A Magnificent Buddhist Resource

Bhikkhu Thanissaro is doing an amazing public service that deserves more recognition and gratitude. On his site, dhammatalks.org, he has made a significant portion of the Sutta Pitaka, the ancient Buddhist scriptures, available—free of charge—in a series of compilations. Included with these compilations are an assortment of helpful essays, treatises, and study guides.

His renderings of the verses from the Samyutta Nikaya and Sutta Nipata are particularly refreshing, and provide clarity to the commercially available translations that are sometimes more cryptic due to their more literal translation.

I recommend starting with The Buddha’s Teachings: An Introduction, which provides a brief introduction to Buddhist practice, and then reading The Wings to Awakening to get a feel for the teachings in more detail. If you’re just interested in mindfulness and meditation, try the treatise With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation.

dhammatalks.org also has a podcast that you can subscribe to via rss feed or YouTube.

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Why it makes sense to highlight the plights of people of color and women

George Stinney

Two of the reasons why crimes against “people of color” (not a fan of that phrase, but I’m going to use it anyway) tend to get, and deserve, more attention is to atone for the heinous shit that has happened in the past, and, more importantly, to combat the systemic racism that continues to permeate society today. Crimes against women also get, and deserve, more attention to highlight the problem of systemic sexism.

Despite the addition of a few laws, oppressive constructs are still in place for many people. Misogyny and violence against women are still major and immediate problems, and black males—as young as 12-years old—are still overwhelmingly treated like criminals by a police force that’s supposed to be held to a higher standard than civilians.

Of course crimes against white males should be addressed, but we shouldn’t hold it against anyone if they choose to focus a little more on the crimes against people of color and women.

The News Media Might Be a Problem

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The news media has more power and influence than we realize. I’d go as far as to say that their “narratives”, which are often one-sided, steeped in personal opinions, and centered almost entirely on the negative, have become catalysts for inciting hostility and widening divisions in our country.

When a crime is committed, they quickly establish heroes and villains before all of the information is available and verified. Those who have had genuine histories with similar villains get mad, and those who don’t believe the villain is as awful as presented get mad. Everyone gets mad. And with all of us emotionally attached through our mutual anger, we tune in to follow the story.

I believe that CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and several of the other mainstream media outlets are full of shit. They don’t care about objective journalism anymore, and they’re playing us in a competition to see who can exploit our emotions the best for ratings.

Anattā

Not-self (Sanskrit: anātman, Pali: anattā) is best understood within the context of the Buddha’s teaching on the 5 aggregates (Sanskrit: skandhas, Pali: khandhas). Rather than focus on the “self”, the Buddha suggests we see ourselves as a composite of elemental aggregates shared among other sentient beings and the universe. The teaching of anattā is likely designed to quell our narcissism, and open our minds to a wider—more interconnected—view of existence.

Karma, Rebirth, Heaven and Hell

For many Buddhist seekers in the West, doubt, particularly about kamma (karma), rebirth, and the various planes of existence (heavenly and hell realms. etc) mentioned in the texts, is one of the biggest hindrances standing between them and the benefits of practice.

As someone who was once a hard-lined atheist, I was skeptical about these notions as well, but I’ve since come to learn that the seemingly irrational parts of Buddhism don’t really matter much, and can be easily interpreted in a simple yet accurate way.

Kamma is a way to describe the causes and effects that naturally arise from our volitional activities. Each action results in an immediate (macro) or subtle (micro) reaction that effects our experience within our environments.

Rebirth is the recycling of our elemental aggregates (khandhas) into a new life form. There’s nothing supernatural about this process, and no souls or anything magical are being passed. This is very much aligns with the law of conservation of energy.

And the heavenly and hell realms described in the texts aren’t like those proclaimed by the Abrahmic scriptures. “Heaven” and “hell” in Buddhism are temporary states—the conditions of which are the byproduct of its inhabitants, similar to pleasant or hostile conditions that are created by the inhabitants of a country.

Is Buddhism Violent?

TL;DR: No, it’s not.

Violence committed by a handful of “monks” in Burma cannot be used as an example of “Buddhist violence.” Most Buddhists see these acts in the same way most Christians see members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their behavior alone invalidates them from being Buddhist, just as worshiping the devil would invalidate someone from being a Christian or a Muslim.

Imagine if a group of “atheists” went out and announced, “We accept Jesus as our Lord and savior!” while still claiming to be atheist. Would it then make sense to conclude that atheism is a Christian philosophy? Of course not. Anyone can claim to be anything, but if their actions are not in tune with the philosophy they supposedly adhere to, those people cannot be used as a representation of that philosophy.

The canonical Buddhist texts take a very clear and strong stance against any form of violence or hatred. Additionally, you won’t find any discourses in the texts that condone violence or hatred. If a person intentionally and repeatedly inflicts harm on other sentient beings, that person cannot rightfully call themselves a Buddhist.

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal. There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.”
Dhp I 5-6

Dharma Basics

The Buddha summarized his teachings very succinctly in the 22nd sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya: “One thing and one thing only do I teach, suffering and how to end suffering.” [1]

This is expanded upon by the Four Noble Truths, which—in essence—state: 1) dissatisfaction exists, 2) it exists because we cling, 3) therefore we should stop clinging, 4) following the Eightfold Path can mitigate our clinging and dissatisfaction. [2].

And the Eightfold Path [3], in short, is:

  • Right View: accept reality
  • Right Intention: strive toward frugality and goodwill
  • Right Speech: avoid deceptive, harmful, and idle speech
  • Right Action: avoid killing, stealing, etc
  • Right Livelihood: pursue careers that don’t harm others
  • Right Effort: act with diligence
  • Right Mindfulness: value the moment
  • Right Concentration: meditate

And that’s pretty much it.

[1] The Snake Simile (MN 22)
[2] Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (SN 56.11)
[3] Eightfold Path for the Householder