The Root Causes Of Suffering

For some time, it remained a mystery to the author why the Buddha would say such a thing.  But one day, one  realizes this with one’s own experiences in life.  With insight born of deep reflection, it became more apparent, as direct personal experience does confirm it.

Firstly, do we know what suffering is?  Well, it is basically expecting to receive from the world what it is not going to deliver.  This is true in life, and this includes religion.

In fact it is even more valid with religion, which promises you such fantastical and far-fetched beliefs, often to be accepted with blind faith, coupled with doses of “or else” and downright punishment which  leaves one cowering like a helpless child in fear and trepidation in the midst of the irrationality thrown in; sometimes, one is hard-pressed to find ways to extricate oneself from such self-inflicted suffering  beyond all  common sense and sense of proportion, that one resorts to counseling/relief  from a third party called the psychiatrist.

The question to ask also is: ‘What did the supposed deity do in all of these?’  One is afraid to venture questions farther because one is entering the realm of taboos, fear of the unseen, the supposedly omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent entity.

In that case, don’t you think that it is much more logical to ask that if such were the case with all these touted deity’s attributions, what has it done to alleviate our suffering – the famine in Africa, the landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis, floods, the kidnappings, shootings, tortures, etc. ad infinitum, which if one were to follow the argument, are within the purview of his capacity to avert?  And still, to top these conundrums, we are then advanced stock answers like “these are his punishments to sinful man.”  If he is so hell-bent on these nefarious activities, then he has no redeeming quality and love to dispense with, and is, therefore, not worthy of respect, let alone of worship.  And while we’re at it, how on earth can you justify the death of a child, to cite just a simple example, who surely would be unable to commit a crime deserving  of the above-mentioned horrors?

Yet, we keep on clinging to our chosen worldview because they are predictable and closer to oneself even if they are the root causes of our suffering.  (Far be it for me to suggest that one should abandon such ideas;  rather, we should see them for what they are – products of our own ignorance.)

The best way to solve a problem is to acknowledge its existence, analyze its causes and then act with wisdom accordingly as befits the human condition.

So how do we dispel ignorance, this evil more powerful than all the denizens of hell?

In the case of the religious, your answer  should be: know the true nature of God/gods  and don’t give me the stock answer that he/she/it is a mystery so it is impossible to fathom his nature.  If I were given such an answer, I would simply reply “I don’t think so; somebody must have known the said deity to come up with his attributed definitions and,  I must know this entity as well.”

I’d be a fool to simply accept such statements blindly especially as it supposedly dispenses punishments  (all the while remaining invisible) for purportedly not following his dictates.

Or even better still, know the nature of reality.  These are our assignments as human beings.  In short, become enlightened.

To use our faculties to see reality as it is, not how we want it to be.  If we don’t, we might as well be a bunch of fauna fleeting through earth without having to use consciousness for intelligent ends.  And I have more confidence that nature is more capable of fulfilling this latter capability than all the deities put together.

You don’t use your intelligence or reasoning power, then you’re wasting it.  Might as well put you in animal form  as animals don’t have to do anything intelligent.  Instinctive yes, but nothing too intelligent.  The poor things are stuck in their predicament as animals.  They are at the mercy of the elements, their predators, their condition and their environment.  No way out!  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you see it, we are at these crossroads.

Expectations are the direct source of frustration.  Simply put, when your expectation is not met, you become frustrated, depressed, angry or disillusioned as the case maybe.

Life deals us with all sorts of situations, positive, negative or neutral.  It is not so much that we must force ourselves to always be all positive, but to take stock and be mindful of our attitude towards any given situation.

Plus, we are bound to make some mistakes along the way.  So what?  Life is a learning process, a growing up process.

The thing is, we should not leave it at that.  One needs to Acknowledge, Forgive and Learn , and not get bogged down in it, for the best way to be in this latter situation is to say: “God will save me.  Though I know I’m sinking, God is on my side so I’m okay.”  I would rejoin this immediately, not with an “Amen”, but with “What a load of boules Quiès!”

However, because we tend to gravitate towards the predictable, we stick to it;  we don’t want to venture into the unknown which, to our general perception, is fraught with danger and unnamable misfortunes.

Do not subscribe to the word of these merchants of delusion in the garb of priests, ministers and so called holy men, who have convinced themselves (and not a few) that they truly are God’s gift to mankind.

Rather, for once, let us fulfill our destiny by being wholly and truly human.  Do not be content with mediocrity.  Give it your all without any expectations.  Only then can we say with certainty “I’ll be okay.”


Why Is It So Painful When Somebody You Love Cheats On You

During a phone-in your questions in Australia, a taxi driver called and addressed this one to a monk: “Mr. Monk, I’d like to ask you this question. I’m having an affair; my wife doesn’t know about it.  Is it right?”

Rather than going into the philosophy of ethics, immediately Ajahn Brahm, the monk referred to, replied:  “If it was right, you would not be ringing me up to ask.”  The guy on the other end put the phone down immediately.

What he was actually phoning up for was to get an expert to tell him it was okay.  He knew it was wrong, but he needed the expert to assuage his guilt or to convince him that it was right.

Otherwise, why would he ring up?  If it was right, he would simply not have told anyone and carried on with the affair.

Anyhow, he realized that it was wrong and in fact, most people do.  It’s just the peer pressure, and so we try and justify it.  Why do we think or know it’s wrong?  Because,  it hurts another person.

One of the most important things in a relationship, as we all know, is trust.  You want someone you can trust, who says something, and you can actually believe them.  Because that’s so rare in our world to have trust, at least we want the person we commit to be our friend, our partner, a fellow companion along our journey through life – one person in life you can trust.  You may not be able to trust anybody else, but at least you have that one person to lean on.

Without that trust, a relationship is so lonely.  You can’t share.

So that’s why it’s a most terrible thing to breach that trust, cheating on your partner by taking another partner when you already got one, even temporarily.

It really hurts because it goes to the very essence of a relationship, and destroys it.  This is why people react so fiercely if they find out that you’ve been seeing someone else.  Why do they react that way or for that matter, why do we? Because, it is attacking something so beautiful and so spiritual and so wonderful, and desecrating it, that’s why.

So, we investigate and look deeply into its ‘why’, so we don’t just believe these precepts as rules, laid down by one man some 2,600 years ago, who probably didn’t understand modern life and that these precepts could  now be well past their use today.  But if you look at ethics that way, you’re missing a huge amount of truth.

Why does it hurt?  What is it hurting when somebody messes around in a marriage or relationship?  Why?  You can see that it’s that deep sense of trust between two people, their intimacy and not simply sexually speaking, but between two people who get so close to each other, they open up their vulnerable part, so much can be hurt and you’re willing to take that risk with another person and be vulnerable.

Opening up and being vulnerable to someone else takes a huge amount of trust.  And when that vulnerability is abused, it hurts so much more.  You have taken off your armor in that relationship, all of the things that have protected you.  This means you are so fragile and so easily hurt when someone takes advantage of that trust and hurts you in that way.  If you’re going to have to use the word ‘bad’, then you know, this is it.   It is unskillful, it is unwholesome, that it should never be done.

You only have to look at movies, or read books, and you only have to know from your own life what happens.  Sometimes we in ethics, sometimes all these rules, I don’t just want to follow them literally, I want to ask why.

If it hurts, why does it hurt?  Where is that pain coming from?  You feel that hole, you feel that hurt, that deep pain.

And now you know why it’s a rule, why it’s a precept.  You are just trying to protect people, that’s all.  Just trying to stop the suffering and pain in life.  Have a harmonious society and families where you can trust each other – an example for others to follow.

So at least two people, the one you choose to walk along with in this life, there is that one person that you can trust.  Please, you be that person and please never let go that trust.

It’s so valuable because once you’ve been hurt so many times, it’s as if life loses its meaning, loses its beauty.  That’s why it’s really, really important to keep your happiness and peace.

If you made a mistake, admit it.  And please, don’t do it again.  It hurts.  If you have failed, you’ve only got seven out of ten.  Please, try and make it better next time.

So if you have broken any of these precepts, whether it’s drinking, or adultery or whatever, there’s no punishment.  Again, take away the punishment from these precepts.  They are not rules where you get sort of whipped up, banished or executed.

In our philosophy, it’s not punishment but learning which is important.

That’s why we follow that AFL code.  Acknowledge if you made that mistake.  Be honest.  Forgive and learn so you don’t have to do it again.

(Thanks to Ajahn Brahm who is the source of this wisdom inspired by the Buddha’s teachings.  The above is an excerpt from one of his lectures and has been transcribed so that others may find solace and comfort in life, guided by this generosity of mind and spirit. 

May all beings be happy and well.  Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.)

The Law Of Reciprocity

In religion, we call it the Golden Rule.  In classical science, it’s the Law of Cause and Effect. In philosophy and quantum physics – the Law of Reciprocity.

A marketing manager may have even unconsciously referred to it by saying that it is found in each and every incident, object, or situation that you are confronted with in life.  This law is intrinsic in everything you come in contact with.

Anger and hatred are the operative principles of hell.  If you engage in them, you are already in its clutches.  You are not doing yourself or anybody a favor.  No amount of praying to this or that deity will spare you from its grasp.

Wishing ill or deliberately harming somebody in thought, word or deed will guarantee you a place in hell.  No God/gods can even dispute that.  Harming someone for not subscribing to your whims and caprices and desires, no matter how godly you think you/they may be, will not spare you suffering.  It will follow you as sure as your shadow follows you everywhere.

Do you honestly believe that the Muslim who commits suicide bombing in Allah’s name is guaranteed the pleasures of the heavenly realm?  It does not only sound odd but is illogical and irrational.  You know this is not reflective of the truth, even by simple inference.

In the same way, ascribing evil to someone who does not engage in killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and indulging in intoxicating substances that lead to heedlessness and unmindfulness and for simply not subscribing to your idea of good, will not only cause harm to that individual but also guarantee darkness of ignorance and delusion for oneself.

Think about it.  Why would they be evil if they do not do any of those things in thought, word or deed?  Does prayer and praying equal a blanket justification to harm others?  Thinking this to be so is not only conceited and absurd but also extremely deluded and harmful to oneself and others.

In Indra’s net,  the reality of each element within it is dependent upon the reflection from everything else in it.  Reality is  each other’s reflection.  If you project good or evil to somebody, it will reflect itself back to and in you as you have conceived that thought in you.

Otherwise, if you project good upon others, a corresponding resultant force will also return and be projected back in the course of time.  This is an immutable law of nature.  It is unfailing.   Even the beings of the heavenly realms understand this and they conform to it effortlessly with knowledge of its consequences if violated.

Mind is the forerunner of everything.  Be mindful and do not leave this mind untended.

This is the way of mindfulness.  Be aware of its movement and, like the mirror which allows everything to be reflected back without distorting its shape/form, remain still.

This recent advice from a great teacher: “Whatever path our activity takes, if our intention is to make ourselves useful to others, there is a good chance our conduct will be useful; whereas activities generally considered to be good, such as the practice of religion, risk causing more harm than good if they are not motivated by a desire to help our fellow beings.”

Humane Attitude To Death

In many countries, death is generally looked upon as a tragedy.  It is an event marked by an extravagant display of powerful, raw emotions called grief, and elicits sympathy and condolences from acquaintances, both near and far.  Viewed dispassionately from a distance, it looks like an orgy of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Death is the opposite of life, they say.  This attitude solidifies the idea of the unjust nature of death, as the epitome of all that is evil and undesirable.    In such times, it is often heard said that death is the work of hell.  But this is not quite accurate, in fact, not at all.

Death is as ubiquitous as birth itself and every known living creature, good or bad, young or old, beautiful or ugly must go through it, sooner or later; and in Buddhism, this event does not spare even the celestial beings though their lives may span aeons to seem like an eternity.  Yet without enlightenment, the Deathless State is not attained even by God.

In the West where I had lived for 10 years, death is a taboo subject, with most people continuing to live their lives as if their own deaths would never come.  The person who dares mention death is considered morbid.  Death is a topic unfit for conversation or discussion.  If one mentioned it, it is often couched in indirect and obscure language which, in the long run, is not a compassionate way of dealing with the reality of death.  This attitude does not prepare one to face death’s inevitability with wisdom and compassion.

Instead, shock, disbelief and denial are the hallmarks of this attitude when confronted by mortality.   People are upset when a young person dies, even more so if it’s a child.  The general uproar often heard is, ‘this should never happen; it is not the normal course of things.’  But reality dictates otherwise, as it occurs naturally more often than we realize.

And because of this, our distorted perceptions are reflected in our beliefs and our everyday dealings which further reinforce our confusion, frustration, anger and aggression, with not a glimmer of genuine wisdom and compassion.  This happens as the facts are twisted to suit one’s faith and one’s faith is not adapted to reflect the facts.  This disconnection of faith and reality creates a psychic turmoil within an individual which further triggers frustration, anger and hatred, culminating in a full-blown crisis seemingly beyond one’s control.

Life is a learning process.  Being truly human is a rare event in the cosmos.  A human has the capacity to understand and see reality as it is – not how he wants it to be, but how it really is, and then act accordingly.  The attitude of wanting to tame and then dominate nature is an unfortunate expression of unenlightened behavior.   Nature is not the enemy.  Rather, we are our own worst enemy.

A language student who happened to be a doctor recounted that her mother was so scared of death that she refused to view or go near the remains of dead acquaintances.  Said mother was in her advanced 60s, and no amount of persuasion could relieve her of this phobia.

The French philosopher Voltaire said that if one wants to know the mathematical concept of infinity, one only needs to look at the extent of man’s stupidity.   One has seen the ravages of man’s own rapacity and ignorance, their direct impact on the environment, enough to make you think: there must be an alternative, a more humane, and enlightened way.  And there is, if one cares to look.

Ajahn Brahm, who is a Buddhist monk residing in Australia, once mentioned in one of his now famous lectures on the internet, about an incident that occurred in England.

A mother went inside the temple where people were attending a Buddhist ceremony on a warm, sunny day.  She left her sleeping boy inside the car and locked it to ensure that her child was secure and undisturbed.  While everyone was inside the temple, the car overheated and burst into flames, consuming the car and everything in it.  The mother, in dazed confusion and grief, as with everyone else there, could only manage to ask why this happened.  And the officiating monk of the now disrupted ceremony replied, “ Because, he was born.”  From a western perspective, this may sound callous but with more discernment, it was the most compassionate expression at that moment.

During the Buddha’s time 2,600 years ago, a similar incident occurred – a young child died and its mother, Kisa Gotami, was stricken with such grief it drove her to the brink of madness.  This incident triggered a whole series of events that eventually led her to meet the Buddha, whose skillful handling of her request of bringing back her dead son’s body back to life with one mustard seed coming from a house that had not experienced death, in time, led her to the realization of the futility of finding the elixir of life, and this understanding further steered her to renounce worldly life by entering the order of nuns, and finally to gain enlightenment.  She became one of the most illustrious women disciples of the Buddha.

Birth is the consequence of death and vice-versa.  Death is not the opposite of life.  Rather, life is the matrix upon which birth and death intertwine or are entangled.

By not seeing life as an enemy to be subdued, but rather as a friendly tool for learning its hidden lessons through direct experience, one therefore reaches the Deathless State of which the scriptures speak of – without the intervention of any divinity, but only by dint of one’s efforts.

Life gives both positive and negative experiences.  What matters is not wallowing even farther into these experiences, but what one’s attitude towards them is, and more importantly, what one does with the experience.  A setback when viewed as a positive teacher becomes a friend.  And so, should our attitude be towards death.

Apprise Oneself With Appraise

Wayback in 1996 somewhere in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, a male executive secretary was being discreetly tested for his suitability to the position by the incoming General Manager in the presence of the outgoing one.

The word appraise was pronounced and, then advanced by the latter to mean to inform or notify, such as in this sample sentence,  ‘He apprised me of the changes in the company’s organizational structure.’  Apprise was deliberately voiced as though one were enunciating appraise.  So, when the transcription and the printed sheet came with the spelling apprise, he was told that it needed to be corrected and exchanged with appraise without a moment’s thought

He rolled his eyes, mentally asking himself if he could possibly apprise someone, as diplomatically and as calmly as possible, about the intricacies of the word appraise when the same person who needed apprising could not appraise the whole situation with a calm and lucid appraisal.

Incidentally as per the dictionary, appraise means to assess, measure, or evaluate, among other denotations, but it does not extend to notifying, informing or instructing.

And so, having used the lexis countless times in the past, the subordinate refused to amend his spelling even when urged, or more precisely, ordered to do so, as indeed, the proper usage and sense, as was given in the sample sentence, should really be the word apprise.

This episode was referred to the secretarial pool of all the various departments and naturally, this went all the way up to their respective Senior Managers for arbitration, and the verdict luckily returned in his favor.

The moral of this event is that one cannot appraise someone of something, but one can certainly apprise another of something.  A person could justifiably be appraised for something he did, in consequence of which, he was thoroughly apprised of the ensuing appraisal.

Example :            He apprised his superior of the reservations the rest of the managerial pool made regarding the drastic changes introduced recently in their respective areas of direct influence, which he then appraised as just a kneejerk, though understandable, reaction to a truly legitimate and necessary policy realignment on his part .

Clarity and simplicity would also be best served by incorporating alternative words that mean exactly the same thing, in short, replacing it with a synonym that mirrors it closely.  To cite the above example, one could rephrase it in this vein:

He informed his superior of the reluctance the rest of the management team were harboring about the sudden changes he made recently in their respective territories, which he then evaluated as just a hasty, though understandable, response to an indispensable and required policy adjustment from his office.

Lastly, it should also be emphasized that the author had direct experience of the above incidents.

The Boddhisattva As A Concept

The Boddhisattva ideal is a concept that was articulated and spread by later disciples after the historical Buddha left this planet physically.  Such a being is the “spontaneous display of wisdom and compassion” benefitting other beings  just as they are.

A Boddhisattva , although not explicitly emphasized in the early teachings of the historical Buddha, is one who endeavors to benefit other sentient beings by helping them, even gradually and painstakingly, find the path to enlightenment.  This manifestation is imbued by a sentiment of pure altruism, which would motivate him/ her even to deliberately delay his/her own liberation from the clutches of samsara in order to render the balm of relief to myriads of suffering beings.  This act of generosity is reflected in the Buddha’s resolve immediately after his enlightenment when he decided,  past a moment’s hesitation, to teach his discovery of the true nature of reality, if only for the sake of those beings with “less dust in their eyes.”  For he saw that those who were in the throes of pleasure and pain could not possibly see a way out of their predicament.  This prescription  to relieve  suffering is embodied in his teachings of the 4 Noble Truths and the Noble 8-Fold Path.

In the Jataka tales, it is said that in one of the appearances of the Buddha-to-be as a hell-being in consequence of inflicting harm to his mother during a prior incarnation as a human being, that action alone of inflicting pain upon his own mother caused him to be reborn in hell.  When he reached the hell realm, he witnessed another hell-being undergoing unspeakable torture who told him that it was foretold that he would soon be relieved from this relentless torment and death by someone who would arrive that moment.  He asked the other being how long he had suffered this fate and was informed that he had been there for some 500 years.   Witnessing this unmitigated horror, compassion arose in the Buddha-to-be who offered himself to endure 7 times the duration of this torment if it would prevent others from experiencing  the same fate, at which time the instrument of torture disintegrated and he died right there and then, as this compassionate gesture could not be contained by  hell, where only the operative principles of anger and hatred prevail.  Immediately thereafter, he was reborn in the heavenly realm for aeons, followed by countless other auspicious rebirths which paved the way towards his enlightenment, that is, until he was finally reborn as a human being and all the requisite factors for the event of enlightenment were ultimately fulfilled.  This tale illustrates the Boddhisattva’s compassion which Buddhists, mainly in the Mahayana tradition, idealize and emulate.

Wisdom and compassion are the hallmarks of a Buddha and these characteristics verily apply to countless other Boddhisattvas, irrespective of religious persuasions.

In China and Japan, a Boddhisattva called the Avalokiteshvara, is often depicted with a thousand arms, each arm bearing a different salve for one specific (form of) suffering.  This is why devout Chinese Buddhists would never dare to kill and cut the ‘arms’ of the octopus;  the Boddhisattva needs all his/her arms to extend relief from suffering to  all sentient beings.

What’s The Word Hot Up To

Hot is now a commonly used expression to signify sexy, sizzling, even ‘biting’ in a sensual/sexual kind of way.

The original meaning of hot can be ascribed to a string of synonyms like burning, scorching, boiling, blistering, sizzling, searing, warm.  It can also extend to sweltering, stifling, muggy, sultry, boiling, oppressive.  Further on, it denotes spicy, peppery, piquant, pungent, fiery, strong.  Lastly in the passionate sense, it can mean fierce, vehement, emotional, strong, intense, excitable, angry, ardent, fervent, stormy.

It’s easy to figure out that the now popular, trendy connotation comes from the above list of possible words, particularly sizzling, searing, sultry, fiery, intense, ardent, fervent, strong.  The last, when attached to an attraction or an appreciation of another person’s physical or even psychic attributes would most definitely refer to sexual desirability, as in strong sex appeal.  Also, a woman is sultry when she possesses an intense stare and a curvaceous body to go with it, isn’t she?

Due to its current evolution and constant use, people associate the word with just about anything that denotes any of the above.

But returning to its original significance, hot refers to something burning like fire, the boiling water or the scorching heat of the sun, for example.   In the course of time, it became associated with everything else connected to the 5 senses.

A dish is hot when it contains Mexican chilis or similar spices or equivalent condiments from any part of the globe.  Thai dishes are known to be hot, that is, peppery, pungent or piquant, the last word coming from the French verb piquer which means to bite, as in “Une moustique me pique (3rd person singular conjugation of the verb in the present tense) –A mosquito is biting/bites me”.  In referring to a dish in France, you’d hear, “Ça pique”, which, when translated literally, means “It bites”, that is, it has a peppery aftertaste.  Piquant is the French present participle form, and literally translated simply  equals “biting”.

The sun, and its generated heat can also be depicted as hot, particularly when pointing to its noonday manifestation.  Thus, it would be equally appropriate to label it the scorching, blistering, sweltering, oppressive, intense, or even fiery heat of the solar star, most notably the desert sun at noon where temperatures could hover beyond 50 degrees Celsius.  Come to think of it, you’re already half-way through scalding water there.

This description also extends to the weather ;  hot, in the sense of warm and humid/sticky, is muggy.  This would definitely  apply to the climatic conditions found in the tropics, mainly Africa and Southeast Asia during certain periods of the year.  A stormy weather is frequently accompanied by a hot and humid climate pattern.

A man who is hot-tempered is said to be fierce, vehement, emotional, excitable, angry, even stormy.  His mood swings are reflective of the tropical storm, as opposed to the even-tempered, mild or calm demeanor of a more gentle man.

Indeed,  hot heats you up cool! But that’s another story.