Monday, October 07, 2019

14 Precepts of Engaged Buddhism (Thich Nhat Hanh)

The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

  1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
  2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.
  3. Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.
  4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images, and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.
  5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life Fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
  6. Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.
  7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
  8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
  9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
  10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
  11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realize your ideal of compassion.
  12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
  13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
  14. Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

Sunday, October 06, 2019


The whole project of enlightenment is one of renunciation (of worldly things). The things could include music. I was watching a dharma talk and someone said they had given up music because they didn't want to hear lyrics when they meditated, and stopping listening to music is one solution to that.

That got me thinking. What are the things I'm not prepared to give up because I'm not enlightened. Not music, not killing insects, not ready for chastity.

I think I could give up a lot of things I'm on the fence about. That list feels mostly too personal. I could probably give up coffee for tea at some point. I could give up tea from there. I'd probably like 6 months if I was going to do it.

I love renouncing my selfishness.

Friday, October 04, 2019


Here's my response to someone who was confused about the language of attachment:

So in modern psychology attachment is very important and studied quite a lot. Attachment is a kind of psychological necessity. You can either be securely or insecurely attached, then variations off that.

What Buddhists mean is a kind of holding lightly to things, and what it's like to make the container of consciousness bigger through meditation and insight--the things inside the container of your mind have less urgency when there is more space in the container. The hope is to be creative instead of reactive. I never really heard the language of attachment in the Triratna Buddhist Community, that wasn't seen as helpful, and led to confusions like yours.

Loving your family is good. Being attached to them is good. In a prostration practice, I imagine all my fathers over my right shoulder, I imagine all the mothers, grandmothers, etc over my left shoulder. My whole family is behind me when I'm doing this.

There are lots of meditative states that you have to grow into, and it doesn't make any sense to pretend you have that state when you don't. A guy stands and announces to the group, "I have no self." Someone kicks him in the shins and he yells. There you are. Start where you are.

Even though there are confusing ideas to a modern person, higher meditative states and insight are talked about. For example, it's probably better to want chastity through growth, than to just force yourself into it because you imagine it's spiritual. The oath has to already be committed before it's even made, in a sense. There will be areas where you push yourself, but again there are two parables. One is lute strings. Tuning them hard or slack results in a poor instrument. Tuning them just right is a skill. So too with your effort. If you try too hard in a bizarre way, things won't go well. If you don't try hard in some place, it won't work. The other parable is the raft. You cross a river, but leave the raft at the side of the river. You don't carry it around the rest of you life because it got you across that river. So maybe you came to Buddhism with a certain kind of expectation. Maybe after a while practicing in a community expectations change, but they are no less interesting.

Buddhism isn't about making you believe anything (though some will try). It's about being mindful and kind when you do things. Turns out ethics are important to yourself and others. Hanging out with the spiritual community is important, so having a good family will help with that. Treating your family well is important. Best wishes.

Someone came asking for help not hating themselves:

So when people come here with harsh self judgement. I like to point out that conclusions about the self are not definitive. You may feel bad about yourself, but that's not necessarily true and it won't always be your assessment of yourself.

Second, there is a kind of assumption aspect to ideas about the self. It turns out assuming you're good enough, but you still have to watch things, is the best assumption you can make. Just assume you have a right to exist, and it is worthwhile that you are alive. Life can often be a self fulfilling prophecy. Assume you are good enough and worthwhile. Mistakes in the past can be learned from, but otherwise they cannot be changed. Move forward in a positive way. Do the next good thing.

There is a lot of overlap with the spiritual journey of Buddhism and learning about your mind. Also, psychotherapy can help some who are open to it, and friendships can be important.

What you can learn from Buddhism is up to you. There are teachings that stem from enlightened experience, and the community that supports people in their spiritual quests. The idea of "inner peace" is nice. I guess what it captures is that some people use their spiritual life to support a kind of transcendent resilience and they do have a gladdening in the spiritual life.

I have a picture. It shows a face with a boot smashing it. The second picture has the boot smooshing the face in the guys arm and he's doing it to himself, and now he's smiling. The hope is to understand how you "stick the second arrow in." In life there will be arrow wounds. Put often in life we stick a second arrow in, in our reaction to that first arrow. You know, when you don't handle something that has happened well because you are somehow resisting something that has already happened. The hope of mindfulness is that you can recognize this situation (and others) where you are harming yourself and that insight can help you do it less.

Here is what I wrote for someone asking about suicide:

I'm no Pali scholar but I remember a story about the Buddha telling some monks to meditate on death and they committed suicide. He considered this a mistake. The point of contemplating death is to make the most of this short life and to avoid superficial things. I've meditated in front of those dead rubberized Chinese guys in the body exhibits as part of a Tricycle event, with talk and community. You're not supposed to do that kind of thing too often. My teacher writes about his efforts to meditate at a charnel grounds, and that it's a rare thing to do, something you have to build up to and have supports.

There is no thing like in Christianity where they deny their loved ones burial in the church cemetery because of the prohibition.

The compassion your received for your loss was probably the best example of what to do. Your reaching out for support shows your smarts.

It behooves all of us to think of the consequences of our actions on others, and to cause others suffering is not seen as skillful and will hurt you. Of course the person is gone in all the forms we know anything about, so their suffering is gone. There is no prohibition against suicide at the end of life if it's done in a loving and kind manner, so there is no conflict with the end of life issues some Christians have. Your case seems different.

Depression that leads to suicide is something to be avoided. In America we are terrible at catching others going off the rails. There is no blame for you, I'm not saying you should have done something. Our individualistic ways lead people to isolation and disconnection where anything can happen. I'm probably some pie eyed idealist, but I imagine a more connected society, more supportive, more community. I work my best towards that. I'm not aware of this modern sense of the meaning of suicide being captured in the cannon.

My default is to meditate and watch my mind, whatever comes up. And to turn my suffering into compassion for others that leads to support and other actions.

Someone asked about the Buddha leaving his family. Most people said he wasn't enlightened yet, so that accounts for it. But this is my answer:

When I had a similar feeling, others responded that in those times the whole community raised children, and the subtraction one parents was less noticeable. A story was told where someone moved from India to England, and the child was wondering why these two people were just there, bossing them around. Some communities are so enmeshed that kids might not even know who their parents are. Another Buddhist told me how he grew up with his grandmother in a house across the street from his parents. The modern nuclear family isn't what it was like in ancient India. Also I'm pretty sure the intensive labor of child raising of parents also wasn't. And when he was 16 the Buddha brought Rahula into the sangha and taught him what he knew. So that kind of mitigates the abandonment. But it used to bother me to. But it does also point out that children do get in the way of meditating. I don't mind so much 17 years into my conversion to Buddhism, but getting up before the children to meditate has been a lifelong challenge.

This is my advice to someone's struggling with jealousy:

I always distinguish jealousy from envy in that jealousy is about something you could do. Someone went to France and you wish you could go to. Perhaps you could save and go. Envy is about something you can't have. I'm never going to give birth because I'm biologically male. Thus I have womb envy.

Sort the two out, figure out what you want in life, accept the opportunity cost--you can't do some things if you do some things. Paralysis isn't useful, that has its own opportunity cost.

Life is complicated, and we simplify it by following our emotions, we tune into what our gut tells us. Read your emotions and plan accordingly.

One place that isn't materialistic, though it could be materialist, is a spiritual community. Maybe you should look towards your spiritual life and see if there is anything you could pursue there.

It turns out relationships and altruism are the way to go, so doing things for others is a powerful antidote to want want wanting all the time.

Accept it that we live in a materialist society, get get get, status, appearances... If you don't watch TV and don't do social media, you won't have your wanting stove stoked, and it can die down a little.

Women are told they can give up on life and set up a life with someone else. That puts the power into another person's hands. Charting your own course will ultimately make you more happy. Develop a career and become financially independent. That will make you happier.

People can seem happy, but you know, the wheel of fortune turns and things get worse. Sudden illness happens all the time and accidents. Live life to the fullest now and plan for your future. Best of both worlds.

Someone posted the following texts:

AN:3.113(1) Bound for the Plane of Misery.

“Bhikkhus, there are three who, if they do not abandon this fault of theirs, are bound for the plane of misery, bound for hell. Which three? (1) One who, though not celibate, claims to be celibate; (2) one who slanders a pure celibate leading a pure celibate life with a groundless charge of non-celibacy; and (3) one who holds such a doctrine and view as this: ‘There is no fault in sensual pleasures , and then falls into indulgence in sensual pleasures.

These are the three who, if they do not abandon this fault of theirs, are bound for the plane of misery, bound for hell."

I wrote: A lot of mental states of enlightenment can't be forced, and shouldn't be aped when we are not really that spiritually mature. I'm not into the monastic/lay split, but I do think this is one thing the monastics have on the lay. There are supports to live a certain lifestyle that makes some things more easy, and you can progress that way.

I think art can be spiritual and the prohibition against some things can be a bit much. The point is to evolve past the lower self. It's not clear how to just evolve into the higher self. Oh wait, yea, you can evolve through the suggestions. For me the "don't do that, do this," doesn't work, I don't like being told what to do, though in a way that is what Buddhism is all about. You can even codify behavior into a tea ritual, and that works for some people. You can multiply that throughout your life to everything you do. I like to see the potential of the ideal and hope for more, but I need the tire to hit the road.

On the one hand you don't want to be too lenient, "like whatever man". On the other hand you don't want to become like a rapey repressed Christian hypocrite. Tune those lute strings just right.

There was a guy who started hating his child's teacher for killing ants. Here is my response:

I'm not the kind of guy who's going to walk out into the mosquitos and imagine I'm a bodhisattva for feeding them with my blood. I know there are people who think that way. I'm just going to kill bugs that annoy me. I'm not going to stop driving to avoid killing bugs on my windshield. I'm not going to stop using fly swatters.

A reverence for all life is needed, I'll give you that, but we're so far from that. I'm not going to turn up my reverence because it's so skewed in our world.

I don't eat animals, I don't drink cows milk, don't eat hens eggs, steal bee honey. I don't get an award for that, I'm not saying I can kill otherwise. But I'm not going to put pressure on myself to not kill bugs yet. I'm just not there. I'd say 99.99% people aren't either. So you're not going to respect anyone from that stance. Maybe just be happy you don't feel bad doing it and let others go their own way. I think not killing bugs is going to be one of the last few things to go on the road to enlightenment and I'm not there.

Here is what I said to someone who was away at school and homesick:

Doing the hard things as an adult. You will reap the rewards of your sacrifices. Life is filled with hard choices. You chose to develop a career. There are always opportunity costs to every decision. None of that hard boiled wisdom helps you cope with the loss of proximity of your family and boyfriend, your support network. You are seeking support which is smart. Good job. You will develop more support as you go along, and you can be the change you seek--you can support others through your challenges, because the pain has possibly opened up a route to empathy. Best wishes.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


So I've always wanted to read a Brad Warner book, but I didn't get into his exploration of his Zen belief and his theism. I wish him well on his journey. Maybe I'll like this one of his seven books. Already I like the cover. I love The Meaning Of Life by Monty Python, and this cover copies the look. I also like epistolary exposition. Warner lost a friend and writing letters to his friend was a kind of way of coping with his grief.

Combining the style of Zen and Punk has been done before. The urge to be unique and not follow the herd is part of Punk's appeal. Zen also likes to undercut conventional thinking to show you the nature of the mind. Is there too much spice in this combined style? You can decide for yourself.

In chapter 2 there is a section about misunderstandings about "being attached". He proud of how connected he was to his friend, he doesn't want to be more aloof. That's a common question when someone uses the term "attachment" in Buddhism.

Like all of the higher meditative states, there's no use in aping them if you're not there yet. The hope of enlightenment is that you'll evolve into these things you're heard about. The tradition gives you a vocabulary if you get into the rarefied air of higher meditative experiences.

I can't help but think of the Buddha saying that his two main disciples had passed away. I can't help but read that he's also sad. He's not going to go out and drink, or lose himself in some fleshpot, again he's just going to feel the feelings and keep on doing the next right thing. The evolution of renunciation is organic and does not get one more attached to your things, roles, and whatever. It goes along with the reality. But we're still human and we still feel human feelings. The container of mindfulness is bigger so you can just still be mindful and flow with reality.

Since psychological attachment to others is a healthy thing in psychology, there can be crosswinds with the language, and most people skip it because it's not helpful. But there are useful ideas behind it. With some spiritual maturity, you can put things in the right place. I think we have a better understanding of how various individuals have various existential commitments to survive, and that in a way that is inevitable.

I'm not into god, that's part of the appeal of Buddhism to me. Brad says you don't have to believe anything, then goes on to assert that god exists. There are archetypes that I can aspire to be like, there's a whole host of historical and imaginary beings to help inspire one along if you're that way inclined. I don't mind it if they're archetypes, and they could even be literally true for a person and I wouldn't judge them, but god talk isn't for me. I can't get past the problem of evil, and the fact that science explains creation. The big powerful god that doesn't interfere is useless also. A personal god doesn't make sense to me either. Just can't work it out for me, but I really respect a lot of people who can work it out and I wish them well.

I'm all in favor of whatever kludge works for you in the spiritual life. It's all syncretism, blending together what is available. I prefer the talk of higher power or source. That leaves it open. To say god exists, well, that is one element that pushes me away from Brad's writing. But I hope you read the book if you want to, and I wish him well. He seems like a pretty cool guy from his writing.

When you like autobiography, you lap up all the hints and disclosure in a text. Brad lived an interesting life that included living in Africa during his childhood. His description of his friend is touching. I'm a sucker for discussing friendships. His not pushing his speculation onto his friend about death seemed like a kindness.

Brad doesn't like the Tibetan Book of Dead because of the speculation. He's a Dogen fan as a Soto Zen priest. 

Odds and ends

There is a really good review of Stephen Batchelor's latest works by Dhivan.

I did a maximalist puja yesterday. The base was the 7 fold puja of the TBC. To that I added some things I've printed out about various issues, added the Bodhisattva Vow, and I add in the formulation of conditionality in Pali. I also added in a mantra to Milarepa.

Lion's Roar has a fascinating article on sujatha baliga who just won MacArthur Genius Grant. Here is a quote from the article: “I was sexually abused by my father, and what I knew then was that the very systems that were, in theory, designed to protect me, were what ensured my silence. If someone had asked me ‘What did you need?’ I wouldn’t have said ‘lock up my father’ or ‘take me away.’ I would have said ‘Help my family heal,'” she said.

Found this video of the 7 wonders of the Buddhist world. I think I've watched this before. But it's worth rewatching to me. Yup, I watched it 6 years ago. I love the little tents to prevent insect interference. I love it that she goes to LA.

Joke: What do you call a wolf who has figured things out?                                            Aware wolf.

Personal revelation articulation that has been resonating with me: Reading my actions is more important than reading Buddhist books. Every action speaks about embodying ideals. Eject sorrow over past mistakes, live moving forward.

I got pretty twisted up and confused about the phrase talismanic mysticism. Talisman is an object. Not sure if I see the Buddha as an object. But an ideal that hopes to show a important way of seeing things? Yea, I guess. I feel that the concept is slightly demeaning. Maybe it's not, maybe it's accurate and I'm the one putting demeaning onto it. Maybe all the Buddha is, is a magical incantation into the unknown.

Appropriations I don't like regarding Buddhism: The symbol that the Nazis took from India. Hindus who say Buddhism is just a subset of hinduism.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Learn something new every day

Came across this interesting photo combing the Buddha with some pagan elements. Someone said they came across it on a hike on the eastern coast. It's a popular Buddha rupa sold at a popular retail store. My partner has one. I like that gnome in the background.

Came across an interesting paper, combing shamanism and Buddhism, and the use of mediums. A whole world of Buddhism I've never imagined.

Syncretism is the idea of combining useful ideas and ways of being, and not looking for heresy and blasphemy. In the end it's about what you do, how you treat others, and what moves you along the path.

It's Rosh Hashanah and the kids have off from school in NYC. It's a new year! We get to celebrate new year from so many cultures in this lovely multicultural city. Happy new year to all my Jewish friends. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.

“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”

In remarks meant for Congress as a whole, she said: “I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.” Guardian

Friday, September 13, 2019

Teaching the Dhamma

"It's not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when five qualities are established within the person teaching. Which five?
"[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak step-by-step.'
"[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause & effect].'
"[3] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak out of compassion.'
"[4] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.'
"[5] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak without hurting myself or others.'[1]
"It's not easy to teach the Dhamma to others, Ananda. The Dhamma should be taught to others only when these five qualities are established within the person teaching."