Monday, December 2, 2019

Recently I was asked, “Do you believe in Fate[1] and/or Destiny[2]?”  My answer is “no.”  “Fate” and “Destiny” seem to me to be metaphysical concepts.  More on metaphysics in a moment.  

While I don’t “believe” in the metaphysical; in Fate or Destiny, here’s what I know.  We are where we are in life because of decisions we, and others have made.  Every moment we are making decisions, and often acting (or not acting) accordingly.  I take a job in South Dakota, instead of Alabama, and twenty years later, I’m a bhikkhu in Des Moines, Iowa.  I decide to hit Wal-Mart before Walgreens, and when I get to Walgreens, I find I could have saved a few bucks if I’d gone there first.  I decide to walk on the shady side of the street, and subsequently avoid getting shot by someone robbing a store on the sunny side.  I decide to take University Avenue instead of I-235, and I stop to help someone with a flat tire.  Later that person shows their gratitude by making a large donation to the Buddhist Missionary Society.  I decide to major in Psychology rather than Music Performance, and that points my life in a whole different direction.  The Draft Board decides my number is up, and that points my life in a whole different direction.  Some fellow sees me struggling to cross a parking lot with a basketful of groceries, and asks if he can help, and that points both our lives in a totally different direction.

We are where we are because of the matrix of decisions and actions we have taken, and others have taken.  No Fate.  No Destiny.  We are (to a greater or lesser degree) responsible for who, what, where, when and why we are the way we are. 

Kamma[3] seems to be a much more realistic explanation than Fate or Destiny for why we are where we are.  I act, and that act has consequences, both for myself, and often for others:  both in the here and now, and in the future.  Kamma doesn’t explain everything.  Things happen that are beyond our influence and control.  We need serenity to accept that fact.  Sometimes we are challenged to take control and make the future our own.  That takes courage.  And sometimes we need to take a step back and evaluate the situation; to figure out what we can and can’t control. What we can and cannot be effective in making, or preventing something from happening.  That takes wisdom.  

Practicing the Eightfold Path helps us along towards serenity, courage and wisdom.

A bit more on metaphysics.  It’s always good to define what you mean when you use a word, so let’s look at a dictionary definition of “metaphysics.:  

met·a·phys·ics | ˌmedəˈfiziks |
plural noun [usually treated as singular]
the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
·      abstract theory with no basis in reality: his concept of society as an organic entity is, for market liberals, simply metaphysics.

Metaphysics has two main strands: that which holds that what exists lies beyond experience (as argued by Plato), and that which holds that objects of experience constitute the only reality (as argued by Kant, the logical positivists, and Hume). Metaphysics has also concerned itself with a discussion of whether what exists is made of one substance or many, and whether what exists is inevitable or driven by chance.  So a discussion of metaphysics will need to include a discussion of epistemology and fate.  

We, along with what seems to be the view of the historical Buddha, tend to agree with Kant, the logical positivists and Hume.  We can’t know what we can’t experience.  

For those of you who find scriptures authoritative, I offer this from ‘What the Buddha Taught’ by Walpola Rahula.

            The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a 'wilderness of opinions'. It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them, Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical questions on meta-physical problems and demanded answers.[4]

            One day Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted him, sat on one side and said:

            'Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe eternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the universe finite or (4) is it infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing and body another thing, (7) does the Tathagata exist after death, or (8) does he not exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death, or (10) does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me. This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal, let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal, let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or not, etc., then for a person who does not know, it is straight-forward to say "I do not know, I do not see".'

            The Buddha's reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind:

            'Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta, "Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you?" '

            'No,  Sir.'

            'Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: "Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions to me”?'

            'No, Sir.'

            'Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: "Come and lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you".  And you do not tell me either: "Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and he will explain these questions to me."  Under these circumstances, you foolish one, who refuses whom?[5]  'Malunkyaputta, if anyone says:  "I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions," he may die with these questions unanswered by the Tathagata.  Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon.  Suppose the  man should then say: "I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste)  or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste)  or a  Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown, or golden; from which village, town or city he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot;  the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made." Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: "I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc.," he would die with these questions unanswered by the Tathagata.'

Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, "the Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life."

            'Therefore, Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, and what I have not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained?  Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc., (those 10 opinions) I have not explained. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquillity, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.’

            'Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained?  I have explained dukkhā, the arising of dukkhā, the cessation of dukkhā, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkhā.  Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them?  Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquillity, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana.  Therefore, I have explained them.'[6]

Something to think about. 

[1] fate | fāt | nounthe development of events beyond a person's control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power: fate decided his course for him | his injury is a cruel twist of fate• the course of someone's life, or the outcome of a particular situation for someone or something, seen as beyond their control: he suffered the same fate as his companion• [in singular] the inescapable death of a person: the guards led her to her fate.
[2] des·ti·ny | ˈdestinē | noun (plural destiniesthe events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future: she was unable to control her own destiny• the hidden power believed to control what will happen in the future; fate: he believes in destinyORIGIN Middle English: from Old French destinee, from Latin destinata, feminine past participle of destinare ‘make firm, establish’.
[3] Karma (Skt. Pāḷi; kamma): the principle of cause and effect; the sum of a person's actions resulting in their present life situation and circumstances.
[4] 1Cula-Mdlurikja-sutta, no. 63 of the Majjhima-nikāya (Pāḷi Text Society edition)..
[5] i.e., both are free and neither is under obligation to the other.
[6] It seems that this advice of the Buddha had the desired effect on Malunkyaputta, because elsewhere he is reported to have approached the Buddha again for instruction, following which he became an Arahant. A (Colombo, 1929), pp. 345-346; S IV (PTS), p. 72 ff.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Last Wednesday’s discussion included ideas on the diversity of Buddhisms and Buddhists, and to what degree there is similarity and difference among and between different schools, lineages, and traditions.  There was some talk of the future of Buddhism in America, and when an “American” Buddhism might emerge, and what it would look like.  To what extent can American culture and values, and Buddhist culture and values accommodate each other?  The question was raised regarding Asian “Ethno-Cultural” Buddhism being more accessible and/or accommodating of American-cultural people who would like to be included, but feel uncomfortable.

We meet again next Wednesday, November 11, from 7:00 p.m. to about 8:45.  Some ideas for discussion might be, “love” in Buddhism, “Engaged Buddhism,” Buddhist views of “good” government, the commoditization of meditation, and so on.  

Bring your ideas and questions and join us, won’t you?

Friday, November 8, 2019

Being mindful is so important.  When we’re not being mindful, we can misuse words in ways that are hurtful, even dangerous.  When we’re not being mindful, we can cause driving accidents, injure people, damage property.  When we’re not being mindful, we can make big errors and little mistakes. All sorts of things happen we don't want to happen when we're not being mindful.  

When we get too tired, or take on too many tasks, it is easy for mindfulness to slip away.  When we get too tired, or take on too many tasks, it is easy for the environmental press to take over.  And we make mistakes.  

Thanks to those of you who found my mistake.  

Here’s the corrected notice. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Beginning Wednesday, November 13, 2019, we will be facilitating a weekly practice and discussion group every Wednesday night, except for holidays.  Pure Land of Iowa, will be hosting us in Suite D, Pure Land Hall, 8634 Hickman Road, in Clive.  Chairs are available, but you are welcome to bring your own meditation cushions, if you like.

We will start at 7:00 p.m. with a guided meditation of about 20 minutes, followed by a 30 minute or so discussion on some aspect of the Dhamma.  About 8:00 p.m. we will sit in silent meditation for approximately 30 minutes.

Won't you join us?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Some Things That Might Be Worth Thinking About


            Words are goopy.  They take on different meanings across time, space, circumstances, cultures, and people.

            Right Speech is one of the aspects on the Eightfold Path and one of the Five (Virtuous) Precepts.


“In the age of technology which now surrounds us, and boasts of its triumphs over nature, one thing is ever more apparent to the anthropologist – the student of man.  We have not really conquered nature because we have not conquered ourselves.”
 -- Loren Eiseley, 1960

Wonder if that still applies today?  (Changing “student of man” to “student of humanity.”)


“The fundamental purpose of the public schools is to turn out good, productive citizens.”
-- J. D. Hawks, 1967

Unpack that, if you will.


“Natural cut fries.”
-- from the sign at a fast-food place.



May your wits never be tardy.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Hello, Everyone!

It has been a long time (September 2, 2017 was the last post) since the last posting, but hopefully we can be more frequent moving forward.  Today, just a quick update on a number of issues.

All visitors are now able to view the AMBMS blog over an encrypted connection by visiting

MOVED (mostly) 
Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society has relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, and we have some of the stuff put away.  But there is still much to do before the move is complete.  One of those things is to hold a fundraising sale of many of the items we no longer need. If any of you would like to get involved in the preparations and/or the sale event(s) [there may need to be more than one], let us know. 

The new address is 

2620 Columbia Street
Des Moines, IA 50313 USA

The phone is still the same

(712) 281-3787

We are looking for a teaching space for dhamma classes. We’d like to start with chairs for a dozen people or so.  If you know of such a space, would you be so good as to speak with whomever about it?

We are also looking for space for group practice.  If you know someone who might donate space one evening a week, please share our contact information.  Or send us theirs.  

We get half a dozen robo-calls a day, so we let unknown callers go to voice messaging.  If you call, and no one answers, please leave a message.  We’ll put you in our contact list.

The motto of AMBMS is “Envisioning a more just, peaceful, and enlightened world.”  There is ample evidence that people who diligently (religiously?) practice the Eightfold Path develop in wisdom, morality, and cognitive acuity.  We have a goal of creating a Vihāra/Wat/Aśrama with facilities – library, dining hall, multiple meditation halls, and sleeping quarters – to accommodate up to 200 guests for a night, a week, or even a couple of months.  Ideally, this will be located within a 30-minute drive of Des Moines, Iowa.  If you’d like to get involved in this effort, let us know.

We have a long, and growing longer, wish list.  If any of you can support AMBMS by helping out with these items, your support will be greatly appreciated.

·     Help with building a practicing community in the Des Moines metropolitan area.
·     Help with sales for fundraising (yard sale, online sale, etc.)
·     Help with routine maintenance (light cleaning, lawn and garden care, changing lightbulbs, and such) at the abode.
·     Help in locating a practice space (a church, hall, etc).
·     Assist with maintenance and updates on the website (  
·     Providing internet access at the abode.
·     Truck maintenance (tires, oil changes, etc.)
·     Update to a new(er) cell phone.

Any support you can give will help us move towards realizing our vision.  

Bhante Dhammapala

Monday, April 3, 2017

Interfaith Dialogue – Part I

Recently the concept of “Interfaith Dialogue” has been confronting me from several directions.  Actually, it might be more accurate to say “interfaith dialogues” as there seem to be several concepts coming under this rubric.  There seem to be a number of purposes for engaging in interfaith dialogue: understanding, conversion, missionary assertion of one’s religion, and so on.  Most commonly it seems to point toward building bridges of understanding between faith communities. 

I am neither an “expert” on interfaith dialogue and engagement, nor a scholar nor an academic.  I don’t have a great deal of knowledge in this arena, and I do not have access to scholarly and academic works, except those that are available to the general public in libraries and online.  So, if you choose to engage in a discussion, I will be learning along with you. 

While I am not well versed in the topic of “interfaith dialogue,” I am not unaware that not all “communities of faith” in a given tradition – Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, for example – share the same reality, or share the same vocabulary, or even share the same definition of words.  According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, released in mid-2001, by Oxford University Press, there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of smaller ones.  How do we even define a “faith community?” 

In Buddhism, we have Zen, and Tendai, Pure Land, and Vipassana, and . . . well it’s a very long list.  People immersed in, and/or adhering to a particular school’s doctrines will probably not approach interfaith dialogue from the same understandings.  For example, in Tendai Buddhism, the primary text is the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that the Buddha is "a transcendent eternal being, preaching to myriad arhats, gods, bodhisattvas, and other figures using all sorts of sermons, lectures, imaginative parables, and miracles."  (I find this statement on multiple websites.  If anyone knows an original source for it, would you be so kind as to post it in the comments?)  In Theravāda Buddhism, the Buddha is in an entirely separate category of being:  Buddha.  The Buddha is neither divine nor mortal; neither transcendent nor immanent.  The Buddha is a being sui generis.  A Buddha is . . . well, just a Buddha. 

The point to be made here is, that within a given faith group or denomination, some terms such as Buddha, Nibbāna/Nirvāṇa, Enlightenment, Kamma/Karma, Dhamma/Dharma, Dukkhā, Samādhi, and many, mnay more, may be clearly and specifically defined, given a single meaning.  But within the larger “religion” in which a faith community is embedded, agreement may not be so apparent.  Agreement may not even exist.  And we may find local usage, local conventions are at odds with the larger denomination. For example, from a Zen perspective, “enlightenment” is something quite different that what is understood in Theravāda sects. And when one goes “outside” the religion, such as when a Christian or a Muslim tries to understand Buddhism, authentic “Buddhist” understanding may be lost altogether.  This is true not only within Buddhism, but in other religions as well.  Such terms such as "soul" and "spirit," “Christian” and “Muslim,” “sin” and “salvation” and “love” and “compassion” may be clearly and specifically defined, given a single meaning, in some groups, but in other, closely related groups, and in the larger culture, or on the global stage, these words and others become rather goopy, having from 2 to a dozen or more meanings.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that people do not have an awareness of this nature of language, and quite naturally assume that the meaning that they have been taught is universally accepted, that the understanding they hold is absolutely correct and appropriate.  It is often the case that people operate with the assumption that we all share the same concepts, referenced by the same words.  Such differences in meaning and understanding often result in misunderstandings. 

In seeking understanding in any interfaith dialogue, it would seem therefore necessary to identify precisely the community of faith to which one belongs.  It would seem to be necessary to be mindful of language, and communication. 

A further note on the topic of “language” in interfaith dialogue.  As I have encountered interfaith dialogues, the language of the interlocutors has, for the most part, employed terms, concepts and categories of thought that are firmly rooted in Western Christian paradigms.  I’m not sure that imposing such conventions is really helpful in “building bridges of understanding.”   In fact, it may hinder the process.  Coming from a Buddhist perspective, using terms such as God, sin, salvation, etc. to describe Buddhist thought is inaccurate, and for some – Buddhist and Christian alike – is likely to be confusing.  And may impede interfaith dialogue.

That said, I think there are a multitude of “topics” around which interfaith dialogue could take place, and I welcome your comments.  Following are some of those topics.  This list is not exhaustive, merely a starting point.  Let’s see where things go, and please feel free to contribute different topics in your  comments.

1.  Cosmology & Cosmogony: the origin and general structure of the universe understood philosophically and/or physically.  Issue of “time” and the end of time/eternality of time/artificiality of time/cycles of time. 
2.  Deities/Pantheon:  Is there one god, multiple gods, or is “god” and empty concept?  If a god or gods exist, what is their nature?  What is their relationship with humans?  With nature? 
3.  The Human Condition:
a.  what it means to be “human:”  soul, spirit, body, mind, brain, etc.
What a person is made of.
b.  problem(s) in / with the human condition
c.  solution to the problem(s) in / with the human condition; efficacy?
4. Soteriology/Soteriological goal: religious doctrines concerned with salvation; the desired goal for participants in any given religion (eg. ‘heaven,’ ‘nirvana,’ ‘moksa,’ etc.)
5.  Moral Code/Moral Reasoning: what is the source of the moral code?  What is prescribed & proscribed?  Are there moral precepts to guide one in choosing well?  When it comes to choosing well, what does your faith say about the role of patience and wisdom in your faith community?
a) descriptive ethics
b) normative ethics
6.  Source of Religious “Authority:” 
            a. texts
            b. religious class
            c. the individual
7. Religious Observance: How do people of a particular faith tradition gather to worship, and what kinds of special religious things happen on special religious days? 
a.  sacred space
b.  sacred activity
c.  sacred objects/ iconography - conventionally agreed-upon ways of presenting deities, persons, or ideas visually
8. Orthopraxy/Orthodoxy vs. Heteropraxy/Heterodoxy: issues of authenticity/legitimacy of practice/doctrine. 

And there are specific issues of “doctrinal practice,” that is how one “does” one’s religion.  We might characterize this as “living one’s theology” [more on the term “theology” later].  As we live our lives, our mundane, day-to-day existence,  there are a multitude of important issues that can, and probably should, be addressed from a religious perspective.  For example:

Stewardship: concern about the preservation/conservation/exploitation/degradation of the environment;

Gender and Sexuality: how do we deal with the growing understanding that women are equivalent to men in every aspect of life, in every endeavor?  How do we deal with the growing understanding of biological diversity and genetic expression?   What is our practice – gender bias, gender neutrality, gender equity – with respect to access to resources and opportunities?  Does our doctrine support such access regardless of gender?  Or does our doctrine assert social, economic, political and religious stratification along gender lines? 

War and Violence: can either ever be justified?  What is taught regarding respect for life?
Goodwill/Inclusion: welcoming the stranger and attending to the needs of others: the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick, or the imprisoned?  what boundaries are important and necessary to protect the integrity one’s goodwill gestures?

Social/Political Organization: 
a) what does the doctrine say about how society is or should be structured??  Questions of marriage.  Question of “family”  What is the position on social stratification - the existence of different hierarchic levels in a society; a class or prestige-based social structure?
b) what does the doctrine say about how society is or should be governed?  Autocracy?  Meritocracy?  Democracy?  Olgarchy?  Anarchy?  Plutocracy? 

Vocation/Lifestyle: engagement/interaction with others throughout your various jobs, school involvement, service activity, and club/organization memberships?

Management of Resources/Finances: In a world that encourages the consumer mentality of craving and buying more “stuff,” what does the doctrine say about acquisition of things, and about the handling and management of money?  What does doctrine advise regarding support of the faith community?  Regarding generosity with your time, your talents and skills? 

It is my hope that over time we can explore some of these topics in blog posts.