Releasing your mind
Let go the past. Let go the future. Let go the present.
Crossing to the farther shove of existence, with mind released
from anything and everything, do not again undergo birth and
(Tanha Vagga - The Dhammapada)
Living with pain, not with suffering
As long as we have bodies, we will have physical
pain. Buddhism promises no escape from that. What we can change is how
we experience pain.
Bhikkhu Bodhi offers a technique to lessen mental
suffering of pain, look at its true nature and learn its valuable
SUFFERING: When I write about living with pain, I donât have
to use my imagination. Since 1976 I have been afflicted with chronic
head pain that has grown worse over the decades.
This condition has thrown a granite boulder across the tracks of my
meditation practice. Pain often wipes a day and night off my calendar,
and sometimes more at a stretch.
The condition has cost me a total of several years of productive
activity. Because intense head pain makes reading difficult, it has at
times even threatened my vocation as a scholar and translator of
In search of a cure, I have consulted not only practitioners of
Western medicine but also herbal physicians in remote Sri Lankan
villages. Iâve been pierced countless times by acupuncture needles.
Iâve subjected my body to the hands of a Chinese massage therapist in
Singapore, consumed Tibetan medicine pills in Dharamasala and sought
help from exorcists and chakra healers in Bali. With only moderate
success, I currently depend on several medications to keep the pain
under control. They cannot extricate it by the root.
I know firsthand that chronic bodily pain can eat deeply into the
entrails of the spirit. It can cast dark shadows over the chambers of
the heart and pull one down into moods of dejection and despair. I
cannot claim to have triumphed over pain, but in the course of our long
relationship, Iâve discovered some guidelines that have helped me to
endure the experience.
First of all, it is useful to recognize the distinction between
physical pain and the mental reaction to it. Although body and mind are
closely intertwined, the mind does not have to share the same fate as
the body. When the body feels pain, the mind can stand back from it.
Instead of allowing itself to be dragged down, the mind can simply
observe the pain. Indeed, the mind can even turn the pain around and
transform it into a means of inner growth.
The Buddha compares being afflicted with bodily pain to being struck
by an arrow. Adding mental pain (aversion, displeasure, depression, or
self-pity) to physical pain is like being hit by a second arrow. The
wise person stops with the first arrow.
Simply by calling the pain by its true name, one can keep it from
extending beyond the physical and thereby stop it from inflicting deep
and penetrating wounds upon the spirit.
Pain can be regarded as a teacher - a stern one that can also be
eloquent. My head pain has often felt like a built-in buddha who
constantly reminds me of the first noble truth.
With such a teacher, I hardly need to consult the sermon in Deer Park
at Benares. In order to hear the reverberations of the Buddhaâs voice
declaring that whatever is felt is included in suffering, all I have to
do is attend to the sensations in my head.
As a follower of the dharma, I place complete trust in the law of
karma. Therefore, I accept this painful condition as a present-life
reflection of some unwholesome karma I created in the past.
Not that I would advise someone who develops a painful illness to
immediately resign themselves to it. Although it may be the inevitable
fruit of some past karma, it might also be the result of a present cause
that can be effectively eliminated by proper medical treatment.
However, when various types of treatment fail to help with an
obstinate and defiant condition, one can be pretty sure there is a
karmic factor. Personally, I donât lose sleep trying to figure out what
this past karma might have been, and I would advise others against
succumbing to such obsessive concerns.
They can easily lead to self-deluding fantasies and superstitious
practices. In any case, by trusting the law of karma, one can understand
that the key to future good health lies in oneâs hands. It is a reminder
to refrain from harmful deeds motivated by ill-will and to engage in
deeds aimed at promoting the welfare and happiness of others.
Chronic pain can be an incentive for developing qualities that give
greater depth and strength to oneâs character. In this way, it can be
seen as a blessing rather than as a burden, though of course we
shouldnât abandon the effort to discover a remedy for it.
My own effort to deal with chronic pain has helped me to develop
patience, courage, determination, equanimity, and compassion. At times,
when the pain has almost incapacitated me, Iâve been tempted to cast off
all responsibilities and just submit passively to this fate.
But Iâve found that when I put aside the worries connected with the
pain and simply bear it patiently, it eventually subsides to a more
tolerable level. From there I can make more realistic decisions and
The experience of chronic pain has enabled me to understand how
inseparable pain is from the human condition.
This is something that we in America, habituated as we are to comfort
and convince, tend to forget. Chronic pain has helped me to empathize
with the billions living daily with the gnawing pain of hunger; with the
millions of women walking miles each day to fetch water for their
families; with those in Third World countries who lie on beds in poorly
equipped, understaffed hospitals, staring blankly at the wall.
Even during the most unremitting pain - when reading, writing, and
speaking are difficult - I try not to let it ruffle my spirits and to
maintain my vows, especially my vow to follow the monastic path until
this life is over.
When pain breaks over my head and down my shoulders, I use
contemplation to examine the feelings. This helps me see them as mere
impersonal events, as processes that occur at gross and subtle levels
through the force of conditions, as sensations with their own distinct
tones, textures, and flavours.
The most powerful tool Iâve found for mitigating painâs impact is a
short meditative formula repeated many times in the Buddhaâs discourses:
âWhatever feelings there may be-past, present, or future- all feeling is
not mine, not I, not myself.â
Benefiting from this technique does not require deep samadhi or a
breakthrough to profound insight. Even using this formula during periods
of reflective contemplation helps to create a distance between oneself
and oneâs experience of pain.
Such contemplation deprives the pain of its power to create nodes of
personal identification within the mind, and thus builds equanimity and
Although the technique takes time and effort, when the three terms of
contemplation - ânot mine, not I, not myselfâ - gain momentum, pain
loses its sting and cracks opens the door to the end of pain, the door
to ultimate freedom.
Teaching for everybody
UNIVERSAL TEACHING: The teaching of the Buddha is for
everybody. Whoever you are, wherever you are, understanding the meaning
of what the Buddha teaches is rewarding. Let me explain.
Consider human emotions. What one feels, that one perceives. What one
perceives, that one intends. Would you like know and understand their
origin and nature? Would you like to know their benefits and danger?
Would you like to know how to use them best, direct and control them?
The Buddha teaches all this. Nothing else like it has been ever taught.
Let us make a compendium. There is happiness, liking, fulfillment,
delight, lust, joy, ecstasy, rapture; and their opposites of sadness,
sorrow, lamentation, disappointment, pain, grief, despair and
There is eagerness, anticipation, attachment, craving, addiction,
covetousness, passion and conflict on the one hand; disinterest,
indifference, dispassion, serenity, equanimity, intrepidity and peace on
There is also apathy, indolence, torpor, anxiety, agitation,
restlessness, fear, worry, doubt, frustration, obstinacy, anger, spite,
arrogance, conceit and impetuosity.
We experience love, kindness, sympathy, empathy, caring, pity; and
sometimes have feelings of hate, aversion, disgust, vanity, contempt and
There is a smorgasbord of things heard, smelled, tasted and touched
described as delicious, fantastic and incredible.
In speech we are gentle, calm, polite and truthful or rude,
malicious, harsh, venomous, false and provoking.
Our minds conjecture a frequent play of wonder, titillation, and
excitement as of boredom, sameness, depression and disgust. The Buddha
discussed them all. His analysis and logic has nothing to do with
believing, accepting or rejecting what he says. He described all human
feeling with remarkable aplomb.
No one has done it before or after him. There is nothing to add or
anything to take away. He described them as they actually are. The
entire Teaching is about feeling - setting it uniquely apart from the
mode of thinking, description and explanation such as in physics,
chemistry, mathematics and philosophy.
The genius of the Buddha is not in describing the cornucopia of
His genius is in describing every possible feeling in one word:
He described how feeling arises in human consciousness - in eye, ear,
nose, tongue, body and mind-consciousness - also in one word: Desire.
He described their underlying nature also in one word: Impermanence.
He described the way to end feeling, in one word: Abandonment.
He described the end of feeling in one word: Nibbana. This is the
gist of his supreme Teaching.
Our lives are made and broken, enriched and warped, governed and
entrapped, directed and controlled, endured and suffused by perceptions
and feelings of all kinds. All living beings search only for one feeling
- of continuous happiness.
But alas! It is not to be. Feelings arise, fade, change, are
impermanent and disappear. They tatter and fragment to mere memories,
like dying embers of fires lit and warmed by once upon a time. But we
never give up.
Yet no one abandons pursuit of happiness.
From time immemorial it is the nature of living beings to seek
pleasure, to desire and yearn. Without this primordial urge, life would
not have evolved and survived the millennia past, and would not in the
future. So what is wrong in that?
The Buddha examines this existential situation in another way, in an
exclusive special way, not in terms of right and wrong, divine or
By describing the arising and cessation of feeling, he seeks to
instill in us personal skill, enthuse private preference, want and
choice from understanding the underlying nature of feeling, as it
actually is, and thereby experience escape and freedom from all feeling,
at least partly, here and now, not after death in a limbo beyond but in
That is the beauty and the enchantment and the relevance of his
teaching. It gives hope and confidence to anybody and everybody that
there is freedom from dukkha. But as in achieving anything, it requires
personal commitment, endeavour, attention and relentless effort.
Nothing Buddha teaches is mandatory. Take it or leave it. What is at
issue is your own life.
This essay would be incomplete if it ends here.
The best is to let the Buddha speak.
A haughty Brahmin once asked him, disrespectfully leaning on his
golden walking stick: What does the recluse Gotama teach? What are his
views? The Buddha answered: âI teach that perceptions do not harass and
obsess a Brahmin who dwells detached from sensual pleasures, without
anxiety and worry, free from craving of any kind.
I have no quarrel with the world. The world quarrels with me.â
Share your precious wealth with the world: American Buddhist Stephen
âSri Lanka has the most precious wealth which you should share with
the world. It is nothing but Theravada Buddhismâ says Stephen Long, who
is in the island on an invitation of Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananda Thera,
Chief Sangha Nayaka of America.
Fifty-seven-year-old American Buddhist who is here on a goodwill
visit is planning to launch a programme to make our temples ecologically
clean places. With two other young Bhikkhus from Sri Maha Vihara,
Pamankada Ven. Dhammajothi Thera and Ven. Piyarathana Thera, the
programme entitled âSundara Lankaâ is aimed at keeping the temples and
their environs clean.
A Buddhist Upsasaka, Upasika or Bhikkhu is expected to have a clean
mind which needs a clean space - a clean quiet environment. A Buddhist
temple, however modest it may be, should be a clean place for the
dweller in itâ, he believes.
Under the âSundara Lankaâ programme steps will be taken to keep every
temple in the island clean; doing away with plastic and polythene in and
around temple premises. Growing more and more flowering and fruit
bearing trees in the temple yard, producing organic manure in the temple
yard itself too will subsequently followâ, he says.
When Stephen Long arrived in Sri Lanka, last Vesak Full Moon night,
it was yet another upward journey in his search âwithinâ; he knew he had
come to the right place - the centre of Theravada Buddhism.
Though Asia has been a frequent haunt in his sojourns as part of his
career in tourism, this is his first visit to the âpreciousâ island. He
stresses the word âpreciousâ with bearing eyes. âIâm so happy to be
The Vesak Moon in the sky, the pandals, lanterns along the streets,
the alms halls (Dana Sala) inviting passers-by for meals, recitation and
devotional songs in the air have snatched away the jet-lag of 27
hour-long-flight from Los Angelese from him. âI started visiting a
couple of temples in the nightâ, he said.
Stephen Long has been on a truth seeking mission from the age 19. His
mission has taken him from Christianity to Hinduism and to Zen Buddhism;
from one spiritual Guru to another.
His association with Buddhism starts at the beautiful Hawaiiyan
island of Oahu. At the Oahu Zen Monastery he practised meditation - it
was more meditation - âlooking inwardâ than learning Buddhist
Numerous journeys to Bangkok in connection with his career as an
executive in Hawaiian Tourism Industry brought him closer to Theravada
Buddhism. Since then he has been an active participant in Buddhist
activities in Bangkok.
Since 2004, he has been closely working with Maha Chulalongkorn
University in Thailand in organising United Nations International
Buddhist Conference held in Bangkok.
A disciple of Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananada Thera, Incumbent Bhikkhu of
Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, Los Angeles, now he is a âBodicariâ.
Which means an observer of 10 precepts in Buddhist parlance among
American Buddhists. He has already passed the levels of âUpasakaâ
(observer of 5 precepts) and Dhammacari (8 precepts). His Buddhist name
is Bodicari Dharmapala.
âMany Americans are embracing Buddhism as the beacon of their
spiritual journeyâ, he reveals. âEnglish Buddhist publications have a
big market in Europe and America todayâ, he said.
âThough Buddhist publications from other Buddhist countries are
available in American bookshelves, rarely a Sri Lankan Buddhist
publication is found among them. It is high time steps are taken to make
Sri Lankan Buddhist publications available abroadâ, he said.
Suneetha - the scavenger
I was the lowest of the low,
The poorest, the most degraded
Drawer of night soil,
I was Suneetha.
One day, a pingo load of night soil
Resting on my shoulders,
I met the Buddha on the street.
He, escorted by the Sangha
Was on his way to Maghada.
Men threw flowers in his path,
They ran to worship him as he passed.
And, the untouchable,
The smelly one, the one whom people shunned,
Slipped the pingo from my shoulders
And worshipped too.
Lips quivering, I found the courage
To ask the Lord
âCan I not be one too?
Your disciple in yellow robes
Like the ones who follow you?â
The Buddha in his compassion
Said âBhikkhu, come hither,â
And behold, my smelly rags
Had changed to yellow robes,
My hair shorn close,
There I stood
A disciple in his order,
I chose a lonely forest close
As my retreat,
To dwell upon the advice.
The Buddha gave to me.
And by the first nightâs watch
I knew my previous births.
In the middle watch
I gained the divine eye,
And with the dawn
There dawned on me
The way of conditioned things.
With the sunâs bright rays
Came sakra, king of gods
And Brahma, the cosmic lord
To worship me,
Saying âWe salute you, noble One,
Who hath ceased to bear defilement.â
Then I went before the Buddha
Who smiled his welcome and said -
By control of senses, by discipline, by wisdom,
You have become taintless.
You are a Brahmin,
You are a non-returner, a noble one.
Buddha statue to be carved out of Balungala
A large Buddha statue is going to be carved out of the Balungala, a
large slab of stone in Kadugannawa. âThe Balana Buddha Statue
Associatesâ, an organisation formed to fulfil the task comprises a team
of nine persons headed by Ven. Dr. Kumburugamuwe Vajira, former
Professor of History and Buddhism at the University of Kelaniya.
The others in the team are: Prof. L. Premathilleke, (Archaeology) L.
K. Seneviratne, (Geologist) Dr. Wilbert Kehelpannala (Geologist) Dr.
Ranjith Cabraal (Consultant) Mr. Mohan Panabokke (Basnayake Nilame -Maha
Vishnu Devala, Kandy). Prof. (Emeritus) Chandra Wickremagamage (Prof.
Art and Archaeology) Dr. I. Ratnayake, H. Hapugoda.
The colossal statue after completion will be 75 feet high. Local
stone masons will be hired to do the carving.
The project expected to cost thirty million rupees started last
month. Contributions to this project could be credited to the Balana
Buddha statue associatesâ C/A, No. 6095631.