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Apr 24, 2010

The Qualities of the Buddha

As a child, Prince Siddhartha was extraordinarily thoughtful and was able to meditate even at the age of seven. The saving of the wounded swan was evidence of another quality, compassion. Now that He had attained Enlightenment, perfect wisdom and great compassion could be seen in all His words and actions. Many unhappy and unfortunate people came to the Buddha in order to find solutions to the problems of life and recover their confidence. The Buddha helped them to distinguish between what was useful and what was not, and encouraged them to think for themselves. He also showed them how to comfort their fellowmen who were distressed by suffering.

The Buddha's Practical Approach

Although the Buddha lived about two thousand and five hundred years ago, his approach to the problems of life was like that of the scientist of today. He was not interested in theories which had no real importance for living. He looked for practical answers. He saw a problem in the shape of the suffering of life and offered a solution to it based on His experiences. He used the following parable to illustrate the attitude of those who cannot distinguish between what is useful and what is not:

"Suppose someone was hit by a poisoned arrow and his friends and relatives found a doctor able to remove the arrow. If this man were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I know whether the person who had shot it was a priest, a prince or a merchant, his name and his family. I will not have it taken out until I know what kind of bow was used and whether the arrowhead was an ordinary one or an iron one.' That person would die before all these things are ever known to him."

In the same way, those who say they will not practise the Dharma until they know whether the world is eternal or not, infinite or not, will die before these questions are ever answered.

The Buddha did not answer these questions because they are not relevant to the problems of suffering, nor do they lead to happiness, peace and Enlightenment. Whether one believes that the world is eternal or not, or that it is infinite or not, one has to face the reality of birth, old age, sickness, death and suffering. The Buddha explained suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the path leading to the end of suffering here and now. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths because He knew that they lead to happiness, peace and Enlightenment.

The Buddhist attitude

In Buddhism, right attitude is closely connected with understanding and knowledge. It is founded on wisdom. With right attitude we see Buddhism not simply as a system of beliefs, but a teaching that offers an effective system for exploring reality and the deeper levels of mind, one that leads to the very foundation of consciousness itself. This naturally entails an element of penetrative insight and constant awareness. In addition to these more profound teachings, Buddhism also presents us with a system of rituals which are the natural result of over twenty-five centuries of cultural growth and development.

Because Buddhism is a religion of self-help, the first and foremost duty of a Buddhist is to understand the supreme position of the human being and one's responsibility toward both oneself and fellow sentient beings. The Buddha did not claim any divine affinity. His enlightenment was a result of his own efforts, unaided by teachers or divine providence. There was no need for him to base his teachings on divine revelation, as is usually done by religious teachers and prophets. The Dhamma that he expounded is the Truth itself -- to introduce divine elements into it would be a superfluous exercise. His realization of the Dhamma and the validity of the teaching itself are the strength of his teachings, and this has rendered so-called divine inspiration or intervention irrelevant in the Buddhist context.

According to Buddhism, humanity's position is supreme. Human beings are their own masters, endowed with great potential, from mundane material concerns up to the highest spiritual achievements. This position is clearly exemplified by the Buddha's own struggles and successes. He attributed his enlightenment and all his achievements to human effort, not to divine grace. It is encouraging to know that, according to the Buddha, only a human being can become a Buddha, a position to which even gods and deities cannot aspire. Every human being possesses the seed of Buddha-nature, the potential to become a Buddha, and that potential can only be actualized through human endeavor.

The Buddha's assertion, unique and unparalleled in the history of religions, presupposes the principle of individual responsibility. Because man is supreme, a master of his own destiny, it follows that he must also be responsible for his own action and inaction. "You must walk the path yourself," says the Buddha, "the Tathagata (Buddha) only points the way."

Sometimes this statement is misconstrued to imply the Buddha's inability, or unwillingness, to be of real assistance to his followers. It is pointed out that in contrast with other religious teachers, prophets, or even deities, whose alleged role is that of a 'savior,' the function of the Buddha is merely that of a teacher, giving instruction and little else. This criticism is based on ignorance of the real personality and powers of the Buddha on the one hand, and blind faith in the so-called savior on the other. Even in so simple a matter as quenching thirst or hunger, one has to consume drinks or food oneself: is it not curious that one would look to an outside savior to fulfill one's larger and more profound needs? The problem becomes more complex when the savior has to respond to millions of prayers all at once, many of which are locked in conflicting interests. The Buddha was too honest and straightforward to suggest that anyone other than oneself, even a God (if one does exist), could be of real assistance if one fails to take responsibility for one's own actions. "You are your own refuge, who else could be your refuge?" These are the Buddha's words, as true and valid today as when they were pronounced by the Master more than 2,500 years ago.

Right attitude is possible only in a framework of freedom of thought, another prominent feature of Buddhist philosophy, and freedom of thought is possible only in the context of trust and confidence. The extent that freedom of thought is encouraged by the Buddha is uniquely characteristic of both the religion and its founder: not only did he insist that his disciples examine and reexamine his teachings, but he was willing even to subject himself and his character to their close scrutiny. Only a teacher of the highest impeccability could allow such an investigation.

Freedom of thought should therefore be considered an integral ingredient of the Buddhist attitude. This quality is essential in the context of Buddhism, which is known for its scientific approach. Like a good scientist, a Buddhist should constantly examine the Dhamma and experiment with its principles through practical application, by rationalizing and investigating them with an open mind. It is through such a process that faith and conviction, based on wisdom, will grow and become strengthened. To blindly believe, without exercising one's own reasoning faculties and without attempting at a direct experience, is, according to Buddhism, counterproductive to the development of wisdom.

Since freedom of thought occupies an important place in the Buddhist system, this naturally leads to another essential characteristic of the religion. A religious attitude rooted in freedom of thought points to religious tolerance, or tolerance with regard to the views and opinions of others. This explains why Buddhists are usually very tolerant people and why their religion has spread peacefully through the ages.

The Dhamma is like a raft, says the Buddha. It is used for crossing the river of pain, suffering, and conflict. Once the crossing has been accomplished, it is not necessary to cling onto the raft or carry it around. With such broad minded attitudes and intellectual maturity, Buddhists can share room on the 'raft' of Dhamma with others, without stubbornly holding on to it and arguing with one another as to the quality and the beauty of different 'rafts.'

Buddhism views all phenomena in terms of causal relationship. This means that all phenomena, all occurrences, whether empirically perceivable or otherwise, are subject to the law of cause and effect. Everything is conditioned by causal factors, and all things are themselves conditioning factors for other occurrences. Nothing is absolutely independent, for, according to the Buddhist philosophy, absolute existence is not possible.

Based on this principle of causal relationship, it naturally follows that all phenomena are interrelated and interdependent. One single event, trifling and insignificant as it may seem, may in fact be related to thousands of other events, and this relationship may extend, in the final analysis, to all other conceivable phenomena, even though they may seem as remote as the wildest imagination can stretch. Thus, Buddhism perceives all lives, human as well as nonhuman, and all things and events, not as independent entities, but rather as part and parcel of the whole cosmic order, interconnected in an infinitely complex relationship by the common law of conditionality.

Buddhist attitude allows for the growth of mutual understanding, trust and a deep sense of altruistic consideration. Selfishness and greed are the usual negative ramifications of a narrow world view, based on the philosophy of narcissistic hedonism. Buddhist philosophy is an antidote to this. It poses universal compassion as the foundation and driving motivation for social responsibility and action.

Buddhists regard the Buddha as the greatest teacher, the Dhamma, his great teachings, and the Sangha, his well-trained followers. The Buddha has shown the way, having himself gone before, but it is up to us to walk that way ourselves. This is a responsibility that each and every person must undertake individually. A Buddhist should maintain a scientific attitude, questioning, investigating, and experimenting with the Dhamma to develop full understanding of the Buddha's teachings. Practice of the Dhamma should be properly grounded on wisdom and supported by a conviction that all that is noble and good can be achieved by one's own efforts. Even the highest level of spiritual attainment, Buddhahood, is not beyond reach of those who persevere in their efforts.
[source: buddhanet.net]


By Bhikkhu Yogavacara Rahula

The main question for a lot of people is how to practice meditation in daily life. How to practice the Dhamma in daily life. The practice of formal meditation in a retreat is primarily intensive training in a very structured environment. This is helpful and important, but the real practice of meditation, if meditation is to be of any real value, is in our daily lives.

In daily life, the full path and the other aspects of cultivating the mind have to be undertaken and practiced as well. It's really in our daily lives, in our day-to-day situations that we need skill and understanding to meet all the challenges that come up: all the conflicting situations, the chaos, the the daily ups and downs.

We have to have a game plan for meeting and facing the defilements that come up within our own minds as well as the negativities and defilements that come at us from others. We have to develop qualities of the mind in addition to meditation.

Many people want to meditate and find peace of mind. But some of those people don't want to really change the rest of their life style. They want to have their cake and eat it too-be able to meditate and get the "bennies," such as peace of mind, but still be able to do whatever comes into their mind according to their whims and their fancies.

But the process doesn't really work that way. For most of us, the mind we encounter as we sit in meditation- all the states that come up, the difficult emotions, other negative mental states, and even the condition of our body, pains and the like- is basically the sum total of what we have been accumulating all of our life. These accumulations are the consequences of our life-long habit patterns, life style, and even of our viewpoints.

There are practices, in addition to meditation, that we can cultivate to help us bring the Dhamma into our habit patterns, our life styles, and our viewpoints. Let's explore some of these other aspects of the Dhamma practice which we have to put into effect in our daily lives as the appropriate situations come up.

We know that the second Noble Truth is that the source of suffering is craving and clinging, unbridled desire. Because of this, one of the main practices in the Dhamma is called Dana. Dana means the practice of giving or sharing with others. It is an antidote to attachment, to holding on tightly, to really holding on to our things. We find this greed and attachment everywhere. We hold on tightly to our possessions, don't want to let go of them. The problem is, the more that we have, the more of a burden it becomes. But the practice of giving helps. It's an antidote to stinginess, and by sharing things that we have with others, or letting go of our own selfish self-centeredness, it also helps to open up our minds in loving kindness and compassion. It is an antidote to clinging and craving.

Giving has different forms. You might say there are three degrees of giving. One is called one-handed giving. With this degree of giving, you give things away because people ask you, or because u are pressured into it, or because people are looking. But you are also holding on with one hand. You may not really want to give, but, reluctantly, you do. Let's say that a beggar keeps on badgering you. To get rid of him, you give him something. If you've ever traveled in India, you've probably encountered situations where beggars follow you around like a shadow and won't let you go until you finally give them something. That is a form of giving, of sharing with others. But it has a limited value, because, of course, the whole spirit of giving is really letting go. This is letting go to some degree, but not fully.

The second degree of giving is friendly giving. That means you give because you like to give. It feels good. You don't have to pressured into it. Whenever you see somebody in a situation of need, if you have enough for yourself, if you have two of something, you give it out of friendliness. If you have two bananas and somebody is hungry, you usually give them one. That's a higher form giving because you're not being pressured into it-it's coming from your own friendliness, and you're not tightly holding on.

The third degree is called kingly giving. In kingly giving, you give anything at any time. You give the shirt off your back. You give the last food you have to someone who is hungrier. Because there's no thought-you give the best that you have. There's no holding on nor even thought of an "I" involved in the giving.

Giving material things may be the easiest form of giving, especially if you have more than enough. Most people, especially in the West, have more than enough. We have closets and garages full stuff; we have clothes that we don't use. Perhaps we clear things out once a year and give them to the Salvation Army or Good Will as a form of giving and generosity. Of course a lot of times, we're clearing our closets of things we don't need because we've got to make room for more things that we're going to accumulate. Giving material things, giving food, giving money to charity, that's all a form of material giving or sharing.

Another form of giving is the giving of your time. That goes a little bit deeper, because your own time is closer to your ego. It's fairly easy to give a beggar a dollar or some extra food if u have enough, but to share your time might be a little bit more difficult. Imagine that your neighbor comes over and says, "Oh, you know, I'm really in a jam, I really need your help this Saturday to help me paint my house."

"Saturday! Oh, my God. That's the football game, the soccer match. Can't we do it on Sunday?" Or, "I'll hire my nephew. I'll give him ten dollars and send him on down to help you."

We cling to our own precious time and to our desire to do only what we want. Letting go of our own desires and time to help a person in need is a deeper form of giving.

Sharing our knowledge or talents with others is another way of giving. All these forms of giving- from the material to the mental- are ways of letting go.

Meditation is also a form of giving, of giving up. You might actually say that when we meditate, that's the highest form of giving, because we're giving up whatever is coming through our senses, especially in mindfulness meditation. We're giving up the sound coming to our ear, whether it's a pleasant sound or it's a painful sound, we're just letting it arise and vanish without holding on. If we do cling to it, we try to let go. We try to let go of our thoughts, let go of the pains in our bodies. And of course, ultimately, each of us tries to let go of the self. We let go of the feeling of self in order to realize unconditioned Dhamma and true liberation of mind. For this, even the sense of self has to be let go.

Surely if we cannot let go of material things, of mental things, of emotions such as anger, of other negative states or even of positive states, then when it comes time for it, we won't be able to let go of the self in meditation, to make that quantum leap to the unconditioned experience. Therefore the practice of giving is a whole and complete practice in itself.

In your daily lives you can find many opportunities for practicing giving. You can be especially giving of your time when somebody is in need, for example somebody at work say: "Can you show me how to work this stupid computer?" Show him how to do this, or help her do that, or give in other ways.

There are three foundations of the Dhamma that help us as we practice giving. They are Right Understanding, the first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path; Right Mindfulness, the seventh aspect, Right Effort, the sixth aspect. All those three work together.

Right understanding understands selfishness and miserliness as being negative states. Right Mindfulness ensures that when selfishness comes back or intervenes, we see it; we notice when our minds are holding on tightly to things. Having become mindful of selfishness and attachment as unwholesome states of mind, we use Right Effort to abandon them when they arise. Practicing Right Effort, we make the effort to prevent and abandon unwholesome states, the effort to cultivate and perfect wholesome states.

The Art of Living

by Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda

This article is reproduced from Voice of Buddhism, June, 1990 Vol. 28 No 1. Here Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda gives some homely advice to those who look down their noses on the commonsense approach to living. This article is directed at the general public, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, on how to live in peace and harmony.

An important rule for a happy life is the ability to live harmoniously with other people. To be able to do that, we must recognise that there are many paths that people can take to reach the same goal. Therefore, we must not get unduly upset if other people practise customs or have opinions which are different from ours.

Manners and Customs

The standards of good manners differ among societies. In some countries, guests at dinner are expected to eat as noisily as possible. It is also not considered impolite if the guests belch at the end of the meal, since this indicates that they really enjoyed the meal. Such table manners would be considered rude, ill-mannered or uncivilised in other societies.

While in one country, putting one's finger in one's mouth or nose for any reason is considered most insulting, it means nothing in some other countries. Some people think it is degrading to be struck by a shoe, yet among other people, a slipper can be used for spanking a child.

We discover the peculiarities of the manners and customs prevailing in other societies most acutely when travelling. We should not prejudge too quickly what is right or improper. In themselves, manners are neither good nor bad. But when they cause harm or hurt the feelings of others, then we judge an action as being good or bad manners.

We are living in an ever changing world. We should not cling blindly to the traditions, customs, manners and rituals practised by our forefathers or ancestors who adopted these practices according to their beliefs and understanding capacity. Some customs or traditions handed down by our ancestors may be good, while others are less useful. We should consider with an open mind whether these practices are congenial and significant to the modern world.

In the Kalama sutta, the Buddha has given this advice about customs, traditions, beliefs and practices: "When you know for yourself that certain things are unwholesome (akusala) and wrong and bad for you and others, then give them up... And when you know for yourself that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good for you and others, then accept them and follow them."

Today, some elderly people cannot tolerate the modern ideas and ways of living of the younger generation. They expect their children to follow the same age-old traditions of their forefathers. Instead of adopting such an attitude, they should allow the children to move with the times when the activities are harmless. Elders should call to mind how their own parents objected to certain popular modes of behaviour prevalent at the time when they were young. These differences in perception between the conservative parents and the younger generation are common sources of conflict within families. It does not mean that parents should hesitate to counsel and guide their children if they have gone astray due to some erroneous values. But when correcting them, it is good to remember that prevention is better than punishment. Parents should also explain to their children why certain practices are wrong, because children are not mature enough to reason why certain things are bad and certain things are good.

Allowing others the Right to Differ
If a person lives all by himself, then he will not have any problem with differing opinions. But if he has chosen to live in society, he must learn to deal with views and opinions of others even though they do not conform with his.

We are also living in a world where, apparently, might is right. The strong take advantage of the weak and the rich exploit the poor. If we cannot agree, we have to learn at least to agree to disagree. We should express our views gently and politely without trying to impose views on others by force. Those who use physical force to overcome their opponents clearly show their inability to convince the opponents that they are right.

We find comfort in those who agree with us, but discomfort in those who disagree. Sometimes, others' opinions on our attitudes or actions may not be something we would like to hear. But if we listen to them carefully, we will realise that there may be some truth in their opinions. This can give us a chance to improve ourselves if we are prepared to change our ways. The world is like a garden with different kinds of flowers. Like a bee gathering honey in the garden, we should be selective in choosing what is good in an opinion and leave behind what is not.

Patience and Tolerance

Those who can remain cheerful during difficult times are admirable and a source of inspiration to others. They can avoid conflicts by seeing the lighter side of things. A wise man can avoid a quarrel by answering jokes and remarks directed at him with another joke. When you play a game, you should not show your temper when you lose. By doing so, you not only spoil the fun of the game, you may lose the game completely.

Every person is responsible for making a better world by planting the seeds of patience, love and honesty deeply in the human heart.

Eventually, a new era will blossom not only during his lifetime but also for generations to come. He would be a cultured man who left the world better than when he came into it.

Some may say that this is impractical and too idealistic to follow. Some are cynical and wonder if man who is struggling to eke out a living in a hostile world can cultivate love and kindness. While this is by no means easy to accomplish, perseverance and determination can make this concept become a reality.


You cannot hope to achieve peace by correcting each and every person in this world. In the same way, you cannot remove the world of stones and thorns to ensure the pathway is smooth. To feel comfortable walking on uneven ground, we should learn to guard our senses and to have peace of mind since we cannot succeed in removing disturbing objects from the world.

There are many ways to correct a person if he is wrong. By criticising, blaming and shouting at him publicly, you will not be able to correct him. You only make him more adamant in his views. Correct him without humiliating him. This is by far the most common way to avoid making more enemies. If you kindly point out his mistakes, he is more likely to listen to you, and some say he will thank you for your guidance and kindness.

Whenever you express your views regarding certain matters, avoid harsh words spoken with anger so as not to hurt the feeling of others. Always express your views gently and politely. On the other hand, you should not lose your temper or show your sulky face when your faults are pointed out. You may think that by raising your temper, showing an ugly face, and shouting at others, you can intimidate others into overlooking your shortcomings. This is a false and wrong attitude to adopt. Rudeness, yelling, anger and swearing are a weak man's imitation of strength.

Is Buddhism Philosophy or religion?

Strictly speaking, this matter depends largely on how one defines the terms "philosophy" and "religion." Webster's dictionary defines philosophy as "love of wisdom," as "a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means," and religion simply as "the service and worship of God or the supernatural."

One can see that neither of these definitions satisfactorily reflects the nature and character of Buddhism. For many people religion is nothing more than a system of beliefs and worship centered around God. These people would consider any system devoid of such a concept unworthy of inclusion into the category of religions, no matter how exalted a teaching it may contain. This is a rather limited view, no longer accepted by world religions. There are great religious systems that do not subscribe to such a way of thinking.

When the Buddha embarked upon his teaching mission, there was never an issue whether he would establish a religion or found a school of philosophy. Such anticipation was simply out of the question. He had realized the Dhamma, overcome Samsara, and achieved Supreme Enlightenment. Foremost in the functions of a Buddha is the exposition of the Dhamma, pointing out the way to lasting peace and happiness for the world. After his enlightenment, he began to share with mankind the supreme knowledge he had attained. There were those willing to listen and who could understand his message. These people benefited from the Buddha's teachings and some of them volunteered to further spread the Dhamma. Others volunteered to provide material support. Those who renounced worldly life became known as bhikkhus, collectively referred to as the Sangha, and took to the mendicant, homeless life. Householders continued to practice the teachings as laymen or laywomen and took on the responsibility of supporting the Sangha. This was how Buddhism evolved and developed. The core factor of all this is the Buddha's teachings, the Dhamma. How people referred to his teachings and the organization that subsequently took shape was never his concern, but he himself referred to the whole structure simply as Dhamma-Vinaya or the Doctrine and Discipline. Clearly, he wanted his teachings to be something that should be properly understood and practiced. He wanted the Dhamma-Vinaya to be a way of life.

A way of life -- that is exactly what Buddhism is. It is not simply a system of beliefs, or a speculation about values and reality, neither is it the service and worship of God or the supernatural. It is a system of noble principles for man to understand and practice; it is Truth.

Of course, Buddhism has all the necessary components to qualify as a religion, and there should be no argument on that point, but one should never lose sight of the fact that the Buddhist religion is fundamentally a way of life -- something that has to do with life itself and the very heart of existence, not simply "the service and worship of God or the supernatural." In fact, this can be said of other religions as well.

Not unlike other great religions, Buddhism also contains many different facets to its system. It is possible to view the same Truth from different perspectives, and our opinions about the Truth may vary according to how we look at it. In the same vein, the names that people attach to the system may also differ in accordance with their opinions about it. Thus one may approach Buddhism through its religious or philosophical aspect, or academically attempt to evaluate its ethical relevance in today's social context, according to one's preference. There are also the psychological, literary, cultural, historical, and other aspects of Buddhism that evolved as an outcome of many interacting conditions in the course of history. But valuable as they may seem, these are of secondary significance compared to its express role as a way of life. [Source: buddhanet.net]

Using Meditation to Deal with Pain, Illness and Death

by Ven.Thanissaro Bhikkhu

My topic today is the role that meditation can play in facing issues of pain, illness and death – not a pleasant topic, but an important one. Sadly, it's only when people are face-to-face with a fatal illness that they start thinking about these issues, and often by that point it's too late to get fully prepared. Although today's conference centers around what medicine can do for AIDS, we shouldn't be complacent. Even if AIDS or its adventitious infections don't get you, something else will, so it's best to be prepared, to practice the skills you'll need when medicine – Chinese, Western or whatever – can no longer help you, and you're on your own. As far as I've been able to determine, the only way to develop these skills is to train the mind. At the same time, if you are caring for someone with a fatal disease, meditation offers you one of the best ways to restore your own spiritual and emotional batteries so that you can keep going even when things are tough.

A lot has appeared in the media – books, newspapers, magazines, TV – about the role of meditation in treating illness and emotional burnout. As usually happens when the media get hold of a topic, they have tended to over- or under- estimate what meditation is and what it can do for you. This is typical of the media. Listening to them is like listening to a car salesman. He doesn't have to know how to drive the car or care for it. His only responsibility is to point out its selling points, what he thinks he can get you to believe and shell out your money for. But if you're actually going to drive the car, you have to study the owner's manual. So that's what I'd like to present today: a user's manual for meditation to help you when the chips are down.

I've had a fair amount of first-hand experience in this area. The year before I left Thailand I was stricken with malaria – a very different sort of disease from AIDS, but still the number one killer in the world. At present, every year, more people die of malaria than any other disease, this in spite of the massive WHO campaign to wipe it out back in the 60's. Huge supplies of chloroquine were handed out to Third World villagers. Swamps and homes were sprayed with lethal doses of DDT to kill off the mosquitoes. But now new strains of the malaria parasite have developed for which Western medicine has no cure, the mosquitoes have become resistant to DDT, and the malaria death rate is back on the rise. Remember this when you think of pinning your hopes on NIH or the Salk Institute to come up with a cure or vaccine for AIDS.

I was fortunate. As you can see, I survived, but only after turning to traditional medicine when the best treatment that tropical disease specialists could offer me failed. At the same time, while I was sick I was able to fall back on the meditation I had been practicing for the past several years to help get me through the worst bouts of pain and disorientation. This is what convinced me of its value in cases like this.

In addition to my own experience, I've been acquainted with a number of meditators both here and in Thailand who have had to live with cancer and other serious illnesses, and from them I have learned how the meditation helped them to handle both the illness and the cures – which are often more dreadful than the cancer itself. I'll be drawing on their experiences in the course of this talk.

But first I'd like us all to sit in meditation for a few minutes, so that you can have a firsthand taste of what I'm talking about, and so you can have a little practical experience to build on when you go back home.

The technique I'll be teaching is breath meditation. It's a good topic no matter what your religious background. As my teacher once said, the breath doesn't belong to Buddhism or Christianity or anyone at all. It's common property that anyone can meditate on. At the same time, of all the meditation topics there are, it's probably the most beneficial to the body, for when we're dealing with the breath, we're dealing not only with the air coming in and out of the lungs, but also with all the feelings of energy that course throughout the body with each breath. If you can learn to become sensitive to these feelings, and let them flow smoothly and unobstructed, you can help the body function more easily, and give the mind a handle for dealing with pain.

So let's all meditate for a few minutes. Sit comfortably erect, in a balanced position. You don't have to be ramrod straight like a soldier. Just try not to lean forward or back, to the left or the right. Close your eyes and say to yourself, 'May I be truly happy and free from suffering.' This may sound like a strange, even selfish, way to start meditating, but there are good reasons for it. One, if you can't wish for your own happiness, there is no way that you can honestly wish for the happiness of others. Some people need to remind themselves constantly that they deserve happiness – we all deserve it, but if we don't believe it, we will constantly find ways to punish ourselves, and we will end up punishing others in subtle or blatant ways as well.

Two, it's important to reflect on what true happiness is and where it can be found. A moment's reflection will show that you can't find it in the past or the future. The past is gone and your memory of it is undependable. The future is a blank uncertainty. So the only place we can really find happiness is in the present. But even here you have to know where to look. If you try to base your happiness on things that change – sights, sounds, sensations in general, people and things outside – you're setting yourself up for disappointment, like building your house on a cliff where there have been repeated landslides in the past. So true happiness has to be sought within. Meditation is thus like a treasure hunt: to find what has solid and unchanging worth in the mind, something that even death cannot touch.

To find this treasure we need tools. The first tool is to do what we're doing right now: to develop good will for ourselves. The second is to spread that good will to other living beings. Tell yourself: 'All living beings, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done to you in the past – may they all find true happiness too.' If you don't cultivate this thought, and instead carry grudges into your meditation, that's all you'll be able to see when you look inside.

Only when you have cleared the mind in this way, and set outside matters aside, are you ready to focus on the breath. Bring your attention to the sensation of breathing. Breathe in long and out long for a couple of times, focusing on any spot in the body where the breathing is easy to notice, and your mind feels comfortable focusing. This could be at the nose, at the chest, at the abdomen, or any spot at all. Stay with that spot, noticing how it feels as you breathe in and out. Don't force the breath, or bear down too heavily with your focus. Let the breath flow naturally, and simply keep track of how it feels. Savor it, as if it were an exquisite sensation you wanted to prolong. If your mind wanders off, simply bring it back. Don't get discouraged. If it wanders 100 times, bring it back 100 times. Show it that you mean business, and eventually it will listen to you.

If you want, you can experiment with different kinds of breathing. If long breathing feels comfortable, stick with it. If it doesn't, change it to whatever rhythm feels soothing to the body. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing – whatever feels most comfortable to you right now...

Once you have the breath comfortable at your chosen spot, move your attention to notice how the breathing feels in other parts of the body. Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels. If you don't feel any motion there, just be aware of the fact that there's no motion. If you do feel motion, notice the quality of the motion, to see if the breathing feels uneven there, or if there's any tension or tightness . If there's tension, think of relaxing it. If the breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out... Now move your attention over to the right of that spot – to the lower right-hand corner of the abdomen – and repeat the same process... Then over to the lower left-hand corner of the abdomen... Then up to the navel... right... left... to the solar plexus... right... left... the middle of the chest... right... left... to the base of the throat... right... left... to the middle of the head... [take several minutes for each spot]

If you were meditating at home, you could continue this process through your entire body -- over the head, down the back, out the arms & legs to the tips of your finger & toes – but since our time is limited, I'll ask you to return your focus now to any one of the spots we've already covered. Let your attention settle comfortably there, and then let your conscious awareness spread to fill the entire body, from the head down to the toes, so that you're like a spider sitting in the middle of a web: It's sitting in one spot, but it's sensitive to the entire web. Keep your awareness expanded like this – you have to work at this, for its tendency will be to shrink to a single spot – and think of the breath coming in and out of your entire body, through every pore. Let your awareness simply stay right there for a while – there's nowhere else you have to go, nothing else you have to think about... And then gently come out of meditation.

After my talk we'll have time to answer any questions you may have, but right now I'd like to return to a point I made earlier: the ways meditation and its role in dealing with illness and death tend to be under and over-estimated, for only when you have a proper estimation of your tools can you put them to use in a precise and beneficial way. I'll divide my remarks into two areas: what meditation is, and what it can do for you.

First, what meditation is: This is an area where popular conceptions tend to under-estimate it. Books that deal with meditation in treating illness tend to focus on only two aspects of meditation as if that were all it had to offer. Those two aspects are relaxation and visualization. It's true that these two processes form the beginning stages of meditation – you probably found our session just now very relaxing, and may have done some visualization when you thought of the breath coursing through the body – but there's more to meditation than just that. The great meditators in human history did more than simply master the relaxation response.

Meditation as a complete process involves three steps. The first is mindful relaxation, making the mind comfortable in the present – for only when it feels comfortable in the present can it settle down and stay there. The important word in this description, though, is mindful. You have to be fully aware of what you're doing, of whether or not the mind is staying with its object, and of whether or not it's drifting off to sleep. If you simply relax and drift off, that's not meditation, and there's nothing you can build on it. If, however, you can remain fully aware as the mind settles comfortably into the present, that develops into the next step.

As the mind settles more and more solidly into the present, it gains strength. You feel as if all the scattered fragments of your attention – worrying about this, remembering that, anticipating, whatever – come gathering together and the mind takes on a sense of wholeness and unification. This gives the mind a sense of power. As you let this sense of wholeness develop, you find that it becomes more and more solid in all your activities, regardless of whether you're formally meditating or not, and this is what leads to the third step.

As you become more and more single-minded in protecting this sense of wholeness, you become more and more sensitive, and gain more and more insight into the things that can knock it off balance. On the first level, you notice that if you do anything hurtful to yourself or others, that destroys it. Then you start noticing how the simple occurrence in the mind of such things as greed, lust, anger, delusion and fear can also knock it off balance. You begin to discern ways to reduce the power that these things have over the mind, until you can reach a level of awareness that is untouched by these things – or by anything at all – and you can be free from them.

As I will show in a few moments, it's these higher stages in meditation that can be the most beneficial. If you practice meditation simply as a form of relaxation, that's okay for dealing with the element of your disease that comes from stress, but there's a lot more going on in AIDS, physically and mentally, than simply stress, and if you limit yourself to relaxation or visualization, you're not getting the full benefits that meditation has to offer.

Now we come to the topic of what meditation can do for you as you face serious illness and death. This is an area where the media engage both in over-estimation and under-estimation. On the one hand, there are books that tell you that all illness comes from your mind, and you simply have to straighten out your mind and you'll get well. Once a young woman, about 24, suffering from lung cancer, came to visit my monastery, and she asked me what I thought of these books. I told her that there are some cases where illness comes from purely mental causes, in which case meditation can cure it, but there are also cases where it comes from physical causes, and no amount of meditation can make it go away. If you believe in karma, there are some diseases that come from present karma – your state of mind right now – and others that come from past karma. If it's a present-karma disease, meditation might be able to make it go away. If it's a past-karma disease, the most you can hope from meditation is that it can help you live with the illness and pain without suffering from it.

At the same time, if you tell ill people that they are suffering because their minds are in bad shape, and that it's entirely up to them to straighten out their minds if they want to get well, you're laying an awfully heavy burden on them, right at the time when they're feeling weak, miserable, helpless and abandoned to begin with. When I came to this point, the woman smiled and said that she agreed with me. As soon as she had been diagnosed with cancer, her friends had given her a whole slew of books on how to will illness away, and she said that if she had believed in book-burning she would have burned them all by now. I personally know a lot of people who believe that the state of their health is an indication of their state of mind, which is fine and good when they're feeling well. As soon as they get sick, though, they feel that it's a sign that they're failures in meditation, and this sets them into a tailspin.

You should be very clear on one point: The purpose of meditation is to find happiness and well-being within the mind, independent of the body or other things going on outside. Your aim is to find something solid within that you can depend on no matter what happens to the body. If it so happens that through your meditation you are able to effect a physical cure, that's all fine and good, and there have been many cases where meditation can have a remarkable effect on the body. My teacher had a student – a woman in her fifties – who was diagnosed with cancer more than 15 years ago. The doctors at the time gave her only a few months to live, and yet through her practice of meditation she is still alive today. She focused her practice on the theme that, 'although her body may be sick, her mind doesn't have to be.' A few years ago I visited her in the hospital the day after she had had a kidney removed. She was sitting up in bed, bright and aware, as if nothing happened at all. I asked her if there was any pain, and she said yes, 24 hours a day, but that she didn't let it make inroads on her mind. In fact, she was taking her illness much better than her husband, who didn't meditate, and who was so concerned about the possibility of losing her that he became ill, and she had to take care of him.

Cases like this are by no means guaranteed, though, and you shouldn't really content yourself just with physical survival – for as I said earlier, if this disease doesn't get you, something else will, and you're not really safe until you've found the treasure in the mind that is unaffected even by death. Remember that your most precious possession is your mind. If you can keep it in good shape no matter what else happens around you, then you have lost nothing, for your body goes only as far as death, but your mind goes beyond it.

So in examining what meditation can do for you, you should focus more on how it can help you to maintain your peace of mind in the face of pain, ageing, illness and death, for these are things you're going to have to face someday no matter what. Actually, they are a normal part of life, although we have come to regard them as abnormalities. We've been taught that our birthright is eternal youth, health and beauty. When these things betray us, we feel that something is horribly wrong, and that someone is at fault – either ourselves or others. Actually, though, there's no one at fault. Once we are born, there is no way that ageing, illness and death can't happen. Only when we accept them as inevitable can we begin to deal with them intelligently in such a way that we won't suffer from them. Look around you. The people who try hardest to deny their ageing – through exercise, diet, surgery, makeup, whatever – they are the ones who suffer most from ageing. The same holds true with illness and death.

So now I would like to focus on how to use meditation to face these things and transcend them. First, pain. When it happens, you first have to accept that it's there. This in itself is a major step, since most people, when they encounter pain, try to deny it its right to exist. They think they can avoid it by pushing it away, but that's like trying to avoid paying taxes by throwing away your tax return: You may get away with it for a little while, but then the authorities are bound to catch on, and you'll be worse off than you were before. So the way to transcend pain is first to understand it, to get acquainted with it, and this means enduring it. However, meditation can offer a way of detaching yourself from the pain while you are living with it, so even though it's there, you don't have to suffer from it.

First, if you master the technique of focusing on the breath and adjusting it so that it's comfortable, you find that you can choose where to focus your awareness in the body. If you want, you can focus it on the pain, but in the earlier stages its best to focus on the parts of the body that are comfortable. Let the pain have the other part. You're not going to drive it out, but at the same time you don't have to move in with it. Simply regard it as a fact of nature, an event that is happening, but not necessarily happening to you.

Another technique is to breathe through the pain. If you can become sensitive to the breath sensations that course through the body each time you breathe, you will notice that you tend to build a tense shell around the pain, where the energy in the body doesn't flow freely. This, although it's a kind of avoidance technique, actually increases the pain. So think of the breath flowing right through the pain as you breathe in and out, to dissolve away this shell of tension. In most cases, you will find that this can relieve the pain considerably. For instance, when I had malaria, I found this very useful in relieving the mass of tension that would gather in my head and shoulders. At times it would get so great that I could scarcely breath, so I just thought of the breath coming in through all the nerve centers in my body – the middle of the chest, the throat, the middle of the forehead and so forth – and the tension would dissolve away. However, there are some people though who find that breathing through the pain increases the pain, which is a sign that they are focusing improperly. The solution in that case is to focus on the opposite side of the body. In other words, if the pain is in the right side, focus on the left. If it's in front, focus on the back. If it's in your head – literally – focus on your hands and feet. (This technique works particularly well with migraine, by the way: If, for example, your migraine is on the right side, focus on the breath sensations on the left side of your body, from the neck on down.)

As your powers of concentration become stronger and more settled, you can begin analyzing the pain. The first step is to divide it into its physical and mental components. Distinguish between the actual physical pain, and the mental pain that comes along with it: The sense of being persecuted – justly or unjustly – the fear that the pain may grow stronger or signal the end, whatever. Then remind yourself that you don't have to side with those thoughts. If the mind is going to think them, you don't have to fall in with them. Then, when you stop feeding them, you'll find that after a while they'll begin to go away, just like a crazy person coming to talk with you. If you talk with the crazy person, after a while you'll go crazy too. If however, you let the crazy person chatter away, but don't join in the conversation, after a while the crazy person will leave you alone. It's the same with all the garbage thoughts in your mind.

As you strip away all the mental paraphernalia surrounding your pain – including the idea that the pain is yours or is happening to you – you find that you finally come down to the label that simply says, This is a pain and it's right there. When you can get past this, that's when your meditation undergoes a breakthrough. One way is to simply notice that this label will arise and then pass away. When it comes, it increases the pain. When it goes, the pain subsides. Then try to see that the body, the pain and your awareness are all three separate things – like three pieces of string that have been tied into a knot, but which you now untie. When you can do this, you find that there is no pain that you cannot endure.

Another area where meditation can help you is to live with the simple fact of your body being ill. For some people, accepting this fact is one of the hardest parts of illness. But once you have developed a solid center in your mind, you can base your happiness there, and begin to view illness with a lot more equanimity. We have to remember that illness is not cheating us out of anything. It's simply a part of life. As I said earlier, illness is normal; health is miracle. The idea of all the complex systems of the body functioning properly is so improbable that we shouldn't be surprised when they start breaking down.

Many people complain that the hardest part of living with a disease like AIDS or cancer is the feeling that they have lost control over their bodies, but once you gain more control over your mind, you begin to see that the control you thought you had over your body was illusory in the first place. The body has never entered into an agreement with you that it would do as you liked. You simply moved in, forced it to eat, walk, talk, etc., and then thought you were in charge. But even then it kept on doing as it liked – getting hungry, urinating, defecating, passing wind, falling down, getting injured, getting sick, growing old. When you reflect on the people who think they have the most control over their bodies, like bodybuilders, they're really the most enslaved, having to eat enough each day to keep ten Somalians alive, having to push and pull on metal bars for hours, expending all their energy on exercises that don't go anywhere at all. If they don't, their pumped-up bodies will deflate in no time flat.

So an important function of meditation – in giving you a solid center that provides you a vantage point from which to view life in its true colors – is that it keeps you from feeling threatened or surprised when the body begins to reassert its independence. Even if the brain starts to malfunction, the people who have developed mindfulness through meditation can be aware of the fact, and let go of that part of their bodies too. One of my teacher's students had to undergo heart surgery, and apparently the doctors cut off one of the main arteries going to his brain. When he came to, he could tell that his brain wasn't working right, and it wasn't long before he realized that it was affecting his perception of things. For instance, he would think that he had said something to his wife, would get upset when she didn't respond, when actually he had only thought of what he wanted to say without really saying anything at all. When he realized what was happening, he was able to muster enough mindfulness to keep calm and simply watch what was going on in his brain, reminding himself that it was a tool that wasn't working quite right, and not getting upset when things didn't jive. Gradually he was able to regain his normal use of his faculties, and as he told me, it was fascinating to be able to observe the functioning and malfunctioning of his brain, and to realize that the brain and the mind were two separate things.

And finally we come to the topic of death. As I said earlier, one of the important stages of meditation is when you discover within the mind a knowing core that does not die at the death of the body. If you can reach this point in your meditation, then death poses no problem at all. Even if you haven't reached that point, you can prepare yourself for death in such a way that you can die skillfully, and not in the messy way that most people die.

When death comes, all sorts of thoughts are going to come crowding into your mind – regret about things you haven't yet been able to do, regret about things you did do, memories of people you have loved and will have to leave. I was once almost electrocuted, and although people who saw it happening said that it was only a few seconds before the current was cut off, to me it felt like five minutes. Many things went through my mind in that period, beginning with the thought that I was going die of my own stupidity. Then I made up my mind that, if the time had come to go, I'd better do it right, so I didn't let my mind fasten on any of the feelings of regret, etc., that came flooding through the mind. I seemed to be doing OK, and then the current ceased.

If you haven't been practicing meditation, this sort of experience can be overwhelming, and the mind will latch on to whatever offers itself and then will get carried away in that direction. If, though, you have practiced meditation, becoming skillful at letting go of your thoughts, or knowing which thoughts to hang onto and which ones to let pass, you'll be able to handle the situation, refusing to fall in line with any mental states that aren't of the highest quality. If your concentration is firm, you can make this the ultimate test of the skill you have been developing. If there's pain, you can see which will disappear first: the pain or the core of your awareness. You can rest assured that no matter what, the pain will go first, for that core of awareness cannot die.

What all this boils down to is that, as long as you are able to survive, meditation will improve the quality of your life, so that you can view pain and illness with equanimity and learn from them. When the time comes to go, when the doctors have to throw up their hands in helplessness, the skill you have been developing in your meditation is the one thing that won't abandon you. It will enable you to handle your death with finesse. Even though we don't like to think about it, death is going to come no matter what, so we should learn how to stare it down. Remember that a death well handled is one of the surest signs of a life well lived.

So far I've been confining my remarks to the problems faced by people with AIDS and other life threatening illnesses, and haven't directly addressed the problems of people caring for them. Still, you should have been able to gather some useful points for handling such problems. Meditation offers you a place to rest and gather your energies. It also can help give you the detachment to view your role in the proper light. When an ill person relapses or dies, it's not a sign of failure on the part of the people caring for him. Your duty, as long as your patient is able to survive, is to do what you can to improve the quality of his/her life. When the time comes for the patient to go, your duty is to help improve the quality of his/her death.

An old man who had been meditating for many years once came to say farewell to my teacher soon after he had learned that he had an advanced case of cancer. His plan was to go home and die, but my teacher told him to stay and die in the monastery. If he went home, he would hear nothing but his nieces and nephews arguing over the inheritance, and it would put him in a bad frame of mind. So we arranged a place for him to stay, and had his daughter, who was also a meditator, look after him. It wasn't long before his body systems started breaking down, and on occasion it looked like the pain was beginning to overwhelm him, so I had his daughter whisper meditation instructions into his ear, and to chant his favorite Buddhist chants by his bedside. This had a calming effect on him, and when he did die – at 2 a.m. one night – he seemed calm and fully aware. As the daughter told me the next morning, she didn't feel any sadness or regret, for she had done her very best to make his death as smooth a transition as possible.

If you can have a situation where both the patient and the caregiver are meditators, it makes things a lot easier on both sides, and the death of the patient does not necessarily have to mean the death of the caregiver's ability to care for anyone else.

That covers the topics I wanted to deal with. I'm afraid that some of you will find my remarks somewhat downbeat, but my purpose has been to help you look clearly at the situation facing you, either as an ill person or as someone caring for one. If you avoid taking a good, hard look at things like pain and death, they can only make you suffer more, since you've refused to prepare yourself for them. Only when you see them clearly, get a strong sense of what's important and what's not, and hold firmly to your priorities: only then can you transcend them.

Many people find that the diagnosis of a fatal illness enables them to look at life clearly for the first time, to get some sense of what their true priorities are. This in itself can make a radical improvement in the quality of their lives –- its simply a shame that they had to wait to this point to see things clearly. But whatever your situation, I ask that you try to make the most of it in terms of improving the state of your mind, for when all else leaves you, that will stay. If you haven't invested your time in developing it, it won't have much to offer you in return. If you've trained it and cared for it well, it will repay you many times over. And, as I hope I have shown, meditation has much to offer as a tool in helping you to solidify your state of mind and enable it to transcend everything else that may come its way.

White Lies

The practice of the fourth precept aims at inculcating a respect for truth in the mind, implying both one's own obligations as well as the rights of other people to truth. This is one of the most important components in developing sound social relationships, and it makes all documents, contracts, agreements, deeds, and business dealings meaningful. When we resort to falsehood, we not only become dishonest but also show disrespect to the truth. People who tell lies discredit themselves and become untrustworthy.

It is true that sometimes telling lies may prove more profitable than truth, especially from the material point of view. Because such gains are unwholesome and may cause harm in the long run, and because material profits are likely to lead to more falsehood and fabrication, it is imperative that the practice of the fourth precept be duly emphasized. Where a person's
reputation and feelings are concerned, discretion should be exercised. Of course, there are instances where silence is more appropriate than speech, and one may choose this as an alternative to prevarication and falsehood.

Motivation is an important element in determining if one is transgressing the fourth precept and whether a given verbal expression constitutes a kammically unwholesome act. For instance, when an event is fictionalized for literary purposes, this may not be regarded as falsehood as such for the intention of the work is obvious and there is no attempt at falsification involved. Another example is the case of an invective, where an abusive expression is used (such as angrily calling someone a dog). This is a case of vituperation rather than fabrication or falsification, although it is, nonetheless, a kammically
unwholesome act. Also, there is a clear distinction between expressing untruth with a selfish intention and with a well-meaning motive, as when a concocted story is told for instructional purposes or a white lie is told in order to keep an innocent child out of danger.

These latter two instances are even accepted as illustrations of the employment of skillful means. A story is told of a mother who returns home to find her house on fire. Her little son is playing in the house, unaware that its burning roof could collapse at any moment. He is so engrossed that he pays no attention to his mother, who is now in great distress, being unable to get into the house herself. So she calls out to her child, "Come quickly, my little one, I have some wonderful toys for you. All the toys you ever wanted to have are here!" In this instance the mother is using a skillful means that eventually saves the boy's life. Under certain circumstances, this may be the only alternative, but indiscriminate use of such means may lead to undesirable results. One needs to be judicious, therefore, in the practice of the precepts.

Sometimes speaking the truth may cause more harm than good, especially if it is done with malicious intent. A vindictive neighbour who spreads the scandals about the family next door may be speaking the truth, but she is neither doing anyone a service, nor is she practicing the Dharma. A spy who sells his nation's sensitive classified information to an enemy may be
speaking the truth, but he could cause much harm to his nation's security and jeopardize many innocent lives. The Buddha says, therefore, that one should speak the truth which is useful and conducive to the Dharma, and should avoid that which is useless and is likely to cause unwholesome karma to oneself and others.
(source: web.singnet.com.sg)

Apr 23, 2010

The Story of Lady Patacara

During the Buddha's lifetime there was a rich man who had a charming daughter called Patacara. Her parents loved her so much that they kept her in the seventh storey of their mansion and did not let her go anywhere.

When she was sixteen, Patacara's parents made arrangements for her to marry the son of another wealthy man. But she had already fallen in love with her pageboy and wanted to be with him.

Just before the wedding, early in the morning, Patacara dressed up like a servant and slipped out of the mansion. She met her pageboy at an arranged place and they ran away together.

The couple traveled to a faraway place and were married. After some time Patacara was ready to give birth to their child. "Here I have no one to help me," she said to her beloved husband, "but a mother and father always have a soft spot in their heart for their child. Please take me to my parents' house so I may give birth to our child."

But her husband said, "My darling, what are you saying? If your mother and father were to see me they would torture me to death. It is out of the question for me to go." She begged him over and over again and each time he refused to go.

One day, when her husband was away, Patacara went to her neighbours and told them, "If my husband asks you where I have gone tell him that I have gone home to my parents." When he came home to find Patacara missing, her husband ran after her and soon caught up, begging her to return home. She began to refuse but right then her birth pains started and she soon gave birth to a son. She thought, "There is no point in going to my parents' home now," and returned home with her husband.

After some time she was ready to give birth to her second child and left for her parents' home again while her husband was at work. Again her husband came after her and begged her to return with him but she refused.

While this was happening a fearful storm arose. Patacara told her husband, "Dear, my birth pains have come upon me. I cannot stand it, please find me a place to shelter from this storm."

Her husband took his axe and went here and there in the heavy rain, looking for branches and leaves to make a shelter. Seeing a bush growing on an anthill he went to chop it down. As he did so a poisonous snake slithered out and bit his hand, killing him immediately.

As Patacara waited for her husband, her pains became more and more severe and soon she gave birth to another son. Weak, cold and wet she could do nothing more than place her children to her bosom, curl into the ground and wait out the night, worrying desperately after her husband and sheltering as best she could.

Early the next morning, with the newborn on her hip and holding the hand of the other child, Patacara went along the path her husband had taken and eventually found him lying dead. "All because of me my husband died on the road," she cried.

After a while she continued walking along the path until she came to the river Acirawati, which was flooded from the storm. Since she felt weak from the previous night she could not carry both children together. Patacara placed the older boy on the bank and carried the younger one across the river. She then put the baby on a bed of leaves and returned for the older child.

Hardly had she come to midstream when a hawk came down from the sky and swooped off with the young child. Patacara saw the hawk and screamed in a loud voice, "Su!, Su!" When he heard her voice across the water the older boy thought, "Mother is calling me." And, in a hurry to get to her, he slipped down the bank and was swept away by the river.

Now Patacara became very distressed and cried and cried, saying, "One of my sons has been carried away by a hawk, the other swept away by the river, and by the roadside my husband lies dead." She went off weeping until she met a man and asked him, "Sir, where do you live?"

"In Savatthi," he replied.

"In the city of Savatthi in such and such a street lives such and such a family. Do you know them, Sir?"

"Yes, my good Lady, but don't ask me about that family. Ask me about another family you know."

"Good Sir, I know only that family. Please tell me about them," said she.

"Since you insist, I cannot hide the truth," said the man. "In the heavy rains last night, the family's house collapsed, killing all of them."

"Oh no!" cried Patacara.

"Yes; can you see that fire over there?" he asked, pointing to some flames. "That is their funeral fire."

No sooner had Patacara heard this than she fell on the ground, rolling to and fro with grief. Some villagers came and took her to the Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha was teaching. The Buddha asked some ladies to wash her, clothe her and give her food, and then he consoled her in a most sweet and wonderful voice. When she recovered her senses, and having gained insight into her experiences, Patacara begged the Buddha to ordain her. Thus Patacara became a bhikkhuni (nun). (source: buddhanet.net)