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Sunday, 26 June 2011

Death and the Brahma Vihara

At first glance Death and the Brahma Vihara may seem odd companions, however over the years they have come to make perfect sense as companion meditations.
For meditating on Death will cause you to re-evaluate your life. I found that after about six months of meditating on Death and having had the living daylights frightened out of me by realising just how fragile we are and how near Death is, that I went through my mental list of what was important to me. Perhaps it is no great surprise that the list essentially inverted itself. The material things, the house, the career went to the bottom and loving people went to the top. I realised that telling the people you love that you love them only really makes sense when they are alive. Meditating on Death helped motivate me in not only my war with depression but also my Metta practice.
It perhaps seems odd that meditating on Death would help in fighting Depression. I found that meditating on Death removed the illusion that I had forever to win my fight. I was motivated to spend more time on my cushion and to honestly find the sources of pain and to practice Forgiveness.
I think how Death helped and continues to help with Metta would be obvious. It's the same story as the one with Depression. We don't have forever to get things right and Death compels us to see and accept  this, at times extremely unpleasant fact of life.
Once we see our mortality and see the fragility of other people there is the chance for Karuna to arise. And this song by Sting illustrates this .
In my reading lately..."The Places That Scare You" by Pema Chodron there is an absolute emphasis on how interconnected we all are. When we can sit with our pain and suffering and then see that everyone of the six billion people on the planet suffers exactly as we do, the separation between us and them begins to lessen. It may lessen at the same rate in which continents drift, but it is set in motion.
Once that sense of commonality is in existence and even if it is about as substantial as incense smoke, it is there and we can see that we share not only the suffering, but also the joys of everyone else. Mudita is in existence. One of the nicer aspects of being a parent is the new things my son does on a regular basis. Yesterday he climbed into a rocking chair and rocked, mind you we had to convince him that standing in the chair was not a good idea, but he did something that he has never done before. We both had such happiness for him. And once the mind becomes accustomed to taking joy in someone elses successes in life you will find that jealousy for example isn't such an aspect of you. If someone succeeds after working hard, it is wonderful to share in their happiness. We aren't so threatened by someone elses abilities when we become accustomed to taking joy in them.
And ultimately there is Upekkha. The willingness to accept that the planet and our own bodies are essentially beyond our control. I love my son beyond all words and in ways that frighten me, but there is that quiet whisper at the back of my mind that Selina and I invited him to take rebirth and that he has always had and always will have his own kamma and will leave this lifetime when he is meant to and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Meditating on Death helps with this. Loving my son is one thing, giving him the space in which to live and ultimately die in is another. Death gives space.
We need to be reminded periodically that we are not immortal and that a lot of the things we take so seriously are often not worth the time we devote to them, especially our angers. The Buddha himself reccomended that we be continuously in touch with the fact that Death is waiting for all of us. We tend to ignore the sheer number of tales of people dropping dead on the golf course, during sex, walking the dog or even as Ajahn Brahm tells of someone was talking to him, paused and died. Once we see Death as a constant fact in our lives, the vast majority of the nonsense disappears and what we are left with is: Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha.

Friday, 17 June 2011


 My son happens to be my Dhamma teacher at the moment. He gives me endless teachings about patience and loving-kindness and Sympathetic Joy which is Mudita's English name. The Mudita arises especially strongly when my son displays a new skill such as throwing a ball or feeding himself...or at least the desire to, or climbing a set of steps and entering a room without falling over.

The joy in having a young child is that they are always changing and growing. Children are amazingly busy both in the physical sense and the biological sense. I look at my son and there are times when I swear  I can almost see the neurons being made and connecting in his head and the literally millions of new cells that are being made every day. I also see him eating like a horse and being a vigorous, loud and radiantly happy person. And this is where Mudita arises. Every day is a challenge for my son and every day he succeeds at some thing new. Mudita is cheering my son on. There is such a depth of happiness in seeing my son grow.
Selina just asked what is the difference between pride and Mudita?
I replied that pride can be quite selfish. Her father had immense pride in her as a straight A achieving daught and as someone who made him look good. He has no Mudita in her happiness as a mother and a wife. If Mudita was present in her father then there would be contact between us and Selina's parents and they would be extremey happy in our progress as a couple and as parents. Thus pride can be selfish.
However we have both pride and Mudita for our son. We cheer him on and give him challenges. We encourage and take deep joy in his success as a person.
This is Mudita.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Giving time

It's 5 p.m and I've quite literally just come back from a local park. I've just spent the last hour & a half throwing a frisbee with my wife and walking with my son. The  best way of getting your kid to have good eye hand co-ordination is to get him/her out running and catching things...balls, frisbees, boomerangs.
Fair enough a one year old is really bad at throwing frisbee...caught it the face one or twice, but bad at the throwing business. He did however get a lot of fresh air and exercise running around the field.
Selina and I got a lot of exercise chsing the frisbee. Also there is exercise equipment in this park...and I'd forgotten just how much one of those Ab busters can take out of you.
The point here isn't to brag about how fit I am, but to make the point that I gave Ariel the time out in the fresh air, gave Selina and myself the exercise. I gave my son time. We are poor and the one gift that truly matters is time.
Today he was playing with some tennis balls and I observed him throwing for the first time. Mudita arose in me. I was so proud of and happy for my son that he is now at the stage where he can throw tennis balls. He got a big kiss and was told that I am so proud of him. I cannot remember ever getting these gifts from my father. Giving my son time to grow, teaching him the skills he needs to be the fiercely independent person he needs to be and giving him my unconditional love these are the gifts that matter.
The expensive toys can be a lazy way of parenting and the very worst of gifts.
You want to give something that will truly matter to someone you love?
Give them you.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Take time

In the midst of a busy world it helps if we occasionally take the time to simply sit in a nice place and just "do" nothing. If we keep the mind and the body in states of almost manic activity then we should not be at all surprised that when we want the mind to be calm and quiet...i.e our meditation practice, that they won't be at all interested in doing what we want them to. It's like feeding sugar to my one year old son, who is loud and busy in a normal day and then expect him not be hyper for the next hour or so. Stupid when you think about it.
If we keep pumping mental stimulants into our minds in the shape of the media and often substances then we are getting what we deserve. I remember reading Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Peace In Every Step" where he ties media into the 5 Trainings (sorry I can't use the word Precepts any more, sikka meanings training and sila means habits) and it made perfect sense to include violent and extremely sexual media into the intoxicants.
On the other hand if we condition the mind to take delight in stillness, then it will know what to do when we have a list like the one in the cartoon...and we'll be the happier for it. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

No Doubt

There is little or no doubt that the Practice is hard. It can be very painful if you are in the midst of forgiving something or someone. Some days the mind simply looks at your intention to meditate and says
"Nope. Not doing that!"
And all your efforts at getting it to sit and play nice get you nowhere.
These are the times when meditation seems like the steps in the photo. I can usually add a 25 kg backpack to the equation just to reinforce the fact that meditation some days just feels that you are pushing shit up hill.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I find taking the time every so often to sit and reinforce why anger is such a complete negative very worthwhile. Remembering places and times when either we were angry or someone near us was and remembering either just how uncomfortable this made us or just how pear shaped things went for them is very useful for me.
I had one such event recently when someone flushed the plot over my, unfortunately necessary, illegal parking, he started the event very angry, he ended it very afraid, because in his anger he either didn't realise or simply didn't stop and look to see just how I'm built...which is a lot more solidly put together than he is. Thus he lost control of the situation. Anger prevented him from thinking and making a wise choice.
Anger has often prevented me from making wise choices. Remembering this, helps reinforce why anger is, as I've written before, brain dead.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


A truly powerful Recollection. The joy at recognising "we are getting it right" can almost literally throw you into Metta. As with all three in this series of posts, they are long, they need rewriting and you will be better off copying & pasting into a Word document.


Recollection of Virtue/Good Habits

Q. What is the recollection of sila? What is the practising of it? What are its salient characteristic, function and near cause? What is the procedure?
A. Through sila one recollects pure morals. This is recollectedness and right recollectedness. Thus the recollection of sila should be understood. The undisturbed dwelling of the mind in the recollection of sila is the practising of it. Awareness of the merit of sila is its salient characteristic. To see the fearfulness of tribulation is its function. Appreciating the unsurpassed happiness of sila is its near cause. Twelve are the benefits of the recollection of sila thus: One honours the Teacher, esteems the Dhamma and the Sangha of Bhikkhus, respects the precepts of sila, esteems offerings, becomes heedful, sees danger in and fears the smallest fault, has no fear of this world, has no fear of the other world and enjoys the many benefits accruing from the observance of all precepts. These are the benefits of the recollection of sila.
“What is the procedure?”: The new yogin goes to a place of solitude and keeps his mind undisturbed. With his undisturbed mind, he recollects that: “My sila is unbroken, in-defective, unspotted, unblemished, liberating, praised by the wise, untainted, conducive to concentration.”
Vimutti Magga page: 152
The Suttas. 
4.1.1 “On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. At that time the Venerable Ananda approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him , and asked:
‘What, Lord, is the benefit of virtuous ways of conduct, what is their reward?”
“Non-remorse, Ananda, is the benefit and reward of virtuous ways of conduct.”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of non-remorse?”
“Gladness, Ananda.”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of gladness?”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of joy?”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of serenity?”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of happiness?”
“Concentration of the mind.”
“And what, Lord, is the benefit and reward of concentration?”
“Knowledge and vision of things as they really are.”
“And what, Lord, are the benefit and reward of knowledge and vision of things as they really are?”
“Revulsion and dispassion.”
“And what, Lord, are the benefit and reward of revulsion and dispassion?”
“The knowledge and vision of liberation.”
“Hence, Ananda, virtuous ways of conduct have non-remorse as their benefit and reward; non-remorse has gladness as its benefit and reward; gladness has joy as its benefit and reward; joy has serenity as its benefit and reward; serenity has happiness as its benefit and reward; happiness has concentration as its benefit and reward; concentration has knowledge and vision of things as they really are as its reward; knowledge and vision of things as they really are has revulsion and dispassion as its benefit and reward; revulsion and dispassion have knowledge and vision of liberation as their benefit and reward. In this way, Ananda, virtuous ways of conduct lead step by step to the highest.”
An 182

4.1.2 “For one who is virtuous and endowed with virtue, there is no need for an act of will: “May non-remorse arise in me!” It is a  natural law, monks, that non-remorse will arise in one who is virtuous.
For one who is free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will: “May gladness arise in me!” It is a natural law, monks, that gladness will arise in one who is free from remorse.
For one who is glad in heart, there is no need for an act of will: “May joy arise in me!” It is a natural law that joy will arise in one who is glad at heart.
For one who is joyful, there is no need for an act of will: “May my body be serene!” It is a natural law, monks, that the body will be serene for one who is joyful.
For one of serene body, there is no need for an act of will: “May I feel happiness!” It is a natural law, monks, that one who is serene will feel happiness.
For one who is happy, there is no need for an act of will: “May I be concentrated!” It is a natural law that one who is happy that the mind will be concentrated.
For one who is concentrated, there is no need for an act of will: “May I know and see things as they really are!” It is a natural law that one with a concentrated mind to know and see things as they really are.
For one who knows and sees things as they really are, there is no need for an act of will: ”May I experience revulsion and dispassion!” It is a natural law for one who knows and sees things as they really are to experience revulsion and dispassion.
For one who experiences revulsion and dispassion, there is no need for an act of will: “May I realise the knowledge and vision of liberation!”  It is a natural law for one who experiences revulsion and dispassion to realise the knowledge and vision of liberation…
Thus, monks, the preceding qualities flow into the succeeding qualities, the succeeding qualities bring the preceding qualities to perfection, for going from the near shore to the far shore.
An 183
“Further, Mahanama, a noble disciple recollects his own virtue thus: ‘I possess virtues dear to the noble ones, unbroken, untorn, unblemished, un-mottled, freeing, praised by the wise, un-adhered to, leading to concentration.’ When a noble disciple recollects his own virtues thus, on that occasion his mind is not obsessed with lust, hatred or delusion; his mind is straight, with virtue as its object….This is called a noble disciple who dwells evenly amidst an uneven generation, who dwells un-afflicted in an afflicted generation, who has entered upon the stream of the Dhamma and develops recollection of virtue.”
An 116

“This was said by the Lord…
“Bhikkhus, as to those bhikkhus who excel in virtue, excel in concentration, excel in wisdom, excel in release, excel in the knowledge and vision of release, who are advisers, instructors and demonstrators, who can exhort, inspire and encourage, and who are competent teachers of the true Dhamma—seeing those bhikkhus is very helpful, I say; listening to those bhikkhus, approaching them, attending upon them, and following their example in going forth into homelessness is very helpful, I say. For what reason?
“By following such bhikkhus, by associating with them and attending upon them, the aggregate of virtue as yet incomplete reaches completion of development; the aggregate of concentration, of wisdom, of release and knowledge and vision of release as yet incomplete reaches completion of development. Such bhikkhus as these are called teachers, caravan leaders, fault abandoners, dispellers of darkness, light bringers, makers of radiance, luminaries, torch bearers, bringers of illumination, noble ones, possessors of vision.”
For those who are knowledgeable
This is a state making for joy—
Living the life of Dhamma
Under the noble ones perfected in mind.
They clarify the true Dhamma
Shining forth and illuminating it,
Those light bringers, heroic sages,
Endowed with vision, dispelling faults.
Having heard their teaching,
The wise with perfect understanding
By directly knowing the end of birth
Come no more to renewal of being.
Iti 104

“Thus I have heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s Park. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:
“Bhikkhus, dwell possessed of virtue, possessed of the Patimokkha (monastic precepts), restrained with the restraint of the Patimokkha, perfect in conduct and resort, and seeing fear in the slightest fault, train by undertaking the training precepts.
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I be dear and agreeable to my companions in the holy life, respected and esteemed by them, ‘let him fulfil the precepts, be devoted to internal serenity of mind, not neglect meditation, be possessed of insight, and dwell in empty huts.
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I be one to obtain robes, alms food, resting place and medicinal requisites, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May the services of those whose robes, alms food, resting place and medicinal requisites I use bring them great fruit and benefit, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I become a conqueror of discontent and delight, and may discontent and delight not conquer me, ‘ let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I become a conqueror of fear and dread, and may fear and dread not conquer me; may I abide transcending fear and dread whenever they arise, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish:  ‘May I become one to obtain at will, without trouble or difficulty, the four jhana that constitute the higher mind and provide a pleasant abiding here and now, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I contact with the body and abide in those liberations that are peaceful and immaterial and transcending forms, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I with the destruction of the three fetters, become a stream enterer, no longer subject to perdition(hell), bound for deliverance, headed for enlightenment, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
“If a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I, with the destruction of the three fetters and with the attenuation of lust, hate, and delusion, become a once returner, returning once to this world to make an end of suffering, ‘let him fulfil the precepts…
Mn 6

 Modern Teachers   
“ So that’s what the aspects of self control and self discipline are about within the Buddhist training—just making sure that the brakes on your car work. Having a car that can accelerate and go places fast is fine, but if you don’t have brakes, when the road bends you will be in trouble. When we reach a stop sign or cross roads we need to be able to stop. Life is not all about empty roads and green lights, other traffic, red lights and so on abound.”
Ajahn Amaro “Silent Rain”

“I practised Dhamma without knowing a great deal. I just knew the path to liberation began with virtue(sila). Virtue is the beautiful beginning of the Path. The deep peace of samadhi is the beautiful middle. Panna(wisdom) is the beautiful end. Although they can be separated as three unique aspects of the training, as we look into them more and more deeply, these three qualities converge as one. To uphold virtue, you have to be wise. We usually advise people to develop ethical standards first by keeping the Five Precepts so that their virtue will become solid. However the perfection of virtue takes a lot of wisdom. We have to consider our speech and actions and analyse their consequences. This is all the work of wisdom. We have to rely on our wisdom to cultivate virtue.”
Ajahn Chah “Food for the Heart”

“We practise Skilful Action not because we want to avoid breaking the Buddha’s rules or because we fear that someone will punish us if we do. We avoid cruel and hurtful behaviour because we can see the consequences of such actions---that they lead to profound unhappiness for us and everyone around us, now and in the future. We practise Skilful Action because we want our lives to be helpful and harmonious, not destructive and contentious, and because we want a calm and happy mind, untroubled by regret and remorse.”
Bhante Gunaratana “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness” 

 This recollection is the first of the two recollections that involve the Perfections. Virtue and generosity are two of the Ten Perfections and this recollection is the first occasion where we direct the mind not only to an awareness of them, but also a conscious cultivation of them. Some,  will argue that there is no need for them to cultivate this recollection, because they already are aware of their virtuous and generous behaviour. The counter argument is, yes this is no doubt true, but there is a significant difference between awareness of something and actively encouraging the mind to adopt the object we are aware of  as natural expressions of itself. I can be aware of a broken toe, but is the bandages and aspirin that will heal the break.
In recollecting virtue, we move from the passive to the proactive. The recollection is a recognition that we are doing something that is rare. In the Recollection of the Sangha, we recollected someone else’s virtue, here we recollect our own. Westerners can display this quite remarkable and in many ways quite sad ability to turn a joyous recollection into an inquisition. This perhaps one reason why  some Buddhist teachers in the West seem so loathe to teach about virtue…too many of their students carry guilt from their Christian upbringing. Virtue is equated not with the joyful, but with sin and a need to repent. Buddhism adopts a diametrically opposite approach to Christianity.  When we recollect that our observance of the Precepts was a long way from perfect, we accept that and resolve to do better. We refrain from wanting to take a whip to ourselves as an exercise of repentance. Wisdom arises not from self mutilation either physically or mentally, but from a willingness to learn from our mistakes. If we are keeping just one Precept, then we take joy in that. We must always remember that the Precepts are trainings, that’s what the Pali word ‘sikka’ means and upon reflection ‘training’ is perhaps a better translation than ‘Precepts’ . No one responsible trains a horse or a dog with a cattle prod & neither should we train ourselves that way. There is the simple reality that the mind inclines towards that which it finds pleasurable, make the mind associate the Precepts with pleasure and it will happily observe them. Make them a source of pain & discomfort and the mind will refuse to go anywhere near them.
As lay people we can base our recollection on our observance of the Five Trainings of:
1.                        Not killing
2.                        Not stealing
3.                        Not engaging in sexual misconduct
4.                        Not engaging in harsh and divisive speech, lying
5.                        Not indulging in intoxicants.

This is perfectly adequate for the purposes of this recollection. Most of us have degrees of difficulty with keeping these trainings. It is because the observance of the trainings is anything but easy, that we take joy in succeeding at the observance. For some, including myself, giving up a cold beer after a hard days work mowing lawns, is a major renunciation. Thus the joy I take when I opt instead for a ginger cordial.  If you are one of those blessed people who have little or no difficulty in keeping the Five Trainings, take joy in the fact that for you they are easy to keep. Don’t be egotistical, but cultivate an awareness, that for you this difficult thing is easy, that you are in a way as I’ve already said, blessed. It also gives you a chance to practice this Recollection at a deeper level, a more refined one.
For a lay person there are four other trainings that can be undertaken. With the Eight Trainings we change the third Training from ‘sexual misconduct’ to celibacy. Then there are three additional Trainings:
Not taking food after midday.
Abstaining from music, movies, TV. Perfumes (including After Shave, though interestingly not the body sprays so popular in the West at the present time)
Abstaining from high & luxurious beds.
It would come as no great surprise that these additional trainings are rather difficult for most of us. Our culture suffers from media saturation…the sheer quantity of available information, entertainment, distraction is just overwhelming. Food is increasingly available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are the most affluent generation to have lived, physical comfort is seen as a right. Sex is, courtesy of reliable contraception, amazingly easy to find. The Eight Trainings require planning and a level of commitment that our culture seems devoted to undermining.
A certain degree of flexibility and intelligence is allowed with the observance of the trainings. This is to say that if work for example prevents us from observing a training, then we can undertake other trainings. Illness is an allowable exception. Diabetics need to regulate their blood sugar level, so the training regarding eating after midday isn’t something set in concrete. Working in a cinema precludes the training regarding entertainments.  The one absolute exception to this is intoxicants, there is no acceptable intake of alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, heroin, morphine, ecstasy, methyl amphetamine or anyone of the designer drugs. Caffeine (& to a lesser extent nicotine) is not regarded as intoxicating line removed. The third training is a grey area as well. If we are observing Eight Trainings then all sexual activity is excluded. If we are observing Five Trainings, then so long as we are responsible, then there is no problem, unless signs of addiction manifest themselves. For example if we spend all our available time & money for the procurement of sexual pleasure to the exclusion of all else, then there is a problem. Obsessive use & watching of pornography is also a sign that we need to have a chat to someone responsible. Or we use sex as a weapon. There are plenty of people in relationships who use sex as a means of control over their partners, either by demanding activities that the partner is unwilling to do, or by the simple act of denying them sexual activity. Or using sex outside the relationship as a form of revenge for mistakes, neglect or abuse by their partner.  These are to me are clear examples of sexual misconduct. 
It is the extremes that we need to be careful of. Being totally repressive is as bad as total indulgence…we walk the Middle Way. For some of us, the natural expression of our sexuality is celibacy. Celibacy has a place in our lives as meditators…we need times of stillness and sexual activity has a lot of energy both mental and physical. We need times where we are simply still. Sudden & unilateral  observance of celibacy when we are in a relationship can be pure poison for that relationship. A partner that is suddenly and inexplicably uninterested in intimacy is justifiable cause for grief in a coupling. So whilst times of celibacy are both natural and to a degree necessary in our practice, we do need to exercise consideration and intelligence when we observe it.  We need to plan an observance of the Eight Trainings, re-arrange work or discuss with our partners our plans. That there is this need for forethought makes the power of the observance even greater.
To move onto the practice of this recollection. I can’t give you timeframes in which to practice this recollection. What I do suggest, is that since these meditations have their own energy, that you let the mind abide in the particular aspect of the reflection as long as it wants to. Treat the recollection like a fine chocolate…let the flavour of it pervade the mind just like a chocolate pervades the tongue. The flavour of the recollection is of course the wonder and the joy of it.  Once you have settled into the meditation position. Just take a moment to breathe. Then begin to reflect on the power of sila and sila is deeply powerful. Reflect that it was just this sila that you are now observing that enabled the Bodhisatta to become the Buddha. Reflect that every time you observe even just one of the Trainings that you walk in the footsteps of the Buddha. Because this is rare in the world and you are doing this consciously arouse wonder. Reflect on the rarity of virtue in the world. If the observance is difficult( and every last one of us finds observing sila difficult at times, we all have our failings), then reflect that despite the difficulty that you are continuing to observe sila.
Moving onto the Trainings themselves. Tick them off in your head. Sila is not something we are compelled to observe, we exercise a choice in this matter. Recollect, “today I observed the following sila”, and just how wonderful being harmless, gentle, trustworthy, ethical really is. Even making an honest effort to observe sila and failing, is better than not making the attempt to keep sila at all. True, it is better that we keep sila, but the real world has failure in it, and since as I have already explained, this is not an exercise in self flagellation, it is best that you cultivate joy in that fact that you at least tried to observe sila. Considering just how brutal, corrupt and immoral the world is, take joy in the fact that you are choosing ( or trying to at least) not to be a part of that. Take joy in the truth that you are keeping this sila beautifully….all sila is beautiful and the observance of it is unblemished, un-mottled, pure. Even just one Training beautifully observed has a profound effect on us and those around us.
“ Today/yesterday I was kind, gentle, compassionate, moral—this is wonderful, fantastic, beautiful!!”
You can use the traditional words of this recollection that I quoted from the Vimutti Magga. It is absolutely true that this sila is “praised by the wise”, “conducive to concentration”, “liberating”.   You will find that once the mind abides in virtue, that it is able to calm down and concentrate really easily. Sila causes the mind to have a natural luminosity and that luminosity leads readily to stillness and concentration (see 4.1.2).  Might not happen immediately, but   it can and will happen. The aspect of liberation is obvious to say the least, because the Lord Buddha stressed sila as one of the supports to the holy life—Sila, Samadhi (tranquillity), Panna(wisdom)---anyone can see why & where liberation fits in.
It is perhaps worth noting here, that in the Thai Forest Tradition there is more to sila than the at times automatic/robotic observance of rules. Sila  is treated as something that includes how you relate to and interact with the monastic community in which you live. I have heard of instances where the observance of the Precepts was impeccable, but where the persons sila was viewed as less than ideal, because the person was treating his fellows in the community with indifference. Refusal to help with chores in the monastery is seen as having bad sila. The experts will tell me that monastic etiquette is called “khor wat”, but what is “khor wat” other than sila?  Since you, the reader are almost certainly not residing in a monastery, sila can and does extend into how we treat our partners/friends/ family.  There is absolutely no point in observing the Five Trainings faultlessly, if we are selfish and abusive to those we live and work with. Since this actually borders on the territory of the next recollection, that of generosity, I will finish with the Recollection of Virtue. If the reader wishes to explore the topic of Sila more thoroughly I recommend Ajahn Thanissaro’s book “The healing Power of the Precepts, available at:
With great joy I bow my head to the Wonderful Sila taught by the Blessed One.               

Generosity and the Recollection of it

Once again this needs to be rewritten. I find this Recollection to be very powerful. It amazes me just how many thigs can be given.



Recollection of Generosity.

Q. What is the recollection of liberality? What is the practising of it? What are its salient characteristic, function and near cause? What is the procedure?
A. Liberality means that one gives one’s wealth to others wishing to benefit them, and in order to derive the happiness of benefiting others. Thus liberality is to be understood. One dwells indifferent in the recollection of the virtue of liberality. This recollectedness is recollection and right recollectedness. This is called the recollection of liberality. The undisturbed dwelling of the mind in this recollection is the practising of it. Awareness of the merit of liberality is its salient characteristic. Non-miserliness is its function. Non-covetousness is its near cause.
A man who practises the recollection of liberality gains ten benefits thus: He gains bliss through liberality, he becomes non-covetous through liberality, he is not miserly, thinks of others, becomes dear to others, does not fear in others company, has much joy, acquires the compassionate mind, fares well and approaches the ambrosial.
“What is the procedure? The new yogin goes to a place of solitude and keeps his mind undisturbed. With an undisturbed mind he practises the recollection of liberality thus: “Through abandoning things I have benefited others; therefrom I have gained much merit. The vulgar by means of the dirt of covetousness, are drawn to things. I live with a mind non-coveting and not unclean. Always I give and  enjoy giving to others. Always I give and distribute.”
That yogin in these ways practises the recollection of liberality. Through the recollection of liberality his mind is endowed with confidence. Because of this recollection and confidence, his mind is always undisturbed. With undisturbed mind he destroys the hindrances, arouses the meditation (jhana) factors and attains access concentration. The rest is as fully taught above.
Vimutti Magga p 153    

There are, O monks, eight ways of giving. What eight? One gives spontaneously; or one gives out of fear; or because of thinking, “He too has given me a gift”; or because of thinking, “He will give me a present, too”, or because of thinking that it is good to give; or because of thinking, “I cook, but they (being ascetics) do not; since I cook, it would not be proper for me to refuse giving a meal to those who do not cook”; or because of thinking, “By giving such a gift, I shall earn a good reputation”, one gives because it ennobles the mind, adorns the mind.”
An 161

There are, O monks, eight reasons for giving. What eight? People may give out of affection; or in an angry mood; or out of stupidity; or out of fear; or because of thinking: “Such gifts have been given before by my father and grandfather and it was done by them before; hence it would be unworthy of me to give up this old family tradition”; or because of thinking, “By giving this gift, I shall be reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world, after death”; or because of thinking, “When giving this gift, my heart will be glad, and happiness and joy will arise in me”; or one gives because it adorns and ennobles the mind.”
An 162

There are, O monks, eight kinds of rebirth on account of giving. What eight?
Here, monks, a certain person makes a gift to an ascetic or brahmin, offering him food, drink, clothing and vehicles; garlands, scents and unguents; bedding, housing and lighting. In making the gift, he hopes for a reward. He now notices affluent nobles, affluent brahmins or affluent householders enjoying themselves provided and furnished with the five cords of sensual pleasure, and he thinks: “Oh, with the break up of the body, after death, may I be reborn among them!” And he sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it. This though of his aims at what is low, and if not developed to what is higher will lead him to just such a rebirth. With the break up of the body, after death, he will be reborn  among affluent nobles, affluent brahmins or affluent householders. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; for it is due to his purity, monks, that the hearts desire of the virtuous succeeds.
 Then again, a certain person makes a gift to an ascetic or a brahmin, offering him food…or lighting. In making the gift, he hopes for a reward. He now hears of the long life, the beauty and the great happiness of devas in the realm of the Four Great Kings…the Tavatimsa devas…the Yama devas…the Tusita devas…the devas Who Delight in Creation…the devas Who Control What is Created by Others, and he wishes to be reborn among them. He sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it.  This thought of his aims at what is low, and if not developed to what is higher, it will lead him to just such a rebirth. After his death, when his body breaks up, he will be reborn among the devas in the realm of the Four Great Kings…or among the devas Who Control What is Created by Others. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; for it is due to his purity, monks, that the hearts desire of the virtuous succeeds.
Then again, a certain person makes a gift to an ascetic or brahmin, offering him food…or lighting. He now hears of the long life, the beauty and the great happiness of the devas of Brahmas Company, and he wishes to be reborn among them. He sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it. This thought of his aims at what is low, and if not developed to what is higher, it will lead him to just such a rebirth. After his death, when his body breaks up, he will be reborn among the devas of Brahmas Company. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; only for one free of lust, not for one who is lustful. Because he is without lust, monks, the hearts desire of the virtuous succeeds.
These, monks, are the eight kinds of rebirth on account of giving.
An 163

‘Good is giving, dear sir!
Even when there’s little, giving is good.
When done with faith too, giving is good;
The gift of righteous gain is also good.
Giving with discretion too is good.’
Sn Sagathavagga : Devatasamyutta
This was said by the Lord…
“Bhikkhus, there are these two kinds of giving: the giving of material things and the giving of Dhamma.  Of these two kinds of giving, this is the foremost, namely, the giving of Dhamma. There are these two kinds of sharing, this is the foremost, namely, the sharing of Dhamma. There are these two kinds of help: help with material things and help with the Dhamma. Of these two kinds of help, this is the foremost, namely, help with the Dhamma.”
When they say that giving
Is supreme and unsurpassed,
And the Lord himself extolled sharing,
Who, wise and knowing,
Confident in that foremost field of merit,
Would not give at the appropriate time?
Both for those who proclaim it
And for those who listen to it,
Confident in the Sublime Ones teaching,
The supreme good is fully purified
As they live diligently in the teaching
Iti: 98

This was said by the Lord…
“Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving and sharing, they would not eat without having given nor would they allow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not enjoy eating without having shared it, if there was someone to share it with. But, bhikkhus, because beings do not know as I know the result of giving and sharing, they eat without having given and the stain of meanness obsesses them and takes root in their minds.”
If beings only knew—
So said the Great Sage—
How the result of sharing
Is of such great fruit,
With gladdened mind,
Rid of the stain of meanness,
They would duly give to noble ones
Who make what is given fruitful.
Having given much food as offering
To those worthy of offerings,
The donors go to heaven
On departing the human state.
And gone to heaven they rejoice,
And enjoying pleasures there,
The unselfish the result
Of  generously sharing with others.
Iti 26

“As a materially dependent community, the Sangha give the laity the chance to practice the primary virtue of giving. Although one’s time might be consumed by work and family duties, although one might not be prepared to undertake systematic study or meditation oneself, one can still offer food or medicine or other necessities to those who have embarked on the monastic career. Such giving is a forthright and concrete act, deeply satisfying, bringing immediate gladness and future gladness too.”
Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano “Landscapes of Wonder”

“Generosity is a powerful form of renunciation. Generously sharing what we have, and many other acts of renunciation, make us feel happy. There is a sense of pleasure and relief every time we let go. It stands to reason that if we let go completely of grasping at anything in the world, then this great relinquishment will bring even more happiness than occasional acts of renunciation.”

“Generosity is taught in every religious tradition, but it is a natural state of mind that all living beings possess inherently. Even animals share their food. When you are generous, you feel happy and you delight in remembering the recipients joy.”

“The best giving occurs when we have no expectations of any return, not even a thank-you. We give while knowing in our hearts that we already have in our hearts everything we need to be happy. Such giving is motivated by a sense of fullness, not loss. Giving anonymously, and without knowing the recipient, is a wonderful way to be generous. Giving quietly, without fanfare, lessens our desire and reduces our attachment to the things we have.”
Bhante Gunaratana “Eight Mindful Steps To Happiness”

“Then Prince Payasi  established a charity for ascetics and Brahmins, wayfarers, beggars and the needy. And such food was given out as broken rice with sour gruel, and also rough clothing with ball fringes. And a young Brahmin called Uttara was put in charge of the distribution. Referring to it, he said: ‘Through this charity I have been associated with Prince Payasi in this world, but not the next.’
And Prince Payasi heard of his words, so he sent for him and asked him if he had said that. ‘Yes, Lord.’ But why did you say such a thing? Friend Uttara, don’t we who wish to gain merit expect a reward for our charity?’
‘But, Lord, the food you give—broken rice with sour gruel—you would not care to touch it with your foot, much less eat it! And the rough clothes with ball fringes—you would not set foot on them—much less wear them! Lord, you are kind and gentle with us, so how can we reconcile such kindness and gentleness with unkindness and roughness?’ ‘Well then Uttara, you arrange to supply food as I eat and clothes such as I wear.’ ‘Very good, Lord’, said Uttara, and he did so.
And Prince Payasi, because he had established his charity grudgingly, not with his own hands, and without proper concern, like something casually tossed aside, was reborn after death, at the breaking up of the body, in the company of the Four Great Kings, in the empty Serisaka mansion. But Uttara, who had given the charity ungrudgingly, with his own hands and with proper concern, not as something tossed aside, was reborn after death, at the breaking up of the body, in a good place, a heavenly realm, in the company of the Thirty-Three Gods.
Dn 23

This then is the Recollection of Generosity. From the examples above we can clearly see where generosity—Caga, giving—Dana, and renunciation—Nekkhama, are at times almost synonyms for each other. In fact there are plenty of occasions where it is impossible to separate them at all, to engage in one of them, is to engage in them all, to talk and write about one, is to talk and write about them all. It seems that it is only the degree of importance of the thing that we are giving or sharing or renouncing has to us that actually allows a clear line to be drawn between these actions. I may share my lunch, I can give $20, I can renounce all alcohol or TV.  The one aspect that they have in common is that we are letting go of something.
The way the Vimutti Magga describes this recollection has to me always seemed rather stilted and narrow, it seems to be defining generosity in purely monetary terms. The scriptures broaden the picture a lot, and the examples from modern members of the Sangha go even further, but we still seem to be lacking a clear definition of exactly what constitutes generosity. What are the things that we can give, share, renounce?
In attempting to answer this, I intend to invite the reader to be creative in their expressions of giving, sharing, renouncing. To me the chances to engage in the wholesome acts of generosity and renunciation are almost limitless and quite literally transcend life and death.
As a start we can draw up a list of things that are given as a matter of course in this society.
1. money
2. old clothes
3. food
The list generally stops there. Money is easy, a number of charities these days  direct debit our credit cards once a month, old clothes are something various charities phone us up & ask for, food is something that we put a couple of cans in bins at Christmas (if we remember & can be bothered). Yes, this is Dana, and they certainly are wholesome actions we can and should take joy in. But to be honest, it is a pretty lame list. A certain number of us will add:
4. blood
5. organs
6. volunteer work at a charity or community organization or your temple/Buddhist society.

As we progress down the list, the act of generosity/sharing/renunciation becomes progressively more difficult and demanding. We cease being passive and become proactive. To give blood, we need to set aside a time to travel to the blood donation centre and then set aside time to recover line removed . We need to make an appointment. It is an involved procedure. To donate blood or bone marrow or an organ like a kidney (some people prefer to give while they are still alive) is essentially to gift our good health to someone. Given the barriers that must be overcome these days simply to hand over 600 ml of blood, it is not an insignificant gift.  To donate our organs, means to deal with our mortality, for some of us a confronting and difficult thing. For many of us to make the decision to donate our organs, is the very first effort at recognising that they aren’t really ours, the first acceptance that this life has an end. Volunteering to help with the Parents and Citizens Association, the Red Cross, the Blood Bank, the temple/Buddhist society is more difficult because so few of us actually have the time. For those of us who do make this commitment, there is the regular scheduling of time for this giving. The thing is that budgeting time is like budgeting money, once we sit down and begin accounting how we spend our time, we are likely to find an extra hour or two that we can give to something worthy. Television is a time soak. When people talk about being a couch potato in front of the television often that is a literal and sadly accurate description of our physical and mental state when watching TV. The list of organizations I gave is a short one & the number of needy organizations is almost endless. All of us have something to give/share with society  We are beginning to leave the obvious aspect  of giving/sharing/renouncing. Still the list is pretty poor. Let’s get creative and add
7. virtue
8. silence
9. meditation
10. being mentally present
With these four we have moved into an area that is simply ignored by society at large, this is because now we are giving/sharing/renouncing what  may at first seem to be intangibles. We can, and in my opinion at least, should make our observance of the Five/Eight/Ten/Two Hundred and Twenty-seven Precepts, a gift to the world and ourselves. The Precepts are generally viewed as something the Sangha/our Preceptors give us, not something we can then give to the world. Silence can be given, both to ourselves and to others. I quite successfully gave silence to a friend whilst staying in a monastery. I’m a morning person, he isn’t. By the time he arrived for breakfast I was revved up & very loud. He preferred to breakfast in silence and with someone sitting with him. Ultimately I sat with him in silence. It was like having ants bite me, but silence was given and gratefully received. We give silence to ourselves by turning the radio, TV, stereo, MP 3 player, mobile phone off & sitting quietly. Sit and delight in the stillness, the silence. We can give ourselves mental silence by simply refusing to engage in the endless mental proliferation & wanderings that our mind habitually engages in.  ‘How can we give meditation?’ I hear you ask. Give the results of your meditation, share the Insights, the calm, the peace, the bliss, that you have happen in your meditation practice. Encourage a loved one to engage in meditation, encourage them to go on Retreats. Giving yourself the benefits of the hour or half hour a day that you spend meditating. Cultivating a mental stillness, giving ourselves a rest from the hectic ‘doing’ that fills up and dements the rest of our lives, is a profound gift that we overlook and discount at our own peril, this is how we give meditation. Simply listening with attention to the person speaking to you, is giving the gift of being mentally present. Practising ‘present moment awareness’ is how we give it to ourselves.  Just paying full attention to where we are and what we are doing, is present moment awareness. Still this list isn’t anywhere near long enough.
11. life experience
12. surplus from our gardens
13. gentleness
14. …
15. …
16. …
For myself, giving the wisdom, insight, maturity that I have gained in the past 40 years, was the scary bit. Partly because I remember all too well being the flaky, nervy, wound up one. Partly because initially I wasn’t all that sure that I had much to share. Having overcome depression and abuse and having travelled a bit, I find that this is what I give. I have gained a daughter simply because when she & I met, I didn’t judge her.  This spooked her a little. Our entire family had judged her & the judgement wasn’t kind. Because I have made and continue to make mistakes, because for me promiscuity doesn’t rate against seeing the results of genocide in Cambodia, because I am not in line for sainthood, I didn’t judge her. Tam is really a great daughter. Thoughtful, gentle, loving. Not at all the sort of person that I’d been told she was. I feel that there is no point in any of us living & not sharing our maturity. As a special plea to those like myself who have had a difficult time of it due to abuse & emotional illness, for heavens sake, don’t win & then become a miser with your victory…share it recklessly. There are plenty of people out there who need your calm presence and reassurance that victory is possible. Having been emotionally & mentally in some very dark places, knowing that eventually I would abide in a place of light & happiness, mattered deeply.
A lot of people have gardens these days or have at least a flowering plant somewhere in their house or unit. If you are lucky enough to have a yard and do as almost everyone does at some point in their lives & grow vegetables, I wonder if you have made the conscious choice to grow a surplus or even a vegetable that you personally don’t like simply so that you can give the surplus away. Ever decided to give some of the flowers to a neighbour or the temple? Having done this…given home grown vegetables away that is, I can personally vouch for the sense of happiness that arises when the produce is received. We can devote a section of the garden to growing vegetables, herbs, spices purely for the pleasure of giving them away. The pleasure/reward here is two fold. Firstly there is the pleasure of working the soil with our bare hands and seeing something grow as a result of that work. There is something fundamentally right about digging and weeding a garden bed. Perhaps because I am a gardener, I find it deeply rewarding. The second pleasure is the one I have already described above.
Gentleness is the last on my list. I don’t mean that you become irritatingly lovey-dovey with everyone you meet. I mean approach people with a gentleness. Rather than being aggressive, be gentle. Be considerate. If a person needs to be listened to, listen to them. Smile at people. Greet them by name.  Basically give niceness.
You will have noticed that I have left some spaces empty. There is a very good and simple reason for this, they are for you to fill up. I honestly doubt that I have covered every possibility for generosity, in fact I know I haven’t.
Renunciation is the truly interesting aspect of this recollection. Renunciation happens when we have something we really like and we decide to give it up. A parallel is the idea of the Roman Catholic Lent, where someone might give up pizza for the period of Lent. Renunciation only works when it makes total sense. Renunciation is a choice. Observing the Five Precepts is a form of renunciation. In choosing to observe them you are renouncing killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, bad speech and intoxicants. It is irrelevant as to whether we are renouncing something that is bad for us or renouncing the use of a favourite possession or habit. The operative part is that we are making a choice in renouncing something. A monastic renounces the ‘freedoms’ of Lay life. This may be simply because they no longer make sense to that person, but no one can be compelled to Ordain. People nagged into giving up smoking, often just smoke away from the person pestering them. We can renounce things for set periods like a 9 day Retreat or for the Rains Retreat. Even renouncing something for as little as a day helps our Practice, so long as we do it regularly.
There is the fact that when we give something we are renouncing ownership of it. To hand over a gift then attempt to control how that gift is used is an invitation for trouble. All giving and sharing is an act of renunciation.  We who practice this Dhamma & Dispensation are all renunciates.
The practice of this recollection follows the same basic pattern of the preceding recollections. Remember, recognise & savour your act of generosity/giving/ renunciation. What I have found to happen having practised this recollection for a time, is that I  tend to begin creating and seeking out opportunities to give/share/renounce. It becomes an exquisite act of selfishness to give to someone so that I  have something to work with in this recollection. Discussions with Sangha members haven’t revealed any problems with this. If anything it falls under the category of building a support for our Practice. There are few areas of my life that I cannot exercise charity in. As a business man, I view generosity as an investment in my business. There seems a connection between my giving discounts, or helping out at the temple and the amount of activity in my business. Periods of generosity are invariably followed by busy periods in my business. Often when I am helping/ giving/ sharing/ renouncing I feel that I am the one who is gaining the most out of the situation. I have to at times restrain myself from shouting “Ha!! Ripped off badly!!” This is the sort of joy and satisfaction that giving/sharing/renouncing can cause to arise.
If you wish to examine Dana/Caga more deeply than I thoroughly recommend Ajahn Thanissaro’s book: “The Economy of Gifts” available online at: www. Having taken the joy in offering this to you, I will finish Recollection of Generosity.
Humbly I bow my head to the Blessed One.