Friday, June 24, 2016

Help put Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society back on the road!

Put Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society back on the road.

Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society, a nonprofit incorporated in Iowa, envisions a more just, peaceful and enlightened world.  We hope to realize that vision, and help people improve their quality of life by freeing themselves from the dukkhā – that range of experiences, from dissatisfaction to anguished suffering – found in daily living.  We reach out from New York to California, and from Minnesota to south Texas, sharing the Dhamma through talks, meditation events and distributing books.

At this time we are in desperate need of an all-wheel drive vehicle for our missionary outreach.  Something on the order of a late model (less than four years old), low mileage (less than 60,000 miles) vehicle like the following:  Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Dodge Nitro, or the Chevy Tahoe. Our 2003 Honda Element was recently totaled in a collision, and we are without reliable transportation. 

If you would like to support the Dhamma, and the efforts of Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society to take the Dhamma to the people, you can help with a cash donation.  Any amount will be appreciated.  We have created a “GoFundMe” account specifically for a new vehicle.  The campaign link is:

If you would like to contribute directly, donations can be sent to:

Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society
c/o Wat Phothisomphan
2562 SE 14th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50320

Checks can be made out to AMBMS.

And if you have a vehicle you would donate, please let us know.

If nothing else, will you please share this request with others?  Won’t you please help?

Thank you.
Peace and Blessings

Another $5000 and we will have met our goal. Thanks to all who have contributed!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

“It’s just temporary”
October 25, 2015

We cannot justify illegality by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify immorality by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify social inappropriateness by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify ecological irresponsibility by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify political oppression by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify injustice by saying “It’s just temporary.”  “Its just temporary” cannot be used as an excuse for engendering dukkhā.

The Noble Eightfold Path is very frequently divided into three categories, pañña. (wisdom), sīḷa (moral discipline; virtue; moral guidelines) and bhāvanā (abbreviated from samādhi-bhāvanā; cultivation of the state of samādhi).  I offer this to support the argument that to practice the Buddha-dhamma means striving (making Right Effort) to be virtuous. 

The Five Precepts (Pāḷi: pañca-sīḷa) constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers of the Buddha-dhamma in both the Theravāda and Mahāyāna traditions. In fact, practicing the Five Precepts is part of the definition of being a Theravāda lay person. The Five Precepts are commitments to refrain from (Theravāda) or abstain from (Mahāyāna) taking life/killing, taking things not given/stealing, sexual misconduct, speaking falsely or unkindly/lying, and intoxication.  Undertaking the five precepts is part of both lay Buddhist initiation and regular lay Buddhist practice.  Lay Buddhists in the Theravāda lineages take the Five Precepts routinely as part of nearly every socio-religio-cultural event.  These moral guidelines, these five virtues are to be cultivated in all our thoughts, words and deed.  They are undertaken to minimize or eliminate dukkhā from one’s life and the lives of others, thus helping a Buddhist live free from remorse so that they can progress more expeditiously and facilely on the Noble Path.

But one doesn’t practice morality solely for one’s own benefit.  The Buddha is said to have taught the five precepts out of compassion, and for the betterment of society.  So too must we practice with compassion and for the betterment of society.  For the elimination of as much dukkhā as possible from the whole world. 

Sabbe sattā sukhitā hontu
Whatever beings there are: may they be happy!
Sabbe sattā averā hontu
Whatever beings there are: may they be free from enmity!
Sabbe sattā abyā-pajjha hontu
Whatever beings there are: may they be free from distress!
Sabbe sattā anighā hontu
Whatever beings there are: may they be free from affliction!
Sabbe sattā sukhi attānaṁ parihārantu
Whatever beings there are: may they live happily!

For the Buddhist, the Five Precepts are foundational, but they are not the entire moral code.  Right Action is based on the Five Precepts, but is not limited to them. 

Right Action certainly includes those acts and behaviors which are morally “right,” which are enumerated in the Five Precepts, but Right Action also embodies acts (and thoughts and speech) which are socially, legally, economically, ecologically, politically, and in every other way “right.”  We need to remember the “problem” Right Action is meant to alleviate:  dukkhā.  So “Right” actions are those actions (words, thoughts and deeds) which alleviate dukkhā.  Or don’t generate dukkhā. 

If we are going to “act rightly” in the moral, social legal, economic, ecological, political and other spheres, then we must we must become Lokavidū, “knowers of the world.”

And that means we must cultivate and exercise Right Knowledge and Right Intent and Right Speech and Right Effort when considering any action.  In fact, we must cultivate the full Noble Eightfold Path.

Morality isn’t a particularly popular topic these days.  It seems like whenever I talk about living the “good” life, the moral life, people get huffy.  They seem to think I’m talking "about" them, rather than "to" them. 

A lot of people I talk with, mainly Westerners, are drawn to Buddhism for the meditation.  In fact, meditation from several Buddhist traditions is being taught without any reference to Buddhism at all.  There are some problems in doing that, but that discussion is for another time.  What I want to point out here is that “meditation,” when understood and taught correctly, is moral practice.  It is the whole of the Eightfold Path.  Or rather, the whole of the Eightfold Path is meditation.  Again, a topic for a different discussion.  The point here is that we may sit for 20 minutes, or an hour or two out of the twenty-four hours of the day.  We need moral guidelines for when we are not sitting.  We need moral guidelines for that eight or twelve or sixteen hours we are engaging with other people. 

Every society recognizes the importance of interactions and relationships.  These are the warp and weave of the social fabric.  And every society has “rules” in the form of laws and mores to guide and measure our actions.  And to prevent injury, injustice and suffering.  Societies differ in many ways, and the laws they enact, and the manner in which laws are made differ.  But there are laws.  And for the most part there are good reasons for the laws enacted.  As Buddhists we have a moral obligation to follow the laws of the society in which we live.  We have a moral obligation to embrace the social mores of the society in which we live.  We have a Buddhist obligation to make ourselves aware of the laws and mores, and to understand their role in limiting dukkhā. 

The laws of society may be categorized as “criminal” laws, those that deal with heinous acts, and as “civil” laws which are for the most part social guidelines to dukkhā free living.  Some of these civil laws are written to protect people, such as building codes, fire safety codes, health codes, traffic laws, and so on.  Whenever we undertake a project or an action, building a temple or driving a car, we as Buddhists, need to know and follow the laws. 

Now there are many ways to circumvent any given law.  I see this being done all the time by Bhikkhus with regard to the 227 precepts of the Patimokka.  Still another topic for a different discussion.  The point is, we need to be knowledgeable and mindful of the laws, and codes and rules, and the reasons for the rules.  We need to be knowledgeable and mindful of the consequences, for ourselves and for society, if we don’t follow them.  We need to be aware of the potential dukkhā, and perhaps the generation of dukkhā, we create when we don’t.  Sure, we can put up a temple that doesn’t meet the building code, and we can justify our behavior by saying “Its just temporary.”  But that doesn’t make it safe to occupy.  We can drive on the wrong side of the road, and justify it by saying, “Its only for a short while.”   But that doesn’t reduce the danger to other drivers, passengers and pedestrians. 

I had someone propose a counter to my reasoning one time by invoking the doctrine of “anicca,” transitoriness, impermanence.  Everything is in the process of becoming or dying, or arising, abiding and passing away.  So everything is temporary.  By that standard, life is temporary.  So, one can justify murder by saying “that life was only temporary, anyway.”   But impermanence is a description of reality, not a standard of behavior.  We don’t measure the “rightness” of a thought, act or deed by how long it sticks around.  The standard for rightness is dukkhā. 

As I said at the begging:  We cannot justify illegality by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify immorality by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify social inappropriateness by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify ecological irresponsibility by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify political oppression by saying “It’s just temporary.”  We cannot justify injustice by saying “It’s just temporary.”  “Its just temporary” cannot be used as an excuse for engendering dukkhā.

So think about the way you do things, the way you think about things, talk about things, and the ways you act.  Are you thinking, speaking and acting in ways that are patently illegal, immoral, unjust and/or ecologically unsound?  Do you justify this by saying “It’s only temporary.” 

I offer these thoughts for your reflection and consideration. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thank you to everyone

May 6, 2014

Here’s some information about Ariya Magga Buddhist Missionary Society (AMBMS):

Vision:  We envision a more just, peaceful and enlightened world.

Mission:  AMBMS promotes, encourages and supports the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path as the means to realize our vision. 


Establish vihāras (residences) for persons who share our vision and commit to the mission full time.

Establish centers for the teaching and practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Publish and distribute media materials (texts, audio and video) related to the Noble Eightfold Path.

Establish and endow educational institutions.

Support like-minded institutions, organizations, groups and individuals.

From our perspective nearly all of the social and political problems in the world (dukkhā) can be traced to a lack of wisdom (avijja), a lack of discernment and critical thinking (bhāvanā) and the lack of character (taṇhā).  Evidence supports that the disciplined practice of the Noble Eightfold Path leads to the development of wisdom, moral character, and cognitive-intellectual acuity. 

From our perspective there can be no peace without justice, no justice without peace.  We in the West have known since the 17th century, the Age of Enlightenment, that a social structure based on enlightened reason is most conducive to peace and justice.  Evidence supports that the disciplined practice of the Noble Eightfold Path leads to insight (vipassana) and understanding, and to the development of high moral character (sīla) exhibiting the attributes of mettā (benevolence and loving-kindness), karunā (compassion), muditā (altruistic joy) and upekkhā (an internal state of joyful, peaceful equanimity). 

AMBMS is unquestionably “Buddhist” in our advocacy of the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path.  We are “Missionary” in taking the Noble Eightfold Path out of the monastery and into society at large.  As a Buddhist Missionary Society, we are a religion and a “church” in the large sense of that word.  However, while the Noble Eightfold Path is the essence and substance of the Buddhist religion, we do not require anyone to identify themselves as “Buddhist.”  While disciplined practice of the Noble Eightfold Path leads to a spiritual transformation, we don’t require that anyone “convert” from his or her religion or to Buddhism.  While the doctrine of the Noble Eightfold Path is fundamentally religious, it requires no faith or belief. 

So, what about you?  What do you think?

Bhante Dhammapala

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Four Noble Truths

Rev September 21, 2005

1.  The Four Noble Truths

A. Dukkhā – to live is to experience dis-satisfactoriness.   Life is not all rosy.  This dis-satisfactoriness is due in some measure – greater or lesser – to our nature as humans; to our psychological functioning.

B.  Samudaya – the fact that dukkhā is caused means we can find a way to end it.  Dukkhā is caused by the interaction of taṇhā – “the emotionally driven desire for gratification” and avijjā – a lack of wisdom.  The term “taṇhā” literally means “thirst” and is usually thought of as “desire” or “craving.”  Having a desire is not problematic.  When one’s body experiences “thirst,” it is reasonable to desire water.  And it is reasonable – not to mention prudent – to quench one’s thirst.  Cravings are a different matter.  A craving is a “want” with a strong emotional component.  The old English “crafian” from which craving is derived actually meant “demand, claim as a right.”  Cravings demand satisfactions. 

Avijjā is often translated as “ignorance,” but more accurately it is “non-wisdom.”  Ignorance is the simple lack of knowledge or information.  Wisdom, on the other hand, is the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment.  Wisdom is soundly applying one’s experience, knowledge and good judgment.  Too often Buddhists forget this part of the equation.  They focus on taṇhā as the problem, and forget that it is taṇhā compounded by avijjā that results in dukkhā. 

With sufficient wisdom we can see that it is not reasonable to demand that every craving be satisfied; that every wish be fulfilled. 

C. Nirodha – the extinction or blowing out of the flames of desire.  This is understood as the act of breaking the emotional bonds of attachment to our wants.  Nirodha is not the cessation of all desire, as too many Buddhists believe, but rather the cessation of the un-wise, emotional attachment to gratification of our desires.

D. Magga – the “path” or “way” to ending avijjā and taṇhā.  This is the program, the discipline, the practice regime to follow to reduce, minimize and extinguish a good deal of ignorance and craving, and therefore dukkhā. 

2.  The Noble Eightfold Path

A.  Ariya Magga Nikāya advocates the practice of ALL EIGHT of the factors in order to develop and practice wisdom, in order to develop and practice non-attachment, and to develop and practice a moral lifestyle.

B.  Ariya Magga Nikāya views the complex “isms” of the many Buddhisms as complicating factors in practicing the way of the Buddha.  The Buddhamagga -  the “Way” of the Buddha – is simple.  The many Buddhisms are complex, and therefore are often hindrances to practice of the Way.

C.  While Buddhamagga is simple, it is not easy.  It is a disciplined practice requiring effort (note Right Effort). 

3.  Doctrine

A.  Approach:  the approach to “Truth statements” in doctrine is that advocated by the author of the Kalama Sutta.  The doctrine of non-belief and that “Truth statements” must pass the “reasonableness” test.    “Reasonable” in this instance means that one examines the claim in light of valid and reliable knowledge.  Knowledge as free from bias as humanly possible.  That is knowledge that is objective, and free of emotional attachment, free of subjective bias. 

Think about it:  the “problem” (i.e., dukkhā) derives from unwise thinking and action (avijjā) and emotional desire (taṇhā) for the world to conform to “my” wants.

B.  Reincarnation:  Ariya Magga Nikāya recognizes that Buddhist texts and Buddhist teachers and Buddhist traditions have advocated belief in re-incarnation.  This doctrine is usually couched in terms of “re-birth” to circumvent the doctrine of “anattā” or “no-soul.”  If there is no soul incarnated in the body, then what is there to re-incarnate?  The doctrine of re-birth has been a huge obstacle for the Buddhisms, and thousands of pages have been written to explain how the “nothing” which remains when one dies is born again. 

Ariya Magga doctrine disposes of this notion as being a) culturally bound, and b) unreasonable in light of modern knowledge. 

C.  Kamma: this doctrine asserts that present behavior is shaped by, at least in part, past behavior, and they future behavior is shaped, at least in part, by present behavior.  Too often Buddhists get “absolutistic” and “fatalistic” about kamma, thinking that everything that happens to them is because of some past action on their part.  That present circumstances are the result of past actions. I have heard folks arguing fervently for “community karma,” averring that whole towns reap the results of the citizens’ collective karma.  Since the connection between past acts and present conditions is not always readily apparent, they assert that things happening in this life are determined by things we did in past lives.  Thus we have a linking of rebirth and kamma. 

Ariya Magga Nikāya doctrine asserts that our behavior does influence our course in life.  But our individual behavior is not the sole determinant of what happens to us, or of what we choose to do at any given moment.  We look to modern knowledge to explain the relationship between present, past and future behaviors; how interactions among our social and physical environments with our perceptions, expectations and circumstances influence events.  What I learn, what I do, where I am, all play a part in what is happening around me and to me.  We have a good deal of control over our lives, but it is not the case that everything is strictly determined by our acts.

D.  The Three Marks of Existence.

1. Anicca
2. Anattā
3. Dukkhā

1. Anicca

Anicca: the principle that all things arise and all things cease.   Perfectly reasonable in light of modern knowledge.  A notion that some things, or one thing, is permanent and unchanging is incongruent with what we know today.

2. Anattā: the principle that there is no “atman,” that is no permanent, unchanging, perturbation of Brahman (the permanent unchanging absolute cosmic “is-ness) at the core of individual human existence.  Considering there is no evidence for “atman,” anattā stands.  Atman is usually translated as “soul,” or “Self” or “Ego.”  None of these does justice to the meaning understand at the time of the Buddha. 

3. Dukkhā

Please see previous posts on dukkhā.