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Hi! This is Jikai. Sorry for sending this email back so late (I haven’t got to it lately). I really needed somebody to answer my questions on Dhamma and everyday practice so I sent you an email the other day. Thank you very much for the reply. I am new to Theravada Buddhism so I am not sure on the practices meditations and the path to Arhatship or even to Stream-entry. I have read many suttas and heard many practices like vipassana meditation samatha meditation cultivation of metta and the four Brahmaviharas etc. There is also the Visuddhimagga the four stages of enlightenment and the Noble Eightfold Path. And I have also heard of the goal for lay followers to be reborn in a blissful realm by contemplating on Kamma and gaining merits rather than the goal of Nibbana. I’m a beginner and I want to know the path to liberation. There are many practices that I have heard of and I’m confused as to how these practices can be arranged into a path; (put in sequence from fundamental practices for beginners all the way to advanced states of meditation and finally to Nibbana). Due to my lack of understanding I’m not sure if there is such a path I described! So my questions are: 1. Is there a path that puts these varied practices in an order? If there is what is this path? 2. Even more what practices and meditations should a beginner like me start with right now? Can you tell me this path to liberation and especially give me an advice on what type of meditations and daily practices I should begin with as a beginner and lay follower? (Should I start meditation right away as beginner? If yes what kinds of meditation? Or should I just start by conceptual studying and gaining merits and good Kamma? Please give me an advice on what practices a beginner like me should start with). Thanks with Metta
"Hello Jikai Thanks for the questions. It seems to me that there are many things to clarify. First it is good that you read some information on Buddhist teaching and particularly discourses. Reading the discourses and interpretations are always worthy because it enriches our interest and the knowledge. According to categories of Wisdom (Panna) Listening reading and writing are included in the first category of panna. It is called ‘Sutamaya panna’ (theoretical understanding). The one who gains knowledge through theoretical understanding thinks and ponders over what he heard and learnt. It is the starting of developing second category of Panna called ‘Cintamaya Panna’ (knowledge through thinking). The next is Bhavanamaya Panna (knowledge through cultivation) which means the development of both Sutamaya and Cintamaya pannas. Therefore consider that reading makes and clear the path for one to at least to lay the foundation of final destination Nibbana. Another thing I would like to clear for you is that everyone; Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis male and female followers have the same potential of attaining Nibbana in this very life. But some people stress lay people have to support for ordained disciples and that’s all they can do. Also lay people are made to believe that they would attain Nibbana in a future birth where they ripen the merits. They are baseless point of views. Also according to Buddhist philosophy they are speculations which have no basis. Tripitaka recorded many instances of lay people’s attainment to different stages of enlightenment. Suttas like Satipattanana (sutta explains of the four foundation of mindfulness) clearly declare that anyone who practices the four foundations of mindfulness would attain sainthood in this very life time. In it the Buddha never said that only ordained disciples can do it. Therefore we must be careful in accepting what people say rather reflect the teaching of the Buddha in the name of the Four noble truths or the eightfold path. Then we can understand that lay followers also have the same potential to be enlightened. In addition we require understanding the concept of meditation clearly because of its depth. Some people define meditation as a technique to relax while some see it as way of living. Sometime it is practiced just to gain material things and even to become physically healthy. However meditation is not for such purpose; it is to gain total liberation from unhappiness unsatisfactoriness and suffering more over craving. On the way to that final goal good health relaxation and happiness in day to day can definitely be there but the final aim of meditation should be ending of craving. Then what is the meditation? It is the development of mind. What has to be practiced for the development of mind? It is the noble eightfold path. How one does practice the noble eightfold path? The perfect method is the practicing the four foundation of mindfulness. What does one need to do in teams of practicing four foundation of mindfulness? There are two aspects explained in the teaching. One is Samatha and the other is Vipassana. Samatha is simply the process of making our mind calm and peaceful. In other word it aims culmination of Samadhi or the mind concentrated. Vipassana has two words; Vi + passana means seeing things clearly or beyond the normal understanding. Within the noble eightfold path these two aspects of mental developments have included. Either way it can happen. Some people start the investigation and observation after calming down the mind so that they have better minds to see through. Some start development of mind just analyzing the realities of life from the very beginning. Both aspects work for one goal; that is developing Panna or wisdom. Process result Samatha Samadhi Vipassana panna Natthi jhanam apannassa panna natthi ajhayato yamhi jhananca panna ca sa ve nibbanasantike. (Dhp 372) The above stanza says that without concentration there is no wisdom without wisdom there is no Samadhi. It clearly explains that both Samadhi and panna develop together and help each other to develop the mind. Therefore these two aspects of meditation are not two different things but two things which work for one goal. Question – 1 The answer to the first question is descriptive but I will explain it in brief. Sile patitthaya naro sapanno Cittam pannanca bhavayam Atap+ nipako bhikkhu So imam vijataye jatam (Samyutta Nikaya Sagatha Vagga V. 167) This verse is really an important source to know how one does the development of mind. The meaning of the Pali verse is ‘The wise person who establishes on moral principles develop his mind and the wisdom. This wise individual is the one who can entangle the tangle’ To find the order of mental development as the Buddha explained one has to look at the noble eightfold path. The Noble path is based on three pillars; Panna (wisdom) Samma ditthi (right understanding) Samma sankappa (right thoughts) Sila (morality) Samma vaca (right speech) Samma Kammanta (right actions) Samma Ajeva (right livelihood) Samadhi (concentration) Samma Vayama (right effort) Samma sati (right mindfulness) Samma Samadhi (right concentration) First we need to complete Sila section. Without certain wisdom we cannot practice Sila. At least the person must know practicing Sila gives him a trouble free life at home and in the society. To decide this he or she surely needs a kind of wisdom. The interesting thing is that when one factor of the path starts to develop there is a great chance to develop others in to a considerable extent. Let’s see what we practice in terms of Sila. They are; a) Right speech (abandoning of false speech malicious speech idle chattering slandering and practicing true speaking gentle speech Non-idle speech and non-slandering) b) Right action (abandoning of killing and harming living beings taking what is not given and sensual misconduct – practicing metta generosity and celibacy) c) Right livelihood (abandoning wrong livelihood and practicing right. It means practicing right speech and right livelihood) The five precepts eight precepts eight lifetime precepts ten precepts (for lay disciples) and also novice monks and nuns precepts higher ordained precepts are included in the aggregate of Sila. In your case establish Sila by practicing five precepts it is the fundamental for lay person who wish to go on the noble path that give at least stream entry. Also practicing generosity (dana) is another spiritual quality to do frequently to maintain the skillful mind. While giving we develop compassion decreasing craving and it is another action that can allowed us to meet noble friends. When you donate food for the monks and nuns they in return discuss the Dhamma and guide you for meditation. Due to such mutual relation you learn Dhamma. This relationship is really important. Please associate one or few wholesome friends who give you spiritual support. (Monks who teach you meditation friends who encourage doing so can be considered as wholesome friends) At the same time I would like to mention the importance of knowing the Buddha his teaching and the disciples. We usually mention that we go to the refuge to the Buddha his Dhamma and his noble followers. It encourages us to hang on the path. Trust on triple gems and have a respect on triple gem in mind. Sense restraint is vital in seeking happiness. The eye ear nose tongue body and mind should be disciplined. We should know that sensory experience is temporary. For example happiness from seen a picture finish after some time. Also sweet music taste; they all cannot free our mind from attachment. But seeing the impermanent of those senses and their objects we have to be unaffected by craving produced through senses. As said try to avoid unsuitable conversations. Some friends always need to discuss political social and other issues incessantly. What we can get from such discussion? Even if such talks are needed for normal life there is nothing spiritually worth. Question - 2 With these conditions in life start meditation on a particular subject. Since you know about meditation start from where you like. For example breathing meditation. Make a habit in your life to meditate everyday at least 20 minutes either early morning or before sleep. It is good if you that after a wash or shower because the body is relax after bathing. It is good if you could develop friendly thoughts and live with that every day. It helps a lot to maintain the balance of life. People in terms of practicing meditation do only sitting meditation which is not the only method the Buddha meant with the name of ‘meditation’. He in Satipatthana Bhavana explains meditation in four postures; standing walking and lying down. What is important is to be mindful as much as possible and reflect the true nature of things as they are. If you are a beginner it is good to cultivate metta. At a point (you feel the time) start meditation on in and out breathing. Instruction about these meditation are widely spread so Google for more information. Do not hesitate to see results. Those who feel meditation as a calming and soothing method for peace most people build up a lot of expectations to gain more results. That kind of hopes cover the progress and more hindrances like restlessness frustration might appear frequently. To success in meditation we need to do a lot of sacrifice both physically and mentally. Give material donations and reduce activities that develop sensual desire ill will. When desire arises to indulge senses try to let go off from such feelings. When you physically avoid things it automatically becomes the mental training. Recall that our mind is depending on many conditions. In other word a number of thoughts or a cluster of ideas is called mind and it is created by collecting many thoughts moments. According to Kamma and Paticcasamuppada it comes into being due to many conditions. So mind at any time can change to something; from good to bad bad to good neutral to good good to neutral and many forms. Therefore the wise person knowing the nature of mind should feed it with wholesome energy as much as possible because mind can change when it gets powerful negative inputs. It has a lot to discuss about meditation. But it is impossible to write everything here. If I make a mathematical example one can comprehend about meditation on 20% by reading writing discussing and receiving advice. The other 80% should be developed by the meditator by pondering and meditating. I know there are many things to clarify but I stop it since 80% percent should be from your side. Then the path to enlightenment will be clear for you. With Metta "
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