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The Jewel of the Sangha

There’s a story in the sutras about Ananda going to the Buddha filled with love for the sangha saying, “Lord, I think that half of the Holy Life is spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely.” And the Buddha replied: “Not so; say not so, Ananda. Spiritual friendship, association with the Lovely is not half of the Holy Life, it is the whole of the Holy Life!”

The Pali word for “association with the Lovely” is kalyanamitta. “Kalyana” means “lovely” or beautiful and “mitta” means “friend.” So, Lovely–or Loving–Friends. Mmmm. I feel that in the sangha. But, I have that same experience in many relationships in my life. When we say “spiritual friendship,” we don’t just mean the people we sit with in the sangha on Monday or Thursday. It isn’t just teacher and student. It’s also our husband, wife, or partner. It’s our lover, friends, teacher, siblings, children, parents, employer and co-workers. All of these different kinds of relationships are spiritual and supportive when we come to them with the Dharma and an open heart; with loving-kindness and compassion for one another.

Here’s a story I read some years ago by Ajahn Amaro:

“This year I learnt the word, ‘schmoozing,’ ‘to schmooze;’ I think it is a Yiddish word. It means to hang out with your friends, and chat and drink tea, doing nothing very much, just having a good time together. To schmooze is a very admirable and useful activity, and I’m not being facetious here. It is amazing how often people who are interested in spiritual practice come to a centre like this monastery, and listen to a talk or do a retreat and, as soon as it is over, everyone goes home. Sometimes you go to Buddhist groups for years, and you find that the people in the group hardly know each other. But part of developing our spiritual life is to spend time with each other, to generate a sense of respect and gratitude for each other’s interests and commitment to spiritual values; not to just think: “The talk is over, now it’s time to go home.” or, “The retreat is finished, now I’ll go off, I’ve got this and that to do.” “Through getting to know those who delight in the Buddha’s teaching we create a connection with them; we establish a support system. This is kalyanamitta, the network of spiritual friendship. This is what really enables us as a human society to hold together. Political agreements don’t work, laws don’t work; it is our ability to strengthen and affirm our qualities of inner beauty, of kindness and generosity, and to encourage those in others – that’s what enables human beings to live in a wholesome and profitable way.”

May you be well, today, my Dear Sangha.

Wise View

The Buddha taught that Right or Wise View or Understanding is: an understanding of the Four Noble Truths; based on direct insightful knowing of the Dharma; the objective understanding of things as they truly are; to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas; to understand “not self,” and the interdependent nature of all phenomena; and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning.

Wise Understanding or Wise View is the beginning and the end in the path, without it we get lost, our efforts misguided and misdirected. So, the Buddha said we must have an understanding of the Four Noble Truths. “View” here doesn’t mean personal opinions or ideas, dogmas or doctrines.  The Buddha taught that on following the Middle Way, we create an atmosphere of harmony, tolerance, and freedom.  He taught that one day we also would have expanded our consciousness so that we’ll know and realize the Four Noble Truths. So, Wise View to the Buddha meant having the Wise perspective on our possibilities as human beings, the vision of a path which we ourselves can follow and on which the Buddha has led the way.

The Four Noble Truths are, first, that all beings suffer. Second, we suffer, as Stephen Batchelor says, because we want things to be different than they are. But, Buddha said in the Third Noble Truth, that there is a way to stop this suffering…  and that way is the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the fourth Noble Truth. When we have an experience of them—not just hear or read these truths, but have a “direct insightful knowing” of them as a true path, then we have developed an aspect of Wise View.

Robert Bogoda says, “Wise Understanding, the first step of the Path, is seeing life as it really is: the objective understanding of the nature of things as they truly are without delusions or distortions.” This is how we develop wisdom: knowing how things work, knowing ourselves and knowing others.  Wrong View happens when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we want things to be—what we hope they’ll be—or about how we’re afraid things might be.  Wise View happens when we see things simply as they are. We abandon hope and fear and take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.  Wise View is an open and accommodating attitude.

The Noble Eightfold Path

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote, “The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is practice. “

Webster’s dictionary defines discipline as “a branch of knowledge, typically one studies in higher education.” Of course, the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali) is a life long course of “higher education.”

He continues, “In the structure of the teaching these two principles lock together into an indivisible unity called the dhamma-vinaya, the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma. The internal unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Thus, the two principles penetrate and include one another, the formula of the Four Noble Truths containing the Eightfold Path and the Noble Eightfold Path containing the Four Truths.”

This is a beautiful explanation of how the teachings interpenetrate and clarify one another. As we explore the Noble Eightfold Path we will see how the promise of the Third Noble Truth–the cessation of suffering–can be fulfilled by applying each step of the path in our lives moment to moment.

What the Buddha Taught

An excerpt from and article by DZOGCHEN PONLOP RINPOCHE| MAY, 2006

“The Buddha offered a progression of teachings appropriate to people’s different spiritual needs. With great compassion and incomparable skill, the enlightened master Buddha Shakyamuni taught in any way that would lead beings on a correct path to liberation and, finally, to buddhahood. Sometimes the Buddha taught in a way that led his disciples gradually to an understanding of the absolute nature of reality, and in these situations, he taught about relative reality first. At other times he taught the ultimate nature directly and explicitly.

“Over the course of his forty-five years of teaching, the Buddha turned the wheel of dharma three times, initiating new cycles of teachings for the benefit of sentient beings. These three turnings are commonly known as the dharmachakra (“dharma wheel”) of the four noble truths, the dharmachakra of essencelessness or non-characteristics—emptiness, and the dharmachakra of full or thorough distinction—buddhanature.

“The first turning of the wheel of dharma took place in Deer Park at Sarnath, not long after the Buddha’s enlightenment. At this time, Buddha presented teachings on the four noble truths, karma, and the selflessness of the person. These teachings form the basis for what is called the “common vehicle,” also known as the path of individual liberation, or the vehicle of the “listeners” or “hearers.””

“The second and third turnings form the basis of the vehicle known as the Mahayana. The second turning took place at Rajagriha on Vulture Peak Mountain. There the Buddha taught the Prajnaparamita Sutras, or the Sutras of Transcendent Knowledge. In this phase of his teaching, Buddha emphasized the emptiness or lack of true existence of both self and phenomena. The third turning took place in various cities, beginning in Vaishali. At this time, Buddha presented the teachings on tathagatagarbha, or buddhanature. These focus on the luminous nature of emptiness and reveal that the potential for buddhahood has always been present within our hearts. At the same time, in the final turning of the wheel of dharma, Buddha clearly distinguished between the indicative and definitive meanings of his various teachings.”